Friday, December 24, 2010
Doug had stayed at the hospital until nearly midnight, when Julie was out of Recovery and settled into a room, sedated. He planned on heading back to the hospital before he headed to the Regent office for the video interview.
It took him a solid hour to wind down and get to sleep. The slow drive home took him past two police checkpoints; he’d never seen anything like it before, aside from news footage from some Third World backwater. At each, he’d been required to show his drivers’ license and registration. The first checkpoint had been a bit of a problem—the registration was written by the dealership—and the cop seemed to think that the truck was stolen with faked paperwork. Eventually, he let Doug get on his way, but only after the cop got a radio call for something or other.
After rising with the alarm clock, Doug showered and dressed in ‘business casual’ clothes, and headed into the living room. With the force of long habit, Doug turned on the television absentmindedly, but then just as quickly expected no signal. He was surprised though to find it working normally and stopped dead in his tracks. The broadcast had three ‘crawlers’ on the screen, each streaming different bad news. The anchor at the moment was talking about military control in the Pacific Northwest, and relief efforts focusing on evacuating the newly homeless to dozens of cities in the warmer south.
The crawlers included one with bright yellow text on black, all but shouting the collapse of the United States dollar as reserve currency…with the implications that skyrocketing prices would be the immediate and permanent result. The second crawler, one of two stacked on the bottom of the screen, moved more slowly that the top; covering the New York stock futures, commodities and precious metals. Stocks appeared headed for another bloodbath while metals were going to soar. The third was a local crawler, listing road closures and emergency information.
“It’s all coming unwound,” Doug said to himself. “It really is,” he said as his cell phone rang again, but nothing showed up on caller I.D.
“This is Doug,” he answered with a bit of a questioning tone.
“Good morning. This is Peter Forsythe—I’m Julie’s brother.”
“Oh. Good morning. I’m afraid I have some unpleasant news about Julie.”
“I spoke with the hospital a few minutes ago. Are you nearby?”
“Not far, although traffic’s a nightmare.”
“We’re down in Iowa…and we won’t be able to get back up there right away…” Doug heard Peter say with regret in his voice.
“I understand,” he said. “Peter, I will do my best to keep an eye on her while she’s in the hospital, and help her as she recovers.”
“Doug, I’ve not met you, and don’t know a thing about you, and don’t quite know how to ask this, but are you and Julie seeing each other?”
“No. I was dating a young lady, Camille, who worked with Julie. That is apparently over. Julie was on a business trip to New York last weekend with Cammie when Cam went off her rocker…I guess is the best way to put it. I’d met Julie a time or two is all. We were going to talk yesterday, and she never called. The hospital must’ve found my number in her cell phone or something.”
“Fair enough,” Peter said, sounding a little more at ease, before telling Doug what the hospital had told him regarding Julie’s improving condition.
“I was planning on going over to the hospital shortly to see how she’s doing. I’ve got an interview later today, though.”
“OK. Another uncomfortable question,” Peter said. “Are you planning on staying in Chicago?”
“A week ago I would have answered this ‘yes.’ Today I will answer this, probably not.”
“Julie and I spoke about her getting out of the city…this week. This’ll probably sound nuts to you but my wife and I just packed up and left when things started to get…weird.”
“I don’t think that sounds nuts at all, Peter. Not after what I’m starting to see around here.”
Peter paused for a moment before continuing. “We’re thinking this gets a lot worse, Doug. A whole lot worse.”
“Yeah, it sure could. Can I call you back at this number later today? Maybe after I see how Julie’s doing?”
“Sure. If coverage holds up. It’s pretty spotty out here,” Peter replied.
“OK then,” Doug said, looking at his watch. “I’ll head over there in a little while, then I’ve got to get to this job interview. I’ll give you a call after that—maybe two-thirty or so, depending on how the interview goes.”
“All right—I’ll look for your call,” Peter said. “Doug, I appreciate this. I really do.”
“I’d like to think someone would look out for me too, Peter,” Doug said, knowing he really didn’t have anyone that might do that. “I’ll talk to you soon.”
The Dodge started on the second try, and Doug pulled out of the garage and headed north. Two blocks away he turned east, crossed the Tollway, and continued east on North Avenue. All along North, Doug saw broken storefront windows and the occasional smoldering car or truck. With occasional community patrol roadblocks or transit cops, it took nearly an hour to cross under the closed Kennedy Expressway. Grace Hospital wasn’t far now, near the Lincoln Park Zoo.
The parking lot he’d used the night before was packed, and a rent-a-cop directed him to an overflow lot a block away. Doug was dressed in his interview-wear, except for his new hiking boots, which didn’t look all that out of place given the weather. He crossed the street, and found himself in a security screening line off the hospital loading dock, similar to the now-obsolete metal detector screening at airports of old. Ten minutes later, he was inside, and trying to find Julie’s room. The place was a madhouse; much worse than the previous night.
Room Five-Fifteen was part of the post-op recovery area, sized for two patients. Today it held four, with Julie being the closest to the door. Doug knocked, and peeked in to see her open her eyes.
“Good morning,” Doug said quietly.
“Hi,” Julie replied with a little smile on her bruised face. Doug moved into the draped enclosure, trying not to look at the other patients.
“How’re you feeling?”
“Like I’ve been mugged and stomped on,” she said weakly. “I must look a mess,” she said, trying to brush her hair with her fingers.
“You look beautiful, actually,” Doug said honestly. “Even with the enhanced coloration,” he said with a little smile, taking her hand. “I’m glad to be here. Did you ask the hospital to call, or did they get my number off of your phone?”
“Thugs took my phone, and purse and my backpack. I think the hospital must’ve found your number in my jacket. I had a card of emergency numbers in there…and I wrote yours down when we were in New York,” she said. “They must’ve called you first.”
“I spoke with your brother a while ago. I told him I’d help you however I can. Do you know how long you’ll be here?”
“I think I can help answer that,” a voice responded from behind Doug. “Darin Weiss. I’m the cutter that worked on you last night.”
“Cutter?” Doug asked.
“Surgeon. Sorry,” the doctor replied. “May I have a few minutes with Ms. Forsythe?” he asked.
“Sure—just a friend,” Doug said, stepping out of the room.
A few minutes later, Dr. Weiss came back out of the room. “You’re Doug, right?” he asked.
“Yes. Doug Peterson. Thanks for everything you’ve done.”
“That’s why I pay the big money and long hours,” he said with a little smile. “In a normal situation, I’d recommend that Julie would remain here at Grace for at least a couple of days; longer if insurance would pay for it. We’re not in a normal situation though, Mister Peterson. We have record numbers of patients, our outpatient clinics are completely overloaded, and if she has a place to recuperate, she’ll be better off out of here. You should also know that we’re seeing some pretty dramatic increases in influenza, which with her rib and lung injury could rapidly turn into pneumonia.”
“OK, uh, is staying at home good enough?”
“Yes, with some trained assistance…again, that wouldn’t be an issue normally…”
“Not advisable. The healing process will be at least six weeks, probably longer. The lung damage was relatively minor, but the pain associated with a rib break isn’t. If she picks up an infection or a virus, it could get ugly. Do you have a trip planned?”
“Well, yes. But by car, no flying.”
“I wouldn’t recommend it for at least a week. After that, most of the risk should have passed. And limited movement on a day to day basis….she’ll need time off from work…I assume she works?”
“See if you can arrange some time off. Hopefully she has an understanding employer or even sick leave…she should see her regular doctor for a follow-up within a week, and if anything changes in her condition, she should be seen immediately.”
“OK. So how soon can she be released?”
“Frankly, I’d like to see her out of here this morning.”
Doug was surprised. “Seriously?”
“Absolutely. Sooner the better. If you can take her now, I’ll arrange for release papers, prescriptions and transport to the outpatient entry.”
“Uh, sure,” Doug said, scrambling. He didn’t even know where she lived….
“Great. Charge nurse will be back with everything. I’ll let you get back to visiting.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Doug said, a little stunned. ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ he thought before going back into Julie’s room.
“Sounds like I’m taking you out of here….very soon.”
“I heard….Doug, you really don’t have to do this. I can call the Club and they can….”
“It’ll be hours before they get here. Believe me,” Doug said, putting up a good front. “Where do you live? Do you think you can stay by yourself?”
“I think so,” she said, “I’m just two blocks from Lakeshore Club, on Lakeside.”
“OK. That’s not too far away,” Doug said almost to himself, thinking about how long it would take him to get her settled in, then to his interview in Palatine. That drive could be long, if traffic wasn’t good…
Fifteen minutes later, Julie was uncomfortably seated in the front seat of the Dodge, reclined a little bit to make her more comfortable. She gave Doug the address to her townhouse, and closed her eyes as he drove.
Two gas stations were open as Doug drove past, lines long for both sets of pumps….at eight thirty-seven per gallon for unleaded regular.
Doug turned up the radio for any news.
“…outage has temporary delayed trading on Wall Street, after a rocky morning that saw precipitous drops on the S&P Five Hundred and the Dow Industrials.”
“Rumors are rampant in New York, centered on a number of Governors of the Federal Reserve that failed to attend the morning emergency meeting of the Fed, and that they are rumored to be bound for Brussels on several private aircraft. The Administration had no immediate comment despite repeated attempts to contact either the Treasury Secretary or the President’s press secretary.”
“Rats leaving the sinking ship,” Doug said under his breath. He looked over at Julie, and she appeared to be sleeping. They were still a half-mile away from her townhouse.
“The Federal Reserve has issued a statement assuring America that the dollar is sound and will remain the flagship currency of the world. This statement was made after China, quickly followed by other countries holding large amounts of US debt obligations, effectively dumped the US Dollar as an investment instrument and terminated agreements with United States corporations nation-wide. It is unknown at this time the status of Americans in the country, but it is known from radio broadcasts that two major US manufacturing plants have been occupied by Chinese Army soldiers and the American representatives removed from the premises.”
“What are you people smoking?” Doug said to the radio as they approached Julie’s building. He was a half a block away and didn’t like what he saw….the building appeared to have been sacked, and cars in the parking lot burned where they sat.
“Hey, Julie? Is this your building?” he asked, rousing her from her uncomfortable nap.
“Huh?” she said, opening her eyes. “Oh my God. That’s my townhouse. They’re all….wrecked,” she said as Doug stopped in the middle of the street, suddenly feeling that they were targets. “And my truck is gone.”
“You have a truck?” he said, quite surprised.
“Well, yeah. It was only a year old,” she said as her voice trailed off. A police car pulled in behind them, and briefly sounded it’s siren, signaling Doug to pull over.
He pulled into the parking area in front of the townhouses, and watched as one officer approached on his side, hand on his sidearm. Doug could see a second cop in the right-side mirror, both hands holding his weapon.
“Step out of the vehicle please, sir,” the cop on the left said. “Hands where we can see them.”
“Understood,” Doug said as he carefully opened the door and stood next to the truck.
“The passenger as well, right side.”
“She’s just out of the hospital,” Doug said. “This is her townhouse. She was mugged here yesterday,” he said as the cop moved forward and looked inside, making sure that the passenger was indeed, unable to get out of the truck.
“License please, sir.”
“Sure,” Doug said. “It’s in my back pocket, right.”
“Slowly, if you don’t mind.”
“No problem,” Doug said, pulling his wallet out of the pocket and retrieving his drivers license and insurance card.
The officer took Doug’s information and called it in, and Julie told them what she could; the second officer holstered his sidearm and was now carrying a shotgun. Doug noticed that both appeared to be wearing bullet-proof vests.
“OK, which unit is yours, Miss Forsythe?”
“Twenty-two oh-four. On the end.”
“All right. Here’s the deal. You’re not staying here—you’ve got about fifteen minutes to get what you can and leave. There’ve been three murders within a half-mile of here in the last six hours, and two officers shot. Mister Peterson, get this truck up to the door, as close as you can, get the back opened up, and toss in whatever you can. You then need to get the Hell out of here. Sanchez and I will keep an eye out as long as we can, but not more than fifteen or twenty minutes. Got it?”
“OK,” Doug said. Julie was looking scared.
He backed the Dodge up to the door of her apartment…which was broken in and hanging only by the lower hinge. Doug helped Julie out of the truck and into the apartment, where she went to tears almost immediately. Doug found a dining room chair for her—broken—and she sat on it as he quickly moved through the apartment, gathering things that looked like they’d matter. Julie was in no condition to help.
The first few minutes was spent in the combination dining/living room, gathering framed photos and albums, some books and personal things for Julie to look over as he continued to collect. The power was out, all the windows were broken, and most of the walls had holes in them.
The kitchen was all but destroyed. All the drawers were pulled out of the cabinets, dumped and smashed. The contents of the cupboards were strewn everywhere and mostly smashed, cabinet doors thrown everywhere…one ripped off the hinges and embedded in a wall. There was no food in any of the piles on the floor. Doug did manage to collect Julie’s set of high-end pots and pans; a very good set of kitchen knives, and most of the stainless silverware. The rest of the contents weren’t worth salvaging. He gathered up what he could in a tablecloth and placed it near the door for Julie to look over. She told Doug about several other items she really wanted to have—things that had belonged to her Mom—and he made a quick trip back through the kitchen mess and found them.
Next, into the bedrooms, where the beds had been overturned and the mattresses deliberately soiled. Doug stopped for a moment, looking at the urine and feces on the beds, wondering what type of person would do that.
Several of the blankets and comforters were relatively clean, and Doug scooped up the piles of clothing and more pictures from the Julie’s bedroom and piled them into a blanket, quickly making a trip to the truck and tossing it in the back. He then loaded up the photos and kitchen stuff, and made two more trips to get more clothing and anything he could from the bathroom, and tossed it in a couple of pillow cases—which had been cut—and threw them in the truck as well.
“Three minutes,” came the call from Officer Pollard, egging Doug on.
“Doug, I need to get upstairs for a minute,” Julie said.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. There are some things I need to get.”
“There’s not much left up here, Julie.”
“It’s hidden. Doubt they’d have found it.”
“OK,” Doug said skeptically. “Take my arm, and grab that stair rail. Nice and easy,” he said as they made their way upstairs.”
“Gotta go, Mr. Peterson! We have a call,” Pollard called inside. “You best get moving!”
“Pretty quick, Officer,” Doug said as the entered the bedroom.
“Move the box spring and bedframe,” Julie said, and Doug immediately flipped both out of the way. “OK—in that corner, there’s a slim rope tucked between the edge of the carpet and the wall. Pull the rope up, straight, nice and steady,” she said. “What a mess.”
Doug found the rope, not having any idea what it was supposed to do. Pulling the rope up had the effect of unzipping the wall to wall carpeting from the tack strip. The rope continued around the east side of the room.
“All right, now fold the carpet back to about here,” Julie said. Doug quickly rolled the carpet back, and found a plywood panel in under the carpet padding.
“Two holes, that end, under the duct tape. Peel that back and you can lift out the panel. It’s held down with Velcro.”
“What is this?” Doug asked.
“My stash,” Julie said, dead serious, with a pained grimace. She was holding her side.
“Your what?” Doug said incredulously.