The Longest Night (Part 1)

1

I roll over in my sleep, barely aware of where I am. Somewhere in my lethargic brain, I hear a somewhat annoying jingle and realize my phone is ringing. That must have been what woke me. I am getting far to use to these late night calls thanks to my recent promotion. What is it this time? A dead body? A politician caught with a hooker and coke? A dead politician killed by a hooker who was on coke? Nothing would surprise me after this last month. I sit up slowly and reach for my phone.

“Thomas,” I croak, my voice sounding unfamiliar in my ears. I steal a look at the clock. 2:38 A.M.

I have a brief thought of “this better be important” when a female voice on the line interrupts it. “Is this Mrs. Thomas? Wife of Ben Thomas?”

“Yes, and who has decided to wake me up at this ungodly hour?” I might be a little bit grumpy. I have only been sleeping a few hours a night since I made detective. Last one promoted always got the shit jobs at the station, and that meant late nights and cold cases have become my life.

“This is Dr. Julie Ambrose at County Medical. I am afraid your husband has been in an accident. He is in critical condition. You need to get here right away.”

“There must be some kind of mistake, ” I protest. “My husband is…” My voice trails off as I realize Ben is not lying next to me in our bed. He had to work late again. I look over at the spot where he usually lays and only see Boogie, our lovable but neurotic Husky mix puppy with his head down, ears back, and his eyes filled with concern. Somehow, dogs always know. The phone falls from of my hand as I instinctively call out for the person I already know is not there. “Ben! Are you here? BEN!”

From the floor, I hear a frantic female voice calling out to me.

“Mrs. Thomas? Mrs. Thomas, are you still there? Is everything alright?”

I bend slowly, pick up the phone again with my mind racing. I simply say, “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

2

County Medical looks clean and bright as my Lyft pulls up to the Emergency entrance. It also appears to be deserted at 3:15 in the morning, except for two people, that I assume are orderlies, smoking several feet away. I pay my driver and hurry through the automatic doors. A woman behind a large oval blue desk greets me with a smile.

“May I help you?”

“I am Detective Thomas,” I say holding up my badge. “I got a call from a doctor here. She said my husband was in some kind of accident. His name is Ben, Ben Thomas.” The badge is not strictly necessary, but it never hurts to grease the wheel.

She types something into her keyboard as I try to wait patiently. With every stroke of her fingers, my uneasiness deepens. After what feels like an eternity, she sighs and says, “He is in the ICU. Considered critical. I have paged his doctor for you. If you’ll have a seat, she should be out shortly.”

Out shortly? It is the middle of night. My husband might be dying, and I have to WAIT?!? I sit down in a bit of a huff on a tan bench in a waiting area void of occupants except for me. I try desperately not to think about what could be happening in the Intensive Care Unit.

Ben and my relationship has always been about me waiting for him. I waited for him to ask me out. I waited for him to ask to me to marry him. I waited on him to finish college before going to the academy. I waited too long for him to be ready to have kids, and now we have none. Waiting for Ben is just what I do. And now, I am doing it again.

With every tick of the clock, my mind races, trying to make sense of what’s happening. I try to remember every word of our last conversation. He called me at home and said he had a case to go over. Something about a battered wife shooting her husband in self defense. Whatever it was, he said he needed to strategize before court tomorrow, then he would be right home. “I love you,” he said just before hanging up. That was almost midnight last night. What happened between then and now? Three and a half hours of time seemed so short. How could Ben be HERE? He doesn’t drive. It’s not worth the expense to have a car in a city this big. Maybe he got into an accident in his taxi. Maybe something happened on the subway. My head starts to pound with confusion as my eyes begin to water. I close them trying to bring the world back into focus.

I hear a slightly familiar voice calling my name. It sounds far away and broken. I open my eyes to a face I do not recognize. A slender, 60-something redhead in a long white lab coat, embroidered with “Dr. J. Ambrose, MD” on the left breast and County Medical Center on the right, is standing in front of me with a slight look of concern. She has a stethoscope around her neck, pens and a small glass thermometer in her front pocket, and is carrying what looks like a metal clipboard with a medical chart on it in your right hand. “Mrs. Thomas? Are you with me?”

“Detective,” I cough out. “Detective Thomas. How is my husband?” My worry must show on my face because she eases into a reassuring doctor smile.

“He’s not out of the woods just yet, but he is stable for now.”

“I am so confused by this. What happened? Why is he here?”

“Mrs. Thomas,” she begins but cuts herself off. I can see she is sizing me up a bit, deciding I if I have earned my title. Women do that. No one judges like we judge ourselves or each other. “Detective,” she starts again. “Your husband was in a grave accident. He is very lucky to still be alive. The other occupant of the car did not survive.”

“Other occupant?” My headache is back again. I must have heard her wrong.

“Yes. A Miss Laurie Peters. Very sad actually. All she was worried about was your husband. Kept repeating his name as we worked on her. We were able to save the baby though. Do you know who we might contact about her, by chance? I really think notification should be done sooner, rather than later, especially with a baby involved.”

Everything after the word ‘baby’ just fades away in my mind. I sink back into a memory. It was late last summer when I met the new intern at the office. Ben had been working long hours defending a grandmother who had stabbed her son when she walked in on him raping her granddaughter, his niece. I remember thinking Laurie was beautiful, and young. She had long legs and full lips. The kind of girl I would have gone for in my younger years. She was smart too. Head of her class. Ben had said he was so lucky to have snagged her for the firm more than once. Something about the way he said it and how he looked at her that day though had made me uneasy. I shook it off back then, but it was all back now. In between my fast moving thoughts, I push out a single, monotone, and curt “no” before asking, “Can I see him?”

“He’s not awake, still unconscious from his head injuries. I can let you back there for just a few minutes, but I need to warn you about what you will see. He is in rough shape.” The doctor flips through my husband’s chart, and I try very hard to listen to what she is saying, but it is nearly impossible with my brain sloshing around is a sea of emotion and pain.

I interrupt her as she is talking about broken bones and lacerations, “I have been to mass murder scenes, Doctor. I assure you, I will be fine.”

“If you say so. Follow me then.” She doesn’t look like she quite believes me. I’m not sure I believe me actually. We walk down a long hallway, passing mostly dark rooms with closed doors. The silence in those rooms is occasionally broken by the beeps from a piece of medical equipment or a light snore. A nurses station we pass shows me the only real activity I have seen since I have been in the hospital. They were moving back and forth between it and a row of curtains that I can only assume comprise part of this hospital’s Emergency Room. Every once in awhile I hear a TV from behind a closed door that reminds me someone else is awake right now, worrying about something or someone too. Worrying always seems to happen most before the sun comes up.

We stop at a bank of four elevators and the doctor pushes the up button. The farthest doors on the right side open almost immediately with a loud ping. As we walk on the doctor says, “I am Dr. Ambrose, by the way. We spoke on the phone. You can call me Julie.”

“Jesse,” is all I manage to squeak out.

“Good to meet you, Jesse. I am sorry the meeting had to be this way however.”

I nod and lean against the back of the elevator as she pushes the button for the the 5th floor. Beside the button a small metal plate reads “Authorized Personal Only.” Am I authorized? I guess I am now.

This corridor is cleaner and brighter than any I have ever seen. There are a series of double doors with a small plaque by each pair stating what lies beyond. We pass the “Burn Unit,” two “Operating Theater Observation” decks, and a “Scanner” room and turn a corner. As we turn I notice a sign for “Cafeteria 3” with an arrow pointing in the opposite direction to the where we are headed. I briefly wonder if that is open this time of night and am reminded that I skipped dinner to catch up on sleep. That worked out well for me. My stomach growls as we walk past another observation room and approach a heavy set of highly secure doors marked “Intensive Care Unit”. Dr. Ambrose scans her badge and types in a code on a panel on the wall beside the doors. They swing open with a screech. It’s 3:32 A.M. according to clock on the wall.

3

He looks broken, from head to toe, just broken. I can barely tell it is him though the bandages and wires. Monitors beeping in a room like this must be the scariest sound in the world. This room has about 10 sets of those monitors too. It is like a strange, eerie choir that can’t seem to all hit the same note at the same time. I shutter as I move closer to Ben. I realize the doctor is talking to me again. I don’t really hear what she is saying until I hear “Are you sure you don’t know who we can contact about Miss Peters?”

I just shake my head as touch Ben’s hand. “All I know is that she is an intern at the firm.” And she might have been having an affair with my husband, and having his baby. I don’t say that though. “Maybe you should call there. Henley, Jackson, and Thomas. They open at seven, but someone almost always answers the phone 24 hours a day.”

“Thanks, I’ll give that a try. I’ll give you a few minutes alone with him. I will be back in five.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” She nods and pulls a curtain around Ben’s bed before she walks away.

“Ben, I’m here,” I say softly as I stare at his damaged face. “I wish I knew what happened.” I want him to open his eyes. His eyes are the first thing I fell in love with. Soft blue with flecks of green that sparkle in the sunlight. I first noticed the green when we were on our third date, a picnic on a beautiful sunny day. He looked into my eyes and told me he was falling in love with me. Our date lasted well into the evening and ended with him snoring through the end of “Ghostbusters”. The dirty looks from the rest of the picnickers made me laugh so loud that they forgot about the snoring and just stared daggers at me instead. I wanted to look into his eyes forever after that. I would do anything to see those eyes again. It feels like it has been years since I did.

“Time’s up,” I hear the doctor’s voice say from behind the curtain. She slides it aside and points to the clock over the door. 3:45 A.M. I step away from Ben’s bed and wipe away the tears that had formed on my cheeks. “His latest tests just came in. He appears to be keeping stable for now. We will know more in a few days.” She pauses for a moment while I finished composing myself and says, “By the way, there are some officers outside that would like to speak with you.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” I sigh.

“Julie. I told you to call me Julie. We are going to see a lot of each other, and I don’t have the patience for formality that long,” she responds with a small grin.

“Thank you, Julie.” I hand her a card. “Call me at any of these numbers if something changes.” I walk away without seeing anything but somehow still find my way out. I am greeted by two young uniformed officers that I have never seen before as I walk out of the restricted area. This is not surprising. It was a big city with several districts, and new recruits every other week. I couldn’t possibly know everybody, no matter how long I’ve been on the force. Their name tags say Danson and Hobbes.

One of them approaches me tentatively. “Detective Thomas?” Well, at least they know who I am.

©2019 Nancy Lehmann

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