How We Operate

an excerpt

Chapter 1

April

"Time of death is... twenty-one thirty-two," said Dr. Chris Kearney, stripping off his gloves and pulling down his surgical mask. The young Hispanic man on the table was a repeat customer, and this time luck hadn't been with him. A year ago Chris had repaired four stab wounds to the patient's chest, and by a slender margin of excellent surgical skill and dumb luck, the man had survived. Today he'd been shot three times, once in the head and twice in the chest. With all the scar tissue from the previous wounds, finding the damaged blood vessels and fixing them had been a nightmare, an impossible nightmare, at that.

Chris looked down as he took off the surgical gown. He was splattered with blood, standing in pools of blood and walking on top of stained gauze, plastic, and dressings. What a fucking mess. Tired and frustrated, he walked out of the OR.

"Is there family waiting?" he asked one of the surgical nurses.

"Not yet. I think they're on the way. There is, however, a policeman who would like to speak with you," said the nurse.

Chris trudged out toward the waiting room. Could his week get any worse? He'd lost two patients, Accounting had screwed up the overtime on his last paycheck, one of the insurance companies was giving him grief over billing both a CAT scan and an MRI on a patient, and the AC in his car had died.

In the waiting room, a brown-haired man in a jacket and tie stood up from the vinyl sofa.

"Are you here about Emanuel Ramirez?" Chris asked.

"Yes, I'm Drew Hayden. I'm a detective with the SDPD. Judging by the look on your face, I'm guessing the news isn't good."

"I'm afraid Mr. Ramirez died on the table."

"Oh... I can't say I'm surprised, even though I'd hoped for a better outcome," said Hayden. Chris gazed at the detective. He was roughly the same height as Chris, and the man's light brown hair was significantly longer than Chris expected for a cop. It was pulled back in a loose pony tail at the nape of the detective's neck. Long hair, broad shoulders, a delectable mouth...

Why in the hell was he noticing this? Chris mentally kicked himself. With his schedule and the stress of the job, Chris barely had time to eat or sleep, much less look at another human being with something approaching lust.

"Yeah, I'm sorry. I did everything possible. It just wasn't enough," lamented Chris.

"You look beat. Can I buy you a cup of coffee and ask you a few questions?"

"Thank you. I'd appreciate that."

* * * *

Over truly mediocre coffee in the hospital cafeteria, Drew Hayden sat across from the trauma surgeon. With short-cut blond hair and a face that hadn't seen a razor in probably forty-eight hours or more, the doctor looked thoroughly exhausted, but damn, he was cute.

"No offense, but what can I tell you that you don't already know?" asked Dr. Kearney. "Except for the fact that I put Ramirez back together once before. I didn't see him today until the paramedics brought him in."

"I know. I'm just trying to make sure I have all the blanks filled in for my report. Even though Ramirez had a rap sheet, he'd been keeping his nose clean since the stabbing thing last year. I knew the kid a little. He'd gotten a legit job busing tables in a restaurant and seemed to be staying away from the gang stuff."

"I'm glad he was making a change. Fuck, even when people like him are trying to climb out of the ditch, life never seems to cut them a break." Kearney ran a hand back through sweaty hair.

"He was twenty, and now he'll never be twenty-one. It's such a waste. Anyway, could you just sort of walk me through what went on here? If you can remember anything about the previous injuries, just off the top of your head, that might help, too," suggested Drew.

Kearney rattled off some sparse details about the stab wounds, along with information about the kind of scarring that was left behind, then he moved to a brief description of the bullet wounds. "Even if he had made it through surgery, the gunshot wound to the head would have left him with some brain injury. It was the chest wounds that were the lethal ones, though. We never even got him to the CAT scan. God, there are days when working the ‘knife and gun club' gets really old."

Drew was sympathetic. He was way too familiar with the violence of the streets.

"Do you have any idea who shot him?" asked Kearney.

"We have some suspicions. My colleagues are looking into it as we speak. Fresh trail and all that."

"I know this is probably stupid and useless, but if you find out who did it, could you give me a call? Naïve ass that I am, I'd like to feel there's the possibility of some justice in this world."

Drew smiled. "No problem. Give me a number where I can reach you. I'll let you know if we make an arrest."

* * * *

Three days later in the middle of a blissful lull in the ER, Chris got that phone call.

"Dr. Kearney, this is Detective Hayden. I thought maybe you'd like to know, an arrest was made in the murder of Emanuel Ramirez."

"Oh, wow. Thanks for calling. Is the guy likely to go to prison? I know things like that aren't always open and shut."

"The case is strong, and the evidence is pretty damning. I think he'll probably get fifteen to twenty years."

"Good. I hope they throw away the key," Chris commented. He would have liked to have some excuse to suggest the two of them get together for a beer or something, but his brain deserted him. It probably wouldn't have worked anyway; a cop and a surgeon trying to find even a couple of hours of mutual free time would likely be a disaster.

When Chris hung up, he noticed that Delilah Frankel, one of the ER nurses, was looking at him. She was a short, brown-haired woman of Jewish heritage with a somewhat beaky nose.

"You know Chris, I think that's the first time I've seen you smile all week," she said. Chris and Del were tight. She was one of the few people he was "out" to. Although it was probable that the rest of the ER staff might not care which team he batted for, he hadn't had the balls to test that theory. It didn't really make much of a difference anyway; there hadn't been anyone in his life in close to a year. Chris Kearney went home alone, lived alone, and slept alone.