The transition to morning goes unnoticed by Val Thompson, Christie’s Night Security Chief. He leans against the wall inside the hospital waiting room doorway, radiating tension, unhappy to have a student attack on his watch.
Bad for business. Bad for the school. Having law enforcement wannabes like Connor as the rule rather than the exception doesn’t help. More retired cops like Vlad would be best.
Quentin paces in the waiting room, Jake sits stiffly on one of the hard plastic chairs. Liz shelters under Ethan’s arm with a kind of vacant look in her eyes.
Elsie pushes her way past Val and takes a position in the center of the room so she can address the student contingent. “Natasha’s still unconscious but all her vital signs are good. The doctor thinks she’ll probably be fine. But they won’t know for sure until she wakes up.”
“There was so much blood,” says Jake, “I was afraid that she might be, I thought she was … dead.”
“Scalp wounds bleed. The doctor said the blow to her head wasn’t so bad. They were worried about exposure, she was in the cold so long, but she’s warmed up, so that’s good.”
Liz looks up at Elsie and asks, “Was it, was she …?
Elsie nods, “Yes, she was raped. But she’s alive. It’s looking pretty good for her. If she’d been out there all night before anybody even looked for her, it might have been a lot different.”
Liz nods miserably and Ethan hugs her more tightly.
“There is also some brain swelling, so they’re considering inducing a coma if she starts waking up too soon.”
Ethan says, “That doesn’t sound too good Else.”
“It’s precautionary, to prevent brain damage. Anyway, the cops are talking to the doc, but they want to talk to us all before we go home.”
Quentin raises his hand, “Uh, can I go first? I haven’t been able to get through to my wife, she’s gonna be steamed.”
Val nods. “I don’t see why not.”
The door opens and a couple of uniformed officers come in. Val asks if they’ll speak to Quentin first. The officer nods and Quentin follows them out into the hall.
They all cram into a small office barely big enough to house a desk and three chairs. The younger officer says, “I’m P.C. McKay. Maybe you can tell me how you came to be involved in the search tonight Mr. Bradbury?”
Back in the waiting room Elsie puts some change in the drinks machine and pulls out a bottle of Gatorade.
Jake tells Val, “I’ve never been interviewed by cops.”
“You’ll be fine.” Val says. “Just answer their questions.”
Jake shrugs, “You know, what happened to Natasha was horrible, but in a sick way it’s kind of exciting too.”
“That’s normal.” smiles Val. “Look, Jake, can you and your friend make sure to come by security tomorrow? I guess technically today. I’d like to get your statements about Connor.”
“That guy’s a real creep.”
“True. But I can’t just fire him for being a creep. That’s why I need your statements about what happened tonight. The smart guys come to Christie for an education, so we’re left with a pretty shallow gene pool for guards. Still, I’d rather be short handed than keep Connor. So your help would be appreciated.”
“Oh sure. And I think Q will be happy to help too.”
“Thanks.” says Val.
Jake nods, and goes back to sit with Ethan and Liz. Val keeps his position by the door, and Elsie offers him a sip of her Gatorade.
Across the room, Ethan watches the way Elsie extends the bottle cautiously to the big man, almost like she’s afraid she’s gonna get bitten. Ethan wishes he had his camera since the combination of the gritty institutional room under fluorescents would make an excellent backdrop to the image the two cast. Kind of a beauty and the beast motif, with the guard’s bloated bodybuilder physique angled against Elsie’s delicate beauty. Still, Ethan has a pretty good idea which one is the beast.
“Do you think they’ll let us see Natasha?” Jake asks.
“Maybe tomorrow. I hope she’ll be OK.”
Ethan says “She’ll be okay. She’s got good friends.”
“Oh God,” Liz’s eyes are wide, “Nobody told Boris.”
“Nobody told anybody.”
“But Boris, he’ll be devastated.”
Ethan and Jake exchange looks. It has occurred to both of them that Boris may very well be the prime suspect.
Over by the door, Val hands the bottle back to Elsie.
“So how’ve you been.” she asks.
Val answers guardedly, “Good.”
“Very happily. Best thing that ever happened to me.”
“I’m happy, Else.”
Elsie’s eyes flash as she says, “You shouldn’t be happy damn it. You should be a doctor.” She stops abruptly as she’s spoken with more heat than intended, then glances over at the others, gratified to see that they’re in their own world.
“It’s over, Elsie. Just let it lay.”
Under icy control Elsie says, “Whatever.”
Val looks at her sharply, “Are you happy?”
“Yes, thank you, I’m ecstatic. Rapturous even.”
Val smiles. “I worry about you sometimes still.”
“Oh don’t. You wouldn’t believe how very many talented men there are in the world. I’m having the time of my life, dear.”
“I’d be happy to hear you’re happy, Else.”
“I’m happy one of us will have our dream come true.”
Val shakes his head, “It wasn’t ever my dream, babe. I just went along because you wanted it so much.”
“Is that what you tell yourself?”
“That’s what’s true. I know you never really listened to me, but I tried to tell you that for a long time.”
The younger police officer sticks his head in to the waiting room. “Who’s next?” he asks. Jake stands up with alacrity, and the officer nods, so Jake follows him down the hall to a small office adjacent to the nurse’s station.
The uniformed cop’s deferential posture makes it clear the guy in plain clothes seated behind the desk is the top dog. Jake assumes he’s a detective like Pembleton. The uniformed cop takes the seat by the wall and flips open the netbook perched on the corner of the desk.
The plainclothes cop stands, extends a hand to Jake and says, “I’m Detective Wolfrom, this is P.C. McKay. And you are?”
“Jake Ellis.” Gingerly shaking Wolfrom’s hand, Jake is relieved his hand is only a little crushed when the detective releases it. Wolfram gestures toward the chair and they sit.
Wolfrom asks “So, you were one of the searchers tonight, is that right?” The uniformed officer quietly transcribes the interview, typing everything into the small computer.
Jake says, “Yeah. Liz was worried because Natasha didn’t show up at the car show.”
“Lets try and keep it to what you know directly, okay? What you yourself saw, heard and did.”
Jake nods. “You mean Liz asked me to help find Natasha?”
Wolfrom nods. “Right, knowledge you know yourself, not what you’ve heard, or inferred. How did that happen?”
“Okay, I guess it was around four thirty or so, and I was looking to see if anybody wanted to come to the computer club meeting when I ran into Liz.”
“And where was this?”
“In the library. Liz was looking for Natasha, and she was mad because Natasha didn’t come to the car show. Which was weird because it was her idea, Natasha’s I mean.”
“That’s the Antique Car Show at the Waterfront Mall?”
“That’s right. Natasha never showed up. Liz said she couldn’t get Natasha on her cell either. So Liz was mad at Natasha, but she didn’t know about the fight.”
Wolfrom frowns. “Fight?”
“Yeah, I didn’t see it though so maybe.”
Wolfrom shakes his head, “No, no, it’s okay, it can provide the background. Tell me about the fight.”
“Well, Boris and Natasha had a big fight at lunch, and she took a swing at him.”
Wolfrom fixes Jake with a look. “Son, this isn’t a game.”
Jake frowns, then he gets it. “Oh, the names. It’s their real names, Boris Horvat and Natasha Panov. they’re both photography majors.”
Mollified, Wolfrom nods. “Oh. Alright, then.” Glancing down at his notebook, he asks, “How did you get involved the search?”
“When Liz got back she was looking for Natasha, so I helped ask around but nobody’d seen Natasha since the fight. That’s when Liz got worried, so she rounded us up and got us out looking, and then, well, we found her.”
Wolfrom nods. “What was the fight about?”
Jake shrugs. “They say Natasha knocked him down.”
“How did you know where to look for her?”
“After the fight people said she took off into the woods. But there were conflicting stories as to which path she took.”
“Where were you this afternoon?”
“A lecture after lunch, then I was taking pictures.”
“Here in the hospital. The nursery. My prof recommended me.” Jake frowns. “Wait a minute, you mean I’m a suspect?”
“Every male anywhere near this campus is a suspect.”