Chapter One – Charity

“Have you ever thought about what you would do if you weren’t doing what you were right now?” Reese asked.

“Like… sleeping instead of sitting at the nursing desk with you?” I asked.

“No, like. What would you do if you weren’t the top surgeon in this hospital.”

I shrugged. “I like being a surgeon. A doctor. It’s why I chose it as my profession.”

“But if you could do something else, what would you do?”

“Reese, did your husband put something in those cookies you were eating earlier?”

She grinned. “I wish. I left those days behind when I was in my twenties, though.”

“You’re only forty-one. It’s not like you’re kicking the bucket anytime soon.”

“If I keep eating his cookies, I will be.”

I giggled. “Fine. I’ll entertain your weird question since it’s a slow night tonight. If I wasn’t a surgeon and a doctor, I’d probably be a veterinarian.”

“Can’t be a doctor of any sort.”

“Not even for animals?” I asked.

“Nope. Like for me? If I wasn’t a nurse who was constantly up your butt about things, I’d be a lifeguard.”

“A lifeguard? As a permanent profession?”

“I mean, come on! The sand. The ocean. The tan. Not having to wear scrubs to work. I bet I could find a flattering bathing suit for this body that’s shoved out three small human beings.”

“Speaking of the kids, how are they?” I asked.

“No changing the subject. You always do that.”

“Do what?”

“Change the subject when you don’t want to answer the question.”

“I just asked you how the kids were. Fine. If I couldn’t be a doctor, then I’d be a police officer. Or a guard of some sort,” I said.

“Really? You? A police officer? I don’t see it,” Reese said.

“Just like I don’t see you as a lifeguard. You can hardly swim.”

“Hey, I learned the basics for my kids. Who are apparently half fish, thanks to their father.”

I giggled and shook my head. Slow nights with Reese were always entertaining. I’d been pulling double shifts at the hospital in the middle of New York City in order to cover for a couple of doctors that decided to take vacation at the same time. Wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t like I had anything, or anyone, to tend to. But, it did make my days long and my nights a lot shorter than I wanted them to be.

“One more hour to go,” Reese said, grinning.

“Don’t jinx it. Every time you say something like that, it jinxes–.”

The phone on the nursing desk rang out and I rolled my eyes. Reese reached for the phone as I grabbed the remote, turning on the television. It was never good when the nurse’s desk phone rang at two in the morning. That always meant emergency. I flipped through the channels to see what kind of accident had happened and where. But, my eyes didn’t land on anything regarding an accident. Or a massive car pile-up on the highway.

Instead, it landed on something that made my stomach sink.

Breaking News: Serial Killer, Skylar Lane, Wounded In Prison Riot.

“Yes. Of course. We’ll prep an O.R. now. Uh huh. Dr. Jones is the best-equipped general surgeon in the New York City area. Yes, we can take him. I’ll get a team ready. We’ll be on standby,” Reese said.

“Please don’t tell me–.”

“I hope you can be unbiased. Because we’re about to save the life of a serial killer.”

“How ironic,” I said flatly.

The two of us started running around. Gathering up a team and preparing an O.R. for the delivery of a man the entire country wanted dead. Skylar Lane was on death row in upstate New York for the heinous killing of over twenty-two women in the city over the course of an entire decade. A jury had sentenced him to die, yet I had to save his life from some prison riot. I shoved my personal feelings aside. It didn’t matter. It never did, as a doctor. A patient was a patient, and nothing else. I took an oath to do no wrong to anyone, and that included lowlifes like Skylar Lane.

“Did you really have to go and jinx it?” I asked.

I grabbed the anesthesiologist and pulled him into the O.R. I gave him specific instructions on what needed to be done before I raced out of the room. I needed to scrub in. Reese and the training nurse on duty were on the roof, standing at the helipad and ready to receive our patient. I scrubbed my arms down, a mask over my mouth and my body covered in pristine surgical attire.

I let the rest of my emotions fall to the wayside, refusing to pick them apart any longer.

My team of assistants slipped me into my plastic garb. They tied it off in back as I heard wheels rolling down the hallway. One hour. One blessed hour before my shift was over, and this fell into my lap. I watched the anesthesiologist prep Mr. Lane. The man the country had come to hate. I swallowed back the bile creeping up my throat as an assistant of mine rolled a tray of sterilized instruments up to my side.

“One, two, three.”

They hoisted Mr. Lane from the gurney to the operating table. They strapped him down while my assistant cut the bloodied orange jumpsuit from his body. I clocked his heart rate. Sky high for a man covered in so much blood. He was probably in shock, judging by the pallor of his skin. I’d seen plenty of pictures of him strewn across the news this year. He was a tanned man. Worked in the sun all his life. But he was almost white as a sheet on my O.R. table.

My eyes clocked his wounds. Both of his eyes were swollen shut. He had a gash on his lip that would need stitches. Claw marks and ligature marks around his neck, like someone attempted to choke him.

“He’s got a piece of glass in the bottom right quadrant of his abdomen,” my assistant said.

“Leave it all be until we can figure out where the bulk of the damage is,” I said.

He had massive amounts of bruising. Deep, thick bruises that cascaded inches beneath his skin. Some of his toes were broken. Shifted off to the side, like his nose. His shoulder was dislocated and his stomach was protruding with blood pouring into it.

“Okay. Game plan. Don’t remove the piece of glass until we can locate where he’s bleeding from internally. I want you two to tend to his dislocated joints. I want you to tend to any issues with his face. Once you guys are done, we have to do exploratory surgery, and quickly. He’s been bleeding out the entire time he’s been in the air,” I said.

We worked like dogs. Joints popped back into place and his heart rate flew through the roof. One of my assistants stitched his face while the other lanced the swelling around his eyes. Draining the fluid off them before the pressure did any permanent damage.

“He’s got busted blood vessels in his eyes, Doctor.”

“Not good. That’s brain trauma. I need someone in here to scan him with a portable machine, ASAP!” I exclaimed.

“Got his toes set.”

“Got the wound around the glass cleaned up.”

“None of the bruises are serious. Just deep. Exploratory surgery is ready.”

“Okay, guys. We’re going to need blood. And a lot of it. Do we have the banks ready?” I asked.

“Five bags on standby, Doctor.”

“Good. Be prepared, guys. This floor is about to flood.”

I sank my knife into the man’s skin and blood bubbled everywhere. And the bubbling wasn’t good. That meant something was puncturing his lung. Which meant his ribs were broken. I knew exactly what was going on just from seeing those bubbles, and I got to work. I needed to carefully remove the offending rib, cauterize the artery it had knicked to get to this lung, use plates and screws to get the rib back into place, then sew up his lung. That was why his blood pressure was through the roof. His ability to breathe had been compromised. He wasn’t getting enough oxygen, and putting that on top of a possible brain issue meant this man’s outcome didn’t look good.

Not that anyone would grieve over the loss of such a man.

I sliced him open with perfection. With the steady hand I’d come to be known for. This man wasn’t dying in my presence. No patient ever had. It was what made me the best. I dipped down as my assistant’s pried the man’s skin back. I soaked up the blood with gauze while another one of my assistant’s drained his stomach of the blood he had taken in. I found the offending rib piece and slowly inched it out. I got another one of my assistant’s on stitching up his lung as I placed the rib piece onto a tray held out for me. That explained the excess bleeding on the outside of the organs, but not the bleeding into his stomach.

“Cauterizing the vein now.”

“There’s still another one. We have to dig around. Hold your breath, guys. Because we aren’t out of the woods yet,” I said.

“Does it really matter?”

My ears perked up as I began slowly moving Mr. Lane’s organs around.

“Come again with that question?” I asked.

“Does it matter with a guy like this?”

I flickered my eyes at my assistant as he held one of the skin flaps back.

“Mr. Beckett, right?” I asked.

“Yes, Doctor Jones.”

“This is a teaching school, so let me teach you something right now. Should you ever stand and take that Hippocratic Oath, you take it for everyone. Start regarding everyone as nothing but a patient now. Because when issues like this drop into your lap, you’re less likely to become a murderer yourself,” I said.

His blood pressure skyrocketed and the anesthesiologist started yelling at me. I had to back off and feed him two bags of blood before I could explore again. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t find it. The man’s heart was pumping at a bombastic rate. I watched them pour a third bag of blood into his system before it leaked right over his organs. I watched it go in and watched it come right back out.

“Come on. Come on,” I murmured.

“He’s not stable, Doctor. We have to back off,” the anesthesiologist said.

“If we back off, he’s dead. If we keep going, he might not be dead. Which do you prefer?” I asked.

“Personal opinion or professional?”

I shot a glare at my anesthesiologist.

Another bag of blood. And then the last one. Five pints of blood, and it seeped nowhere except over his organs and into his stomach. It was the most insane thing I’d ever witnessed. I’d never seen anything like it. I checked the arteries at his neck, feeling around to see if they had been compromised. I moved his intestines around, looking for any other pieces of his rib that might have broken off and punctured something. I opened him up further, cracking his sternum and literally peeking into his rib cage. Looking around his heart. Checking to see if his valves or main arteries had been compromised in any way.

But, I saw nothing.

“He’s crashing.”

“We’re losing him.”

“Doctor, we have to do something.”

“Just give me a minute. Give me a damn second,” I said.

But the drone of the heart rate machine pulled me from my trance.

“No, no, no, no, no,” I whispered.

“Dr. Jones.”

“Pull back.”

I reached into his chest, pumping his heart with my hands as the machine droned. My hands were inside the body of a serial killer, trying to save his fucking life. My eyes raked across his body we had split open trying to save him. All of the small things added up, but the bleed didn’t. The blood seeping into his stomach didn’t make any fucking sense. I wracked my brain, trying to figure out what in the world I could do to save this man’s life. To save my reputation.

To prove to my students that no one was ever beyond the scope of medicine.

I pumped and I pumped. I covered myself up to my elbows in his tainted blood. My assistants backed away from the pale body as my anesthesiologist brought his hand down onto my shoulder. I shrugged him off. This wasn’t how this was happening. My perfect record was supposed to be shattered by someone else. Anyone else. Not some serial killer who destroyed everything in his wake.

Including my reputation as a surgeon.

“Time of death, Doctor,” the anesthesiologist said.

I finally lifted my hands from his body, my eyes raking over his form. It still didn’t make sense. The bleed into his stomach. Unless he had been injected with something that eroded away at the lining of his stomach, there was no telling what had truly happened to that man behind those prison walls. For all I knew, he had been injected with something. A poison. A drug. Without a full body scan to prepare me for exploratory surgery, it could have been something as simple as a piece of his facial mask that broke off and nicked some arteries traveling through his system.

My eyes traveled to the clock in the operating room. Put there specifically for moments like this. A moment I’d never had to live until that very second. A practice I’d never had to put into play until Skylar Lane.

Until that asshole dropped himself into my lap.

“Time of death, 3:53 AM.”

Ironically, also the time my unfailing career as the best surgeon in New York City died as well.

Maybe there’s still time to be a police officer after all.