The Militant Genome - Sample

One

“Doctor Wade, a gang dispute in East St. Louis has spilled across the river into downtown St. Louis.  We’ve got several victims moving into the trauma bays.  This guy’s been triaged to the top of the list.”

Sarah Wade, M.D. had a reputation in the E.D. for her cool and collected manner.  She gazed at the twenty-something black male lying on his right side on the table, a knife embedded in his left chest, and took a deep breath, thinking through the ABC’s of advanced trauma life support: airway, breathing, and circulation.

“The scene wasn’t totally secured by police but the paramedics managed to scoop and run with this guy.  Didn’t have time to deal with his airway or get I.V. access before hitting our doorstep.”  

“Vital signs?” she asked.

“Pulse, 144.  Respirations, thirty, short and shallow.  Blood pressure, eighty systolic.”

“Get two large-bore lines started, normal saline …” She paused, remembering the Trauma Service’s penchant for lactated Ringer’s solution.  “… make that LR and get blood for a CBC, chemistry panel, coags, and type and cross … six units of packed red cells to start.” 

She surveyed the man, who showed no signs of movement.  Even his chest wall appeared not to change with breathing.  She would check him more thoroughly after completing the ABCs, but she predicted a Glasgow Coma scale of between 3 and 5.  Not good.

“Get me a 7 and a half ET tube, check the cuff, and give me the fiber-optic scope.  Get respiratory in here with a ventilator.”

Sarah’s friends assured her that next year’s Chief Resident’s slot was hers for the taking.  And she wanted it.  But right now, she had this ATLS certification to pass and her self-assurance ebbed as she nodded to the man sitting before her, his arms crossed, eyes glaring at her.  Her heart rate accelerated and her gut grumbled.  She knew him by more than reputation. 

Doctor Robert Rickelmann.  Internationally renowned trauma surgeon.  “Roarin’ Robert.”  The surgeon’s surgeon to whom residents-in-training were lesser mortals.  As a first-year resident, she had experienced his trial-by-fire methods of “teaching,” the scorched scrubs and third degree burns he left behind on surgical rounds.

Doctor Rickelmann tapped his pen on the table, a look of impatience etched upon his face, and then waved his hand dismissively toward the bed.  “Go ahead.  Examine your patient.  As you move from one system to the next I’ll provide basic details.  You need to ask questions for information you don’t get from me.”

She continued, “While they’re getting venous access, I’ll prepare to intubate and check his cardiovascular status.  His airway is …?”

“Light pink froth is noted in his mouth.”

As if on cue, crimson-tinged bubbles emerged from between the man’s lips.  This guy’s good, she thought, continuing in clinical mode as if she was in the E.D.  She pulled back the sheet, grazing the man’s cold forearm with her fingers.  The moulage, makeup and props used to simulate physical injury, appeared more realistic than any she had seen before.  A large plastic knife protruded from his chest several centimeters to the left of the sternum.  She directed her “exam” to his lungs but stopped as a droplet of “blood” escaped the wound.  Can they make moulage do that?

“Lungs?”

“Absent on the left, coarse sounds on the right,” replied Rickelmann. 

“I’ll yell for a STAT portable chest X-ray and proceed to intubate him.”

As if urged by an inner sense, she placed the diaphragm of the stethoscope to the man’s chest and listened.

“You see the knife … what’s the main thing you’re not going to do, doctor?”

The question and its answer, you don’t pull the knife until you’re ready to control the consequences, preferably in the O.R., registered at the edge of her consciousness.  What captured her attention was the man’s lack of breath sounds.  Sarah listened intently.  How long could he hold his breath?

“Doctor?  Your patient’s going down the tubes while you hesitate.  What do you do next, and what do you make sure you do not do?”

Sarah reached to the man’s neck and tried to locate a carotid pulse.  His skin here was also cool, with subtle mottling.  Where was his pulse?  Her hands rushed to the man’s face, pulling back the upper eyelids so she could take a quick look at his pupils.  He didn’t flinch.

Roarin’ Robert was on his feet, his face reddened.

“Doctor Wade, this is a trauma scenario, not some blasted ophthalmology quiz!  What are you doing?”

Sarah looked up at him, her usual assertiveness regaining control, the gastric butterfly gone.  “No, Doctor Rickelmann, this is a real stabbing victim.  Look, he’s not –”

“Nonsense.  We were talking just an hour ago, before the lunch break.  He was on call and worked all night.  I told him he could sleep.  Steven, wake up.”  He took two quick strides toward the body, reached for the prop, but stopped short.  “He –”

Sarah saw a brief look of puzzlement on the surgeon’s face and did what no resident dared to do with Doctor Rickelmann; she interrupted.  “Don’t Doctor Rickelmann!  We need to call 911 and get him to the E.D.”

Sarah couldn’t believe the surgeon’s response.  Did he think so little of her training that he ignored the obvious?  All of his shouting would have awakened the dead much less any sleeper.  This young man remained moribund. 

He looked at her and frowned, shaking his head.  “What? You work in the emergency department and can’t tell a fake wound from the real thing?  Watch!”  He grabbed the knife and pulled just before her hand caught his arm in an attempt to stop him.  Startled by the sucking noise of air rushing into the chest, his face registered an apparition of shock when something more than a fake knife handle and plastic wound peeled away from the body.  As blood covered his bare hand, he stood speechless and dropped both the stage prop and the disposable scalpel hidden within.

 

Two

Sarah sat in the lobby of the Eric P. Newman Education Center, jean-clad knees pressed together, nestling a cup of coffee between her hands.  Her eyes roamed from the escalator to the second floor, to the security guard at the revolving door, to the woman at the reception desk and back again.  The large glass windows of the two-story atrium reminded Sarah of the lateness of the day as the main hospital towers now cast their shadows into the lobby.  What was taking so long?  She was there, made the 911 call.  Shouldn’t they have interviewed her first? 

Her coffee was cold now but sipping it had been one of the distracted actions she performed while waiting for her interview by the detectives.  As in the E.D., she tried to compartmentalize her emotions and focus her mind on the victim and his family.  Walter Johnson, from somewhere around Chicago.  Was he, like her, the first in his family to go to college, much less make it into postgraduate studies?  Was Walter the product of middle class suburbia, or had he grown up on the streets, avoided the gang influence, survived the drive-bys and the all-too-common black-on-black violence, only to be murdered while playacting as a trauma victim? 

Once again, she put her lips to the cup, but stopped.  Hot coffee or iced coffee, one or the other, but not room temperature.  Even hot, this coffee was mediocre; now, the slop was awful. 

She sighed and stretched her back, then stood and walked over to the security guard.  “Any idea how much longer?” she asked.

His eyebrows arched up as he shook his head.  “Sorry.  Not a clue.”

Sarah sighed and acknowledged a disquieted feeling inside.  She had first thought it her usual impatience, tired of waiting on the police.  This event was different, unsettling, too close to home.  She struggled to place her feelings into the box where she wanted them to hide.

She walked over to the reception desk, poured a fresh cup of coffee, and headed back to her seat.  Before she could sit down, she heard the rustle of movement from above. 

Doctor Rickelmann, looking none too happy, hustled down the moving escalator at a pace that belied his annoyance.  Sarah stepped toward him as he neared.

“Doctor Rickelmann, do you –”

The surgeon slowed his stride and glared at her.  “Quiet.  We’re not supposed to discuss this.  Don’t make it worse.”  He resumed his speed and brushed past her.

“I was just going …” He was nearly ten feet away now.  She sighed and started back toward her seat. 

Doctor Rickelmann continued to live up to his reputation.  Earlier, he hadn’t even known the student’s name.  The great Rickelmann had walked into the room, gathered his papers, and called her in for the test scenario without even talking with his “patient.”  Now, he blew her off, too.

She could only imagine what went through his mind as the scalpel emerged and blood covered his hand.  Walter might never have made it to, or out of, the operating room.  Maybe he was dead already.  But by pulling the blade, the eminent Doctor Rickelmann had ensured the man’s ticket to the morgue.  He knew it, and he knew she knew it. 

Rickelmann stopped abruptly and turned toward her, his face displaying anger.  “What did you say to the paramedics?” he asked.

Baffled, Sarah jerked back as if slapped.  “What?”

The surgeon shook his head and waved her off with his hand.  “Never mind.”  With that, he turned and rushed out through the building’s front doors.

Sarah shook her head.  What was that about? she wondered.  Before she could conjure up an explanation, she heard her name spoken above.  She turned and saw one of the uniformed officers pointing toward her.  About time.  A moment later, a red-haired man started down the escalator.

She assumed him a homicide detective, but that role was less than obvious.  A modest suit, expertly pressed, paired with running shoes.  Who dressed him? she thought.  He had the hint of a limp as he walked down the moving steps.  She wondered why.  With his short-cropped red hair, fair but freckled complexion, and trim figure, he looked no older than his mid-twenties.  And baby-faced?  His youth confounded her.  How could he have worked his way into the ranks of homicide without at least a dozen years of experience?  She scanned him head to toe and nothing screamed police detective.  After three years in the trauma center and having worked dozens of fatal cases, she thought she knew every homicide detective in St. Louis. 

**********

Seamus O’Connor appreciated the escalator ride to the first floor.  Fatigue claimed him.  His left thigh ached, and he had been up and down between the floors of the building at least two dozen times in the past three hours.  As he slid down to the main lobby, he scrutinized the young woman waiting near the bottom.  She was about his height, maybe an inch shorter than his five-foot, ten-inch frame, but her skin commanded his interest.  The patrolmen had described her as African-American, but her delicate features, flawless complexion, and light butternut coloring belied a racial mix that could confuse any census taker.  She appeared slim and toned, and knowing the hours the emergency residents put in, he knew that either her parents had passed on “thin” genes or she worked rigorously to keep herself that way.

As he neared the bottom of the moving stairway, she approached.  Once on solid ground, he extended his hand.

“Doctor Wade?”  She nodded.  “I’m Sergeant O’Connor, with the Homicide Division.  Thanks for waiting around.”

“Like I had much choice.  Look, I …” She stopped and examined him.  “Let’s just say this ATLS course has been stressful enough … but to have something like this, I … Obviously it’s not been a great day and I’d really like to get home.”

Her brusque manner did not deter Seamus.  “Doctor, let’s not forget that you are, in fact, getting to go home.  Someone else wasn’t so fortunate.”

As Sarah glanced at her feet, Seamus thought he sensed a slight tremble in her body.  Seamus had already interviewed a dozen other participants in the trauma course, several who were openly belligerent, and knew it had been a stressful day for all, but he couldn’t let that distort her perspective on what had happened.  A young man was dead.  Her reaction seemed to reflect that this fact was not lost on her.

He managed a half smile.  “Let’s find someplace to sit and talk and maybe we both can get out of here a bit sooner.”

He pointed back to the escalator and a minute later, he ushered her into a small office off the second-floor promenade.  As he sat down, he rubbed his left thigh with his hand, while pointing to her coffee with his right.  “Need a refill?  My treat.”

Sarah shook her head.

“Okay.”  He took out a small notebook from his jacket pocket.  “I’m also going to record this conversation.  Hope you don’t mind.” 

She shook her head.  “No choice there either, right?”

The doctor’s attitude he could understand.  She’d been kept waiting for hours.  But her body language puzzled Seamus.  So defensive.  Legs crossed, sitting stiff and upright, her face tense, her hands clutching the coffee cup.  Why?  Even though she showed resistance, he believed compliance would arise out of her sense of duty if nothing else.  But if there was compassion for the victim and his family, she seemed to be struggling with it.  Again, why?

He produced a small recorder and held it up to her before inserting a new tape in the machine.  “Yeah, um, right.”  He placed it on the table between them.  “Makes my job so much easier.”  He pushed a button, sat back relaxed in his chair, and started.  “This is Sergeant Seamus O’Connor interviewing Doctor Sarah Wade at 1638 hours on the twenty-first of May regarding the apparent homicide of Walter Johnson at the Newman Education Center on the Barnes-Jewish Hospital campus.  Doctor Wade discovered the body.”

Sarah raised her hand to shoulder level.  “Umm, I didn’t discover the body … just the first one in the room observant enough to discover what had happened.”

He smiled inwardly as he nodded.  He’d already interviewed the pompous Doctor Rickelmann.  Nothing more needed saying.  “So noted.  Okay, Doctor Wade, let’s start earlier in the day.  Begin at, say, eleven a.m. and tell me what you did until the time you discovered the crime.”

She sipped her coffee before starting.  “Okay.  So you’ve already interviewed a bunch of people.  Do you need a minute-by-minute replay from me, too?”

Seamus tensed, but tried consciously not to show it.  He needed her to relax and open up, not get uptight because he added to the strain.  What he didn’t need was some ball buster interviewee.  He couldn’t predict which she’d be.

“Well, I know that the course is all about teaching a consistent approach to injured people.  I got the general schedule.  What I need to know is what you did from eleven a.m. on.”

“Right.  As usual, things ran late, so at eleven, we were still in a question and answer session.  Our written test started twenty minutes later.  I finished that, met a friend for lunch about twelve-fifteen at a small place on north Euclid, rushed through eating and made it back here about five ‘til one for my first test scenario.  Doctor Rickelmann was ten minutes late.  I watched him go into the room and two minutes later, he called me in.  As we started the scenario, that’s when I discovered our pretend patient wasn’t just, um, pretending.”

Seamus nodded.  “What are these test scenarios and why was the deceased there?”

“The scenarios are simulations.  The tester makes up a story about what happened to the victim, and we have to pretend it’s a real patient, describe our actions in assessing and treating the patient.  The tester can make it as simple or complex as he wants.  Sometimes we have real people acting as the victims because it adds a sense of reality, although they’ve come up with pretty realistic test dummies.”

He noticed the doctor seeming to relax a bit.

“Okay, so this simulated victim has this fake wound, this moulage wound I believe it’s called.  Anything suspicious about it?”

“You mean other than it being lethal?  I should have seen that right away.”  She sipped her coffee and stared at the wall behind Seamus.  A moment passed before she continued.  “To be honest, the knife wound looked good, a good make-up job … and, well, this is just a certification course so I wasn’t expecting a real injury.”  She sighed.  “Then I saw a drop of blood seep from the wound, and I wondered …” She shook her head.

Seamus also wondered how he might have felt, whether he’d be questioning his observation skills if he were in her shoes.  Was this producing her defensiveness?  He fidgeted in his chair, the fatigue of another long day wearing him down.

“Can you give me a detailed account of what happened, what was said?  No detail is too small.  Anything and everything you can remember.”

“Then I can leave?”

Seamus offered no answer in his body language.  “Your account, please.”

Sarah looked irritated but proceeded to give him an exhaustive replay of the events leading up to the call to 911.  He made a few notes as she described Doctor Rickelmann’s comments and response, and having interviewed him earlier, came to realize that no matter how good a surgeon the guy was, he would much prefer looking up from a hospital gurney and seeing her in charge, not him.  He noticed how she squirmed as she told how Rickelmann pulled the knife.  Her body language was being candid, even if she wasn’t.

He knew a bit more about trauma than she probably suspected.  He’d seen enough of it during four years on patrol and six more as a detective, the last three on homicide.  Even Seamus knew better than to pull any deep, penetrating object from the body unless you were prepared to deal with deadly consequences.

“Was the deceased already dead before the blade was pulled out?”

She squirmed again, but didn’t stiffen up, and sipped her coffee.

“I-I don’t know.  There should have been a pulse, but there wasn’t and suddenly I’m trying to find any beat I could.  My mind still wasn’t fully registering the reality of it.  I thought I felt a weak pulse, but I could have been sensing my own.  It happens.  Or maybe I was imagining a pulse because I figured there had to be one.  I mean … he was just acting, right?  So, sure, there had to be a pulse.  But there wasn’t … normal or otherwise.  I do know his pupils were mid-sized and didn’t appear to react to light.”

“How do you know?  Did you have a light?”

“Well, uh, no.  It’s just that when you force open the eyelid in a bright room, the light change will trigger a response even without a direct light source.”

“So, you had to force open his eyes?”          

“Well, no, not in the sense of, you know, forcing them open, like against the patient’s will.  But now that you bring it up, he didn’t flinch at all when I opened them, not like an alert person would, even someone acting a part.”

“Tell me, Doctor Wade, you said there was a gap of a couple of minutes between when Doctor Rickelmann entered the room and when he called you.  Could he have killed him during that time?”

She huffed a quick laugh.  “Hardly.  First, I’m sure we all would have heard a cry of pain if Mr. Johnson had been stabbed then.  More importantly, though, is that he wouldn’t have deteriorated so fast.  I was there within minutes and –”

“That’s okay.  I don’t think he did it either.  Just had to ask.”  Seamus flipped back a page on his notepad and looked at her. 

“Where do you think the scalpel came from?  Would it have already been in the room?”  Her legs were now uncrossed and she leaned a bit forward toward him.  She was warming up to him, relaxing.

“Well, sure … there were several on the table.  It is a trauma course, with all kinds of medical equipment and techniques on display.  I saw scalpels in several of the rooms during the practice sessions, in addition to some in that specific room.”

“So, it could have been picked up from any of the test rooms?”

“Uh, sure.”  She took a long drink from her coffee.  “So, maybe a crime of passion?”

“What?”  Her question threw Seamus off. 

“You know, something personal.  A crime of opportunity.  Someone striking out with a weapon conveniently at the scene.  Not something premeditated that required bringing the weapon with you.”

Seamus furrowed his brow.  “Let me guess, you’re a murder mystery buff, or maybe a devotee of TV police shows.”

“Get real, Sergeant.  I’m an E.M. resident.  I have no time for pleasure reading or TV.  But I’ve had plenty of time in the E.D. talking with your homicide buddies about other cases.”

“Well, statistics support that possibility.  But who says the murderer didn’t bring the scalpel here?  Be easy enough to conceal something that small in a pant pocket or purse, between the pages of a book, in a sock.  We have to look at all possibilities … just like you have to consider a differential diagnosis.”

She cocked her head, looked at him, and smirked.

“What?”

“You know what a differential is?  I think you know more about medicine than I gave you credit for.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve spent my share of time talking with doctors, too.”

Seamus tried to read the look she gave him but could not fathom its meaning.  He did note, though, that she had relaxed.  The self-protective pose had disappeared.  “Look, we’re almost done here.  You’ll be home for dinner.  So, did you know the victim?”

“Not really.  I learned who he was after he’d been pronounced in the E.D. and realized I’d seen him in the department a few times.  Can’t help but think about his family right now.  My mother’s so proud of my becoming a doctor.  What does Walter’s mother have in store for her now?  She …” Her voice cracked and she looked away.  “Oh God, I should have been faster … should have stopped Rickelmann from pulling that blade.”

Seamus paused.  Indeed, the facts of this young man’s death had not been lost on Doctor Wade.  He gave her a moment and brought her gently back on track with some routine questions, contact phone numbers, address, and the like.  “Two final questions and we’ll be done.  Where’d you eat and what’s your friend’s name?”  A sharp twinge ran from his hip to his knee, and by reflex he began to rub his thigh again.

“You should get that looked at.”

“What?”

“Your thigh.  I can give you some names.”

“Don’t change the subject.  I’m being followed by one of the best orthopods in the city, by the way.  Again, where’d you eat and who’d you eat with?”

She stiffened in her chair, her right leg swinging across her left knee.  “Why do I …” Her shoulders sagged just a bit in resignation.  “Okay, okay.  Look, we ate at Duff’s.  I had a cranberry walnut chicken salad and iced tea.  You can confirm that through my credit card charge.  We talked about boyfriends … well, mostly the lack of qualified candidates … and about this trauma course.  Satisfied?”

He looked at her and smiled lightly.  “Your friend’s name?”

She crossed her arms and frowned.  “Why do you need her name?”  He was about to reply when she continued, “Never mind.  I guess you need to verify my story, right?” 

Probably not necessary, he thought, but she’d made such a big deal of it that now he was just curious.  He pursed his lips and nodded.

“I’ll tell you, but please don’t drag her into this.  She gets enough bad press and …” She set her coffee cup on the table and rubbed her hands together.  “Look, please promise me … really, she had nothing to do with this.  Okay?”

“Doctor Wade, if she wasn’t involved, it won’t happen.  Simple as that.  I might not have to contact her, but I still need to know.”

Sarah hesitated, and then nodded.  “Della Winston.”

Seamus tried not to act surprised.

 

 

Thank you for reading a sample of

The Militant Genome

 

For more, please order the book.

**********

Copyright

The Militant Genome – Copyright © 2012 by Braxton DeGarmo. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.  By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen.  No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Braxton DeGarmo.

E-Book Edition Publication Date: July, 2012

Paperback Edition Publication Date: November, 2012

2nd Edition, paperback: July, 2015 (new ISBN)

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-943509-14-0

eBook ISBN (mobi): 978-1-943509-08-9

eBook ISBN (epub): 978-1-943509-09-6

This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogs are products of the author’s imagination and are not construed to be real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The use of real places and companies is done to add a sense of reality, but the circumstances surrounding such use is also fictional. The employees of such companies, their actions, and their comments are fiction and should not be construed as implied or explicit endorsements by or the beliefs of said companies. The use of public figures, such as politicians, is also done for the purpose of realism. Actions or comments attributed to them may be fiction, but may also come from public records, such as their own writings.

Cover design by Rocking Book Covers

Dedication

For my mother, Barbara, whose longsuffering faith in my abilities kept encouraging me to write, and to my wife, Paula, who provided valuable feedback and proof-reading.

Acknowledgments

First and foremost, I again want to acknowledge and thank my endearing wife, Paula, for putting up with my pursuit of writing, for graciously giving up time that we might have spent together, and for her proofreading skills.  Without her help, this novel might never have seen “print” – e-ink or otherwise. (Note: any typos or errors are mine, made after she proofread the manuscript.)

I’d also like to thank Chief Thomas O’Connor, Police Chief of Maryland Heights, Missouri, for his valuable assistance in nailing down local police procedure and for the inspiration that led to Sergeant Seamus O’Connor.  Likewise, I’m indebted to Sergeant Devaney of the St. Louis Airport Police Department for his help in detailing the organization of the department as well as airport emergency procedures.

I’d also like to thank three tireless readers, Lora, Kathy, and Patti – you know who you are – for their valuable feedback on my manuscript.  Lora, in particular, put up with trying to read this chapter-by-chapter, as I wrote it, not an easy task.  I promise never to inflict that pain on a reader again.  Also, the three nurses in the E.D. – Kathy, Sandy, and Stephanie – are based on three friends of the same names.  They’re just as faithful to provide comic relief in our real-life E.D. as I hoped they offered in the story.  Long live the float trip queens.

Finally, many thanks to my editor, Patrick LoBrutto.  Pat, thanks for the encouragement, the guidance, and your valuable suggestions to hone this book into being ready for publishing.

 

 

 

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