Sunday, November 1
I open my eyes to the cold metallic glow of a hospital ward. Machines beep and whir at my sides. The overhead lights are dimmed, but still give off the pallid glow of the unwell. I wonder what time it is and move my head, searching for a clock. A bolt of pain in my neck and shoulders tells me this is a bad idea. I guess it doesn’t really matter.
I try to move my hand to my face, but find it impossible, the strength sapped from my body. I notice an intravenous line attached to the back of my other hand. I must be pumped full of sedatives. I take it as a positive sign that I’ve figured this out; at least my brains are intact.
I wiggle my fingers against a series of plastic buttons at the side of the bed and push one. A nurse arrives a few moments later and swings away the curtain shielding my bed. I try to say something, only to find that my tongue, like every other muscle in my body, is feeble and clumsy. A muffled gurgle is the only sound to make its way past my lips. The nurse steps forward, presses her hand against my shoulder, and begins to scrutinize the machines suspended above my bed. She jots something on a clipboard before finally speaking.
“You’ve been out for a while, Mr. Harding,” she says, shaking her head. “I’m guessing you probably don’t remember much of it.”
She appears to pause and study my reaction. I can’t remember much, but there’s no way to tell her this.
“Well, there was an explosion… You were hit with some flying shards of glass.” Another pause. I stare at her blankly.
“You took a lot of it in the arm, neck and face. Fortunately it was nothing that’ll cause permanent damage. It’s a wonder the glass missed your eyes. The doctors say you are a very lucky man.” I glare back at the woman, wondering if she knows how idiotic that assessment seems right now.
“Your wife is waiting outside. I think she’s pretty eager to get in here and see you. Is that ok?”
I give a slight nod and grit my teeth against the pain. The nurse acknowledges it and leaves. A few moments pass and Amy’s face appears at my bedside. She smells warm and flowery, and suddenly the sterile ward is alive with her color. Her face is puffy and red and she clenches a wad of crumbling tissues in her hand.
“Oh my God, Luke!” she exclaims with a gasp. She rushes to my side and collapses, draping her body over me. I ignore the pain of the physical contact and enjoy her warmth.
“I can’t believe this, Luke… Are you ok? Can you talk?”
I attempt using my vocal chords again, and this time I’m nearly intelligible. “Mmm ok.”
“You were in surgery for four hours, do you realize that? They said they extracted over fifty pieces of glass from–“ Amy stops suddenly, her tissue hand rising again to her face. “But they say you’re gonna be ok. Dr. Adams even said it should heal up without any major scarring.” Scars. That’s the last thing I have on my mind. At this stage, I’ll be thrilled just to speak again.
“I’m just happy you’re ok, babe,” Amy says, squeezing my hand.
“What… day?” I whisper. The sound is low and raspy, a stranger’s voice.
“Today? It’s Sunday. You were checked in two days ago, right after the…the incident. Around 7:00.”
I struggle to recall all the events but it’s still too disjointed. I recall us responding to the scene of an incident. A shooting? A robbery? I seem to recall a church.
“I came over as soon as I got the call from Lieutenant Lorrace. I’d never heard him so scared in my life. I thought the worst had happened to you… Like those others.”
I frown at my wife, not understanding. Others?
“The two officers who were trying to arrest that man… They… Didn’t make it.”
I close my eyes and force myself to remember. More snippets come back. There was a panic, people running around. Something loud. Fire and glass.
“Hey, how’s my buddy?” says another voice from the doorway. I glance over to find Gabe walking in. His arm is in a sling around his neck, but otherwise he looks ok.
“The blast knocked me over and I sprained by wrist. I’ll live. How you holdin’ up?” He’s smiling but he’s not himself somehow.
“He can’t really talk right now. Must be all these drugs they’re pumping into him,” Amy says bitterly.
“When’s he gonna be out of here?” Gabe asks.
“Maybe a couple more days.”
“Captain?” I struggle to say. I remember that he was there too, at the church.
Gabe gives me a somber look before responding. “He’s alive, but he’s worse off than you. A chunk of shrapnel caught him in the arm. The doctors had to amputate.” He bows his head and looks away. He’s angry, I realize. Amy glances at him suddenly, her mouth hanging open. Apparently this is news to her, too.
“If only I could just go back and finish that scum off before he had a chance to pull the trigger,” Gabe growls. It’s the first time I’ve seen him like this and don’t blame him. The nurse enters the room, glancing briefly at my two visitors before giving me a nod.
“You’ve got another visitor here, Mr. Harding. The name is Richards. Are you up for it?”
The name conjures up Eva’s face. Why is she here? Could she possibly expect an interview? I can barely state my name, let alone give a statement for a newspaper. And what difference would it make? It all suddenly seems so trivial. News reports, interviews, all of it. Who cares? The nurse leaves before I have a chance to respond.
“We’d better give him some space,” Gabe is saying to my wife. “Why don’t we grab something in the cafeteria. You want anything, Luke?”
I shake my head once, not feeling the least bit interesting in eating. The news about my two dead colleagues and Pryce’s amputation has killed any sort of appetite. I watch as the two leave quietly down the hall.
When Eva enters a few minutes later, she’s holding a small bouquet of flowers in one hand and her purse in the other. She sets the bouquet down on a table at the foot of the bed and then stands at my side, her eyes assessing the damage.
“So, who were you trying to save this time?” she asks with the slightest of smirks.
I groan, not really in the mood for jokes, though I appreciate the effort.
“I heard about Officers Cole and Stenson on the news. I’m so sorry. The bombing is all anyone is talking about, even the big networks…” Her voice trails off as she studies my expression. I’m totally apathetic to whatever’s dominating the airwaves, and she seems to sense it.
“I’m not here for your story, Luke. I just wanted to pass something on, something very important. I wanted to get it to you first, before the press descends on you. And trust me, they will. I counted six vans with reporters and camera crews milling around outside.”
“What?” I ask in a voice still hoarse but stronger than minutes before.
“I did some research on the bomber, Matthias Ward. You know he was a cop before?”
“Did you hear why he quit that job?”
“I don’t really care.”
“Well, apparently there’d been all sorts of internal issues with him in the department. Some thought he was unstable. Later, he moves down here. I think he wanted a fresh start. He gets a job working in a post office. He’s there for a couple of years, probably for the health benefits. At the time, his wife has stage three colon cancer. The insurance company refuses to cooperate; they say it’s pre-existing and not coverable, et cetera et cetera. Well, she finally dies and Matthias is stuck with the three kids.”
I’m half listening as she rattles on, wondering why she thinks I need to know any of it. I’ll be happy if I never hear the name Matthias Ward again. Still, it’s curious how much Eva has managed to dig up in just two days. I wonder if the news vans outside have gathered as much dirt.
“Flash forward to about eight months ago. Matthias decides to sign up for a church membership at St. Peter’s Episcopal and takes the kids with him faithfully every Sunday.”
“I know, I talked to the pastor,” I say, surprising myself with a nearly normal voice. Maybe it’s the mental focus.
“Yeah, so did I. He said the family was getting a portion of the donations.”
Eva’s face flashes with a wry smile and she shakes her head slowly. “But church membership at St. Peter’s for a family of four isn’t cheap. If my sources are correct, it would’ve been over four hundred dollars a month for Matthias and the kids. I doubt the church would’ve then turned around and given him that money back, plus a little extra.”
“What’re you saying?”
“I think Matthias was there for something else. He may have even been a plant.”
I close my eyes and let out a heavy sigh. I’m not in the mood for Eva and her conspiracy theories.
“It fits the pattern, Luke. I think Matthias was hired by the same people that rounded up those arsonists.”
“Eva, stop. Please. I don’t want to have this conversation now. People are dead.”
“Yeah, and they’ll continue to die if something isn’t done soon. These are contracted attacks, Luke. Something bad is going on and I believe it’s going to keep escalating.”
“Then go to the police.”
“You are the police.”
“Not the police you need. If you really think something this big is being planned out, you need to talk to the FBI.” Eva averts her stare for a moment, a shadow settling over her expression.
“I went to them, months ago. I… I don’t trust them, Luke. That’s why I came to you. When I saw that you’d saved people from that fire, I knew I could trust you.”
I take a deep breath and try to process everything, but my mind moves in slow motion.
“So what’s your theory, then? That Matthias–an American, and an ex-cop–was hired by some secret terrorist organization to bomb a church, and maim himself and his children in the process?” Eva’s shaking her head.
“No, the kids were never meant to be hurt.”
“How can you even know that?” I say, feeling flustered. Eva gives me a cold stare and pulls something from her purse. It’s a CD with something scribbled on the top in black marker.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“I went through all of the footage from the news crews at the scene and put the video together. I want you to have a look, tell me what you think.”
“No, but don’t let it wait too long. I feel I’m running out of time.”
“Okay, fine. I’ll take a look.”
“Do it at home, and make sure you’re alone.”
“Sure, whatever,” I say, alarmed by the paranoid look in her eyes. Eva turns suddenly as my wife walks into the room suddenly. She’s holding a sandwich wrapped in cellophane in one hand and a can of Coke in the other.
“Who are you?” she asks Eva.
“Hi, my name is Eva Richards. I’m a friend. You must be Mrs. Harding.”
“That’s right,” Amy says with an edge. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think my husband is able to talk with you right now, not in this condition.”
Eva opens her mouth as if to explain, but stops herself. “You’re right. I’ll be on my way.” Then, to me, “Rest up, Officer Harding.”