Maggie shifted the binoculars upward,
seeking distraction. She saw a flock of birds braving the drizzle, flying high
over Gateway, probably heading for the park in hopes of bread scraps from people walking there. Dumb asses! People didn’t “do” rain in quite
the same manner as birds did. They were in for a big disappointment. She took her gaze downward toward the roofline, following the stainless steel trim around the squared-off
roof. Wetness running off it made the roofline look like a birthday cake with
icing running down over the edge; a touch of sweetness in a bitter world.
Further down, the lights were all
on in the Atherton’s apartment. At the window, Scooter stood frowning,
peering into the rain. Peering straight into her own eyes. He was saying something. Momentarily a man appeared to stand
beside him. A large hand on the small shoulder.
Scooter was pointing in her direction. The man stared. Then his eyes were meeting her eyes also. A woman walked up
behind both of them. Staring where Scooter was pointing. She nodded, said something. Maggie sighed, put the binoculars
down. “Maybe we could have a party,” she muttered unnecessarily. She picked up her coffee cup from the window sill.
It was stone cold. She had known it would be. She realized she was feeling a little grumpy.
Maggie made herself some lunch awhile
after noon. Sandwich, tossed salad, glass of milk. Boring! She washed up, went to the bathroom and washed up again. There was a BUSCH Race on TV. Lots of baseball games. “Eeny meeny miney moe …”
A John Wayne movie she’d seen twenty times before … the first time in the 50’s … at the theatre,
for God’s sake! Yuk! She channel
surfed awhile, went back to NASCAR. All the pre-race bullshit. They interviewed all the same drivers they interviewed over and over every single week … their every
speech a detailed commercial for whoever they drove for, and whoever’s logos adorned their cars. Double yuk! Another off-key acapella rendition of what might
or might not have been the National Anthem, edited with warbles and sour notes.
Somebody needed to teach these idiots to SING! Or better yet, call in
one of the military bands which could actually get it right! Some bald-headed nincompoop with another stupid prayer about
blessing these race drivers and their families … blah blah blah … Rednecks. GAH! She switched the channel a few more
times, then turned it off. “Boogity Boogity Boogity” yer ass!
Maggie went back to the window with
a Fifth Avenue candy bar in her hand. Bit off a chunk. Chewed thoughtfully. Ummm. She popped the other half into her mouth and chewed. Sat down
on the recliner, picked up the binocs.
Fancy Nancy had returned to her apartment, and she was alone.
She looked a little worse for wear, as though she had been working steadily at some other location. She must be setting up her new place at the same time she was tearing this one down. She already had the drawers out of the credenza, lined in two rows on the floor. Four dining chairs were close to the front door, two of them standing, the other two, seats down on top
the other two. There was a small microwave, an apartment-size refrigerator, a
smattering of decorator vials and vases and a bunch of odds and ends nearby. For
now she sat on the floor sorting linens from the drawers of the credenza into three cardboard boxes pulled up close behind
her. The doors of the credenza top were hanging open, revealing two rows of pretty
long-stemmed glasses, silver-ringed water glasses and a nice set of white bone- China. On the bottom shelf a large statue of a beautiful Ming horse stood with foreleg lifted,
After fifteen minutes or so, Nancy finished sorting linens and dragged the boxes one-by-one to the
vicinity of the door to join the other stuff already there. She paused a moment,
then walked into the kitchen and brought out three more nested boxes and a stack of old newspapers. Dropped them in front of the credenza. She reached across
and set the heavy Ming horse on the floor in front and close beside the stack of boxes. It would be the next thing to pack.
swiped the palms of her hands down the front of her jeans, then turned in the direction of the bathroom. Nature called! She went inside and closed the door. Ten minutes
later, back again, and back to business. Maggie watched, impressed. The girl was efficient!
stood for a moment, hands on hips, surveying the mess on the carpet. A little
undecided about what to tackle next. She stared up at the glassware. Maggie smiled. Knew just what the kid was thinking, because
she hated wrapping glassware also. It was tedious, boring, and one had to be
oh so careful or the damned things would literally leap out of your fingers, searching frantically for a hard place upon which
to smash themselves. Like a blister on your toe, any little movement made them
turned, ready to begin taking glasses off the top shelf and wrap them in newspapers.
She took a step in that direction, and the same moment, from her apartment
all the way across East Side Drive, Maggie Kincannon shot to her feet, dropped the binoculars and screamed:
“Oh my God! Look out!”
Only silence. Only the silence of crashing glass. Only the silence of Nancy’s
scream as her foot dashed into the base of the heavy Ming horse, and only silence when she lost her balance and crashed, shoulder
first into the edge of the credenza top. Maggie could hear the silence of slow-motion
catastrophe as disaster reigned down and the heavy top half of the credenza came loose from its mounts and fell forward, directly
into Nancy’s face, hitting the side of her head, spewing shards of shattered glassware and splintered bone China everywhere. Nancy’s arms came up in reflex motion, protecting her face and eyes, but otherwise
she was too late, her reaction not in time, and the heavy piece knocked her down across the pile of boxes, into the little
refrigerator and the microwave oven, slamming her into the wall beside the built-in mirror by the front door where it settled
drunkenly across the lower half of her slender body. It rocked for a moment,
then lay still. Nancy
went down beneath it and did not move.
Across the street, Maggie froze for
a moment in horror. Then her nurse’s brain began to function. She looked out the window in search of Scooter … or Richard … or even Paul. Scanning for help. Anyone!
Scooter was there at the window. Paul and Richard, nowhere to be seen. She gestured to the child frantically, pointing downward to Nancy’s apartment. Pointing and pointing. The child frowned. Would he understand? She didn’t know. She turned around
quickly and yanked open the drawer of the little table beneath her phone. The
hearing aids! They were there. She
placed them in her ears and turned on the little switches. They squawked, then
cleared. She lifted the phone receiver, paused, dialed 911.
“What is the nature of your
emergency?” Same damn words everywhere.
Maggie cleared her head and began. “Gateway apartment complex. 341 Eastside Drive. Apartment 5, I think. Third
floor. Girl’s been hit by the top of a falling credenza. She’s not moving. I saw it from across the street. Send an ambulance … and hurry.”
“Your name please?”
“Margaret Kincannon. 318 East Side Drive, apartment twenty-six.
Let’s go!” She slammed the phone down and turned back to the
had not moved.
In Apartment Ten, Gateway complex,
341 East Side Drive, the phone rang insistently. Ken McGruder looked across the
room at his wife, Cindy. He’d been standing at the bay window next to his
son Luke, who had been looking down into the street for some odd reason, and was now shouting something up to him in alarm. “The lady, Dad! The lady!”
“I’ll get it,”
Cindy called. She answered the phone and paused to listen for a moment, then
looked up at her husband, still trying to hush their son who kept insisting something about “… the lady!”
“Who is it, honey?” Ken’s hand was on his son’s shoulder, trying to quiet him, but Luke
would not be silenced.
“It’s the lady, Dad! The lady we saw at the window the other night.
Something happened, Dad! She just pointed to me and then ran across the
Cindy called to him, her fingers
covering the phone’s mouthpiece. “It’s the squad, Ken. They want you to meet the ambulance … something’s happened down in Apartment
Five. Accident . Dr. House lives
down there somewhere, doesn’t he?”
Ken frowned and looked down at his
small son. Luke had known something was up.
He stared at Cindy, trying to think half a dozen thoughts at once. “Uh
… yeah. Gregg House? Yeah,
he lives in Eight, I believe. You don’t think he’s gotten himself
hurt again, do you?”
“I don’t know, honey. They didn’t say. They just want
you to meet the ambulance when it gets here. It’s on its way.”
Beside him, Luke pulled at his father’s
shirt tail. “Is Dr. Gregg okay, Dad?
He didn’t hurt his leg again, did he Dad?”
“I don’t know, son. I certainly hope not. You sure like that
dude, don’t you? Funny. Not
many people do. You musta got him by the short hairs or somethin’ …” He smiled, touseled his son’s hair. “I
gotta go, Luke. The squad’s meeting me in a little bit. Gotta see what’s going on.”
“Can I come too, Dad? I gotta go see Dr. Gregg!”
Ken shook his head and reached across
to the couch for his EMT jacket, slipping it into place over his shoulders. “Not
right now. I have to go to work, and you know how important it is when I have
to go to work. I’m sure your Doctor Gregg is all right, but I’ll
let you know. All right?”
“Yeahhh …” Luke’s response was less than enthusiastic.
Ken put on his hat, keeping it official,
and leaned over to kiss Cindy on the cheek. “I’ll call you,”
he said. “Soon’s I know what the hell’s going on.”
She nodded. “Be careful!”
“I will,” and he was
out the door.
Behind him, his wife headed for the
kitchen to find something to occupy her time until this next mission was over. Ken
was very good at what he did, but she worried about him.
Still in front of the bay window,
Luke McGruder stared into the street, looking for … whatever … he didn’t know. The usual traffic. Traffic lights still blinking amber. It was one big mess out there. Misty
rain and drizzle didn’t help either.
Suddenly across the street, the heavy
front door of the older apartment house swung outward and a stout gray person elbowed her way onto the sidewalk. The Lady! It was the lady from the other fourth floor! She was an OLD lady! In blue jeans and
an old sweat shirt. And this was July.
He bet she was hot! He watched her as she stood at the curb, looking for
a break in traffic so she could cross the street. Then she found one, and quickly disappeared below his line of sight.
Luke had to know what was going on. He glanced into the kitchen. Mom was doing dishes. He snuck to the
front door, opened it, and made tracks into the hallway.
Maggie stepped up on the opposite
curb and made her way quickly to the front entrance of Gateway. Just as she stepped
onto the first step, she could hear the siren of the ambulance from somewhere behind her.
But it was delayed. Stuck in the crush of traffic, along with hundreds
of other vehicles, confused by the blinking amber signals and everyone trying to get home at the same time on this slushy
She quickened her pace. Maybe if she could get to Nancy’s
apartment she could be of some help until the medics got there.
Luke McGruder ran like mad down the
side stairs to the fourth floor of Gateway. He had to see Dr. Gregg ! He would die a thousand deaths if his friend had gotten hurt again!
He reached Apartment Eight and banged his fists as hard as he could on House’s front door. Apartment Eight? Apartment Five? What was the difference? He just had to make sure Dr. Gregg
Someone opened the door very quickly. It was Dr. Wilson. “Well hello,
Luke.” James Wilson backed away from the door. “Would you like to come in?”
Luke poked his shiny black head around
the doorframe and looked around. “Where’s Dr. Gregg? Is he okay? He didn’t get hurt again, did he?”
“Whoa … whoa there, big
said with a smile. “Easy does it!
Gregg is fine. He’s resting.
What’s going on?”
“I gotta see Dr. Gregg!” Luke insisted. “My Dad said there
was an accident . He’s waiting for the ambulance. I thought it was Dr. Gregg. Let me see him! Please!”
From the bedroom doorway a deep voice
called across the room. “Hey Friend Luke!
What’s got your knickers in a knot?”
It was Dr. Gregg. His head was cocked to the side, a look of deep puzzlement on his mobile face. He was dressed in a grey
sweat suit and his right foot was barely on the floor, but he certainly did not look hurt. Luke broke from the doorframe,
ran headlong for him and skidded to a halt just in time to keep from touching Gregg’s body. Gregg’s left hand was already out, defending himself from any rough contact near his leg. He needn’t have worried. The small face looked up at
him in devotion and relief. “You’re okay, right?” The boy’s voice was quaking.
“I’m fine!” House rolled his eyes out of the child’s sight.
Sometimes he thought that if he was asked that question just one more time, he would chew nails and spit quarters, then ram a well-aimed fist into the teeth of the idiot who asked the question. Just not this idiot!
“My Dad said there’s
an accident and I thought it was you.”
“It wasn’t. Where is there an accident?”
“Dad said Apartment Five. Is your place Five? Or Suzanne’s
House and Wilson both shrugged. Wilson moved closer,
leaving the front door standing open. “I don’t know many people here,”
House said. “Suzanne who?”
“Suzanne DiRocco,” Luke
told him. “The artist.”
“Maybe we should go see,” House suggested, looking up pointedly at Wilson.
His friend sighed. It was no use arguing when Gregg made up his mind. “Can
you do it?” He looked pointedly at Gregg’s leg.
“I’m fine, dammit!” House replied for what seemed the hundredth time that day.
closed his eyes and counted to ten. What was the use? “Let’s go,” he said. “Gregg, I’ve
got your goody bag.”
Gregory House picked up his cane
and followed slowly. They took the elevator down to the third floor. Knocked on the front door of Apartment Five. There was no
knocked again, then tried the door. It was unlocked.
They stuck their heads inside. Saw the devastation, saw the shattered glass, saw the credenza on its side, and saw
the blood. Wilson
blocked Luke’s way and turned him around. “You wait in the hall! Dr. Gregg and I have to go to work now. Do
Luke nodded. “That’s what Dad said.”
“Your Dad was right. Do you like Dr. Gregg and me enough to listen to what we say?”
Luke nodded tentatively. “Yeah …”
nodded and turned. “Good. Thanks.” He tightened his grip on Gregg’s goody bag and disappeared back inside.
Luke slid down the wall to sit on
the floor and wait. Down at the end of the hallway, The Lady was peering in his
direction. And behind her, so was his Dad!
Gregory House was on the floor beside
the girl, in full doctor-mode. His cane had been flung across the room away from
the glass shards. His index and middle fingers were at Suzanne’s throat,
searching for the pulse. His other hand, meanwhile, assessed the damage to her
face, hands and torso. Wilson
eased to his knees amid the garbage and slid to Gregg’s side. “How
“Not as bad as it looks,”
his companion noted. “Pretty sure there’s a concussion. That thing came over on top of her and knocked her into next week.
The rest is mostly cuts and bruises. We need to get her to the hospital
and dig some of the glass out of her. Patch up and sew up the cuts. She should be okay in a couple of weeks.”
dug into the goody bag and removed antiseptic and cotton swabs. House reached
across for them, both hands bloodied and slippery. He wiped the mess on his sweat
pants and returned to his patching. Wilson
kept handing him more antiseptic, more bandages.
Just as the girl began to awaken,
there were two more people at the door: an EMT Techie and a wide-eyed older woman
of ample body and indeterminate age. The Tech moved in close to where House was
working, his rubber boots crunching glass into the carpet. He paid it no mind,
and House did not acknowledge him.
“Hi Ken,” Wilson said.
“Evenin’ Dr. Wilson. I see you got my kid with you out in the hall.”
“Yeah,” Wilson acknowledged with a grin. “He showed
up at Dr. House’s door … really worried about ‘Dr. Gregg’.”
“I know. My God, he drives me nuts worrying about Dr. House!” McCruder
lowered his voice. “How is his leg doing anyway?”
grimaced. “It’s as good as it’s ever going to be,” he
hedged with a shrug.
“That’s what I thought. By the way, my crew is stuck in traffic. Nothing
movin’ downtown. Squad can’t get through. They’re bringing the gurney down along the sidewalk an’ we’ll take her back the same
way. How’s she doin’?”
“House tells me she has a concussion. Cut up pretty bad. Lost some blood. Going to need some glass dug out of her. He’s
“Good. Anything I can do?”
“Probably nothing until they
get the gurney up here.” He tipped his head toward the older woman still
standing in the doorway talking to Luke. “Who is that?”
“My boy tells me she’s
the lady who lives across the street. She saw it happen … called 911. Turns out she’s a retired nurse from somewhere in Pennsylvania.”
‘Yep. Cool, huh?”
As they spoke, Gregg House turned
around with a request for more bandages and more anticeptic. The palm of his
right hand was again covered with blood. And again he wiped it on the already
smeared sweat pants. Wilson
handed over the remainder of the supplies from the goody bag and House returned to his swabbing.
Thirty seconds later a string of
colorful profanity drifted back from where he was working. The girl was returning
to consciousness and beginning to squirm beneath his hands. “I need a hypo
here, gentlemen,” he was grousing. “Quickly! Before she slugs my ass and I land in a fucking corner somewhere!”
“Ahhh … that’s
the Gregory House we all know and love!” Wilson muttered under his breath as he dug out the hypodermic needle, removed its shield
and handed it back into his colleague’s bloody hand.
“Thank YOU!” The needle swung down, blood droplets rained backward in a tiny shower, and in thirty more seconds, the
threshing stopped. “Fuck! Screw
me! Oh shit, crap and Goddamnit!”
sighed in exasperation and leaned in across House’s prone body. “Gregg,
what the hell is wrong?” He demanded under his breath.
House raised himself gradually from
beside his unconscious patient and sat up. Angrily he extended his bloody palm
for Wilson’s examination. “I was down there going nuts trying to find where this kid was bleeding out, and I couldn’t
find anything! Well guess what! Son
of a fucking bitch! It’s not her that’s bleeding. It’s me! And it’s my fucking RIGHT HAND! There’s a glass shard down in it somewhere and I’m bleeding like a stuck
pig! Are there anymore bandages? I’m
going to be about two quarts low by the time we get out of here! And I’m
going to need a goddamn wheelchair! If I can’t use my right hand, I sure-as-hell
can’t walk! This kid is going to owe me a BIG freaking one!”
If the problem hadn’t been
so serious, Wilson might have cracked up.
Behind the four of them, if you counted
Suzanne, Maggie Kincannon was getting an earful. This was the quiet, introspective,
gentle and beautiful “Paul” of her fantasies?? This querulous, irritable
toilet mouth was the same man she had thought so refined, so quietly suffering and courageous, so much a hero to a small child? Oh brother! Her judgment of character
had certainly taken a dive into the gutter. In a way, it was funny. Hilarious! He acted like a total jerk, and he was a doctor,
for God’s sake! A healer. A
man of medicine and a protector of the public health! Hah! If he couldn’t protect his own health, how could he do so for others?
He had stabbed himself in the hand with a piece of glass and never knew it until he bled all over himself! What a joke! Maggie could not help it. She laughed,
standing in the doorway of an apartment she had never been in before. She bent
almost double with the laughter. This was the result of what she’d put
the damned hearing aids in for!
She looked up for a moment to discover
they were all staring at her. And she laughed again, deep in her belly at the
nonsense of it all. She felt sorry for Fancy Nancy. Suzanne! But Suzanne would be fine. Ken McGruder was okay, and
as far as she knew, so was Dr. Wilson. “Richard!” She had named him
for “Richard the Lion Hearted”. What a scream! He was in love with the loudmouth! They probably deserved
There was only one thing that bent
the whole works a little too far to the south. “Scooter”! Even that was funny. His name, if you put it together the
right way, and she realized she was the only one who could do that, was “Scooter McGruder”! Something out of a damn comic book! Like Elmer Fudd!
Maggie Kincannon laughed until the tears ran. But Scooter … Luke … was the catalyst in this mess. Children
did not pick losers for their heroes. Most kids were smarter than that, and she
hoped Scooter would not prove to be the exception. Gregory House must have SOMETHING
going for him!
The people over there crawling around
in the middle of the floor probably thought she was ready for a rubber room! Probably
they all were. Holy Hannah! The
lot of them reminded her of the Keystone Kops!
In time, traffic outside broke up;
the utilities crews replaced the blown transformer and Princeton’s streets returned
to normal. The EMT squad showed up with the ambulance and a wheelchair, and both
Suzanne DiRocco and Gregory House were removed from the luxury apartment that looked like it had been bombed during Dolittle’s
Maggie returned to her own apartment,
washed the stink off under a hot shower and settled in for the night. She had
no interest in a cup of coffee, the binoculars, the recliner, or staring out the window to intrude upon the privacy of others.
She had removed her hearing aids
in the bathroom and set them on the counter. Now she picked them up and went
to the kitchen to put them back in the drawer. While her hand was on the little
table, she heard and felt the vibration of the phone ringing very faintly. If she had been in the living room, she would never have heard it. She shoved one of the little units into her left ear and keyed the switch, then picked up the receiver.
The person on the other end of the
line was Gregory House.
He said: “Hi Maggie. This is Gregg House.” (Pause)
“Yeah. I’d like to extend you an invitation.”
“Yes I would. We’re having a small get-together at my place tomorrow night, and we’d like you to attend. Would you please join us?”
“Well … yes, I guess
I could. Would you like me to bring anything?”
“Well thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Six o’clock?”
“I’ll see you then, Dr.
“Good night …” She hung up the phone and stood dumbfounded.
At 6:00 p.m. she was in the hallway
outside Apartment Eight in the Gateway Complex. She didn’t have a chance
to knock. James Wilson, looking comfortable in dark jeans and a tan turtleneck,
opened the door before her, a smile on his incredibly beautiful face.
She stepped inside at his bidding
and her eyes were immediately drawn across the room to the man in the wheelchair. He
was in dark blue, a color most wonderfully suited to him. He looked a little
tired, but then she remembered that he always looked tired. The right leg rest
of the chair was raised and there was a pillow under his knee. His right hand
was bandaged, but not heavily, and she figured he’d had to have stitches to close the nasty slit in his palm.
Maggie looked around the room, confirming
the elegance she had first seen through the binoculars. The piano was beautiful;
more beautiful then she could possibly have realized from across the street. House
must certainly be a virtuoso to have an instrument such as this in his possession. She
also noticed that she was the only guest there. She began to have suspicions. Best confirm them. “Where is everyone?” She inquired brightly.
Gregg House said with a tinge of polite sarcasm, “is here!”
“Oh. Then I guess I’m on the carpet?”
“On the ‘red’ carpet!” House agreed.
took her hand and drew her with him across the room to sit on the sofa near House’s wheelchair. She allowed him to lead her willingly. They sat.
House continued, the blue eyes twinkling
for a change. “We were talking to Luke.”
Everything fell into place like a
magic jigsaw puzzle putting itself together out of thin air. “I see.”
“Luke has told us …”
“’Scooter’! I called him ‘Scooter’, you see.”
“That’s it. That’s what I’ve called him for a long time.”
“Um humm … ever since
his ‘Potato-Chip-Bag-and-Soda-Can-Gang’ days.”
“Oh, you knew about that too?”
“I was there when it happened.”
“That’s not what I thought! I saw them hurt you, and I was frightened for you.”
“You were?” His tone was changing. Wilson
was suddenly listening with both ears as Maggie continued.
“Yes. I’m a nurse, you see, and I couldn’t figure out how such a small bump to your legs could cause
such damage. But I figured it out eventually.”
“The injury to your leg is
chronic isn’t it? Permanent. At
least that’s what I see. Please tell me if I’m wrong.”
“No. You’re right. It’ll never get any better than
it is right now.” His blue eyes were angry.
Smouldering. He was holding back all the bitter feelings of his situation.
She couldn’t blame him. He was on his best behavior right now, consciously curbing the pain and resentment in his heart because she was in the
room. She admired his courage, and now she could see what Wilson saw in him. Wilson probably took a lot
of shit from this man, processed it and then put it away and never took it personally because of the love, and she could suddenly
see that James Wilson belonged nowhere except at Gregg’s side. “You’re pretty much in physical pain all
the time, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. Pretty much.”
“And now you have the hand
“Yeah, but that’s temporary.”
“I know.” She smiled. All of a sudden these two men were very important
to her. Not in a fantasy way, but in a real honest-to-God respectful way. “Would you like to know what your names were?”
Gregg grinned. He was a beautiful man, and she hoped he would eventually find peace.
He nodded. “Yeah.”
silent up to now, nodded also. “Yeah.
“You …” she indicated James. “You were ‘Richard’. ‘Richard the Lion Hearted’. And
it’s nice to know I wasn’t that far off.”
He smiled and dipped his head. She could see the color rise in his cheeks.
“And you …” She smiled at Gregg’s wonderful
face, and as she did so, released the fantasy name and allowed it to slide forever into history. “You were ‘Paul’, my first and last fantasy lover. I hope you’re not offended, and I hope you don’t mind. All I had was the look of you, and I think I saw what you feel.
His smile came back. “No,” he said. “I don’t mind. I’m rather flattered.” His
head dipped also.
“And by the way,” she
added, “I know all the rest. I’m very happy for both of you.”
Of course they’d realized she
knew, and were perhaps a little nervous. But that was gone now also. The air between them was clear.
They ate supper in the kitchen, laughing
like old friends over the hot dogs, the French fries, the baked beans out of a can, and Budweiser beer. Then they retired to the big room with the piano. Gregg and
James sat comfortably the way she’d first seen them, snuggled up together on the couch, James gently massaging Gregg’s
injured hand, and Gregg relaxed to the point of ecstasy.
like old friends, they watched some boring TV and told some boring jokes. Maggie
told them about Arthur and their home in Harrisburg, and James
told her that he would be moving in with Gregg the moment his old place was sold.
They clanked beer cans and drank
to those wonderful things.
Just like old friends!