Two ranch hands walked along either side of the line. Five children, aged 8 to 12, sat atop the smaller horses, bouncing with excitement. The horses shook their heads or flicked their tails, but were otherwise patient with their young riders. The ranch hands tightened straps and corrected posture when necessary.
Ginny Roanhorse paused as she folded an extra blanket, and leaned against the stable door. She frowned. Six children had arrived this morning, yet there were only five horses. A troubling thought tugged at the back of her mind. She knew where she would find the stray child.
Jason, the older ranch hand at 20, mounted his horse and took the head. Matt, being only 18, took the rear. They started off slowly, calling words of encouragement to the beginners. They were too young and inexperienced to see what Ginny saw, but she noted exactly what tips to give which children as they disappeared along the quarter-mile trail.
Taking a deep breath, Ginny tossed the blanket on top of a pile and hurried to the house. The kitchen was empty and quiet, a pleasant change from the chaos that had passed through as the children gathered that morning. She stepped slowly into the living room, listening. A sound, almost inaudible, drew her to the two doors under the stairs. The large door opened into a bathroom. The smaller door concealed a coat closet.
Ginny placed her ear against the closet door for a few seconds. She heard a gasp as she pulled it open.
A girl of thirteen sat on the floor under the coats, hugging her knees tightly to her chest. At first her hazel eyes looked relieved to see the woman standing above her, but her lips quivered. Her face was pink and blotchy. Chestnut hair clung to her wet face. She lowered her head. Her shoulders began to quake.
Tucking her legs under her body, Ginny knelt to the floor, letting the girl know she was not about to make her come out – not yet. She peered out as Ginny’s eyes flicked over her. There was a yellowing bruise on her wrist, a souvenir from a rough hand.
“Karyn,” Ginny said in a soft but commanding voice, “who did this?”
The girl only cried harder and buried her face against her knees.
The screams faded. The man on the table fell still. The people surrounding him removed their hands, relaxing only slightly. Thatch felt his phone vibrate against his thigh and cringed behind his mask. He always left his cell phone in his office while on shift. Always. He must have been distracted when he came in today.
(Fuck, I need a Sabbatical.)
He ignored the phone. “Ready?” he asked the woman sitting by the man’s head.
A few seconds passed before the anesthesiologist replied, “Now, Doctor.”
Thatch placed a finger over what had been the man’s ankle less than an hour ago. Now it resembled the scrap pile in a butcher shop. He could not find a pedal pulse. He side stepped and slipped his finger under the knee, which was in far better condition. He felt a thread popliteal pulse.
“Perfect,” he muttered. He drew his fingers over the man’s knee in a slicing motion. “We’ll go with a knee disarticulation,” he announced. “Let’s get this leg off.”
As soon as the OR door was shut, Thatch tore off his PIC. A quick glance in the mirror confirmed he did not have any blood on his face. He hurried through SICU to his office, and shut the door behind him. He was not about to pull his phone out in front of anyone. It was unprofessional enough that he had it in the OR in the first place, where it continued to vibrate throughout the procedure.
Thatch could not imagine who would need to get a hold of him so desperately. Nick was upstairs in the pediatric ward, and knew better than to attempt to reach him on his cell. It must have been a mistake, or a misguided telemarketer. Thatch’s throat constricted when he sat down and saw Flint Ranch on the cell phone screen.
Ginny. Of course. There must have been an accident; That’s the only thing it could be…
He used his office phone to call her back. “What’s wrong?” he demanded as soon as she answered.
Ginny spoke in a low, hurried voice. Thatch could feel his blood pressure drop as he went pale. It slowly spiked again as anger billowed in his chest. He covered his mouth with a hand until Ginny paused.
“Is she the only one?” he asked. “Did she say anything about others?”
He nodded as Ginny replied with uncertainty. He checked the clock, then covered his eyes with a hand.
“I’ll be there first thing in the morning, five or six,” he said.
The line went dead. Thatch did not move until it beeped at him. Clutching the handset, he rose it to slam it into the receiver, but stopped himself. He clenched his jaw and dumped it into the cradle.
Thatch ran his hands over his hot face. He could not believe this was happening right under his nose. (I need a fucking Sabbatical. I need a fucking Sabbatical.) With a deep breath, he shook his head. The possibilities of what could occur the next morning began to play through his head. When he finally walked out of his office, he was smiling.