They stopped right in front of us.
“Excuse me?” Lester Fine, I noticed now, was about as tall as I was, maybe a hair taller. He wasn’t as good-looking in person as he was in the movies or on TV; he had some acne scars on his jawline and neck that probably were disguised by makeup when he was acting. “Are you the victims of the incident this morning?”
I looked around. Victims? What victims?
Then I saw he was looking at me and Tim.
“Who, us?” I asked.
Bixby was trying to push Lester Fine along without actually touching him. It didn’t work. Fine opened his mouth to say something else, but before he could, we heard the frosted sliders open and turned in unison to see Bitsy carrying a tote bag that was almost bigger than she was. June was hurrying after her.
“You can’t be in here,” June said loudly.
Bitsy saw me, waved, and turned to June. “I’m just dropping this off,” she said, indicating the tote bag, in a tone that clearly said, Don’t mess with me.
June looked up at Dr. Bixby and shrugged. Bixby nodded, as if to say it was all right. June turned and went back out the doors. Bitsy continued toward us.
Bitsy grinned, reveling in the fact that everyone was watching her.
“What’s up with the door Nazi?” Bitsy demanded. “Like this is some sort of prison.”
Being a little person, she had no problems being a little politically incorrect.
I, on the other hand, wanted to shrink into the floor and disappear. Although not as much as I did just a second later, when Bitsy pointedly looked up at Bixby and winked. “He’s cute,” she said, handing me the tote bag.
I felt my face grow hot.
The bag weighed a ton. I wanted to see exactly what Bitsy had brought. Maybe a saw, so Tim and I could break out of this joint.
Bitsy was the first to break the ice.
“You have to stay here all day?”
I was keenly aware that we’d already been here a couple hours, that it was now past noon, and that I was hungry. I was starting to hope Bitsy really did put a saw in that bag, or at least something that would give me an excuse to leave.
“Just to monitor them,” Dr. Bixby said.
“The TV crew is just outside. I don’t see why this is a problem.” Lester Fine obviously had moved beyond the current conversation. He was completely ignoring his lackey, who stood behind him, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. I tried to catch her eye, but she was staring at the floor, her head down like a good servant. I felt bad for her.
Bixby shook his head. “I’m sorry, Lester, but cameras are not allowed back here. HIPAA laws, you know.”
Ah, patient privacy rules. I liked the sound of that.
But Lester Fine was not one to give up easily. “We could take them outside and talk to them there, and then they can come back.”
Take who outside? He was staring at me and Tim. Oh, right, the “victims.” But before I could say anything, Bitsy jumped in.
“Just who do you think you are?” Bitsy’s voice bellowed louder than her small stature would imply. “Are you looking for some photo op that would make you look good to voters?”
Lester Fine looked at Bitsy then, a snarl creeping around his mouth. “And just who do you think you are?”
“I am one of those voters. You should speak to me with a little more respect. I am also this woman’s friend, and she’s been through a horrible ordeal today, and you can’t exploit that for your own personal gain. Maybe I should go out there and tell those reporters the kind of person you are.”
I wanted to applaud, but it might not go over well.
Lester Fine’s face had turned a bright shade of red. He took a deep breath and stood up a little straighter. He pulled down on his suit jacket, held his head high, and stormed off around the center station and out the frosted doors without a response. The woman shuffled off after him.
Bixby was smiling at Bitsy. “Thanks. He wouldn’t listen to me.”
“You have to know how to talk to some people in just the right way,” Bitsy said, turning her charm on.
“How many TV crews are there out there?” I asked, eager to interrupt.
“I counted three trucks,” Bitsy said.
“Detective DeBurra said he’d deal with them,” Bixby said. That must be where he was, then. Dealing with the media. Of course now Lester Fine had gone out to show off his pretty face, so even without the “victims” they’d still get a story.
Tim had taken the tote bag from me and was rifling through it on my bed. He took out a pair of jeans and a button-down shirt, a pair of socks, shoes, and boxers. He started for his own curtained area, but Bixby put his hand up.
“You can’t change yet. We can’t release you for another couple of hours.”
Tim stared him down. “You said yourself that we’re probably okay.”
“Probably. Not definite.” Bixby took the pile of clothing. “We’ll keep this safe, and you can change later.”
“It’s cold in here,” I said.
Bixby took out the boxers and socks and handed them to Tim. He looked at me and said, “You can put something on, too, but you have to keep the johnny coat on.”
Great. But it was better than nothing.
Tim, clutching his clothing, went behind his curtain.
Bixby turned to Bitsy. “You can stay for five more minutes, but then you have to leave.”
She nodded and smiled. Bixby smiled back, as if he couldn’t help himself.
“He’s really cute,” she whispered, pulling my curtain closed.
“I know,” I whispered back. I took a pair of underwear out of the bag and slipped them on. The bra was a black lacy one, a Victoria’s Secret purchase from when I was dating Simon Chase the playboy. I raised my eyebrows at Bitsy as I held it up, and she chuckled.
“It’s for the doctor,” she said innocently.
I took off the johnny coat and put the bra on, wishing it covered up more than it did. It was one of those bras that make you look like you’re a lot more endowed than you are, because it squeezes everything together.
It was not comfortable.
I gazed longingly at the stretchy slim black T-shirt in the bag. I made an executive decision and slipped it over my head. Without debating with myself, I also put on the skinny dark jeans and the Tevas and wadded the johnny coat up and threw it in the corner.
Bitsy just stared. “You’re not supposed to change,” she admonished, but in a whisper.
“I’m getting out of here. We need to find Charlotte.”
“I don’t know where she is,” Bitsy said. “Joel and Ace and I have called all over.”
“She’s got to be somewhere, and I hope she’s not sick,” I said, peering out through the crack in the curtain. Bixby was nowhere to be seen; the nurses were busy tending to other patients.
“So what’s the plan?” she asked.
“You’re going to have to go out there and make some sort of diversion so I can slip out unnoticed.”
“Like maybe I should fall or something, make a racket, and tell them I’m going to sue?”
“Sounds good to me.”
Bitsy cocked her head in Tim’s direction. “What about him?”
“What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” Even as I said it, though, I felt a bit guilty. And a little nervous. He wouldn’t be happy once he knew I left without authorization. I tried to convince myself that I felt fine, and no one had committed me here. I was a free agent.
I could probably kiss any sort of date with Dr. Bixby good-bye.
Bitsy handed me a set of keys. “My car is in the parking garage, level three. It’s right near the elevator. You can’t miss it. I’ll meet you there.”
I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “You’re the best, Bits.”
“You do know I expect a raise for all this?”
I couldn’t tell whether she was joking. I watched her go out around the center station and through the frosted doors. Within seconds, a loud thud shook the floor, and I heard a cry. I hoped she really hadn’t hurt herself.
Clutching the keys, I stepped out into the main area among the nurses who were heading for the waiting room to see what had happened. One stopped me.
“Where are you going?”
I indicated the bathroom. She nodded her approval and continued past me. I stopped in front of the bathroom door, glancing around for Dr. Bixby, but didn’t see him. I did see Tim, looking out from behind his curtain.
I gave him a little wave and a nervous smile, and just as he took a step toward me, I bounded out the frosted doors. Bitsy was on the floor, four nurses and June surrounding her. She gave me a wink as I caught her eye, and I kept walking.
The door to the parking garage was just to the left; I could see the media circus outside, Lester Fine preening and Frank DeBurra scowling.
I pushed open the door that led to the garage; the heat hit me squarely in the face. The elevator gods were with me, though, because when I pressed the button, the doors slid open immediately. I went inside, hit three, and watched the doors close in front of me.