"Are you sure visiting hours start this early?" Tinny questioned as she followed Des along the street in the direction of the hospital. In the absence of a car, they had been forced to take the bus and then walk the remaining distance. Having spent most of the night at the hospital, the time at the house had been short, but no less awkward. Neither of them had been able to sleep and by the time that dawn had finally crept around, the tense silence between them had gotten to be too much and Tinny had only too gladly taken up Des' suggestion that they go check up on Rose and, if possible, Mal as well.
Des didn't answer and Tinny had the impression that he purposefully sped up his steps, forcing her to hurry in order to be able to keep up with him. Tinny glanced at her watch. It was just after 8 a.m. She was sure that visiting hours didn't start that early, although she really had no idea when they did start.
Des turned the corner onto the premises of the hospital, disappearing from sight. Tinny broke into a slight run, trying to catch up with him.
"Des!" she called. "Just wait a second!" Ever since he had returned from the cottage the previous night to break to news of what had happened to her, Des had been unusually quiet and withdrawn, giving Tinny the distinct impression that he was uncomfortable in her presence. Now too, he either hadn't heard her or had chosen to ignore her for he neither stopped nor slowed down but continued toward the entrance of the hospital at a brisk pace. It was almost as if he was trying his best to avoid her.
"Des!" Tinny finally caught up with Des and managed to snag him by the sleeve of his jean jacket. Just as she did so, however something else caught her attention: the sound of glass shattering, coming from somewhere above. Tinny looked up at the nearby hospital building just in time to see a dark object being tossed out a broken window several floors up.
"Look..." she began, but before she got half-way through uttering the word, her voice was swallowed up by a deafening bang as the falling object exploded in a ginormous ball of fire. However, neither Des nor Tinny were in any position to appreciate the spectacle as the shockwave of the explosion was more than enough to propel both of them off their feet and throw them backward, away from the center of the blast.
After having been airborne for what had seemed like a very frightening length of time, the impact with the unyielding concrete came hard and fast for Tinny. For several seconds, she just lay there, unable to even breathe. When she finally managed to draw in a shaking breath, the acrid smell of smoke brought the reality of what had happened back to her in an instant. Ignoring her scraped palms and knees, Tinny clambered unsteadily to her feet. She had barely taken a few stumbling steps in no particular direction when she was stopped and found herself face to face with a woman she'd never seen before. The woman seemed to be talking to her as Tinny could see her mouth moving but all Tinny could hear was a persistent buzzing noise. Suddenly, the woman's mouth stopped moving and she looked at Tinny questioningly. Tinny realized that she had to be waiting for an answer to some unheard question.
"I...I can't hear you," Tinny stammered after a moment, her mind still trying to catch up with what had just happened. "My friend, my friend Des, he was here with me...is...is he okay?" she asked as she suddenly realized that Des wasn't with her anymore. Tinny was growing increasingly panicked.
She twisted in the woman's grasp, trying to see if she could catch a glimpse of Des anywhere. Much to her relief, she could see Des a few meters to her left, already being aided by man dressed in scrubs and a lab coat. That reassured her enough to allow her to focus back on the woman who was still trying to lead her away from the scene of the explosion. Still feeling confused as well as rather shaken, Tinny decided it would be best to comply, at least for now.
For once in his life, Hood was glad to hear of a bomb threat coming in. Usually these occasions which called for massive manpower, were gigantic wastes of time and in 99.9% of all cases there was no actual bomb to be found. Though he would never had admitted as much, after all, a police officer wasn't supposed to be happy that life and property were at stake, he would do pretty much anything to get out of under the mountain of paperwork that the incident of the previous day had generated. He especially didn't relish explaining his connection, however tangible, to the case. The whole affair was one big mess, the only silver lining being that Paul Richter's charred body had been found in the ruins of his cottage. Good riddance to him, that was for sure. A formal identification of the body by the coroner was still pending and likely would be for days, but for the moment, Hood had to take what he could get.
As he wasn't running point on the case, he wasn't in the loop regarding the latest developments. However, from what he had been able to gather the night before, both the kidnapped girl and Mal were expected to make it. Richter probably hadn't meant for this to happen, but inadvertently might have saved them from death by smoke inhalation by drugging them with an animal tranquilizer before setting the blaze. That, so one of the paramedics on the scene, had slowed their breathing enough so that the amount of smoke they had been exposed to wasn't fatal. Still, the whole thing had been a very near miss and getting his mind off this case certainly wouldn't hurt. Spending a few hours wasting his time talking to an endless string of people who hadn't seen a thing might just be what he needed to clear his head.
Any positive thoughts Hood might have had were quickly chased from his mind however when he arrived at the hospital, joining a considerable number of other police officers at the mobile command center that had been set up outside a large cordoned off area in the hospital parking lot. It was immediately obvious that this was more than just an idle threat called in by a prankster. There clearly had been an explosion. A sizable section of the outside wall of the building had been singed several floors up, windows in a large radius had been shattered, glass and shreds of burned material were strewn all over the asphalt beneath the damaged section of wall and cars parked in the vicinity bore the unmistakable signs of the shockwave. If Hood didn't know any better, he would have thought that a bomb had exploded in mid-air. But that seemed preposterous. Shaking his head, he turned his attention to the briefing, held by one Inspector Beech whom he hadn't met before yet and who was from a province-wide terrorism task force.
"Okay everyone!" Inspector Beech called. "Now that the majority of you are here, I think we better get started. At around 8:05 this morning, an explosion occurred in the immediate vicinity of this building," he gestured to the blackened wall behind them. "According to several witnesses, it occurred in midair. The bomb squad technicians have detected explosive residue on fragments on the ground so we are dealing with a bomb. We..."
The inspector was interrupted by a young man who tapped him on the shoulder and whispered something to him. Beech nodded, then addressed the assembled law enforcement officers.
"I have just been informed that the bomb squad's scent dogs have detected probable explosives aboard a car parked in the visitor parking area. The bomb squad will assess the situation and secure any explosives if present, but in the meantime, we have to evacuate the hospital. There is no telling if there are any more explosives on the premises. The hospital security personnel will coordinate the evacuation with our assistance while the bomb squad will continue with their grid search of the premises. Meanwhile, it's of paramount importance that we identify any further witnesses and secure all relevant surveillance footage. If there is indeed a terrorist background to this, we need to hit the ground running."
Hood quietly snorted to himself in a mixture of contempt and amusement. This Inspector Beech was unbelievable. If there was terrorist background? What about if they were just dealing with a garden variety lunatic without any greater aspirations? As if that wouldn't call for swift action! But he knew that type of investigator only too well - young, overeager and over-educated - they liked to toss around big words and usually preferred to coordinate things rather than to get their hands dirty so that they could look pristine at the inevitable press conference.
Hood ended up being one of the many officers assigned to interview potential witnesses. Well, it probably beat helping with the evacuation, but he still wondered whether he should have been more careful with what he wished for. Right now his desk seemed like a much more pleasant place to be. As he walked over to one of the hastily erected tents where the people who had been in the vicinity of the explosion had been assembled, he wondered how Leslie was getting on with her undercover gig. Whatever she was doing right now, it probably beat this grunt work by miles, he thought.
At the entrance to the tent, he was promptly stopped by hospital security. Once he'd identified himself, the man's stern features softened minutely.
"It's good to see you, sergeant. I have been trying my best to keep everyone calm, but I'm afraid I haven't had much luck." Hood grimaced. If there was one thing he wasn't good at, it was dealing with panicked witnesses whose statements were usually not of much use anyway, much like most witness statements really. The only thing worse than trying to sift through various inconsistent and often mutually exclusive accounts of a single event, was dealing with the recently bereaved.
Unfortunately, his chosen career frequently called for both. Mentally steeling himself for what was to come, he nodded toward the security guard and stepped into the tent. There were about a dozen people there, three or four of which appeared to be medics. The rest, some of which were in the process of being patched up, were probably the people who had been nearby when it had happened. Much to his relief, most of them appeared fairly composed at first glance and tears were only flowing sparingly and mostly on the part of a little girl who appeared to resist her mother's attempts at soothing her. Deciding to avoid them for now, Hood looked around for someone to interview and, much to his surprise, spotted two familiar faces among the group. There was Tinny, Mal's grand-daughter and also Des, who seemed to never stray very far from the Doyle clan. Apparently, it wasn't just Mal and his late son Jake who had a knack for ending up in the midst of trouble. Other members of the extended family seemed to be magnets for chaos as well.
Although he wasn't really in the mood for their particular brand of craziness, Hood pulled out his notepad and walked over to where Des was sitting, a medic bandaging his left forearm.
"Excuse me?" Hood said when neither Des nor the medic appeared to noticed his presence.
Des startled. "Sergeant Hood!" he exclaimed. "Uhm, what brings you here?" Hood raised an eyebrow, thinking that the answer was well and truly obvious, but taking in Des' chalky white complexion, he decided to let this one slide.
"I was wondering if you could tell me what happened?" "I think so. It's all a bit..." Des gave a vague wave with his right hand that Hood thought might signify confusion, then went on. "I didn't really see anything, not at first at least. I think Tinny did though. I only felt it. Although I did see the sky burning, but it wasn't really. I only saw it for a second anyway..." Des trailed off and Hood took the opportunity to interrupt his disjointed ramblings.
"Maybe you better start at the beginning," he suggested, privately thinking that he should have picked another witness to start with. It would take ages for Des to get to the point, if he ever did. Hood thought Des' was difficult enough to follow normally, but apparently that was nothing compared to when he was rattled. ´
"Oh yes," Des said in response to Hood's question, nodding emphatically and nearly falling off his chair in the process. "I can definitely do that."
Rose wasn't overly fond of promises in general, finding that all too often, she came to regret them sooner rather than later. Her promise to Tinny the other night that she would stay in hospital until she was cleared by a member of the medical profession was no exception. When she had questioned the nurse who had checked in on her first thing in the morning about being released, she had been told that she would have to wait for a doctor to see her and that wouldn't be happening for several hours yet. That left Rose to poke at her breakfast, not really enjoying the institutional cuisine very much. Her worry for her husband didn't help either, but that too, she had been told, she would have to take up with one of the physicians.
At the moment, there wasn't great deal she could do, except be a good patient, eat her breakfast and hope that her headache would, now that whatever painkillers that had allowed her to get a somewhat decent night's sleep had worn off, remain at acceptable levels. Instead however, she found that it was rapidly escalating again, pounding inside her skull with dull persistence. She had been so wrapped up in her thoughts that at first she hadn't noticed the increasing noise filtering in from the hallway. Only when the hurried footfalls built into a veritable commotion, her curiosity was sufficiently aroused to put aside her sandwich. She had just put on her clothes from the previous day when the door was opened by an orderly, a security officer following closely on his heels.
"Excuse me, ma'am, the hospital is being evacuated. We need you to..." the orderly began.
"Evacuated? What's going on?" Rose interrupted, not having expected that.
"It's just a precaution, ma'am," the security officer replied politely, but evasively. Rose didn't believe her for a minute, but her head ached too badly for her to be in any mood to argue the subject any further.