Nightshine, p.2
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       Nightshine, p.2

         Part #4 of Kyndred series by Lynn Viehl
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Page 2


  GGB. Charlie’s blood ran cold.

  “Ah, great. ” Vince groaned as he rolled the steering wheel to make a U-turn and head toward the enormous, orange-red suspension bridge that could be seen from virtually any spot in the city. “Fucking East Bay commuters couldn’t wait another fifteen minutes to get to work. ”

  “Ten-four, Dispatch. ” Charlotte flipped on the lights to avoid looking at the bridge. “Echo one-M-seven en route, ETA two minutes. ” She couldn’t let her phobia get the better of her, so she retrieved a war story for her partner. “Be grateful. Last time Tom and I took an eleven eighty-one, we had to evac a pregnant woman with a fractured tibia from a bad fall. I had to push her gurney all the way from the end of the pier. ”

  “Big deal,” Vince said. “I could jog that in my sleep with two gurneys. ”

  “She weighed four hundred pounds, screamed for her mama the entire time, and nearly ripped the restraints off,” Charlie told him. “Oh, did I mention she was in hard labor, and the baby crowned by the time I got her streetside for the chopper?”

  “You get all the best calls, Marena. ” Vince yelped as she punched his shoulder. “You do. ”

  As Vince sped toward the Golden Gate Bridge, Charlie removed their handhelds from the console charger and clipped them to their belts. After their last call, she’d stowed their carry-ins in the back to swap out at shift change, and they were both running low on dressings. Fortunately she and Vince were both religious about checking and restocking their supply bins before shift start. “I’ll grab some more packing; anything else you need for your bag?”

  “I used my last collar on that HNR. ” Her partner swerved around a slow-moving semi and blew through a red light. “Traffic had better be on point. I don’t feel like dodging rubberneckers or lane hoppers. ”

  Providing quality EMS care to the citizens of any busy, overcrowded metropolitan city always presented major challenges, but since Governor Schwarzenegger had signed Assembly Bill 2917, the county’s emergency medical services authority had been required to overhaul most of their existing licensing and response systems. The bill, which had been enacted to assure that all paramedics and EMTs were properly certified, licensed, and subject to criminal background checks, had put nearly half of the city’s private ambulance services on probation for failure to comply with the new law. Many EMTs who had been concealing unsavory pasts had been fired, but others who felt outraged at the prospect of being fingerprinted and otherwise treated like criminals had simply quit, resulting in a severe shortage of qualified techs.

  The fire department, the primary provider of the city’s 911 medical services for the past fourteen years, had already been wrestling with call-management and response-time problems in every district. Unfortunately the state’s response to its economic troubles was to institute a hiring freeze at the same time, which resulted in Charlie and her coworkers pulling mandatory double shifts every week. They were also coping with the department’s new “dynamic deployment” policy, which required ambulances to be stationed at different grid points around the city versus waiting at their district stations for calls. It had improved their initial response time, but if a second incident call came in for the same area while they were responding to the first, then other rigs had to be diverted from their assigned points, which created instant gaps in the deployment grid.

  It didn’t help that one-third of the calls the department received every year were for nonemergency situations. Most of those callers turned out to simply need a ride to the hospital, and thought the fire department should provide free taxi service. Some days Charlie felt more like a bus driver than a medic.

  The windshield turned white as the dense fog rolling in from the bay swamped them, erasing the bridge entrance road and making the two bridge towers appear as if they were nothing more than a couple of bright red clips sticking out of an old lady giant’s fluffy white hair.

  Vince flipped on the fog lamps before he peered ahead. “You see the HP?”

  Charlie spotted the muted red and blue lights flashing through the fog. “Looks like he’s up by the pylon. ” She ignored the tightening in her chest and picked up the mike. “Echo one-M-seven, dispatch, please advise traffic response to eleven eighty-one GGB city-side. ”

  “Echo one-M-seven, Marin County Sheriff currently diverting southbound at tollbooth,” the dispatcher told her. “CHP backup en route, ETA four minutes. ”

  Marin County had shut down the tollbooths, which would keep commuters coming from the opposite direction toward San Francisco off the bridge, but the accident was located on the south end, where there were no tollbooths, and Highway Patrol was two minutes behind them. While northbound traffic was lighter in the mornings, rush hour still attracted thousands of drivers. Low visibility due to the fog added another dangerous obstacle, one that had the potential to turn a simple fender bender into a massive pileup.

  “What the hell is that trooper doing, just sitting up there instead of setting up the barricades?” Vince grumbled. “How much you want to bet he’s some rookie tossing his last coffee and doughnut over the railing?”

  “I don’t bet against the Highway Patrol,” she told him as she gnawed at one side of her bottom lip before she called in again. “Dispatch, Echo one-M-seven, ten forty officer on scene?” They didn’t usually radio the patrolmen directly, but the northbound lanes needed to be blocked off now.

  “Echo one-M-seven, OS is code six, not responding. ”

  “Told you,” her partner said. “He’s puking his guts out. ”

  “Or he’s performing CPR. ” Charlie frowned. Even the greenest rookies knew to carry their handhelds with them when they left their vehicles. Something wasn’t right.

  “What else would keep him so busy that he couldn’t respond to dispatch?” Vince demanded.

  Charlie knew. “Jumper. ”

  The Golden Gate Bridge held one grisly honor, in that it was the most popular place in the world to commit suicide. Roughly twice a month someone leapt from the deck and dropped two hundred and forty-five feet to the water below, where they almost always died on impact. Those few who survived hitting the water’s surface, which at the height and speed of the jump was equal to crashing into a concrete wall at seventy-five mph, would then either drown or succumb to hypothermia.

  A few years back Charlie had been disgusted to learn that a documentary maker had been given permission by the bridge authority to film the bridge as a monument, only to use the permit to secretly capture footage of twenty-three of the twenty-four suicides that had occurred that year.

  Vince, one of the few people aware that Charlie actively avoided the bridge—no one knew why—was giving her the quick glances of a man trying to drive too fast and see whether his partner was going to lose it at the same time.

  “I’ll call for another rig,” he said, reaching for the mike.

  “No. ” She put her hand on his to stop him. “Odds were that it would happen sometime. ”

  “Charlie, we gotta go on the bridge, and you’ve got fucking bridge-a-phobia,” he said. “You sure?”

  “It’s okay. I’m fine. ” No, she wasn’t, but as much as she wanted to dump the call on someone else, she couldn’t dodge her responsibility. Nor could she ask Vince to drop her off at the next corner and let him handle it alone. She would do her job, no matter how many ghosts were waiting for her at the scene.

  “You’ve never told the powers that be about this thing of yours, have you?” Vince asked.

  “Not something you put on the résumé, partner. ” She rubbed her eyes. “You know, I won’t even drive across the goddamn thing. I always take the ferry. ”

  “Good day to get over this shit, then,” Vince said, giving her shoulder a gentle cuff. “Ferry’s too fucking slow. ”

  To keep from screaming, Charlie focused on the call and what possibly could have gone wrong. Highway Patrol responded to jumper calls, and often ta
lked down the suicidal before they took the fatal leap. If the officer on scene was actively engaging the jumper, he might have temporarily turned down his radio to keep from spooking them.

  But as they approached the S1 pylon, Charlie didn’t spot anyone on the walkway or the deck railing. In fact, she could see the black Highway Patrol car with its distinctive white door and golden star emblem, and the trooper still sitting in it. He’d parked it in front of a blue compact, a silver SUV, and what appeared to be a long black limousine. From the damage to both vehicles Charlie could see that the SUV had rear-ended the compact, crushing the trunk as well as crumpling its own hood. The limo sat facing the compact as if the driver had been driving in the opposite direction and had swerved over and stopped to render assistance.

  Or the rich asshole told his driver to make a U-turn on the bridge and caused the accident, Charlie thought. That would be more logical.

  She needed to learn what she could before the sun rose, so she closed her eyes and listened. The blare of the rig’s sirens and her own fluttering heartbeat dwindled away and a different sound filled her thoughts.

  The thought stream came roaring through her. Can’t give in can’t let her be shot he won’t die she will the pain I can’t stand it damn it let me think.

  The agony he was feeling came along with his thoughts, and racked her with such intense pain that she almost doubled over. She managed to shut off the stream and looked at the CHP vehicle, but she couldn’t tell whether the thoughts were coming from the trooper.

  As Vince drove up behind the trooper’s car, Charlie’s eyes went into snapshot mode, taking in the scene with brief, intense glances. Car doors left hanging open. The flash of an orange taillight. Two bodies sprawled in the middle lane. A third lay half in, half out of the compact’s driver-side door. She focused on the most important elements at the scene—the victims—and began to assess. Bloodied clothes, slack faces, awkward positions. None of them moved.

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