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Built Of Steel: Chapter One

Cover of Built of Steel, Book 6 of the Small Town Heroes series

World Of Hurt

Lia

Lia Moreno removed her hands from her patient’s abdomen and flexed them for a moment. After more than forty hours of surgery with only minimal breaks, her muscle aches were starting to have aches of their own. She wasn’t at the point where she needed to collapse, but taking mini-breaks to stretch and flex her hands was vital. And finding a bathroom would soon be a matter of necessity.

First, she needed to finish patching up her patient. Mr. Johnson had been one of hundreds seriously injured in a major pile up on the 285. A gas tanker had exploded and the resulting domino effects had hundreds of people injured. She’d bet all the operating rooms in Atlanta were full and all the surgeons were going to be busy for hours yet.

“Need me to take over?” Dr. Larry Oliver’s snide question had Lia rolling her lips together to keep her own snide remark internal. The pompous ass hated the fact that she was the lead surgeon. In the asshat’s opinion, he was more worthy simply because he was male and a decade older. His skills didn’t match his opinion.

Lia kept her own voice calm and pleasant. “Of course not.” If she left Mr. Johnson’s intestines in Larry’s hands, the man might end up with a colostomy bag. She intended to make sure that didn’t happen.

Another hour later, she finished the final repair. “Time to close up and get Mr. Johnson on to a full recovery. Well done, team. How’s he doing, Dr. Ibrahim?”

As the anesthesiologist, Casilda had been working hours as long as Lia. They made a good team and Lia requested her whenever possible. She was calm, steady, and kept the tone light with her knowledge of the staff. Casilda remembered every birthday, every child, every grandparent of the team. She somehow even tracked the dates of all the singles on staff.

Which took the pressure off Lia. With Casilda in the room, Lia could concentrate on what she did best. Her surgical skills were excellent. Her people skills? Not so much.

She’d never got the hang of the whole friendship thing. Growing up homeless, then in foster care, meant her trust factor was pretty low. Her conversational skills weren’t much higher. Being several years younger than her colleagues in medical school hadn’t improved things much.

Lia blinked hard and cleared her mind. The OR was no place for a wandering mind. She wasn’t even sure what day it was or how many hours it had been since she’d eaten, but that was no excuse. Her patients required her best, and that’s what they got. Every time.

If it was any other surgeon, she’d ask them to close for her, but Larry would see it as a sign of weakness and use it against her. Even though he’d just come off his second four-hour sleep cycle and she hadn’t taken one yet.

Mr. Johnson would be much better off if Lia finished the operation, so she would do that.

A crash and raised voices sounded outside the OR, but no one flinched. A hospital was often filled with chaotic noise, both human and otherwise. Emotions obviously ran high and it was rare if a day went by without someone striking out in some way because of grief.

Casilda started singing, and Lia’s muscles loosened. The doctor could easily have made a living starring on Broadway, but Lia was very glad she’d chosen medicine instead.

Lia hadn’t ever been surrounded by music, but she’d learned many of Casilda’s favorites. This one was Think Of Me from Phantom of the Opera. The music was haunting, and the lyrics were sad and hopeful at the same time. Filled with longing for what had been and what might be again.

With her focus on her patient and the music, Lia didn’t realize the noises were close to the OR until the door flew open and banged against the wall.

Lia leaned over to cover her patient from any germs. “What the hell?”

Larry let out a yelp and dropped to the floor.

Lia looked up to find one young man holding another. Blood covered them both. The young man being carried appeared unconscious and to be the source of the blood.

The man carrying him also waved a handgun. He wouldn’t have a lot of control with his arms full, but in a room this small, he wouldn’t need much control to kill.

The man, a boy really, looked around the room with wide eyes and then at the door. Casilda had stopped singing so now they could hear the voices outside.

He shouted at the door. “Anyone comes in here and people start dying.” Panic covered his face along with the sweat. From her angle she didn’t think he was injured.

The gun pointed in her direction. “You. You need to fix my brother. Now.”

“I will. I need to finish up with Mr. Johnson here, and then I’ll look at your brother. You need to stay over there. The room has already been contaminated, and we need to close up this wound quickly.”

“No. Fix my brother now.” He waved the gun at her with a shaky hand.

“I can’t. I’m covered in Mr. Johnson’s blood and if I touch your brother, it could kill him. We’ll be done in a few minutes. Tabora, pass me a new clamp and aim the suction here please.”

“Hey, bitch. You need to fix my brother.”

Med school had taught her to be calm in all circumstances, but having a gun pointed at her wasn’t part of her training. She rarely let her temper show, but she was too tired to control it. “Look buddy, I’ve been working at saving this man’s life for the past six hours. I’m not letting him die. If you want the same dedication for your brother, you’ll give me five damn minutes. Now be quiet and let me concentrate. Tabora, the clamp please.”

No one said a word while Lia finished as quickly as she could. Noises from outside the room tried to penetrate, but she ignored it all.

When Mr. Johnson was finished, she snapped off her gloves and dumped them. “Tabora and Larry, please wheel Mr. Johnson out and send a gurney back in for our new patient.” She glanced at Casilda and saw those steady eyes she needed. “Casilda and I will get our patient prepped. I’ll let you know if I need assistance.”

“Hey, I’m in charge here. No one leaves without my say so. You don’t get to give the orders.”

Lia heaved out a sigh. “Do you want me to try to save your brother’s life? He’s bleeding heavily from what I’m assuming is a gunshot wound to his abdomen. We can waste time arguing or we can work on saving him. Your call.”

Her knees almost collapsed when he nodded. Larry and Tabora wheeled out Mr. Johnson and in moments, Tabora wheeled in a clean gurney.

“All right, Mr.—” She let her voice trail off. At this point, someone had to be listening in and trying to get them help.

“I’m Sneaks. Call me Sneaks.”

She nodded. “Okay Sneaks, get your brother on the gurney. Casilda and I are going to wash up.”

And hope like hell they all made it out alive.

Joe

Joe Cheveyo sank onto a seat in the south terminal of the Atlanta airport. As far as airports went, this one was top-notch, but he just wanted to be home.

Between the recent situations with his family and friends up at Midnight Lake and his job as one of the FBI’s hostage negotiators, he’d bet he’d spent more time in airports and on planes than he had anywhere else in the last few months. Maybe everywhere else combined.

Exhaustion was hitting hard. He wanted to be home, in his own bed, for a very long while.

Strangely, the image that the word home conjured up was of his room in the Vermont lodge on the edge of Midnight Lake he’d inherited with his sister and not the house he actually lived in back in Sacramento.

He’d always lived in Sacramento. He loved the city, loved the people and his job. But he was tired. Tired of it all.

Once he managed to get eight hours horizontal, he’d be fine. He wasn’t burning out. Not like his buddies Nico and Sam intimated. He was just tired. Too many trips to too many places. Too many entitled assholes trying to use other people to get things they hadn’t earned.

A look at the clock in front of him showed another half hour before his connecting flight would be called. Maybe he’d set a timer and catch some sleep. Not that the chairs were conducive to napping, but it was better than sitting there mulling over his life choices.

Better than envying Sam and Nico. While Joe owned part of the Midnight Security business they shared with a few other friends, his best friends were living it. Like him, both were former FBI. Nico had been a top profiler in demand across the country. Sam had chased down the pricks who kidnapped kids. A hell of a job.

Now Sam had married Joe’s little sister. Nico had married a friend and artist. And they were happy as the proverbial pigs in shit up in Vermont.

He’d never thought he’d wanted that. Never thought he had a shot at that. His job was too big, too important. And he wasn’t built for that kind of life. Shaking off the questions, Joe set his timer and leaned his head back against the wall. His eyelids had barely closed when his phone buzzed with a call.

A quick peek showed it was from his boss, Kent Jackson, back in Sacramento. Damn it. This was not going to be good news. “Cheveyo.”

“Are you still in Atlanta?” No personal greeting. Definitely not a good sign.

“I’m at the airport. Flight should be in within the hour.”

“It might be, but you won’t be on it.”

Damn. Home and sleep were looking further and further away. He tried to keep his voice neutral, but he could hear the weariness slipping out. “And where will I be?”

“Across town. Or maybe it’s closer. I don’t know Atlanta well enough to say.”

Well, at least it wouldn’t be another flight. “What’s up?”

“A hostage situation in a hospital.”

Well, that was an unusual one. “A pissed off patient?”

“No. From the information I have, an armed man carried in an injured man. He stormed through the hospital and into an operating room. He’s holding the surgeon and anesthesiologist hostage until they operate on the injured man.”

Joe had his bag slung over his shoulder and was approaching the exit. “I’ll get a cab. Text me the name of the hospital and the address.”

At the taxi stand, Joe flashed his badge and jumped in the first cab. He passed along the address. “I’m an FBI agent and this is an emergency. Hostage situation. Best speed possible.”

The cabbie grinned like it was the brightest day of his life. Joe grabbed the oh shit bar and read the incoming information from his boss.

So far, no one knew the name of either the armed man or the man he’d been carrying. The hospital was cooperating with the local law enforcement, who were already on the scene. Hopefully someone was scouring the security footage and finding him more information on the hostage taker.

When his phone rang, it was a local number, so he picked up. “Cheveyo.”

“This is Darryl Crowley, Special Agent in Charge, Atlanta Division. Thanks for helping out. Our best negotiator is on maternity leave and I need someone with more experience than my other guys on this.”

“What have you got so far?”

“Looks like it’s gang-related. The footage shows both men wearing Roamer’s colors.”

“I don’t know much about the gang situation here. Give me the basics of that particular gang.”

The cab driver’s eyes widened and he pressed harder on the gas.

In no time, the lights from the hospital were visible. Joe checked the meter and yanked enough bills to cover it and a tip. He tossed it on the front seat and was out of the car before the driver had come to a full stop.

He strode through the door and headed for the nearest security guard. He showed his badge. “Where’s the situation?”

He avoided using the word hostage in the crowded room. No need to cause any panic. The young guard looked at his badge, then she pointed toward the elevator. “Up on the third floor. To the right. A work area has been set up at the nursing station.”

He thanked her and headed for the stairs. He wasn’t wasting time waiting for an elevator. As soon as he entered the third floor hallway, he spotted the control center and hurried forward to hold up his badge again. “Joe Cheveyo from the Sacramento FBI office. Who’s in charge?”

A tall woman looked up. “I’m Deborah Bridger, local FBI, but with no expertise in hostage negotiation. Thanks for coming so quickly.”

Joe nodded. “What do we know?”

“We’ve got a male suspect, late teens or early twenties, in the last operating room on the right. He used a gun to force the staff to let him through the doors. He carried in a younger male with an apparent abdominal injury. Potential gunshot. Lots of blood. Hostages are the surgeon and anesthesiologist.”

“Any demands?”

“He wants the surgeon to fix the injured youth. When he barged in, the team was in the finishing stages of another operation. According to the nurse, Dr. Moreno agreed to operate once she was finished with her original patient. He threatened her with the gun, but she didn’t back down and he didn’t shoot. Dr. Moreno sent the nurse, another doctor, and the rest of the team out with the patient and asked for a clean gurney for the youth.”

Joe was surprised. Doctors and nurses had reputations for being calm when dealing with just about anything, but facing a gun was not their usual kind of stress.

“Can I speak with the nurse or the doctor who came out?”

Bridger rolled her eyes. “The doctor is being a drama king over the terrifying incident he endured. Somehow he’s become the hero of his own story, which I think is bullshit. Your best bet is the nurse.” Bridger turned and raised her voice. “Tabora?”

A woman put down a chart and approached them with a worried smile. “Any word on Lia and Casilda?”

Bridger shook her head. “Not yet. This is Special Agent Cheveyo. Can you run him through what happened in there?”

Tabora spoke quickly and succinctly, covering what he already knew and adding the fact that the injured youth was the younger brother of the man with the gun. Which meant the shooter would be agitated and concerned. He hoped like hell the surgeon was able to save the boy’s life, as that might be the only way to salvage the situation.

And he really hoped Dr. Moreno was steady enough to do the surgery at gunpoint.