Monday, July 14, 2014

Featured Author Dawn Kopman Whidden - Stolen Excerpt


Dawn Kopman Whidden


The first of the nine-one-one calls came in at 8:14 a.m. A small group of hunters witnessed a small child running and screaming through the woods. The caller told the dispatcher that it appeared the boy was shirtless, and possibly shoe less, and he was concerned because the child seemed to be alone and frightened. He explained to the operator that they had tried to intercept and detain him, but the boy was too fast and disappeared into the darkness of the woods.

The second of the nine-one-one calls came in a minute later at 8:15 a. m. The call was from a young couple hiking through the woods. They reported seeing what appeared to be a half-dressed child running from a cabin, not far from the path they were on. They told the dispatcher they noticed the boy just moments after hearing what they thought to be gunshots. Normally, the gunshots wouldn't have caused any concern, this being hunting season. Being gun owners themselves, they determined at least two of the shots were fired from a handgun—not a hunting rifle or shotgun. After a short discussion of what they should do, they decided to call nine-one-one and report the incident.

The third of the nine-one-one calls came in at 8:17 a.m.; one minute after the first car was dispatched towards the vicinity. The first group of hunters, in an effort to find the boy, came across the cabin that the second call mentioned.

It was there the hunters came across the two bodies. “One male, approximately twenty-five years of age,” the caller told the nine-one-one operator, “was laying just inside the cabin, with multiple gunshot wounds, one to the stomach and one to his chest.” The caller confirmed the victim was still alive, but barely.
The second victim was also male, but definitely older. His body was further inside the cabin and the caller told the nine-one-one operator, “There is no question, he is deceased.”

“Are you sure, sir? Is it possible you are mistaken?” The dispatcher asked the man.

“Damn sure,” the hunter answered, “I’m a physician. He’s definitely deceased.”

By the time the fourth nine-one-one call came in, the first officer, who was dispatched to the scene, arrived on what he thought was a possible DOMESTIC ABUSE CALL. It was what everyone found in the cabin next that turned the whole case into a lot more than just a possible domestic homicide.

Chapter 1

Marty had always despised the sterile white walls and cold beige-colored floor tiles of hospital waiting rooms. He didn’t care how homey the administration tried to decorate this particular room or how many air fresheners sprayed out through the air conditioning vents; the smell of death permeated the room like a dead skunk on a highway. Today the walls seemed to come alive; he could feel them begin to slowly entrap him, like an insect about to be ingested by one of those carnivorous plants found in the jungle.

The doctors may had been cutting into his father’s hard head, figuratively as well as literally, but he could feel the sharp surgical instruments physicians used, as if they were cutting deep into his heart.

Marty’s experience as a Homicide Detective gave him a great deal of insight into the widespread nature of evil and horror; but the fear he felt as he sat there brought back the nightmares he had had as a child.

He knew, now, it was the only way his father knew to deal with the situation back then. His nine children had been about to lose their mother to cancer. At the time, Marty had been nine years old and resentful towards the woman he barely knew. She had been keeping his seven brothers and himself (one of which included his identical twin) from playing outside in the last remnants of a significant snowfall of the season.

His father thought the weak breath of his dying mother was something his nine children needed to experience in order to say their goodbyes; but Marty had already said his goodbyes, years earlier, when she first became ill. In the last five years of her life, his mother was in and out of the hospital, always bedridden. To be honest, to his young mind, it was as if she was more of a guest in their home than his mother. Marty’s ‘mothering’ came from his father and his only female sibling, Mary. It wasn’t until he became an adult that he realized how much he felt the loss of his father’s first and only love, his mom. Today, he realized, he was not ready to lose his dad. He knew, now, he probably never would be.

So many of the Keals had invaded the hospital while the doctors pranced around in his father’s brain . . . . The administrators were compelled to give the clan their own waiting room so as to not disturb the other patients and their families. No matter what the occasion or circumstance, with all of these Keals in one room, there was a tendency to drown out all of the other visitors. Earlier, Marty’s twin brother, Tommy, asked for someone to volunteer and take the littlest offspring home, but no one was unselfish enough to take on the task. It wasn’t that they didn’t want the job of taking care of the brood of toddlers who were getting antsy and increasingly boisterous; it was that they would rather hear firsthand the Captain (a title he retained after years employed as the head guard at the local prison) would be okay. That everything would be fine; and the tumor, which had the audacity to invade this man’s brain, was eliminated forever. Gone, poof, disappeared, never to be seen again.

Marty was so lost in his own thoughts, he became startled when his fiancĂ©, Hope, sat down beside him and handed him a container of what the hospital had the nerve to call coffee. Up until this moment, every time someone passed by or whispered, he had jumped, expecting to see a physician in a white coat with word of how his dad’s surgery had gone.

“What the hell is taking so long?” Marty asked her, even though he knew she was just as clueless as the rest of them. To give her credit, it was Hope who originally insisted that their father have an MRI after they experienced a few strange incidents while in his company. Like the time he thought he lost his wallet and Marty found it in the freezer, cohabitating with a box of frozen Birds Eye sweet peas. His unusual absentmindedness and his suddenly calling people he knew well by wrong names they had all attributed to the natural progression of getting on in age. Callously, Marty would tease him, not at all considering the seriousness of it. A brain tumor was the last thing he had expected.

Although a physician herself, and on staff here at St. Katherine’s, Hope’s field was in Child Psychiatry; and she had no more information on how things were going with the Captain’s surgery than any of them did. Occasionally, she would get a sympathetic nod from a familiar nurse or two as the morning progressed. Hope had fallen hopelessly in love with not only Marty, but with his dad, and was on pins and needles as much as the rest of the family.

“It hasn’t been that long, Marty,” Hope told him, as she glanced at her watch; as if she needed to dignify her answer with solid proof. Marty took her hand in his as she sat down beside him, her knee barely reached halfway up his leg. Hope was so petite, barely five feet tall and all of ninety-nine pounds; next to all six-foot-three of Marty, she looked almost pixie-like. But looks could be deceiving and that was indeed the case here. This tiny woman had become his strength, his rock. Marty often wondered how he had ever gotten through the first thirty-four years on this earth without her.

Every time he laid his eyes on her, he felt amazed at his luck. The circumstances that had brought them together were cruel and sad, something they both have been exposed to in their lines of work. When they met two years ago, Marty was still an officer for the Fallsburg Police Department and Hope was making rounds at this same hospital. It was the day ten-year-old Brad Madison had been brought into the Emergency Room. Marty was the first officer to arrive on the scene that day. Mr. Madison, young Brad’s father, hadn’t shown up for work; his employer and several co-workers became concerned after several attempts to contact him or anyone in his family had failed. When Marty entered the home, he saw young Brad, bloodied and dazed, sitting in front of the television, engrossed in a video game. The bodies of his deceased parents lay upstairs, bludgeoned to death.
The nightmare case and the young boy, the main suspect of the crime, brought Marty and Hope together. It took Marty quite a while to convince this pixie of a woman to trust him and, if he was being honest, it took just as long for him to trust her. They both were on the raw end of bad relationships, which left them with tender wounds.

Marty squeezed her hand, careful not to put too much pressure on the finger that now possessed the diamond engagement ring he had slipped on her finger six months ago. He was about to tell her it had felt like an eternity when the room suddenly got quiet. Marty looked up to see all of the Keals’ eyes focused on the doorway and immediately recognized his father’s surgeon, who had just entered the room and was heading towards them.

Marty couldn’t tell by the look on the surgeon’s face what he was about to say, but he could tell by the tension in the room that he was not the only one holding his breath. Marty felt Hope’s hand tighten around his and the diamond cut into his skin, but he didn’t feel any pain. Marty glanced over to see if he could read her face. He knew, as a physician herself, Hope was more in tune with the expressions of other medical professionals and would be more apt to accurately read the look on Dr. Gary Cohen’s normally stern face.

“The surgery went well; and I believe the hemangioblastoma has been completely and successfully removed, although it was quite a bit larger than we expected. Your father is headed over to the recovery room now, and should be able to receive visitors in about an hour or so . . . depending on his reaction to the anesthesia,” he told them as he wiped his horn-rimmed glasses with the sleeve of his lab coat.

As he spoke, his eyes had drifted over each one of them, and finally focused on Hope. Marty didn’t know if it was because the surgeon was attracted to her or if he was more comfortable discussing the outcome with the only other physician in the room—and not the eight Keal brothers who towered over him physically.
All of the male Keals were civil servants: four with the FDNY, three with the NYPD, and Marty himself, who was a detective with the Fallsburg, New York Police Department. Each and every one of them attacking the man with questions all at once was probably a little intimidating. Marty’s sister, Mary, the only female Keal sibling and non-civil servant (her belly still swollen from the recent birth of her fifth child), and who was definitely the most practical in this roomful of Keals, got loud enough to shut them all up. As soon as the noise died down, she bravely asked what the rest of them were all thinking. “It won’t come back, will it?” Mary questioned him, her arms full, as the youngest of her brood tried desperately to find his way to his mother’s breast and his afternoon snack.

Dr. Cohen went off on a medical tangent and they waited, paying attention as if they were completely comprehending what the hell he was saying.

“Hemangioblastomas are the rarest central nervous system tumors, only two percent on average. They can occur sporadically, or they can be in association with Von Hippel-Lindau Syndrome.” He explained further as he noticed their bewildered looks. “Von Hippel-Lindau Syndrome is a rare, autosomal dominant genetic condition on chromosome three, specifically. Autosomal dominant, it is a genetic condition in which both parents pass the gene on to the patient. These tumors usually have a good prognosis if diagnosed early and are surgically removed. But there is usually more than one tumor associated with VHL.”

He stopped when he realized he was losing them with the medical mumbo jumbo.
It was Hope that put it all in prospective. She turned to Mary and smiled, answering Marty’s big sister with a seemingly confident, “Nope, probably not. It won’t likely be coming back.”
Hope’s answer seemed to satisfy the rest of the family—but there was something . . .  something in those big green eyes of hers that troubled Marty.

“If there is nothing more?” Dr. Cohen asked, his short, muscular neck straining as he tried to maintain eye contact with the adult Keals in the room. An obvious and difficult task, since the youngest and shortest of them, Marty’s brother Danny, stood at six-foot-two. It hit Marty then, the reason the good doctor spent most of his time focused on Hope was not only because she was easy to look at, but because she was more in his line of vision.

“What happens now?” Tommy asked, one arm around his wife Shavon, her belly swollen with twins, the other lifting his three-year-old daughter, Morgan, who was starting to verbalize her displeasure at being stuck in the waiting room all this time.

“As soon as your dad is out of recovery and cognitive enough to go over a protocol for his medical options, I will sit down with him and anyone else who cares to participate, and discuss those options. I don’t believe there will be any residual effects, and he won’t need any physical therapy; but that is something that remains to be seen once he is fully conscious. If there is nothing else, I need to make my rounds. Please keep the visits minimal for today. Your father needs as much rest as possible.”

He turned and smiled as he shook a few hands, including Marty’s. Before he exited the room, Dr. Cohen took one long last look at the Keal brigade. He couldn’t hide it from Marty. The expression on the man’s face betrayed what could only be his amusement at the size of the group that had been staring him down.

To be perfectly honest, they could be an overwhelming bunch. Marty must admit, and not to be egotistical, but they were a very good-looking group. They were all physically fit, due to their professions, not to mention their competitive nature of trying to outdo each other in the gym—or anywhere else, for that matter. Hope often complained that when situations arose like this one, when she found herself among all of them at the same time, she feels as if she is caught in the middle of a Playgirl magazine shoot. In fact, she wasn’t too far off. All of the brothers have posed, at one time or another, as shirtless models in the FDNY and NYPD calendars. Marty’s brothers, ironically, often called him the ugly duckling because he has never been anyone’s month. (Not because he was hard to look at, but because Fallsburg, New York doesn’t have its own calendar).

Shavon suggested that they should go down and get something to eat in the cafeteria since most of them hadn’t eaten in hours. They had been too nervous to stomach the thought of food. They were all just beginning to exit the waiting room and head down to the cafeteria when the ruckus began.

Marty had never heard anything like the guttural sound that came out of the child’s throat before in all of his life. At first, he couldn’t tell where the screams were coming from; the hallways were tiled and noise had a tendency to echo off of the walls. Everyone on the floor of the hospital stopped in their tracks to listen to the same strange sound he was hearing.

Marty walked out of the waiting room and into the corridor to see what the heck was going on.
The boy’s arms were flaying like an injured bird trying to take flight. He was running in Marty’s direction, like a wild animal, with two hospital attendants and a police officer in hot pursuit.
Every time one of the attendants went to grab him, he managed to twist away with the agility of a professional football player being chased by three-hundred-pound tacklers. As the kid ran, he turned and shot a look into each of the patient’s rooms as if he was looking for somebody.
“DDDDIIIRTTTEEEEE!!!” He screamed over and over again, his shouts coming in short bursts as he ran. When he turned to see where his pursuers were, he ran into what he must have thought was a brick wall. His little neck snapped back violently, his hair, a mess of long brown curls, spun in all directions. “Whoa!” Marty told him. Marty grabbed him by the forearms as he ran straight into his left thigh. The boy glanced up at him, startled at first, and then without warning, sunk his teeth into Marty’s leg, bearing down with every ounce of strength he could muster.

“Shit! Damn!” Marty screamed loudly. Marty guessed that he had expected the pain he inflicted to cause Marty to release him, but this kid didn’t know who he was messing with. The boy stared up at him, in utter disbelief, and then started his screaming again.

“Dddddiiiitrrtteee!” The sound was piercing now that the boy was directly under him.
Marty looked up at the attendants and the police officer whom he recognized as one of the newer recruits. The three of them were doubled over trying to catch their breath. Apparently, they had been chasing this kid for a while.

Marty grabbed the kid with one arm, lifting him in one swoop; he wrapped him tightly to his chest to keep him from biting him again. He used his other arm to clamp his legs down to his body, to stop his voracious kicking.
Marty looked up again and noticed a crowd gathering in the hallway. The kid was still screaming, so he hugged him tighter to his chest and placed his hand gently, yet firmly, on the back of his head to muffle the boy’s screams with his own body. Marty heard her before he saw her.
“Did you get him?” Jean Whitley asked no one in particular. She was rapidly making her way towards Marty, as the human barracuda continued to kick violently, trying to make a getaway. It was Marty’s partner, Jean, her face beet red and visibly upset.

As soon as she saw the kid was securely in his custody, she let out what he assumed could only be a sigh of relief.

Ignoring the boy for a brief second, she turned her attention towards Marty. “How’s the Captain? Is the surgery over?” she asked as she glanced toward the room full of Keals, who now had joined the other spectators in the hospital corridor.

“He just came out of surgery.” Marty informed her as he tried to keep his precious package from escaping. “They think they got it all. What’s going on?” Marty changed the subject back to the boy who was still wiggling furiously in his arms.

Jean looked over at the attendants, who were still trying to catch their breath from the pursuit, and nodded. A female doctor arrived and exchanged a few words with Jean and the two men. From the corner of Marty’s eye, he saw the small hypodermic needle enter the upper part of the child’s thin arm. Within seconds, the struggling and screaming stopped and the little boy’s long and lean body fell limp in his arms. With a bit of reluctance, Marty handed him over to one of the men wearing a white coat. It must have been his training as a cop, but he made sure to take notice of the color of the man’s hair: black; the color of his eyes: brown; and his approximate height: five-foot-seven; and last but not least, his nametag, which read: Ken Lubin, with the initials LPN below it. If Marty was going to hand over his precious cargo, he wanted to know exactly who it was that was taking it from him.

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