“I’ll take care of it,” I said, getting up from my desk.

Once I entered the foyer, I saw my visitors were Richard and Chuck, Shay’s two friends. I was about to welcome them when they jumped to their feet and rushed toward me, both speaking at once until I stopped them.

I held up my hand, silencing them. “One at a time.”

“We did what we could, but she’s hurt,” Richard blurted out. The side of his face was swollen and had started to turn black and blue.

“She’s hurt bad, Pastor. Real bad,” Chuck added.

“Shay’s hurt?” They could only mean her.

Richard nodded and his eyes clouded with tears. “I tried to stop him, but he was a big guy and he threw me down like I weighed nothing.”

“I ran and got help,” Chuck inserted. “Richard wouldn’t leave her. No siree, not Richard. He stood up to that brute. He was a hero, a real hero.” The other man looked at his friend with pride shining in his eyes.

“What’s happened to Shay?” I demanded. They could tell me about their own efforts later. What I needed was to find out about Shay.

“The aid car came and took her to the hospital.”

“Which one?”

The two old coots shrugged. They didn’t have a clue.

“Who hurt her?” I demanded.

“Don’t know his name,” Chuck said.

“She called him Shooter,” Richard supplied. “He knew her from a long time ago…he wanted her to tell him where to find Caden, her brother. She tried to tell him she didn’t know, but he didn’t believe her and then he kept hitting her. Nothing I did would stop him.”

My stomach pitched like I was on a sailboat in the middle of an Atlantic storm. Quickly returning to my office, I reached for my coat and told Mary Lou I’d give her a call as soon as I had information. I knew she must have overheard our conversation.

“I may need you to cancel my afternoon appointment schedule.”

“But—”

I didn’t stick around to listen. Richard and Chuck got in the car with me, both talking at the same time, adding more details. Chuck had come after Shooter with a mop, but Frankie had a bat, I learned.

Getting to Shay was what was most important, and making sure she was going to be all right. The best place to get further information was The Corner Café. If Sadie and Frankie had been at the scene they would be able to tell me which hospital Shay had been taken to by the aid car. Thankfully, it was the lull between breakfast and lunch at the café.

As soon as I walked into the café, Sadie looked up as if she’d been expecting me. Although the incident had happened hours earlier, the server remained pale and drawn. As soon as she saw me, she covered her mouth as if she was about to break into tears.

“Which hospital?” I asked without preamble two feet inside the door. I didn’t have time for small talk. Sadie could tell me the role she’d played and what she knew later. Right now, I felt a burning need to get to Shay.

“Swedish,” Sadie called out.

“Thanks.” With a quick reversal I started back out of the restaurant, nearly running directly into Richard and Chuck.

The two men looked stunned, as if they weren’t sure what to do next.

“You coming?” I called over my shoulder.

“Yes.” Richard agreed automatically.

“You think it’ll be okay?” Chuck showed hesitation.

“Your decision.” I wasn’t inclined to talk him into accompanying me if that wasn’t what he wanted.

Both Richard and Chuck followed behind me, scrambling to keep up as I rushed back to where I’d parked the car. I noticed how uneasy Chuck was in the car, shifting his weight every few seconds.

Luckily, I knew a good spot to park at Swedish and pulled right in. Before I lost Katie I’d volunteered as a chaplain and was familiar with the area and the staff.

Richard and Chuck trotted along behind me as I headed toward the ER entrance, knowing that was where the paramedics would likely have delivered her. The two men remained in the waiting room while I walked past the receptionist. No one questioned my being there, as I was known and respected.

It didn’t take long for me to find Shay in one of the cubicles. Seeing how badly beaten she was, I instantly felt light-headed and dizzy. I thrust out my arm to grab hold of the wall in order to steady myself.

“Drew?”

Looking up, I saw Dr. John Carson.

“Someone you know?” he asked, looking toward Shay.

I nodded. “Yes. She’s a friend. A good friend.” If I ever doubted my feelings for Shay, seeing her battered face and the blood matted in her hair was all the answer I needed. For a moment I thought I would be sick.

That someone would beat her, would dare to hurt her, filled me with a rage so strong it demanded every iota of resolve I possessed not to slam my fist through the wall. I wanted to hunt down this animal and give him as good a beating as he gave Shay, if not worse. By nature, I’m not a violent man, but in this instant I could easily have lost it.

“Drew? You okay?”

Inhaling a stabilizing, even breath through my lungs, I forced myself to remain calm and levelheaded.

“How badly hurt is she?” I asked Dr. Carson.

“I’m waiting for the test results now.”

“She’s unconscious?” Shay hadn’t stirred since I entered the room. True, I hadn’t talked to her directly yet. But if she was awake, she would have heard my voice and recognized that I was with her.

“Your friend is in a coma, Pastor. Although I’m waiting for the test results, I’m fairly certain she’s suffered a fractured skull.”

A fractured skull was serious business. I swallowed against the shock and the fear. “Surgery?”

“Don’t know yet, but it’s possible.”

The physician patted me on the shoulder. Carson was a good doctor and a good man. He knew about my wife, and while he specialized in emergency medicine, he’d sat with me toward the end with Katie.

“We can’t let you stay back here,” he told me gently.

“I know.” I’d half expected to be kicked out before now. “Can I talk to her for just a moment?”

He hesitated. “Not more than a minute.”

Stepping toward the gurney, I lifted Shay’s limp hand and raised it to my lips, kissing the inside of her palm. “I’m right here, sweetheart. You’re going to be okay, you hear?” Overwhelmed with emotion, my voice cracked. I hated leaving her, but there was no other option.

Dr. Carson led me out of the room. “I’ll let you know what I can as soon as the test results are in.”

“Thanks.” I backed out of the room, every step filled with reluctance.

Once I returned to the waiting area, I found Richard and Chuck. Richard sat by himself in a corner off to the side. Chuck hung out by the door like he wanted to be sure he could leave quickly. As I approached, they looked up, their eyes full of questions and concern.

“How’s our girl?” Richard asked, walking toward me. Chuck joined him but kept his eyes trained on the sliding glass door.

“Not so good.” Slumping down in the chair, I hung my head. Part of me wanted to chastise them for not preparing me better. In my confusion, I’d thought Shay might need a few stitches and gotten a bruise here and there. This was far worse.

Reaching for my cell, I called the office. Mary Lou answered right away.

“Cancel my appointments for the rest of the afternoon,” I told her. For that matter, I’d need to take it one day at a time for the rest of the week. It all depended on what future treatment Shay would need.

Another hour passed, though I swore it felt like five or six hours. I paced up and down the hallway, impatient, afraid, praying and pleading with God to let her be okay.

Finding the coffee machine, I bought myself a cup and then one for Richard and Chuck. They tried to tell me what had happened, but I couldn’t listen, couldn’t bear to hear the details. The evidence of the violence against Shay was savagely written across her face.

When Dr. Carson appeared I rushed toward him and nearly toppled over an elderly man in a walker. After I apologized profusely, I found my way to the physician.

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