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The Arranger

L.J. Sellers

Chapter 1

Sat., May 6, 2023, 11:37 a.m.

Lara Evans attached the LifePac and hit the man with two hundred joules of electrical current. His eyes popped open, his pulse stabilized, and piss flooded his sweatpants. Terrific. He would live long enough to regret cutting off two fingers in an attempt to collect disability funds. She cauterized his bloody stumps and watched him breathe for a few minutes. Gangrene or sepsis might kill him eventually, but she’d done all she could. Lara stepped back from the sweat-soaked couch and packed up her equipment.

“You’re taking him to the hospital, aren’t you?” The man’s wife grabbed Lara’s arm, her bony fingers pulsing with misery.

“You said he didn’t have a med card.”

“If you leave him in the twenty-foot zone, they have to treat him.”

“I’m sorry, but I could lose my license if I do.” Lara shoved the portable defib into its pouch and strapped the pack around her waist. She had to carry it in public at all times, the privilege of having a freelance paramedic license. With the growing doctor shortage, anyone with medical skills was fully utilized.

“He has heart disease and needs an artery vac. This was our chance for treatment.”

“Oh crap.” Lara hated this aspect of her job. “Do you have a car?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll help you get him into the vehicle, but you have to drive him.”

Lara hurried to her med van and hauled out the wheeled gurney she rarely used. She and the gaunt wife struggled to get the now-conscious but heavyset man onto the gurney, then into their small car.

“When you get to the hospital, pull him out, honk the horn and drive away.” Lara gave her a grim smile. “Good luck.” Walking away from the noncs, as non-covered citizens were called, never got easier, but she dwelled on it less now. She’d once been a homicide detective, a job that had toughened her for the new world.

She started toward her van and her iCom beeped. Another 909 emergency. The location appeared on her screen in map form, a secluded home only a half mile away. Lara acknowledged the assignment with a push of her thumb and ran to her vehicle. Her body hummed with adrenaline as she raced up City View. What would it be this time? The neighborhood was probably too upscale for something like a gunshot wound or a domestic dispute with knife injuries. Lara scowled. She hoped it wasn’t another VEx accident with a chubby middle-aged woman trying to improve her health with virtual exercise. Someone had called for a freelance paramed instead of an ambulance, so it could be anything.

Lara loved these moments-rushing to a scene, not knowing what chaos she would encounter. In some ways, it was better than being a police officer because she kept on the move and did a lot less paperwork. She missed the authority of the badge though. She’d liked having people pay attention and feel nervous when she approached. It beat the hell out of her current personal life: a forty-two-year-old woman with no partner, no children, no power.

Lara turned on Ridgemont, located the street number, and drove through the open gate. The house sat at the end of a long drive, behind a tall screen of Sequoias. A black compact car soaked up sun in the driveway. The summer heat settled in earlier every year. She parked next to the empty vehicle and glanced at her Taser on the passenger’s seat. The weapon was bulky to carry, but some neighborhoods and situations required it. Lara determined this wasn’t one of them. She touched the 9-millimeter in her shoulder holster as she climbed out. The gun went everywhere she did, but for most volatile situations, she preferred the Taser. Less blood, noise, and risk.

As Lara moved toward the house, the front doors burst open and a man barreled out. Behind him, a giant black dog noisily gave chase. Lara backpedaled toward the med van to get out of their way.

The running man raised his arm and aimed a gun at her. Lara dropped to the asphalt as he fired. She rolled and pulled her weapon, but his footsteps kept going and a second shot didn’t come. A car door opened, the engine cranked over, and he raced down the driveway. Still facedown, Lara let out her breath. As she stood, the dog turned back and charged into the house.

What now? The person who’d made the emergency call had likely been shot and still needed medical attention. Heart thumping, Lara glanced down the driveway and watched the black sedan turn left on the road. Her muscles unclenched and she decided to enter the home and check out the situation. She grabbed her Taser and tucked it into her waistband in case the dog turned on her.

As she hurried up the walkway, she made a mental note of what she’d seen of the assailant: five-ten, lean, dirty blond, thirty-something, and a squarish face. Lara slowed and moved cautiously through the open front door, weapon ready. The big house was quiet and she crept through, taking in details. High ceilings, open floor plan, and two additional exits that she could see. One leading to the garage from the kitchen, the other into a lush side yard. No people, no black dog.

She made her way down the hall to a room near the end. Weapon raised, she entered a bedroom. A large man, wearing only black leather chaps, lay on the floor on his back. Blood had soaked into the pale-blue rug under him and sprayed the white satin sheets on the bed. A familiar salty smell mingled with the wet metallic of the blood. As she stepped toward the victim, Lara recognized the scent: a mix of sweat and semen.

She slipped off her medpack and knelt down. She heard shallow breathing and saw that he’d been shot in the shoulder. The black dog lay nearby, whimpering and watching her. “Good dog. You stay.”

The man opened his eyes. “Thank god.” The dog started to get up, but victim snapped his fingers and it lay back down.

Lara began to pull out supplies. “You need the ER. Why didn’t you call for a regular ambulance?”

“It’s personal. I don’t want to report this.”

Lara groaned, not caring that he heard. She should have left after the jackass shot at her. It was too late now. She couldn’t walk away from a bleeder. Lara lifted his shoulder to see if the bullet had gone through. He moaned and squeezed her wrist. The exit hole was twice the size of the entry wound and bleeding heavily, but at least she wouldn’t have to dig out the bullet. She laid his shoulder back to the floor. “What’s your name?”

“Thaddeus Morton.”

Lara froze. “The federal employment commissioner?”

“Yes.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be Washington D.C.? Overseeing the Gauntlet?”

“I’m flying out tomorrow morning-if I don’t bleed to death.”

“Is this your house? I thought you moved to the capital.”

“I kept my home here and a friend house-sits for me. I come back whenever I can.” He grimaced as he talked.

Lara bit back another question and focused on her task. She grabbed a packet of gunshot gauze, a new product designed to fill such a wound and slowly dissolve as the tissue around it healed. A Chicago ER doctor had invented the gauze soon after the dark shift, as she called it. The Supreme Court had struck down a series of gun control laws and now weapons were everywhere. So were gunshot wounds. An entire industry had sprung up to treat them.

“We need to roll you over so I can bandage the exit wound.” Lara gave him her best smile, which wasn’t much. “This will hurt.”

“Do you have pain meds?”

“I’m not licensed for them. You know how the DEA is.”

Lara cauterized the major bleeders with a C-laser, sprayed the wound with antibacterial, then packed it with gauze. The white material soaked with blood before she could get the skin-sealing bandage in place. The sealer, as medics called it, had biologic properties that bonded with tissue.

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