"Help me move her to your bed. I can't very well make a full examination on the couch."
Working together, Lee and her mother moved the now deathly pale young woman to Lee's bed in the next room, flipping on lights as they went. From a drawer in the living room, Mother withdrew a pair of latex gloves and crisply slid them on before setting about undressing the stranger. Finally able to get a clear look at the damage, her face visibly paled, posture stiffening like cooling iron.
"I can tell from the bruising alone she has broken ribs. Those will need to be set and wrapped. Get me gauze from the medical kit. Hopefully, we have enough."
Lee hurriedly retrieved the needed item after washing the blood from her hands in the kitchen sink, returning in time to watch Mother cut the blouse, bra, and skirt off the woman and discard them in a bloody, tattered heap. Only a small pair of underwear remained to help keep modesty intact, but even those would be removed.
"There was blood on her skirt and on the inside of her thigh, but I see none on her underwear aside from staining from the stab wound," Mother said matter-of-factly without looking up, fingers gently probing flesh. Lee understood the implications－blood on the inside of her thigh near her groin...little more needed explaining－and felt her face scrunch into an animalistic snarl. "Before you jump to conclusions, I won't know if assault like that happened until I examine her thoroughly, but this stab wound is worrisome. I'm going to need help."
I'll help, Lee volunteered gruffly, handing over the gauze and preparing to retrieve a suturing kit from the few she kept on hand.
"You don't know the first thing about the medical treatment of a human being!" Mother snapped only to immediately wince. Closing her eyes, she breathed in sharply through her nose and exhaled slowly. "I apologize. You've done enough. I need someone with skilled hands and a surgical mind. Call Taft."
Sulking despite her thirty-two years of age, Lee obeyed but bypassed using the main pipe that ran like a fat anaconda through the main room of their home, opting instead for the slender copper pipe next to it that belonged to the Underground's resident surgeon.
Calling Taft. Mother needs assistance. Come quickly. Emergency. She tapped out the message with a small wrench and waited, wondering, perhaps, if it would have been faster to radio the man or simply jog down to his apartment. But without fail, a reply echoed back.
Taft responding. On my way. What type of emergency?
Surgical. Bring kit.
Taft responding. Affirmative. Hold tight.
Lee moved back to her room to help Mother further undress the woman. Thankfully a second, more thorough examination yielded no evidence of sexual assault. She gathering the woman's bloodied clothes and deposited them in a trash bin.
Not two minutes later, a knock and a concerned, "Hello?" alerted the women to the surgeon's arrival. Mother reacted faster, moving to intercept the man after leaving instructions for her daughter to clean away as much blood as possible so their exam could be more thorough.
"Rebecca?" a visibly worried older gentleman panted from the doorway when Mother rounded the corner, salt-and-pepper hair disheveled from both interrupted sleep and his harried sprint up the tunnels. Brown eyes searched for the source of the emergency and stopped at the bloody gloves yet to be removed. "What's wrong? Has something happened?"
"Close the door behind you."
Tense with worry, Taft did as he was told. "What's going on? I assume Lee was the one who called? Are you all right? Do you need —"
"Leanna went Topside," Rebecca cut in, walking a short distance into the main room. Her daughter had excellent hearing, and this wasn't a conversation for sharing. The color drained from Taft's wrinkled face, his mind obviously leaping to the worst-case scenario, but a raised hand from Rebecca forestalled the thought before it could take root. "She brought back a Topsider who was body-dumped in the park."
"Oh, God." The surgeon's bewildered startlement pushed him back, the gravity of the situation creeping in. "She brought one of them down here?"
"She's in the other room, badly beaten, and appears to have been stabbed. I need your steady hands to stitch the wound closed."
Taft couldn't forestall his immediate look of concern. This wasn't just an out of the ordinary request. This was downright unheard of. Rebecca Farrow, matriarchal leader of the Undergrounders, called Mother by many, did not simply let strangers wander into her home. Ever.
But there was no need to voice this obvious fact. Rebecca already knew what he was thinking, and a sharp shake of her head told him this was not the time to question her authority.
"I will...see what I can do."
"If it appears she is beyond repair," Rebecca said, stepping closer and dropping her voice, "I trust you will end any suffering quickly."
Taft blinked once, understanding dawning in the next heartbeat. "Of course," he said, hesitance brief. "I wouldn't...want there to be unneeded suffering."
Dogging Rebecca's heels, Taft nodded affectionately at Lee when he entered her private quarters before turning his attention to the bed.
"She's certainly worse for wear." With methodical care, he retrieved his needed tools and laid them out before sterilizing his hands with alcohol.
Though reassured she wasn't needed, Lee stubbornly refused to leave, opting to sit at a nearby table cluttered with half-made tinker-toys, busying her hands with one trinket after another. In heavy silence, she watched her mother and Taft methodically stitch the stab wound closed after Taft deemed there hadn't been any internal damage done.
"That is, as far as I can tell by feel alone," he warned. "Which is still remarkable. Either the person who did this was very skilled, or this young woman was very lucky."
It took more than two hours from start to finish to patch the Topsider, leaving her wrapped from hip to shoulder in snug, white bandages.
"I'm afraid this is as much as I can do." The surgeon stripped off his gloves with precise care and stuffed them in his coat pocket. "From here, it's up to her. I can't say how much blood was lost between her initial assault and now, but it was probably a severe amount. Tonight will be very touch-and-go." He looked up at Lee, eyes soft once more. "You should brace for the possibility this was all for nought. I'm sorry."
Lee nodded without comment, watching the Topsider from the curled position she'd taken in her desk chair.
Leaving Lee to what was doubtlessly gearing up to be a sleepless night, Taft exited the room.
"What are we going to do?" he asked once he and Rebecca reached the door, dropping his voice again. "She can't stay here. You know that."
"I'm aware of how vulnerable this makes us if she leaves and draws attention down here If," Rebecca clarified, putting emphasis on the word so Taft would catch her double meaning.
"If...is a good word to use." He nodded, eyes working a calculation only he could see. Reaching into his bag, the surgeon retrieved a syringe and vial filled with a pale yellow liquid. Tapping the vile, he filled the syringe, capped it, and handed it to Rebecca. "Do I need to tell you what this is?"
Rebecca scoffed, stowing the syringe safely away from prying eyes. A small, sad smile lifted the corners of Taft's lips. Their world was precious. Sometimes that meant the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few.
He nodded. "I didn't think so. Should the need arise, it never hurts to have a contingency plan against unwanted accidents."
YOU ARE READING
Journalist Alexandra Bailey never believed she'd become another tragic statistic ripe for the front pages. Abducted off the street. Beaten bloody. Left for dead in the unforgiving winter. The article wrote itself. And her crime? Not even she knew, b...