Chapter 26: Cross Stitch

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Rob pulled away the bandages from the teen's back, exposing the deep, gaping hole. Gripping the needle in his clunky set of clamps, Rob dug in as far as he could reach. 

The tips of his clamps were too blunt to go very deep, but Rob needed to establish a layer of stitching that would sit firmly under the skin. If this worked—and that remained a big question—it would help keep the skin from tearing against his sheep gut sutures if the teen sat up wrong. 

Or flexed his back. Or even sneezed. You could immobilize an arm or a leg, but people moved their backs all the time. It was a lousy place for such a wound.

It took Rob about a minute to stitch up inside the wound, and after finishing he used the clamps to tie off the suture end. Some surgeons used their fingers to tie off, which Rob could never understand. 

He didn't like the time and mental adjustment required in changing between tools and fingers, and clamps, even crude one like these, held suture material much more securely than a blood-moistened hand ever could.

"How's he doing?" Rob asked as he cut the suture.

"I think the bleeding is slowing down," Maggie said.

"Mouth is clear of blood," Hans said. "Mostly."

"Okay," Rob said. "Round two."

The stitches under the skin had helped settle the the tiny, triangle-shaped flaps of skin back together, puzzle-like, where they'd once met in the middle. The flaps wouldn't be very strong, especially at the tips, so Rob worked with a delicate touch, praying he wouldn't tear any of the fragile skin up until he tied off the final stitch.

Later that night, Rob wouldn't remember setting down his clamp, needle and sheep gut sutures. He wouldn't remember washing his bloody hands in the hot water that had boiled too late for his patients, and he wouldn't remember instructing Maggie and Hans to sit the teen in a rocking chair to keep his wounds above his heart. The tavern owner's blessing was hazy, too, as were a smattering of polite golf claps for his medical performance. 

What he did remember was a chirping noise coming from the fat man's still-warm corpse.

Rob inched toward the mysterious sound. "Do you hear that? A chirping?"

"I hear something," said Hans, but he was absorbed by the injured teen. Maggie ignored him, rushing back to check on the other man who'd died.

The noise grew louder as Rob hunched over the body. Although the man was dead, Rob reflexively examined him as he tried to figure out where the sound was coming from. The blood soaking the man's chest seemed to be leaking from under his arms, making his tunic look as if it had a pair of enormous, bloody sweat stains. 

Rob tried to roll him over, but the man proved as heavy as he looked. Rob could only manage to lift one arm and half a shoulder blade off the ground, but it was enough to reveal a significant pool of blood.

Shot in the back, Rob guessed just as the chirping began again, although this time much louder.

"Maggie!" Rob called to her. "The noise is coming from underneath this guy. Help me out, he's too heavy for me."

Maggie approached with mix of pride and prejudice on her face. "You did very well tonight, Robert," she said, leaning down to shove against the fat man's meaty side. "But I don't like you ordering me around the way you did."

"Sorry. I get tunnel vision during emergency cases. I hope my students don't follow my example. Wait, what the fuck is that?"

With a grunt, Maggie had flipped the man over to rest on his ample stomach. His tunic rode up, exposing a nasty gunshot wound amid a swath of pasty back, but Rob's eyes were riveted to XXL Banana Republic brand shorts the man had tugged on over his hose.

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