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  • Writer's pictureChris Morris

Code Mercy View




10:57am


Outside the Main Street branch of Wilson Smith bank, two gunshots are heard. Most of those who hear them scramble away from the area as quickly as their feet can take them. Some hit the floor and dive under the wooden benches at the entrance to Harmony Park, anticipating the worst. Others stand, frozen in fear, or uncertainty, or morbid interest. A woman screams, cries, and runs after throwing her grocery bags to the floor, the jazz apples from Clementine Grocers rolling onto the busy road. A man dials 911, unaware that a call has already been made. A baby, rattled by the shrill, piercing sound of gunfire, wails.


Seven minutes later, a chorus of sirens announces the arrival of several emergency vehicles. Armed police accompany paramedics inside. Two minutes after that, a couple of still, human forms are stretchered into ambulances. Less than a minute after that, the ambulances speed away, a couple of young onlookers holding their phones out to take videos of the incident.


The ambulances rush to Mercy View Hospital, where Dr Jack Drake is currently sipping a black coffee and contemplating what gift he might buy for his wife for their upcoming tenth wedding anniversary. Maybe he shouldn’t have bought their daughter that expensive heart-shaped pendant for her birthday last month. His wife will no doubt expect something just as lavish. His younger, objectively prettier assistant has just given the fifth hint of the day that she’d like to meet him after work for coffee and companionship. His heart has skipped a beat each time. He will operate on one of the gunshot victims from the bank.


He’s about to have the worst hour of his life.


11:14am


Jack’s scrubs are on in seconds. He slips the gloves over his hands before throwing the surgical gown over himself and marching into the theatre, where Martin, the anaesthesiologist, flashes him a thumbs up; the patient is already under.


‘Have you had a chance to check him over?’


Amanda, Jack’s assistant surgeon, nods towards the x-rays hanging at the top of the room. ‘The patient is male, mid-thirties to early forties. Seems to be in good health. The bullet’s gone deep into his chest, just missing the heart and lungs. No air leak, thankfully.’

‘We need to control the bleeding.’ Jack glances at the sterilised instruments the nurses have prepared. All seems in order. ‘Are the blood bank guys on standby?’


Amanda nods. ‘Julien is on his way with a supply of O negative.’


Jack goes into autopilot. Amanda applies surgical sponges to the patient’s chest while he uses ligatures to tie off a large blood vessel that’s bleeding. The bullet has caused considerable damage but he should be able to repair it quickly enough, then it’ll be a delicate but simple enough procedure to remove the bullet.


‘Wonder how this guy got shot.’ Jack seals another vessel. Hands a piece of suture to Amanda. Their eyes meet for a second before Jack shifts his away.


‘The ambulance picked him up at a bank on Main Street,’ Amanda says. ‘There was an attempted robbery.’


‘And our patient here got caught in some kind of crossfire?’


Amanda looks at Jack. This time he doesn’t break eye contact. ‘Not exactly. He was shot by an officer.’


Jack is thankful for the surgical mask that hides his open mouth. ‘You mean we’re trying to save a bank robber’s life?’


11:27am


The young girl is unconscious when she’s rushed into the operating theatre next to the one where Dr Jack Drake works on a known criminal. Another gunshot wound. This one has punctured a lung. Hemothorax. If the blood isn’t immediately cleared from the chest cavity, the girl will die.


As the team races against time to save her, the lead surgeon, Dr Isla Gregory can’t help but notice how beautiful the girl is. Her young face, smooth and radiant, glows with vitality. Her chestnut hair looks to have been delicately prepared before she’d faced the horrors of moments before. Dr Gregory can’t see her eyes but she bets they are kind and blue, just like a calm ocean.


Just like her father’s.


11:28am


‘He’s stable. We’re looking good.’


Jack’s voice breaks over the beeping and murmuring coming from around the room. The patient’s chest rises up and down as he breathes long, deep breaths. The worst of the damage has been repaired, but the bullet will still need to be removed. A job for Jack’s steady hands.


‘Bit of a moral dilemma, isn't it?’


Amanda's eyes find Jack’s again. ‘What's that?’


Jack snorts. ‘Whether or not to save a guy like this. Robbing a bank? They’d have let him hang years ago.’


Amanda rolls her eyes. ‘Didn’t you take a Hippocratic Oath?’


‘Pass me the scalpel please, Tim.’ Jack ignores Amanda and keeps his eyes glued to the area in the patient’s chest where he will make the incision. He can see the process unfold in his mind. Make the incision, dissect the tissue, grab the bullet, close the wound. Simple. Another life saved.


‘I just hope that young girl is doing alright.’


Jack takes the scalpel from Tim, the head nurse. ‘Young girl?’


‘You didn’t hear? She was shot. Innocent bystander. Only about fourteen years old. Beauty of a girl. Shot in the lung. Apparently the bullet just missed some fancy pendant she was wearing around her neck. Unlucky. Might have been enough to stop the bullet.’


Jack nearly drops the scalpel. ‘Pendant?’


‘Yeah. In the shape of a heart.’


11:31am


‘Shit, we’re losing her!’


Dr Gregory’s hands remain still despite the shrill spike of icy adrenaline pulsing through her body. She turns to face her assistant. His eyes contain just a hint of panic, enough to make a mistake.


‘Breathe, Michael. We’ve got this.’


Michael nods, and now Dr Gregory can’t look at him. She keeps her focus on the girl. The excess blood has to be drained. The wound needs to be closed. Dr Gregory needs to remain calm. She takes a deep breath in.


She doesn’t know if she can save Dr Drake’s daughter. But she’ll try.


11:33am


Amanda’s grip on Jack’s arm is strong. Her fingers dig into his skin, and they’ll probably leave bruises. The door to the operating theatre is close. If he could just reach it…


‘You know the rules, Jack! They won’t let you in!’


Amanda’s words help, but they also don’t. She’s right. She’s infuriatingly, unfairly right. Jack can’t just stroll into the other theatre. A theatre he’s not assigned to. A theatre where his daughter might be fighting for her life with everything she has.


And besides, he can’t abandon his current patient.


‘So I have to stay here and save this asshole’s life? He shot my girl!’


The room is still. The hum of the ventilator and the beeping of the heart monitor are the only sounds.


‘You did take it, didn’t you? The Oath?’


‘Screw the Oath!’


Jack kicks the operating table. He doesn’t look when he hears gasps coming from his colleagues around him. The heart monitor’s beeping quickens its pace. Jack, fists clenched, stares at the wall in front of him. He’s trembling, something that’s never happened to him in the theatre before. He feels Amanda at his arm again, her touch coming lighter this time.


‘Jack… I know this must be hard. God, I can’t imagine it. But you’ve got to do the right thing here. We don’t know the whole story. Maybe things aren’t the way they seem. If this guy needs brought to justice, let the police handle it. Our job is to save lives.’


Jack takes a deep breath. He can’t look at Amanda. Instead, he returns to the table.

‘Okay folks, let’s do this.’


The tension in the room seems to relieve. Amanda returns to Jack’s side. Even the heart monitor slows down. Jack says very little, returning his concentration to the matter at hand.


Maybe nobody would notice. A simple incision in just the wrong/right place and it wouldn’t seem suspicious.


12:14pm


Jack throws his bloodied gloves into the scrub sink. He slumps down into the seat next to his locker, closes his eyes, and tries to get his breathing back to normal. He replays what Isla Gregory has just told him in his mind.


Patient is fine. She’ll make a full recovery. She needs to rest for now.


A buzzing comes from inside the locker.


Springing to his feet, Jack twists the code – his daughter’s birthday – into the padlock before swinging open the door and being met with her name, Emily, on the screen.


‘Emily! Honey, are you okay?’


‘Yeah, Dad, I’m fine. What’s up? You sound a bit freaked out.’


Jack is worried the words won’t come out. They do, but they spill out in an unrecognisable, tangled mess. ‘This girl, she was shot today… at the bank. She had a pendant like yours. I… I thought…’


‘You thought it was me?’ Emily laughs through the phone. ‘What would I be doing at a bank?’


‘I operated on the robber.’


‘Jeez, he was shot too? Did you save him?’


Jack takes a step back towards the theatre. Through the window, he can see the team begin to wheel a still, human form out of the operating theatre towards the morgue.


‘Dad? Did he make it?’


Jack takes another deep breath. ‘Yeah. Yeah, Honey, he made it.’


‘Good. Must have been hard saving a man like that’s life. I don’t know how you do it, Dad. You’re a real hero.’


This short story was shortlisted in Writing Magazine's "Tight Situation" contest, May 2024 issue.

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