want the number?"
"Yeah. Give me the number. Wait a minute- let me find a pencil or something… Ok, go ahead."
Ray wrote down the number and promised to call Jake right back- as soon as he knew something. In his haste, he forgot to give Jake the phone number there in Steve Vaan's apartment. No great loss- he had Jake's. Ray felt his hand shake as he dialed the number Jake had given him. Deep inside, he had that horrible sinking feeling that the situation had gone from just stupid to genuinely bad. It was an awful feeling to have as he heard the phone ringing on the other end of the line for the second time. It was answered quickly and professionally by a switchboard operator at the State Police station in Franklin, south of the Meadows' home in Greenwood. Ray asked for the officer on the card, and the call was transferred. A very serious professional voice came on the line:
"Yes, sir- Sergeant Montez, this is Ray Meadows. You left your card on my front door last night?"
It had been a late night for Sergeant Montez, but not that late. He recognized Ray's name in a heartbeat. Unfortunately. This came real close to being the part of this job he hated the most. At least this guy's wife was alive. Or was last night.
"Yes, Mister Meadows I did. Are you at home?"
"Well, no, I'm not. What's going on?"
"Your wife was involved in a traffic accident last night. She's going to be ok, sir- She's going to be just fine."
Ray felt the bottom drop out of his world. Had he looked down, he was sure he could have seen it falling away into blackness beneath him. He dared not look, for fear of falling himself. Falling to where? Don't ask.
"Where is she?"
Ray's own voice seemed distance and not connected. Had he just said that? Or was some one else speaking for him now? Did it matter?
"She's at the General Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, sir. She was admitted there approximately ten-thirty last night."
"You said a traffic accident?"
"Yes sir, on Interstate 65 west of Croydon. She was flown there by Medivac helicopter."
"How is she?"
"She was listed in serious condition last night, sir. I can give you the number of the hospital if you like."
"Yes, of course."
It was like a dream. A very, very bad dream. Ray wanted to wake up now. This wasn't fun any more. It wasn't exciting, it wasn't intriguing and he no longer cared about climbers. This was the most wretched day of his life. He robotically wrote the numbers down as the officer read them off and thanked him very much. He said he would call the hospital immediately. He did not. He hung up the phone and stared at it. Ray stared long and hard at that phone, trying to make the alarm clock next to his bed in Greenwood, Indiana go off so he could wake up, get dressed and go to work. All he wanted was another boring day at the Granville Corporation Tower Number One after this night of horrible nightmares. He continued to stare at the telephone. No alarm. No dream. No such luck. What did ring was the phone. Waking up in his own bed could not have been more of a shock to Ray. Now what? Ray let it ring four times- just to make sure it really was ringing- before he picked it up. Maybe it was Barbara!
"No. Sorry. This is Mark Stewart. I'm trying to reach Steve Vaan. Is he there?"
Ray stammered for a moment, trying to compose himself. This had to be Steve's lawyer friend. Where was Steve? Good question.
"Uh, no he isn't. I'm kind of holding down the fort here for the moment. Can I take a message?"
"No. Yes. Yes , you can. I got a call from Visa, they were questioning a purchase made this morning in New York City with his credit card. They have reason to believe it was lost or stolen. I was going to cancel it, but I thought I'd better
ORIGINAL FICTION: "Climbers" (Chapter Twenty-Four)
want the number?"