Barnes was at the hospital by the time my ambulance arrived at the ER.
“What did I tell you, Fitz?” he asked as they unloaded me from the back of the truck. “Somebody’s after your ass and they’re serious about it.”
I shrugged from behind my oxygen mask, clutching my laptop to my chest. There was too much on it to turn it over to the cops—or the prosecutor’s office—provided it survived the fire.
Barnes followed my gurney into the ER, flashing his badge at the medical staff there.
Between gulps of oxygen and the attention of the medical staff to my burned face, arms and feet, I told Barnes what happened. Since I was asleep when the first Molotov hit, I had no description of any suspects. He nodded continuously as he took notes.
“That pretty much squares with what the fire department found: two incendiary devices, most likely glass bottles filled with gasoline and rags. One came through the front door; the other came through the window,” he said, shoving his notebook into his back pocket. “The question is why? What are you working on, Fitz? I can’t imagine any wayward husbands being this pissed at being caught. Is it on that laptop? You’re hanging on to it pretty damned tightly.”
“Yeah. Most of my office files are on there, including the Atwater case. I grabbed it before I went through the window.”
Barnes smirked. “Atwater’s an open and shut case. I’m sure what you’ve dug up out squares with what we found at his arrest. What’s the phrase—‘billable hours’? If you don’t find anything else, you’ll get a pile of cash from that.”
I shrugged. “If I found something else, which I haven’t, we’d turn it over to you.” That much was true. But why was someone trying to hard to keep me from doing that? Clearly there was something someone wanted to hide.
“Well, Ambrosi’s got to make it look like he’s at least trying to get the kid off, I suppose. I’ve never known a more half-assed lawyer in my whole life.” Barnes shook his head. “Between you and me and these lovely ladies—” Barnes nodded at the nurses around me. “I think you know who’s behind this.”
I started to answer, but began to cough again. Go ahead and think the chief still wants my ass. This is more than a cuckolded husband going for the most obvious target.
The curtain surrounding my bed whipped open. It was Gracie, still in her black sequined gown and clutching her white shawl and purse, her eyes wide with concern.
“Niccolo! What happened? Are you OK?” She ran to my bedside, clasping my one free hand.
I coughed as I nodded. “I’m going to be OK.”
“Listen, it looks like I’ve got everything I need here,” Barnes said. “I’ll leave you two alone. Fitz, I’ll call you if I need anything else. That includes that laptop.” The nurses also stepped out.
As soon as we were alone, Gracie dropped her shawl and clutch on the bed and clasped my burned cheeks to kiss my forehead.
I gasped in pain.
“Oh baby, I’m sorry!” She dropped her hands, but her soft lips kept contact with my skin.
“How did you know I was here?” I tried to speak through the mask, but started coughing again. She sat up and began to run her long fingers through my smoky hair.
“When the alarm went off, the security company called the guy who owns the jewelry store downstairs—Mr. Grundy. He called the house to tell you about the fire,” she said. Her tone became soft, contrite. “I didn’t tell him you’d been sleeping there.”
I sank back into the pillows and sighed. “I don’t know where I’m going to go, Gracie. I don’t know if I have anything left. All my files, all my papers—they’re probably gone. Anything I have left is on this laptop.”
Gracie laid her forehead on my shoulder, tears wetting the shoulder of my hospital gown. I caressed her soft dark hair, drinking in her perfume. Thank you, oh God, thank you, I thought, closing my eyes.
“I was so upset when I heard the building was on fire,” she whispered into my shoulder. “I went right over there. I got there just after they put you in the ambulance, so I came right over here.”
“It’s OK. So you were already back at home? What about you and Van Hoven? Did your performance go OK?”
She raised her head and looked me in the eye, smiling. “Van Hoven is a dog—and yes, I have to say my performance tonight was stellar. I think we raised a lot of money tonight.”
“Glad it went well —and you saw through him.”
She sat up and kissed me again, soft and lingering.
“This doesn’t mean you’re home free, Niccolo. We still have a long way to go. But come home, Niccolo. I want you to come home.”
A nurse, her stethoscope hanging from her neck, came back to my bedside.
“Oh, he won’t be coming home tonight. We’re going to keep him overnight, to make sure he gets all the stuff out of his lungs. We also need to run some more tests and those can’t be done until tomorrow, maybe Monday.”
I handed the laptop to Gracie. Another paroxysm of coughing overtook me. “Take this with you. I couldn’t keep it here anyway. Don’t let anyone see it, don’t let anyone take it,” I managed to gasp.
“And ma’am?” The nurse handed her a plastic bag of my clothing. “Please take this home as well. Hospital policy prohibits firearms in patient rooms.”
Can’t wait to see how it ends? The entire book is available for purchase on my website, www.debragaskillnovels.com or come back next week for the next chapter. Holy Fitz, the next book in the Fitz series is also available on my web site.