THE DENVER EDITION – CHAPTER 10

David Howser was worried, but not for the usual reasons. As a doctor he had a lot of things to worry about, his practice, his colleagues, his patients and just the steady course of old father Time, which sometimes brought terrible things with its advancements. What he wasn't used to worrying about was his son. He had worried plenty about Douglas when the boy was younger, with the cancer and all; but after he survived that, David had pretty much stopped worrying. He figured that if Douglas could weather that storm, there wasn't much out there that could hurt him seriously. And he had kept thinking that right up until the time Vincent had been killed.

Then he had seen his son almost destroyed by grief. The key word there was almost. Douglas had weathered this storm as well, but he certainly hadn't come out of it unscathed. David knew that his son's commitment to his career had waned. He figured it would only be a matter of a few months before Douglas just called it quits and found a new direction for his life. That had been two years ago, and Douglas had not quit, but at the same time he had not changed, neither for the better nor the worse. It was as though he was locked in some sort of emotional holding pattern, waiting for something, or trying to come to grips with a decision that he didn't want to make. Then out of the blue he had called. Called home and invited them to come to Denver for Thanksgiving. To be honest, they hadn't seen much of each other in the last two years, and when they had it had been either David or Catherine initiating the contact, and they had never been asked to come to Denver. That was worrying by itself, but what David had found more disturbing was Douglas' demeanor.

He didn't sound anything like the young man that David had known for the past two years. A change that fundamental could mean many things, most of them bad. So as David helped his wife off of the plane at Denver International, he found himself profoundly worried for his son for the first time in quite a while.

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Mike Greenberg was having a terrible day. He had just gotten back to his place at 7 AM (Mike worked the third shift at a warehouse), when he discovered that Dave Gerhard, his weasely shit of a bookie, had sold Mike's marker to Cappy Linstrom. Cappy was a local "entrepreneur" of note who had gotten his nickname from his hobby of breaking the knee caps of the people that owed him money with a ball peen hammer. From this it is safe to assume that Cappy was not a member of the local chamber of commerce.

Sure Mike owed about six grand, and true he had stiffed Dave a couple of times, but this was the big leagues and Mike frankly couldn't believe that this had happened to him. Had it been someone he didn't know, he probably would be laughing his ass off at the poor schmuck's predicament, but it wasn't quite so funny when he was the schmuck.

What made it worse was that unlike the times before, he really didn't have the money this time, and he had no idea about getting what he owed before six tonight, when Cappy had told him his marker would be due. So with the prospect of agonizing pain and the possible humiliation of having the nick-name of "hop-along" for the rest of his life; Mike's brain went into overdrive trying to figure out how he could get six grand in under twelve hours.

Unfortunately for all, he could only come up with one answer; crime. He figured it would be easy, after all criminals were idiots, so how hard could it be for a guy like him. He decided that mugging would be the easiest and safest (for him) route to go. He was a big guy, standing about six four, and tipping the scales at two sixty eight, so being a mugger should work for him. He would hide in an alley, wait until a single female walked past, jump out and knock her on the head to disorient her and grab her purse; no muss, no fuss. He quickly gathered what he figured he would need, a pillow case for the loot, a sock with some rocks in it for whacking people on the head and a knife; just in case his size alone didn't scare someone enough. Carrying his weaponry and having an idea of where to hunt in his head, Mike headed out confident that by the end of the day, his problems would be over.

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Ruth Camden was frustrated. Actually frustrated was an enormous understatement; calling Ruthie frustrated at the moment was like calling a super-nova slightly warm.

Once the play had been over, Ruthie had been looking forward to slowing down a bit and working more on her relationships, with Doug of course but especially with Nif. When it came to Nif, Ruthie was feeling guilty over the way she'd been treating her friend. She'd been practically ignoring the gallery and Nif as well lately; between the play, Doug and her new job with the paper, Ruthie barely had time for anything else. So she had been wanting some time with just her and Nif, like it had been before her life had gotten complicated. But it seemed as though the paper wasn't going to allow that. Every day since the play ended Ruthie had been running all over Denver practically from dawn til midnight; and none of the saves were minor, like a simple fender bender or fistfight where no-one is hurt seriously, no every save had been crucial. Just like the one she was running to right now 'Mugging Victim in Coma'. Apparently a Mrs. Gertrude Weldon wasn't going to go along with just letting a mugger take her purse, and fight back. The mugger, aggravated that he was being forced to actually work hard for what he got, was going to retaliate by slamming her head into the wall and putting her into a coma. 'Not today Buckaroo' Ruthie thought as she headed towards where the paper said the mugging was going to take place.

As she approached the alley, she could hear the sounds of a struggle going on, as she rounded the entrance she saw a small, blue haired old lady hanging on to her purse with all the tenacity of a pit bull, and a grimy behemoth trying to separate her from it. Knowing that this wasn't going to end well, Ruthie started towards the pair and yelled "leave her alone".

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Mike was discovering, much to his chagrin; that being a mugger was a lot tougher than he had thought it would be. He had started out well, finding good concealment in an alley that allowed him to closely observe passers-by without their knowing that he was close, and it was near another alley that was narrow and dark; in other words perfect for what he needed. After that everything kinda went south. His first and most glaring mistake was that he was doing this during the day, and in the middle of the city. That should have been enough to clue him into the fact that this would not end well. Then his first "victim" heard him coming and ran. He chased her but missed with the loaded sock. Then instead of finding a new location, he just went back to where he had been and waited some more. While he was just settling down again, his first mark was filling in a beat cop on what had almost happened to her. Not knowing about this unfortunate development, Mike scoped out his second victim. This one didn't hear him coming, and the strike with the sock worked just as he had hoped, she was shaken up without being unconscious or anything. He had gotten her into the alley easily enough, but then the old bag had started to come around a lot quicker than he had hoped. Then she just refused to let go of her purse. He didn't know why, but she was holding on to it tighter than Carmen Electra's jeans, and had made it clear that she wasn't about to let it go without a fight. He had just come to the reluctant conclusion that a bit more "persuasion" would be necessary when he heard a voice yell "leave her alone". 'Just great' Mike thought 'some do-gooder had to stick her nose where it wasn't needed' as he reached for his knife.

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Ruthie yelled and the man pulled a knife; after seeing that, Ruthie only saw red. It was strange, when she tried to describe it later the closest she could come to was an out of body experience as though her conscious mind was just floating somewhere above watching her body do what it did.

The first thing she did was launch an ax kick to the mugger's right wrist. She felt the impact, heard a gasp of pain and the sound of breaking bones followed by the clatter of the knife hitting the alley's pavement. In all honesty she probably would have stopped there, but for whatever reason the mugger wanted to go a second round. To this end, he took a swing at her; it was a powerful, but fairly slow and clumsy swing which she was easily able to avoid. As the punch was whistling harmlessly above her head, she determined that the next logical step would be to render the mugger incapable of pursuit should she choose to run; so the obvious action would be a heel stomp to break the mugger's foot. This is exactly what she did smashing her heel into the goon's left foot; and as the thug started to bend over in agony, Ruthie jumped up and smashed her forehead into the mugger's face, breaking his nose and ending any thoughts he might have had about continuing the fight. As the mugger started to fall backwards Ruthie helped him along with a shove and then jumped on the large mans chest and ended up straddling him as he hit the ground. Ruthie cocked her right and let fly when she saw an opening, yelling about attacking harmless old women. She had re-cocked her right and was looking for another opening while still yelling when she heard the word "freeze".

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Pete Mitchell had been walking his beat when a lady had come up to him with some fantastic story about how some moron was trying to be a mugger on a crowded street in the middle of the day. On the off chance that the lady wasn't some paranoid whack-job, Pete went to check out what he'd been told; what he saw made his day. He had heard a voice yell something, and when he could see into the alley he watched as a fairly petite young woman kicked some huge guy in the wrist, forcing the behemoth to drop the knife he had been holding due to a broken wrist; Pete had heard the bone snap, which was surprising since the girl had been going on in some non-stop rant about attacking old women. The kick had been followed by a heel stomp and a head butt in rapid succession, the results of which were the big guy was on the ground and the girl was straddling his chest and it looked like she was prepared to beat the goon to death. After the first shot, Pete could not in good conscience let this go on any further and yelled "freeze"; surprisingly the girl actually stopped.

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If it hadn't been for the cop, Ruthie would probably have kept on hitting the creep until either he was dead or her arm wouldn't swing any more. Fortunately for both, he did come along and by getting her to stop, reminded Ruthie of the most important person in the whole equation; the victim. The young woman got up and moved over to where the victim was still leaning against the wall, a shocked expression on her face. After seeing what Ruthie was capable of, the younger woman's approach only served to scare the victim making Mrs. Weldon cower at Ruthie's approach. Seeing this almost broke the young artist's heart; it cut her deeply, seeing the person she was trying to save cringe away from her in fear. She stopped and spoke to the older woman "I'm here to help Mrs. Weldon, I'm sorry if I frightened you, but I wanted to make sure that he didn't hurt anyone else."

Gertrude, Trudy to her friends, looked up at the sound of the voice and instead of the furious whirling dervish that she had expected; she just saw a young girl with caring and earnest eyes. It was the eyes that convinced her, Trudy was one of those people that did believe that they were windows to the soul and from what she could see, the soul in front of her was one of the good ones. Looking up further Trudy saw a fresh faced policeman standing over the man that had attacked her, but still watching the young brunette just in case. "I'm sorry miss; I guess I'm just not used to this kind of excitement."

The young girl smiled back at her, transforming her face from one that could be described as cute, to one of extraordinary beauty "I'm sorry as well, I usually don't cause this much excitement. And I am sorry you were scared, but please believe that I would never hurt you."

Seeing the trust bloom in the older woman's eyes, Ruthie turned and asked the policeman "did you call for an ambulance?" Pete just shook his head and asked "do you think we need one?"

"Absolutely, Mrs. Weldon here took a couple of hard knocks to the head and 'Capone' down there has a broken wrist, a broken foot and a broken nose."

Realizing that the girl was right, and that the threat was over, he holstered his Beretta and used his radio to call for an ambulance to transport the two injured people. Ruthie had taken the opportunity to check the paper to see if everything was now OK. She was appalled to read "Mugging Victim Dies in Hospital". She hadn't gotten to what exactly went wrong when the cop's radio went off. He listened for a moment and then looked up; it was obvious that he was trying to make a difficult decision.

Knowing that getting Trudy to the Hospital was her first priority, Ruthie realized that whatever was happening might get in the way of that she walked up and asked "is there anything I can do to help"?

Officer Mitchell looked up at the young woman and said "there's an 'all officers' situation near here, but I've got to stay with you folks."

"Why don't you cuff him" Ruthie said as she dug her heel into Mike's side "and give me the keys. I'll ride in with the two of them and take the cuffs off at the Hospital."

Pete was considering it. The suggestion made sense except for the fact that he could possibly be letting a criminal roam free after being caught. That wouldn't be such a good thing for his career; but the girl's next words decided him.

"Why don't you call Sergeant Faraday, my name is Ruth Camden and Billy'll vouch for me."

The thing was, Pete Mitchell knew Billy Faraday, they were pretty good friends even. He had heard Billy tell the story about the girl that had saved his life, and now he was talking to her. Knowing that Billy would indeed vouch for the girl he bent down and snapped the cuffs on the goon and handed Ruthie the keys. He flashed her a smile as he headed off "try and get those back to me, OK."

"Will do and you be careful Pete." She watched the young officer head off, then turned back and got back to the business of making sure that Mrs. Weldon stayed alive.

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Doug could feel them. It wasn't some trick, he didn't smell any distinct perfume or cologne, he just knew that when he looked up his parents would be there. And when he did, they were. He saw them in the doorway of the ER and immediately moved over and hugged them both. He stepped back and took them both in. It had been too long since he'd seen them, but at least to his eyes they didn't look any different. For a second he wondered again how they had managed to both get together and then stay together. They were so different from each other, at least on the outside. 'If life were a movie' Doug thought 'then my Mom would be the head cheerleader and my Dad would be the stuffy but caring librarian'. But he also knew that inside they were both deeply caring people. It was their relationship that had first clued him in to looking below the surface of people to see how they really were. "Mom, Dad; what are you guys doing here. I thought you weren't coming in till after my shift?"

Catherine looked at her son for a moment. There hadn't been the anger or bitterness that might have been present six months ago. Nor was there the palpable aura of grief that Doogie had seemed to wear ever since Vinnie died. His question had been simple inquiry, nothing less and that was very surprising. "We wanted to see where you worked and how you ran the place" she answered with sincerity.

"Cool" Doug replied "one less trip through Denver traffic"; then turning and gesturing with his arm he said "in that case let me show you the best ER in the state of Colorado."

For his part David was surprised at his son's relaxed manner. In the not so distant past, Doug would have been livid at the thought of his parents checking up on him; but here he had been calm and pleasant. The pride in the job he was doing and the people he worked with that was evident in his son's every word and movement was not a surprise.

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They had nearly finished the tour when Maggie called Doug over. "We've got one coming in, two people a mugger and his victim." Hearing this, Doug forgot about his parents for the moment and started getting ready for the incoming ambulance. Without a word to his parents, Doug changed from smiling enthusiasm to cold eyed professional. David stood back and watched as everyone moved briskly without rushing. It was clear that everyone knew what they were doing as they moved in what seemed to be a complicated dance as they got the ER ready for whatever came through the doors. As this was going on, Doug was checking the printouts of the vital statistics of the incoming patients. He could not understand the spikes in heart rate that were occurring in the male patient, so he ordered a cardiac cart to be on hand, just in case.

Everything was ready until the ambulance pulled up and dumped chaos into their laps. The two patients and the EMT's were expected, but the energetic young woman with a pair of handcuffs on one arm was a shock. Before the emergency workers could get a word in edgewise, Ruthie was dictating what should be done for the older woman. Completely cowed, the nurses and technicians leapt to do exactly what she had said without consulting the doctors; they knew the voice of command when they heard it. As they were leading the older woman away, the young man spoke up "you don't tell them a thing, you hear me".

Like a striking cobra, the young woman turned on him, her face a mask of fury, the look in her eyes promising hellfire, damnation, and long periods in traction "just shut your mouth right now or I'll grab the first scalpel I can and perform elective surgery all over your body" she growled.

Despite the fact that he was much larger the man shrank back and shut his mouth with an audible snap. It was obvious that he was scared of Ruthie and his reaction elicited smiles from the EMT's and most of the staff. The one man not smiling was David Howser; he could not believe such unprofessional behavior from a police woman, not to mention that the hospital staff had immediately deferred to her and not Douglas. He decided to have words with the young woman as soon as he could.

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Ruthie had been sitting with the older woman since she had arrived at the hospital. The young artist could tell how scared she was, as was doing her best to keep Mrs. Weldon calm and cheerful by telling stories about her misadventures in Chicago. Trudy had responded by telling Ruthie about the doings of her grandchildren. Ruthie was just getting ready to start another one when Maggie and another nurse walked in; the room temperature immediately seemed to drop. "We need to do another MRI" Maggie said, her tone apologetic but firm.

"Do you want me to come with" Ruthie asked Gertrude.

"No dear" she said, reaching out for the younger girl's arm "I'll be fine now. You go do whatever you need to do, I'm in good hands."

"Alright then" Ruthie replied and stood back while Maggie and the other nurse wheeled the old lady out of the room. Ruthie stood there a moment thinking about what had happened that morning. She was proud and shocked at how she had handled the mugger. Proud that she had been able to physically handle such a large individual, but she was also shocked at how angry she had been and how close she had come to simply letting that rage take over. Her introspection was interrupted when she heard someone clear their throat. She looked up to see a man standing in the doorway. He was of medium height and weigh with dark hair cut short and receding. He also had a rather severe expression on his face.

"Yes" Ruthie said tentatively.

"I would like to speak with you if I may" he replied.

Despite the severity of his tone Ruthie almost had to laugh. His precise, clipped way of speaking was almost British. If it wasn't for the lack of accent she would have pegged him as the perfect butler. "Concerning" was her only verbal response, but a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.

"Your conduct here" he replied. "I was appalled at your lack of professional manner and your complete disregard for the chain of command. You threatened an injured man with grievous bodily harm, you gave instructions to people that were not under your jurisdiction and you apparently caused the injuries that landed the poor man here in the first place. There is simply no excuse for that kind of behavior and I will reluctantly be communicating my feelings to your superiors later."

"My superiors" Ruthie asked, not sure what the old guy was blathering on about.

"Yes, your superiors. What is your name and badge number please?"

It was then that Ruthie understood, the guy thought that she was a cop. This assumption ticked her off a little, but what really got to her was the complete lack of thanks in the man. She had prevented someone from being mugged and then saved the old lady again by warning the hospital staff about a complication that they usually wouldn't look for. She didn't do what she did for the thanks, but this level of disregard was beyond belief. She could feel the anger boiling up within her, so she let it out at the most convenient target.

"Let me ask you something doctor" she said with a sneer in her voice "do you often diagnose your patients with such inadequate information and do you often make such wild and inaccurate leaps of deduction; because if you do, then I feel very sorry for your patients. First and foremost I am not a police officer or anyone else officially sanctioned by the state or city." Now her voice began to rise and she started moving in the offending man's direction "I'm just the person that was there to stop the mugging in the first place. I'm just the person that had to listen to the rantings of that jerk the entire time we were in the ambulance. I'm just the person that happened to notice the victim losing her manual dexterity which is an indication of an injury to the left side of the brain, even though it wasn't the side she was hit on; and pass that information on to the staff here. I'm just the person that sat with her because the rest of her family lives in North Carolina." The guy had backed away till he was in a corner, and now Ruthie was jabbing her finger into his chest when she made her points. "I didn't do it for money or for notoriety or for any reason other than I was just helping out. I don't expect thank you's, although they are nice to hear. Instead I get bombarded by your bogus conclusions and self-righteous attitude. Well as politely as I can put it, you can go screw yourself and just hope to God that you don't need help when I'm the only one around to provide it, because that will be one heck of a wait."

When she finished she was practically yelling, and the entire ER was listening in, needless to say this brought official attention. Ruthie looked up as both Doug and one of the duty cops ran into the room. Calmly she turned and took the cuffs off her arm and pitched them to the surprised cop. "Make sure Pete Mitchell gets his cuffs back" she said, and then walking past Doug she said "I've got a couple of errands to run so I'll see you later." And with that she was out the door, leaving three very perplexed men in her wake. The cop left to track down Officer Mitchell and David turned to his son and asked "who the devil was that"?

Doug just smirked at his dad a moment and said "that was Ruth Camden, my girlfriend".

"Please tell me you're kidding son."

"Wish I could, what did you say that ticked her off that much?"

David looked a bit sheepish when he looked at his son and said "I thought she was a police woman and asked for her name and badge number so I could report her un-professional conduct".

Doug rolled his eyes at his father's conduct "well that's gonna make tomorrow extra special."

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Ruthie finished up with the paper at about four in the afternoon and called Doug to tell him that she had something to do that night and she would see him on Thursday. Then she picked up some Chinese take out and headed for the Gallery. She walked in, and there was Nif, just like always. As soon as she saw her friend Ruthie felt bad. She felt as though she'd been taking advantage of her friend for some time now and decided that tonight was just for them. "Hey Nif, feel like Chinese tonight?"

Jennifer looked up to see her friend with Chinese take out containers in her hand and asked "if I said no, would it matter"?

"Sure it would, I'd just put these in the fridge and we'd get whatever was floating your boat."

"So what's with the royal treatment" Jennifer asked with a smile.

"This is the 'I feel like dirt because I've been ignoring my friend' treatment, I hope you like it."

Jennifer looked at her friend for a moment, digesting what Ruthie had just said. "Chinese sounds great" was her only reply, well that and a face splitting grin.

They were still talking four hours later; after all they had a lot of catching up to do. "So this jerk thinks I'm a cop and is gonna chew me out for my 'un-professional conduct'."

"So you ripped him a new one."

Ruthie looked a bit ashamed "yeah, I did".

"Sounds like he had it coming" Nif replied "but for Doug's sake you probably ought to make nice the next time you see him. After all you don't want to give your boyfriend a pissed off underling to deal with."

"Yeah I should" Ruthie replies "but I'll put it off for now." And they were off on another topic.

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Thursday morning found Ruthie and Nif dashing around Ruthie's apartment in an attempt to get everything done before Doug's family arrived and 'paperwork' got in the way. Ruthie remembered Gary always talking about how crazy things were at holidays, and now she believed him. There were six things in the paper, although four of them could be handled by phone, leaving a car crash and a missing child to be dealt with directly. The two friends took turns handling the phone saves while the apartment was being readied for guests. They figured that Nif would take care of the car crash, because it occurred after Doug's parents were supposed to arrive, Ruthie would handle the missing child later in the day.

Just as they had that worked out, Janet arrived. Nif had been a little hesitant about asking the reporter over for Thanksgiving, but when Ruthie pointed out the Janet literally had no one to spend the holiday with, Nif had relented. The three of them were bustling about the kitchen and the patio; the turkey was being grilled so that there would be plenty of room in the oven, when the doorbell rang. Ruthie left to get it, but very soon both Nif and Janet heard her outraged voice ask "what the heck are you doing here" followed by "you're telling me that he's your father". The two not quite friends exchanged looks that said 'this is gonna be fun' and did their best to act as though they hadn't heard a thing. They were soon joined by Doug's mother Catherine, who looked as though she would rather be anywhere else at the moment. After the opening rounds of greetings the three of them tried to concentrate on fixing the meal while the explosions periodically went off in the living room.

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Ruthie simply couldn't believe it; the officious idiot that she had chewed out the day before turned out to be the father of her boyfriend, sometimes her life sucked beyond all belief. Both she and Mr. Howser had been pretty vocal in their views on the other, but with Doug playing referee everything quieted down relatively quickly and a truce was reached. It was a truce based on the fact that they both cared for the same person, they agreed to try to put the past in the past and at least be civil to each other for Doug's sake. Ruthie honestly believed that she and David Howser would rarely see eye to eye because of the completely different ways that they saw the world and approached life, but she was willing to at least try and Mr. Howser seemed to be of the same opinion.

Having reached an accord, she checked her watch and saw that it was time for Nif to run her 'errand'. Sticking her head in the kitchen she said "Nif, did you remember those little marshmallows for the sweet potatos"?

Hearing the code phrase that they had worked out earlier, Jennifer looked at the clock and then at Ruthie and sighed theatrically "no, but I've got time to pick some up".

"Where" Janet asked "isn't everything closed on Thanksgiving"?

"There's a little place over on Halstead" Nif replied as she picked up her car keys "it's run by Korean's or Vietnamese or something like that. Anyway, they're always open on holidays". And with that she was out the door and on her way.

Ruthie took over in the kitchen and had soon fallen into a good rapport with Catherine. It was funny, Ruthie thought, how different the older Howser's were, and yet they had stayed married for so long. It was this conversation more so that her desire to appease Doug that convinced her that maybe she had been a bit too hasty in her judgment of David Howser.

Dinner was pretty close to being done when there was a knock at the door. Ruthie heard the door open and then Doug exclaim "what happened to you"? Everyone bolted out of the kitchen to see just what he was talking about when they saw an amazing sight in the hallway; it was the Abominable Mud Woman, or at least that's what it appeared to be. Actually it was Jennifer. She had stopped the car accident only to be completely doused as a semi hit a rather nasty puddle right next to where she was walking. Wordlessly she walked into Ruthie's apartment, handed her young friend the bag of marshmallows and kept right on going towards the back bedroom and the shower that was there. She had endured quite a few odd looks on her way back to Ruthie's apartment, so the eruption of laughter that came as soon as she left the living room didn't phase her much at all. She emerged about 10 minutes later, and in a much better mood than when she had gone in. When she really thought about it, helping Ruthie save people; either directly or as part of the support system, was the best thing she had ever done in her life. There were times when she wondered what her life would have been like if the mugging hadn't occurred, but she tried not to dwell on it. Sure there were times when she felt a little taken for granted, but objectively she knew that Ruthie led a very full life. She dried off and put on a change of clothes, she knew Ruthie wouldn't mind, heck some of these were hers after all. As she eased back out into the main room it was clear that there was some sort of truce or at least World War III had been postponed because everyone was being quiet and polite; and surprisingly little of it came across as false. Well, Jennifer thought, at least it's a step in the right direction.

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The dinner progressed well with good food and non-controversial topics of conversation, or it did until Mr. Howser decided to change the subject. "Do you find it difficult Ms. Camden?"

"Do I find what difficult?"

Being an artist yourself while having the same name as a rather noted artist. I imagine that some people would accuse you of cashing in on the name."

Silence reigned around the table for a moment, until both Janet and Nif broke up laughing at the nonplussed expression on Ruthie's face. Mr. and Mrs. Howser looked confused and Doug just looked embarrassed. Finally, the laughter died down a bit and Doug bravely jumped into the breach before Mt. St. Ruthie erupted. "Dad, there's only one artist named Ruth Camden and you're sitting with her."

Dr. Howser looked incredulous "you painted 'Sorrow' that's hanging in the Guggenheim and 'Joy' and 'Fear' at the National Gallery?"

"Yes sir, I did" Ruthie replied with as much dignity as possible, which wasn't much considering the way her two friends were still laughing.

"I love those" Dr. Howser gushed "I've even got a copy of 'Joy' on the wall of my office, it's magnificent."

"Thank you" Ruthie replied with a bit of a blush.

Leaning forward on the table, dinner forgotten Dr. Howser asked "So how did you come up with the idea of painting feelings and emotions?"

With that question Ruthie launched into the story of how 'Sorrow' came into being, the reactions and the paintings that followed it. Pretty soon it was just Dr. Howser and Ruthie sitting at the table discussing art and influences; everyone else had retreated to the living room to watch the first of many showings of 'It's a Wonderful Life'. During a commercial break, Nif noticed the time and realized that Camden needed to be heading out to make the night save. She walked back into the dining room where the two motormouths were still jabbering away "Hey Camden, you still need to make that delivery."

Ruthie looked at her friend then glanced at the clock and then back to her friend "thanks Nif, I kinda lost track of the time there."

Nif replied "no problemo" at the same time Mr. Howser asked "what kind of delivery"?

"Someone ordered a print and paid for it to be delivered as soon as it came in and it came in late yesterday."

"So you're going out today?"

"It's what they wanted, so I'm going."

"Would you mind some company?"

Ruthie regarded the older man for a second, then came to the conclusion that saying 'no' would be riskier than letting him come along; "sure, the more the merrier."

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The two of them left in Ruthie's SUV and headed for the suburbs on the south side, the article concealed in a cup holder in the door. The conversation had shifted from art to music, and how it influenced Ruthie's art. Not surprisingly, Dr. Howser was way more into classical than Ruthie was, but they both agreed on the best type of Blues, both being fans of the post-war Chicago style. They were soon near where they needed to be and Ruthie needed to start acting lost, she hoped that her limited theatrical experience would help. She saw Dr. Howser give her an odd looked when she intentionally turned the wrong way, but he kept any comments to himself. Soon she saw who she had come for, a little girl with a pink backpack and carrying a bear almost as big as she was; Ruthie glanced at the doctor saying "maybe a local can help us figure out where we should be". Rolling down her window she called out "can you give us a hand"?

The little girl stopped and looked at Ruthie, eyes suspicious "what do you want" she finally said.

"Do you know the Miller's; they live on" she glanced at a piece of paper in her hand "Aspen lane".

"Yes, I know them" the girl called back.

"Could you tell us how to get there" Ruthie asked with a sheepish grin "we're a little lost". Ruthie could see the girl's face working; desperately trying to hold something in, then suddenly she burst into tears. As quick as Ruthie was, she heard the 'Chunk' of the passenger door closing before she even got hers open. By the time she was out of her SUV, Dr. Howser was already leading the girl back to the vehicle and making comforting sounds to the crying child. With the situation completely out of her control, Ruthie did the only thing she could and got back in and watched a master at work. And that's what Dr. Howser the elder was, a master. Ruthie didn't know if it was the years of bedside manner or what, all she knew was that he had the girl in the car and settling down in the time it would have taken her to just calm the kid down enough to listen. So Ruthie decided to just sit in the front seat and keep her mouth shut and try to learn something.

Learn she did. Dr. Howser's whole being seemed to radiate caring and calm, two things she never would have associated with the guy that berated her in the ER. In the back seat the girl was calm coherent and even giggling at times. Soon the Doctor had learned all of the stuff that Ruthie knew but couldn't let on that she knew, like the girl's name, address and what she was doing out there in the first place. Once she had been given rudimentary directions from the kid she put the vehicle in gear and started off towards the child's home.

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When they got there, Ruthie let Dr. Howser deal with the girl's family while she delivered her 'order' to the house next door. She was sitting there, waiting for him when he got back in the car. She pulled out and there was quiet for about two minutes "so how did you know"?

"Know what?"

"Please Miss Camden, I'm many things but an idiot isn't one of them. This whole little excursion was just a one act play to make saving that little girl seem plausible. I assume that my coming with you wasn't figured in to the scenario, so you had to improvise, and I must say you did a fine job, but it is also clear that this whole 'errand' was a phony as a three dollar bill. So I ask again, how did you know?"

Ruthie looked over at Dr. Howser, trying to determine whether or not she should lay the whole thing out for him "I doubt you'd believe me."

"Try me."

"It's the paper."

"The paper, what about it?"

"It isn't today's paper, its tomorrow's paper."

"I don't . . . . . . ." David Howser's voice drifted off as he started to consider the implications of what Ruth had just told him. If this was true then she had access to all kinds of information, information that she wasn't using.

"Then why aren't you rich? If what you say is true then you could play the stock market flawlessly or make a fortune gambling on sports; isn't that right?"

"Yeah, I could do that, but that would violate the spirit of the gift if you know what I mean." And she went on to explain what she knew about the paper and tell the cautionary tale of Joey Clams. "There aren't any hard and fast rules, but it just seems wrong to me to use the paper like that."

"Wait a moment, are you saying that others get paper's like this as well?"

"Yeah, I've met a few and heard of a couple others, I don't know how many total there are but I know that it's more than just me."

David Howser had seen some extraordinary things in his life, in his life he'd also been lied to by some of the best in the business; the two things that he was currently sure of was that the young woman was telling the truth and it was the most remarkable thing he'd ever heard. "So why you?"

"No idea, I stopped here on a whim on my way home from college and it was outside my hotel room door the next morning, and it's shown up every day since."

"So you were familiar with this before it showed up on your doorstep?"

"Yeah, my boss back in Chicago got the paper, he let me help out now and again."

"Remarkable" David Howser said again and sat back in his seat.

Ruthie let him think for a moment then chimed up "listen Doc, I get that you're all geeked about it and everything, but I gotta ask you to keep this to yourself, or just tell your wife at the most. If knowledge about this ever got out it'd ruin the whole set up. I don't want people trying to figure out who gets it and who doesn't or trying to steal my paper so they can get rich; I need your word that this stays between us."

"Of course" he agreed immediately "I may tell Catherine but that would be it."

"Thanks Doc, you know I gotta say you're takin' this a lot better that I'd have expected."

"Well, to be honest I've seen a few things that make me a bit more open minded, that and I'm still in a bit of a state of shock over the whole knowing the future aspect of things."

"Seen a few things, huh; care to share?"

David Howser thought for a moment then turned a sheepish gaze to Ruthie "I would but they're not my secrets to tell."

"I understand, so how about a little 'thank you' for keeping quiet."

"What exactly did you have in mind?"

"Well a gallery in LA is gonna put a show on called 'The Many Moods of Ruth Camden'; they're gonna bring in 'Joy', 'Sorrow' and 'Fear' as well as seven others that I've done but have never been on public display. They're all in my gallery right now if you'd like a preview."

"You mean I'd get to see seven originals that very few others have ever seen, even critics?"

"Even critics" Ruthie replied with a grin.

"Now how could I say no to that" David Howser said.

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"Doogie, could I talk to you for a second" Catherine asked.

"Sure Mom" Doug replied and slowly got up off the couch. He had been expecting this since his parents had arrived, but he'd really been expecting his father to deliver the 'are you sure about this' speech, not his mom. Sighing in exasperation, he followed his mother into the kitchen. "OK Mom, what's on your mind" as if I couldn't guess, he added silently.

"Are you sure about this?"

"You mean about Ruthie?"

"Of course"

"Sure Mom, why wouldn't I be?"

"Well it's just that . . . . . ." Catherine's voice drifted off, not sure how she wanted to say what she needed to say.

"It's just what, Mom?"

"Well it's like you're not you any more."

"What?"

"Doogie, to me you're a completely different person than I remember."

"She just brought me out of a very dark place Mom, that's all. Come on, you remember what I was like after Vinnie . . . ." he paused getting himself under control "you saw what that did to me, it changed me fundamentally, but then Ruthie came along and suddenly I felt alive again. And now you want to say that she's not right for me."

"I'm not sure if that's what I'm saying, what I am saying is that it's disturbing to see your child behaving in ways that you've never seen before, doing things he's never done before and acting like a completely different person than the one you raised."

Doug paused for a moment or two, trying to figure out how to respond; finally he looked his mother in the eye. "After Vinnie was killed I just wanted to die, I even thought about just ending everything; bit I didn't. I continued to exist, not live just exist; until this amazing woman came into my life and reminded me of just what living meant. She brought me back to life Mom, in nearly every way that matters."

"Did she Doogie, or did she just create you out of the broken parts of your life. Answer me this" she said with a fierce glare "are you Doogie Howser, or are you simply Ruth Camden's version of Doogie Howser?"

"Mom, that's insane, I'm me, just me."

"Are you sure about that, because if you are then well and good; but if you're not then you need to re-discover who you truly are not just sit back and enjoy a happy but incomplete version of yourself." And with that she walked back into the living room; leaving Doug standing in the dark and thinking.

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When his Dad and Ruthie got back from her 'errand' it was clear that they were really hitting it off. There were enthusiastic greetings all around and she climbed into the easy chair next to him and snuggled down to watch whatever special was on TV, Catherine watched this with a frown. When the special was over both Nif and Janet left and not too long after that the Howser's decided to head back to Doug's place. She gave Doug a chaste kiss goodnight and hugged Dr. Howser; Catherine however, had been giving Ruthie the 'fish eye' ever since she got back and barely seemed to tolerate the quick hug that she got from Ruthie. They all made plans to meet the next day and left Ruthie alone with Quark. Ruthie quickly got ready and then dropped exhaustedly into bed knowing that she'd passed some tests, failed others and that in some cases the jury was still out.

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It was clear as they headed back to his apartment that Doug's parents were split on the subject of their son's girlfriend. What was most surprising to Doug was the fact that his Mom didn't like her and his Dad did; Doug would have bet anything that their positions would have been reversed. When they arrived Doug quickly said goodnight and went to bed, but he spent most of a restless night thinking about what his mother had said.

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"I take it that you have a problem with young Miss Camden?"

"Yes David, I do."

"And it is . . . . . ."

"I'm not sure, there's just something about her that bugs me. Somehow I've convinced myself that she's using Doogie and I can't seem to get past that. One thing I'm sure of is that she's hiding something, something major."

"That's true, she is; but she's not hiding it from us or Douglas."

"So what is it?"

"Well sit down, this might take a while" and Dr. Howser told her the tale of tomorrow's newspaper and what she did because of it. Somehow the knowledge didn't help Catherine feel any better, or change her mind one bit.