CAUGHT IN THE CROSS-FIRE, Chapter 6
Mona woke up grumpy and hungover, annoyed that the hotel wakeup call interrupted her dream. She couldn't remember much, but it involved a bottle of honey, ice cubes, and a certain taciturn physician's slender hands.
Bob's staff had actually outdone themselves and had come up with an additional dozen or so candidates by 8pm the previous evening. Bob had even taken the trouble to courier the files to her at the hotel. Mona had reviewed each file three times, and then SMSed her assistant with a request (well, demand) for additional information on the top five. He had emailed the additional documents overnight, and she planned to review them that morning.
With her coffee in hand, and another Continental breakfast from room service, she listlessly paged through the options on her screen. Human quaalude. Lousy manager. Bimbo. Idiot. Bankrupt. She had asked her assistant to send more information on these and the prior candidates, but he swore there was nothing else to be learned, and he was not one to give up easily. Mona even resorted to doing some research on her own now that she'd remembered how it was done, and she reluctantly had to agree.
When she asked him to give his assessment, after a bewildered and extended pause of shocked silence, he asked what skeletons Dr Oliver had in his closet, since on paper he was by far more qualified than the candidates he was struggling to research. Mona blanched briefly at the word "closet" and finally described him as too "unconventional." She briefly worried what he might be thinking as there was yet another long pause on the other end of the line before he finally noted that he felt the idiot was the strongest overall candidate, followed by the human quaalude. He went on to detail four or five of each one's strongest selling points.
Mona herself paused after the silent response to her original query. He was honestly surprised she had asked his opinion. It occurred to her that in three years she had never previously asked. And overall, she had to agree with his analysis – including his conclusion that Dr Reid Oliver was the most qualified candidate. She took a moment to thank him for his efforts above and beyond the call of duty, and for his opinions. After yet another brief pause, she heard his tired, but appreciative voice replying, "Any time" before he hung up.
Damn that Luke Snyder. Even before speaking to her assistant, Mona had confirmed for herself the previous evening that Luke was right – none of the candidates came close to matching Dr Oliver in clinical or managerial experience. Clearly Reid rubbed people the wrong way, (oh god, that's the last thing I need - a mental image of Reid rubbing people ANY way) but he was unquestionably effective – his success rate was off the charts for both invasive and non-invasive procedures, and his department was always on-budget. But there was no way she could let Reid Oliver remain the head of the neuro wing and her hospital.
So that left the sticky little problem of identifying a replacement. Mona paged through the files once more. Personally she was leaning towards the human quaalude, but her people and budgetary skills were abysmal. The idiot was not very creative, but at least he could balance a checkbook and schmooze donors. After re-reading the files twice more, she realized she was not making any progress.
Finally, she took a quarter out of her purse and tossed it onto the table. Heads the human quaalude; tails the idiot. She watched as the coin rattled to a stop. Tails. The idiot wins.
As always, Bob was right on time. Today, he was finishing off his lunch with Kim at the LakeView bar when Mona arrived. After another exchange of frigid smiles, Mona was once again seated across from Bob discussing potential candidates to head the surgical wing.
"So, Mona," Bob asked, "What have you decided?"
"Well," Mona began, "We've narrowed it down to two candidates. The first is Barbara Huntington. She's the deputy head of neurology at the University of Washington Medical School. She's been at U-Dub for fifteen years and is next in line to chair their neurology department — "
"Okay," Bob said.
"And Invicta's top pick," continued Mona, "Dr Richard Meredith. He wrote a groundbreaking paper on acoustic neuromas that was published last fall." She tried to sound as enthusiastic as she could.
"Yeah, I know. I read it.," Bob said condescendingly. "It was really a summary of other researchers' findings."
In reality, Mona agreed. But instead, she replied, "Well, he's lectured at johns Hopkins."
"I know, but I keep hoping for a candidate who has more clinical experience, like Dr Reid Oliver," Bob said. "To me, he's the kind of man that should be —"
Speak of the devil himself. Reid Oliver stormed in, cutting Bob off mid-sentence. As he was no longer representing the hospital, Read was dressed casually in a black sweater and those oh-so-tight, hip-hugging jeans. This was the first time she had seen him without a suit jacket and the hem of his sweater graced his hips. When he turned to speak to Bob, Mona was able to confirm that indeed, the view from behind was definitely just as fine as the view from the front.
"Bob, can I have a minute alone," Reid asked, adding, "Now?" for emphasis.
"Actually, we're in the middle of something," Bob said dismissively. "Call me later."
"Yeah, it'll just take a minute," Reid said. At that moment he noted the files sitting open in front of Bob and helped himself to the top one. Of all the nerve!
"Hey, who's this? Another unqualified candidate for my position?" Reid asked. He paused for a beat to scan for the name on the file before announcing, "Richard Meredith. You canNOT be serious." Mona refused to let Reid get away with dissing her next best option.
"Dr. Meredith has an excellent reputation," she said.
"Dr. Meredith is a self-aggrandizing, plagiarizing idiot," Reid retorted. Mona again reluctantly agreed, but she refused to let him have the pleasure of that knowledge.
"Reid —" Bob began, trying to quell his diatribe.
"You hire this guy, you might as well light a match to the neuro wing right now," Reid said. Melodramatic much? You're pretty full of it yourself, hot shit – um, hot shot.
At that moment, a flash of gray came into her line of vision and an arm made its way around Reid's shoulder, giving it a reassuring pat before grasping it possessively. Damn. Lucky arm.
"Excuse me," Luke Snyder said, smiling. "Hi, Miss Cross."
Reid frowned at Luke. "You followed me?"
Luke ignored Reid's question and instead addressed Bob and Mona. "What Dr Oliver was trying to say is he would like his job back." Mona had to pause for a moment as she caught herself mesmerized once again by the tantalizing expanse of chest taunting her from behind the neckline of Luke's shirt. Mona blinked. I am NOT going down that path.
"Dr. Oliver chose to resign, Mr. Snyder. That ship has sailed," Mona said assertively.
Luke ignored her response and turned to look across the table, "And do you share this opinion, Bob?"
Bob dodged the question: "Luke, it's not appropriate for you to be a part of this discussion."
"Why not? I'm on the board," Luke challenged.
"That's part of the problem," Bob replied.
"Well then I'll resign. If I do that will Reid get his job back?" Luke asked. Having already tried to resign, Luke didn't wait for the answer to his pseudo-hypothetical question and continued: "And just for the record, Reid and I were not involved when I made my donation to the neuro wing."
"You don't owe them an explanation, Luke," Reid couldn't help but notice that Reid's voice was several tones lower than usual. Husky. Intimate. Mona almost melted when she heard his voice.
"I just don't see where the ethical dilemma is here," Luke protested.
Bob looked at Reid and Luke and said, "Um, I need a moment alone with Miss Cross, please."
"All right," Luke replied for both of them, "We'll wait in the lobby." Luke put one hand on Reid's waist and the other on his shoulder and began steering him out the bar entrance.
"What do you think you're doing?" Reid asked in a hushed tone.
Though she couldn't be sure, she thought she hear Luke reply, "I am saving you from yourself." Damn that Luke Snyder with his hands all over Reid Oliver. Mona watched as they retreated through the doorway.
"You know, Luke has a point," Bob said, "If he didn't know Dr Oliver at the time of his donation, well then their relationship certainly doesn't violate your corporate policy."
Mona briefly entertained the thought that Bob meant "know" in the biblical sense, but the image of the two gorgeous blondes getting to know each other biblically was too much for her to process. She quickly closed and re-opened her eyes. "Well," she said, searching for an appropriate response, "I thought we were in agreement on this, Bob."
"I don't think we ever were, Bob replied. "It never sat right with me." NOW you choose to tell me it didn't sit right with you? Coward.
"Look," Mona said, "If you want to challenge Invicta's policy in this area be my guest. Um, but between you and me, I don't think this is the best test case to use." She tried to be discouraging without being blatant. The last thing she needed was anyone questioning why she had it in for Reid Oliver.
"Why is that?" Bob asked, refusing to take the bait.
"Oh, it's just a hunch," Mona smiled disingenuously.
"Is it because Luke and Reid are gay?" Bob asked point-blank.
"I didn't say that," Mona replied with a plastered-on smile.
"You don't have to say it." Bob said.
Mona looked contrite.
"Miss Cross, I found it very interesting what Invicta's plans for Memorial are..." Bob continued. Oh my god. He sounds like he's about to break up with a girlfriend with the "it's not you, it's me" line. Do NOT tell me you are even THINKING of going where I think you're going...
"But after careful consideration," Bob concluded, "We're declining your offer. Memorial is not for sale" Fuck you, Matlock. You CANNOT do this to me. Invicta is a dumper, not a dumpee!
Mona almost spat out her coffee. "I'm sorry, Bob," she finally said, "I must have misheard. I thought I just heard you say that Memorial is not for sale."
"You didn't mishear," Bob calmly replied, "Memorial doesn't need Invicta's money...or its corporate policies."
"Are you out of your cotton-picking mind?" Mona replied.
"Miss Cross, I have had many opportunities to watch you work," Bob explained. "I've seen the way you interact with my staff and with the patients. I've listened to your explanations of Invicta's priorities, and I've read everything I can get my hands on about Invicta. If you're representative of Invicta's corporate personality, then we're not interested. I'm sorry to have wasted your time.
And with those words, Bob slid the manila file folders back across the table, and said dismissively, "Good day, Miss Cross." Then he turned away from her, pointedly ignoring her shocked expression and summoned the waiter, whom he paid with a $20, telling him to "keep the change."
Mona was beyond indignant. She angrily tried to shove the papers into her briefcase, caught an edge and found them popping back out. So she resorted to cramming them in with brute force, creating awkward, angular folds in the manila cardstock. She paused briefly as she remembered that Luke had said they would wait in the lobby. She thought about the hotel layout and realized that even if she went out the back entrance, she would still have to walk around the building to the main lobby to get to the stairs or elevator. Damn.
Snapping shut her briefcase, Mona marched out of the bar and into the lobby. There, she stopped dead in her tracks at the sight before her. There, on the couch where Reid had fallen after Noah Mayer decked him, sat Luke and Reid. Reid sat, leaning back in the chair with his arms crossed tightly in front of him, and appeared to be doing an incredibly poor job of feigning annoyance. Although he defiantly kept his head turned forwards, he periodically turned his eyes in Luke's direction, and the sparkle within them betrayed his true sentiment.
Luke, on the other hand, sat with his body turned towards Reid's. His left knee was angled so that it just brushed the top of Reid's right thigh and his left elbow was casually propped on the couch behind Reid's neck. Luke was clearly in good spirits as he smiled frequently while leaning his head forwards to whisper conspiratorially into Reid's ear. Mona could almost imagine Luke's breath brushing Reid's earlobe, his lips so close they could...
At that moment Reid noticed her enter the lobby and turned his head to stare. Luke, noticing Reid had stopped paying attention to him turned his head to follow Reid's gaze. Both watched as Mona blinked back the angry tears that were threatening to fight their way out, straightened her jacket collar, tightened her grip on her briefcase, and stalked out of the lobby towards the elevators.
Luke turned back to look at Reid and asked, "What's with her?"
"Let's go find out!" Luke said cheerfully. He stood up and gave Reid's hand a gentle tug to pull him off of the couch and the two returned to the bar to get the scoop from Bob.
This day could not get any worse, Mona thought. She cursed the elevator for moving so slowly and silently thanked the heavens that despite its rickety "character" it didn't break down mid-journey. When she returned to her room, she dragged her suitcase out of the closet and tossed it on the bed and tugged at the zipper. Fuck! She yelled out loud when it got caught halfway open on the lining. Fuck me dead, just fuck me dead. She struggled with the zipper for several minutes more before she finally tore the lining while releasing it. Fuck.
She tossed down a JD before haphazardly tossing her clothes into the suitcase. She gathered up the rest of the papers which were scattered about the room and tossed them in on top of the clothes, no longer worrying or caring about wrinkles. In the bathroom, she scooped up her toiletries and dropped them in her travel bag, then tossed it into the suitcase as well.
Mona took one last look around the room to make sure she hadn't left anything behind. Once she was satisfied that she hadn't forgotten anything, she turned out her light and made her way to the front desk. She checked out at the reception desk and was just tucking her receipt into her briefcase when she realized that once again, she had been wrong, her day could be worse.
Mona turned around to find Kim Hughes making her way across the lobby in her direction. "Why, hello, Mona," Kim smiled. "Leaving so soon? How goes the acquisition?"
"Go to hell," Mona spat out, tugging on the handle of her rolling bag and making her way to garage elevator. She tossed her bags in the trunk and sat down heavily in the driver's seat, resting her head on the steering wheel. How the fuck did things get so messed up? She did deals in her sleep – it's not like it was brain surgery. Memorial Hospital was undervalued. Bob Hughes was an interested seller. The neuro wing was a diamond in the rough, and she was primed to be part of the leadership team to bring Memorial to the 21st century. This should have been a cookie-cutter, rubber-stamp type of arrangement. Fuck.
Mona pulled out her iPod and quickly spun the dial to her soundtracks playlist. Scanning the song titles, she found the one she was looking for.
...Hands touch, eyes meet, sudden silence, sudden heat. Hearts leap in a giddy whirl. He could be that boy - but I'm not that girl...
She thought back to the first time she'd set eyes on Dr Reid Oliver. He'd said he was "thrilled" to meet her. But clearly, the thrill was only hers. She hadn't felt that heady rush of adrenaline in years. Mona was a long-time connoisseur of all things male and masculine and she had not seen so many fine specimens in close proximity in quite some time, perhaps ever.
...Don't dream too far, don't lose sight of who you are, don't remember that rush of joy. He could be that boy, I'm not that girl...
Mona pulled out her cell phone and quickly texted her assistant: En route to Chicago. ETA 830p. Book room at Fairmont. Bring the JD. Deal dead – will explain later. Then she paused and added as an afterthought, Thx.
...Ev'ry so often we long to steal to the land of what-might-have-been, but that doesn't soften the ache we feel when reality sets back in...
Mona had long ago given up on love in exchange for a good fuck, corporate advancement, and cushy travel arrangements. She chastised herself for allowing herself to imagine settling in for a small-town life as a Memorial Hospital administrator. What was I thinking? As if PTAs and his-and-hers towels were my thing?
...Blithe smile, lithe limb, he who's winsome, he wins him; gold hair with a gentle curl – that's the boy he chose, and Heaven knows, I'm not that girl...
As Mona hit the Send button on her phone, she watched wistfully as the progress bar incremented on her screen. Message sent. As she put the cell phone back in her briefcase, she saw the stack of candidate files with Dr Reid Oliver's at the front. She pulled out the folder and opened it across the staring wheel, trying to bend back the creases she'd created when she stuffed it in earlier.
Doctor Reid Oliver. She stared at the standard headshot clipped to the front of his CV and his searing blue eyes peered back at her, seemingly mocking her. She reread his qualifications, even though she had already reviewed the file so many times she could probably recite his biography from memory. We would have made a great team, Reid Oliver. Yes, we would have.
With one last glance at Reid's photo, Mona close the file and gently slid it back into her briefcase. She tucked the bag back onto the passenger seat and started the car. As she turned her head to back out, she thought she glanced Luke and Reid making their way from the elevator bank to their car, holding hands. Mona winced as she again blinked back tears.
After confirming that the coast was clear, Mona pulled out of her spot and made her way out of the LakeView parking garage, proceeding to put as much distance as possible, as quickly as possible, between herself, and Oakdale, Illinois.
...Don't wish, don't start, wishing only wounds the heart. I wasn't born for the rose and the pearl. There's a boy I know, he loves him so — I'm not that girl...