Fortunately, Fenton had a good hold on Riley, so as she sank into unconsciousness he was able to keep her from falling. He lowered her gently to the ground, cradling her head in his lap as he did so. The firefighter they'd been talking to reacted instantly.
"Guys, get the med bag over here." He knelt beside them and quickly checked her pulse and other vitals. "I take it she's not a fan of blood. My girlfriend is the same way. She'll pass out at the first sign of it. I think she'll be okay. We've got ammonia capsules in the bag; that should bring her around pretty quickly."
Fenton thought back to the apology the firefighter had been just about to offer when Riley had passed out. If something terrible had happened to Con - and he was saying a quick prayer that it hadn't - he wanted the news before Riley regained consciousness. That way he could break it to her gently. Or at least as gently as one could break that kind of news to someone who'd already lost so much. "Con, the driver of the car, how is he?"
A second firefighter brought an orange cloth bag over and immediately started pulling out a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope. The first man shook his head. "I'm sorry, that's what I was starting to tell you. By the time our truck arrived on scene, the driver had already been moved from the car and transported. I never saw him so I don't have any idea how badly he was injured. If it's any consolation, the fact that he was moved says he survived the crash."
He didn't elaborate but Fenton gratefully nodded. He knew what the firefighter was delicately not saying. If Con had died in the crash, the responding units would have had to wait for the coroner to arrive before moving him. It didn't mean that his friend's condition wasn't serious but he at least had that bit of good news to hold on to until he received further word.
"Her pulse is a little fast but she's okay. How about we move her up away from the scene, so she doesn't have to see the crash site as soon as she wakes up? Besides the wrecker is here and we need to get the vehicle towed," the second firefighter reported. At Fenton's nod, the young man carefully gathered Riley's light frame into his arms. Fenton led the way up the embankment toward his car.
Once the teenaged girl was settled in the back seat of Fenton's spacious sedan, the firefighter who carried her to the vehicle snapped open a white container and waved it under her nose a couple of times. Immediately her nose wrinkled up and her eyes fluttered then opened.
Not wanting to alarm the girl, Fenton made sure he was in her line of sight so that she wouldn't be upset by unfamiliar faces. Her lower lip quivered slightly. "He's dead isn't he?"
Her question broke Fenton's heart. How much could one person be expected to endure without breaking completely? He reached into the vehicle to take her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "He survived the crash, Riley. I don't know where he was transported to or what his condition is, but hold on to that fact for now, okay?"
"The car was so smashed up. There was blood on the steering wheel…"
"Don't get yourself worked up." Fenton warned her. "To tell you the truth, I've seen much worse wrecks where the driver walked away without a scratch." He'd also seen crashes that didn't look nearly so serious but had ended in fatalities but he didn't want to add that knowledge. "If you're okay here for a few minutes, I'll see if I can find someone here who knows what hospital he was transported to."
"I'll stay with her," the firefighter assured him. "I'm going to keep an eye on that blood pressure and pulse for a few minutes anyway. Make sure we don't have a repeat episode of syncope."
Fenton thanked him and gave Riley's hand one more squeeze before moving away from the car. He didn't get more than three feet before a uniformed state trooper motioned him closer. The man was vaguely familiar and Fenton realized he'd met the officer a year earlier when he worked a case of a sniper who was taking potshots at troopers. A glance at his nameplate provided the name to go with the memory.
"Mr. Hardy, I understand the driver of the vehicle is a friend of yours?" Officer Johnson offered.
Fenton nodded. "Con Riley. He's an officer with the Bayport Police Department."
The trooper shook his head. "I hate MVCs in general but especially when it affects a fellow brother. I saw him when they pulled him from the vehicle. He was unconscious but the paramedics that were working on him seemed cautiously optimistic."
Fenton let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "Any idea what happened here tonight? Con's a top-notch driver; I can't see him just losing control."
The trooper looked around to see if anyone was watching or listening. "I probably shouldn't say anything- our investigation is just starting. But you helped us all out last year with that sniper; if it hadn't been for you, my partner would have been killed and who knows how many others. Consider this a personal professional courtesy. The back fender of your friend's car is dented pretty severely."
The whole car looked severely dented thought Fenton but he didn't say that out loud. It was obvious the trooper was trying to tell him something important about the wreck. His stomach turned. "Am I correct in assuming you don't think it happened in the crash?"
"It happened in the crash all right but I'm thinking it was a crash that caused him to go over the side. I can't say for sure until we interview Officer Riley but I suspect he'll only confirm what I believe happened," the trooper continued. "I think someone hit him from behind and forced him off the road. I suppose it could have been just a case of road rage but it doesn't feel like that to me. Do you know of anyone who might have a grudge against him?"
Fenton could think of a couple but none that he was willing to voice to anyone. All he could think of was that damn fingerprint that his sons had discovered in the Davis house. He didn't believe in coincidence on a good day; when it came to Gina Davis's murder, he believed even less. "Like I said, he's a cop; could be anyone. I have his niece with me and she's beside herself with worry. Do you have any idea where he was transported?"
The trooper nodded. "St. Theresa's. You know where it is?"
Again, Fenton's stomach turned and the burgers he'd heartily eaten earlier now sat like dead weight in his gut. He should have known it would be St. Theresa's. It was the main hospital to serve the area and was the same hospital where Mickey spent several days after the murder. "Yeah, I know it." He started to turn back to the car but then looked back at the trooper who'd gone out of his way to share what information he had despite protocols. "Thanks."
"Always glad to help one of our own. I'll be at the hospital as soon as I can to get a statement."
Fenton nodded and returned to his vehicle. The firefighter who'd been sitting with Riley in his absence smiled at him. "Her color's better and her pulse is back closer to normal. I think she's okay now."
Riley looked over at him, her expression tentative. "Did you find out anything?"
Fenton related the little he knew about Con's condition. He didn't tell her about the possibility that her uncle had been forced off the road; no sense upsetting her unduly if it weren't absolutely necessary. Riley moved from the back to the front passenger seat and quickly fastened her seatbelt. Knowing she didn't want to waste any time, Fenton climbed into the driver's seat and started the car.
As he put the vehicle into drive, he reached in his pocket for his cell phone. He offered it to Riley. "Want to call the boys and Laura and tell them what's going on? I'm sure they'd want to come to the hospital to be with you while we wait."
Her shaking hands revealed how worried she was as she silently dialed the number and waited for someone in the Hardy home to answer. Surprisingly though her voice was steady as she told Frank, who must have answered the phone, what was going on. After ending the call, Riley offered him his phone back and turned her attention to the darkening landscape passing by the window. Fenton felt badly for her.
"Those thoughts in your head sound pretty heavy. Want to share some of them?" Fenton probed gently.
She shrugged. "I feel like this is all my fault. He was only in Cloverton today because of me. I came to Bayport to see you to get help finding out who really killed my mom. I never even planned on seeing Uncle Con let alone moving in with him. Seems like I've caused nothing but trouble since I got here."
Keeping one hand on the wheel, Fenton reached over and gave her hand that wasn't in the sling a squeeze. "You can't blame yourself, Riley. It wasn't your fault. As far as we know it was only an accident."
Riley sighed, still looking out the window. "I had a teacher once say there's no such thing as an accident. Accident implies that there was no way it could have been prevented but this could have. I think last night was better but I know I've been keeping him up at night with my night terrors; what if he fell asleep at the wheel because he was tired from staying up with me?"
"What if a UFO tried to land on his car while he was driving and THAT caused the accident?" She shot him a look that suggested she thought he wasn't seeing things in the same light she was and he chuckled despite the situation. "Riley, I'm not trying to make light of what you are going through but until we know exactly what happened there is absolutely no sense speculating."
Riley shrugged. "I still say I've caused him a lot of trouble."
"And a lot of happiness as well," Fenton reminded her. Seeing she wasn't convinced, he continued. "You've met Ezra Collig, right?"
She nodded. "He took my statement after that guy tried to kidnap me."
Laura had told him a little about the man who had caused Riley's injuries in Dulcer and then followed her to Bayport but that wasn't important at the moment. "He's been the chief at Bayport for more years than he'd probably care to count. About a year after he started as chief, his wife bought him a humidor." Seeing her blank look, he amended. "That's a special kind of box that protects cigars. He showed it to me once. I thought it was a weird gift because the closest thing I've ever known Ezra to smoke is a turkey at Thanksgiving."
A twinge of a smile crossed Riley's lips at the attempt at a joke and Fenton shot her a small wink before going on with his story. "I asked him why he had it and he showed me its contents. I don't know how many blue and pink wrapped cigars were inside. You've probably seen the type - blue wrappers that say 'It's a boy!' and pink ones that say 'It's a girl!' Attached to each one was a label with a name and date. Every time one of his men becomes a father and starts handing out cigars, Ezra takes one, labels it with the child's name and birth date and puts it in the humidor to commemorate the event."
Riley shook her head, not understanding how Fenton's story had anything to do with her uncle. Fenton pulled into the closest parking space he could find near the Emergency Room at St. Theresa's. Cutting off the engine, he turned to face Riley. "There's a cigar in his humidor with your name and birthday on it. Con was so proud when he became an uncle that he handed out more cigars than most new daddies do. And despite everything that's happened in the last couple of years, he's still just as proud to be your uncle as he was the day you were born. Don't ever doubt that or think he'd blame you for anything that's happened in the last few days."
Feeling a little better, Riley followed Fenton across the parking lot into the waiting room for the ER. Fenton got her settled in one of the chairs and then went to the desk to inquire about Con. He knew Riley was anxious for news but wanted to get the report first in case that news was bad. The white uniformed woman behind the counter was busily typing information into the computer in front of her and answering the phone that seemed content to keep ringing. He was starting to get impatient when he heard a male voice call Riley's name.
He turned to see a man coming out of the triage area to sit next to Riley. She obviously knew him because she practically flung herself into his embrace. Fenton joined them in time to hear Riley tell the newcomer about the wreck. Now Fenton recognized him from Mickey's stay in this very same hospital two years earlier; he was Mickey's psychiatrist.
"The hospital found my card in your uncle's wallet when they were searching for contact information. They hoped I could help them identify who to call," he explained.
"Have you seen him?" Riley tentatively asked.
The doctor nodded. "I'll let them know at the desk to have the doctor come out and talk to you but I'll tell you what I know. Your uncle was unconscious when they brought him in; he apparently hit his head pretty hard in the crash. He's got a pretty nasty gash on his left temple but it doesn't appear that he has any broken bones or major injuries. They just took him down for a head CT to make sure he doesn't have any skull fractures."
Riley paled again and her eyes got wide. "Is he going to be okay?"
Dr. Myers nodded. "He's going to be fine. He'll probably be sporting bruises that will make yours look like nothing and he'll more than likely have to stay a day or so for observation for a concussion but there's nothing to indicate he won't make a full recovery."
It took a few minutes for the information that he was truly going to be okay to sink in but at long last Riley nodded. "Can I see him?"
"As soon as he gets back from the CT, I'll take you to his cubicle myself. Until then, how about I get you something to drink? You look like you could use a jolt of caffeine."
Riley agreed mutely and the psychiatrist excused himself to get the cold drink. Afterward he sat with both Riley and Fenton while they waited. Minutes dragged on and Riley began to pace back and forth. Despite Dr. Myers's reassurances that Con was going to be fine, the delay in getting to see that he was okay for herself was slowly rebuilding all her earlier fears.
Even the arrival of Laura, Frank, and Joe didn't ease her fears. Her pacing grew more and more frenetic and Joe thought maybe he would have to pull her into a chair and sit on her to get her to be still. Finally at long last, a nurse appeared and said they could see Con.
Riley paused outside his cubicle, desperate to see him but afraid all the same. Frank gave her good shoulder a squeeze to encourage her on. She stepped in slowly, not sure what to expect.
Con was lying in the bed, his eyes closed. Someone had taped a bandage over his left temple and although Riley knew it wasn't possible, the white gauze seemed to dwarf him. She stopped just inside the room, her breath catching in her throat.
Almost as if he could sense he was being watched, Con slowly opened his eyes and groaned against the sudden intrusion of light. His audible moan spurred Riley into motion and she suddenly launched herself at him, hugging him tightly. Slowly he wrapped his arms around her and whispered comforting words in her ear.
After a few minutes, she pulled back and swiped at her eyes. "Are you really okay? What happened?"
"Nothing a pound of painkiller won't cure, Riles. I promise." He didn't elaborate on the 'what happened' but Riley didn't seem to notice. He glanced over at the Hardys. "Sorry I didn't make it for supper. I'm starving."
Joe grinned; it didn't look like Con was worse for wear. "We should have brought yours with us. I know hospital food wouldn't come close to comparing to a Joe Hardy burger extraordinaire but I bet Frank and I could find something that could satisfy that hunger spot."
Con smiled. "You do that and I might just cut you some slack the next time you nose your way into some investigation you have no business being involved in."
Frank shook his head. "If he can make jokes, he must be okay. Come on Joe, I remember passing a burger joint just down the street. It might not compare to the - what did you call it, the Joe Hardy Burger Extraordinaire - but it'll probably be better than what the cafeteria serves."
The two brothers left and Riley studied Con carefully. "Are you sure you're okay? What did the doctor say?"
He shrugged. "I don't know for sure; I was pretty groggy when he was in here earlier."
Laura wrapped her arm around Riley's shoulders. "Why don't we go see if we can find him and get a report? I think that'll make you feel better."
Riley nodded and followed Laura out of the cubicle after hugging Con once more. Once he was alone with Fenton, the burly cop frowned. "I was run off the road Fenton. Some car was on my tail and I did everything to try to get rid of them but then the car hit my rear. There was nothing I could do."
Fenton didn't know if it made him feel better or worse to hear the trooper's theory confirmed. "Did you get a good look at the car or the driver?"
Con shrugged. "Maybe, I don't know. It all happened so fast and the whole accident is a bit blurry. Dammit, Fenton, I'm just grateful Riley rode back with Frank and Joe. If she were hurt because of me…"
"Funny, she was blaming herself for your injuries earlier. I guess it's like uncle like niece with the two of you. Don't borrow trouble. She's fine and she'll be even better once she's sure you're okay."
Con nodded. "I may not remember much of what the doctor told me earlier but I've had headaches like this one a few times and I'm pretty sure it's going to mean I have to at least stay tonight in the hospital. I hate to impose…"
"Riley will stay with us tonight. Don't worry about it." Fenton answered without letting him finish. Con offered a wan smile.
"Thanks. I need something else. Frank and Joe pulled a fingerprint off the door jamb at Riley's house. It's in my shirt pocket wherever they stashed my clothes. I want you to take it home with you and guard it until I get out."
A knife twisted in his gut at the thought of the fingerprint that should stay unknown but Fenton obligingly found the bag of clothes that Con was wearing when he was brought in. He checked the pocket and then frowned. "There's nothing in here."