Tomorrow Always Comes
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! One of the show's best and most unusual episodes is season 9's The Carefree Coronary, in which Paul ends up at death's door. This short piece consists of several assorted scenes that I wish had been in the episode. When there's a summarizing segment instead, it generally means I'm passing over a scene already in the episode, since I see no need to transcribe something already shown. The prompt Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today, from the Livejournal writing community 31 Days, was partial inspiration for this getting written—even though I'd had the initial concept prior to seeing said prompt. All of my Perry multi-chapter mysteries take place after the events of season 9, so nothing in them has yet happened in this timeline.
"Paul's had a heart attack. He's dying!"
Della's horrifying and unbelievable announcement had stunned Perry and sent him reeling. And he was not the only one deeply affected by the news. Even as Della collapsed in tears in his arms, Hamilton flew to his feet from where he had been sitting near enough to overhear. The shock in his eyes was very visible.
Paul . . . dying? And from a heart attack? How? Why?
And why now? It seemed an eerie coincidence, considering the reason they were gathered for this coroner's inquest in the first place. Maybe too coincidental. Perry would likely come to the same conclusion, when his mind settled down enough for him to think. Right now, as he turned to face the appalled presiding officer, he looked anything but settled. Hamilton had never before seen that look from him or from Della.
"Mr. Coroner, I respectfully request a recess," Perry said. He sounded many miles away, probably at the hospital with Paul. "Something . . . something has happened that may have an important bearing on this inquest."
"Granted," was the frowned reply. "This inquest is recessed for two hours."
Hamilton wove his way out of the row of seats as Perry kept an arm around Della and led her down the aisle to the exit. "Perry!" Both of them looked up as Hamilton approached. "Did I hear right? Paul had a heart attack?" He looked from Perry to Della in concern.
"Yes," Della choked out. "The hospital called to let us know. I don't know any more than that, except that it's bad."
Perry nodded. "I'm sorry, but we need to go. We'll see you later, Hamilton." He steered Della toward the doors, hoping to get away before the waiting reporters could mob them.
Hamilton stared after them for only a moment before giving chase. "Wait!" he called. "I'll get you through the building."
Perry paused, but clearly wanted to be on his way. "Is there another way out?" he queried, impatient.
"Yes," Hamilton said, catching up. "You won't have a chance if you go out that way. The reporters have been hanging out in the hall for ages, just waiting for something that will make good copy for their papers."
Della nodded. "I was grabbed by several of them," she said. "They're probably already writing about how I burst into the room. . . ."
Perry turned fully back. "Show us out of here, Hamilton," he requested.
And Hamilton did without further delay. The group did not speak as they hastened out a side exit and down the back halls. All were worried about the ultimate goal—getting to Paul in time. Maybe it was already too late. No one could refrain from thinking of the possibility, as hard as they tried not to.
Perry did not relax in the least until they came to his car. "Thank you, Hamilton," he said, hurrying to unlock the doors. Della went around and got in the passenger side.
Hamilton nodded. "Good luck." As Perry got into the driver's seat Hamilton hesitated, then added, "Let me know what happens."
"I will," Perry assured him. Hamilton stepped back and Perry pealed out of the parking lot as fast as he dared. Hamilton remained where he was, staring after his rival and friend.
He considered Paul his friend too, even though he knew Paul did not reciprocate. Perhaps that was why he had not thought of going to the hospital himself. Not to mention his load of work. And the reporters would find him before long. And . . .
He headed for his own car. Maybe what he really needed to be investigating right now was what happened to Paul. He had been in such good health. How could something such as this have happened?
His own words came back to him, eerily, as he located and got into his white vehicle. There had been cases of people who seemed perfectly healthy who suddenly had heart attacks a day or two later. He could not have known then how that would come back to haunt him, all of them.
He started the engine, driving swiftly out of the parking lot.
By the time he reached the hospital Della was sitting outside Paul's room on a chair. Perry was nowhere to be seen.
"Has there been any news?" Hamilton greeted as he came up to her.
Della nearly leaped out of the chair, not having expected the visitor. "Oh, Mr. Burger. . . ." She tried to hurriedly wipe her eyes, but it was obvious she had been crying. "Paul's stabilized, but he . . . he's not out of danger. Perry's with him and Doctor Hartlund right now."
"I was talking to a nurse," Hamilton said. "She said Paul was brought in from the YMCA." He peered at Della questioningly.
"He was working undercover," Della said miserably, "trying to find out if there really is a ring of people deliberately inducing heart attacks to collect disability checks. And now this. . . ." She looked back at the closed door, forlorn.
Hamilton followed her gaze, troubled. "Did he find anything out?"
"Yes, he did!" Della exclaimed. "He called and told me it looked like they were having him meet with some of the people in the ring. That was a couple of hours ago. I didn't hear anything more until the hospital called. . . ."
Hamilton frowned. "Does Perry think they found out and came after him?"
"I don't know," Della said. She was trying desperately to keep herself under control, but her voice was wobbling.
Hamilton snapped back to himself. He needed to learn what was going on, but he was probably upsetting Della more by asking about this. If he waited a few minutes he could speak with Perry or the doctor, both of who likely knew more about the situation.
He shoved his hands in his pockets. "I'm sorry," he said. "About Paul, I mean." He shifted in awkwardness. "I want you to know, Miss Street, that I . . . I didn't come here just to ask about how it happened."
Della managed a weak smile. "I know," she said.
Hamilton's eyes registered surprise. But before he could respond, his phone gave a sharp ring. "Excuse me," he said quickly as he pulled it out.
Della nodded. "Of course."
Hamilton dove around the corner to take the call, wanting to be far away from the rooms while he spoke. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Della bowing her head—likely saying one of many prayers for Paul's recovery.
He added one of his own.
Perry had to return to the inquest. After talking with Della he left with much regret, while Della stayed behind to wait for further news.
Once she was alone, she softly opened the door to Paul's room and stepped inside. The sight of him so motionless and ill almost drove her out again. But somehow, she could not bring herself to leave.
"Oh Paul," she said quietly, "I was always afraid something like this would happen to one of us someday. But it didn't, and I kept hoping . . ." She trailed off. "Now we don't even know if you'll be alright.
"We're all worried about you. Hamilton was here too. I know you probably don't believe it, but he doesn't want anything to happen to you either."
She stared at him, feeling so helpless. "Dear God, please don't take him!" she whispered.
Perry was a bit surprised to find Hamilton at the hospital, just getting off the phone. But in another way he was not surprised at all.
"Well, Hamilton," he greeted as he went over, "I thought you had other business to tend to."
Hamilton jumped the proverbial mile. "I decided I should try to find out what really happened to Paul," he said in explanation. "Perry, have you found out anything more?"
Perry nodded, turning grim. "Doctor Hartlund told me that Paul didn't have a heart attack at all," he said. "He was poisoned. If he had been treated as a cardiac patient he'd be dead now."
Hamilton stared, his eyes wide in utter shock. "What?" Della's words flashed through his mind. "Then someone really was trying to get rid of him!"
"Yes," Perry said, narrowing his eyes. "And I have to find out who and prove it. Hamilton, will you help?"
"Perry, I'll do whatever I can," Hamilton said. "You know that."
Perry smiled. "Good." He laid a hand on Hamilton's shoulder. "Since you're here, did you want to see Paul?"
Hamilton regarded him in surprise. "Is he awake?"
"No, he isn't," said Perry. The sadness was obvious in his voice. "And we still don't know if he's going to be alright. Della's in with him now."
"Well . . . I was talking to her before my phone rang," Hamilton remembered. "I should go back and tell her something before we have to leave."
"Fair enough," Perry said.
What Hamilton did not say, and what Perry guessed, was that Hamilton was quite uncomfortable at the thought of seeing Paul so still.
". . . That was Tragg on the phone," Hamilton said as they walked back down the corridor. "He'd heard about what happened and wanted to know if Paul's going to be alright. I had to tell him I didn't know. Andy and Lieutenant Drumm are worried too."
"I'm sure they are," Perry said.
He pushed the door open as they reached the room. Della looked up with a start. "Perry," she said in surprise. "I thought you had to leave." Her gaze fell upon the other man. "Hello again, Mr. Burger."
Perry smiled a bit. "I do have to leave," he said. "I suppose we both do. But I found Hamilton here getting off the phone in the corridor and stopped to say Hello."
Hamilton nodded his confirmation. "I'm sorry for barging in," he said. "I wanted to tell you Goodbye before I left." His eyes drifted to the sight of Paul's motionless form, but he quickly looked away.
Della smiled kindly. "That was very thoughtful of you, Mr. Burger. Do you want to come in?"
Hamilton registered surprise at the invitation. "Oh . . . well, I don't know," he said in awkwardness. "Do you think Paul would mind?"
"Of course he wouldn't mind." Perry's answer was immediate.
"I'm sure he'd be happy to know you stopped by," Della said. Actually, Paul would probably be more confused than anything else. But deep down, Della was sure, it would mean a great deal to him. He had a soft spot for Hamilton Burger, even if he did not always consciously see it or acknowledge it.
Hamilton finally stepped more fully into the room. "It seems so wrong, to see him like this," he said, his voice lowered.
Della gave a sad nod. "It is," she said. "He's been with us through so much. I could hardly believe it when the hospital called. I know I'd worried about something like this happening, but that's a lot different than seeing it come true."
Perry entered the room, laying a hand on Della's shoulder. He wanted to say that Paul would recover. It was what they were all longing for. But it could not really be said, not at this point. They were all keenly aware of that.
The inquest, when Perry and Hamilton returned to it, was torture. It seemed to drag on without end. The only thing keeping Perry's mind on it was the thought that he had to bring the ones who had hurt Paul to justice.
Hamilton was unsettled as well. He kept his briefcase on his lap, gripping it with anxiety.
Both of them looked up in surprise when Della re-entered the room, in the company of Doctor Hartlund. She handed Perry Paul's file from the hospital. Unlike how dismal and devastated she had looked before, now there was something new in her eyes, something hopeful and bright.
Relief swept over both Perry and Hamilton as she and the doctor delivered their news. Now it looked more like Paul was going to be alright. He was still not awake, but his condition had improved and Dr. Hartlund was optimistic.
Being at the inquest as a spectator, Hamilton's promised assistance came in the form of locking down the room once it became apparent that at least some of the criminals were present. No one could go in or out until the proceedings had concluded. Della was relieved that she had made it back inside before that had happened.
With the lockdown, Perry managed to expose the top man of the ring—construction foreman Jerry Ormond, there under subpoena. And at last, as his guilt was revealed for all to see, the full confession soon followed. The inquest concluded; Perry was at last free to leave. And of course Della would be going with him back to the hospital.
"Will you be coming, Hamilton?" he asked.
Hamilton looked weary but determined. "I wish I could," he said, "but I have to get started preparing to prosecute him." He nodded to Jerry Ormond.
Perry laid a hand on Hamilton's shoulder. "I'll call if there's any change," he promised.
"Thanks," Hamilton returned.
Dr. Hartlund was all the more hopeful when they got back. "It's like I told you both earlier," he said. "He's young and strong. He's bouncing back from the poison. It certainly helped that he was able to get help—the right help—so soon."
"Thank God," Perry breathed in relief. "Oh, and you too, of course, Doctor."
Della stepped forward. "Can we go back in with him now?" she asked, hopefully.
"Yes," was the reply, "I'm sure that would be good for him too. There was a Lieutenant Drumm here while you were gone."
Della looked at him in amazement that quickly turned to a fond smile. "Steve was here?" She glanced up at Perry, who smiled as he led her down the hall.
"Well, that's not such a big surprise, is it?" he said. "Steve and Paul are quite good friends."
"Of course," Della said. "I just didn't think he'd be able to get away."
"He was only able to stay a few minutes," Dr. Hartlund said, following them partway. "But he wanted to check in, even for only that amount of time."
"And that's what really matters, isn't it, Doctor?" Perry remarked.
Dr. Hartlund nodded. "A Lieutenant Anderson called too," he said. "He mentioned that he and a Lieutenant Tragg might be able to come in later."
"Then I'm sure they will," Perry said.
"Paul has a lot of friends on the police force," Dr. Hartlund observed.
"Yes, he does," said Perry. "We all do."
Paul looked more at peace when Perry pushed open the heavy door moments later. Della walked in first, Perry quietly following and allowing the door to shut behind them.
"I don't feel so worried now," Della said with a smile. "I have this feeling that Paul will be okay."
"I'm sure he will be," Perry said. "But it was certainly a worry there for a while." He watched Paul for a moment. "I'll be right back. Remember, we need to let Hamilton know that things are looking up."
Della nodded. "Go ahead," she encouraged. "I'll stay with Paul."
The next couple of hours passed without any concerning incidents. Paul was clearly on the mend. Tragg and Andy managed to drop in, as did Hamilton when he found a good stopping point in his work. But when Paul at last began to regain consciousness in the wee hours of the morning, only Della and Perry were still around.
Della was the first to notice. "Perry!" she exclaimed as Paul stirred. She leaned over the bed, looking down at Paul with tense hopefulness. Perry was swiftly there as well. When Paul opened his eyes he looked up at both of them, questions in his eyes while he tried to focus.
Della broke into a joyous smile. "Paul!" she greeted.
Paul was still clearly confused, not having processed where they were. But as he looked to Della he gave a tired but triumphant grin. "Hello, Beautiful."
Perry smiled too. "You're going to be just fine," he said. "I'll get the doctor."
Paul made a speedy recovery. By the next day he was being lavished with attention from three lovely nurses—and relishing every moment of it. Perry and Della watched in fond amusement, shaking their heads.
"Oh, Paul," Della remarked, "considering all this, I wouldn't be surprised if you're glad you were poisoned."
"Well . . . I wouldn't say that, exactly," Paul said. "But I sure don't mind the fringe benefits!"
Perry chuckled. "Yes, I'm sure you don't. We'll leave you to reap them now and come back later."
But as he turned to reach for the door handle it opened from the outside. A fourth nurse was standing there, accompanying Hamilton to the room. He stopped and gaped in astonishment at the scene.
"You've made quite a comeback," he said, crossing his arms over his chest.
Paul regarded him in honest surprise. "I didn't think I'd be seeing you."
"Why, Hamilton's been worried too," Perry smiled, laying a hand on Hamilton's shoulder.
Della nodded. "He's been in and out of the hospital several times, checking on you." She raised an eyebrow as the fourth nurse joined the group that was already treating Paul like royalty.
"It's like having your own private harem," Hamilton said in amazement.
"What can I say?" Paul returned. "I'm irresistible."
"Ahem. Not to mention modest," Perry commented.
"That too," Paul said.