The strange thing was, though, that the real problem wasn’t immediately apparent.
True enough, he’d been found in the loo, collapsed in a bloody heap, then rushed to an hospital emergency room. There followed that tragicomic repartee between a doctor and a bodyguard and a news division president and the woman who was certainly not his girlfriend.
He's out of immediate danger, but we're going to have to stop the internal bleeding. We're prepping him for an EGD.
I don't know what that is.<;
They're gonna put a tube with a camera down his throat.<
And as the doctor produced his own television show with the unconscious anchorman, the visibly-displaced EP of Atlantis Cable Network’s flagship show hovered anxiously in the waiting room, wringing her hands and casting indiscreet glances at a wall clock that seemed Dali-esque in its stubborn resistance to actually mark the passage of time.
After an hour of watching MacKenzie pace laps in the incredible shrinking room in which they were the only two occupants, Charlie Skinner finally thundered, “Mac, sit.”
She froze, mid-stride.
“For god’s sake. Dr. Pak said he’d let us know when—“
“Anti-depressants, Charlie,” she began, in a mournful, small voice. “Booze and pain-killers and anti-depressants, and all because of this shit with Brian—because of my history with Brian—because I—“
Charlie raised his voice to talk over her. “The article wasn’t your fault, Mac. Hell, Will brought the guy in, for Chrissakes. And Will self-medicating isn’t your fault, either. Stop being so hell-bent to assume the blame for things that aren’t under your control.”
Reluctantly, she dropped into the chair beside him.
He bumped his shoulder into hers. “Why don’t you call the office and see what’s going on? It might help take your mind off—“
“You mean, see if Anthony Weiner has committed another indiscretion with a smart phone? Even he would have learned by now. There’s nothing—and Jim and Kendra can—“
“I know they can, but, for the record, I’m not worried about Jim or Kendra or even whether there’s a live shot for the A block—I am worried about you, and I want you to take a break. Get out of here for a bit. Walk outside, listen to the birds, visit the market on the corner and pick up a pack of gum.”
“Charlie—“ She obviously intended to wheedle her way out of following his order.
“Now.” He gestured toward the door. “Go. Two hours, I don’t want to see you back for two hours.”
She raised her phone. “You’ll call if they—“
With the karmically ironic sense of timing that had permeated all recent events surrounding Will McAvoy, no sooner had Mac complied than the doctor reappeared.
“He’s in Recovery. No complications. With some time—and, of course, assuming he can keep the debauchery to a reasonable level—he’ll be fine.” The doctor offered a slight smile before pausing and shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He was obviously weighing his next words.
Recognizing the hesitation and the trouble it portended, Charlie dropped his chin and raised an eyebrow. “There’s something more?”
Doctor Pak cleared his throat before continuing.
“We’re not sure, but we think it possible that Mr. McAvoy may have struck his head when he fell. Not at all uncommon in this scenario, I should add. In any event, we took the additional precaution of a CAT scan, just to rule out a subdural hematoma.” The doctor noticed Charlie’s widened eyes and spoke more rapidly to ameliorate the concern. “As I said, no cause for alarm—we’re just doing this out of an over-abundance of caution. He probably got a little light-headed from being sick or the blood loss, perhaps lost his balance—“
“But he’s okay, right?” Obviously, Charlie needed the doctor to say those exact words to fully allay concern.
“As far as we can tell right now,” Dr. Pak hedged. “Everything looks normal but we’ll keep an eye on it, just in case. He may have a small bump on his head for a few days.” He gave a sympathetic look. “Given everything else he’s been through tonight, he probably won’t even notice.”
“When can we—“
“We’ll keep him in Recovery for another couple of hours, just to make sure there isn’t an adverse effect from the anesthesia. Another few hours to move him and get him situated in a room.” The doctor shrugged. “Hospitals don’t move at the speed of light with these things, you have to understand.” He checked his wristwatch and then, in an unconscious redundancy, glanced at the waiting room wall clock. “Probably by ten o’clock tonight. But I should warn you—he’s going to be out of it for most of the night. It would be best to come see him tomorrow morning, not tonight.”
Which was exactly what Charlie relayed to MacKenzie.
Slightly after nine the following morning, coffee in one hand and three newspapers bulging under his arm, Charlie arrived at the hospital, smug in his sense of having gotten there plenty early. That is, until he saw MacKenzie in close conversation with the scrub-clad doctor.
He came near, his dignity stinging from the lack of reaction to his arrival.
“Good morning, Mac—I’m surprised you’re here so early—“
“Something’s wrong, Charlie—“ she eked out before the doctor shushed her with an impatient glare.
“Nothing to be alarmed about—anyway, we’re not sure. All the vitals are good, everything is as should be expected—“
Mac had recharged by now. “Things are not right. Will is not right, Charlie.”
“He’s awake and lucid,” the doctor maintained, gesturing to the hospital chart in his hand. “But your friend here, Ms.—“
“No, no.” She slowed down to enunciate each syllable. “McHale. MacKenzie McHale.”
Whatever, the doctor’s expression clearly communicated. “Anyway, your friend here believes there might be a problem—“
“Might? Charlie—“ her eyes tried to carry the weight of her argument.
“Mac, I don’t—“ For Charlie, the obvious thing was to try to allay her concern, even if it meant adopting a patronizing tone. “Why don’t you slow down and tell me—“
“He’s—there’s something wrong, Charlie, something wrong with the way he’s talking. He’s forgotten—no, it’s like he’s mis-remembered—“
Here the doctor took exception and thumped the chart he held. “He’s aware of the date and the year—he can name the president and half the members of the Senate—he perfectly recited the names of the guests and topics discussed on News Night just two nights ago—“ in an aside adding, “I caught that one myself, so I know he was spot-on.”
“The article, Charlie—after weeks of carrying on, suddenly the magazine piece means nothing to him,” she said, putting her hand on Charlie’s sleeve for emphasis. Then, feeling the need to explain to the doctor, she added, “A magazine profile in New York magazine, a hatchet job that mocked everything we've been—well, it was humiliating and he's taken it very personally.”
Charlie and the doctor exchanged glances and the latter shrugged noncommittally.
“Perhaps it didn’t mean as much to him as we thought—“ Charlie mused, trying to convince himself along the way.
“That isn’t all,” she overrode impatiently, then appeared to pick her words carefully. “He doesn’t seem to remember events, important things—“
“Ah,” the doctor tapped his chart. “Possibly some transitory disorientation resulting from that inadvertent knock on the head when he fainted. A dissociative event. But the scan indicated no real trauma, no subdural bleeding or unusual pressure, so—“
“Charlie, he’s still living in 2007.” She locked her arms across her chest protectively.
“The doctor just told us Will passed the current events test.”
“Yes, well, there are a lot of events that are current, and he isn’t up to speed on some of them.”
“Mac.” Charlie looked around for a flat surface to rest his untouched coffee and stack of papers, “I’m trying to follow you but I—“ He spread his hands helplessly and looked back to the doctor to referee the discussion. “I still don’t even know what we’re talking about. Is Will all right or not?”
“I believe he will make a good recovery.” Dr. Pak was determined to stand by his diagnosis.
“That’s hardly a ringing endorsement,” Charlie frowned. “What about what she was saying?”
The doctor sighed and nodded. “I have other obligations this morning, but perhaps you can visit Mr. McAvoy and give us your assessment? I welcome your opinion, however subjective it may be,” he added, “not to dismiss Ms. McHale’s, of course,” he threw back to Mac, “but just simply to add another perspective.”
Having debated and discarded several entrance strategies, Charlie finally just nudged the hospital room door open with his hip and entered. He still carried his coffee, long cold by now and still untouched, along with The Times, The Daily News, and The Wall Street Journal.
“Hey, wake up,” he began in mock-belligerent bonhomie. “Wednesday is calling and you’re needed back at the anchor desk.” He inclined his head and waited expectantly.
Will, in the hospital bed, tethered to several gently chirping monitors, turned his face and worked his mouth. After several moments, he finally managed a raspy grunt of acknowledgement.
“Had us worried there for a bit,” Charlie returned, while setting the newspapers on Will’s tray with studied nonchalance. “Mac said you were awake and I thought I’d—“
Will’s gaze was sharp under a clenched brow. “Mac—Charlie, what’s wrong with Mac?”
That took Charlie aback and he fussed with the cold coffee to buy himself a moment. “Mac? I don’t know that anything’s—why, what makes you think—“
Will tried to speak again but seemed to find it difficult, so he motioned to the carafe on the table and Charlie intuited the need to pour some water. He passed the cup to Will, grateful for the pause so he could gather his thoughts and consider the questions to ask that might confirm or dispel worries about Will’s mental health.
Will drank thirstily through a straw, wincing occasionally as he swallowed.
Nothing unusual about that. A raw throat. If not from the vomiting of blood, then likely from forcing a camera down his gullet or from intubation during the corrective procedure.
“How’re you feeling?”
Will milked two beats whilst sucking at the straw, then rumbled, “I should probably sit out the next marathon.”
“Well, you’ll be glad to learn nothing important has happened in the last twelve hours.” Charlie tapped the newspapers. “So, you can afford to take the rest of the week off. In fact, I kind of insist on it.”
“Charlie—“ It was a feeble protest.
“Will, you sound like you’ve been gargling with gravel. I can’t put you on the air.” Pause, then, in a softer tone, “What happened?”
Will visibly hesitated, considered, hesitated again. Finally, he sighed, seeming to acquiesce to other man’s inquiry despite misgivings.
“I was waiting for—you know—and I had a drink—“
“Just one?” Charlie echoed, dubiously.
Will shot him a sour look. “Okay, two. Part of a third. But then I—“
“Didn’t feel so well?”
One side of Will’s mouth twitched up in discomfiture.
“Mac found you—“
“I know.” After a lengthy pause, Will finally grated out, “God. I hate that.” His eyes rolled skyward then back to center. “I hate that she was the one—I mean, there was so much already, what with the Casey Anthony circus—Sloan worrying her about drones and debt—losing the debates—“
“And the magazine article,” Charlie supplied.
Will lifted a hand dismissively. “A little free press for our side that didn’t work out. Oh well.” He shrugged.
Charlie studied Will to see if he was being comic or disingenuous and quickly discounted either possibility. “You really don’t care—“
“I hate that the staff got dragged into it by association—Mac, especially. She deserves better, you know.”
“But you’re not upset about what that guy wrote about you?”
“My own damn fault. In retrospect, I don’t know why I took it so seriously. I mean, I should have vetted him more carefully. In fact, I can’t even remember how I came to consider him, but—”
Charlie had begun to get a niggling feeling. Why was Will being so laissez faire about the journalistic hatchet job, as Mac termed it, in New York magazine?
“I just hope this doesn’t—it would be such a worry for—“ Will started before abruptly changing topic. “You know, she didn’t seem the same earlier—it’s like something—“
This new thread jolted Charlie back to the moment. “Who didn’t seem the same?”
“Mac,” Will rasped with exasperation. “She seemed distant. Reserved, like.”
“Probably just worry on your behalf,” Charlie offered reflexively, before remembering that he really shouldn’t try to put words into Will’s mouth. It could skew any real evaluation of his mental state.
“Christ, Charlie, she jumped a foot when I touched her. She just looked—I don’t know—shocked?” He tried out the word before searching for a better one. “Bewildered? She looked like she’d been confronted with something totally—and I know that she didn’t plan on this happening, me being here—“
A klaxon was now ringing in Charlie’s subconscious. Questions were bubbling up, each one leading inexorably to another. Had Will’s harmful mixing of anti-depressants and alcohol truly been inadvertent? Could it have been deliberate, and, if the latter, what would have been the tipping point? Why was the magazine piece suddenly such a minor thing, when Will had alternately raged and sulked about it for the last two weeks? And why did Will seem so disturbed over Mac’s demeanor?
“Charlie, you’ve got to stop her—”
He was interrupted by a woman in print scrubs pushing a cart into the room. She looked to Charlie as she began untangling leads and said, matter-of-factly, “I’m going to have to request that you wait outside for a few minutes. Time to record some vitals.”
Mac was biting her lower lip when she saw Charlie in the corridor. She moved forward to intercept him.
“Well? What did you think? Did everything seem quite normal—“
He took her elbow and steered her back to the now-empty waiting room.
“I think I noticed what you were talking about. Either he’s a better actor than I ever gave him credit for, or he genuinely doesn’t remember—“
“Oh, he remembers you. Just not—not the way we thought he would.“ He stopped and took a new tack. “Has something changed between you two lately? I mean, have you given him some cause to think—“
“No, Charlie, absolutely not. I’m as surprised as you.”
The break in her voice brought home to him her increasing anxiety.
“Mac,” he began, pushing her down into a chair opposite. “He thinks you two are together—“
“—That you’re—“ He made an indeterminable gesture of rolling his hand, seemingly trying to coax more information from her. “Jeeze, Mac, he thinks the two of you are still—“
She gave a tight nod. “Yes. Still.”
He was flummoxed and thought for a moment. “Is it possible it’s his ham-fisted way of saying, Sorry?”
“Sorry?” It came out as a snort. “After I’ve been back for sixteen months—and gone for nearly three years before that—suddenly, now—sorry?”
Charlie gave a weak shrug. “Maybe it was a slow realization on his part. Maybe he got tired of living in armed camps. Maybe the depression had to build to a critical mass, and—“ his eyes brightened as he seized on a likely possibility, “that damned magazine article kicked his ass into gear, in a manner of speaking.”
“Doesn’t explain the last several weeks.” She shook her head. “Charlie, something’s wrong with Will, and the doctor isn’t telling us.”
“Where is the inestimable Dr. Pak? I think we need another conversation and another diagnosis.” He rose and took a few paces before twisting back to look at her.
“One thing, Mac. Just for my own—you know. How did you come to check on Will last night? I mean, what made you think there might be some reason for concern?”
She nodded, eyes bright. “I can’t—not right now—please understand, Charlie.”