Read Chapter 1, 2, 3 first.

[Hope hears Tucker whistling down the hall]

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Instead, I kept very still and prayed Bastard wouldn’t notice the song.

Fat chance. I might as well wish on a star for him to shoot himself.

I heard the rustle of Bastard’s clothes as he shifted behind me, just before he jabbed the gun again into the base of my skull, but it slipped an inch and caught me on the neck instead.

I bit back a cry as my neck arched involuntarily, jerking my chin toward the ceiling before Bastard swore and re-took his first position. Namely, his body stuck close enough behind me to scrape the skin off my back and the gun transferred to my right temple, with the extra-special addition of his left arm hooked around my throat, embedding my stethoscope into my breast bone.

The whistling grew louder.

Was Bastard smart enough to understand that Tucker was offering the aural equivalent of a white flag?

Probably not. He probably didn’t know what aural meant. Took me a while to figure it out, too.

“Let’s go,” I managed to whisper through the arm lock. My hair felt like it was standing straight out from my scalp, under the pull of the world’s best Van der Graaf Generator. I didn’t know where to go. I just had to get us away from here.

Forget rocks and hard places. I was smushed between a closed door and a killer.

“Shut. Up,” said Bastard.

Since the gun in my temple was already delivering me a Mach 1 headache, and Tucker was in imminent danger, I decided to obey. Maybe if I were very, very quiet, Bastard could control his trigger finger. Tucker would just keep whistling his way on by.

That whistling paused, probably as Tucker encountered Stan’s body, but then it picked up again, growing more intense in my right ear.

I could feel Bastard’s breathing speeding up as he exhaled beer fumes on me. He didn’t know what to do. He probably didn’t have a Plan A, let alone B or C. I was practically pressed against the wood grain, with Tucker oncoming, yet no sign of the cavalry. Where was the fucking cavalry? I know we’re in Montreal, but come on.

“That’s my friend,” I said, so that Bastard wouldn’t freak out and start spraying bullets.

“I don’t give a fuck who that is. It’s not Casey,” he said.

Fair point. I had to try again. Bastard might execute me, Tucker, or both, but I couldn’t just stand here. “Yes. If you let me get at the phone—”

“Shut. Up,” said Bastard, grinding the muzzle close enough to my right eyeball that I closed my eyelid, as if a thin patch of skin could protect me from potential blindness.

Tucker’s whistle, as well as his steps on the beige tile floor, faded into silence. I couldn’t see his body out of my peripheral vision, which was blocked by a firearm and a lunatic’s arm, but from the sound, I would guess he stood about five feet to our right.

Way too close.

“I’m here to help,” he said, in that baritone I’d recognize in my sleep.

Hearing Tucker’s voice confirmed that one of the major loves of my life was stupid enough to run toward this maniac.

Not that I should point fingers. My own “May I help you?” retardedness had likely killed Stan and would now probably take out me and Tucker.

For the first time in my life, I wanted to faint. Just black out and let someone else take care of this mess.

Instead, I ordered, “Get out of here, T—”

The gunman slid his left hand over my mouth, silencing me, but also squashing my nose so that I could hardly breathe anything except his dirty flesh.

I choked. My body bucked.

Can’t breathe. Stupid way to die.

Can’t breathe.

I was a microsecond away from biting his hand. Just chomping down on his flesh. HIV and hepatitis be damned. I needed air.

Bastard eased up slightly, and I drew in a desperate, shallow breath, already feeling light-headed, but still hearing him say, “I’m going in. Casey’s in here, having my baby. They better open it, or I’m gonna shoot this bitch.”

stockholm pic-shoot this bitch

Love you, too.

“You don’t want to do that,” said Tucker. “Hope’s a famous doctor. She delivers babies.”

Well, that was sort of true. I was infamous. I was a resident doctor. And I have delivered babies. But I was on board for promising Bastard the solar system if he’d just let me breathe.

Bastard’s breath puffed while he mulled that over. His left hand drifted an inch away from my mouth, letting me gasp for oxygen while his right one stayed locked and loaded on my skull. “I gotta get to Casey.”

So he wasn’t a big thinker. More like the Hulk. Smash. Get Casey. Unh. I didn’t know if his idiocy was a good or bad thing, when he could blow our brains out in a quick one-two.

“You don’t need Hope at all,” said Tucker. “I’m a doctor, too. I can deliver Casey’s—”

Bastard tensed. I could feel it.

Tucker must have seen something, too, because he smoothly switched it to “—your baby. Why don’t you let Hope go, and I’ll get you in here.”

Oh, God. It was the most romantic thing Tucker had ever said, and also the stupidest.

I inhaled sharply to tell them, No. Casey’s not here.

Bastard clapped his hand on my mouth again. Not smashing my nose this time, so I could breathe, but definitely inhibiting my mouth’s ability to tell him he was barging into the wrong room.

Tucker said, “It’s okay. Let Hope go. I’ve delivered lots of babies. I’ll take excellent care of yours and Casey’s.”

“Casey,” said Bastard. Every time anyone said her name, he welded his brain to it and didn’t seem to register anything else. “Casey Assim. She’s having my boy. Get me in there, or I’ll kill both of you.”

“Then you’ll have no one to deliver your baby,” Tucker pointed out. “All you have to do is let go of Hope, and I’ll come with you. I’m an expert at delivering big, healthy baby boys.”

Tucker probably hadn’t delivered any more babies than I had, but he always put on the best show.

Bastard relaxed his chokehold slightly. “I don’t know who the fuck you are.”

“My name is Dr. John Tucker.” His voice grew louder as he approached us. I squeezed my eyes shut. I still had trouble breathing with Bastard face-palming me, but I didn’t want to watch Tucker laying down his life for mine.

I forced my eyes open. I’d have to witness everything I could, if we had any chance of surviving this. ’Course, all I could see was this darn door.

Tucker was still talking. His forte. He once considered a career in psychiatry instead of family medicine, but right now he was weaving a web of words around Bastard. “I have considerable training in obstetrics and gynecology. I would be honoured to deliver your son. Just let me take Hope’s place.”

“No one’s going nowhere until I get in to see Casey!”

“If you would allow me…” I spotted the blur of Tucker’s hand at five o’clock as he took a step forward to try the door handle. He said, “Hmm. They’ve locked it.”

“Stand back,” said Bastard. He let go of my face, which was a serious relief. My eyesight was starting to pinwheel.

I sucked in some more sweet air, trying to think through my haze. Maybe he was going to bust down the door like in the movies. And occasionally, in real life. Once I got an epileptic patient who’d had a seizure in the bathroom. The door was locked with the patient’s body wedged against the door. A police officer ended up breaking down the door.

Bastard dragged me backward by fastening his left arm tight around my throat and yanking me into the hallway.

I gagged, but I stumbled back with him like a dog dragged by its collar.

Dimly, I heard Tucker still offering to take my place.

Bastard shouted, “I’m warning you. Open this door, or I’m going to shoot it off. And then I’ll shoot one of these doctors, I don’t care which one.”

I held my breath. Even Tucker stopped jabbering, and that’s saying something.

Inside the room, quiet footsteps approached the door.

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