Love and Anguish at Bella's Barn
Welcome to Matt and Sami's love story.
As authors often do, I must tell you up front that all the characters in this story came wandering out of my imagination one day, and are based on no living people that I'm aware of. Most of the locations in this story are equally imaginary. Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas obviously exists, but the blackjack room that crops up is utterly fictional as are all the other watering holes, restaurants, and hotels visited by our characters.
Matt is a medical resident at a fictional hospital on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona. All references to medical matters in this story are the result of this author having watched too many doctor shows for too many years. Anything that any doctor says or does in this story is probably inaccurate. Medical procedures herein are 'loosely' based on real ones. If you have similar medical issues, please ignore anything that any of these characters have to say about them.
I hope you enjoy getting to know Matt and Sami—I become quite fond of them during long hours of editing.
Thank you for following their adventures.
The redhead sitting by herself at the thousand dollar ante blackjack table was not movie star gorgeous but would stand out as quite stunning in any roomful of beautiful people. She wore a designer black sheath dress, suspended from her lightly tanned shoulders by nearly invisible spaghetti straps that encircled her neck. At the bodice, a deep vee plunged several inches below her breasts, barely covering her slightly swollen areole at either side. The material was sheer; her unrestrained nipples pressed against the filmy material, causing gentle bumps. The hem rode halfway up her tanned thighs. There was not a man in the room, including the dealer, who'd not noticed her and fanaticised about bringing this amazing woman to his bed.
She'd been slowly and methodically winning all evening. Neither the dealer nor his pit boss, who'd been watching her carefully on a closed circuit TV monitor, could detect any cheating. She'd won almost $8,000 over the past three hours but was now preparing to call it a night—gathering her purse and requesting a basket to carry her chips to the teller's cage.
She stopped what she was doing as four young men wandered into the room, checking out the various tables and dealers. All four were obviously intoxicated, but one of them who seemed intent on playing some blackjack, flopped his ass down at the other end of her table. She knew this guy was making a big mistake; without your wits about you in this room, you could lose a small fortune very quickly and easily. She decided to stay a few more minutes and watch the fun, signaling the dealer that she didn't wish to be dealt a hand. Sitting back, enjoying the last of her wine, she was having difficulty not smirking as the drunken young man lost his first hand and then a few more; each loss another $1,000 or more to the house, thank you very much.
Then she noticed one of his friends, a big guy with tousled dark hair staring at her like a drunk will do; obviously enamored with her breasts. She liked to have lots of cleavage on display when playing; it tended to distract the dealer and other players. She stared at the big guy until he finally looked up and realized he'd been caught. His face started to glow in embarrassment.
Then the strangest thing happened. As their eyes locked and they stared intently at one another, she could feel her pulse quickening; her heart was beating so rapidly, she was actually feeling a bit faint. She could tell he was fascinated with her too, as they continued to stare into one another's eyes. Part of being a good card player is being a fast and accurate judge of character—his eyes radiated intelligence, integrity, discipline, and sensitivity. He was a good looking son-of-a-bitch, too.
Just as the young man appeared to be overcoming his initial inability to talk due to his fascination with her boobs—and far too much alcohol—his drunken gambler buddy decided he'd had enough. He walked over to the good-looking guy, suggesting that it was time to get the fuck out of here before he went bankrupt. Their other two drunken friends joined them, distracting the young man who'd seized her attention.
On a strange impulse that would leave her confounded for days, she found a thin felt pen in her purse and wrote her cell phone number on the back of a poker chip. She left the table, moving directly behind the group of young men, now drunkenly discussing where they might go next. Without being noticed as she walked by them, she carefully slipped the chip into the lapel pocket of the good-looking guy's jacket, hung over the back of his chair.
She walked out of the room thinking that she had finally gone completely and utterly friggin' bonkers.
The summer that Matt MacTaggart graduated, he and three buddies cut loose and drove up to Vegas for a weekend of drinking, gambling, and debauchery.
The following Monday at 6:00 AM, he would start his medical residency at Saint Margaret's Hospital in Phoenix—known to all who worked there as 'Maggie Hall'. In two years he'd be a fully licensed MD and could hang his shingle anywhere he wished.
He'd already worked thousands of hours at Maggie Hall—most of his courses required ward experience with real live breathing patients instead of the numerous unfortunate cadavers on which he'd spent so many hours practicing, in medical school. He was essentially a 'General Practitioner' now—but first he had to hone his skills and prove he was safe to be unleashed on the innocent citizenry of the great state of Arizona.
His best friend, Raif Carson had just bought a whale of an SUV—a Ford Expedition. It was like riding in a luxurious minibus, which suited them all just fine. They arrived at Vegas in four and a half hours—they'd taken turns driving, stopping for burgers along the way, washing them down with ice-cold Coors, right out of the can. Within five minutes of checking into the 'Gold Nugget Inn' in Fremont, the party was on. Matt's buddies insisted this was the raunchier end of town.
Raif exuded an aura of wealth and prosperity. He was already two years into his surgical residency and had lots of money; the rest of them were broke flatter than piss on a plate. But they'd all scraped together a few bucks for the weekend and planned to blow it all.
The next two days were fuzzy for MacTaggart.
The eastern sky was glowing pink just before sunrise when they staggered back to their rooms that first morning. He had a vague recollection of numerous nightclubs, casinos and strip joints where they drank countless beers, chasers, and shots. The pungent odor of weed seemed to be everywhere. And everywhere were girls—exotic beautiful girls. His last memory that night was of a strip club called 'All that Glitters'; dancing with two topless showgirls. They were both blond, slim, heavily made up and each had large, surgically enhanced breasts that bounced erotically as they all danced to Springsteen.
He awoke around noon in a strange hotel room trying to remember how he'd got there. The phone rang and he grabbed, knocking it to the floor. Raif's voice boomed out from the speaker.
"Hey, you fucking pussy—how come you're not down here?"
They had apparently agreed to meet for brunch. A half hour later he joined them, unable to eat much, of course—just a few pieces of toast and a quart of coffee. Then they headed to some grubby dollar-ante casino with slot machines whose cranks and spinning drums still worked mechanically. Topless waitresses brought a continuous supply of free but tasteless watery beer. By dinner time he was actually up a few hundred bucks but once again, royally shit-faced.
In a greasy little club next door they ordered steaks and beers, brought to their table by a plump topless waitress at least forty—maybe older—still looking pretty good. She called them 'Hon' and 'Sugar'. Their bill was a hundred bucks—they left her a fifty dollar tip.
After several more hours of drinking, one of his buddies named Archie Bass, a recent graduate of dental school with eighty grand in student loans, announced that he wanted to try a richer room. They caught a taxi down to Caesar's Palace on the main strip. MacTaggart had the good sense not to gamble there and switched from beer to scotch. A half hour later, Bass was down seven thousand bucks at the blackjack tables. MacTaggart was glad he wouldn't receive Archie's next MasterCard bill.
His last recollection of the night was meeting a really pretty redhead—a tiny woman about his age, just over five feet tall with long flaming red hair spilling down over her shoulders. Her mouth was wide and sensual with bright red lips and even white teeth. She had a slim, killer body with gorgeous breasts, provocatively framed in the plunging bodice of her black silk cocktail dress. He could hardly tear his eyes from them. When he did manage to look up, her dark green eyes were laughing and teasing him, full of intelligence and humor, enjoying his embarrassment at having being caught, ogling her stunning bosom.
She was alone, playing blackjack at the same table as Archie. She was obviously humoring Matt, understanding that he was utterly drunk. When he finally focused his eyes on something other than her spectacular breastworks, he noticed a stack of casino poker chips in front of her—most of them worth a hundred dollars apiece, but there were several $1,000 and even some $5,000 chips there, too. After twenty minutes as Bass hemorrhaged money to the dealer; even through his stupor, Matt thought he felt a connection with her. It was probably just the booze.
At one point their eyes locked and they simply stared at each other. It was like he could see deep inside those emerald eyes to the person inside—it was spooky. Then his drunken buddies were suddenly back, wanting to find somewhere else to drink. The next time he looked in the redhead's direction, she was gone.
The next day her face was the only thing he remembered clearly from the previous night.
He was dragged out of bed around noon on Sunday by his buddies. They'd hauled him back to the hotel at 2:00 AM; then carried on drinking and chasing women all night long. He had another cruel hangover that he moaned would kill a normal person.
As he struggled to remember all that they'd done, the vision of the striking red-head with the spectacular boobs kept seeping to the front of his mind. God, she'd been beautiful. What an asshole he was—there had been a connection and he'd been too hammered to do anything about it.
He'd slept in his clothes which were now so foul, a quick shower was in order. While transferring the contents of his jeans and jacket to a fresh pair of cargo shorts, he felt a disk in one of the jacket pockets. He pulled it out—it was a thousand dollar poker chip from Caesars with a phone number written on one side. He felt his pulse quicken.
His buddies were keen to get going—all four of them had to work the next day. Being the one with the least amount of alcohol remaining in his system, MacTaggart drove.
While it had been a hell of a weekend, it was 'all over but the cryin'.
The following Monday morning at 5:15 AM, Matt still felt like shit as he pedaled his bike to work in the dark. There was a storage room at Maggie Hall where staff could lock up their bikes. They wouldn't last five minutes outside with all the street gangs, miscreants and assorted druggies skulking around Phoenix these days.
He arrived early and drank two stale coffees in the staff cafeteria, along with a waffle. By the time he reported to his station, he was feeling semi-human again. He was assigned rounds for the day and off he went, visiting a range of patients with a multitude of ailments. The time flew by; suddenly it was 12:30 PM—no wonder he was so hungry. But there was no time for lunch; his six hour shift in the Emergency Ward had started thirty minutes ago.
He rushed into the cafeteria and grabbed a large coffee and a doughnut to take with him. A big screen TV on the wall was blaring live breaking news. There had been another gang shooting in Phoenix, this time in a college parking lot. There were three dead and a few more wounded—they would likely show up here soon. There was a fire burning in an abandoned building not far away, with several homeless people trapped inside. Matt ran to the ER, trying not to spill his coffee.
He reported to the main desk where the old-time nurses rolled their eyes as he apologized for being late. They all heard the siren speeding into the parking lot outside; approaching the ER entry. The big glass doors rolled open and in came two paramedics, wheeling a middle-aged guy on a gurney. Most of his upper clothes were burned away—the acrid stink of smoke filled the area. His chest and face were a mass of watery weeping blisters. Most of his hair, the rims of his ears and the tip of his nose were burned away, too.
In Matt's opinion, this guy was fucked. Oh, they'd go through the motions and just maybe there would be a miracle. Then if the guy survived months of excruciating skin grafts, he'd be horribly scarred for life. Matt thought that if it was him on that gurney, he'd rather go now. It took two hours to get the man stabilized and upstairs to the burn ward.
Back at the main desk, Matt was handed a chart and told to examine a shooting victim in 6B. He read as he walked—this patient was a mathematics professor with a gunshot wound to the leg. He chuckled to himself—Jesus Christ, not even math professors were safe in this fucking town anymore.
Matt's parents had died in a car accident a decade ago. His cousin Jake was making a fortune in the oil fields of Alaska as a geologist/mining engineer. There was nothing to keep Matt here—maybe he'd get the fuck out of Dodge after his residency. He thought about selling everything and going up to Alaska—maybe stay with Jake for a while. They almost certainly needed young doctors up there, too. But he loved the year-round summer here in Arizona and didn't know if he could stand those northern winters.
His patient was in Ward 6—a large room with eight beds, each surrounded by pull-curtains. Patients here couldn't see anyone else due to the pale green curtains around their beds, but they could easily figure out what was wrong with everyone else, simply by listening. There was zero soundproofing as patients discussed their symptoms and injuries with the nurses and doctors. He went to Bed B, pulled the curtain aside, and walked in.
He suddenly felt like he'd been sucker-punched and nearly quit breathing. It was one of those ultra surreal moments when you wonder if you've suddenly lost your grip on reality. It felt like all the oxygen had been sucked from the room and he gaped in disbelief.
In the narrow ER examination bed lay the redhead from the blackjack room in Caesar's Palace. She looked utterly gob-smacked too, as she realized who he was. They just stared at each other for several seconds. Finally, she spoke first.
"You're stalking me, aren't you?"
He couldn't help but laugh and looked again at the chart he'd brought with him.
"You're Sam Gates?" he asked, his face still confused and showing mild shock. "For some reason, I was expecting a middle-aged, male college professor with graying hair. A mathematician."
"Yep, I'm Gates," she said. "I guess I gave my nickname 'Sam' to the cops—it's short for Samantha—my friends call me Sam or Sami. I am a math Prof—don't know where you got the middle-aged thing, though. Unless being twenty-six is middle-aged, these days." Matt had to smile again.
Hmmm, two years younger than me, he thought.
"I'm Matt MacTaggart," he said, holding out his hand. She took it and they shook formally.
"You already know my name, doc."
"I'm sorry," he said, now wondering if his drunken antics in Las Vegas were putting her off. "I understand that you have a firearm wound. I'll understand if you'd like me to fetch you a different doctor?"
"Nope, I'm fine with you. I don't think it's too serious—the guy in the ambulance said the bullet grazed my hip. Just a flesh wound as they say in the westerns." She started to slowly roll onto her left side; exposing her back to MacTaggart.
"Do you need help?" he asked, moving to her.
"No, I just need to do it slowly—if I move the wrong way, it hurts like hell." It took a few more seconds and she was settled.
When she'd arrived, an ER nurse had helped her into a hospital examination gown, tied at the back. Now as the blanket slipped aside, the gown fell open, exposing her entire backside. He pushed a call-button for a nurse. One showed up right away and stood at Sami's feet, watching the procedure.
"Regulations," he said pointing at the nurse with his chin. "I'm going to examine you and I'm afraid you're going to be a bit exposed."
"Not a problem, doc. I'm sure you've seen lots of little girls before." He found himself smiling again. He was aware that all the other patients in the ward and the nurse were listening to this conversation—probably with great amusement.
He removed the dressing applied by the paramedics. Her hip was now fully exposed and as he had imagined, her ass was magnificent. He had to rally all his professionalism to not ogle it. There was an ugly wound about six inches long, caused by a bullet tearing through skin and flesh on her side, just below her hip bone, leaving a narrow bloody trench three-quarters of an inch deep and a quarter inch wide.
The nurse covered her hip with a surgical sheet—the wound displayed through a hole in the center. It was still oozing blood but no arterial vessels had been severed. He'd slipped on a set of medical magnifying lens over his eyes, and latex examination gloves. He could see colored bits of her clothing, dragged through the wound by the bullet.
"I see you were wearing red today," he said, holding up a tiny piece of thread with a pair of forceps. She peered it, now looking a bit faint. "You were lucky; if this torn area was any wider we might have to consider a skin graft, but I think we'll be just fine pulling it back together. I'll clean it out and stitch it up with good old fashioned sutures rather than staples—they'll be a bit more comfortable."
"Will I have a scar?"
"Hey, I got a gold star in medical school for my stitching. In a few months, this will be a flat white line. In a year it should be hardly noticeable. You can tell your friends you got it in a knife fight."
Now she laughed. "That's good to hear—better news than I worried it might be."
"I'm going to freeze your hip with a couple of shots—this will sting a bit at first, then you won't feel a thing." A few minutes later as he began his first stitch, he asked her, "How did you happen to be at the college today?"
"I was there for an interview—just getting out of my rental car. It was a freak shot; I couldn't even see where it came from. I hit the ground and heard a bunch more shooting over in the next lot."
"You were lucky, Ms. Gates—there were a number of casualties."
"So the police told me."
"So what were the odds of this happening to you?"
"I don't understand."
"Well, the population of Phoenix is around one point five million. We get about three hundred gunshot wounds per year in here. I don't imagine there are too many shootings at Phoenix colleges—just wondered what you figure the statistical odds are?"
Now she understood that he was pulling her leg about being a mathematician, and began listing all the factors leading to the shooting and her wound, versus a more serious injury or even death. She assigned the percentile odds of each; Matt had no doubt that her numbers were accurate. Twenty minutes after entering her cubicle, he was finished.