When a blue Toyota stomped on its brakes, a jarring screech shouted down the other sounds of the highway. Veering over the centerline, sparking like crossed wires, the car spun in a wild jig. The cameras showed that the Chevy had no time to react. Explosion shattered and pounded the steady, rush hour buzzing with a crunching whack! Drivers were slammed against headrests; their bodies in spasm. TheToyota was smacked back across the centerline. The Chevy bounced hard to the right and staggered for the guardrail. Tire screams echoing everywhere- Airbags covered the passengers with white cocoons. The Chevy slapped the rail. It was a seeing-eye miracle that it struck no other car. The Toyota stopped spinning, dead in the center of the road, leaking smoke and fluids. Safety glass pebbles reflected the sun on the highway with the glimmer of shattered diamonds. The camera, the beautiful sleek steady eye of the camera, caught every second of it.
"MedBet Alert....5:17..head on US 14.....male and female.... head trauma and possible internals....one conscious.....camera ready.....ten minutes from extraction and arrival at NewBeth...."
The alert was accompanied by synthesized voice on Nathan's screen. It looked promising. He toe paddled his rolling chair into place behind his workstation. He was wearing a very thin wired headset and had three monitors in front of him. Barbara sat on a lower chair to the right at a smaller station that was slaved into his control. Her gray eyes flicked between Nathan and her screens. "OK, I need the EMT, the emergency room at New Beth, and get me the camera footage. In that order please." His voice was smooth and well modulated, only showing just a trace of excitement with the request for the accident footage. The cameras were a relatively new feature and it was still a bit exciting to snag one live. But then his afterthought showed clear annoyance. "Barbara, make sure they keep the thing on for the extraction and the scenery this time."
Nathan saw the icon flashing for an audio patch. He plugged it in to his head set.
"Keynon EMT James Pike, # 1728.... We have two participants... a male... early to mid 30's with facial lacerations and head trauma.... a female mid to late...20's with head trauma and possible internals. We have guarded confidence of live delivery and should have amb-pics within two minutes."
"Evaluation stage two," said Nathan. A steady flow of life-sign data on both subjects began to flow into the split screen just to his left. Heart rate, pulse, breathing and whatever else was necessary for him to work. The screen to his right popped up the live scene. Cars stopped in a street-choking pattern...
Barbara stepped on the heels of his sentence. "We have a stage two situation with feed from US 14 and will be on a dedicated follow awaiting further determination." The dedicated follow informed the Center not to patch any new reports to the team at this point. Then she opened a line that would give Nathan's direct feed to the receiving locations. "I have hubs ready for you, Nathan.
"Make sure that I am hooked on the big tits first," said Nathan.
"Yes Sir, their nipples are waiting for you."
The big tits were the New York and Los Angeles connections. Nathan did not want to take a chance of getting squeezed out by a severed finger or some other bullshit event. The Med-betting on this kind of an accident could be huge. The time of day was great, and if they could connect with a live feed, there were eight figure possibilities.
The first ambpics were good. There was franticactivity. There was some blood. There was the girl moaning and trying to thrash around. The guy was out, but his face was handsome. Nathan and Barbara exchanged a grin when they saw him. She scrunched her nose for him, in a way that brought her freckles together. His grinning dimples flashed her.
It was magic time. He had to make some quick calls now or run the risk of losing the live ingredient. The live ingredient, showing all of it to the players as it unfolded, could be worth more than 250% on the outlay, which made it worth that much more on his commission. "Barbara, get me crash speed estimates." He clicked audio into the amb, "How much time to arrival?"
"ETA three minutes," said Pike #1728
"Nathan, I got the crash footage. It's perfect, it's perfect Nathan!"
Nathan grinned. "Don't get wet yet." Barbara lowered her head, smiled and blushed.
The hospital showed that Dr. Grane Chatlew was in charge of the NewBeth room right now. That was good. Chatlew was a rising star.
"Give me the nipples," said Nathan.
Barbara obediently sent his patch over. Nathan had already brought up his actuarial. He didn't really need them for this one, but it was policy. Nathan smiled again. Mid twenties and early thirties; a long fight going here. Secondary betting as the event progressed- The life signs were just erratic enough to be a tease, but familiar enough for him to be confident of live delivery. There was a flickering on the screen of the unconscious male, probably from the activity.
"OK, we have a live feed situation from New Jersey highway US#14 with a male and a female from different vehicles. Patching through vitals now and we'll call it a 17-5 on double survival, an 8-6 on the female and a 10-5 on the unconscious stud. We are piping live crash pics." He pointed at Barbara and held out three then two then one finger, "Now... and are recommending a big screen approach. Piping in amb pics in." again the fingers. She loved it when he pointed at her. "Five seconds," a pause "that's now."
Barbara said, "We have ER room info and two minutes to arrival."
New York and Los Angeles would be going crazy now. They would be piping to affiliates, cutting into existing situations, calling for instant hook. Nathan was ready. He loved this part.
"MedBet, this is Pike 1728...I'm showing a repeater signal on the ID for both subjects." Nathan's mouth opened. Barbara stopped moving immediately. "You gotta be fuckin' kidding me!!!!" screamed Nathan. "When were you gonna' check the ID? When they were on the operating table?"
"This is Pike 1728, again. I am sending ID information for you to confirm the repeater status."
"Yeah, you're a real peach, Pike."
The screen ID numbers were coming into both Barbara and Nathan. "Get me a workup and put the hubs on standby." Nathan went back to the amb pics to see what was there. The screen went blank and came back. The guy was still out. His heart rate was steady but at 96. His pressure was 125/60. Dammit! It looked real! It looked solid! He might be a crasher, but if he was, it was high stakes crashing. The female was still moaning and had been restrained. Her vitals were more erratic, but it was because she was making such a fuss.
"We've got one reported prior for him, a single. And we've got two reported priors for her, a single as driver and a triple as passenger."
"Screw it!" said Nathan. "Tell the tits that we aren't going with live feed."
"New York is screaming at me, Nathan. They are saying that they have taken action and that they have lines and a high level of interest."
"Give me the patch!"
Instantly Nathan heard a New York accent in his ear. "We got a line of betters here that would fill your wazoo, lady!"
"We got repeaters. Do you want to override? I don't care what you do, but make your call right now, New York."
"Repeaters! Ah shit! No, let it go!"
The names of the repeaters were Jennifer Wren and Roger Edicot. Jennifer was a dental assistant, age twenty-five. She had been involved with her first crash at the age of twenty-two. She had sustained a broken collarbone and collapsed lung. She had stopped breathing, presumably from the shock, and had been resuscitated in the ambulance. She had made the screen and gone off at 4-5. There had been a fair amount of interest, nothing overwhelming. She had recovered easily. On the second occasion the driver had checked out. Jennifer had suffered a concussion and two broken legs. The front seat must have slammed into her. The third passenger had been uninjured and unreported. That was unusual. The two out of three had gone off at 11-6 and the company had cashed in on it. Roger's one reported situation had been just six months ago. He had hit a tree and suffered a concussion.
`Nathan was liking it less and less. Head injuries were weird. Airbags had reduced them dramatically. They still got people's attention, but they weren't as real as a crushed sternum or a broken neck. They were going to have to drop it all together.
MedBet didn't like taking those kinds of chances. They had watchdogs to ensure the integrity of the system, and in the five years since its inception they had steadily improved their ability to sniff out fraud. He looked over at Barbara. She looked worn out. The instant intensity was an adrenaline rush and having it end like this was prematurely frustrating. He would have to fill out an incident report and he might have to sit through the lecture again. Four hours of how there came to be a Med-bet and how it served the needs of the HealthCare industry better than any insurance policy had ever served the needs of the country. It wasn't that she didn't believe it, but how many times could she hear it.
* * *
New Beth hospital was proud to be a MedBet facility. In order to qualify it had updated their trauma rooms, which now had all the cutting edge equipment needed to provide a full range of immediate services. No one wanted to hear that there was a procedure available that a facility wasn't able to perform. And now more than ever before, the public new exactly what was available. Response! The official MedBet magazine outlined in layman's terms the latest developments in trauma treatment. Also, in the new growth area, long term betting on the chronic care patients who were receiving donor organs. The risk of rejection and infection and the outside envelope for life expectancy was a whole new, long range frontier. There had been a resurgence of research and development in every area that the MedBet Corporation touched. For this and other financial reasons, New Beth was not thrilled with having to treat Jennifer Wren. The MedBet philosophy was Care for All and New Beth was providing care, but they didn't have to be happy about it.
Jennifer and Roger were placed in the same room. Hospital officials were not about to use up two private rooms on them, and they also didn't want these two contaminating the other patients in the population. Jennifer's injuries were not life threatening.
She moaned and tossed for most of the evening. The television in her room had not been activated. Her head throbbed and seemed to both want her both to sleep and to wake up. Her face was swollen and very sore. When she saw the outline of Roger's body on the other side of the curtain, she rang for the nurse immediately. She had difficulty talking because of the raw stiffness of her mouth.
"Why is there a man here?" she said.
The nurse smirked and said, "I don't do the room assignments."
"This isn't fair!" Tears ran from Jennifer's eyes. "I've been in an accident."
"We're very busy," said the nurse, pivoting on her rubber sole and exiting the room quickly.
Jennifer pressed her buzzer again and again. The
nurse didn't come back. Tears were dripping onto the bandages on her face, when Herbert Scottie came into the room. He was holding a clipboard and spoke in quiet, well-rounded tones. A medium sized man with absolutely no distinguishable characteristics, he did not seem to
"How are you feeling, Ms. Wren?"
Finally, Jennifer thought. "I'm a bit upset at the moment," she sobbed. "I don't know why I am in a room with this man! My television doesn't work and my head and face are throbbing. No one is helping me"
"We'll have to see what we can do to make you more comfortable," he said. She heard his pencil scratch the pad. What happened to you?"
"I was in an accident. My car went spinning. There were people everywhere. I lost control of it."
"Do you remember how you lost control?
"No," she said shaking her head as if she were trying to reach back in her memory. "Who are you?"
"Oh," he said flashing a non-descript grin. "I'm an investigator for MedBet. We're just doing a little follow-up here, for our records."
Jennifer tried to smile. "This wasn't a MedBet feature, was it?"
"Didn't you know?" Scottie looked as if he were genuinely surprised. "Yes, it was a prime feed." He paused, "And, you can't remember how it happened? It is always so much better when the history is complete."
"Well," said Jennifer. "I remember thinking that we were all so lucky to be driving such new cars. All the cars on the road seemed so new and then.......I just can't think."
"The tape we have of your accident shows that your car applied the brakes very hard, but we can't see what it was that made you do it. The crash was really rather spectacular, you know. A real miracle that more people weren't hurt-" Scottie tried to coax another smile out of Jennifer. He succeeded.
"Maybe I saw something in the road," she said.
"Yes, perhaps you did."
Jennifer felt reassured. Soon after Scottie left, the television was turned on, although they had forgotten to give her a remote control, and she only had the one all news channel. And the nurse came back in with an injection that she said would make her more comfortable. She began to drift in and out of sleep and the evening slid into the early morning. At four am, a doctor came into the room to officially pronounce Roger dead. He recorded the time for the nurse and left. It was the only time she had seen anyone at Roger's bed, but she was too drowsy to understand what was happening.
* * *
"Nathan, why are they asking both of us to report to the inquiry room on our day off?"
He answered her smoothly, not pretending to be asleep. "...because of the repeaters. We let it go out as a live feed. Bets were taken. New York was pissed. So we are gonna get pissed on a little."
"I've never been in the inquiry room before," she said in a small voice.
"You had one responsibility today, to do as you were told. Is that correct?"
Barbara pouted out a sexy smile, "Isn't that always my responsibility when I am with you?"
He didn't answer. "I made the calls. You took nothing into your own hands."
She reached over to take his shoulder, but heshrugged her away. "Now get out of bed and sleep on the floor for the rest of the night. You woke me up."
"Yes Sir," said Barbara and quickly slipped onto the floor beside the bed. "May I have a pillow?" With a soft thud, it hit her head in the dark. She curled into a ball and tried to go to sleep, resting her grateful head on the pillow.
* * *
The MedBet inquiry room was a famous place. It had the comfortable feel of a conference room except that there was a large mural comprised of faces of MedBet employees that seemed to be watching everyone in the room. Everything was taped and available for viewing by all those who had security clearances. Instructional session viewing was required for all MedBet employees. Over the top of the door was a sign that read Care For All. Nathan glanced up at it and nodded as if seeing an old friend. In theory, he believed the words of the sign. The faces of his colleagues made him feel secure and part of an important community.
Barbara was sitting next to him, hoping that they didn't ask her too many questions. She held Nathan's hand under the table. Herbert Scottie was smiling at both of them. They went through the sequence of events. Scottie was very polite and nodded with understanding and approval as they spoke.
"When did you first request identification?" said
"As soon as extraction was complete," said Nathan, but he couldn't remember having done it. Usually the assistant did that with the EMT.
"That would have been the correct time," said Scottie. "But the audio tape shows that you went directly to the live feeds."
Nathan's mind picked up speed. Had he done that? Had he skipped over the ID check because he was trying to get the live feeds? He shook his head. "I may have made an error." Nathan felt Barbara let go of his hand.
"Have you ever met Jennifer Wren?" said Scottie
Nathan's mouth opened slightly. "No, I have not. I would have called for a team switch immediately."
Scottie turned to Barbara. "And you have never met
Jennifer Wren either?"
"I don't think so," said Barbara
"Well, that's all I have for right now," said Scottie.
Nathan observed Scottie's mechanical smile and had the feeling that the investigator had definitely gotten what he was looking for.
* * *
NewBeth hospital released Jennifer the next afternoon. Her doctor told her that she had suffered a concussion and some fairly extensive facial lacerations and that if she experienced any unexplainable nausea, she should contact her local physician. No one asked for her insurance identification card. No policeman interviewed her about the accident. No mention was made of her car, and what had happened to it. She was driven home by a hospital employee who told her that he sometimes provided transportation for patients who needed it. She didn't believe him.
The telephone startled her. She had been lying in
bed with the television on the all
news channel and drifting in and out of consciousness.
"It's Jim. Are you ok?"
"I guess so."
"I want to come over."
"Wait until later. Come later."
When she hung up the phone, Herbert Scottie checked the caller location. It came from a public phone located just outside the EMT station located on US Highway #14. Herbert Scottie smiled. Sometimes things were so simple.
Two hours later, Jim Pike sat in the inquiry room. He was sweating and contrite. His reddish blonde hair kept the imprint that his cap made before he took it off. He looked to Scottie as his friend, someone who would help him through this mess.
"When did you first meet her?"
"We had a mutual friend who had an accident while she was giving us a ride to a concert. I ran away from the scene because I was in training and I knew that it would look bad for an EMT to have a fatal accident in his past."
"How soon after that did she contact you?"
"Maybe it was a year later."
"And then what happened?"
"She said that she had a plan that could make a bundle of money for us. She said she would take all the risk. She asked where the camera location was on US#14. She said that she knew how to rig her car so that she survived a violent crash."
"And what was your job, Mr. Pike?"
"I had to keep her ID from the Medbet people until it was too late and they had to go with it."
"We were gonna put everything she owned on her recovery. But the guy died in the ambulance and I had to cut the feed to Medbet early so that the odds-setter didn't see his vitals. The only way was to distract him with the ID so he wouldn't notice. The assistant made it easy because she was so excited."
"Have you ever met the odds setter or his assistant?"
"Those people are weird. They keep to themselves like some kind of a secret society."
"Yes, they do Pike. I understand what happened to you. You were frightened of being exposed about something that wasn't really your fault."
"I really am a good EMT, Sir. I care about people
and I react well in crisis."
"I can see that you do, Pike." Scottie allowed his smile to show condescension.
* * *
Scottie accompanied the arresting officers to Jennifer Wren's apartment. She was reluctant to let them in. She said that she felt nauseous. Scottie sized up her diminutive frame. Her movements were specific. She claimed to be woozy but didn't seem to have any wasted or careless gestures.
"Before we talk at all Ms. Wren, I would like you to listen to this tape."
Jennifer sat down on her couch. She lit a cigarette and took that first sweet drag. She held the smoke in and timed the release to the mention of the Pike's name. She half expected it, but when it came out she was startled. She glanced up at Scottie and tried to read his face. His smile was implacable. It was unnerving. It was almost gentle. It was knowing. She watched the smile as the tape played. She did not raise her eyes to meet his, but kept focused on the carefully upturned ends of his mouth. She brought the cigarette to her mouth with a steady hand and sucked on it softly. She would survive being caught too. She always survived.
"Things will go more smoothly if you just agree to answer all of my questions, Ms. Wren."
"Just clearing a few more things up for the file?"
she said with an ironic grin.
"Exactly," said Scottie. "Did you know Mr. Roger Edicot?"
"Was James Pike the only person with whom you worked?"
"Really? Who was going to place the bets? Pike wouldn't have been able to bet."
Jennifer Wren's was smile was cold. "Well I guess the file will have to stay closed incomplete on that little part of things, won't it?"
"Perhaps," said Scottie. "But when you are charged with murder, it will cause a massive search through the records of everyone that you have ever met cross matched with those who bet on your incident."
Jennifer paused. She looked like a reptile. "Is there any way to avoid the murder thing?"
"What was the name of the person placing the bets?" repeated Scottie
Jennifer gave him the name the address and the amount of money that had been bet.
"Can I ask you one question?" said Jennifer.
Scottie instinctively knew what she wanted to ask.
He excused the patrolman from the room. "What is it?"
"Why did you put a dead man in the room with me for eleven hours?"
"We needed about eleven hours before we were ready to prnounce him dead Ms.Wren." Scottie smiled. Now, there were other matters to discuss. The rest of it would go smoothly now. The door opened and the administrator from New Beth came into the room.
"We're ready for you now," said Scottie.
* * *
Nathan and Barbara were called back to the inquiry room the next morning. Barbara had been very nervous and had chattered all morning about how sorry she was for her mistake. Finally, Nathan threatened to gag her, knowing how much she hated to be gagged. She fell very quiet.
Herbert Scottie and an administrator from New Beth were sitting at the conference table when Nathan and Barbara arrived. Nathan was cautiously optimistic about being called back so soon. He thought that it was a good sign.
Scottie smiled and began to speak directly to Nathan. "The investigation is drawing to a close folks. It seems that the two of you were set up by a couple of people. Jennifer Wren staged the accident in collusion with James Pike. They have confessed, and MedBet is satisfied that neither you nor your assistant had any knowledge of the scheme."
Nathan exhaled slowly. He loved MedBet. Everything would be fine now.
"There is just one more thing. We would like you to do a re-creation of your response to the accident with a different EMT. Barbara, this time you will ask for proper identification, and we will learn that Jennifer Wren is a repeater. We will immediately sever her from the action. We will continue with interest focused on the comatose Roger Edicot who will be operated on and who will die eleven hours after surgery."
Perfect timing, thought Nathan. That's when most deaths occurred, but after ten hours the payoff was smaller for those who bet for death. After ten the payoff odds were significantly lower. Larger profit for MedBet. All round good deal-
"Barbara and I will be happy to do whatever it takes
to clear this up for all concerned."
When Nathan said that, the NewBeth administrator got up, shook hands with Scottie and left the room,
without looking at either Nathan or Barbara again.
"Is there going to be a trial?" said Nathan.
Barbara gave him a worried look, wondering who was going to be placed on trial.
"Trials are expensive. And with trials like this, there is small profit and little interest. Let's say there is going to be an accommodation."
Nathan knew that he was part of the accommodation and so he pressed the point. "Can I ask what it is?"
"Of course! Unnecessary secrecy is a burden that slows everyone and does not add to efficiency in the slightest." Scottie's grin was real this time. He would be congratulated for working things out this comprehensively. "Because Mr. Pike and Ms. Wren have no desire for a trial, we have agreed upon an administrative settlement. Mr. Pike will find a new career. Ms. Wren will be paying damages to Mr. Edicot's family. She has volunteered to sell one of her kidneys and one cornea in order to immediately raise the $75,000 that is required. She has also permanently forfeited her health care and of course her driving privileges. Each of them is going to relocate immediately.
"What's going to happen to us?" blurted Barbara.
Scottie's grin held genuine amusement when he spoke to her. "You are going to have some well needed additional training."
Barbara face panicked for a second and then she relaxed. "Yes Sir," she said.
Nathan knew how to wait. Scottie was much too thorough to have left him out.
He would miss Barbara, but she had not been his first assistant. The unwritten rules about assistants and odds-setters never varied.
"Nathan, you are a loyal employee. I find that this one mistake, this one time, can be overlooked. Of course, it must go into your file. Any expenses that MedBet does not make up from the re-creation will be deducted from your commissions over the next two years. But I think that we will actually turn a small profit out of this." Scottie stood up and extended his hand to Nathan. Nathan smiled.