Alex felt the dew soaking through the knees of his thin surgical scrubs, as Tito shuddered and gasped on the ground in front of him. Spanky whined and licked Tito’s face, his front paws jittering, his tail twitching.
“Call 9-1-1,” Alex commanded, yanking on Donny’s coat sleeve. “Do it now,” he said, as he pulled an epi pen from his pack. He held it with the blue safety cap pointed upward and the orange injector end aimed toward the ground.
“He’s got his own epi,” Donny said.
“I don’t know.”
“Then, just make the call,” Alex said, waving the man away. “Blue to the sky, orange to the thigh,” he mumbled, reciting the universal mnemonic that kept people from wasting time trying to figure out which end was which when fractions of a second could have life or death consequences. He bit off the safety cap and stabbed the orange injector end against Tito’s leg, holding it firmly in place. As the wheezing became more labored, Spanky’s nervous eyes darted between Tito and Alex.
“Are you a doctor?” Donny asked, glancing toward Alex, his thumbs dancing over the screen of his phone. Donny was one of Tito’s bodyguards. He looked scared, and who could blame him. If the boss didn’t make it, things could get very unpleasant.
Raising a finger for quiet, Alex counted off the seconds out loud, until he got to ten, then returned his attention to Donny. “Did you get through, yet?” He pulled the injector away from Tito’s leg and dropped it into his pack, then vigorously massaged the injection site. Tito’s eyelids were puffing up as livid splotches multiplied on his face and neck, and the pale blue of cyanosis smudged his lips. “Y’all need to get everybody off the sidewalk and keep the gate clear so the paramedics don’t lose time fighting the crowd.”
With his phone to his ear, Donny hustled off to join Tito’s other bodyguard, who was already standing watch by the entrance to the dog park. Alex returned his attention to the man on the ground.
“Come on, Tito. Stick with me.”
The old man’s eyes widened a touch, at the sound of his name.
Spanky let loose with a long forlorn whine, then lay down next to Tito, his snout between his outstretched paws. Alex smiled at the dog with his gritty wet fur and the deepening worry lines between his upturned eyes. A few minutes ago the little guy had been having a glorious play date, lolling in the grass and sprinting around the inside of the fence with the beautiful and ever-frisky Delilah. Then, Tito had lurched up from the bench where he was having his morning coffee and reading the paper, scratching madly at his neck and arms, gasping for breath. Spanky, plainly tuned-in to his owner’s distress, now looked totally crestfallen.
Alex had wandered into the dog park just before all the excitement started, asking about a lost puppy, and then sprang into action when Tito collapsed in the grass.
A fresh spate of yelling drew Alex’s attention to the street. Tito’s bodyguards were shoving around the growing throng of gawkers and park patrons like Secret Service agents making way for the president. The faint sound of a faraway siren drifted in on the breeze.
Alex had seen Tito, just by accident, a few weeks earlier, as he strolled past the dog park on his way to work. Something about the old man’s face looked familiar, something that tickled the back of his mind, but he couldn’t coax the memory out into the open. He saw a lot of people at the hospital where he worked, and they were usually not at their best—family members stressing over trauma to a loved one, or patients in various stages of suffering or dying or both. People could look different when they were staggering under a load of grief or anxiety, so Alex thought maybe that was why he couldn’t put his finger on who the old man was.
By the end of his shift, he’d quit thinking about it, but the unconscious process that took over when he couldn’t remember something kept running in the background until, three days later, the search function in his brain managed to de-age the face and cough up a name. He and Esther were having a go at it, when it all came slamming into his mind like an asteroid from space.
“Oh my God,” he moaned, pressing his head back against the pillow, eyes squeezed shut, his face flushed with what Esther took as an expression of ecstasy.
“Me too,” she crooned in response, leaning forward, hands on his chest, her hips moving with fevered purpose. “Oh my god, I’m almost—”