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Wake the Dawn
Read by Kristin Kalbli
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U.S. Border Patrol agent Ben James’ life is in tatters. A tragic accident stole the love of his life and he never finished grieving. Turning to the bottle for support, he lost sight of what was important. While making his last patrol run before a storm rolls in, Ben’s canine partner Bo finds an abandoned baby hidden in the woods. As Ben rushes the child to the only clinic in the area, the storm strikes with unexpected fury.
Esther Hanson runs a second-rate clinic in the small community of Pineville, Minnesota, on the Canadian border. Though she has fought for years to get the equipment she needs, the town refuses to approve the funding. When the unprecedented storm ravishes the area, cutting them off from all outside help, Esther struggles to help her patients without giving in to overwhelming emotions. The event triggers a long-suppressed memory, and Esther must come face to face with the reality of her past and learn to forgive herself.
Brought together by the life of a child, Ben and Esther become each other’s reason to change.
Like every other book I've written, I've had help. So much to learn in so little time, and one often does not understand all that is needed until right in the middle. Speaking of unsung heroes, I include in that list Anne and Bobby, who answered my early questions and then answered more. Bobby introduced me to a big, black dog who became my model for Bo. Sandy: idea maker, with unknown wealths of knowledge and creativity. You constantly amaze me.
Google has certainly made research more accessible even though I still want to severely wound my computer, though not as often as I used to. Thanks to my Round Robin writer cohorts who have become more like favorite relatives and play many different roles, from counselors to plotters to encouragers and prayer warriors. Whoever would have dreamed of all we have become for each other? My friends in Drayton, North Dakota, got me interested in the border patrol and interest is a trigger to future ideas.
I thank God for all those who love and read my books. You and your messages bless me more than I can say.
Allie had said, "No presents this year, but I have a surprise for you. Please don't be late."
But he had to bring her something. What could he bring his wife for a fifth-anniversary present? Why did he leave it to the last minute—as usual? Ben James turned his US border patrol SUV toward the shopping district, rather than toward home. Flowers? Did that last year. And the year before that. Candy? Allie wasn't a real candy eater, although everyone said chocolate was the answer. At least he had found her a really perfect card a few weeks ago. He stopped in front of that new florist on Dearborn Street. The shop featured a display of pots of red, orange, yellow, white, and bronze chrysanthemums. That was it! A pot of chrysanthemums. She loved fall flowers. This way she could put it outside and it would bloom again.
He nestled a pot of fiery burgundy blooms in a box on the floor of his backseat so it wouldn't tip over and turned toward home. Barring anything unforeseen, he would get there before she did.
The handset on his dash played Allie's signal and he punched the button. "Hello sweetheart."
Static. He listened with every sense. Had to be Allie. "Where are you, I can hardly hear you."
"Ben." Her voice was weak. More static.
"I can't hear you. I'll call you back."
"No." That came through clear.
He fought to ignore the static.
"B—B—Ben. I—I—I love y—you."
"What's wrong?" He swerved right, pulled into a no-parking zone, and killed the ignition to cut the noise of his engine.
"I'm here, sweetheart. I…"
"I'm going home. Good-bye."
He heard the last line clearly. A siren wailed in the distance, coming from the phone. "Allie…!" He screamed into the phone. "Allie, where are you?"
Nothing. No response, but he could hear the siren drawing closer through the phone.
God, where is she? What's going on? He punched in 911. "Ada, this is Ben James. Did you send an ambulance out?"
"Yes, a couple of minutes ago."
"Single-car accident on SR 48 north of town, just beyond milepost twenty-two. Someone called it in."
He pulled a U-turn, hit his lights, all of them, and two-wheeled the turn onto Forest, headed for 48. Boot to the floor, he muttered over and over, "God, let her live."
Chief? Dr. Ho is here." That annoying buzz in the intercom was getting worse.
He tapped the button. "Thanks, Jenny." Chief Paul Harden, leader of the best team in border patrol, guardian of two hundred miles of the US-Canada border, grillmaster of the annual church fish fry, was so out of shape his receptionist could outrun him. He should get with an exercise program soon. Lose the belly, build some stamina.
He lurched erect and strolled out to reception. Even that left him a bit breathless. Yeah, he was going to have to get cracking on some self-improvement.
This Dr. Ho could probably outperform him, too. The wiry little man beside the reception desk smiled and extended a hand. "Chief Harden, thank you for seeing me on such short notice. This makes my job much easier."
"My pleasure, Doctor. Coffee? Tea?"
"No, thank you. I just came from lunch."
"Then let's go back and solve the world's problems." He led the way down the hall to a small conference room adjoining his office. "Have a seat, please, whatever looks comfortable."
Of a sofa and three armchairs, the doctor picked the velvet-upholstered shellback chair. He had a good eye; it was indeed the most comfortable. Chief settled into the Naugahyde chair beside him.
Dr. Ho leaned back. "You know that the doctor in your clinic here, Esther Hanson, is a physician's assistant. Although she performs nearly all the functions of a physician, she must be supervised by a board-licensed physician. That is I. If a question comes up, she calls me. And periodically, I come by to assess her work."
Chief nodded. "She's mentioned you often and I might add, in positive terms. Glad you came by; I can associate a face with the name."
The little man smiled. "I'm on my way to the clinic, but I understand you're the person who takes over in emergencies. I'd like to get your views on Esther's work performance."
Chief leaned back. How to explain this in terms a civilian would understand? "I'm not officially in charge in emergencies. The town has two constables and some volunteer firefighters, and there's no sheriff's substation near. State patrol's presence is not a large one; feel free to drive any speed you like. I'm the de facto person in charge during an emergency only because our office is right here; I'm on the scene, if you will. So it's not chain of command, it's geography. Our agencies cooperate splendidly. Work together well. I merely coordinate efforts."
The man nodded. The explanation must have worked.
Chief added, "But that's all just theory. Nothing ever happens around here."
"Barb! Grab me another hemostat! I can't control this bleeding!" Esther had the kid's blood inside her rubber gloves as well as outside now, and direct pressure just wasn't doing it. "Rob! Crank up the oxygen! Way up! He's turning gray!"
From the doorway, Gavin's mother was clasping her palms to her cheeks and moaning, "Oh, God!" Sure, she was distraught, Esther could understand that, but she was darn irritating.
Here was the bleeder. Barb slapped a stat into Esther's hand and she forced it down into Gavin's leg, tearing a few minor muscles. The stat clamped down. Barb slapped a second into her hand but she apparently didn't need it. She watched the site a few moments and straightened up. Her hunched shoulder muscles ached.
"Wow!" Rob sounded amazed. "Nice job, Esther."
"Thank you. I'll stitch the artery, but I don't want to close until we're sure there's no leaks."
"I'll get sutures." Barb crossed the mini surgery and started riffling through a drawer.
"Esther?" a familiar voice called from the door.
She wheeled. "Dr. Ho!" Grinning, she hurried over and extended a hand, withdrew it quickly; it was still in its bloody glove.
He crossed to the table, leaned over, and peered closely at Gavin's leg, his hands clasped behind his back. "Interesting." He peeked under Gavin's eyelid, stood erect, and looked at her.
She peeled off her gloves. "This is Gavin Herr, Dr. Ho. Rob and Dennis brought him in a couple of minutes ago. Apparently he was climbing over a barbed-wire fence—not your usual barbed wire or concertina wire, but that stuff with the big, hooked points. The boys with him had the presence of mind to call nine-one-one before they skedaddled. They also called his mom, but by the time she got there the aid van was scooping him up. We suspect drugs may be on board."
"That's not true!" Mrs. Herr wailed from the doorway. "My Gavin would never take drugs. Never!" Obviously she had forgotten that Esther had asked her to stay outside. She hustled over and planted herself in front of Dr. Ho. "This young woman is nice, and she has lovely blue eyes, but she's not competent! Gavin was perfectly all right when they brought him in. I should've taken him home like I wanted to, but no. And now look at him!" She paused, scowling. "Are you a doctor?"
Dr. Ho smiled. "Yes. I'm Dr. Hanson's supervisor, Warren Ho. How do you do?" He extended his hand.
She sputtered, stared at the hand a moment, and accepted the handshake.
Esther washed her hands and slipped into clean gloves. Of all the people to complain to about her competence, Esther's supervisor was absolutely the worst choice. What if he believed her?
Barb had the suturing materials out on a tray and the irrigation bottle poised. Mostly to distract herself, Esther picked up a suture and went to work. Barb had already irrigated the area. Esther must concentrate on what she was doing. That hideous woman. Incompetent? She forced the woman's yammering into the back of her mind. Focus, Esther. Pay no attention to Gavin's mother. Just fix his leg. Focus!
Dr. Ho's voice commanded her attention anyway. "Mrs. Herr. Herr, right? Your son is still young enough to compensate well. Compensation is a strategy the human body uses to cope with extreme trauma. Children are especially good at compensating. Your son's femoral artery is ripped and he was bleeding to death, so his body compensated for the loss of blood by closing down veins to keep his blood pressure up. Your child appeared normal. But that only works for a short time. When the system cannot do that anymore, it simply collapses. Craters. And the child dies immediately. Dr. Hanson managed to pull him back from the grave. Thank your lucky stars, or God, or whomever you wish, that she got to him in time. She just worked a miracle."
"His pupils are constricted, Mrs. Herr. Besides, do children without diminished mental capacity cheerfully climb over a razor-wire fence?"
"But he's only twelve!"
Esther glanced up.
Dr. Ho was nodding. "So very sad, isn't it. If you would, Mrs. Herr, come with me next door. There's a wall chart there of the human circulatory system. I can show you exactly where his injury is and what the possible complications are." And, an angel of mercy, Dr. Ho led the woman out of Esther's life. At least for the moment.
Rob and Dennis tossed replacement supplies on their gurney and wheeled it out the door. Dennis paused long enough to slap Esther's shoulder and smile.
It took her nearly ten minutes to complete what should have been a five- or six-minute procedure. She must be more rattled than she thought. He said she was a miracle worker. Maybe that meant he did not believe the ranting Mrs. Herr. Maybe he was just saying that so that Esther wouldn't get angrier and screw up the procedure.
That debilitating, free-floating anxiety that gripped her so often was boiling up. Dr. Ho didn't know the half of it, and she wasn't about to tell him.
And what was going to happen when, sooner or later, she did screw up?
If Chief Harden were a journaling man—he wasn't—he'd start the first entry, "Day One on my road to a buff bod." It was going to be one long, miserable road.
His deceased wife had claimed that in cities, mall walking was a favored sport of many oldsters, and they all got to know each other. Here in Pineville, with one strip mall anchored by a snowmobile dealership, folks went high-school-football-field walking—more precisely, the cinder track around the outside—and everybody already knew each other. He parked by the fieldhouse and entered the gate.
Chief jogged a couple of yards and decided that it was best to work up slowly and carefully to an optimal degree of buffness and stamina. So he walked. Strolled.
Avis Breeden passed him. "Hello, Paul! Glad you're out here. They say a storm's coming." Avis was a good ten years older. "Herb, you know Herb, lives across the street from me, he says that big storm down south is going to come right up here."
"Oh? The weatherman this morning said it would miss us and nail Michigan."
"Herb says when his joints ache like now, we're in for it. And I believe Herb's joints before I'll believe some weather forecaster." She chugged off at her normal speed.
When really old, crippled-up Denise Abrams passed him with a cheery greeting, he stepped up his pace.
For a couple of yards. Winded, he leaned against a goalpost, catching his breath. This was going to be one very miserable road to buffness, but by golly he would do it.
The goalpost was freshly painted. It was painted every August since back when he was in high school; its diameter was probably a couple of inches bigger now with all that paint.
And the smell of it. The smell of the whole place.
The blocking sleds crowded together over in the corner. There was a day when he could move a sled ten yards with his coach standing on it. Run the length of the field and then run right back. Play hard enough and tough enough to win championships.
Then he went off to law enforcement training and a new generation of football players took the field. He lurched erect and continued. The sky had lost its blue, replaced by a pasty gray overcast, but the field was still bright green, its lines white. He reveled in this. Why had he waited so long to start?
Ben James. Why did he come to mind just now? Probably, the past glories on this field. And that legendary game between Pineville and Fillmore was the most glorious. Fifty-six to six. Ben quarterbacked that game; he was the best quarterback Pineville ever had.
Ben. He was a puzzle in high school, a puzzle now. Made sure he was the best at anything he tried. Valedictorian. Football. Married a prom queen. Topped his class in the law enforcement academy. And now look at him. Drinking himself to oblivion nearly every night. If he was going to be a drunk, he was going to be the best. Give him credit, Ben might look a little scruffy when he showed up at eight, but he was never drunk on the job, never ever behind the wheel. Chief kept a close eye on that.
"Hi, Chief!" The sky might be lowering, but Beth Clemens was always a ray of sunshine. She waddled up beside him and slowed her pace. She looked thirty months' pregnant, but if Chief remembered correctly, it was only seven or eight. Her blond hair was pulled back in one of those little elastic thingies.
He grinned. "Out exercising?"
She giggled. "Ansel says no Zumba until the baby comes. He's right; all that jumping and turning." She sobered. "Chief, I know it's none of my business, but do you hear much from Amber lately?"
His beautiful, screwed-up daughter, as lovely as her mother had been. Beth was one of Amber's best friends. "No, not lately. Have you?"
"No. Not for maybe two years. A long time."
"How's Ansel doing? I hear he got promoted."
And she was instantly sunny bright again. How did women do that? "He's the general manager now and regional rep for Sno-Go. Big salary jump." That tinkly giggle again. "Well, better finish my mile and get back. They'll be home soon." She returned to her normal pace and left him in the dust, if cinder tracks raised dust.
Finishing her mile. He nearly killed himself finishing once-around-the-track, but he made it and headed back to his car. How long was the track around the field? He'd forgotten. But he'd gone once around and tomorrow he'd go twice around. He flopped down behind the wheel, grateful to sit. He pulled out of the stadium lot and headed for his office.
Herb's joints or Hank Oldman, the weatherman on channel five? Which should he believe? He decided to go with Hank, since he'd gone to school with Hank and he knew Herb only very casually. Besides, Herb tended to be pretty negative, and Hank didn't. He climbed stiffly out of the car and let himself into the building.
Ada the dispatcher glanced up from her little hole in the wall. "What are you doing here on Sunday afternoon?"
"I want to build the next two months' schedules without constant distractions and interruptions."
She smiled. "Welcome to Peaceful Valley."
He nodded. "I'm not here, understand?"
It was nearly dark when he finished up. Ada had left and Greg was on dispatch. He let himself out and climbed into his car. From office chair to car seat, from sitting to sitting. No wonder he got out of breath just fluttering his eyelids.
He should work after hours more often. Then he could drive home in twilight, like this. There was a peace to this little burg after dark. The yellowish streetlights were the old-fashioned incandescent kind that didn't glare. Most of the town was residential, and most of the residents took pride in their homes. There is a peace in neatness. He drove past Ben James's place. The only light was a flicker in the living room—Sunday-night football, no doubt. And the dork had left his garage door open again. Good thing this was a low-crime town.
Three doors down from Ben's he passed Beth and Ansel's place. Last July the town council thought they should take down that gorgeous oak in Ansel's front yard. Pregnant Beth threatened to chain herself to the tree and Ansel filed an intent to sue if they touched it, and they reversed themselves. That kind of grassroots politics couldn't happen in a city. Chief was glad he lived here.
He rolled down his window. The town smelled clean and damp and autumny. A dog barked. A cat appeared out of nowhere, flowed swiftly across the street from gloom into gloom. His left wheels bounced into and out of a pothole just beyond Third and Taylor. He'd call Glenn in the morning and get the street crew to fill it. That was something else you couldn't do in the city.
He pulled into his driveway, pushed the garage door button, listened to the opener groan as it dragged the garage door up. Probably need replacing soon. He parked the car and strolled out into cool darkness.
He glanced up. The cloud cover was black and much thicker than he would've expected. No faint sunset glow, no light smudge to betray the moon.
What if Hank's multimillion-dollar weather service was wrong and Herb's joints were right?
Bo! Shut up!"
His black shepherd paced beside the bed, stuck his cold wet nose into Ben's hand dangling over the side. He barked again, a short sharp demand.
"I already let you out!" Ben fought to open bleary eyes. A jackhammer at full speed pounded without ceasing. He realized the phone was ringing. His landline, not his cell. Who in bloody blazes would be calling now? The dog barked again, splitting Ben's head wide open. The taste in his mouth made him gag, or was it the headache? Or the booze he needed like a transfusion to be able to sleep at night.
He fumbled for the phone, trying to ignore the glint of light off the bottle sitting on his nightstand. Perhaps a slug of that would stop the jackhammer. He shoved the handset into the general area of his ear.
"Good morning to you, too, Ben." The bright cheery voice of Jenny the dispatcher glued his eyes shut. "Ben! Don't you dare hang up on me!"
Bo barked again and paced the length of the queen-size bed, bypassing the dirty clothes of who-knew-how-many days littering the floor.
Jenny's voice took on a hard edge. "Good thing that dog helps get through to you. Chief wants you heading north up 270 in thirty minutes, and if he doesn't see you drive by, he will personally come haul your sorry rear in and confine you to desk duty. Are you sober enough to drive?"
"I'm sober." Ben groped for the bottle.
"Don't you dare touch that bottle, either!"
What, did the woman have a camera on him? "Yes, Mother Teresa." Fortunately he swallowed and nearly choked on the words he would have preferred to say. Jenny did not tolerate the kind of language that had taken over his mouth—and soul, too, for that matter. He started to put down the phone but realized she was still speaking. She didn't handle being hung up on, either. He'd learned that lesson the hard way. She might sound sweet but only when and if she wanted to.
"Ben, you have to get help."
"Thanks. I need a shower first and some coffee." He rubbed his face with one hand and glared at his dog sitting before him, Bo's lolling pink tongue the only spot of color.
"And give Bo a treat. I know he heard the phone first."
"Yah." Now he could hang up without getting his neck stretched. Get help. Sure. Such a simple thing to say and humanly impossible. The only help would be to bring Allie back. He had help enough; his only help to sleep, to wake, to live was found in that bottle.
He turned the shower on cold and stepped in, letting out a yell that made his head shriek. Call a cold shower penance of a sort. Wearing only a waist-wrapped towel, he searched for clean clothes, found one set of underwear in the laundry basket, and pulled on the cleanest uniform he could find. Good thing tomorrow was Saturday. Wait. No, Friday. He thumbed his phone to see the day. Monday. This week was going to be a year long! He could drop his uniforms off at the cleaners and pick them up Saturday, thanks to Ellie at Ace Cleaners, who laundered them personally rather than sending them out with the regular cleaning.
How would he get through this day?
He thrust a mug of day-old coffee in the microwave and checked the fridge for cream. He sniffed the carton and tossed it in the overflowing trash. Bo paced beside him, as if not trusting him not to go back to bed. He had been known to.
The microwave pinged. He slapped his chest to make sure he had his badge; if Chief caught him badgeless again he'd rip off another piece of his anatomy. The coffee burned his tongue.
Had he fed the dog? Bo would be nosing his dish if he hadn't been fed. Together they exited to the garage. He groaned. He'd not closed the garage door again. What new wildlife had taken up residence overnight? The skunk had been a real mess to dispose of.
Bo jumped in as soon as he opened the car door and settled on the passenger side.
Ben returned to the kitchen, tossed back two aspirin, and returned to his vehicle, mentally checking to make sure he had everything. The coffee and the aspirin hit his stomach with equal vengeance. He hadn't grabbed a food bar, probably because there were none.
He smacked the horn twice as he drove by headquarters. Thumbing a couple of clicks on his hand mike, he waited for Jenny to pick up.
No sweet voice. No greeting. Just, "Did you eat anything?"
"Now you sound like my mother."
"I'll call your order in; they should have it bagged by the time you get there."
"Yes, ma'am." He finally noticed the waving trees. "You heard the weather?" Jenny always kept track of the weather. That was part of her job.
"Not looking good, but not too bad, either. Hank Oldman says the main storm will pass east of us, but we'll get some edge effect. NOAA weather says winds gusting ten to fifteen, half an inch to an inch of rain." She paused. "If you'd been at the meeting, you'd have been briefed."
"Thanks." Sarcasm dripped from the single word.
Jenny's voice softened. "Ben, I know what day this is, and I…"
Ben hit the OFF button and gritted his teeth. He picked up his breakfast burrito and fries to go, stuffed some money through the drive-through window, and headed out of town. He hated breakfast burritos.
In the Southwest, guides who escorted illegal immigrants across the border were called coyotes. Around here mostly Asians were coming across, and their escorts were snakeheads. And why was he pondering this imponderable factoid, anyway? He fiddled around with the radio awhile, pushing buttons, but nothing appealed. He turned it off.
Straight as a bullet, Route 270 took him north out of town through some low hills and off across the muskegs all studded with heather and clumps of scrawny trees. The wind was picking up, the pointy spires on the firs lashing back and forth.
Having been warned by his favorite stoolie that there was a possible sneak going down, Ben drove more slowly than usual and turned onto the dirt road he usually turned onto, part of his patrol zone but one with almost no traffic. He slowed down more. Tamarack and lodgepole pine dotted islands of solid ground surrounded by cattails and marsh grasses. The welter of bogs seemed impenetrable, but illegals passed through all the time. Those guiding must know this land even better than he did. Hard to believe.
Maybe they only knew certain routes, because almost always, they passed through right here. A bloody highway, the way they stuck to it.
A deer burst out and bounded across in front of him. Oh, Allie, if you'd only done what I tried to teach you to do, not swerve for a deer. That had been her last decision. She had swerved and lost control. Two years ago today. He ignored the tears until they clouded his vision, then pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket to wipe his eyes.
"Snelling (One Perfect Day) continues to draw fans with her stellar storytelling skills. This time she offers a look at smalltown medical care in a tale that blends healing, love, and a town's recovery. . .Snelling's description of events at the small clinic during the storm is not to be missed."
- "Snelling's fast-paced novel has characters who seek help in the wrong places. It takes a raging storm for them to see that the help they needed was right in front of them the whole time. This is a strong, believable story."—RT Book Reviews, ****
- "Lauraine Snelling's newest novel will keep you turning pages and not wanting to put the book down.. . .Wake The Dawn is a guaranteed good read for any fiction lover."—Cristel Phelps, reviewer, Retailers and Resources Magazine
- "Snelling writes about the foibles of human nature with keen insight and sweet honesty."—National Church Library Association
- On Sale
- Aug 20, 2013
- Hachette Audio