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A man with bushy salt-and-pepper hair and a thick body stood at the foot of his bed.

Julian reached for his whiteboard.

“No need for that, Barnes.” The man’s voice was gravelly, his mouth a grim line. He hooked something onto the bed railing, something curved and shiny—a silver cane.

Julian felt for the call button.

“Looking for this?” The man held the buzzer up. Cough. “Everything is fine, if you do as I say. If not, your girlfriend dies.”

Julian wrote frantically.


“That’s how I make sure you follow instructions.” Cough.

Julian looked left. The door was closed. The old man in the next bed was still. The light above Julian went off.

“The staff is occupied.” A hand came over Julian’s mouth and knuckles dug into his broken ribs.

Excruciating pain—if he could have opened his mouth, he’d have screamed.

“It’s amazing how little pressure is needed once you find the right spot.”

Julian had tears in his eyes, but the wires held his mouth shut. This had to be a mistake.

“What?” The man finally removed his hand and stifled a cough. “Something you’re trying to say?”

Julian grunted.

“Doesn’t the pain make my point?” The man offered him the whiteboard. “You will not remember what happened the night of the accident. Understand?”

Julian didn’t understand, not at all.