"But why aren't you doing something?" Cuddy demanded.
The police spokesman hated his job some days. This was definitely one of them. He would rather hold ten press conferences with pestering media than face one family member during an evolving crisis when he had no definite news to deliver. Not knowing could be more effective torture than any ancient device from the dark ages. Furthermore, in his unfortunately lengthy experience at this job, he'd witnessed that loved ones varied quite a bit in their responses to being stuck waiting. He tended to mentally group them loosely into three types: Shocked into numbness, stoic though worried, and wanting to supervise or at minimum participate. This woman fell into the worst category. She didn't just want him to be doing something; she longed to head in physically herself, rubble and all, and to hell with the danger. The other woman was the retreat into shock type, but Lisa Cuddy-House was interested in action. Immediately. Directly. The officer was glad of the man with her, who was also obviously anxious but steadying her at least somewhat.
"Ma'am," he started again. "They are working on things as fast as they can." He was careful not to say at any point, "I understand," or "I know what you're going through," phrases that some people in crisis objected to, and indeed, he had never had a loved one trapped in a collapsed building himself. He sympathized, but he could not know exactly what she was feeling, so he made no claim to. Even members of the same family confronting the same disaster did so with individual variations.
"The first responders had to pull back after getting the easily accessible victims. The explosion was on the second level, and the third level above that is damaged with the floor sloping. There are also major support walls visibly cracked between one and two and between three and four. They were afraid of triggering a collapse by starting to dig." He didn't add that the building could be heard shifting and settling. That section of the grandstand was a chain of dominoes waiting to be pushed. He was grateful that whatever explosive used, though powerful, had been concentrated and that it had gone off during a race. There were some injuries on two and three, even without counting any unreachables yet, but the injury total could have been a lot greater.
"We think your husband and Mr. Thornton were in the bathroom on two. The explosion took place in the entrance passageway, but it's quite possible if they were farther into the room that there is a pocket of space still intact there beyond the main rubble pile. Bathrooms are very solid." And of course, he countered mentally, if they had not been quite a bit farther on into the room, then they were underneath that pile instead of beyond it. If so, they were almost certainly already dead, but he'd cross that notification bridge only if he had to. "If we push too fast and trigger another collapse, we would only decrease their chances. The crews did the best thing they could by backing off and calling for the structural analysis team. That team just arrived, and they've gone in. They're the experts at this, and they will know the best way to get in to them. But it has to be done carefully, step by step, or we could do more harm than good. We will reach everybody" He was certain of that. Eventually, yes, they would dig through. He just hoped the captives were alive in there. But setting off a secondary collapse wouldn't help anyone, victims or responders.
Wilson touched Cuddy's arm tentatively. "They're doing their best, Cuddy," he said. "They'll get there, even if House has some choice comments about it taking so long once they break through." He was fighting his own worry, trying to keep on an even keel for her.
Any dwindling hope Wilson had clutched that a cell phone blackout alone might explain his friend's silence had exploded itself at the first road block. Cuddy had been ready to drive straight through all barricades right up to the track, reminding him wistfully of House hitting the accelerator on the Volvo on the funeral trip. But after he had stopped, over her protests, and the first officer approached the window, she had jumped in even before he could speak. The instant she used House's name in her demand for access, the officer's expression changed. The police working this scene knew House's name, Wilson realized with a sinking feeling, and this recognition had nothing to do with Patrick Chandler. The authorities already knew he was among those in trouble.
They had been passed on and directed through a few other road blocks to a van in the parking lot that was obviously some kind of waiting area. Besides the official, there was one woman there who was apparently named Kate Parker. Wilson hadn't had a chance to explore for further details so far, having his hands full, but she looked every bit as bad as Cuddy. She was sitting quietly, sipping a cup of coffee, but he could tell she didn't even feel it burning her tongue.
Stalled temporary on demanding faster action, Cuddy switched to her second main theme of the last several minutes. "So the two of them actually told you something was going to happen before the bomb went off, and you didn't believe them?"
"They went to track security," the policeman said, carefully distinguishing himself from track security. He was annoyed about this point himself. Verifying the source, yes, but security should have moved on the tip at the same time instead of simply waiting. "Track security forwarded IDs on to the department and wanted a check on them. As I understand it, they did intend to take some action once they were sure the source checked out. The explosion happened before they received results and could go after him."
Cuddy wished she were talking to track security directly. She made a vow to herself that she would once all the dust had settled and she knew House and Thomas were safe.
Kate Parker spoke up abruptly. "They tried to warn my husband themselves after that. He was on the phone to me, and he mentioned them. I'm so sorry." She shuddered, remembering those parting words, her sentence. You get to live forever knowing that he's dead because of you. Not only her husband but this poor woman's people, too, who had only been trying to help.
Wilson prided himself on his bedside manner, but this was getting too much. "If your husband is with Dr. House, ma'am, that's good news. House has nine lives. He'll get out of this somehow." But how many lives had been used up already?
At that moment, to his relief, the cavalry arrived. Very atypical cavalry in the form of a woman even smaller than Cuddy, a mousy-looking waif, someone easy to overlook until he noticed her eyes. They were as vivid green as House's were vivid blue, and nobody after meeting them could ever again categorize their owner as ordinary. Small or not, this woman had ample strength, intelligence, and personality. Wilson had no idea who she was, but she was so unfailingly competent as she entered the back of the van, so obviously not just another family member joining the waiting line, that he was relieved. Here was backup, in whatever form. He wasn't the only one trying to keep things stable now.
Cuddy turned toward the sound of her entry and then stared. "Dr. Patterson."
Patterson dropped into the seat on the other side of her, with Cuddy now framed between her and Wilson. "What do they know so far?" she asked, gripping Cuddy's hand but going for logistics, for details, not for immediate reassurance.
Patterson? Wilson had not known the name of Cuddy's shrink; House referred to her only as Cuddy's shrink with extra emphasis on the word, as if enjoying a private joke, and looking at her, Wilson could for the first time appreciate it. But watching their body language, her identity was obvious without introduction. Jensen must have called her. Wilson relaxed a little, and then, as he listened to Cuddy's report, his own worry surged up again, eagerly filling in the emotional space. The officer ducked out of the van, recognizing competence and familiarity when he saw it, and left them some privacy for the moment.
Cuddy finished her summary and then looked straight at Patterson with that familiar challenging tilt to her chin. "And don't you dare tell me that everything is going to be okay," she concluded. "You can't know that."
"I wouldn't say that to you," Patterson replied evenly. "It might not be okay. My late husband was a firefighter." Cuddy jumped, her attention abruptly caught from the middle of the crisis. "He was trapped in a collapsed building once. He was trying to rescue someone, and there was a secondary collapse that pinned him down. They had to dig them out. He made it that time, just bruises and cuts, but I'll never forget sitting there for hours outside waiting for news. And I'll never forget the friends who waited there with me."
Cuddy's shoulders slumped, the painful tension shifting, as for the first time since getting the news, she reached out and gave herself permission to feel instead of just driving herself forward, and Patterson wrapped her tightly in a hug.