She could not believe what she was reading. Ezri adjusted her reading glasses on her nose to get a better look at the memo she held in front of her. She cursed her poor eyesight, but she made out enough of the words to understand something tragic had happened.
“Hospital bombing,” she read aloud, “Out of nowhere, someone came into the hospital lobby and set off a suicide bomb. Killed fourteen, injured dozens more.” She paused as she read the next words.
“Past due bill. They were taking his house, he said.” she read herself aloud. “How did this even happen?”
There was a light knock on her office door, which was open a crack. It creaked open.
It was her pet hare, who stuck his nose in between the crack. He looked concerned.
“Oh, Thumper,” Ezri said with a frustrated sigh, “Please come in.”
Thumper, as he was called, had been Ezri’s pet since she had been a little girl. Even now, he came to work with her at the Great Forks Insurance Agency. She represented many high-profile clients, including many politicians.
Ezri Kerren was known for her great capacity for compassion and kindly wisdom. She was also well-known for her love of animals. Ezri was always kind and gentle with them and treated them like members of their families.
She also could talk to them.
“You seem upset, Missus Ezri,” Thumper said, his big black eyes full of concern. He adjusted his dark brown waistcoat, as if something were wrong with it.
“I know you can’t read Thumper,” Ezri said sadly, “But I seem to be struggling with my eyes lately. I swear that this says that the hospital where Jenna works was bombed. I hope she wasn't killed.”
“Bombed?” Thumper asked. He understood the meaning of the word, but seemingly not the context, “What do you mean?”
“Collections!” she cried out suddenly, “Who would bomb a hospital over a bill?”
“May I speak freely, Missus?” Thumper asked.
The tall, heavyset Ezri sighed and groaned for a moment before nodding her approval to Thumper.
“In your great compassion, is it not possible to understand the great stresses that the financial burdens of those who must take on great debt to cure their ills must endure?”
“We are all victims of terrible healthcare policy!” Ezri said, looking out the great window of her office. “I feel compassion for every life that is lost, including those who cowardly take their own lives and others with them.”
"To be angry solves nothing," Thumper observes.
"Apparently, this man lost his house, his car, and his wife walked out on him with his kids. Colections took everything for his overdue hospital bill. He could have come to me! I would have helped him pro bono!"
“Yet you do not seem to sympathize with his situation.”
“Sympathy is not the problem here,” Ezri said, slowly turning around and not meeting Thumper’s curious gaze. “The problem is that the media is turning him into a marytr. No regard for the innocent lives that a crazy person took!” She picked up the paper again, then tossed it down.
Thumper reached into his waistcoat pocket. “Missus, I almost forgot. I have something to give you.” He handed Ezri a red envelope.
Now Ezri looked directly into Thumper’s gaze, “A summons?”
“I might say so,” Thumper said, backing up a bit, feeling intimidated.
She opened the summons and was glad to see that it was easier for her to read, typed in bold black text. Ezri wasn’t glad for long, though, as it confirmed her fears.
“The hospital has summoned me to file claims for damages... to their facility and family compensations.” Ezri said.
“May I come?” Thumper asked, tapping his foot excitedly.
Ezri wanted to chuckle, but it didn’t seem the proper time, “I don’t see why not.”
“What else does it say?” Thumper asked. “If you don’t mind my asking.”
Ezri began to choke up with tears, “Confirms what the report said,” she said breathlessly, “And it has the names of those injured or killed for compensation to their families. Including…” She burst into tears and fell to her knees with a loud thump.
“Missus!” Thumper cried, hugging Ezri to console her as he had done so often as a child. Every emotion hit Ezri hard. Thumper realized she’d lost not only her father, but someone else dear to her.
“Poor Jenna! And Andre… too young…” she managed to say.
“Andre? Andre Gerry? Jenna's nephew who works at the Stop N Go?”
Ezri nodded emphathically.
“They were good people. Especially Jenna,” Thumper said with a sigh, patting Ezri on the back. “Your best friend.”
"I need to call Tika,” Ezri said, choken up but able to speak again. Her dark green eyes were red with tears that were still falling down her cheeks. She tossed the summons aside carelessly. "Andre and Jenna were the only family she had left.”
"What will happen to her now?"
Ezri threw her long black mane over her shoulder and began to brush it with her long black fingernails. It was an old nervous habit of hers. “If her brother and aunt are gone, Tika will end up in the System. I cannot let that happen.”
“She would have no choice, though,” Thumper said. “Right?”
“In her condition, I may need to seek an injuction.”
“What do you mean?”
“Tika must be a wreck right now. She does not need to deal with bureaucracy deciding who will watch over her.”
“She must think only of death,” Thumper said.
“And in her youth, she was such a happy child,” Ezri said. “Now she is so troubled. This will not help.”
“I'm sure you can help her,” Thumper said.
“Yes, but this summons. I have to deal with healing a lot fo wounds. I am not sure I can handle it. Not with Tika involved.”
Thumper stood still for a moment pondering Ezri’s words, “You are strong, Ezri. I love you and know you can do this.”
“I do not know how to break this to Erik and the boys,” Ezri said.
“You can take me,” Thumper said with a smile. "I'll stand by you."
“I couldn’t ask you to do that,” Ezri said, beginning to choke up again.. "This is something I have to do myself."
“I mean... Tika… She needs to learn how to… live again…” Ezri finally collapsed in a heap on the ground.
As much of a giant as Ezri was, Thumper knew, when she got like this, it was best to let her cry herself out. “I’ll make arrangements,” Thumper said.
Thumper hopped out of the room, closing the door tightly behind him. Ezri’s wails were quite audible even down the hall as Thumper made his way to the nearby water cooler.
This was going to be a long day.
It was about to get even longer – and stranger.