I was fighting to stay conscious as the paramedics rushed me down the corridor of my office building. In the distance, I could hear gunfire and horns blowing.
“You chose one hellava way to bring in the New Year, Mr. Payne,” the paramedic said.
“Where’s my daughter?” I asked while trying to sit up. “And where’s Terri?”
“Please lie still. You’ll only make the bleeding worse.”
The radio station was on the twenty-fifth floor. I didn’t feel strong enough to make it to the ambulance—let alone the hospital. The bullet had penetrated my left side and exited through my back. It burned like hell.
“Am I gonna die?”
They both paused, then looked at one another as if to seek the other’s opinion. That terrified me. Once we boarded the elevator, they began broadcasting my vital signs into the radio. I didn’t know the significance of the blood pressure and heart rate numbers, but judging by the urgency in their voices, I was in trouble.
“Where’s my daughter? And where’s Terri?” I asked again.
“Relax, Mr. Payne, your daughter is—
He stopped in mid-sentence as the elevator doors opened on the lobby level. Suddenly, a wave of photographers and reporters rushed towards me. A barrage of flashing lights blinded me. Although my vision was blurred, I could see the outline of several husky policemen clearing a path.
“Julian, can you tell us what happened?” a reporter yelled out.
“Who shot the security guard?” another shouted while shoving a microphone in my face.
I tried to lift my hand to shield my bloody face but my arms were strapped down. The yelling was deafening—like a continuous roar. The paramedics tried to move faster, but it was no use. The lobby was packed with policemen, reporters, and nosy fans who had come to watch. The atmosphere was festive, like a circus.
“Get out of the way, please!” the paramedics yelled. “This man is in critical condition! Move, move, move!”
The paramedics fought through the main doors, but once we made it outside, we came to an abrupt stop. The crowd was even larger. People were jumping up on the hoods of their cars trying to get a better look. As the brisk night air blew across my bloody face, their loud voices suddenly faded—replaced by sirens and the humming of the helicopter blades. I could feel the blood soaking through the bandages.
It was obvious from the paramedic’s expression that we were running out of time. The ambulance was only a few yards away but the crowd was out of control. When they continued to push, the cops pushed back—violently. People were knocked to the pavement and trampled.
“I love you, Julian!” A woman screamed as she struggled to get off the ground.
“I’m your number one fan!” another woman shouted as she lifted her blouse, exposing her breasts.
Suddenly a woman lunged towards me and ripped the sleeve off my blood soaked shirt.
“Aarrgh!” I screamed.
“Now I’ll always have a piece of you,” she said. Her hazel eyes and deranged stare were all too familiar.
The stretcher seemed to move towards the ambulance in slow motion. I was growing weaker. I fought hard to stay conscious—to stay alive. I gazed up at the flashing lights from the squad cars as they danced across the dark sky and against the nearby glass buildings. It reminded me of the Fourth of July in Chicago.
I wish I had seen the fireworks on Lake Michigan this summer. I thought to myself. And I never did see the view from the top of Sears Tower. I wish I had gone to Sam’s first basketball game when she was seven. I wish I could be with Terri when my baby is born. But most of all, I wish I had never met Olivia Brown. She was the reason I was bleeding to death in New York City on New Year’s Eve.
How could she go this far? I wondered as they lifted me into the ambulance. And why did she choose me?