The Select | Chapter 5 of 7

Author: F. Paul Wilson | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1591 Views | Add a Review

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CHAPTER FIVE

 

In what had become a daily ritual, Quinn sat on her window seat in her cozy little bedroom, raised the binoculars, and aimed them across the front yard toward the end of the driveway. And with each new day the suspense grew. It had swollen to a Hitchcockian level now.

The front yard wasn't much—a hundred feet deep, rimmed with oaks and elms, filled with laurel and natural brush, and a patch of winter-brown grass. Pretty drab and lifeless now, but soon spring would bring the forsythia into buttery bloom and then there'd be lots of color. The house was old, the foundation even older—the first stones had been placed a century and a half ago. The superstructure had been built and rebuilt a number of times since then. The current structure had been completed sometime in the Roaring Twenties. Over the years Quinn had lined her little bedroom nest with photos, pennants, posters, honor certificates, medals and trophies from her seasons as a high school track star. And many a night she had spent fantasizing about the children who had occupied the room before her, where they were now, what they had done with their lives.

They hadn't all stayed farmers, she was sure of that.

The farm. The acres stretched out behind the house. Lots of land. If this kind of acreage were situated near the coast, or better yet, along the inner reaches of Long Island Sound, they'd be rich. Millionaires. Developers would be banging on their door wanting to buy it for subdivision. But not here in the hinterlands of northeast Connecticut.

The farm had changed crops since Quinn was a child, and that had changed the look of the place. Dad grew hay, potatoes, and corn now, but back in the seventies the Cleary place had been a tobacco farm—shade-grown tobacco, for cigar wrappers. Quinn had helped work the farm then, feeding the chickens, milking the cows, sweeping out the barns. All of that had stopped when she went off to college. She no longer thought of herself as a farm girl, but she could still remember summer days looking out the door at acres of pale muslins undulating in the afternoon breeze as they shielded the tender leaves of the tobacco plants from the direct rays of the sun.

Thinking of those fields of white triggered the memory of another color. Red... blood red.

It had been in the spring. Quinn had just turned seven and she was out in the fields watching the hands work. A couple of the men were stretching the wire from post to post while the others followed, draping the muslin between the wires. Suddenly one of the men—Jerry, they called him—shouted in pain and fell to the ground, clutching at his upper leg. He'd pulled the wire too tight and it had snapped back, gashing his thigh. He lay in the dirt, white faced as he stared at the blood leaking out from under his fingers. Then he fainted. And with the relaxation of the pressure from his hands, a stream of bright red sprayed into the air, glinting in the sun with each pulsating arc. One of the men had already run for help, but the other three simply stood around their fallen fellow in shock, silent, staring.

Quinn, too, stared, but only for a heartbeat or two. She knew Jerry would be dead in no time if someone didn't stop his bleeding—you couldn't grow up on a farm without knowing that. As she watched the spurting blood, the story of the little Dutch boy flashed through her mind. She leaped forward and did the equivalent of putting her finger in the dike.

The blood had been hot and slippery. The feel of the torn flesh made her woozy at first, but she knelt there and kept her finger in the dike until Dad had come with a first-aid kit and a tourniquet.

For a while people referred to her as the gutsy little girl who'd saved Jerry's life. The accolades faded, but the incident had a lingering effect. It had swung open a door and allowed Quinn to peer through and view a part of herself. She had done something. Because of her, life would go on with Jerry around; if she had done nothing, he would have died. Up to that time she'd had a vague image of her future self as a veterinarian, caring for the livestock on the family farm and all over Windham county. From then on there was never a question in Quinn's mind that one day she would be a doctor.

Quinn shook off the memories and focused the binocs on the mailbox where it sat on its post in the afternoon sun. The red flag was still up. She lowered the glasses and tapped an impatient foot.

Where is he?

"Is there no mail yet?"

Quinn turned at the sound of her mother's voice, still touched with the lilt of her native Ireland. She was standing in the doorway, a pile of folded towels balanced in her arms. Quinn had inherited Dad's lean, straight-up-and-down body type and Mom's fair skin and high coloring. How many times had she wished things were reversed? Her mother was fair-haired, too, but with a womanly shape, a good bust and feminine hips—she was only in her mid-forties and she still turned heads when she was out shopping. Dad was built like a beanpole but his skin type never blushed.

It seemed to Quinn that she had wound up with the leftovers of her gene pool.

"Henry's late today."

"He'll get here," Mom said. "A watched pot never boils."

Yes it does, Quinn wanted to say. And an unwatched pot boils over. Instead she nodded and said, "I know."

No sense arguing with Mom's Old Sayings.

"I'm very proud of you," her mother said. "Who'd have ever dreamed when you were born that my little baby girl would be in demand by the finest medical schools in the world."

Sure. Great. She'd heard from Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown. All acceptances. All wanted her. Which was fine for her ego but didn't get her any closer to being a doctor. Each called for twenty- to twenty-five thousand dollars a year. She couldn't come up with even half of that.

Quinn said nothing. What could she say? Her father broke his back every day working this farm and what did it get him? He met expenses. Food, clothes, seeing to the cars, repairing the machinery, insurance, mortgage payments pretty much took it all. If she hadn't won a full ride at U. Conn, she'd never even have come this far.

Dad's ego had taken a real beating during the past dozen or so years, so she couldn't even hint at how she'd die inside if she couldn't go to med school. It would crush him.

But Mom knew. And although her mother never said it, Quinn suspected she was secretly glad they couldn't afford it. But not through any malice. She'd probably hurt for Quinn as much as Quinn would hurt for herself. But Mom had her own agenda, her own reasons for wanting Quinn home. And none of it made any sense to Quinn.

"It's got to come today," she said, raising the glasses again. She wished there weren't so many trees out by the road so she could spot the white mail jeep as it rounded the curve half a mile down. The way things were, she had to wait until he was within a dozen feet of the box before she saw him.

"Don't be forgetting the old saying," her mother said. "Be careful what you wish for—you may just get it."

Quinn kept her face toward the window so her mother wouldn't see her rolling her eyes. That was Mom's favorite Old Saying.

"If I get what I'm wishing for I'll be really, really careful," Quinn said. "I promise."

The phone rang.

"I'll get it," Quinn said.

She dashed down to the kitchen and grabbed the receiver off the wall. It was Matt.

"Quinn! Did you hear yet?"

"No, Matt. No mail yet today."

He'd called every day this week, ever since he'd received his acceptance to The Ingraham. She wished she could tell him to sit back and wait until she called him, but he was pulling for her, almost as anxious as she.

"Damn. You said it's usually here by this time."

"I probably won't hear today either."

"Maybe. But when it comes, it'll be a yes. Has to be. How could The Ingraham turn you down when Harvard and all those others want you? You're in, Quinn. No sweat. So don't worry. It can't go any other way."

Then why are you calling every day? she wanted to say.

"If you say so."

She wished she could share Matt's optimism. Maybe then she wouldn't feel like an overwound spring. And every day her insides seemed to wind tighter.

Matt had heard last Saturday. Here it was Friday and she still hadn't. Every passing day had to decrease her chances.

"I don't..." The words caught in her throat but she managed to force them out. "... think I made it."

"No way, Quinn. That's—"

"Look, Matt. You've got to figure all the acceptances went out in one wave. It's not like they were mailing two thousand of them. There's only fifty spots. And it's not like I live in California. I mean, you're in New Haven and I'm in the boonies, but we're both in Connecticut. So let's face it, Matt. The acceptances all went out and I wasn't in there."

"I don't believe that, Quinn. And neither does Tim."

"Tim?"

"Yeah. He's staying over for some golf and a sortie to the reservation casino."

The memory of the exam last December, the answers Tim had marked on her sheet, and how she'd passed them in still rankled. She'd resented him—and her own weakness—for a long time. Now it didn't seem to matter.

Unless they'd been wrong answers.

"Matt... did Tim... make it?"

She was almost afraid to hear his reply.

"Yeah, Quinn. Tim made it too. That's why you've got to make it."

Quinn slumped into one of the ladder back chairs at the rugged, porcelain-topped kitchen table. Her gaze wandered, unseeing, from the worn linoleum floor to the stark white cabinets that had been painted and repainted so many times the edges of the panels were rounded and the type of wood beneath had long since been forgotten.

Tim had made it. That meant the two answers he'd given her probably had been correct.

Then why haven't I made it? she thought.

"Listen," Matt said. "Tim wants to talk to you. He—"

"Can't talk now," she blurted. "I think I hear the mail truck."

Not really true, but she didn't want to talk to Tim. Was it because she felt embarrassed?

"Great. Call me right back if you hear anything."

"Okay. Sure."

Quinn hung up and sat there drumming her fingers on the table top. This waiting was driving her nuts.

And then a faint squeak filtered in from the front of the house. She knew that sound. The mail truck's brakes. She ran to the front door.

There it was, the white jeep pausing at the end of the driveway. She waited until it had rolled on—no sense in appearing too anxious—then she stepped out into the bright afternoon sunshine and, as casually as she could manage, strolled the one hundred feet to the road.

She flipped down the mailbox door and withdrew the slim stack of letters and catalogs from the galvanized gullet. Electric bill... phone bill... bank statement... The Ingraham College of Medicine...

Quinn's heart stumbled over a beat. She shoved the rest of the stack back into the box and stared at the envelope. It was light, no more than a single sheet of paper folded in there. She wished she'd asked Matt some details about his acceptance notice. Had it come in a bigger envelope with instructions on the how, where, and when of registration?

It's got to be a rejection, she told herself. It only takes one page to tell you to go pound salt.

Her mouth was dry and her fingers trembled as she tore open the envelope.

 

Dear Ms. Cleary:

Every year, The Ingraham College of Medicine reviews hundreds of applications and entrance exam scores. It is a most difficult task to select the fifty applicants who will attend The Ingraham. The Admissions Office regrets to inform you that, although you are most highly qualified and will certainly be a credit to any institution of medical learning, after careful consideration, your name was not among those selected for acceptance to next year's class. However, since your scores were ranked within the top one hundred, your name has been placed on the waiting list. This office will inform you immediately of any change in your status as it occurs. If you do not wish your name placed on the wait list, please inform the Admissions Office immediately.

 

There was another paragraph but Quinn couldn't bring herself to read it. Maybe later. Not now. Her vision blurred. She blinked to clear it. She fought the urge to ball up the letter and envelope and shove them back into the mailbox, or better yet, hurl them into the road. But that wouldn't do. She'd turned twenty-two last month. She was supposed to be an adult.

Biting back the sob that swelled in her chest, Quinn retrieved the rest of the mail from the box and forced her wobbly legs to walk her back toward the house.

What am I going to do?

She felt dizzy, half-panicked as her rubbery knees threatened to collapse with each step. All those bleary nights of cramming, the cups of bitter black coffee at four a.m., the endless sessions in the poisonous air of the chemistry labs... hours, days, her whole life had been about becoming a doctor. And suddenly it was all gone... in a few seconds—the time it took to tear open an envelope... gone.

She stumbled but kept her balance, kept walking. She clenched her teeth.

Get a grip, Cleary.

She slowed her breathing, cleared her head, brushed aside the panic.

Okay, she told herself. Bad news. The worst. An awful setback. But there were other ways. Loans, and maybe work-study programs. Maybe even the military—sell a piece of her life to the Army or Navy for medical school tuition. She was not going to give up. There had to be a way, and dammit, she'd find it.

And besides, The Ingraham hadn't slammed the door on her. She was on the waiting list. There was still a chance. She'd call the Admissions Office and find out how many were ahead of her. She'd call them every month—no, every week. By September when registration day rolled around, everyone in that Admissions Office would know the name Quinn Cleary. And if any name was going to be moved off the waiting list into acceptance, it was going to be hers.

She quickened her stride. That was it. She would not let this get her down. She wasn't beaten yet. One way or another she was going to medical school.

As she stepped onto the front porch she glanced up and saw her mother standing there, waiting for her. Her mother's eyes were moist, her lips were trembling.

"Oh, Quinn."

She knows, Quinn thought. Does it show that much?

Then her mother held out her arms to her.

Quinn held back for an instant. She was an adult, a woman now, she could handle this on her own. She didn't need her mother cooing over her like a kid with a scraped knee.

But somewhere inside she wanted a hug, needed one. And the understanding, the shared pain, the sympathy she saw in her mother's eyes tore something loose in Quinn. Inner walls cracked and crumbled. Everything she had dammed up, the agony of the months of waiting, the hurt, the crushing disappointment, the fear and uncertainty about what was to come, all broke free. She clung to her mother like a drowning child to a rock in the sea and began to sob.

"Oh, Mom... what am I going to go?"

She felt her mother's arms envelope her and hold her tight and she cried harder, cried like she hadn't since her dog Sneakers had died when she was ten years old.

 

 

 

"You're secretly glad I was turned down, aren't you?"

Quinn said it without rancor. She'd pulled herself together and now she was sitting at the battered kitchen table while Mom brewed them some tea.

Mom looked at her for a few seconds, then turned back to the whistling kettle.

"Now why would you be saying such a thing, Quinn, dear? Glad means I take some pleasure in your hurt. I don't. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I feel your hurt like my own. I want to go down to that Ingraham place and wring somebody's neck. But, well, yes, deep down inside some part of me is... relieved."

Over the past couple of years Quinn had sensed in her mother an unspoken resistance to her dream of becoming a doctor. Now she felt oddly relieved that it was out in the open.

"Why... why don't you want me to be a doctor?"

Mom brought the teapot to the table and set it on a crocheted potholder between them.

"It's not that I don't want you to be a doctor—I'd love to see you as a doctor. It's just that I..." She paused, at a loss for words. "Oh, Quinn, I know you're going to be thinking this sounds crazy, but I'm worried about your going to medical school."

Quinn was baffled. "Mom, I've been away at U. Conn for the past four years and—"

"Oh, it's not the going away that bothers me. It's just this... feeling I have."

Uh-oh. One of Mom's feelings.

"Sure and I know what you're going to say, how it makes no sense to let these kind of feelings affect your life, but I can't help it, Quinn. Especially when the feeling is this strong."

Quinn shook her head. No use in arguing. Mom sometimes thought she had premonitions. She called it "the Sheedy thing." Some turned out true, but plenty of others didn't. She tended to forget all the ones that didn't, and cling to the ones that had panned out. Mostly they were just apprehensions, fears of what might go wrong. She almost never had premonitions of anything good.

Mom seemed to think this sort of sixth sense ran in the family. If it did, it clearly was one more useful gene Quinn had missed out on. She wished she could have seen that letter coming. She would have prepared herself better.

Watching Mom pour the tea, she decided to play along, just this once.

"What's it like, this bad feeling about med school?"

"Nothing specific." Her eyes lost their focus for a moment. "Just a feeling that you'll never come back."

Is that it? Quinn thought. She's afraid of losing me forever to some faraway medical center?

"Mom, if you think I'll ever forget you and Dad or turn my back—"

"No, dear. It's not that sort of thing. I have this feeling you'll be in danger there."

"But what danger could I possibly be in?"

"I don't know. But you remember what happened with your Aunt Sandra, don't you?"

Oh, boy. Aunt Sandra. Mom's older sister. The two of them had been teenagers when the Sheedy family came over from Ireland. Aunt Sandra was always having run-ins with "the Sheedy thing."

"Of course." Quinn had heard this story a thousand times. "But—"

"She awoke one night and saw this light in the hall outside her bedroom..."

Mom wasn't going to be stopped, so Quinn leaned back and let her go.

"...The glow got brighter and brighter, and then she saw it: a glowing hand, and clutched in that hand was a glowing knife. It glided past her bedroom door and disappeared down the hall. Three nights in a row she saw it. The third night she tried to wake your uncle Evan but he was sound asleep, so she got up alone and followed the glowing arm with the knife down the hall. It glided past your cousin Kathy's room and went straight to your cousin Bob's, passed right through the oak door. She rushed inside and saw it poised over Bob's bed. And as she watched, it plunged the knife blade into Bob's stomach. She screamed and that woke everybody up. But the hand was gone as if it had never been. Your uncle Evan thought she was going crazy, and even Bob and Kathy were getting worried about her." As she always did, Mom paused here for effect. "But the next day, your cousin Bob was rushed to the hospital and taken to surgery where he had to go under the surgeon's knife for a ruptured appendix. " Another pause, this time accompanied by a meaningful stare. "Thank the Lord everything turned out okay, but after that no one ever doubted your Aunt Sandra when she had one of her premonitions."

Silly, but the story yet again gave Quinn a chill. The thought of being the only one awake, sitting in the dark and seeing a glowing, knife-wielding hand float past your bedroom door...

She threw off the frisson.

"Mom, you haven't had any, uh, visions about me, have you?"

Mom stirred honey into her tea. "No. Nothing like that. Just a... feeling. Especially that Ingraham place. Giving you everything free. That seems... unnatural."

She was sounding a bit like Matt.

"Well," Quinn said, "I don't think you have to worry now. Nothing bad is going to happen to me at med school."

Saying those words, med school, triggered a pain in her chest. Crying it out, talking it out, having a cup of tea with her mother had helped her put aside the crushing loss. But only for a moment.

"I've got to call Matt," Quinn said around the newly formed lump in her throat. Which was the last thing she wanted to do. She hadn't made it and he had. So had Tim. She felt humiliated, ashamed. But might as well grit her teeth and get it over with. "He's waiting to hear from me."

 

 

 

Tim sat in Matt's bedroom and watched his friend hang up the phone. He stared at it accusingly, as if it had lied to him. After a moment he turned and faced Tim.

"They turned her down," he said, his voice hushed. "The Ingraham fucking College of fucking Medicine turned down Quinn Cleary. I don't believe it."

Tim already had gathered that from what he'd just overheard. He felt a pang, almost like a soldier who'd just lost a comrade. His hurt, he realized, was a little selfish: He'd been looking forward to spending some time with Quinn.

"Doesn't seem right," Tim said. "I mean, I don't know her as well as you, but she strikes me as someone who was born to be a doctor."

"Damn right," Matt said, his lips thinning as he spoke—Tim could tell he was getting angry now. "What the hell's wrong with them, anyway? Turning down Quinn—what kind of bullshit is that? Where are their heads? What are they thinking about? Do they have any idea what they've just done to her life?"

"Probably not," Tim said. "They—-"

Matt stood up and kicked his wicker wastebasket against the far wall, then began to stalk the room. No mean distance, that. Matt's bedroom was the size of the living room in Tim's home, which wasn't exactly a shack.

"Damn, this pisses me off! I've had reservations about that place from the start, all their prissy rules and regulations, but this ices the cake! If they don't want Quinn Cleary, I've got to ask myself if The Ingraham even knows what the hell it's doing."

"And what's worse," Tim said, silently tipping his hat to Groucho Marx as he tried to lighten things up a bit, "they accepted me. I'm not even sure I want to go to a medical school that'll take me as a student."

Matt didn't smile. "I'm not kidding, Tim. I'd like to turn those bastards down, just for spite."

Tim saw that he was serious, and the seed of a scheme began to germinate in his mind.

"Hold that thought," he told Matt.

 

 

SUMMER

 

Fenostatin (Hypolip - Kleederman Pharm.) has surpassed lovastatin as the number-one selling lipid-lowering agent in the world. In long-term clinical studies it has consistently lowered LDL by 50% and trigycerides by 40% while raising HDL by as much as 60% with a daily 10 mg. dose, without the risk of rhabdomyolysis or alterations in liver function studies seen with other HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors.

Medical Tribune

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

"Ingraham Admissions, Marge speaking. How may I help you?"

"Hi, Marge. It's Quinn Cleary."

"Quinn! How are you, dear?"

"Still hanging in there. Any word?"

"No, honey. I'm sorry. Nobody's called. As I told you, it's very rare that someone turns down an acceptance here. I've been here ten years now and I can only remember two. And one of those had a serious neck injury that was going to lay him up for a year."

"I know. But I can still hope, can't I?"

"And we're hoping right along with you, sweetheart. Listen, you know if it was up to us we'd have you in here in a jiffy."

"That's nice, Marge. Thanks."

"It's the truth. Look. You keep calling, you hear? I can't call you—I have to account for my outgoing long distances, and they'd kick my butt out of here for something like that— hell, they might even do that yet if they find out I told you your spot on the wait list."

Quinn had been crushed to hear she was eleventh on the list. Even if she were first or second her chances of getting in were slim to none. But eleventh...

"They won't hear it from me, Marge."

"I know that, dear. But there's no law says you can't call again. So don't you hesitate a minute."

"Thanks, Marge. I appreciate that. Talk to you soon."

"Any time, Quinn, honey. Any time."

Quinn shook her head as she hung up. Couldn't be too many applicants who got to know the Admissions Office staff on a first-name basis. She'd called so many times since spring break she actually felt close to those secretaries. Couldn't hurt. Just too bad they didn't decide who got in.

August was boiling the potato fields outside and baking her here in the kitchen. She yawned and rubbed her burning eyes. She was beat—mental fatigue more than anything else. She was working her usual two waitress jobs plus hustling after student loans from anyone who had money to lend. She'd even tracked down a Connecticut Masonic Lodge with a student loan program. She spent her free hours filling out applications and financial statements until she was bleary eyed.

Money was tight. The bankers she spoke to said student loans had been easier years ago, but with the economy the way it was and the ongoing trouble some of the Government programs were having with deadbeats, a lot of the funds had dried up. And they all told her the same thing: All the purse strings would loosen considerably once she reached her third year in med school; she'd have passed through the flames of the first two years when the shakeout occurred, when those who couldn't cut it were culled out, and would then be considered an excellent financial risk. But that didn't do much for her now.

There was still the Navy. It was beginning to look as if they were going to approve her for their program. If so, they'd pay her way through med school, but in return they'd want her to take a Navy residency in the specialty she chose plus a year-for-year payback—one year of service for every year of medical education they funded.

So that was Quinn's situation on this steamy summer morning. If she was approved for the Navy plan, she'd get her degree in exchange for six-to-eight years of her life. A stiff price, but at least it was a sure thing.

The other course was riskier: gamble that she could scrape together the tuition for the U. Conn school on a year-by-year basis through work, loans, and anything else she could think of, and come out of medical school seventy-five or eighty thousand dollars in debt.

The panic and heartbreak of March were gone. She'd got her act together and devised a plan. Her dream had not been snatched from her as she'd thought on that awful day, merely pulled further away. She'd get there; she simply was going to have to work a lot harder to reach it.

But getting into The Ingraham would be so much better. She'd be able to devote all her efforts to the massive amount of learning that had to be done and not worry about chasing after tuition dollars. Or she wouldn't be stuck in a Navy uniform, doing whatever they told her to do, going wherever they sent her.

She sighed. The Ingraham... she still got low when she thought about what she'd be missing. Here it was the middle of August and no one who'd been accepted was going elsewhere.

Better get used to it, she told herself.

 

 

 

"I'm not going to The Ingraham," Matt said.

Tim sat up and stared at him.

"Bullshit."

They were stretched out on white and canary-yellow PVC loungers beside the Olympic-sized pool in Matt's back lawn. Each had a tall gin and Bitter Lemon on the ground beside his chair, a pile of fresh-baked nachos cooled on the Lucite table between them. Tim had been drifting slowly away on a soft golden mellow wave.

"No, I mean it," Matt said, keeping his eyes closed against the glare of the sun. "I told you there were all those things I didn't like about the place. But I sloughed them off. I mean, The Ingraham is such an ego trip. Then the other night my father sits me down and says he and Mom really wish I'd consider going to Yale."

"Yeah, but Yale isn't offering you any incentives."

"They don't care. My father went to Yale and Yale Law, my grandfather too, and I hadn't realized how much the place means to him. And my mom... I think she just wants me closer than Maryland."

Tim felt bad. Hot. Suddenly the sun was getting to him. Hell, he was so comfortable with Matt, and now the guy was dumping him, which he knew was not really the case.

Tim tried to imagine his folks telling him to kiss off over a hundred thousand bucks worth of tuition, room and board just to attend NYU where his father had gone to night school. Fat chance.

"What did the Ingraham folks say when you told them?"

"Haven't yet," Matt said. "I've been trying to figure a way to slip Quinn into my spot. Think I could demand that they substitute Quinn for me?"

"Yeah, right," Tim said. "That'll work. They'll jump her over ten names on your say so."

"You got a better idea?"

"I might." A half-formed scenario had been lurking in the back of his mind since the spring.

"Well, let's have it. I need the input of that devious mind."

"Give me a minute."

Tim lay back and closed his eyes.

The Ingraham... he'd really been looking forward to having Matt around, even finagling him as a cadaver partner. All down the tubes now. But that did leave...

Quinn.

He'd spoken to her twice this summer. She'd seemed a little friendlier each time, but still reserved. Perhaps on guard said it better. He'd tried to wrangle a date but she'd always been too busy with her jobs or her tuition hunting. If he could come up with a way to get her into The Ingraham...

What had she said during that last call? Something about how she'd become best friends with the Admissions Office staff, how they were all pulling for her.

He bolted upright on the lounge.

"I've got it!"

Matt opened his eyes, squinting up at him.

"Yeah? What do we do? What do I tell The Ingraham?"

"The first thing is you tell The Ingraham nothing. The second is hand me that phone. I have to call Ms. Quinn Cleary."

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

Quinn felt awkward, uncomfortable, scared too about this off-the-wall scheme, yet she felt she had no choice but to accept Tim's offer to drive her down to Maryland. He raced along 95 in a gray 1985 Olds Cierra that he seemed to love. He even had a name for it.

"Griffin?" she said when he told her the name. "Why a griffin?"

"Not a griffin. Just 'Griffin.' The gray 1985 Olds Cierra is the invisible car. GM sold a zillion of them, or Buicks and Pontis that look just like it. I've parked this car in some terrible neighborhoods and it's never been touched. Nobody wants to steal it or bother it—nobody even sees it. So I named it Griffin, which, if you know your H. G. Wells, is the—"

"Name of the Invisible Man." She smiled. Griffin—the Invisible Car. She liked that.

After checking Tim's name on a list, the guard in the gatehouse raised the gate and admitted him to The Ingraham's student lot. Stiff and achy as she was after almost six hours of confined sitting, Quinn didn't move from her seat when they pulled into a parking slot. She stared ahead at the tight cluster of beige brick and stone buildings that made up The Ingraham. She hardly recognized the place. The trees had shed most of their leaves the last time, now the oaks and maples were lush and green. She watched a couple of new students hurry up the slope to register.

They've got to take me, she thought. They've just got to.

"Here we are," Tim said, glancing at his watch. "Right on schedule."

"Do you think this has even a slight chance to work?"

"Of course. The plan was designed by the Master Plotter. It cannot fail."

"If you say so."

Quinn didn't want to hope, couldn't allow herself to hope.

Matt had said Tim had cooked up this whole scheme. Why? What was his angle? She'd actually cried when Matt told her how he was trying to help her get his spot at The Ingraham, but she hadn't been all that surprised. This was the sort of thing Matt would do.

But Tim... What was Tim Brown getting out of this?

"All right," Tim said, gathering up his papers. "Registration's in the class building. That's where I'll be. You head for the Admissions Office and do your thing. I'll catch up with you there."

Quinn still couldn't move. Now she was terrified.

"What if this doesn't work?"

"It will. Ten to one it will. But even if not, what have you lost? By tonight you'll either be registered here or right back where you were two weeks ago when we cooked this thing up. And you haven't risked a thing."

"But I'll feel awful." And I'll have to hustle back to Connecticut and sign my life away to the Navy.

"Yeah, but you'd feel worse if you never gave it a shot."

Quinn nodded. He was right. Pass this up and she risked being plagued the rest of her life wondering if it would have worked.

As she made herself step out of the car, Tim said, "Good luck, Quinn."

"Thanks. I'll need it."

She walked up the slope to the Administration Building and followed the little black-and-white arrows planted in the grass to the Admissions Office. She paused in the empty silent hallway outside the oak door. Her heart began to pound, her palms were suddenly slick with sweat. Intrigue was not her thing. How on earth was she ever going to pull this off?

Quinn shook herself. How? Because she couldn't afford not to pull it off. She stepped inside.

The Admissions Office turned out to be a small room, fluorescent lit, with a dropped ceiling. A long marble counter ran the width of the room, separating the staff from the public. A woman sat at a cluttered desk just past the counter. She appeared to be in her fifties with a lined face, a prominent overbite, and graying hair that might have been red once. A plastic name plate on her desk read Marjory Lake.

"Are—" The word came out a croak. Quinn cleared her throat. "Are you Marge?"

The woman looked up, fixed her with bright blue eyes, wary, not welcoming. "Some people call me that. If you're looking for registration it's—"

"I'm Quinn Cleary," she said, reaching her hand over the counter. "It's nice to talk to you face to face for a change."

Marge bolted out of her seat. "Quinn? Is that you, sweetheart? Oh, you look just like I imagined you! Claire! Evelyn! Look who's here! It's Quinn!"

Two other women, both short, plump brunettes, left their desks and crowded forward, shaking her hand, welcoming her like a relative. Quinn was sure if the counter hadn't been there they'd have been hugging her.

When all the greetings and first-meeting pleasantries had been exchanged, Marge looked at her with a puzzled expression.

"But what are you doing here? We didn't... I mean... no one's..."

"I know," Quinn said. "I just decided I wanted to be here in case someone doesn't show up."

Claire and Evelyn went "Aaawww," and glanced at each other. Marge gripped her hand.

"I don't know how to say this, Quinn, honey," Marge said, "but that sort of thing just doesn't happen around here."

"I know," Quinn said. "But I haven't anyplace else to go at the moment so I thought I'd give it a shot."

More quick, that-poor-kid glances were exchanged, then Marge said, "Well, might as well make the best of it. Have a seat. Make yourself comfortable. You're welcome to wait as long as you like. Want some coffee?"

Quinn would have preferred a Pepsi but didn't want to turn down their kind offer.

"Sure. Coffee would be great."

 

 

 

Tim showed up an hour later. Quinn introduced him to "the girls," as they called themselves. They knew his name—after all, they had processed his acceptance. She told them she was going out to stretch her legs but would be back in a while to see if there was any news.

"How's it going in there?" Tim asked when they were outside.

"They're sweet. I feel like a rat deceiving them like this."

"Who deceiving anyone? You're hanging around to try and take the spot of anyone who doesn't show up. That's an absolutely true statement."

"But—"

"But nothing. It's true. The fact that we know something they don't is irrelevant."

They found a shady spot under an oak by the central pond and sat on a wooden bench. The sun was in and out of drifting clouds, the air was heavy with moisture. A bathing sparrow fluttered its wings at the edge of the pond, disturbing the still surface of the water with tiny ripples and splashes. Off to her left Quinn saw a parade of sweaty new arrivals lugging suitcases, boxes, and stereos into the dorm. She looked around and was struck by how planned The Ingraham looked. The dorm, the caf, the administration, class, and faculty buildings were all two stories, all of similar design and color. And off to her right, up the slope, rose the science building; and rising beyond that, the medical center. Each set higher than the one before it, like steps to knowledge and experience.

"Where do you fit into this, Tim?"

He swiveled on the bench and faced her. She wished he'd take off those damn sunglasses. She wanted to see his eyes.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what's in it for you? You don't know me. Sure, we've met a couple of times, but we're not what you'd call close by any stretch. Why should you care if I get into The Ingraham?"

He smiled. "I'm the compleat altruist. My raison d'etre is to help others. That's why I want to become a doctor."

"Not."

"You doubt my devotion to the human species? Okay, try this: I'm hoping that my getting you into The Ingraham will help me add you to my near endless list of beautiful female conquests."

"Very funny."

"Hey, don't sell yourself short. I think you're a knockout. And you've got a very nice butt."

"And you need glasses," Quinn said. She was annoyed now. "I ask you a simple question..."

She pushed herself off the bench to head back to the Admissions Office. This was dumb. Tim's hand on her arm stopped her.

"Okay, okay," he said. "Forget everything I just said— except the part about your having a nice butt—"

"Tim..."

"Well, I meant that. But as for the rest of it..." He paused, as if searching for the right words. "Look. Places like The Ingraham, they're systems. A bunch of nerdy little dorks get together and figure out a way to set someplace up so they can push all the buttons, pull all the levers, call all the shots—run the show. They've got the bucks, that gives them power, and they think they can make everybody jump through their hoops. But they couldn't make Matt jump. With his family's kind of clout, he can tell them to go jump. People like you and me, though, Quinn... if we want to get into their system, when they say jump, we've got to ask, 'How high?'"

"That's the way the world works, Tim. You can't change that."

"I'm not saying I can. But I make it a point to screw them up every chance I get."

"Oh," Quinn said slowly, wondering if she should feel insulted. "And I suppose helping me get into The Ingraham is screwing them up."

Tim slumped forward and rested his forehead on his forearms. He spoke to the grass. "This conversation is heading for the tubes. Maybe we should just go back to saying that I thought it was a shortcut to adding another notch in my, um, belt and leave it at that."

"No," Quinn said softly. "You're going out of your way to do me a favor. We've only met three times, talked on the phone a few more. Can you blame me for being curious as to why? TANSTAAFL, remember?"

Tim lifted his head. The blank sunglasses stared at her again.

"Fair enough. Okay. I like you. I like you a lot."

Quinn felt herself flushing. Now she really wished she could see his eyes.

"And I don't know of anyone," he continued, "who wants to be a doctor more than you. I mean, it shines from you. And with your MCAT scores and GPA, I can't think of anyone—with the possible exception of myself—who deserves to be a doctor more."

"Really, Tim—"

"No, I mean it. And I was pissed, really pissed, when I heard that these jokers had turned you down. Not as pissed as Matt, of course. I mean, he wanted to nuke the place. Neither of us could figure it out. Every other med school you applied to took you, but not The Ingraham. Why? What is it about you that doesn't fit into their system? Was it because you're female? Do they have something against nice butts?"

"Please stop talking about my butt!" She did not have a nice butt or a nice anything. "Can't you be serious for two consecutive minutes?"

"I'll try, but... I don't know, Quinn... show me an anal-retentive system like this one that's screwing somebody I know and it's like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I want to beat that system."

"So, if you're Don Quixote, who am I? Sancho Panza?"

"Hardly. Take the casinos as a for instance. They're a system. They set up the rules so that the percentages are always with them. Somebody wins big once in a while, but that's the exception. They publicize those exceptions to bring in more losers. But systems aren't set up for wild cards. I'm a wild card. Their blackjack system has no contingencies for someone with an eidetic memory. Fortunately for them, we're rare birds. But with my memory, I can screw up their system and win most of the time instead of lose."

"But The Ingraham is not a casino."

"Right. But it's a system. And Matt is the wild card here. His family's got—pardon the phrase—fuck-you money. He qualified, they accepted him, but they can't buy him. They can buy you and me, Quinn. We'll gladly put up with their bullshit rules for a free medical education. Hell, we'll fight for it. We need them. But Matt doesn't. He's the chink in their armor. How many people did you say have turned them down?"

"Two in the last ten years."

"Right. But they're well prepared for that contingency anyway: they've set up a highly qualified waiting list. But I'll bet they've got no contingency plan for what Matt's going to do." His expression was gleeful as he pounded his knees. "And that's when we stick it to them."

"Tim Brown... radical."

"Not a bit," he said, raising his hands, palms out. "I'm not out to destroy anything, or throw a monkey wrench into anybody's works. The whole idea is to stick it to them without them even knowing they've been stuck. If you cause noticeable damage, or you make a big deal about it and strut yourself around bragging how clever you are, you queer it for the next wild card. Because they'll fix that weak spot in their system. But if everybody keeps their mouths shut, someone may get a chance to stick it to them again."

"Is sticking it to them so important?"

"How important is it to you right now?"

"Touche."

"All right. Then let's do it." He checked his watch. "Registration's pretty well closed. Any minute they ought to be realizing they're shy one body."

She headed back to the Admissions Office feeling anxious, scared, thinking about Tim and how he was turning out to be a lot deeper than she'd originally thought, and wondering if he really thought she had a nice butt. She knew she didn't, but there was no accounting for taste.

"Don't you have to unload?" she said as Tim ambled by her side.

"We'll unload together. This plan is my baby. I want to be present in the delivery room."

 

 

 

Quinn sensed the change in the Admissions Office as soon as she walked through the door. The air was charged. Claire and Evelyn were trundling about between their desks and the file cabinets. Marge look frazzled. Her eyes went wide when she saw her.

"Quinn! We've just heard from registration. They're getting ready to close up and somebody hasn't shown up. I can't believe it. I've been here ten years and nothing like this has ever happened."

She felt Tim's elbow bump her ribs.

"Wink, nudge, poke," he whispered.

Quinn ignored him. "Maybe that's my chance," she said to Marge. "What's his name?"

"Crawford. Matthew Crawford."

"Are you going to be calling him? Maybe he's just had car trouble or something."

"Well, then," she sniffed as she picked up her phone, "he should have called us. Whatever the cause, I'll have to check with Dr. Alston first. Then we'll call." She smiled at Quinn. "This could be your lucky day, hon."

Quinn stepped back so as not to appear to be listening. She dragged Tim with her to the row of chairs by the door, then sat there straining to hear. Marge's end of the conversation was garbled but she heard her hang up and dial another number. Matt's?

If so, Mrs. Crawford, Quinn's mother's old high school friend, would tell Marge the truth—as she knew it.

Quinn crossed her fingers and waited.

She heard Marge slam her receiver into its cradle.

"Matthew Crawford's not coming!"

Quinn heard cheers from Claire and Evelyn. She grabbed Tim's hand and squeezed, then realized what she was doing and let go.

"It's okay," Tim said. "I wash them regularly. Twice a week sometimes."

Marge was up at the counter, motioning Quinn closer. Her face was flushed.

"He's not coming!" she said as Quinn approached. "He decided to go to Yale Med instead!"

"And he didn't let you know?" Tim said, leaning against the counter beside her. "What a cad!"

"He wasn't there—off to Yale already—but I spoke to his mother and she said as far as she knows he sent us a letter last month. She couldn't imagine why we never received it."

"Probably never sent it," Tim muttered with convincing disgust. "You know how these rich kids are—"

Quinn kicked his ankle. He was getting carried away.

"Can I take his spot?" Quinn said.

"If it was up to me, honey, you'd be on your way to the registrar. But it's up to Dr. Alston and the admissions committee. I'll do my damndest for you, though."

As she returned to her desk and tapped a number into her phone, Tim leaned closer.

"Why'd you kick me?"

"You're overdoing it."

"You mean Robert DeNiro doesn't have to worry about me?"

"It might be better if you hung back a little... like in one of the chairs."

Tim shrugged. "Okay. But you're having all the fun."

Some fun. This was murder. Quinn turned and clung to the counter, hanging on Marge's every word.

"Dr. Alston? It's Marge, down at the office... Yes, we called him... No, apparently he's decided to go to Yale instead... That's right, sir... No, I don't know why... Yes, sir, I certainly can do that, but I think you should know, one of the wait-list students is right here... Dr. Alston? Are you there?... Yes, sir, she's been hanging around all day in the hope that something like this would happen... I know, sir. Not in my memory either. Her name's... let me see..." Marge smiled and winked at Quinn as she made a noisy show of shuffling through the papers on her desk. "Here it is: Cleary... Quinn Cleary. Yes, sir. I'll do that , sir. Do you want me to start making those calls now?... Okay. I'll wait... Right sir."

She hung up and approached Quinn. Her air was conspiratorial.

"Well, Quinn, honey, you've sure thrown Dr. Alston a curve. He wanted me to start calling the waiting list immediately, starting with number one and working my way down. When I told him you were here, he was actually speechless. And if you knew Dr. Alston you'd know that he's never speechless. He's never heard of a wait-list student hanging around on registration day. He's going to check your application and talk to the committee."

Quinn felt lightheaded. Her knees wobbled. She struggled for a breath to speak.

"Then I have a chance?"

"You sure do. Better than you think. Because just between you and me, if I get the word to start calling the waiting list, there's a very good chance that most of them will already be committed to other schools, and those that aren't, well," her voice sank to a whisper, "they may not be home, if you know what I mean."

"I wouldn't want you doing anything like that for me," Quinn said. "You might be risking your job."

Marge patted her hand. "You let me worry about that. Meanwhile, take a seat by your friend over there and we'll see what happens."

 

 

 

"I smell a rat."

Dr. Walter Emerson was startled by Arthur's vehemence. He'd known Arthur Alston for years and had always thought of him as a phlegmatic sort.

"Do you, Arthur? I'm the one who does most of the rat studies here, so if anyone should recognize that smell, it's me. And I don't."

"Really, Walter," Alston sniffed. "This is serious business. I don't think any of us should take it lightly."

Walter glanced around the conference room at the "us" to whom Arthur was referring. The Ingraham's admissions committee—or at least most of it—all top specialists in their fields, sat around the polished table in the oak-paneled conference room: Arthur Alston, Phyllis Miles, Harold Cohen, Steven Mercer, Michael Cofone, and Walter himself. Although Arthur was the Director, Senator Whitney was the powerhouse; he represented the Kleederman Foundation and had veto power. He would be flying in later for his annual welcoming address to the first-year students.

"I'm not taking it lightly, Arthur," Walter said. "But I see no point in viewing this as some sort of conspiracy."

"You've got to admit it looks suspicious," Arthur said, tapping the table top with the eraser end of a pencil. "The applicant who turned us down and the wait-listed one in question are both from Connecticut. I don't know about you but I find it a little hard to swallow that as mere coincidence."

So did Walter, but he wasn't going to admit it. Not just yet. He'd been oddly thrilled when he'd learned that the unorthodox student sitting on their doorstep was Quinn Cleary, that bright young woman with whom he'd been so taken when he'd interviewed her. He'd recommended her highly and had been disappointed when she'd been wait listed.

"Granted, they're both from Connecticut, but they live nowhere near each other. They went to different high schools in different counties, went to different colleges. There may be a connection, but it's certainly not obvious."

"Exactly. That's why I said I smell a rat. I haven't found one yet." He looked around the table. "Does anyone else have anything to add?"

Cohen and Mercer said no, Cofone and Miles shook their heads. They seemed largely indifferent. And why not? None of them had ever met Quinn Cleary. But Walter had. If only there was some way he could convey his enthusiasm for her.

"All right, then," Arthur said. "We'll follow the usual procedure and start calling the wait-listed applicants in order. And if by some stretch of the imagination we have no takers by the time we reach Miss Cleary —"

"Can I say one more thing, Arthur?"

"Walter, we haven't got all day."

"Just hear me out," Walter said, rising and walking slowly around the table. "Last winter we made out a list that we put on hold for possible admission to The Ingraham. All but one took that lying down. Miss Cleary did not. She took the initiative of coming down here on registration day in the hope of being admitted. Her chances were slim to none, but she did it anyway. That takes determination, that takes desire."

"Or insider knowledge," Arthur said. "She might very well have known that this Crawford was not going to show up. The two of them might have cooked up this entire scenario together."

"Then I say, Bravo ! More power to her. If your suspicions are true, then all the more reason to accept her. We're always saying we want students with something extra, something that's not reflected in the grade point average, aren't we? Well, here it is. In spades. This young woman is utterly determined to come here. She will not take no for an answer. Isn't this the caliber of student we're looking for? With the training and direction The Ingraham can give her, won't she be one hell of a force in the outside world? Nothing is going to stand in this woman's way. Isn't this what The Ingraham is all about?"

"But—" Arthur began.

"Plus she's female," Walter said, pressing on. He had the other committee members' attention, could see the growing interest in their eyes. He was not going to let Arthur break his stride now. "The Ingraham is constantly criticized for not taking enough women. Here's a chance to accept a woman who has the potential of doing more than any ten other students on that wait list combined. I say to hell with the rest of the wait list. We accept Quinn Cleary now."

"But the Kleederman equation questions," Arthur said. "She missed one."

"Negative thinking, Arthur," Walter said, wagging his finger. "She may have answered only two of the three, but she got them both right. And if she'd got all three, she would have been one of our first choices for acceptance, am I correct?"

"Yes." His tone was reluctant. "But—"

"But nothing. She got two right. That's enough. She didn't get the third wrong, she simply didn't do it. Maybe she missed it. Maybe she wasn't sure and she was going to come back to it but ran out of time. It doesn't matter. She got two right. She qualifies, Arthur. And she'll be a credit to The Ingraham."

"I don't know, Walter..."

It was Arthur's first show of uncertainty. Walter leapt to the advantage. He faced the other four.

"What do you say?" He met the stares of Cohen, Mercer, Cofone, and Miles one by one. "Do we take her in, or do we tell her that initiative, tenacity, and determination have no place at The Ingraham and send her packing? Which will it be?"

"Accepting a woman in place of a male will cause rooming problems, but that's why we have extra rooms," Mercer said. "I'm for taking her."

Cofone nodded. "Sure. Why not?"

"After all, she's already here," Cohen said.

Phyllis Miles frowned. "I'm not saying this because I'm the only woman here, but The Ingraham could use another female in the incoming class. It's terribly unbalanced."

"Then it's done!" Walter said.

Arthur cleared his throat. "Not quite. I'll have to run this by the senator. He should be arriving within the hour. I'll show him Cleary's record and convey to him the sentiments of the committee."

"And what are your sentiments, Arthur? Are you actively opposed?"

"I don't like prospective students to try and pull a fast one, but since I have no hard proof, I shall not contend against her. If she meets with the approval of you five and with the senator, then I shall go along."

Good, Walter thought. Only one more hurdle, and that might be a tough one. It was difficult sometimes to predict how the Senator and the Kleederman Foundation would react.

 

 

 

The wait didn't just seem endless—it was endless.

Hours on those hard, narrow chairs in the Admissions Office. Quitting time had come and gone for Marge and Claire and Evelyn but all three had stayed on, encouraging her, warning her not to give up hope.

"Dr. Alston didn't tell me to start polling the waiting list," Marge kept saying. "That's got to mean something— something good."

Tim was optimistic too: "As long as they haven't sent you packing, you're still in the game."

And then someone was walking down the Administration Building's deserted main corridor, coming their way. The five of them huddled on their seats, waiting. Quinn could barely breathe. A graying head with thick white eyebrows poked through the doorway.

"Miss Cleary?"

"Yes?" Quinn said, rising, trembling.

"There you are." He smiled. "Do you remember me?"

"Of course. You're Dr. Emerson. You interviewed me last winter."

"Right. And recommended you very highly."

"Thank you."

"Well, it didn't do you much good on the first round, I'm sad to say. But that's all water under the bridge now. The committee has voted to let you take the place of the no-show." He thrust out a gnarled hand. "Welcome to The Ingraham, Miss Cleary."

Marge cried, "Yes!" and Evelyn cheered and Claire said, "Praise the Lord!" over and over as Quinn stepped forward on wobbly knees to shake Dr. Emerson's hand.

His grip was firm and his eyes twinkled.

"Looks like you've gathered quite a cheering section here," he said.

"It's been a long afternoon and we've all become well acquainted."

"People seem to warm to you very quickly. That's a valuable asset for a doctor. Don't lose it." He gave her hand one final squeeze. "You can register officially here in this office tomorrow. Welcome aboard."

Then he was gone, walking back down the hall. And suddenly Marge and Claire and Evelyn were all over her, hugging her, patting her on the back. Quinn stood in a daze, barely aware of them. The full import of what she'd just been told was seeping slowly through to her, like water soaking into a sponge. She'd made it.

I'm in! I'm going to be a doctor!

Christmas, New Year's Eve, her sixteenth birthday, all at once. She felt tears spring into her eyes as she glanced at Tim. He was still in his chair, legs crossed, arms folded across his chest. Everything she'd read about body language told her he was blocking something out—or locking something in. But then he smiled and gave her a thumbs up.

Quinn began to cry. Matt and Tim—such good friends. They'd saved her life—or the closest thing to it. How could she ever repay them?

She couldn't. Ever. But the least she could do was call Matt and let him know the plan had worked.

She broke away from the Admissions Office ladies, thanked them with all her heart for their support, then leaned over and kissed Tim on the forehead.

"Thank you," she whispered.

He seemed embarrassed. "Nothing to it."

She turned back to the ladies and waved. "I've got to call home and tell everybody the news. I'll see you all tomorrow."

She ran for the phone booth in the hall and dialed home.

 

 

MONITORING

 

Louis Verran sat amid his blinking indicator lights, twitching meters, tangled wires, and flashing read-outs, dreaming of France. He'd spent July in Nice, with side trips to Camargue and Bourgogne. He'd gone alone, stayed alone—except for those nights when he found a companion—and returned alone. Four weeks had been plenty. As much as he loved Nice and its people, he loved this room even more. All his toys were here, and he missed them when he was away. He'd spent most of August tuning up the electronics. Everything was working perfectly now, everything set for another year. This was the way it was supposed to be: everything under control, and all the controls at his fingertips.

Get a life! That was what his ex-wife had told him the last time she'd walked out. Yeah, well, someday he would. When he retired it would be to France. He spoke French like a native, loved their wine, their cheese, their gustatorial abandon. They knew how to live. But until then, Monitoring was where he felt truly alive. This was his life.

He was reaching for a fresh cigar when Alston walked in with Senator Whitney. He shoved the cylinder out of sight.

"There's been a change in the roster," Alston said. "Room 252 in the dorm won't be empty as originally planned. We're sticking a female in there. Her name is Cleary, Quinn."

Verran nodded. "No problem. It's all tuned up and ready to go, just like the rest of dorm."

"Good," the senator said. He smoothed the streaks of gray at his temples. "I want you to keep a close eye on that girl for the first few months."

"Looking for anything in particular?" Verran said, hoping for a clue.

"Anything out of the ordinary," Senator Whitney said. "Her advent is a bit unusual, so we just want her under scrutiny for awhile."

"You got it."

Anything out of the ordinary. Big help. But when the senator said keep an extra close watch, he didn't have to say why. The senator represented the folks who wrote Verran's biweekly check, so Louis would get it done. Pronto.

Verran tracked her down to one of the pay phones in the Administration building. He had remote taps on every phone in The Ingraham complex. Once he isolated the tap, he adjusted his headphones and listened in.

The first Quinn Cleary call was nothing special. 5.06 minutes to her mother, burbling and sobbing over how happy she was about getting in at last. The Irish-sounding mother wasn't exactly overjoyed. Didn't sound happy at all, as a matter of fact. Strange. You'd think a mother would be jumping for joy that her kid had just got herself a full ride to the best medical school in the country—in the freaking world.

Well, you couldn't choose your parents. Couldn't choose the name they gave you, either. What the hell kind of first name was Quinn, anyway? It made Verran think of Zorba the Greek. Some parents were weird. Louis's mother, for instance. He shook his head sadly at the thought of her tight-lipped mouth and wide, wild eyes. There was one lady who'd been a few trestles shy of a full-length bridge.

The second call was more interesting. To a guy named Matt Crawford. The name sounded familiar and Louis had to smile when he checked it against the name of the kid who hadn't showed today. Wouldn't tight-ass Alston like to know about this. The little bitch had pulled a fast one on him.

Hadn't really broken any rules—bent a couple into pretzels, maybe, but no harm done. And even if she had trampled a few of Alston's rules, it made no nevermind to Verran. In fact he kind of admired her ingenuity. She had what his father used to call pluck. Verran wasn't sure exactly what pluck was, but he was pretty sure this girl had it.

All the more reason to keep an eye on her. Not just because the senator had said so, but because kids with pluck were unpredictable. Louis Verran didn't like unpredictability, and he loathed surprises.

She finished her call to Crawford and left the hall phone. Verran cut the feed from the tap.

Yes, Miss Quinn Cleary could bend, break, even mutilate all the Dr. Alston rules she wished, just so long as she didn't mess with any of the Louis Verran rules. Those were the ones that kept The Ingraham operating smoothly and efficiently and, most crucially, quietly.

You've had your fun, Quinn Cleary, he thought as he removed his headphones. Now be a good little med student and keep your nose clean for the next four years and we'll all love you. But if you don't, I'll know. And I'll land on you like a ton of bricks.

 

 

FIRST SEMESTER

 

Second quarter sales reports place Kleederman Pharmaceuticals firmly in the top spot as the highest-grossing and most profitable pharmaceutical company in the world.

The New York Times

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

"I don't think I can go in there."

Quinn couldn't believe she was reacting like this. She stood with her knees locked and her back pressed against the tiled wall of the hallway. She was afraid she'd tip over and fall if she moved away from the wall. The tuna fish sandwich she'd had for lunch seemed to be sitting in the back of her throat; it wanted out. She hoped her panic wasn't evident to the other first-year students passing by in their fresh gray lab coats.

"Sure you can," Tim said. "There's nothing to it. You just put one foot in front of the other and—"

"There are dead bodies in there," she said through her tightly clenched teeth. "Twenty-five of them.

"Right. That's why they call it the Anatomy Lab."

Quinn's euphoria at becoming a member of The Ingraham's student body had been short-lived. It had floated her along through the first night. All sixteen women enrolled in The Ingraham—seventeen now with Quinn—were housed in what they called Women's Country, a cluster of rooms at the end of the south wing's second floor. The four women The Ingraham originally had accepted into the new class already had been paired off together. Since she couldn't very well move into the room that had been allocated to Matt—despite the protestations of the guy set to be Matt's roommate that he had absolutely no objections to bunking with her—Quinn wound up with a room all to herself, which she did not mind. In fact she liked the idea of having her own private suite. But the daily maid service... she wondered if she'd ever get used to that.

Her high lasted through most of the following day's orientation lectures, but it began to thin when she checked in at the student bookstore and received her microscope, her dissection kit, and a three-foot stack of textbooks and laboratory workbooks.

The last wisps were shredded by her first anatomy lecture. The professors at The Ingraham weren't holding back, weren't about to coddle anyone who might be a little slow in adjusting. Their attitude was clear: they were addressing the best of the best, the cream of the intellectual crop, and they saw no reason why they shouldn't plunge into their subjects and proceed at full speed. They covered enormous amounts of material in an hour's time.

Quinn's concentration was taxed to the limit that first morning. At U. Conn she'd had to put in her share of crunch hours to get her grades, but all along she'd known she was somewhere near the high end of the learning curve in her class. The courses had been pitched to the center of that curve. She'd sailed through them.

Perhaps the courses here too were being pitched toward the center of a curve, but Quinn was quite sure she was not at the upper end of this curve. She hoped she was at least near the middle. She would not be sailing through these courses. She'd be rowing. Rowing like crazy.

You're playing with the big boys now, she told herself

But she'd handle it. She'd take anything they threw at her and somehow find a way to toss it right back at them.

Except perhaps a dead human being.

She'd never really thought about the fact that a good part of her first year would be spent dissecting a human cadaver. Human Anatomy Lab had been an abstraction. She'd grown up on a farm, for God's sake. She'd delivered calves on her own and helped slaughter chickens, turkeys, and pigs for the table. And in college she'd dissected her share of worms and frogs and fish and fetal pigs and even a cat during Comparative Anatomy as an undergrad. No problem. Well, the cat had posed a bit of a problem—she'd known it had been a stray, but she couldn't help wondering if it had ever belonged to someone, if somewhere a child was still waiting for her kitty to come home. But she'd got past that.

This was different. Starting today she'd be dissecting a human being—slicing into, peeling back, cutting away the tissues of something that once had been somebody. Intellectually, she'd been able to handle that, at least until she'd approached the entrance to the Anatomy Lab, felt the sting of the cool, dank, formaldehyde-laden air in her nostrils as the double doors had swung open and closed, and caught a fleeting glimpse of those rows of large, plastic-sheet-covered forms lumped upon their tables under the bright banks of fluorescents.

Suddenly the prospect was no longer abstract. There were corpses under those sheets and she was going to have to touch one. Put a knife right into it.

She didn't know if she could. And that angered her. Why was she being so squeamish?

"Come on, Quinn," Tim said, taking her elbow. "I'll be right beside you."

"I'll be okay," she said, shaking him off and straightening herself away from the wall. She was not going to be led into the lab like some sort of invalid. "I'm fine. It's just... the smell got to me for a moment."

"Yeah. I know what you mean." Tim grimaced. "It's pretty bad. But we'd better get used to it. We've got three afternoons a week in there for the next two semesters."

"Great." Quinn took a deep breath. "Okay. Lead on, MacDuff."

"Easy: Shakespeare—Macbeth —the eponymous character."

"If you say so."

As they pushed through the swinging doors the formaldehyde hit her like a punch in the nose. Her eyes watered, her nose began to run. She glanced at Tim. He was blinking behind his shades and sniffing too.

He smiled at her, a bit weakly she thought. "How you doing, Quinn?"

Quinn coughed. She swore she could taste the formaldehyde. "They say we'll adjust. I'd like to believe that."

Tim nodded. "Just be glad the air conditioning's working. It's ninety-five outside. Can you imagine what this place would be like if we had an extended power failure?"

Quinn couldn't—didn't even want to try.

She said, "Let's check the list and see where we're—"

"I already did. Our table's over here."

"Our table?"

"Number four."

"How'd we happen to get together?" she said. "Did you pull something—?"

"Not my doing, I swear. Check the list yourself. Brown is the last of the B's. There's only two C's, and Cleary comes before Coye. They put us together."

Quinn stepped over to the bulletin board. Sure enough: Brown, T. and Cleary, Q. were assigned to table four.

"Come on," Tim said. "Stop dragging this out. Let's go meet Mr. Cadaver."

Table four was in the far left corner. As they made their way toward it, Quinn took in her surroundings. The Anatomy Lab was a long, high ceilinged room, brightly lit by banks of fluorescents. Twenty-five tables were strung out in two rows of ten and one row of five; a lecture/demonstration area took up the free corner.

She and Tim were among the last to arrive but no one was looking at them. They all were standing at their assigned metal tables, one on each side, flanking their cadavers—inert mounds beneath light green plastic sheets. Quinn studied the faces of her fellow students as she passed. Some grim, some green, some as gray as their lab coats, some avid and animated, all a bit anxious.

Quinn took heart. Maybe she wasn't such a wimp. She felt a sampling of each of those same emotions swirling within her: As much as she loathed the idea of cutting up a human body, she yearned for what she would be learning. And as eager as she was to get started, she dreaded her first look at that dead face.

"Here we are," Tim said. "Table four." He moved around to the far side of the green-sheeted form. "And here's Mr. Cadaver." He lifted the edge of the sheet and peeked beneath. "Oops. Sorry. Mrs. Cadaver."

"Tim," she whispered. "Knock it off. Aren't you... the least bit... ?" Words failed her.

Tim lowered his dark glasses and looked over the rims with his blue eyes.

"Want to know the truth?" he said softly. "I'm terrified. And I'm completely grossed out." Then he snapped the glasses back up over his eyes and gave her a steely smile. "But don't tell anyone."

Well, we've all got our own ways of dealing with things, I guess, Quinn told herself. This must be his.

Better than throwing up, which was what she felt like doing.

She jumped as the overhead speakers came to life.

"All right, gentlemen and ladies. We're about to start the first dissection. But before we begin, I want each of you to listen very carefully to me."

Quinn looked around and saw their anatomy professor, Dr. Titus Kogan, short, balding, puffy, looking like he'd spent some time in the formaldehyde baths himself. He stood in the lecture/demonstration area, holding a microphone.

"For the next nine months you will be dissecting the cadavers at your assigned tables. They are no doubt intimidating now but you will soon enough become familiar with them. Do not become too familiar with them. I will repeat that for anyone who might have missed it: Do not become too familiar with your cadaver.

"Never forget that you are dismantling the body of a fellow human being. This is a rare and precious privilege. Many of these people donated their bodies for this purpose. Others belonged to the least of our species—the homeless, the unidentified, the unclaimed. All of them are anonymous, but that doesn't mean they didn't have names, didn't have friends and family. Remember that as you carve them up. No matter what their past histories, no matter what their socioeconomic status when they were alive or what route they took to get here, they all deserve our respect. And I shall demand that you accord them that respect.

"I should inform you that this lab will be open at all times. One good thing about an enclosed campus with its own security force is that it allows students access to the labs whenever they need them. Do not hesitate to take advantage of that.

"Now. Roll your cover sheets down to the foot of the table. It is time to begin."

Quinn looked at Tim across the table. He raised his eyebrows.

"Ready, partner?"

"Sure," she said, steeling herself. "Now or never. Let's get to it."

They each grabbed a corner of the green plastic sheet and drew it swiftly toward the end of the table.

Gray hair... sallow, wrinkled, sagging, turgorless skin... flabby buttocks... skinny legs—the images, strobed close-ups, bits and pieces, catapulted into her brain. She blinked, got the whole picture. Female. A thin old woman. No jolting surprises in the appearance of their cadaver except that it was lying face down on the table.

Quinn glanced around at the other tables. All the cadavers were face down.

She turned back to her table. Whoever the woman was—or had been—Quinn felt embarrassed for her, laid bare like this under these pitiless lights. She wanted to edge the sheet up, at least to cover her buttocks, but she left it where it was. As she tucked the plastic sheet under the cadaver's feet she noticed a tag tied to her left great toe. She turned it over and read the print:

Fredrickson Funeral Home

Towson, MD

A name had been block printed in blue ink below the heading:

Dorothy Havers.

Dorothy Havers... that couldn't be anything but the woman's name. They weren't supposed to know their cadaver's name. Nobody was.

Quinn pulled her dissection kit from her labcoat pocket, removed the scissors, and snipped the string. The back of her hand brushed the cold, stiff flesh. She shuddered.

"What are you doing?" Tim asked, leaning over from his side.

"Nothing." She stuffed the tag into her pocket. "Just checking out my kit."

"Good afternoon, Miss Cleary."

Quinn turned and recognized the white-haired figure standing by the head of their table. He wore a stained, wrinkled labcoat and had a battered hardcover copy of Gray's Anatomy clamped under his left arm.

"You lucked out," he said, looking over the cadaver. "You got yourself a thin one."

"Dr. Emerson. I didn't expect to see you here."

"Oh, you'll see a lot of me around here," he said, smiling. "Neuropharmacology is my field and my love, but you can spend only so many hours a day calculating minuscule changes in the reuptake rates of sundry neurotransmitters without going batty. A few afternoons a week it does me good to get back to the basics of gross anatomy."

Quinn was glad he was here. She liked Dr. Emerson. She had a feeling he'd played an important part in her acceptance, but she would have liked him anyway. He radiated a certain warmth that invited trust. And it was certainly good to know that she had someone willing to go to bat for her at The Ingraham.

She introduced him to Tim.

"Do you have a photophobic condition, Mr. Brown?" he said, eying Tim's shades.

"Yes," Tim said slowly. "In a way."

Quinn then asked the question that had been plaguing her since they'd removed the plastic sheet.

"Why is she face down?"

"Because the first dissection you'll be doing is the nuchal region, the back of the neck. You'll be looking to isolate the greater occipital nerve. Dr. Kogan will be starting you off momentarily but if you want to get a jump, take a look at Section One in your lab workbook."

"Okay," Quinn said. "But first..."

She freed the end of the plastic sheet from under Dorothy's feet and drew it up to the middle of her back.

Dr. Emerson was looking at her curiously. A faint smile played about his lips. "Are you afraid your cadaver's going to catch a chill?"

She's not just a cadaver, Quinn thought. She's Dorothy.

She shrugged. "We'll only be working on the neck, so I just thought..." She ran out of words.

Apparently she didn't need any more. Dr. Emerson was nodding slowly, his eyes bright.

"I understand, Miss Cleary. I understand perfectly."

 

 

 

Quinn made the first cut.

With Dr. Kogan instructing over the loudspeaker and Dr. Emerson watching, Quinn gloved up, fixed a blade to her scalpel handle, and poised the point over the white-haired scalp. The diagram showed a central incision running from the back of the head down to the base of the neck.

She hesitated.

"Want me to do it?" Tim said.

She shook her head. She was going to have to get used to this and the quickest way to acclimate to the water was to jump in.

"Press hard," Dr. Emerson told her. "Human skin is tough. And human skin that's been in a formaldehyde bath can be almost like shoe leather."

Quinn gritted her teeth and pushed the point through the skin. Dr. Emerson hadn't been exaggerating. Even with a brand-new scalpel blade it was tough going. The honed edge rasped and gritted as she dragged the blade downward to the base of the skull and along the midline groove above the vertebrae of the neck.

"Very good," Dr. Emerson said. "Now you've started. From here on you're each on your own, each responsible for the dissection of your own side. Later, of course, when we get to them, you'll have to share the unpaired internal organs." He patted Quinn on the shoulder. "I'll be back later to see how you're doing."

"Wow," Tim said to the air when Dr. Emerson had moved on to another table. "Only just got here and already she's teacher's pet."

She flashed him a grin. "Some of us have engaging personalities, some of us don't."

"Is that so?" Tim raised his scalpel in challenge. "Race you to the greater occipital nerve?"

"You're on."

 

 

 

Quinn won.

In fact, she had to stop her own dissection a couple of times to help Tim with his.

Finally she told him, "I would venture to say that your manual dexterity is inversely proportional to the accuracy of your memory."

"Am I to take it then that you don't think neurosurgery is the field for me?"

"Only if you keep the world's finest malpractice defense attorney on permanent retainer."

"Who knows? I may decide to be the world's finest defense attorney."

"You have to go to law school for that. This is a med school, in case you forgot."

"Didn't I tell you? I'm going to law school as soon as I graduate from The Ingraham."

Quinn was about to ask Tim if he was joking when one of the second-year student teaching assistants strolled up to the table. The name tag on his labcoat read "Harrison." He was thin, with longish blond hair, and pale, pock-marked skin that glistened under the fluorescents. His attitude was condescending, bordering on imperious. Quinn disliked him almost immediately.

"Not bad," he said as he inspected their dissection.

He smiled as he pulled a pen-like instrument from the breast pocket of his labcoat, telescoped it into a pointer, and began quizzing Quinn on the local anatomy. She did all right on the tissues they'd already covered in class, but then he began to move into unknown territory.

"We haven't got there yet," Tim said, coming to her aid.

"Oh, really?" Harrison said, his gaze flicking back and forth between the two of them. "Well, maybe you ought to consider showing some initiative. One way to get ahead at The Ingraham is to work ahead."

"Thank you for that advice," Tim said softly. "Now, if you don't mind, what was the origin and insertion of that last muscle you pointed to?"

Harrison smirked. "Look it up," he said, then turned and almost walked into the man standing directly behind him.

"Oh," Harrison said. "Excuse me, Dr. Emerson."

Dr. Emerson's expression was not pleased.

Quinn wondered how long he'd been standing there. Long enough to hear Harrison's last remark, apparently. Quinn hadn't noticed him come up. But Tim obviously had. His lopsided smile told her he'd bushwhacked the second-year student. He cocked his head toward Harrison as he mouthed the words, Dumb ass.

"I'd like to speak to you a moment, Mr. Harrison," Dr. Emerson said.

He took the younger man aside and did most of the talking. Quinn couldn't hear much of what was being said but caught brief snatches such as, "—if you wish to keep your stipend—" and "—no place for one-upmanship—"

Finally Harrison nodded and turned away, moving toward the far side of the lab. Dr. Emerson, too, moved on, not bothering to stop at their table.

"You set that up, didn't you," Quinn said.

"'Hoist with his own petard.'"

"Easy," Quinn said. "Hamlet. But does this mean I have two guardian angels here?"

Tim smiled. "Could be."

 

 

 

"I don't know if I can handle this."

Judy Trachtenberg was speaking, holding a forkful of prime rib over her plate and staring at it. Her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail, she wore no make-up, and looked very pale. She and her roomie Karen Evers occupied the room next to Quinn's. She'd hooked up with them on the way to the caf. Tim and his roommate Kevin Sanders, a big black guy, a quiet type who didn't say much, had joined their table.

"If it's too rare for you," Tim said, "I'll take it."

Judy rolled her eyes and returned to fork to her plate.

"I'm not talking about the food. I'm talking about this... this whole medical school thing."

"This is only the first day," Quinn said. "It'll get better. It has to."

She said it to encourage herself as much as Judy. She knew exactly how she was feeling. Like Judy she'd found today almost overwhelming.

"I can handle the courses easily enough," Judy said. "I mean, give me a textbook, put me in a class, and I can learn anything. But these labs. Have you seen the lab schedule? Every afternoon! And Anatomy Lab has got to be the worst ! Am I right?"

A chorus of agreement from the table.

She went on. "I mean, I've washed my hands half a dozen times since we got out of lab and they still smell like formaldehyde—and I was wearing gloves ! My God, I still smell it. It must have gotten into my nose. I mean, even the food tastes like formaldehyde. I don't know if I can handle a whole year of this."

Quinn sniffed her own fingers. Yes, there was a hint of formaldehyde there. She'd thought she'd tasted it for a while, but that was gone now. Maybe Judy was more sensitive to it—or more dramatic. Either way, she was not a happy camper.

"Does that mean you're not going to eat your meat?" Tim said, eying Judy's plate.

Judy shoved it toward him. "Here. Be my guest. Eat till you burst. Doesn't any of this bother you?"

Tim speared the prime rib from Judy's plate and placed it on his own.

"Sure," he said. "It's sickening. But I don't dwell on it. It's something you've got to get through. And if you can't handle it, maybe you shouldn't be a doctor."

Judy reddened. "I don't intend to practice on preserved corpses. I plan to have living patients."

"Right. But you've got to have a certain amount of intestinal fortitude, got to walk through some fires along the way to get to those living patients. If you can't handle this, how are you going to handle spurting blood and spilling guts when people are calling you doctor and looking to you for an answer?"

Quinn watched fascinated as Tim somehow managed to cut his meat, poke it into his mouth, chew a couple of times, and swallow, without breaking the rhythm of his speech. His expression was intent—on his food—but his words struck a resonant chord within Quinn: You do what you have to do.

Maybe she and Tim weren't so different after all.

"Looking at the way you eat that red meat," Judy said, "I can see you've got no fear of blood and guts."

Amid the laughter, Tim grinned and held up his knife.

"Okay. How about this? We've all met the estimable Mr. Harrison, haven't we?"

Nods and groans all about the table.

"A dork of the first water," Judy said.

"Indisputably. But consider the fact that he's a second-year student. That means he took whatever The Ingraham threw at him in his first year and came through. In your moments of self-doubt, gird yourself with this little thought: I will not be less than Harrison."

Judy stared into Tim's sunglasses for a few seconds, nodding slowly, then she reached across the table and retrieved the remainder of her prime rib.

"I will not be less than Harrison," she said.

Amid the applause, Quinn looked at Tim and made a startling discovery.

I like you, Tim Brown. I like you a lot.

But she'd never tell him that.

 

 

CHAPTER NINE

 

Tim's head was killing him as he pulled into The Ingraham's student parking lot. He leaned forward and gently rested his forehead on the steering wheel.

Jack Daniel's... too much Jack Daniel's. It happened every time someone talked him into trying some sour mash.

He shook himself and straightened. He'd made it from Baltimore in forty minutes—record time—but he hadn't raced all that distance just to take a nap in the parking lot. He glanced at his watch. Two minutes to get to Alston's lecture. He jumped out of the car and hurried toward the class complex. He eyed the security cameras high on the corners of the buildings, wondering if they were eying him.

As the days had stretched into weeks, Tim had found himself falling into the rhythm of The Ingraham's class and lab schedule. The basic first-year courses were mostly rote. Anatomy, pathology, and histology were purely memory. Biochemistry and physiology were more analytical, but still mostly regurgitated facts. And regurgitating facts was Tim's specialty. Poor Quinn needed hours of crunch study to master what he could absorb in minutes.

So he'd found himself getting bored. Sure there was the roving bull session in the dorm, but he could take only so much of speculating and arguing about the future of medicine. Novels and his tape collection could hold his interest only so long. With everybody's head but his own buried in a book most of the time, he'd begun to feel like the only seeing, speaking person in a land populated by the deaf and blind.

The only answer was to get off campus. The nearby county seat of Frederick was little better than staying on campus. He needed a city. Baltimore and Washington were the two obvious choices.

He was passing the pond when he heard a familiar voice.

"Where have you been?"

He turned and saw Quinn hurrying up the walk behind him. He stopped to wait for her, nodding to others he knew as they swirled past him. She looked great but he didn't want her to get too close. He figured he had a terminal case of morning mouth.

"Miss me?" he said.

"I was looking for you last night. Kevin told me you took off after dinner. God, you look awful. Where on earth have you been?"

"Baltimore."

He knew a little about the city. Some guys he'd hung with in high school had gone to Loyola and he'd made a few trips down there during his four years at Dartmouth. But last night he'd headed for downtown, far from Loyola's suburban neighborhood. He'd hit Baltimore Street: The Block. Baltimore's down-sized equivalent of New York's West 42nd Street or Boston's Combat Zone.

He hadn't gone there for the porn shops, the peep shows, the strippers, or the whores. He'd gone for the games. He'd learned on his past visits that there were a couple or three backroom card games in progress on any given night, games with stakes high enough to make things interesting.

Trouble was, they hardly ever played blackjack. Poker, poker, poker was all these guys cared about. Tim knew he was a decent poker player, but nothing close to what he was in blackjack. Still, he was desperate for some action, and Atlantic City was too far.

"Did you get mugged or something?" Quinn said, looking him up and down.

He smiled and thought: In a way, yes.

He'd stayed up all night playing five-card stud. The other players had been stand-offish at first —because of his youth, Tim assumed —but after they'd seen he could play, they'd warmed to him. Even started buying him drinks after a while. Jack Daniel's. Many Jack Daniel's.

Good ol' Tim. C'mon back anytime.

They loved him. Why not? He'd dropped a couple of hundred.

Poker. Not his game.

"No. Just not enough sleep."

"Well, come on. You're late, and Dr. Alston will cut you up into little pieces."

"You go on ahead. I'm going to sit in the back. Way in the back."

He watched her cute butt hurry off and followed at a slower pace.

Dr. Alston's Medical Ethics: the semester's only non-regurgitant course. It was scheduled for only one hour a week but that hour fell at 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday mornings. Some days it was hell getting there, and today was pure murder, but Tim had never missed it; not simply because attendance was required and strictly monitored, but because the class actually was stimulating.

I could use some stimulating now, he thought as he slipped into the last row and took a seat in a shadowed corner.

Dr. Alston seemed to take delight in being provocative and controversial. His manner was brusque, witty, acerbic, and coolly intellectual, as if he were contending for the title of the William F. Buckley of the medical world.

Tim vividly remembered the first lecture a couple of weeks ago...

"Most medical schools don't offer this course," Dr. Alston had said on that first morning. He'd looked wolfishly lean in his dark business suit and one of his trademark string ties. The overhead lights gleamed off his pale scalp. His movements were quick, sharp, as if his morning coffee had been too strong. "I guess they expect you to become ethical physicians by osmosis —or pinocytosis, perhaps. And a few schools may offer something called Medical Ethics, but I assure you it's nothing like my course. Their courses are dull."

Amid polite laughter he'd stepped off the dais and pointed at one of the students.

"Mr. Kahl. Consider, if you will: You have a donor kidney and three potential recipients with perfect matches. Who gets the kidney?"

Kahl swallowed hard. "I... I don't have enough information to say."

"Correct. So let's say we've got a nine-year-old girl, a 35 year-old ironworker with a family, a 47 year-old homeless woman, and a 62 year-old CEO of a large corporation —who, by the way, is willing to pay six figures for the transplant." He pointed toward the rear of the room. "Who would you give the kidney to, Mr. Coyle?"

"The little girl."

"She has no money, you know."

"Money shouldn't matter. I wouldn't care if the CEO was willing to pay seven figures for the kidney."

"We wouldn't be indulging in a bit of reverse discrimination against a rich, older man over an indigent child, would we, Mr. Coye?" He turned to another student. "How about you, Mr. Greely? Think carefully and unemotionally before you answer."

Tim was impressed. This was Dr. Alston's first lecture to the class and already he seemed to know every student by name.

"I believe I'd also give it to the little girl," Greely said.

"Really? Why?"

"Because she's got the most years ahead of her."

"Years to do what? You don't know what she'll do with her life. Maybe she'll perfect cold fusion, maybe she'll die at eighteen with a needle in her arm. Meanwhile you tell the homeless woman, the ironworker, and the CEO to go scratch?"

He turned toward the second row. "Who would you choose, Miss Cleary?"

Tim leaned forward when he realized Quinn was on the spot. He saw her cheeks begin to redden. She wasn't ready for this. No one was.

"The ironworker," she said in that clear voice of hers.

"And why is that?"

"Because he's got a family to support. Other people are depending on him. And he's got a lot of productive years ahead of him."

"What about the CEO? He's very productive."

She paused, then: "Yes, but maybe he'll get twenty years out of the kidney. The ironworker might get twice that."

"Perhaps, perhaps not. But the CEO's present position places him in charge of the livelihoods of thousands of workers. Without his management expertise, his corporation could go under."

Quinn obviously hadn't thought of that, but she didn't seem ready to back down. Tim decided to buy her some time.

"Are doctors supposed to be playing God like this?" he called out.

Dr. Alston looked up and pointed at him. He didn't seem annoyed that Tim had spoken without being recognized.

"An excellent question, Mr. Brown. But 'playing God' is a loaded phrase, don't you think? It implies an endless bounty being dolled out to some and withheld from others. That is not the case here. We are dealing with meager resources. There are barely enough donor organs available at any one time to fulfill the needs of one tenth of the registered recipients. No, Mr. Brown, we are hardly playing God. It rather seems more like we are sweeping up after Him."

He returned to the dais and surveyed the class for a moment before speaking again. Tim found Dr. Alston a bit too pompous but the subject was fascinating.

"In an ideal world," Dr. Alston said, "there would be a donated organ waiting for every person who needed one, there would be a dialysis machine for every chronic renal failure patient who was a difficult match, bypass surgery for every clogged coronary artery, endarterectomy for every stenotic carotid, total replacement surgery for every severely arthritic hip and knee... I could go on all morning. The sad, grim truth is that there isn't. And there never will be. And what is even grimmer is the increasing gap between the demand for these high-tech, high-ticket, state-of-the-art procedures and society's ability to supply them.

"Consider: there are now around thirty million people over age 65 on Medicare. In the year 2011, when you are in the prime of your practice years, the first baby boomers will hit Medicare age. By the year 2030 they will swell the Medicare ranks to 65 million. That is nothing compared to what will be going on outside our borders where the world population will have reached ten billion people."

Dr. Alston paused to let his words sink in and Tim struggled to comprehend that figure. Ten billion people —almost twice the planet's present population. Who the hell was going to care for all of them?

As if reading his mind, Dr. Alston continued.

"Don't bother cudgeling your brains to figure out how to care for the world's population when you'll be hard-pressed enough satisfying the demands of the geriatric baby boomers. And believe me, those demands will be considerable. They will have spent their lives receiving the best medical care in the world and they will expect to go on receiving it."

"Is it the best?" a voice challenged from the rear.

"Yes, Mr. Finlay. It is the best. You can quibble about delivery, but when those who can afford to go anywhere in the world need state-of-the-art treatment, where do they come? They come to America. When foreign medical graduates want the top residencies and post-graduate training, where do they apply? To their own country's medical centers? No. They apply here. The U.S. can't handle more than a fraction of the foreign doctors who want to take residencies here. Conversely, how many U.S. medical school graduates do you hear of matriculating to Bombay, or Kiev, or even Brussels, Stockholm, Paris, or London? Have you heard of one? At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, this is where the cutting edge of medicine gets honed."

Tim felt a guilty surge of pride. If the U.S. had the best, then certainly he was enrolled in the best of the best. He made a little promise to himself to put what he learned at The Ingraham to good use.

"But back to our elderly baby boomers: Who is going to supply their enormous demand for medical care? That demand will eat up a proportionally enormous portion of the GNP. The national debt was one trillion in 1980. It is now approaching five trillion. Who can guess what it will be by the time the twenty-first century rolls in? Who is going to pay for all that medical care? In an ideal world, it would be no problem. But in this world, the real world, choices will have to be made. In the real world there are winners and losers. Some will get their transplant, their endarterectomy, their chance to resume a normal life; others will not. Who will decide? Who'll be making the list and checking it twice, deciding which ones receive a share of the finite medical resources available, and which ones do not?

"Is that playing God? Perhaps. But someone must make the decisions. Ultimately the guidelines will be drawn up by politicians and administered by their bureaucrats."

Tim lent his groan to the others arising from all sides of the lecture hall. Dr. Alston raised his arms to quiet them.

"But you can have a say. Ultimately you will have a say. Often the final say. Look at the tacit decision you all made this morning. How many of you considered the homeless woman for the transplant?"

Tim scanned the hall from his rear seat. Not a hand went up.

Dr. Alston nodded slowly. "Why not, Mr. Jessup?"

Jessup started in his seat like he'd been shocked. "Uh... I... because it seemed the other candidates could put the transplant to better use."

"Exactly! Societal worth is a factor here. There are individuals who give much more to the human community than they receive, and there are those who put in as much as they take out. And then there are those who contribute absolutely nothing but spend their entire existence taking and taking. In the rationing of medical resources, what tier should they occupy? Should they be classed with the hard-working majority where they can siphon off valuable health care resources in order to continue their useless lives at the expense of the productive members of society?"

"No one's completely useless," said a female voice. Tim recognized it as Quinn's.

Good for you, babe.

Dr. Alston's eyes gleamed. "How right you are, Miss Cleary. And someday it might fall to you to help these people become useful, to guide them toward making a contribution to the society they've sponged off for most of their lives. But more on that another time. The purpose of this course is to give you the tools, the perspectives to make the monumental moral and ethical choices which will become an everyday part of medical practice in the future."

So saying, Dr. Alston had ended his introductory class in Medical Ethics. Tim had felt intellectually alive for the first time since classes had begun. He'd vowed then never to miss one of these classes.

He was remaining true to that vow this morning, hangover and all.

 

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Quinn and Tim had stopped before the huge pin board in the main hall of the Administration Building, the companion to the one in the caf. She'd glanced at the display in passing on a daily basis, but this was the first time in a while she'd stopped to look at the list of graduates of which The Ingraham seemed the proudest. Tim stopped beside her.

As she read through the names and their locations all across the country, she was impressed at how far and wide the Ingraham's graduates had spread from this little corner of Maryland. They ran inner-city clinics or nursing homes from Los Angeles to Lower Manhattan to Miami, Chicago, Houston, Detroit, and all points between. And all were active staff members of a KMI medical center which was never far away.

A thought struck her.

"Doesn't anybody come out of The Ingraham and practice medicine in the suburbs?"

"Maybe," Tim said. "But I don't think they're listed here."

"Weird, isn't it," she said as they walked on. "Dr. Alston's always talking about ranking patients according to societal value, and the way he talks you'd figure he'd place inner-city folks at the bottom of the list. But here you've got all these Ingraham graduates spending their professional lives in inner-city clinics."

She couldn't say exactly why, but somehow the "Where Are They Now?" board gave her a vaguely uneasy feeling.

 

 

THE WORLD'S LONGEST CONTINUOUS

FLOATING MEDICAL BULL SESSION

(I)

 

"Not tonight," Quinn told Tim as he tried to get her to sit in on the bull session when it moved into his room. "I've got to crunch Path."

"Lighten up or you'll wind up like Metzger," said a second-year student she didn't know.

"Who's Metzger?" Quinn said.

"Someone from our year. He studied so hard he began hearing voices in his head. Went completely batty."

"Or how about that guy in the year before us?" said another second-year. "The guy who went over the wall. What was his name?"

"Prosser," said the first. "Yeah. Work too hard and you might pull a Prosser."

"What does that mean?" Quinn said.

"One night he upped and left. Vanished without a trace. No one's heard from him since."

"Okay," Quinn said. "I'll stay. But not too long."

"All right!" Tim said, making room for her beside him. "Where were we?"

It was some sort of tradition. No one knew how it got started, but it had been going as long as anyone could remember. The floating bull session, wandering from room to room, from floor to floor, changing personnel from night to night, hibernating during class hours and sleep time, but reawakening every night after dinner to pick up where it had left off.

Quinn rarely got involved in the sessions; she had too much work to do, always seemed just on the verge of —but never quite —catching up. But when she did sit in, the topic almost always gravitated toward Dr. Alston's lectures. Like tonight.

"I was up," Judy Trachtenberg said. "I was just saying that if rationing of medical services is inevitable, maybe the elderly should be put at the ends of the waiting lists."

"Sure," Tim said. "I can just see you telling your grandmother she can't have that hip operation because she's over 75."

"So, I'd find away to squeeze her in," Judy said with an expressive shrug.

Her casual attitude offended Quinn. As much as she wanted to avoid getting mired in one of these endless conversations, she had to speak.

"Either you believe in what you're proposing or you don't," she said. "You can't say this is how we're going to do it, these are the rules and they apply to everyone equally —except my friends and family."

Judy laughed. "Quinn, where have you been for the past thousand years? This is the way the world works. What you know is nowhere near as important as who you know."

Quinn felt herself reddening but pressed on.

"But then you run into the corruption of the magnitude of old USSR-style Communism, where the size of your apartment and the amount of meat on your plate depended on how buddy-buddy you were with the local commissar. I don't think that kind of system is the answer."

"Well, we need some kind of system," Judy said. "Like a national health insurance program that will keep costs down so we can distribute the services as broadly as possible."

"And end up like the Brits?" Tim said. "No thanks. Their system is broke and they're already rationing care to the elderly. A million people on waiting lists. Nobody over 55 gets dialysis. Chemotherapy and coronary bypasses are strictly rationed too. That's pretty cold. That kind of system seems to insure that everyone gets some health care but no one gets great health care. And I'm one hundred per cent against rationing."

"So am I," Judy said. "But since I don't plan to practice in Shangri-La, what do we do when we can't treat everybody on demand?"

"Do it on a need basis," Tim said. "The guy whose heart has the worst coronary arteries and is just about to quit gets first spot on the list, and the next worst gets second, and so on."

Quinn said, "But what about the guy who's far down the list with only one bad coronary artery, but his angina's bad enough to keep him from running his fork lift? Does he have to wait till he's in cardiogenic shock before he gets some help?"

"If he gets worse, we move him up the list."

"In other words, under your system people will have to get sicker before they can get well?"

Tim scratched his head, his expression troubled. "You know, I never looked at it like that."

"Okay, Quinn," Judy said. "Now that you've shot everything down, what's your solution to the mess?"

"The coming mess," Quinn said. "Dr. Alston talks like it's already here, but it's not. And with the way medical knowledge and technology are advancing, the entire practice of medicine could be revolutionized by 2011. It might be nothing like what we see today. We'll have new resources, new methods of delivery, we might be able to handle—"

"You can't count on that," Judy said.

"Technological growth is exponential," Quinn said. "As the base broadens —"

"You still can't count on it."

Quinn sighed. Judy was right. No matter what happened, the Medicare population was going to double in the next thirty to forty years, but medical resources weren't going to double with them.

She had a sudden vision of the future. She found herself in the worn-down and rusted-out body of an elderly woman, seventy-six years old, with a failing heart, gallstones, and arthritis, trudging from specialist to specialist, clinic to clinic, hospital to hospital, trying to find relief, and being told repeatedly that none of her conditions met the established criteria that would allow immediate medical intervention, so she'd have to wait her turn.

True enough, perhaps, on paper. True enough according to the numbers the medical facilities had used to encode her diagnoses for the government computers.

True enough: Her heart failure had been gauged as Grade II, which meant the old pump was failing, its reserve low enough to make a breathless chore of walking a single block, but still pumping well enough to keep her from being completely incapacitated; Grade II heart failure warranted only a limited work-up and certainly not aggressive therapy.

True enough: Her Grade II gallbladder disease did not trigger attacks of sufficient severity to yellow her skin or generate enough unremitting pain to warrant emergency surgery, but her rattling gallstones did cause her daily abdominal distress and incessant belching, and she lived in constant fear of another attack, so much so that each meal had become a form of gastric Russian roulette.

True enough: The Grade III arthritis in her hip elicited a bolt of pain whenever she went up or down a stair, and her spine was arthritic enough to cause it to stiffen like a rusty gate whenever she sat or reclined for more than fifteen minutes, which made rising from a chair or getting out of bed each morning an excruciating ordeal; but her symptoms —when adjusted for age —did not code severe enough (you needed Grade V) under the federal guidelines to warrant hip surgery or even one of the newer, more potent anti-inflammatory medications that were in such short supply; she'd have to make do with the older, more tried-and-true (and lower-priced) generics.

All true enough —when each condition was considered one at a time. If she had been afflicted with just the arthritis, or merely the gallstones, or simply the heart failure, she could have handled it. And she even might have coped fairly well with a combination of any two of them.

But all three?

The triple whammy was slowly doing her in, melting her days into exhausted blurs, nibbling away at her quality of life to the point where she'd begun to wonder whether life was worth living any longer.

Why wasn't there a code for the quality of life? Why couldn't the computers add up a person's Grade II's and Grade III's and send up a red flag that said Help when they reached a certain critical number —regardless of age?

Was that what it was going to be like? Number-coded doctors treating the number-coded diseases afflicting number-coded patients? There had to be another way.

But what?

"Quinn?" It was Tim's voice. "Yo, Quinn. Where are you? Come back to us."

Quinn shook herself. "I'm, uh, thinking," she said.

"Good," Tim said. "I thought you were in a trance. Come up with anything?"

"No," she said. "No solution. Sooner or later the politicians and bureaucrats are going to take over completely. They can control the funds and the distribution of their so-called resources —and they'll consider us 'resources' too —but they can't control the delivery of compassion, can they?"

Judy groaned but Tim cut her off with a karate-chop wave of his hand.

Tim nodded. "You said it. The empty suits will try to get into the hospital charts, into the operating rooms, into the office records, even into the examining rooms." He tapped his chest. "They'll even try to get in here, and believe me, plenty of times they'll succeed, but they can't get a piece of that special chemistry that happens between a doctor and a patient unless we let them. And part of that chemistry is compassion. Empathy."

"The floor's getting gooey with idealism," Judy said. "How about a little realism here?"

"We're still students," Tim said. "We're not supposed to be realists. That comes later. For the moment let's believe in the healing power of compassion."

Quinn saw the fire in his eyes, the ferocity in his tight smile, and knew she'd found a kindred spirit. She raised a fist to chin level and responded with a smile of her own.

"Compassion," she said. "Let 'em find a procedure code for that."

 

 

MONITORING

 

"I believe it's time to start the night music," Alston said. "What do you think?"

Louis Verran concealed his annoyance as Alston stood with his hands behind his back and leaned forward over his shoulder, studying the main console.

Right, Verran thought. Like he almost knows what he's looking at.

"You're the boss," he said, not meaning a word of it. In this room Louis Verran was the boss.

Alston pointed to one of the read-outs. "My goodness, what's going on in room 107."

Verran glanced up. The mattress weight sensor for bed B had risen into the red.

"Looks like some extra bodies on the bed. I'd guesstimate about four."

Alston's eye widened. "Really? What on earth could they be doing?"

"Probably an orgy," Verran said, keeping his face deadpan. "Don't you wish we had video?"

"Certainly not. Turn up the audio and let's hear what's going on."

Verran activated the audio. All of the rooms had been wired with tiny electret microphones. The sound of male voices quizzing each other on hepatic histology swelled through the speakers.

"Orgy indeed!" Alston said. He pointed to another read-out panel. "Look at room 224. What's —?"

Verran took a deep puff on his cigar and floated a trio of blue-white smoke rings. He watched with concealed amusement as Alston backed away, waving his hand through the air.

"Must you, Louis?"

"If you can't stand the smoke," Verran muttered, "stay away from the console."

He glanced at Alston and was startled by the fury that flashed across his features. It showed only for an instant, then was gone as if it had never been, and the prissy, supercilious expression was back in control. But Verran realized his remark had caused the mask to slip and allowed a darker side of Dr. Arthur Alston to peek through.

Verran glanced at Kurt and Elliot. Both of his assistants were busy at their own consoles, checking the mattress sensors to see who was in bed and who wasn't. They gave no indication that they had heard or seen anything. Good. They'd learned quickly to act oblivious to the squabbles between their boss and Dr. Alston. Verran had known them both when he'd been with the CIA. He'd hired them away from the Company when he'd landed this job.

Elliot and Kurt —the tortoise and the hare.

Elliot was careful, meticulous, one of the best electronic surveillance jockeys in the business. He could bug a room six ways from Sunday with no one the wiser. But he'd been stopped on the street in Costa Rica one night and couldn't explain all the electronic junk in his trunk. Spent one very rough week in an Alajuela jail before the Company could extricate him. Elliot never spoke of that week, but even now he got quiet and twitchy whenever anyone mentioned jail. After the Costa Rica incident, he refused any and all foreign assignments. Which meant his career was dead in the water.

Kurt was fast on his feet but a little flaky. He had gained a reputation around the Company as something of a loose cannon and had been passed over a number of times when promotions came around. It was obvious he wasn't going to move any farther up the ladder.

Neither had hesitated when Verran offered them jobs at the Ingraham. He'd never regretted it, and neither had they.

But he did regret having to deal with Alston. Even so, Verran wouldn't have made that kind of crack if Alston were his direct superior. But after seeing Alston's ferocious reaction, Verran was suddenly very glad that he didn't have to answer to the man. He had a feeling life could be pretty shitty for an underling who got on the good doctor's bad side. Fortunately, security had its own responsibilities, separate from Alston's education bailiwick. They both answered to the Foundation, however. And the Foundation, of course, answered to Mr. Kleederman.

Verran had never met Mr. Kleederman and had not the slightest desire to do so.

"I assure you, Louis," Alston said levelly, "I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to be. I don't enjoy your smoky presence any more than you enjoy mine."

Verran put his cigar in the ashtray —he would let it sit there and go out as a peace-making gesture. Besides, he needed peace to function in this job.

Maybe he'd been letting Alston get too far under his skin. The creep was a long-term irritation, like his ulcer, and he'd have to learn to live with him, just like he'd learned to live with the gnawing hunger-like pain in his gut. But if the undercurrent of hostility between them broke out into the open, it could impinge on Verran's concentration. And he couldn't allow that. Security at The Ingraham was a seven-days-a-week, around-the-clock process that ruled his life ten months a year. And he was good at his job. Damn good. There'd been a few glitches over the years, and a couple of close calls, but he and Alston had been able to keep them nice and quiet, with no one —except the Foundation —the wiser.

So, like it or not, he and Alston had to work together, or their heads could wind up on the chopping block.

"I've got nothing against you, Doc. It's just that we're dealing with delicate equipment here. State-of-the-art sensors and pick-ups. Very temperamental. I get nervous when anybody but me or Kurt of Elliot gets near it. This stuff is my baby and I'm a protective daddy. So don't take it personal."

Alston accepted the truce with a slight nod of his head. "I understand. No offense taken. It's forgotten."

Right, Verran thought. Tightasses never forget.

"So," Alston said, clearing his throat with a sound like a record needle skipping to another track, "it seems to me that we've given them enough time to acclimate to their new surroundings. A few weeks should suffice for anyone. All the equipment is in a state of readiness, I assume?"

"The SLI units are ready and waiting. Every room in the dorm is on line and working like a dream."

"Excellent. And our new charges, are they all behaving themselves? No bad apples in the bunch?"

"All but one: the Brown kid."

"Timothy Brown? The high-IQ boy from New Hampshire? What's he been up to?"

Alston's ability to recognize each student's face and reel off their vital statistics never failed to amaze Verran. It was the one thing about Alston he envied.

"All-nighters," Verran said.

"We certainly don't discourage studying, Louis."

"No. I mean out all night. Off campus."

"Really?" Alston frowned with concern. "That's not good. Where?"

"Baltimore, I think."

"How often?"

"Twice, so far."

"Weekday nights?"

"Let me check." Verran swiveled to his computer keyboard and punched in Brown's room number. His data file scrolled down the screen. "One Tuesday into Wednesday, and one Saturday into Sunday."

"Hmmm. I don't like that mid-week absence. Let's hope he doesn't make a habit of it. We'll have to come down on him if he does, but we'll let it go for now. I don't particularly care about the weekends. Any night music they hear on weekends is a lagniappe anyway. But do keep a close watch on young Mister Brown. I do not want another fiasco like two years ago."

Verran's stomach burned at the memory. Neither did he. One of those was enough for a lifetime.

"Will do," he said. "You're the boss."

Alston smiled and it looked almost genuine. "You sound so convincing when you say that, Louis."

"Well, you are the DME, after all."

"Yes. The maestro, as it were. Very well, strike up the band and let The Ingraham's nocturnal concert series begin."

He turned and headed for the door, humming a tune Verran recognized from The Phantom of the Opera... "The Music of the Night."

 

 

OCTOBER

 

Carbenamycin (Carbocin - Kleederman Plarm.), the new macrolide released just two years ago, has become the number-one-selling antibiotic in the world.

P.M.A. News

 

 

CHAPTER TEN

 

A warm day for October, with a high, bright sun cooking the asphalt of the parking lot like summer. Good driving weather.

"Are you sure you don't want some company?" Tim said, leaning against the driver's door of his car and speaking through the open window. "I'll even do the driving."

"Any other time and I'd say yes," Quinn said as she adjusted the seat belt. "But this is personal."

He reached through the window and gripped her shoulder. His voice rose in a panicky quaver.

"Oh, no, Quinn! Not another abortion. This makes three this year! I told you I'd stand by you!"

A fellow student who had a seat near hers in histology lab was passing nearby. His head whipped in their direction and he almost tripped on the curb, but he recovered and hurried past.

Quinn fixed her eyes straight ahead as she felt her cheeks go crimson. She tried to keep her voice level.

"I hate you, Timothy Brown. It's as simple as that. Even if you lend me this car every day for the next four years, I will still hate you forever."

He flashed his boyish smile and slapped the roof.

"Take good care of Griffin for me, drive carefully, and wear shorts more often —you've got dynamite legs."

Her cheeks didn't cool until she reached the highway, then she smiled and shook her head. My third abortion? How did he come up with things like that?

She checked the gas gauge and saw that it read full. He was a clown, but a considerate clown.

She found Route 70 and followed it east. Company would have been nice, but how could she explain to Tim this need to learn about their cadaver?

She took the inner loop on 695 to York Road in Towson and followed that south. She almost cruised past the Towson Library without seeing it. Not because it was small. It was huge, but it looked like the town had used the same architect as the Berlin Wall. With all that bare, exposed concrete it looked about as warm and inviting as a bomb shelter.

Inside wasn't much better, but the friendliness of the librarians went a long way toward countering the bunker decor. They gave her a stack of back issues of the Towson Times, the local weekly, and she began to search through the obits. There weren't many. Quinn was beginning to worry that the Times might print only select obituaries when she spotted the heading:

 

Dorothy Havers, long time

Towson resident. Age 82

 

Dorothy O'Boyle Havers, the only daughter of Francis and Catherine O'Boyle, both Irish immigrants, died on July 12 of natural causes at the Laurel Hills Medical Center. Prior to that she had been a resident of the Towson Nursing Center for seven years. Mrs. Havers was predeceased by her husband, Earl, and by her two daughters, Catherine and Francine. No plans for viewing or burial were announced.

 

Ireland... Dorothy came over from Ireland... just like her mother. And she'd died right next door to The Ingraham.

Quinn reread the obit and was swept by a wave of sadness. Of course no plans for viewing or burial were announced. There was nobody to view her remains, nobody left to mourn at her grave side. Husband dead, children dead, seven years in a nursing home, probably without a single visitor, completely forgotten, no one caring if she lived or died. So she'd willed her body to The Ingraham.

Poor woman.

But what had she died of? That might be interesting to know during the dissection. She wondered if they'd know at the Towson Nursing Center. How far could it be?

Quinn xeroxed off a copy of the obituary, then went looking for a phone.

 

 

 

"Dorothy Havers?" said Virginia Bennett, R.N., head nurse at the Towson Nursing Center. "I remember that name. You say you're releated to her?"

"Her great niece," Quinn said.

She'd discovered the Towson Nursing Center was a couple of miles from the library, so she'd stopped in to learn what she could. The one-story dark brick building seemed about as pleasant as something called a nursing home could be. Elderly men and women sat in wheelchairs around the foyer while others inched by with the aid of four-footed canes. A vague odor of urine suffused the air, like olfactory muzak.

"Well, I'll be." Nurse Bennett scratched the side of her neck with short, scarlet fingernails. She had ebony skin, gray hair, and a bulldog face, but seemed pleasant enough. "We searched high and low for a next of kin last year when we were getting ready to transfer her to the medical center. Couldn't find anybody. Fig ured she was alone in the world."

"We have a common relative in Ireland," Quinn said, amazed at how easily the lies tripped off her tongue. She'd figured no one would tell her a thing about Dorothy unless they thought she was related. "I just happened to come across her name while I was researching the family's medical history. Was she very sick?"

"Just a little heart failure, if I remember. But Dr. Clifton —he's one of our doctors —is very conservative. He refers patients to the medical center at the first sign of trouble. But he's top notch. A graduate of the Ingraham, you know."

"Really? That's good to know."

"But what sort of family history were you looking for?"

"There's ovarian cancer in one of my aunts and I was wondering..."

"Very important," Nurse Bennett said, jabbing a finger at Quinn. "But I don't know a thing about Mrs. Havens, so I can't —" She glanced past Quinn. "Wait. There's Dr. Clifton now. Maybe he can help you. Dr. Clifton? Could we see you a minute?"

Quinn turned and saw a young, dark-haired doctor, surely not much older than thirty, entering through a rear door, dressed in a sport coat and carrying a black bag.

"Dr. Clifton," Nurse Bennett said as he approached the desk. "You remember Dorothy Havers, don't you? This is her great niece."

It almost looked to Quinn as if Dr. Clifton stumbled a step. He blinked twice, then smiled.

"I didn't know Dotty had a great niece, or any kind of relative at all."

Quinn repeated her story about the Ireland link, and about researching the family medical history. The lies came easier the second time around.

"No," Dr. Clifton said. "Dotty had no history of cancer of any sort. Her main problem was arteriosclerosis —coronary and cerebral. We were sorry to lose her this summer. She was a nice lady."

"I wish I'd known her," Quinn said, and that wasn't a lie. "Was she in bad heart failure when you transferred her to the medical center?"

"Bad enough in my clinical opinion to need more intense care than a nursing home could provide," he said stiffly. "Is there a point to these questions, Miss... ?"

"Sheedy," Quinn said, barely missing a beat. "No. Just curious."

"Well, then, as much as I'd like to satisfy your curiosity, Miss Sheedy, I have rounds to make. Excuse me."

"Not much of a bedside manner," Quinn said after he'd hurried off.

"Must have had a bad day," Nurse Bennett said. "Usually he's very easy going."

Not today, Quinn thought. Today he's downright defensive.

As she left the Towson Nursing Center, she noticed the small print on the entry plaque: Owned and operated by Kleederman Medical Industries.

KMI is everywhere, she thought. I guess I'll be pretty well connected after I graduate.

She wondered why she took no comfort in that.

She pulled the folded copy of Dorothy Havers' obituary from her pocket and reread it.

"There's no one left to remember you, is there, Dorothy Havens," she said softly. "Tell you what. I'll remember you, with gratitude, for the rest of my life. And maybe I can get someone else to remember you too."

 

 

 

"Well, now. Look at you."

Quinn glanced up from her dissection of the Accessory Nerve to see Tim peering at her from the other side of their cadaver. He'd just arrived, late as usual.

"What's the matter with me?" she said.

"Here she is, the gal who was turning three shades of green out in the hall before her first An Lab last month, and look at her now: Having lunch with her cadaver."

Quinn paused. Tim was right. She hadn't given it any thought, but she had come a long way since that first day when she'd feared she was going to toss her cookies as soon as she stepped into this room. She hardly noticed the smell anymore, and here she was, barely a month later, sitting with her nose in her dissection of the rhomboid muscles, a Pepsi to her left by the cadaver's shoulder, and a half-eaten Twinkie to her right by the hip.

"A testament to the human organism's adaptability, I suppose," she said.

"And how."

Quinn watched him open his kit, pull the damp cloth off his dissection, and sit down. Only his head was visible on the far side as he got to work. She'd been debating how to broach a certain subject with him and figured now was as good a time as any.

"I've been thinking," Quinn said.

"Careful. That can be dangerous. Habit forming, even."

"Seriously. I want to name our cadaver."

Tim glanced up at her. "Yeah? Well, why not? Kevin and Jerry named theirs Auntie Griselda. We can name ours Skinny Minnie."

"No. I mean give it a real name. A person's name."

He went back to his rhomboids. "Any particular name in mind?"

"Dorothy."

"Dorothy... like Dorothy of the Oz variety?"

"Exactly."

"Should we scare up a little dead dog and name it Toto?"

God, he could be annoying at times. "I don't know why I even bothered."

Tim must have tuned in to her tone. He glanced up again. "Okay. Dorothy it is. We can call her Dot."

"No," Quinn said firmly. "Not Dot. Dorothy."

"Why is this suddenly so important?"

Quinn had hoped he wouldn't ask that. She couldn't tell him, That's her name, and she wasn't sure how to answer otherwise without sounding like some sort of wimp.

"I've got my reasons," she said. "But you're going to think they're corny and sappy."

Tim set down his instruments and leaned forward. "Try me."

"All right." She took a deep breath and rattled off her rationale: "I want to call her a real name because she was a real person when she was alive and I think it's only fair that we think of her as a 'she' or a 'her' instead of an 'it.' And as we whittle her away and she stops looking like something even remotely human, maybe we can still think of her as a person if she's got a person's name. Dot isn't very human. It's like a punctuation mark. But Dorothy sounds pretty neighborly and very human —even without a dog."

Tim's lips were struggling against a smile as he stared at her. Finally it broke through.

"You're right," he said. "Those are very corny and sappy reasons. But if it's important to you, then it's a done deal. From now on, our friend on the table is Dorothy. Do we want to give her a last name?"

"No." God, no. The first name was already too close to reality. "Just Dorothy should do fine."

She'll like that. I hope.

Tim was still staring at her.

"What?" she said.

"Dorothy's her real name, isn't it. How did you find out?"

She was stunned. How did he know? "Tim, you're nuts. I —"

"Truth, Quinn: How'd you find out?"

She hesitated, then decided he should know. After all, he was dissecting her too.

She told him everything, from finding the toe tag to Dr. Clifton's cool response to her questions.

Tim grinned. "Probably afraid you were some money-hungry relative fishing for a hint of malpractice. I hear it's a jungle out there."

Harrison walked up then, his teaching-assistant smirk firmly in place.

"Late again, Brown?"

"Was I?" Tim said. "I didn't check the clock when I came in."

"I did. And you were late —the third time this week. You're batting a thousand, Brown." He pointed to Tim's dissection. "Let's see what you've learned here. The Accessory is which cranial nerve?"

"The twelfth," Tim said.

"Name the other eleven."

Tim rattled them off.

"Okay," Harrison said. He withdrew a pointer from his pocket and poked at Tim's dissection. "Identify these tissues here."

Tim scorched through them without a miss. Quinn knew he was comparing his dissection to his mental photographs from the pages of Gray's.

"Well, apparently you've learned something from this, although I don't see how. Looks like you've been working with a chainsaw instead of a scalpel. Where is your technique, Brown?"

"I think I left it with your tact," Tim said with his little-boy smile.

Harrison stood statue-still for an instant, as if not quite sure that he had heard correctly and listening carefully in case it might be repeated. Then his smirk curved into a reluctant but genuine smile.

"One for you, Brown." He turned to Quinn. "By the way, Cleary. Dr. Emerson asked me to tell you to stop by his office in the faculty building after lab."

The words startled Quinn. "Me? Did he say why?"

"Something about a job."

Harrison strolled away toward another table.

"There he goes," Tim said in a low voice, "leaving a trail of slime as he —"

"He almost seemed human there for a moment," Quinn said.

"Almost. What do you think Emerson wants with you?"

"I haven't the faintest."

"Got to watch out for these old guys."

"What do you mean?"

Tim winked. "Wear an extra pair of pantyhose."

Quinn almost threw her scalpel at him.

 

 

 

Walter Emerson sat in his oak-paneled faculty building office, poring over the latest print-outs on 9574. The new data were good, better than he'd hoped for. This compound was going to revolutionize—

"You wanted to see me, Dr. Emerson?"

He glanced up and saw the slim young strawberry blonde standing in his doorway, exactly as she had last December when she'd arrived for her interview. And looking no less apprehensive now, as well might any first-year student who'd been summoned to the office of one of the professors.

A sight for sore eyes, he thought. That is, if you don't mind cliches and have a weakness for slim young strawberry blondes.

"Miss Cleary. Yes. Yes, I did. Come in. Have a seat. Do you want some coffee?"

She shook her head as she seated herself in the leather chair opposite his desk. "No thanks."

"Just as well," he said. "By this time of day, the coffee's not fit for human consumption. Even the lab rats won't touch it."

She was gracious enough to smile politely at his weak attempt at humor.

"Harrison mentioned something about a job," she said.

"Yes. I need a research assistant. The pay is modest, to say the least, but it's respectable."

"Really?" she said, her already large blue eyes widening further. "You want me?"

"That is, after all, why I asked you to come here."

"But what about my studies?"

"It's a part-time job and the work is easy. Actually, you'll soon find out that research assistant is a euphemism for dishwasher and all-purpose gofer. But you'll be working on the sacrosanct fifth floor of the Science Center, and between bouts of scut work you'll get a first-hand look at neuropharmacological research that I promise will prove useful later on in your schooling here. And we can arrange your hours around your class and lab schedule."

Walter watched her chew her lower lip, weighing the pros and cons. The student who had been his assistant last year had moved on to his clinical duties and was now spending his afternoons learning from the patients in the medical center. Walter needed an extra hand around here and he knew she needed the money.

"How much... ?"

"Ten dollars an hour."

"Can I give it a trial run?" she said after another, briefer pause. "I'd really like to do it but I don't want to commit to the job and then find out it's eating into my study time too much."

"That would be fine," Walter said. "We'll give you three or four weeks —till the first of November, say. At that point you can either sign on for the year or send me looking for someone else."

She smiled. The room brightened. "Okay. Great."

"Wonderful. Tomorrow's your early afternoon. Come up to Fifth Science and I'll show you around. You can officially start then."

"I'll be there," she said, rising. She turned at the door, her expression troubled, hesitant. "But... why me?"

"Pardon?" He wasn't prepared for that question.

"There are forty-nine other students in the class. Why'd you ask me?"

"Because..."

How could he put this? He didn't want her to think he looked on her as a charity case. Of course he'd checked out her parents' financial statement and it was obvious she could use the income. But that wasn't the prime criterion. Walter had watched her in the An Lab, spoken to her, eavesdropped on her interaction with her fellow students, and he'd come to realize that his first impression had been correct: Quinn Cleary was one of the good ones, one of the rare birds that came along only once in a great while. She was going places. And once she got out of here and into the real world she was going to buff the shine on The Ingraham's already bright name. Walter didn't want anything — especially the shortage of a few dollars —to get between Quinn Cleary and her medical degree.

And of course it didn't hurt that she reminded him so much of Clarice.

"Because I think that not only can you do the job, but perhaps you can make a contribution as well."

That smile again. "Okay. I'll sure try."

And then she was gone, and Walter Emerson's office descended into relative gloom.

 

 

 

"So it's legit?" Tim said. "He's not just some dirty old man?"

He had stopped by Quinn's room to see what Dr. Emerson had wanted and was stretched out on the extra bed, hands behind his head.

"Actually, he's a rather clean old man," Quinn said. She swiveled quickly in her desk chair and pointed to him. "Source?"

"Easy: A Hard Day's Night. I think McCartney said it first, but each of them used the line eventually."

Quinn shrugged resignedly. She should have known. If Tim could spot a line from A Thousand Clowns, a Beatles movie would be easy pickings.

Tim sat up on the edge of the bed. He worked a folded envelope out of the back pocket of his jeans and held it up.

"And now my news. My folks sent down a bunch of my mail from home and guess what? The Taj comped me a room."

"What language are you speaking?"

He smiled. "English. The Taj Mahal —that's Trump's big casino in A.C. —has offered me a free room any night I want between November first and February 28th."

"Why would they want to do that?"

"I used to be a regular winner there last winter and spring, right after I turned 21. But I haven't been back for some time. They probably think I'm gambling at that new place the Indians opened in Connecticut and they want me back."

"Why would they want you back if you won money from them? I'd think they'd be glad you went somewhere else."

"Because the odds are in their favor. They don't care if I've won in the past. All they want is my action."

"Action?"

"Yeah. My play. They figure if I play there long enough, they'll get their money back. What they don't like is my taking the money I won from them and losing it at a competitor's tables. They want me to lose it at their tables."

"Are you going?"

"Of course. And you're invited."

Quinn laughed. "To spend the night with you in an Atlantic City hotel room? Now who's the dirty old man?"

"I'm not old. And besides, the room'll have two double beds. You could have your own."

"That's good of you."

"Of course, if you got lonely during the night and wanted me to —"

"Dream on, Brown."

"Okay, but seriously, I'd like to show you how I work these places. It'll be fun."

"And what'll I be? Your good luck charm?"

"Quinn, babes, if I had to depend on luck I wouldn't get within ten miles of a casino. Luck is a sucker bet. What do you say?"

She looked at his eager face and wondered. She'd turn down a similar proposition from anyone else she'd known for so brief a time. Turn it down flat. But Tim... somehow she trusted Tim.

"I'll give you a definite maybe. Let's think about it."

"Great. I was looking at the second weekend in November, right after the big anatomy midterm. We'll need a break then. How's that sound?"

"We'll see."

He waved and headed for the door. "Okay. It's a deal. Second weekend in November. Don't forget."

"Tim —"

But he was already out in the hall.

Quinn couldn't help smiling as she swiveled back and forth in her desk chair. A weekend in Atlantic City with Tim. That could be fun. She'd never been to a casino in her life.

But sharing a room...

What am I afraid of? Tim?

No. That wasn't it. She liked Tim —found herself liking him more each passing day. Liked him too much, maybe. Sometimes, when he was sitting near her, she had this urge to reach over and stroke his cheek, or the nape of his neck.

Maybe she was afraid of getting carried away. Maybe it went further than that. Maybe it was involvement she was afraid of. Hadn't George Washington told the country to avoid foreign entanglements? That was what she'd managed to do through her four years at U. Conn. She'd dated plenty —sweet guys, determined gropers, and the whole spectrum between —but through it all she'd kept her emotional distance. No foreign entanglements.

And frankly, no one had really moved her.

The last time she had been involved —really involved —had been in high school, and that had been a disaster. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe it all went back to Bobby Roca.

She turned back to her desk and cleared thoughts of men and hotel rooms and November from her head and concentrated on her pathology notes. Tomorrow was the immediate concern. She had to do some extra booking tonight to make up for the loss of study time tomorrow afternoon when she'd be starting in Dr. Emerson's lab.

 

 

MONITORING

 

Louis Verran cursed around his cigar as he adjusted the volume from room 252. It didn't help, just made the static louder. He'd heard Atlantic City mentioned and that was about it.

Alston wanted a close watch on those two first-year kids, Brown and Cleary. They were being nice and cooperative about it by spending lots of time together in either Cleary's room or Brown's. Verran appreciated the two-fer. Too bad they weren't boffing each other. That would have made the surveillance a little more interesting.

And now the pick-up in 252 was so full of static, he probably couldn't even tell if they were screwing. Electret mikes were just about the hardiest on the market. Weren't supposed to go bad early in the first semester.

Damn. He resisted the impulse to bang on the control panel —the problem wasn't here, it was in the dorm —and turned to Kurt.

"The audio from 252 is for shit. When was the last time it was replaced?"

"I'll check." He tapped his keyboard a few times, then looked up at Verran. "Two years come December. What's up? It checked out fine during the summer."

"It's dying."

"I'll put it down for replacement over Thanksgiving break."

"Can't wait till then," Verran said. "I'll do it myself tomorrow."

"Elliot can stay late and —"

"I'll handle it."

Kurt and Elliot were capable, but Verran believed in keeping their exposure to the student body at a minimum. Especially Kurt. He was good looking and all the more memorable for his shaggy blonde hair. Someone would remember him wandering through the dorms. And if challenged, Kurt could be trouble. He had a mean streak.

But as Chief of Security, Verran had the entire campus as his stomping grounds. And sometime tomorrow morning he'd be stomping through Ms. Cleary's room while she was out.

 

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

The beige brick front of the Science Center loomed over Quinn as she hurried up the slope. The double-wide glass doors slid open at her approach. She hurried through the high-ceilinged, marbled-floored lobby and headed directly for the elevators. Usually her energy was scraping bottom by this time in the afternoon, but today she was up and excited. Today she started her new job.

"Excuse me," said a woman's voice to her right.

Quinn turned and saw a heavy-set black woman looking at her from behind the circular counter of the security desk.

"Me?"

"Can I help you, Miss?"

Quinn stepped closer. The woman's badge read Charlene Turner. She wore a smile but her eyes and manner were all business.

"I'm supposed to meet Dr. Emerson upstairs this afternoon," Quinn told her.

"Fifth floor?" she said, her expression dubious. "He's going to meet you on Fifth? What's your name?"

"Cleary."

The woman tapped something into her keyboard and checked her screen.

"You're not down for an appointment. What time he tell you?"

"No time. He just said to come by after class this afternoon. I'm going to be working for him."

"Ah. Why didn't you say so?" More tapping on her keyboard. "Now I got you. Cleary, Quinn —student assistant to Dr. Emerson."

"Right," Quinn said. "I can go upstairs now?"

"Not so fast. You're not official yet." Charlene Turner flipped through a file drawer and withdrew a manila envelope. From it she produced an ID badge and something that looked like a credit card. She compared the photo on the badge to Quinn.

"Yeah, that's you all right." She handed both across the counter. "The badge goes on your coat or blouse or some other visible place as soon as you enter this building, and it stays there as long as you're in here. The other goes in your wallet. Don't lose it. Big trouble if you do."

The ID badge listed her name and Department of Neuropharmacology assignment next to a photo that looked like a copy of the one she'd submitted with her application. Quinn immediately clipped it to the belt on her slacks. But the card...

"What is this?"

"Your security key," Charlene Turner said. "You can't get to the fifth floor without it."

"Key?"

The card said "Science Center" on the dark blue side, with an arrow pointing away from the "S;" the other side was white with a brown strip running across on the flip side of the arrow.

"Yeah. It's got a magnetic code in that little strip at the end. That's the business end. Just stick it face up into the slot in the elevator and you'll be on your way."

"Okay. Thanks."

They do go a little overboard on their security here, Quinn thought as she headed for the elevators.

One of the pair was standing open when she got there. The car was deep —deep enough for a hospital bed. Inside on the control panel were six buttons for floors 1 through 5 plus the basement. Next to the 5 and the B were pairs of little indicator lights. The red one was glowing next to each. On a hunch, Quinn inserted her card —her key —into the slot above the row of buttons and pressed 5. To the accompaniment of a soft click, the red light next to 5 went off and its companion lit up green. The elevator doors closed and the car started up.

"All right," Quinn said, smiling as she removed the key and slipped it into her pocket. She had a key that let her go where only a select few were allowed. It was exciting. She felt as if she'd arrived, as if she belonged.

Stepping out on the fifth floor, she was lost for a moment. No one was in the hall and she didn't know where to turn. She tried to remember the layout from the tour last Christmas and got the feeling she should head to her right.

And then she saw the glass plate in the wall —the window onto the place called Ward C.

She stopped in the center of the hall. She'd forgotten completely about Ward C. Now it was all back, especially the eyes. She remembered peering through that window and meeting that pair of dull blue eyes staring up at her from within their gauze frame, remembered the questing look in them, remembered the tears as she'd moved away.

How had she forgotten? Why had she forgotten? Too painful a memory? Too disturbing?

As if in the grip of some invisible hand that had reached through the glass from the burn ward and taken hold of her, Quinn gravitated to the window. She couldn't resist. She stopped before it and gazed within.

It was the same... the gauze-swathed bodies on their air mattresses, still, white shapes under their sheets, the IVs, the feeding tubes, the catheters, the blue, green, red, yellow patches on their limbs and trunks, the nurses gliding among them like benevolent phantoms, turning them, examining them, ministering to their unspoken needs. Not a whisper of sound penetrated the glass... like watching a silent movie.

Quinn hesitated, then forced herself to look down at the bed directly before the window, fearing yet yearning for the sight of that same pair of blue eyes, wondering if that person were still here, still in pain, still alive.

The form on the bed by the window was sleeping. Yet even though the eyes were closed, Quinn knew it wasn't the same patient. This one seemed female. Smaller, narrower in the shoulders, a hint of breasts mounded under the gauze—

"Miss Cleary?"

Quinn spun, jolted by the voice. Dr. Emerson was standing behind her.

"I didn't mean to startle you, but they called from downstairs to let me know you were on your way up. When you didn't show..."

"I wasn't sure where to go."

He smiled. "My fault. I should have realized that and had someone watching for you." He glanced at the burn ward window. "This is where we first crossed paths, I believe."

Quinn remembered... the blue-eyed patient, his obvious pain, Dr. Emerson directing the nurse to medicate him.

"Yes. The orientation tour."

"And now you're back in the same spot."

"It's these patients. They're..."

Quinn didn't know how to express her feelings without sounding theatrical, but something about these unknown, faceless, helpless people was drawing her to them. She sensed a need in that ward, and an urge within herself to fulfill it.

"The other patients in the medical center next door come and go," Dr. Emerson said. "But these are our orphans, the homeless, the ones nobody wants. They need more care than a nursing home can provide, yet no hospital can afford to keep them. So they wind up here, at the Science Center, where they allow us to try experimental cures for their damaged skin."

Quinn swallowed. "Experimental?"

He laughed. "You say that as if we're mad scientists, Miss Cleary. All the patients here on Fifth are experimental subjects. They or their families have applied to come here. There's even a waiting list."

"For experimental treatment?"

"Every new drug and every therapeutic advance such as Dr. Alston's semi-synthetic skin grafts goes through exhaustive testing on mice and dogs and monkeys before it's even considered for use in a human being. And once all that testing has been reviewed by the FDA and found suitably safe, then it's tested in human volunteers. Very carefully tested."

Quinn glanced through the window. "But these —"

"Are all volunteers. Or have been given over to our care by their families. You hear about new AIDS drugs being tested. Who do you think they're tested on? AIDS victims. And cholesterol-lowering agents. Who are they tested on? People with high cholesterol. And on whom else can you test new skin grafts but burn victims? Here Dr. Alston and his staff have taken on the toughest burn cases, the ones who've been failed by conventional therapy." He moved up to the window and stared into the ward. His voice softened. "And for the residents of Ward C, The Ingraham is their last, best hope."

"Why the colored patches?" Quinn asked.

"Color coding for different strains of Dr. Alston's grafts. You see, he takes samples of a patient's healthy skin —and on some of these poor devils that's not easy to find —and grows sheets of new cells in cultures. Then he coats the micromesh he's synthesized with the patient's own DNA. The body's immune system does not react against it's own DNA, therefore there's no rejection of the mesh. The skin cells in the mesh begin to multiply, and soon you've got a patch of healthy skin. It's worked wonders in the animal studies. He's maybe two years away from approval by the FDA."

Quinn almost wished she were working for Dr. Alston. Dr. Emerson seemed to be reading her mind.

"I never told you, but your duties in my department will have an impact on the burn patients."

Quinn pointed through the window. "You mean —?"

He gestured down the hall. "Let me show you my lab and things will be clearer."

The prospect of dealing with real live patients pumped up Quinn's already soaring excitement as she accompanied Dr. Emerson down the hall. She followed him past the nurses station and through a narrow doorway.

"Not very glamorous, I'm afraid," he said. "But here's the front section of my little domain."

A small room, its walls lined with desks and computer terminals. A middle-aged woman was hunched over a keyboard, typing madly.

"Alice," Dr. Emerson said, touching her on the shoulder. "This is Quinn Cleary, the student assistant I told you about."

Alice turned and extended her hand to Quinn. She looked about fifty; she wore no make-up, had gray-streaked hair, and unusually dry skin. But her smile was warm and welcoming.

"Am I glad to see you! Are you starting today?"

Quinn glanced at Dr. Emerson. "I'm not sure."

"You're on the payroll as of today," he said, "so you might as well."

"Great!" Alice said. "We're so backed up on data entry, you wouldn't believe! Take a seat and I'll —"

"I think I'll give her the tour first, Alice," Dr. Emerson said with a tolerant smile.

"Oh, right. Sure. Of course. Go ahead. I'll be here when you're through."

Dr. Emerson then led Quinn through a door at the rear of the office. Immediately she noticed a pungent odor. She sniffed.

"Still noticeable?" Dr. Emerson said.

"Something is."

"This used to be the vivarium. Lined with rat cages. But we moved the little fellows back down to the fourth floor. Not many left. We're long since past that stage." He gestured to the work stations where two technicians were measuring minute amounts of amber fluid into pipettes and inserting them into a wide assortment of autoanalytical machines. "This is where we used to sacrifice them. Now we've converted this area to analysis of the sera we draw from the patients."

"The Ward C patients?"

"Yes."

Quinn's face must have reflected her confusion because Dr. Emerson nodded and motioned her back the way they had come.

"Follow me."

They passed Alice again, who turned and looked up at them expectantly.

"Not quite yet, Alice."

Quinn followed him out into the hall to the nurses station.

"Marguerite," he said to the slim, middle-aged, mocha-skinned nurse at the counter. Her black hair was pulled back into a tight bun; her light eye shadow emphasized her dark, penetrating eyes. "One of the 9574 vials, please."

The nurse reached behind her and plucked a two-ounce bottle from a pocket in the top of the medication cart. She handed it to Dr. Emerson, who in turn handed it to Quinn.

"This," he said, "is the reason Dr. Alston and I have our labs on the same floor. It's the new anesthetic I'm developing. We have no name for it yet, so we refer to it by its entry number in the log when we isolated it. This is the nine thousand five hundred and seventy-fourth compound we've registered at The Ingraham."

Quinn stared at the bottle of clear fluid in her hand. It looked like water.

"So many."

"We've sythesized tens of thousands, but we only register the ones we feel have might have human therapeutic potential."

"It's good?"

"Good?" His entire forehead lifted with his eyebrows. "It's wonderful. Works like a charm. And you know the best part?"

Quinn placed the bottle on the counter. "What?"

"It's non-toxic. That's because it's not a foreign chemical compound but a naturally-occurring neuroamine, secreted in minute amounts in the brainstem during REM sleep."

Quinn couldn't help but smile at him. His enthusiasm was catching. He was like a little boy talking about a rocket voyage to Mars. She didn't want to slow him down, so she prodded him on.

"Really?"

"Yes. You're paralyzed during dream sleep, you know. Oh, yes. Almost completely paralyzed. Otherwise you'd be talking, laughing, and generally thrashing all about in your dreams. Yet your eyes move. You've heard of rapid eye movements —REM sleep —of course. And your chest wall moves, allowing your lungs to breath. So what you've got is a selective paralysis, affecting all the skeletal muscles except the eyes, the intercostals, and the diaphragm. And of course, you're unconscious."

"It paralyzes," Quinn said. "I thought you said it was an anesthetic."

"It is. At higher doses it produces total anesthesia. I'm working on the mechanism for that now, but I do know it's active in the higher centers as well as the brainstem." The years seemed to drop away from him as his enthusiasm grew. "But do you understand what we've got here, Miss Cleary? A potent general anesthetic that causes complete paralysis but allows the patient to continue breathing on his own. The anesthesiologist won't have to intubate and ventilate the patient. It can be used in every kind of surgery except chest procedures; there's zero chance of allergic reaction because 9574 is a human neurohormone —everybody's got their own. And perhaps best of all, there's no post-anesthesia side effects. You come to in the recovery room like someone awakening from a nap." He put his hands on his hips and stared at the bottle like a proud parent. "So. Those are the properties of the neurohormone you'll be working with here. What do you think?"

"It sounds almost too good to be true."

"It does, doesn't it." He began gesturing excitedly with his hands. "But that's not the whole of it. It would be almost perfect with just those features, but it's also completely non-toxic. Its LD50 —"

"Elldee... ?"

"LD50," Dr. Emerson said. "You'll learn all about that as we go. Stands for the lethal dose of a given compound for fifty percent of the experimental animals. Every drug meant for human use must register one. For instance, I take the Kleederman Pharmaceuticals product fenostatin for my cholesterol, a dose of twenty milligrams per day —total. I happen to know that the LD50 of fenostatin is twenty grams per kilogram. In other words, if I gave a hundred lab mice a dose of twenty grams of fenostatin per kilogram of their body weight, fifty of them would die. That's a good LD50. It means that if I became suicidal and stuffed 70,000 twenty-milligram fenostatin tablets down my throat, I'd still have only a fifty percent chance of dying from fenostatin toxicity. Probably rupture my intestines first. But the wonderful thing about 9574 is that it's even less toxic. We haven't found a lethal dose yet."

Triumphant, he threw out his arms and struck the bottle of 9574, sending it skittering toward the end of the counter. Marguerite the nurse leaped out of her seat, knocking it over as she lunged for the bottle. She caught it just as it went off the end and dropped toward the floor. Then she slumped there, shaking her head, panting as if she had run a race.

"Thank God you caught that, Marguerite," Dr. Emerson said. He seemed quite upset.

Marguerite straightened and carefully replaced the vial in its slot on the meds cart.

"Dr. Emerson," she said as she righted her chair. "That was too close."

"Amen," he said, then turned to Quinn. "We have precious little of 9574 available. Synthesizing it in quantities would be a simple matter for a commercial lab, but our tiny operation down on the third floor is taxed to its limits to produce what we need here for research purposes. Consequently, we treat it like gold."

"But who are you using it on?"

"Why, the Ward C patients, of course. It's perfect for them."

Quinn was confused. "But why would you want to paralyze them?"

"It's not so much the paralysis we want for them," he said. "It's the anesthesia. Most of the Ward C patients have horrific scarring, thick wads of stiff tissue that resists movement because it's got minimal elasticity. We use 9574 on them during their physical therapy sessions. It allows the therapists to stretch their limbs and exercise their joints to prevent flexion contractures. If left alone, most of them would end up curled into the fetal position. Without 9574 the pain of physical therapy would be unendurable."

"But didn't you say the lower dose paralyzes, and the higher dose anesthetizes? Wouldn't that mean they're completely paralyzed during therapy?" Quinn was starting to feel uncomfortable.

Dr. Emerson turned and looked at her closely. A wry smile worked across his lips.

"You're a quick study, aren't you."

Quinn was suddenly flustered. Had she angered him?

"Well, I don't know... I just —"

"I like that. I like that a lot. Shows you've been listening. But as it works out, the paralysis with 9574 is a harmless side effect for some of the Ward C patients, and an absolute necessity for others." He gestured down the hall. "Let me show you."

They moved the dozen feet or so to the window and stood looking into Ward C. Quinn counted the gauze-wrapped shapes. Seven. All lying still and silent, looking...

"Are they paralyzed now?"

"No," Dr. Emerson said. "Just resting. They sleep a lot. There's not much else they can do. Their scarring is so extensive that they can't move on their own. But for four of them the therapists need the skeletal muscle paralysis that 9574 offers. Those four are brain damaged from their burns."

Quinn tore her eyes away from the ward and looked at him.

"How... ?"

"Anoxia. Either the smoke and heat of the fire itself stole their air, or the shock that goes along with such extensive third-degree burns robbed their brains of sufficient blood flow for too long —either way, lack of oxygen damaged their brains, permanently. All four are disoriented and confused; two are frankly psychotic. The physical therapists would have to fight them all the way without 9574. But with 9574 they can work those limbs and keep the muscles from complete atrophy."

Quinn stared back into the ward and her heart went out to them. "Those poor, poor people." And then a thought struck her. "But even if Dr. Alston's grafts repair their skin, they'll never get any benefit from it."

"True. Their bodies may improve but not their brains. However, their lives will not be wasted. Other burn patients will reap the benefits of what we learn from these poor devils' tragedies." He put a hand gently on her elbow. "But enough philosophizing. It's time to drag you down and introduce you to the more mundane aspects of the daily grind that is medical research. The nitty gritty of gathering raw data, sorting and analyzing it, and organizing it seven hundred different ways in order to satisfy the bureaucrats at the FDA."

 

 

 

That's the trouble with Women's Country, Louis Verran thought as he waited outside the dorm and watched the windows of the south wing's second floor. Too much of a class mix.

Women's Country. Sounded so uppity. The kind of name his ex-wife would have been into after her conversion. Elizabeth, the born-again feminist. She took to the women's movement like a convert to a new religion. Took him to the cleaners, then took off. Good riddance.

Woman's Country? Broads' Country was more like it.

It had been Alston's bright idea —not a bad one, really —to room each class as a unit, generally one class per floor per wing, allowing them to work out study groups, make friends, and generally build a sense of camaraderie. The third- and fourth-year students were out more than they were in due to their clinical training schedules at the medical center, but first- and second-year wing floors went to class together, attended labs together, and ate together. One quick look at the class schedule told you when a certain wing would be deserted.

But Women's Country was different. The broads had formed an enclave of first-, second-, third- and fourth-year students there, which made it almost impossible to find a time when everybody was out.

Except dinner time. Hardly anybody on campus missed dinner.

This was Verran's third trip over here today. On both his previous ones he'd found girls wandering about. This time the place would be empty. Had to be. He did not want to come back again.

He had his walkie-talkie on his hip and Kurt watching the elevators over at Science, ready to let him know as soon as the Cleary girl left the building. She'd probably go straight to the caf but Verran was not taking any chances. As soon as he got word that she was leaving Science, he'd be outta here.

Watching the dorm door, he saw a couple more of the broads leave and decided to make his move.

The hallway in Broads' Country looked deserted. He checked the walkie-talkie to make sure it was on. No word from Kurt, so that meant the Cleary girl was still up on Fifth. He checked up and down the hall to make sure no one could see him, then used the master key to let himself into 252.

He was glad he didn't have to turn on the lights. You never knew who might notice. He had his flashlight and the sunset was glowing through the window of the bedroom, where the problem mike was located. Plenty of light.

 

 

 

Quinn looked up from the computer screen at her new work station and glanced at the clock. Dinner time already. Time to hang it up.

She rubbed her eyes. Dr. Emerson hadn't exaggerated about how mundane the nitty gritty would be. Alice had set her in front of a computer, shown her how the data-entry end of the program worked, then she'd given her a ream of readings from the analytical lab next door and set her to work.

Not the least bit exciting, and hardly medical or even scientific. Nothing more than keyboard pounding. She'd been discouraged at first, but Dr. Emerson had forewarned her that this sort of scut work would be part of her duties, and that this was a good way to get herself familiarized with the doings in his little department. Once the data entry was caught up, he would involve her in the analysis of that data and, if all went well, she might even earn herself a credit on one or two of the scientific articles these mountains of numbers were going to generate.

Dr. Emerson had left the department a little while ago and Alice now was on her way out. She showed Quinn how to do a final SAVE on her work and sign off her console. She left while Quinn straightened up her work area. When she had everything looking reasonably neat, she headed for the elevator.

On her way down the hall she noticed that the curtains were drawn across the Ward C window. She was almost glad she didn't have to see those poor souls again.

When she got to the elevators she saw that the floor indicator showed both cars on the lobby level. There was a slot next to the call button. She slipped her card in and pressed the button a couple of times, but neither light moved off its L. She noticed the EXIT sign over the stairway door a short way down the hall.

Why not? She'd spent most of the day sitting in lecture halls, perched over her microscope, or in front of that computer. Her legs could use a good stretch.

At the door she found a little red light and a card slot in the lock assembly. She plugged in the card, the light turned green, and the door opened. She noticed a similar assembly on the other side. Seemed you couldn't get on or off the fifth floor unless you had a card. Seemed a little excessive. God, what if there was a fire?

A few minutes of bounding down the flights and she reached the first floor. The stair door opened into a hall around a corner from the lobby. She started to round that corner when she noticed the red steel door of a side exit. Going out this end, she realized, would save her a lot of steps. But as she approached it she saw the standard warnings:

 

THIS IS NOT AN EXIT

ALARM WILL SOUND IF OPENED

 

But she also noticed a familiar slot in the door's lock assembly, identical to the one on the fifth floor door. The little light was red. Quinn wondered...

She stepped up and slipped her security card into the slot. The lock clicked and the light turned green.

She grinned. "Yes!"

She let herself out and saw another slot and indicator lamp on the outside. She could enter here as well as exit. All right. Her little key card was going to come in very handy, especially in bad weather.

She turned and paused for a moment in the mild October air to take in the orange glow of the sunset. Beautiful. She was hungry but she felt grubby. She decided to made a quick trip back to the room to freshen up before dinner.

It would take only a couple of minutes.

 

 

 

Verran palmed the defective Electret mike and withdrew its replacement from his coat pocket; he stuck the new one's pin into the same hole in the insulation of the wire just occupied by its predecessor.

"Piece of cake," he said softly.

He was checking the bedroom to make sure it looked untouched when he heard a rustle in the hall on the far side of the door. He froze. Who the hell —?

And then he heard the key slipping into the lock. He dove for the floor on the far side of the bed near the window and lay there, holding his breath, sweating. The door opened and the light came on in the front room. Then the overhead in the bedroom. Its glare hit him like a kick in the head. He winced.

Shit! Why hadn't Kurt called? That son of a bitch! Probably admiring his reflection in the glass door when he should have been watching the elevator. Verran vowed to kick his preening butt when he got back.

But what about now? He was going to get caught for sure. He resigned himself to that. But what the hell was he going to say?

The bed moved as something bounced on it. Not heavy enough for a person. Books? Christ, this was it. He could feel it coming. He was going to look like an ass. He tried thinking of some sort of explanation. He had a flashlight —he could say he was looking for something. But even if he came up with a remotely plausible story, it still would be all over campus before morning: Chief Verran found huddling on the floor of a female student's room. Tightass Alston would have a field day. He'd never live it down.

Fucking Kurt ought to be fired for this. Except he knew too much. Well, he'd see to it that Kurt never screwed up again.

But now... now he clenched his teeth and waited for the scream that would—

A door closed. Water started running in the bathroom.

Hope burst in Verran's chest like a flare.

He risked popping his head up and checking the room. Empty. She was in the john. He didn't hesitate. He jumped up and hurried toward the front room, gliding his feet. He made it to the door, grabbed the handle, gave it a slow, careful twist, then slipped through and into the hall. He closed it very slowly, very carefully behind him, letting the latch catch with a barely audible click.

Panting, sweating, his heart pounding at two hundred miles an hour, Verran checked out the hall. Empty. He hurried toward the exit, his sweaty palms enclosed in fists.

Goddam fucking Kurt.

 

 

MONITORING

 

"She didn't come by me, Lou. I was watching the whole time and I swear she never stepped out of those elevators."

Verran stared at Kurt. They were facing off in the center of the control room. Elliot was at his console, munching a sandwich, trying to make like a chameleon and blend in with the background. Kurt was awful convincing with his hurt eyes and whiny voice. If Verran himself hadn't been in room 252 a few moments ago, he'd be ready to believe him. A first-class performance.

"Then who was it who came into Cleary's room, dropped their books on the bed, and went into the bathroom? Little Red Riding Hood? The Tooth Fairy?"

"Maybe. But it wasn't the Cleary broad, I'll tell you that. I never left the security station for a fucking minute. Not even to take a leak."

"Oh, I believe you were there, all right. But you were too busy admiring yourself in some piece of glass to notice her when she passed by."

"Not fair, Lou."

"Admit it, Kurt. You fucked up. And I'm warning you now, one more screw up and you're out on your ass."

"Bullshit. I'm not taking the rap for something I didn't do. Especially since you never forget, Lou."

That last part was true, at least. He did have a tendency to carry a grudge. And why not? Guy screws up and damn near makes him look like an ass and he should just say, What the hell, shit happens? No way. He wanted to grab a handful of Kurt's perfect blond hair, rip it out, and feed it to him.

"Then how did she get past you, Kurt? Fly out a fifth floor window? Answer me that or —"

"Wait a sec," Kurt said. "I'll prove it to you." He fairly leapt to his console and began typing furiously.

"What now?"

"The locks. We issued her a key, right? Let's see where she used it."

Verran stood over Kurt's shoulder and peered at his screen. The electronic locks in Science weren't just for show. They were linked to this control room, not merely for security, but for monitoring as well. The system kept an ongoing record of each time one of the locks was opened, not only of the time and location, but whose key was used.

He watched as Kurt called up a list of current key holders, highlighted Cleary's number, then plugged it into an activity search with today's date.

The console beeped, and when the results popped up on the screen Kurt slammed his palm on the counter.

"There! What I tell you?" He sprang from his chair and pointed. "What I fucking tell you?"

Verran stared at the screen. It listed three locations where Cleary had used her key today. The first was the fifth floor access slot in the elevator at 3:12 p.m.; the second the fifth floor west stairwell door; the third the fire door on Science's west flank at 5:16.

Shit. It hadn't been Kurt at all. The bitch had gone out the fire door.

So now what? Verran felt like a jerk.

Only one thing to do: Pull a Swann.

Good old Ed Swann had been Verran's direct superior at the Company. Back in the Iran hostage days, he'd chewed Verran up and down for following the wrong Syrian Embassy car around D.C. all day. But when it was discovered that he'd given Verran the wrong license plate number, what did Swann do?

He turned to Verran and offered his hand.

Which is just what Verran did now.

"My apologies, Kurt," he said, keeping any hint of sheepishness from his tone. "She fooled us both. I shouldn't have jumped on you like that. I'm sorry."

Kurt stared at him in shock for a few seconds, then shook his hand.

"Yeah... okay, Lou," he said, completely disarmed. "I guess if places were reversed I probably would have thought you'd screwed up too."

Verran smiled —inwardly as well as outwardly. Kurt had been poised to jump all over him, but Verran had rocked him back on his heels with a matter-of-fact apology. The tactic had worked for Swann, and it still worked like a charm. Kurt had gained the high ground, but the apology made Verran look like the bigger man —and defused a tense situation that might have affected the usually relaxed working atmosphere of the monitoring room.

He didn't want anything to interfere with his operation.

He gestured to the screen. "She's a tricky one. Almost caught me with my hand in the cookie jar. Better not take anything for granted with that one."

Elliot finally must have thought it was safe to open his yap. "You able to get the bug, chief?"

"Of course." He reached into his coat pocket. "It's right..."

The pocket was empty. He tried the other side. Empty too. He patted his pants pockets, pulled them inside out.

"What the hell?"

"What's the matter, Lou?" Kurt said.

"The bad bug. I know I had it."

"You lose it?" Elliot said. "Shit!"

Shit is right, Verran thought as he pawed through his pockets again. He prayed he hadn't lost it; there'd be hell to pay if the wrong person found it.

Kurt rummaged in the cabinet under his console. At first Verran thought he might be looking for the electronic sweeper, which would do no good since electret mikes were non-radiating. Instead he came up with a metal detector. He turned it on, adjusted the controls, and approached Verran.

"Here. Empty your pockets and I'll give you the once-over. If it's on you, we'll find it."

After Verran had dumped all his change on the counter, Kurt began waving the business end of the detector over his clothing. As the wand worked its way around his body, Verran watched the indicator needle in the handle. It would start to move when it crossed something metal. It lay dormant.

"It's not on you, Lou," Kurt said. "You must have dropped it somewhere."

"How could I drop it?" Verran snapped. "I distinctly remember putting it in my pocket."

"Well, it ain't in your pocket now."

Elliot chimed in: "Which means it's gotta be somewhere between here and the room."

"All right, all right." Verran was pissed and there was no one to get pissed at but himself. "Let me think."

Kurt and Elliot stayed mum while Verran retraced all his moves since switching the bugs. He was sure he'd put it in his pocket, just before he'd put the chair back... which was just before he'd heard the key slipping into the door lock...

Acid surged around Verran's ulcer.

"Christ," he said. "It must have come out of my pocket when I hit the floor."

Kurt held up the metal detector. "Want me to go back to the room and see if I can find it?"

"No," Verran said, glancing at the clock. "They'll all be wandering back from dinner now. No way you can get in and out without being seen."

"You can't just leave it there."

No, they couldn't just leave it there. The discovery of an electret mike in a dorm room might tip the first domino. The whole scenario played out in his head: Questions asked, jokes made, talk about the place being bugged, people starting to search their rooms...

That one little mike could bring down the whole operation.

"It's small. If it's in the room it's on the far side of the bed by the window. Nobody's going to see it there. We're okay. We'll pick it up tomorrow. No sweat."

No sweat? he thought. Then why am I shaking like a little old lady inside?

 

 

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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