The Select | Chapter 6 of 7

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

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CHAPTER TWELVE

 

Quinn pinned her ID badge onto her new lab coat — her white lab coat — and turned to Tim.

"How do I look?"

Tim glanced up from the spare bed in her room where he was stretched out on the spread reading this morning's Baltimore Sun. He had his shoes off and looked perfectly at home.

"Very scientificky. But I still say you'd score more points in your running shorts."

"Fine," she said quickly. She didn't want him starting in on her legs again. "Be like that. While I'm out toiling to push back the frontiers of medical science, what'll you be doing?"

"Reading the funnies."

"You going to stay here?"

"Yeah, just for a little while, if you don't mind. Kevin's sacked out —he was up late studying last night —and I figured I'd let him sleep."

Quinn shook her head. She didn't mind at all. In fact she wished he'd stay until she got back. Not just because she liked having him around; it had been kind of creepy coming back to the room during the dinner hour yesterday. The floor had been deserted yet she'd had the weirdest feeling that someone was lurking about.

"Stay as long as you want. Why not hang out till I get back and I'll buy you dinner."

"Deal," Tim said and stuck his head back into the newspaper.

 

 

 

Matt Crawford let himself into his New Haven condo and tossed his notebooks onto the couch. He dropped into the recliner, turned on the TV with the remote, flipped through the thirty-four channels in as many seconds, then turned it off. He sat there and stared at the blank screen.

He was feeling low and not sure why. A brand new high-rise apartment with a panoramic view of the harbor and the Sound beyond, luxury furnishings selected and arranged by the decorator his mother had hired, a fully-stocked fridge, all to himself.

Maybe that was the problem. Too much to himself these days. Never anyone around —at least not anyone he had anything in common with. Unlike The Ingraham, Yale and most other medical schools had no dorm. Students lived wherever they could find a place they could afford. Matt's dad had jumped on this condo not only as a great place for Matt to live, but as a great investment as well.

He was half right.

At times like this, Matt almost wished he were at The Ingraham. But then if he were, Quinn would be somewhere else, sweating her tuition payments as well as sweating her courses.

He felt his mouth twist into a crooked smile. "'Tis a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done."

Quinn's strawberry-blond head with its wide blue eyes and red cheeks appeared in his mind and suddenly he had to talk to her. He pulled out his address book and punched in her number.

A groggy male voice answered on the third ring.

"'Lo?"

Matt wasn't sure what to say. "Is, uh, Quinn there?"

"Matt?"

Now he recognized the voice. "Tim? What are you doing there?"

"Didn't Quinn tell you? We moved in together. In fact, she's right beside me here in bed."

Matt was struck dumb.

Quinn and Tim... was it possible? He'd seen them both back in August before they'd left. Tim was being Tim and Quinn seemed to be barely tolerating him. Ms. No-nonsense and the goofmeister. A lot could happen in a couple of months, but this was too much. Definitely too much.

"Not."

Tim's laugh rattled over the line. "Had you going there for a second, didn't I."

"Not for a nanosecond."

Matt was surprised at his sudden surge of relief and asked himself, How come?

Tim went on, telling him that Quinn had just left, so they talked —compared courses, teachers, test difficulty, reminisced about the Good Old Days at Dartmouth —and as they spoke, an aching void expanded slowly in Matt's chest.

When he finally hung up, after asking that Quinn give him a call when she had a moment, Matt felt more alone than ever.

He felt as if he were being left out of something. Something good.

 

 

 

Quinn hurried over to Science. She was tempted to use the side door but decided to save that for when she was running late.

Charlene was at the security desk again. Quinn flashed her badge as she approached and Charlene waved her by.

Up on fifth, Quinn tried not to look into Ward C as she passed the window but couldn't resist a glance.

The curtain was drawn shut.

Quinn intended to keep moving, but the sight of that blank beige surface brought her to an abrupt halt before the glass. She stepped closer and tried to peek around the curtain's edges but found no openings.

Frustrated, she proceeded around the corner to the nurses station. Maybe Marguerite would be there. All Quinn wanted was for someone to tell her everything was all right in Ward C. Not that she could do anything if it wasn't, but she felt linked to those seven helpless patients, in some odd way partially responsible for them.

The nurses station was deserted. Where was everybody? Wasn't anyone watching Ward C?

Behind the counter and to the left Quinn spotted a glass-windowed door. It had to open into Ward C. Why else the red and white warning sign under the glass?

AUTHORIZED STAFF ONLY

She glanced up and down the hall. Still no one in sight to ask. Shrugging, she stepped behind the nurses station to take a peek through the glass.

What could it hurt?

Yes, it was Ward C, but it looked different this time. Brighter. Instead of back-lit by daylight from the windows, the room was bathed in the fluorescent glow of the ceiling lights. Everything seemed to have a sharper edge. Otherwise, nothing had changed. The patients still numbered seven —at least no one had died —they still lay on their beds, immobile mounds of white with—

No. Not all were immobile. One patient lying on his side on a bed in the central area was moving slightly, twisting, shifting his weight, sliding his red-bandaged leg toward the edge of the bed. The red bandage on the thigh gripped Quinn's attention. Something about the way it glistened...

She gasped and pressed her face hard against the glass. That wasn't a bandage. That was blood. A patch of raw flesh, oozing red.

And then Quinn noticed that the safety rail was down on the side where the leg was moving toward the edge. The patient was trying to get out of bed. If nobody stopped him, he was going to land in a heap on the floor.

Quinn stepped back for another look up and down the hall. Still empty. She called Marguerite's name twice but no one answered. She thought of running down the hall for Dr. Emerson but that would take too long. And what could he do then that she couldn't do now?

She returned to the door. The patient's bloody leg had moved farther along —the knee was jutting over the edge of the mattress. Another thirty seconds and he'd start sliding toward the floor.

Quinn realized she couldn't wait. Setting her jaw, she pushed through the door and hurried to the bed. She caught the lower leg by the calf just as the foot fell off the edge.

"Whoops!" she said softly, smiling and putting all the reassurance she had into her expression. "You're going to fall if you're not careful."

Gently she guided the leg back onto the mattress. She averted her eyes from the bloody patch of flesh and looked into the eyes. They were blue, yes, the same eyes she had seen here over Christmas.

Quinn jumped as a loud, angry voice rang out behind her.

"What the hell do you think you're DOING?"

She whirled and found Marguerite standing not two feet away, her dark eyes wide and angry above her surgical mask.

"He —he was falling," Quinn said.

"You're not allowed in here!" the nurse cried, her shout muffled by the mask. "Can't you read?"

"Just get her out of here, Marguerite," said a sharp voice from the far side of the room behind Marguerite. "Before she does any more damage."

Quinn knew that voice: Dr. Alston's. She looked past Marguerite's shoulder and saw him standing —masked, capped, gowned, gloved —in an alcove to the left of the door Quinn had entered. He was holding something over a tray, something that looked like a pink, wet paper towel.

Quinn felt as if she'd been slapped in the face. "But I —"

"Get her out!" Dr. Alston shouted. "We'll deal with her later!"

"You heard him," Marguerite said. "Out."

Unable to speak, her cheeks afire, Quinn brushed past her and hurried for the door. What did she do that was so terrible? She'd only been trying to help.

 

 

 

Arthur Alston's face was livid as he pointed a shaking finger at Quinn Cleary.

"It will be days before we know the fall-out from your irresponsible misadventure, young lady."

Walter Emerson watched Quinn closely, curious as to how she was going to respond. She had come to him with her story nearly an hour ago, visibly upset. He had listened, calmed her down, but had given no opinion, saying only that he would be with her when she faced Arthur.

That time came soon enough. Arthur stormed into Walter's lab with that insufferable attitude of his, demanding that "the ignoramus who invaded Ward C" be brought before him. Walter had sent Alice on an early coffee break and summoned Quinn. Now he was settled back in his chair, waiting to see how she handled herself. If she had half the gumption he thought she had, she'd stand her ground.

"I'm sorry, Dr. Alston," she said. "I know I entered a restricted area, but I saw no other choice at the time."

"The sign says 'Authorized Staff Only'," Arthur said. "Can it be stated any more clearly than that?"

"No, but—"

"There are no 'buts' here, Miss Cleary. If you are to remain a lab assistant here —in fact, if you are to remain a student at this institution —you will follow the rules, or you will be out of here faster than you can blink your baby blue eyes."

Walter watched Quinn's cheeks redden. He was tempted to step in here before Arthur got out of hand, but no. He wanted to hear Quinn's response.

"I saw one of your patients in danger, Dr. Alston," she said through tight lips. "I saw his bed's safety rail down and saw him slipping over the edge of the mattress. What was I supposed to do?"

"You shouldn't have been at the door in the first place!"

"What was I supposed to do, sir?"

Very good, Walter thought. Stay polite, respectful, but keep the ball in his court.

"You should have called for a nurse," Arthur said.

"I did, sir. More than once. No one answered. What was I to do then, sir? Stand there and watch your patient hit the floor?"

"You should not have ignored the sign on the door, Miss Cleary. The health of those patients is extremely fragile. Their graft sites are highly prone to infection. We allow no one to enter Ward C unless they are wearing a surgical cap, a surgical mask, and sterile gloves. You were wearing none of those. God knows what you brought with you into that room."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, sir, but wouldn't he be worse off contamination-wise if he'd fallen on the floor?"

"That would not have happened, Miss Cleary. Marguerite was keeping an eye on him all the time."

"If you say so, sir. But I could not know that at the time. I acted as I thought best. I'm sorry it upset you or risked any harm to your patient. But may I ask you, sir: If I'd stood there and watched your patient bounce off the floor, would you now be here congratulating me for not acting?"

Arthur opened his mouth, then closed it, then opened it again.

"Do not enter Ward C again, Miss Cleary. Under any circumstances. Is that clear?"

"Very clear, sir." She turned to Walter. "I'm going to call it a day, if that's all right with you, Dr. Emerson."

Walter could see she was fighting back tears. He wanted to shake her hand and congratulate her on the way she'd handled herself, but he couldn't do that in front of Arthur.

"Fine, Quinn," he said. "Get some dinner and relax. It's Friday night. Have some fun somewhere."

She gave him a forced smile that said she was not in a fun mood, then she started for the door.

"Good night, Dr. Alston," she said as she passed him.

Arthur said nothing. When she was gone, he turned to Walter, but Walter spoke first.

"A little hard on her, weren't you, Arthur?" he said.

"Not hard enough, I fear," Arthur replied. "That girl is trouble, Walter, sticking her nose where it does not belong."

"She saw someone in trouble, she rushed in to help. A humanitarian gesture. Why do you berate a future doctor for a humanitarian gesture?"

"She could have contaminated the graft. She shouldn't have been in there, pure and simple."

Walter fixed Arthur with a stare. "And the safety rail shouldn't have been left down," he said pointedly. "Pure and simple."

Arthur returned the stare for a few heartbeats, then turned away.

"This is getting nowhere. But it does point up one problem: 9574 needs a longer half-life. The subjects seem to be developing a tolerance to it. The longer they're on it, the less efficacious it appears to be."

"I'm working on it," Walter said. "And with Miss Cleary as an assistant, I may be able to solve that problem for you."

Arthur looked at him and shook his head. "You do love to rub salt in a wound, don't you."

"Only your wounds, Arthur. Only yours."

They shared a laugh.

 

 

 

Tim had been dozing on Quinn's extra bed. The sound of the key in the lock roused him. He leapt up and tiptoed quickly to the door where he flattened himself against the wall next to the hinges and waited. As the door began to swing inward, he grabbed the knob and yanked it the rest of the way.

"Booga-booga!"

Only it wasn't Quinn staring at him with an open-mouthed, shocked expression. It was some fat, fiftyish guy instead. Tim yelped in surprise and took a step back.

"Who the hell are you?" Tim said.

"That's my question, buddy," the guy said in whiny voice. "Who the hell are you, and what the hell are you doing in one of the female rooms?"

He looked rattled. He had a hang-dog face and a bulging neck. He carried a flashlight in one hand and some sort of electronic baton in the other. Tim gave him a closer look and recognized him.

"You're Mr. Verran, the security guy."

"Chief of Security. And you still haven't answered the questions."

"Oh. Yeah. I'm Tim Brown. First-year student here. I'm waiting for Quinn Cleary —this is her room —"

"I know that. Let's see some ID."

Tim fished his photo ID card out of his wallet and handed it to Verran. He noticed a tremor in the older man's hand as he examined it.

"Tell me something, Mr. Verran. What's the idea of sneaking in here?"

"I'm not sneaking in anywhere," he said sharply. He seemed to have regained his composure as he handed back Tim's card. "There's... there was a report of some guy hiding out in one of the girls' rooms. I came by to check up on it. Where's the assigned occupant?"

"She's over in Science, working for Dr. Emerson."

"She know you're here?"

"Of course. We're going to dinner together when she gets back. But tell me something: Who reported —?"

"A concerned fellow student. But how do I know the assigned occupant knows you're here?"

"You don't. But we can wait for Miss Assigned Occupant and she can tell you herself."

"Maybe I—" The walkie talkie on Verran's hip squawked. He unclipped it from his belt and turned his back to Tim. "Yeah?"

"She's on her way, Lou," said a tinny voice.

"Right." Verran turned back to Tim. "I've got to go. But I'll check up on you, buddy. If your story checks out, okay. If not, you're in big trouble."

Tim watched him hurry down the hall, then looked around. Women's Country was empty. Who would have called security about a guy in Quinn's room? And how could anyone possibly have known he was here?

Tim closed the door and wandered back toward the spare bed.

Come to think of it, this Verran guy had looked pretty damn surprised, as shocked to see Tim as Tim had been to see him. Maybe more so. And why a flashlight and that other weird-looking gadget? Not exactly equipment for confronting a prowler.

What was he going to do with a flashlight in Quinn's room?

Tim stepped over to the window.

Something strange there. Some—

"Damn!"

Sudden pain in the sole of his right foot. Something had jabbed into it. Something sharp.

He dropped back onto the bed and pulled his foot up where he could see it. Some sort of pin had pierced his sock and was stuck in his sole. He pulled it out and held it up to the light.

A little black thing, a flat, circular hockey-puck-like nob, maybe a quarter inch across, stuck on a straight pin. What was it? A tie tack? One of those old-fashioned stick pins? He wondered if it was Quinn's. He doubted it. She wore about as much jewelry as she did make up. And this thing didn't look very feminine anyway.

Then he heard the key in the door again. He hoped this time it was Quinn, not just because he didn't want to deal with Louis Verran's homely puss again, not just because his stomach was rumbling, but because he was hungry for the sight of her. Images of her face —talking, eating, bending over her books, concentrating as she wielded her scalpel —had been popping into his head at all hours.

As she stepped into the room, the sight of her sent a smile to his face and a wave of warmth through him.

What have you done to me, Quinn Cleary? he thought.

He said, "How were things at the office today, dear?"

She smiled, but it was a half-hearted smile, as if it were an effort. That wasn't like her.

"Something wrong?"

"Oh, nothing really," she said as she slipped out of her lab coat. "I just had a bad run-in with Alston over at Science a little while ago."

She told him about Ward C and the patient almost slipping off the bed, and about the dressing down she'd received.

"The ungrateful bastard," Tim said when she'd finished. "That wasn't a fair or even a sane reaction."

"Tell me about it. But you know, I got the strangest feeling that he was almost as afraid as he was angry."

Tim was angry too. And the heat of his anger surprised him. He had an urge to find Alston and grab him by his dinky string tie and teach him a thing or two about the proper response to a young woman who tries to help a patient in trouble.

Was he so angry because that young woman was Quinn?

More evidence of how far she'd gotten under his skin.

But he bottled the anger. Confronting Alston was little more than an idle fantasy anyway.

"Forget about the creep," he told her. "Let's go eat."

"I've lost my appetite," she said, "but I'll keep you company."

Tim remembered the weird black stick pin he'd found and held it out to her.

"By the way, is this yours?"

She gave it barely a glance. "Nope. Never seen it before. What is it?"

"Beats me. I found it on your floor, over there by the window. Stuck me in the foot."

She looked at it again, more closely this time, but no sign of recognition lit in her eyes. She shrugged.

"Maybe one of the maids dropped it."

Tim shrugged into his sport coat and stuck the pin into the lapel, then he struck a pose.

"May I present the very latest in men's accessories. Think it'll catch on?"

Quinn squinted at his lapel. "I can hardly see it."

Tim glanced down. The tiny black hockey puck was almost lost in the herringbone pattern.

"Oh, well. Another of my fashion milestones down the drain."

Tim followed her out the door.

 

 

 

About time, Verran thought as he watched Brown and Cleary leave and head for the caf. I was beginning to think they'd never leave.

He waited in the bushes until they disappeared into the caf, then he slipped into the dorm and hurried up to Broads' Country.

No one about. Quickly he unlocked 252 and closed the door behind him. He turned on the metal detector and went immediately to the space between the window and the second bed, where he'd hit the floor when Cleary had surprised him last night. Slowly, carefully, he waved the business end of the detector over the thick carpet, keeping a close eye on the needle in the illuminated gauge in the handle.

It didn't budge.

He ran his fingers through the deep pile. This was the most obvious area. It had to be here.

When his fingers found nothing, he turned and crept across the room, carefully sweeping the detector over the carpet all the way to the door.

The only flickers from the needle turned out to be a penny and a dime.

Great. Just great. The detector was working fine, but no bug.

Where the hell was it, then?

 

 

NOVEMBER

 

Claropril (ACE-I) the new ultra-potent ACE-inhibitor from Kleederman Pharmaceuticals, has captured a 20-percent share of the anti-hypertensive market a mere six months after approval.

Modern Medicine

 

 

THE WORLD'S LONGEST CONTINUOUS

FLOATING MEDICAL BULL SESSION

(II)

 

Tonight the session had wound up in, of all places, Harrison's room.

"He's not as bad as we all thought," Tim said as he led Quinn down the hall of the north wing's first floor. His sharp blue eyes were bright. He wasn't wearing his dark glasses as much as he used to. She preferred him this way. "Of course, he's hardly Mr. Warmth, either. Far from it, in fact. But at least he's articulate."

Quinn glanced at her watch. She was behind on her histology notes and had been in the middle of bringing them up to date when Tim had popped in and dragged her away to the bull session.

"Come on, Quinn," he'd said. "You need a break. Take five and add your two cents to the session. It could use some new blood."

"But my notes —"

"You want to crack like that guy Prosser who disappeared without a trace a couple of years ago? There's more to medicine than histology, you know."

"But if I don't pass the rest won't matter."

"You'll pass."

She'd come along because she realized Tim was right. She would pass. Just passing had never been good enough for her and still wasn't, but she did need a break. Between classes, labs, studying, and working with Dr. Emerson, she was beginning to feel a bit frazzled. She'd thought about quitting the lab job, but the work was getting more interesting now and she found the extra money came in handy for the sundries The Ingraham didn't provide.

Eight people were in Harrison's room. Quinn and Tim made it ten. They greeted Quinn with hellos but they had a cheer for Tim when he came through the door. He clearly had become a mainstay of these sessions. She marveled at his ability to make friends with almost anybody. And envied it.

"Tim, you're just in time." It was Judy Trachtenberg. Didn't she ever study? "Harrison here is going radical on us. He thinks chiropractors ought to be included in the tiering of care."

"Tiering?" Quinn said.

They quieted and looked at her.

"Tiers of eligibility," Tim told her. "You know. Alston mentions it every so often."

"Oh, right," Quinn said. Somewhere along the line Dr. Alston had turned tier into a verb: to tier. Last week he'd asked the class to assume a limited amount of medical resources, then directed them to create two sets of tiers: the first set listing levels of care in descending order of sophistication, the second set dividing the population into groups in descending order of their value to society. Quinn had found it a chilling exercise, but she'd considered it no more than that: an exercise in ethics. The bull session semed to be taking it seriously.

"What do you think?" Harrison said. Quinn wondered if anybody knew his first name. "Yes or no on the back crackers?"

"Definitely yes," Tim said. "Acupuncturists too. We've got to find a tier for every therapy if this is going to work."

Quinn waited for the zinger, the gag line that would turn around what he'd just said. But it never came.

"All right," Judy said. "Where to we lump them?"

"With the physical therapists," Tim said. "Take away all their mumbo-jumbo and look at what they do: physical therapy."

Quinn watched and listened in shock. "I thought you were against any kind of rationing," she said.

"I was," Tim said.

"Well, what happened?" Quinn realized that although she and Tim did a lot of talking, the future structure of healthcare delivery was not a topic of conversation. She had no idea he'd come around 180 degrees.

"That was before I realized the full scope of the problem. The day is coming when there won't be enough care to go around. And that means some people are going to have to make do with lower levels of care. Tiering is the only way to decide who gets what, Quinn. The only way."

She heard murmurs of agreement and saw heads nodding in agreement all around the room.

"What are you saying? Someone gets past a certain age and we throw them to the wolves?"

"Nothing so blunt as that," Harrison said. "Age should not be the sole criterion. Overall value to society should be considered. Of course, the older you are, the fewer years you have left —ipso facto, your chances of contributing much are reduced. Plenty of people of all ages contribute nothing. The homeless, the drunks, the addicts are the most obvious, but there are others, less obvious. People we never see, shut-ins who sit at home and do nothing. Should some couch potato on welfare get a coronary bypass while a hard-working mechanic who's the father of three has to go on working with chest pain? I don't think so."

"I don't think so either. But who's going to decide who gets stuck in which tier? Who's going to arbitrate human value?"

"You can bet we'll have something to say in it," Tim said. "Especially those of us who go into primary care. We'll be deciding who gets referred and who doesn't."

"But this tiering idea, this dividing people up and stacking them in order of how useful they are is so... cold." She turned to Tim. "What about compassion? Remember how we talked about finding a CPT code number for compassion?"

"Yeah," Tim said softly, his eyes suddenly distraught. "I remember. Trouble is, I don't know how I forgot."

Quinn didn't know what it was, but something in Tim's eyes unsettled her.

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

Quinn had a few moments so she wandered across the lab to where Dr. Emerson was reading a journal article. He looked up at her approach and smiled.

"Taking a break?" he said.

Quinn nodded. "My computer's tied up with some number crunching on that reuptake program. It'll be another ten minutes or so till it's done."

"Very good." He nodded and returned to his article.

"Uh, Dr. Emerson," Quinn said, not sure of how to broach this. She'd rehearsed her opening all last night and most of today, but still she felt awkward. "Can I ask you a strange question?"

"Sure," he said, still reading. "Go ahead. I've always liked strange questions."

"What's going on here?"

He looked up at her over the tops of his reading glasses.

"I'd think you'd know the answer to that by now. We're putting 9574 through —"

"No. Not here in your lab. I mean in the school. In The Ingraham. What's going on here?"

Dr. Emerson put the journal down and removed his reading glasses. He stared at her.

"I'm not quite sure I'm following you, Quinn."

She dropped into the seat opposite him. "I'm not sure I'm following me either. It's all so vague." She groped for the right words, the appropriate analogy, but came up empty. "It's just that everybody here at The Ingraham seems to think alike, seems to have the same point of view."

"That's not so unusual, really," Dr. Emerson said. "It happens at many academic institutions. Certain points of view gain favor with an influential segment of a department, take root, bloom, and draw other like-minded individuals. As this group gains influence and tenure, those who strongly disagree with its positions tend to drift away, while those who agree or are indifferent stay on. Look how the deconstructionists came to rule the English department at Yale. Or —"

"But I'm not talking about a department. I'm talking about a whole institution —students and faculty alike."

"The Ingraham? Maybe you'd better explain."

Quinn took a deep breath. How was she going to explain this in a sane and coherent manner when it all sounded pretty crazy to her?

"Everyone's starting to sound like Dr. Alston."

Dr. Emerson burst out laughing. "Oh, I hope not! I truly hope not!"

"It's true. They're all starting to sound like his lectures. Why just last night —"

Dr. Emerson put one hand and her arm and raised the other to wave someone in from the hall.

"Arthur! Come in, Arthur. I want you to hear this."

Quinn turned and started at the sight of Dr. Alston strolling through the door and approaching them. What was Dr. Emerson doing? Was he trying to get her in more trouble with Dr. Alston?

"You remember Miss Cleary, don't you?"

"Ah, yes," Dr. Alston said, nodding to her. "The object of my wrath a few weeks ago. I do believe I overreacted. My apologies, Miss Cleary."

"I'm glad you apologized, Arthur," Dr. Emerson said. "Because Quinn here just paid you a compliment."

Dr. Alston smiled thinly as he looked down at her. "Did she now? And what did she say?"

Quinn fought the urge to tell him not to refer to her in the third person. She was here in the same room and quite able to answer for herself.

"She thinks you're a very persuasive lecturer."

The thin smile broadened. "Is that so?"

"Yes. She says the whole student body is beginning to sound like you."

Dr. Alston's gaze became penetrating. "May I infer from your perspective that you have somehow managed to remain immune to the sway of my rhetoric?"

Quinn swallowed. This wasn't going well at all.

"I think you argue your points very well, but I find it difficult to accept the concept of rationing medical care on the basis of social and economic worth."

"Given the inevitability of such rationing," he said, his manner cooling quickly, "what criteria do you propose?"

"I don't think I'm qualified to make decisions of that magnitude," Quinn said. "I don't know if anybody is. But I've read where it used to be widely held that global communism was inevitable, how it was only a matter of time before Marxism took over the world. And now the USSR is gone. I'm sure there are plenty of other 'inevitabilities' that have never become reality."

"I'm sure there are too, Miss Quinn," Dr. Alston said, nodding slowly as he stared at her. His gaze made her uncomfortable. "I'm glad we had this little talk. You've given me something to ponder."

He nodded goodbye to her and Dr. Emerson, then left.

Quinn shook off a chill and turned back to Dr. Emerson.

"Am I such a Pollyanna?" she said. "I mean, why do I seem to be the only one in The Ingraham who isn't falling into line behind Dr. Alston's bleak outlook?"

"Knowing Arthur," Dr. Emerson said, "I'm sure he's wondering the very same thing."

 

 

 

As Louis Verran approached Alston's office in the faculty building, he wondered what Dr. Tightass wanted. Whatever it was, he knew it couldn't be good. Not from the tone of voice he'd heard on the phone a few minutes ago.

Please come to my office immediately, Louis. I have made a fascinating discovery that I wish to share with you.

Right. Verran had little doubt that the fascinating discovery meant Alston had tripped over a glitch in security and was going to rub his nose in it. He just hoped he hadn't somehow heard about the lost bug.

Damn it! Where the hell was it? They'd swept the halls on both levels of the dorm but still hadn't found it.

Verran knew he wouldn't have a decent night's sleep until he'd found the damn thing.

He knocked on Alston's door.

"Come," came the reply from the other side.

Come? Gimme a fuckin' break!

He stepped into the office —dark, oak paneled, the largest in the building, befitting Alston's status as DME —and saw him behind his desk, leaning back in his chair, his fingers steepled before his mouth, looking like the proverbial cat with a bad case of canary breath.

Verran took one of the chairs without asking. He noted with satisfaction how Alston stiffened when he put his feet up on the desk.

"What's up, Doc?"

"One of the dorm SLI units is malfunctioning —and please take your shoes off my desk."

Verran dropped his feet to the floor to cover his relief. Alston hadn't heard about or found the bug.

"Yeah? Which room?"

"I don't know the number, but I know the student's name. You're capable of following up from there. But I didn't call you here merely for informational purposes. A simple phone call would have sufficed for that. The truth is, I'm more than a little disturbed by the fact that if I hadn't learned of this by sheer happenstance, she might have gone all semester without hearing the night music."

Verran had to admit this was no petty matter. A malfunctioning SLI undercut The Ingraham's very purpose. But Alston's notion didn't necessarily equate with an established fact.

"What makes you think it's not working? I doubt the student came up and told you."

Alston smiled. "In a way, she did. She told me she saw all her fellow students swinging their points of view toward mine on certain matters, and she couldn't understand why." He leaned forward. "Obviously her viewpoints are not changing. Ergo, she's not hearing the music. Conclusion: her SLI is malfunctioning. Can you dispute that?"

Vaguely uncomfortable now, Verran scratched his jaw. "No. It's logical."

"My question, Louis," Alston continued, "is why didn't you know about the malfunctioning unit?"

Verran shrugged. "All our SLI indicators are green. No signs of trouble anywhere. Every unit got its usual overhaul this summer. Everything checks out fine every night."

Alston furrowed his brow. "But something is obviously awry. I want you to check into it immediately."

Verran gritted his teeth. He didn't need Dr. Tightass to tell him that.

"Right. Who's the kid?"

"First year. You're supposed to be watching her closely already. Quinn Cleary."

"Oh, shit!" Verran said. "Not 252 again."

Alston straightened. "Again? You've had trouble with Cleary before?"

Verran had to be careful here. He couldn't slip up and spill about almost getting caught —or about the missing bug.

"No, no. Not with her personally. Just her room. Her audio pick-up went on the fritz last month and I had to replace it."

"Did you now?" He paused and leaned back. "Strange, isn't it?"

"What?"

"That two electronic devices should malfunction in the same room within a matter of weeks —in a room with only a single occupant." His tones became pensive, almost distant. "And that occupant... a young woman that I was against admitting in the first place. Very strange. I wonder... is something going on here?"

"She doesn't have any jamming equipment, if that's what you're thinking." He grinned at Alston. "You're not going paranoid on me, are you, Doc?"

"Not at all, Louis. I realize that coincidences occur, but I'm always suspicious when they do. It's the scientist in me, I suppose."

"Well, the first thing we should do, Dr. Scientist," Verran said, rising, "is make sure you've got your facts straight. So far as I know, room 252's SLI is working perfectly."

"It had better not be, Louis," Alston said. "Or otherwise we've got ourselves a big problem. I do not want another problem, Louis. I had enough problems two years ago to last me a lifetime."

Verran nodded. This was one point on which he and Dr. Tightass were in complete agreement. That had been a nightmare.

"Amen, Doc." He turned toward the door. "I'll let you know as soon as I check it out."

"How are you going to work this?"

"I'll use the old exterminator ploy."

Alston nodded absently. "Odd, but lately it seems that every time there's trouble, this Cleary girl is involved. Why is that?"

"Beats me," Verran said as he stepped out into the hall.

"Am I going to regret letting her in?"

Verran closed the door and hoped Alston wouldn't regret it. Because if Alston regretted letting Cleary in, then inevitably Verran would come to regret it.

Of course, the one who'd wind up regretting it most would be the Cleary girl.

 

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 

"Don't lock your door, Quinn," Tim said as he heard the clink of her key chain.

"Why not?"

"They're spraying today."

"Oh, that's right."

Tim watched her tuck the keys back in her pocket. She looked great in her slacks and sweater, except that the sweater was too long —it covered too much of her. He sighed as he watched her. Today was going to be an especially long day, for tonight was the night they were taking off for AC. A lot of quality time with Quinn —overnight time with her in his free room. He'd been indulging himself these past few weeks in some wild sexual fantasies —visions of those long, slim, dynamite legs wrapped tight around him —none of which, he knew, had the slightest chance of becoming reality, but still they managed to fuel his anticipation. He'd even picked up a pack of condoms, which he supposed was like buying a Pick-6 Lotto ticket —the chances of winning were six million to one, but that didn't stop you from thinking about what it would be like to be a multimillionaire.

He smiled. And as the lotto folks liked to say: You can't win it unless you're in it.

He stepped across the hall and took another look at the sign pinned to the bulletin board.

 

NOTICE

The exterminators will be performing their periodic

spraying of the dorm. The second floor is scheduled

first on Friday morning, November 18. All rooms must

be vacated between 8 a.m. and noon. Please leave

your room unlocked and remove all articles from your

floors before leaving for morning classes that day.

Louis Verran

Chief of Campus Security

 

Something about the notice bothered Tim but for the life of him he couldn't nail down just what it was.

"Seen any bugs around your room, Quinn?" he said.

"Not a one," she said as she left her door and came over to him. "And I don't want to."

"How about the other girls? Any of them mention being bothered by bugs?"

"Not that I recall. Why?"

"I don't know. Seems strange to start spraying on the second floor. I'd think if there was going to be an insect problem in the dorm it would start at ground level and work its way up."

"You're an expert on bugs now?"

"No. But if nobody's seen any —"

"Sounds like preventive medicine to me," Quinn said. "If you spray on a regular basis, you won't develop a problem. Not a bad idea, really. Besides, the stuff they're using is supposed to be colorless and odorless and non-toxic to humans once it dries." She tugged on his sleeve. "Come on. We'll be late for Path."

Tim took one last look at the notice. Maybe it was Louis Verran's name on the bottom that bothered him. He hadn't told Quinn about his little run-in with Verran in her room that night. She'd already been upset about her confrontation with Alston and he hadn't seen any purpose in bringing it up.

But something about Verran's demeanor that night had lingered with him like a bad aftertaste. Tim had had a vague impression then that the man was hiding something. He'd looked guilty. Over the following weeks Tim had written it off as a misread, but then this notice: the second floor was going to be empty, all the doors unlocked, with Louis Verran in charge.

Was something going on?

Nah.

He followed Quinn toward the stairs.

 

 

 

Louis Verran stood at the door to room 252 and glanced at his watch. 9:16. Plenty of time left. He stepped back into the suite and watched Elliot checking the SLI units in the headboards. All the works were exposed and he was running his check, his long fingers pulling, poking, and probing the tangled wires and circuit boards.

"How's it look?" Verran said.

"Perfect so far, chief. I'm about halfway through and haven't found a thing. I got a feeling I'm not going to."

"Never mind your feelings," Verran said. "Just don't miss anything."

There had to be something wrong with the unit, something mechanical, something electronic, something that could be fixed. But if the problem wasn't with the unit; if the SLI wasn't on the fritz, then it had to be Cleary. A malfunctioning unit was one thing, but a malfunctioning student... ?

They'd had one of those two years ago. Please, God, never again.

He looked at his watch again.

"Don't rush, Elliot. Just do it right. Still plenty of time."

 

 

 

Tim sensed rather than saw Quinn lean over his shoulder.

"I've got to get back to the dorm," she whispered.

"Now?"

The clock on the auditorium wall said 9:30. Still ten minutes to go in Dr. Hager's pathology lecture on inflammation.

"I forgot my histo notes. I want to have them for the review."

Staying low, she edged out of the row of seats and started up the steps to the exit. Tim hesitated a moment, then got up and trailed after her.

"Wait up," he said in the hallway.

She turned, surprise in her eyes. "Tim? Where are you going?"

"With you."

"You forget something too?"

"No. I just..." How did he say this? He didn't want to tell her of his misgivings about Louis Verran. He was sure they'd sound pretty lame if he said them out loud. But he did not like the idea of her entering the empty dorm alone, even if it was a bright fall morning. "I don't think you should go alone."

She stopped and stared at him. "What? You've got to be kidding."

"No, I'm not kidding. They've got a bunch of outsiders wandering the halls."

"Campus security is there."

Tim was tempted to say that might be the problem, but resisted.

"Yeah, but even The Ingraham's crack SWAT team can't be everywhere. One of the bug men could be a nut case. All the rooms are unlocked. He could catch you when you step into yours and... well, who knows."

"My hero," she said. Then she touched his arm. "Thanks for the thought, but I —"

"No arguments," he said. "I'm going with you and we haven't got much time. Besides, I'm not letting some creep who's been sniffing too much bug spray ruin my weekend in AC."

"Some hero!" she said and laughed.

Tim loved the sound.

It took them less than five minutes to make it back to Women's Country. As Quinn pushed through the stairwell door ahead of him, she stopped and pointed down the hall.

"See? Nothing to worry about. You could have saved yourself the trip. There's the Chief of Security himself standing in my doorway."

I knew it!

Tim squeezed past her into the hall. He saw Verran, but the security man was no longer in the doorway to Quinn's room. He had just pulled it closed and was bustling toward them, his jowls jiggling, an anxious look straining his features.

"What are you two doing here?" he said. "You're supposed to be in class now."

"We're going right back," Quinn said.

"Didn't you read the notice? Rooms are to be vacated between eight and twelve."

"I'll only be a second," Quinn said, starting toward her room. "I just have to pick up some —"

Verran stepped in front of her, blocking her way.

"You can't go in there right now. He's right in the middle of spraying."

"Bullshit," Tim said.

He stepped around Verran and headed for Quinn's door. He'd had enough. Too many screwy coincidences here: Fifty-two rooms on the floor and they just happen to be spraying 252 when he and Quinn arrive unannounced, Verran obviously upset at their surprise return, and the unsettling fact that Verran didn't have to ask Quinn who she was and which room was hers.

Something was going on.

"Hey! Come back here!"

Tim heard Verran hurrying after him but didn't slow. He had a good lead. He'd be in Quinn's room well ahead of him. But as he was reaching for the knob, the door opened.

A tall, dark-haired man in his early thirties stood there. He wore gray coveralls with an oval patch on the left breast that said A-Jacks Exterminating. He carried a toolbox in one hand and a two-gallon spray canister in the other.

He smiled easily at Tim. "Hey. How's it going?" then looked past him. "All set in here, Mr. Verran. Where to next?"

Verran hauled up next to Tim, puffing. "What? Oh, yeah. Good. We'll go to 251 next." He glared at Tim. "What's the idea of taking off like that? You got a problem or something?"

Tim saw Quinn come up behind Verran. She was giving him a funny look. What could he say? Something wasn't right but he hadn't the vaguest idea what.

He turned back to the exterminator and saw that he, too, was staring at him. Not at him, exactly —at his lapel.

"That's a neat-looking pin you got there," the bug man said. "Where'd you get it?"

"Found it," Tim said.

Tim wasn't in the mood for small talk, but the bug man seemed completely taken by the pin.

"Take a look at this, Mr. Verran," he said, pointing to Tim's lapel. "You ever seen anything like that?"

Verran came around and looked. Tim thought he saw him stiffen, but couldn't be sure. What was so fascinating about a little black hockey puck?

"No," Verran said slowly. "Never." His voice sounded strained. "You want to sell that?"

"No."

Tim was irritated with the attention. He didn't want to buy or sell anything. He just wanted Quinn to get her notes and get out of here.

"You sure?" Verran said.

"Very sure. Is it okay if she gets her notes now?"

The bug man seemed surprised by the question. "Hmmm? Oh, uh, yeah. Sure."

Tim waved Quinn into the room, followed her in, then closed the door behind them.

"How's the room look?" he said.

Quinn glanced around. "Fine."

"Just as you left it?"

"I think so. The bedspread looks a little wrinkled, but otherwise —"

"Nothing missing?

"Not that I can see." She looked at him closely. "Tim, are you all right?"

"I'm fine. Why?"

"Because you're acting —"

"Weird? Yeah, I know." He searched for a plausible explanation. "Maybe I've been cooped up on this campus too long. Maybe I'm getting Ingraham fever. I need a break, need to get away for awhile."

"Well, you're getting away tonight, aren't you? We both are."

"Right. To AC. And not a moment too soon."

"Okay. So hang on."

He gave her a smile. "I will." Then he sniffed the air. "You smell anything?"

"No. Should I?"

"They just sprayed in here, didn't they? Shouldn't we be smelling something?"

"The stuff they're using is supposed to be colorless and odorless."

So's water, Tim thought.

"Can I use your phone a sec?"

"Sure."

As Quinn dug her notes out of a drawer, Tim dialed 411. He turned his back to her and he asked in a low voice for the number of A-Jacks Exterminating. He didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed when the operator came up with a number. When he hung up, Quinn was ready to go.

"All set?" she said.

"Yeah. Let's get out of here."

Before he closed the door behind them he took one last look. Something had been done to this room, something more than bug spraying. But damned if he could figure what.

 

 

MONITORING

 

Kurt was laughing.

"What's so goddamn funny?" Verran said.

"This whole thing! Here we spend weeks combing the whole fucking campus for this bug you lost and all the time this jerk's been wearing it like a stick pin on his coat!"

"At least it explains why we could never track it down," Verran said.

"Oh, God, I wish I'd a-been there... just to see the look on your face when you saw..." Kurt dissolved into helpless laughter again.

Even Elliot was grinning like an idiot.

Verran ground his teeth. Nothing funny about this, dammit. That Brown kid had been wearing the bug around campus for all to see. What if somebody had recognized it for what it was? Christ, what if Alston had spotted it?

Verran didn't want to think about it.

"Better get a grip on yourself," he told Kurt, "because it's going to be your job to get it back."

Kurt stopped laughing. "Why me? I didn't —"

"Tonight."

"Brown's taking off for Atlantic City tonight, chief," Elliot said.

"How do you know that?"

"Heard him talking with the Cleary girl about it. They're going together."

"Awright!" Kurt said. "Boffing the blonde! Wouldn't mind a piece of that action myself."

Verran motioned him to shut up. "Maybe our luck is starting to change. We can grab the bug back while he's out of town."

"What if he's got it with him when he leaves?" Elliot said.

Kurt snorted. "The way our luck's been running, that's the way it'll go down."

Verran couldn't argue with that. But maybe that could be worked to their advantage. What was the old saying? When somebody hands you a lemon...

"Here's what we'll do," he said. "We'll watch him leave. If he's wearing the same jacket he had on this morning, we'll assume he's got the bug on him. You two will tail him to Atlantic City —"

"And whack him!"

Verran glared at Kurt for the interruption and started when he saw the .38 in his hand.

"Put that away!"

Kurt grinned. "Just kidding, Lou."

He watched Kurt replace the pistol in the bottom drawer of the center console, then continued. "As I was saying, tail him to A.C. and look for a chance to rough him up a little. Make it look like a mugging."

Elliot frowned "What if we see a chance to get it without any rough stuff?"

"Do it anyway."

Kurt ground a fist into his palm. "Awright!"

"I don't know about this, Chief," Elliot said. "We could get pinched."

"Not if we do it right," Kurt said.

"I don't know," Elliot muttered. "I don't know."

Verran knew how twitchy Elliot got at the thought of winding up in a jail cell again.

"It'll be all right, Elliot," Verran said, clapping him on the shoulder. "I promise you."

Kurt grinned. "Don't worry, little buddy. I'll take care of you."

Verran swung on Kurt. This was almost like being a goddam football coach —push one, restrain the other. "No permanent damage, Kurt. Just enough to get the cops involved. And make sure they get involved —even if you have to call them yourselves."

Elliot's expression was baffled. "How come?"

"I've got my reasons."

 

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

 

"I hope I'm not making a mistake," Quinn said as she dropped her overnight bag into Griffin's trunk.

She watched as Tim settled her bag next to his own, then slammed the trunk top.

"What do you mean?" he said.

"I mean that we're traveling as friends and there isn't going to be any hanky panky."

He laughed. "'Hanky panky'?"

She felt her cheeks reddening. "One of my mother's expressions. But you know what I mean. I just don't want any... misunderstandings. Understand?"

He hung his head. "You mean we're not going to have the night of wild, Dionysian sexual abandon that will finally give meaning to my miserable life?" He sniffed.

"Open the trunk," she said. "I'm out of here."

He grinned. "Only kidding!"

"You'd better be, otherwise you're going to be one very disappointed medical student."

"Let's go."

As Quinn moved toward the passenger door, she heard a car behind her. A black Celica GT-S pulled into the neighboring spot on her side. With all the empty slots around, she wondered idly why it had to park so close to them. A big blond fellow got out and gave them a friendly nod. He looked vaguely familiar, then Quinn recognized him as someone she'd seen around the security desk in the Science Center. Why was he parking in the student lot? She noticed him looking past her, directly at Tim, almost staring. Then he slammed his door and strode up the incline toward the Administration building.

I wonder if he knows we're going away overnight? she thought. Probably. Everyone else seemed to. You couldn't keep too many secrets at a place as small as The Ingraham.

And everybody seemed to think they were indeed going to AC for the wild night Tim had kidded about before. Judy Trachtenberg had caught her in the hall just a few moments ago, winking and nudging, speaking in a very bad Cockney accent: "Gettin' away for a bit o' the ol' in an' out, are we?"

Quinn supposed it was a natural assumption. She and Tim were seen together a lot, and now here they were going off with overnight bags.

She settled into the front seat, belted herself in, and looked at Tim as he started the engine. She liked Tim, liked him a lot. She had a sense that his occasional sexist remarks and bluff attitude were a male thing, a front to hide the sensitivity perking below the surface. She was sure it was there; he'd let the facade slip a couple of times and she'd caught glimpses of it. Why did he feel he had to hide it?

Romance with Tim, a little sexual cuddling, or even sex... would that be so bad? There was an empty spot in her life, a void that she'd never managed to fill, a subtle, aching loneliness that she kept submerged in the torrent of activity that consumed her daily life. But in quiet moments, sometimes in those early morning hours when she'd awaken before her alarm clock, she'd feel the pang of that hollow spot.

She wasn't a virgin. That had ended in high school with Bobby Roca. She'd been sure he was the love of her life. They'd made lifelong promises to each other, and had wound up in his bedroom one Saturday night when his parents were away for the weekend. Her next period had been late and she'd been scared to death. She'd seen her whole future in medicine swirling down into a black hole and she was desperate for some support, some comfort, someone to lean on, just a little. Bobby had offered all the warmth and comfort of a snake. Worse, he actually blamed her. When her period finally arrived, a week late, she'd told Bobby to take a hike.

There'd been nobody since... nobody important, anyway. Not that there hadn't been opportunities, but she'd never let a relationship get off the ground. She wasn't sure why. Why did she take sex so seriously? So many of the girls at U. Conn had been so casual about it. They went out once or twice and sex just became part of the relationship. Male and female —what could be more natural? She knew it wasn't always so great for them, but neither was it the hardest thing in the world. Why wasn't it easy for her? Why did she attach so much importance to it?

Hadn't most of them been raised the way she'd been —the right man, the right time and place and circumstances?

Tim might be the right man, but this wasn't the right time in her life, and a freebie hotel room in Atlantic City after a night of watching Tim gamble would not be the right place and circumstances.

And overriding all of it was the weight of her concern for her career. She couldn't afford any sort of distraction now. This was not the right time in her life for a serious relationship —the only kind of relationship she knew how to have. Later. There would be plenty of time later. For now she had to remember to keep pulling back from Tim and keeping her eyes —and the rest of her —focused on the future.

No foreign entanglements.

But snuggling close to him tonight, his arms around her... a nice thought, a warm thought. But it would remain just that: a thought.

 

 

 

"You're sure you saw it?" Verran said.

He was standing with Elliot and Kurt on the rise overlooking the student parking lot.

Kurt nodded. "It was there, right where Elliot said it was —same coat, same place. I could've reached out and grabbed it."

"That you'll do later on. In AC. Follow them there. Watch them. Stay out of sight. Be patient. Wait for your chance and make it a good one. You got what you need?"

Kurt nodded. "Reversible jackets, gloves, ski masks, the works."

"Isn't there another way we can do this?" Elliot said.

He'd been quiet and edgy all day. Verran knew Elliot was picturing himself in a jail cell, but he didn't want to pussy out so he was hanging in there with Kurt.

"This is no big deal, Elliot. And it's perfect if it happens up in Jersey. That way The Ingraham isn't involved in any way. And should there be any question, you were both here with me all night. Now get going. You don't want to lose them."

Verran watched them get into their separate cars and roar off. By tomorrow morning he'd have the missing bug back and he could rest easy again.

 

 

 

"Mmmmmm," Tim said as they came off the Delaware Memorial Bridge and turned onto New Jersey Route 40. "The road to Atlantic City. I can smell the money already."

Quinn looked around at the surrounding darkness as the four-lane blacktop quickly narrowed to two.

"Pretty desolate."

"This is mostly farmland. If you think it's dark here, my dear, wait till we get into the Jersey Pine Barrens. A million acres of nothing. Then you'll see dark. AC is still almost sixty miles off, so now's as good a time as any to plan our strategy."

"Strategy?"

"Sure. We're both going to play."

"Oh, no. I don't know the first thing about gambling. And I can't afford—"

"You'll be playing with my money. Here's how it works. In the casinos, blackjack is dealt—"

"Blackjack? I've never played blackjack."

"Sure you have. It's twenty-one. The guy who gets closest to a twenty-one value in the cards he's dealt, without going over, wins. Number cards are face value, picture cards are worth ten, and the ace can be worth one or eleven — your choice. You get dealt an ace and a picture card — say a queen — that's twenty-one. That's blackjack, and you win automatically."

"Win what?"

"Money. If you just plain beat the dealer, you double your money. So if you bet ten bucks, you get your ten back, plus another ten. A blackjack pays even more."

"Who pays you?"

"The house."

"Whose house?"

"The casino! Quinn, where've you been for the past 22 years?"

"I've been lots of places." Why was Tim getting so worked up? "I just haven't been in casinos."

"That's obvious. And that's probably a good thing. But..." He wrinkled his nose as a pungent odor seeped into the car. "Whew! What's that?"

Quinn recognized it immediately. "Cows," she said. "Somebody's got a herd along here. You don't grow up on a farm without knowing that smell."

"Yeah? Well, they do call this the Garden State. But let me lay the situation out for you. We're going to be customers of the casino, and since the casino's business is gambling, we're going to be called gamblers."

"I'd rather be a customer."

"Bear with me, Quinn. We're going to go into the casino and sit at the table with other gamblers. But we're not going to play each other. We're going to play the casino —the house. The house will be represented by the dealer. The dealer is nothing more than a guy —or lots of times a woman —who is paid to be a machine."

"I don't get it."

"Dealers have no decision-making powers. If the cards they've dealt themselves total sixteen or less, they deal themselves another card. When the cards total more than sixteen, they take no more. The casinos have calculated that this strategy gives them the best odds of staying ahead of their customers. And they're right."

The whole concept baffled Quinn. "Well, if you know the casino —excuse me, the house —is going to win, why bother gambling at all?"

"An excellent question, Quinn. A question many gamblers have asked themselves countless times."

"It sounds to me like you should simply walk into the casino, hand your money to the dealer, and walk out again. You'd save yourself all the sweat and apprehension and maybe you could do something useful with the extra time you had."

Tim stared at her, awe in his voice and a look of utter amazement on his face.

"You're not kidding, are you? You're really for real, aren't you?"

"The road, Tim," Quinn said, pointing through the windshield. "Please watch the road."

He faced front again. "How about excitement, Quinn?"

"What's exciting about losing money?"

"But that's just it. You don't always lose. Sometimes you win. And it's not so much the winning or losing but the process itself that matters. It's a chance to beat the system —or at least a system. And everybody likes to beat the system. Especially me."

"I think we've had this conversation before."

"Right. While we were waiting to hear if The Ingraham was going to accept you. That was when I told you that I can beat the casinos' system."

"Isn't it an old joke that if someone comes up with what he knows is a sure-fire, fool-proof, can't-lose gambling system, the casinos will have a car waiting for him at the airport to take him directly to their tables?"

"Right. Because the casinos have got their own system: the structure of the pay outs, the ceilings on the bets, the simple mathematics of the law of averages —everything is geared toward guaranteeing them the lion's share of the action that crosses their tables. But no casino's system is set up to handle a wild card like me."

Dustin Hoffman's face suddenly flashed before Quinn's eyes and she laughed. "You think you're Rain Man, don't you."

"I beg your pardon, Miss Cleary. I may be an idiot, but I am not an idiot savant. Rain Man and I work differently. His brain was number oriented, mine is picture oriented. But the end result is the same: after a few decks have been played, we both have a pretty good idea what's left in the shoe."

"Now I'm completely lost."

Tim sighed patiently. "Okay. Casinos don't deal Blackjack from a single deck anymore since a bunch of people worked out a counting system that gave them a decent edge over the house."

"But—?"

He held up a hand. "Let me finish. So the casinos started shuffling up to eight decks at a time and loading them all into this hopper called a shoe and dealing from that. Most folks can learn to keep track of a fifty- or hundred-card deck, but not four hundred cards. But I can."

"Your photographic memory," Quinn said.

"Yep. I remember every card that's been played."

"But what good is that?"

"Not much until you get down to the end of the shoe. But when we do get down to the last hundred cards or so, I usually know exactly what's left in the shoe."

"But if you don't know the order they're in, what good is it?"

"I don't need to know the order. All I need to know is if there's a predominance of high cards or low cards. If those last hundred or so cards are tilted heavily in either direction, that's when I make my move. That's when I make my killing and beat their system. And you're going to help."

"What do you mean?"

"Know what this is?" He held up his right hand; his thumb and forefinger were extended, the three middle fingers folded down. He wiggled it back and forth. "It's the Hawaiian hang-loose sign." He wiggled his hand again. "In hoc signo vinces."

She knew the translation, but..."I still don't get it."

Tim reached over and patted her knee. "You will, Quinn. By the time we get to AC, all will be clear. And then we'll both beat the system."

 

 

 

Atlantic City wasn't at all as Quinn had pictured it. The postcards and photos she'd seen over the years had shown sunny beaches, tall, new, clean buildings, and a wide boardwalk filled with smiling, happy people. The city she saw as they came in from the marshy salt flats was old, worn, battered, and beaten, with vacant store fronts, peeling paint, rotting shingles, and broken windows. Equally dilapidated people —most of them black —shuffled or slunk along the narrow, crumbling, littered sidewalks in the halogen glow of the streetlights.

"This looks like Beirut," Quinn said.

"Yeah, but it's a Beirut laid out by the Parker Brothers."

Despite the desolation, Quinn had to smile as they passed the avenues: Atlantic, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania...

"Right. Monopoly. I've bought these streets plenty of times. But I'd be taking a lot better care of them if they were still mine."

"Consider this your reality check before stepping into the land of make believe."

They turned onto Virginia, and moments later they were entering an Arabian Nights Neverland. Smooth, well-lit pavement lined with stone elephants led down a long, walled entry to a maharajah's palace —or rather a Hollywoodized vision of a maharajah's palace, with candy-colored cupolas and faux-Arabic script spelling out "Donald J. Trump presents the TAJ MAHAL." Tim pulled to a stop under the canopy where turbanned attendants unloaded their baggage and whisked the car away to the hotel garage.

"Sort of like stepping out of Kansas into Oz, isn't it," Tim said as they followed their bags toward the registration desk.

Quinn thought of the desolation outside and the costumed attendants swirling around her now in the opulent lobby.

"More like entering the Masque of the Red Death."

Tim gave her a sidelong glance. "Nothing like an upbeat literary analogy to set the tone for the evening."

As the porter led them to the registration area, Quinn noted that the faux-Arabic script was everywhere —over the restrooms and over the VIP check-in desk where they stopped.

"Can we have two beds?" Quinn said to the woman as Tim handed his comp invitation across the counter.

"I'll see what I can do, ma'm." She checked her computer screen. "Yes. That will be no problem."

"No problem for you, maybe," Tim muttered.

Quinn laughed.

 

 

 

As soon as the bellman was gone, Quinn tossed her bag onto the king-size bed near the window.

"I've got this one!"

Tim dropped his on the other. "Then I guess this one is mine."

Compared to the rest of the hotel, Quinn thought the room was rather ordinary. Almost a relief not to see minarets on the bedposts.

"We can unpack later," she said. "Let's go downstairs. I'm not underdressed, am I?"

He laughed. "No way. There's not much in the way of a dress code on the gaming floor."

"Good. Are we ready, then?"

She was getting into the mood, giving in to a growing excitement. She couldn't help it. She wanted to see the casino and try out Tim's plan.

"Fine with me," Tim said. "But how about a quickie before we hit the tables?"

She could tell he was kidding —well, half kidding. And she was almost tempted...

... No foreign entanglements...

She played indignant and pointed to the door. "Out."

"For good luck?"

"You told me you didn't believe in luck."

He hesitated. "I did, didn't I. Why do I say things like that?" Then he brightened. "But I'd sure as hell consider myself lucky if —"

She pointed to the door again. "Out!"

 

 

 

Quinn was taken aback by the casino's gaming floor. She'd expected the flashing lights and the noise, the bells, the clatter of the slots, the chatter of the voices, but she wasn't prepared for the crowd, for the ceaseless swirl of people, and the layer of smoke that undulated over the tables like a muslin canopy.

She paused at the top of the two steps that led down to the gaming floor, hesitant about mingling with the flowing crowd. Everyone down there seemed to know what they were doing, where they were going. Suddenly she felt a little lost. She grabbed Tim's arm.

"Don't lose me."

He patted her hand where it gripped his bicep. "Not a chance."

He led her gently into the maelstrom.

"First we'll take a walk, get you oriented, then we'll find us a table and relieve Mr. Trump of some of his money."

Quinn couldn't say exactly what she had expected to see in a casino, but this was not it. Not by a long shot.

But it was absolutely fascinating.

She had always been a people watcher, and this was a people-watcher's paradise.

First they had to wade through the phalanxes of slot machines with their dead-eyed players, most of whom seemed old, and not too well dressed. Each stood —except for the ones in wheelchairs —with a cup of coins in the left hand, and a cigarette dangling from the lips as they plunked in coins and pulled the lever with their right hand. The machines dutifully spun their dials, and then the procedure was repeated. Endlessly. Robots playing robots. Even when the machines clanked coins into the trays, the players showed no emotion.

Quinn had a sense of deja vu, and then she remembered an old silent film, Fritz Lang's Metropolis, in which laborers in the city of the future were shown working the machines of the future, pulling levers with soulless ennui.

But this was no dank subterranean factory. Dozens of huge, magnificent chandeliers were suspended in recesses in the mirrored ceiling. Lights flashed everywhere.

She heard excited shouting from a group of men crowded around a table.

"What's that?"

"Craps. I've tried to learn that game for years but I still don't understand it."

"They sound like they're having fun."

"That's because they're winning. But you can lose your shirt before you know it in that game."

She followed him to the blackjack section, aisles of curved tables, some full, some empty.

"Can we get a non-smoking table?"

"That's not one of my criteria," Tim said, "but I'll try."

"There's nobody at that one," she said, pointing to a table where a female dealer stood with her hands behind her back, staring blindly ahead over an empty expanse of green the color of sunlit Astroturf. She wore a purple vest festooned with gold brocade over a white shirt fastened at the throat with a gold broach. All the dealers, male and female, were dressed identically. "We could have it all to ourselves."

"We don't want it all to ourselves," he said. "It'd take forever to work through the shoe."

"But she looks lonely."

"Quinn..."

"Sorry."

They wandered up and down the blackjack aisles. Quinn watched Tim's eyes flickering from table to table, searching.

"What are we waiting for?"

"I'm looking for the right table," Tim said. "It's got to be nearly full and the dealer is just starting a new shoe." He stopped, staring. "And I think I just found it."

He led her to the right.

"But it's only got one seat."

"That's for you."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'll be standing right behind you, teaching you the game, waiting for another seat to open up."

Quinn saw cigarettes in the hands of two of the four players already at the table.

"About that non-smoking table?"

"Quinn..."

"Sorry."

 

 

 

As Tim pulled out the end seat on the dealer's right and held it for Quinn, he scanned the cards on the table. This was the first hand. He'd seen one of the players placing the yellow cut card and had moved quickly, despite the table limits: minimum $10 / Maximum $500. He would have preferred something higher. Once the cards already played were photographed and filed in his memory, he squared Quinn at the table and dropped twenty one-hundred-dollar bills on the table.

"Hundreds," he said, and waited for Quinn's reaction.

As the dealer called out, "Two thousand in hundreds," she didn't disappoint him: She nearly gave herself a whiplash as she snapped her head around to look at him. Tim winked, pushed the black-and-green chips in front of her, then moved behind her where he had a good view of the table.

The other players were three deadpan middle-aged men with drinks in front of them —scotch or vodka on the rocks, Tim guessed —and an elderly, chain-smoking woman with orange hair.

"What do I do now?" she said.

"Bet a hundred. Put out one chip."

"That's a hundred dollars!"

"Please do it, Quinn." He winked at the dealer, a pretty blonde wearing a ton of eye shadow. "She's a beginner." The dealer favored him with a tolerant smile.

Quinn slid the chip forward and was dealt an eight and a ten. The dealer had a king showing.

"What do I do now?"

"Stick."

The dealer turned over a nine and raked in Quinn's chip.

"What happened?"

"We lost."

"We lost a hundred dollars? Just like that?"

Down the table, one of the other players groaned softly.

"Put out another chip."

"How about half a one?"

"Quinn..."

"Sorry."

She placed the chip and got a four and a five in return. The dealer had a seven showing.

"What do I do now?"

"Take a look: The very best she can do is eighteen. Since that's over sixteen, she has to stick. You're a sure loser with what you've got, so take another card when she comes around to you."

The dealer looked at Quinn, her eyebrows raised questioningly.

"I'll take another card, please."

Tim said, "Real gamblers say, 'Hit me,' or just tap their cards."

Quinn tapped her cards. "Hit me. Please."

Tim scanned the cards showing and noticed an indulgent smile on two of the other players.

A ten of clubs landed in front of Quinn. The dealer turned over a queen. She placed another green-and-black chip next to Quinn's.

"I won?" she said.

"You won."

"That means we're even. Maybe we should quit now."

"Quinn..."

"Sorry." She reached for one of the two chips in front of her.

"Let them ride," Tim said.

"Two hundred dollars all at once? I hope you know what you're doing."

The pit boss, dressed in a gray suit, stepped up to Tim's side and spoke in a low voice. "Is there anything the casino can do for you, sir?"

Tim had been expecting him. Two thousand tossed on the table tended to attract the right kind of attention. That was why he'd bought all his chips at once.

Tim shrugged. "Our room's already comped."

The pit boss nodded sagely. "In that case, may we offer you dinner, perhaps? And the show? Julio Iglesias is here tonight."

"Dinner will be fine," Tim said.

The pit boss bowed and walked off.

Meanwhile, Quinn had been dealt a jack of clubs. Then came an ace of diamonds.

"Blackjack!" Tim said and Quinn screeched excitedly as the dealer pushed three more chips in front of her.

"I like this game!" she said.

The others were smiling openly now, nudging each other. They loved her.

Of course they did. Tim put his hands on her shoulders and gently kneaded the tight muscles under the fabric of her blouse. How could they help but love her?

 

 

 

Quinn was feeling a little more comfortable with the game now. She'd caught the rhythm of the table, of the play, but she was behind in the winning category. Her pile of hundred-dollar chips had shrunken.

She didn't like this gambling thing. She didn't like any of it —the casino with its noise and congestion, the city around it, the people within it with their dead eyes and their cigarettes, their endless, air-fouling, breath-clogging, eye-stinging cigarettes.

And she would have been completely loaded by now if she'd taken advantage of the complimentary cocktails. Every few minutes a long-legged waitress in a short skirt and a feathered fez —it had taken awhile for Quinn to get used to that fez —would be at her side, asking her if she wanted a drink. Quinn ordered her usual Diet Pepsi.

She had a moment of uncertainty when the orange-haired lady quit her seat and Tim strutted to the far end of the table to claim it, taking half of her remaining chips with him.

"I guess it's time for me to show Mr. Trump how to play this game for keeps," he said in exaggerated basso voice, a perfect parody of macho overconfidence.

He gave her a reassuring wave from the other end and she realized why he hadn't hesitated to move: the curve of the table gave her a clear view of him to her right. She missed the reassuring pressure of his hands resting on her shoulders but realized it was probably better if there was a little distance between them. It would make it easier to see the series of hand signals Tim had set up between them.

He'd said they'd be a very unpopular couple if the casino tumbled to what they were up to. That was probably the reason she had this prickling at the back of her neck, this feeling she was being watched. She'd glanced around a few times when the feeling had been exceptionally strong but had found no one staring at her.

Probably just a minor case of Timothy Brown-induced paranoia.

Quinn held her own through the next few hands without his direct guidance, then she glanced his way and noticed his left hand was splayed in the Hawaiian hang-loose configuration he'd shown her.

That was the signal to push her bets to the limit. A pulse of adrenalin shot through her. That meant the shoe was running out and Tim had calculated the remaining cards were heavily weighted one way or the other, predominantly high or predominantly low. She wondered which. Not that it mattered.

Whichever way it was, Tim had decided the time was right to make their move.

She watched him carefully now, her eyes darting repeatedly to his left hand, allowing him to direct her play.

She glanced at the plastic sign before her on the table.

MINIMUM BET: $10

TABLE LIMIT: $500

With an extreme effort she ignored the sick feeling that roiled through her stomach at the very thought of risking so much money on the turn of a card and pushed five one-hundred-dollar chips into the play area.

A queen and a two landed in front of her. What did Tim want her to do with that? Especially since the dealer had a five showing.

She glanced right and repressed a gasp as she saw that Tim had bet five hundred dollars too. Then she saw his left hand balled into a fist. She looked again to make sure, then took a deep breath. She hoped he knew what he was doing.

Her palms were slick with perspiration by the time the dealer came back to her. Quinn waved her off.

"I'll stick," she said, and her voice sounded hoarse. She knew it wasn't just from the smoke.

Right. First I'll stick, then I'll get sick.

The dealer flipped her down card —a jack. That gave her fifteen. She had to draw. Like a robot, Tim had said. Quinn held her breath... and watched her pull a king.

Busted!

The dealer placed a stack of five one-hundred-dollar chips next to Tim's bet, and another next to Quinn's.

Quinn felt too weak to cheer. She looked down at her watch. How long had that taken? Thirty seconds? She'd just made five hundred dollars in thirty seconds. How many summer weeks had she waitressed back-breaking double shifts and not made that much?

But then, as a waitress she'd never run the risk of losing money.

"You're beyond the table limit, Miss."

Quinn looked up, startled. "What?"

"Five-hundred-dollar limit," the dealer said.

"Oh, sure. Sorry." Quinn picked up the winnings and left the original stack out in the bet area.

Then she stopped and turned around. That feeling of being watched was stronger than ever. But once again, no one but the dealer seemed to be paying any overt attention to her.

She shrugged off the feeling and braced herself for another nerve-wracking hand.

 

 

 

They won three of the next four hands, then a yellow card popped out of the shoe and the play paused. Tim stood up and stretched.

"Maybe we should have had dinner, hon," he said. "I'm starved. Want to get something to eat?"

Hon? Quinn couldn't figure out what he was up to, then she glanced at the dealer and saw her shuffling a stack of cards.

"Uh, sure, hon. I know I could sure go for a big fat juicy steak right now myself, hon."

Tim laughed out loud and began gathering up his chips. Quinn began stacking hers. She thought the pit boss was watching them a little too closely. Did he suspect?

"For a beginner, you're one lucky little lady," said the old fellow next to her.

Quinn nodded toward Tim. "I have a great teacher."

Her pile was about the same size as when she'd sat down, but Tim had accumulated a pile of his own. Her hands shook as she stuffed them into her pockets.

She saw Tim take a chip and give it to the dealer. Quinn wondered why. The dealer hadn't been particularly friendly or helpful. She shrugged. Probably a custom. Like tipping a waitress.

She pushed one of her own chips across the table.

 

 

 

Tim pocketed his chips and guided Quinn away from the table. He wanted to throw his arms around her and kiss her, but he settled for putting his arm across her shoulders. He felt a fine tremor running through her. He squeezed her upper arm.

"Quinn," he whispered, "you were great."

"I think I need a shower," she said.

"Not bad for less than an hour's work," he said.

"How much did we make?"

"I figure we're almost two thousand ahead. And that's just the start."

Quinn sagged against him. "I don't know how much of this I can take."

"Hang in there, kid. That's about what I do alone. For the two of us it's just a start."

"You mean to tell me you clear two thousand every time you come here?"

"Not every time, but most times. Sometimes it takes longer than others. Sometimes you'll nurse a shoe all the way along and it stays even straight through, never swinging too far high or low. That's wasted time."

"But..." Quinn seemed to be having some trouble grasping the numbers. "If you take home two thousand dollars every time, and if you came here just once a week, you could..."

"Pull down six figures a year?" He shrugged. "Maybe. Don't think it hasn't occurred to me. Work one day, have the other six to spend the hundred thou you're taking home. Sounds great, doesn't it."

They wandered from the casino to the hotel section and strolled past the windows of the shops.

"I don't know," she said. "Does it?"

He noticed her watching him closely. He got the feeling the answer was important to her. But he didn't have to ponder a reply. Over the past few years he'd given the matter a lot of thought.

Still, he hesitated. He wasn't used to talking about himself —his real self. He'd spent his teen years cultivating an exterior that hid the sap inside. But this was Quinn and those big blue eyes were so close. Maybe he could risk it. Just a little.

"On the surface, yeah. It sounds ideal. But what have you got by the time you're old enough for Medicare?"

"I don't know," she said. "A pile of money?"

"Yeah. If that. Certainly not much else. There's got to be more to life than that, don't you think? Just making money isn't... doing anything. You haven't enriched anything but your bank account with your work. Like being a currency trader or a gossip columnist, or something equally empty."

"So you chose medicine —so you could do something with your life?"

This was getting a bit too sticky and Tim felt himself instinctively pulling back.

"Well, I figure medicine's a good thing to have to fall back on. And at least I'll have something noble-sounding to tell the kids —our kids —"

"Bite your tongue!"

" —when they ask me what I've been doing with my life."

"Can't you be serious for two consecutive minutes?"

"It's not entirely beyond the realm of possibility, Miss Cleary, but let's not fit me for a halo yet. As I've told you, mostly I'm at The Ingraham because it's free and it's a way to stave off adulthood a little longer."

"Uh-huh." He sensed that she didn't buy that, especially since she was nodding slowly and smiling at him. A very big, very warm smile.

"Let's go outside," Quinn said. "I could use some fresh air."

Tim sighed. He'd been hoping she'd want to go up to the room.

"Sure. This way."

 

 

 

"Aaaahhh!"

Quinn breathed deeply as she ran up to the railing on the leading edge of the boardwalk and threw her arms wide to catch the cool onshore breeze from the Atlantic. She reveled in the clean briny smell.

"Why can't they pump some of this into the casino?" she said.

Tim leaned on the rail beside her. "Because half the folks in there would probably keel over from an overdose of oxygen. Some of them haven't had a whiff of fresh air in twenty years."

She turned and looked at all the blinking lights, all the garish metallic colors on the cupolas of the Taj Mahal.

"Sort of adds new dimensions to the concept of gaudy, doesn't it," she said.

Tim laughed. "It could give garish a bad name."

They leaned and listened to the ocean rumbling beyond the darkened beach, watched the light from the gibbous moon fleck the water and glitter off the foamy waves. Quinn felt the tension of the blackjack table vent out through her pores. She noticed a stairway to their left.

"Let's go down on the beach, just for a minute." She kicked off her shoes. "I want to get some sand between my toes."

Tim followed her, grumbling. "I hate getting sand in my shoes."

At the bottom of the steps Quinn worked her feet into the cold, dry granules, and again felt that prickle at the back of her neck, that feeling of being watched. She turned and saw two dark figures moving along the boardwalk above them, hugging the rail, watching them. Something furtive about them...

She tapped Tim on the shoulder. "Maybe we should go back up."

"We just got here."

As Tim bent to empty the sand from his shoes, Quinn glanced up again. The two figures were at the top of the steps now, staring down at them, both definitely male, wearing knit watch caps. The lights were behind them so their faces were shadowed. They could have been sailors, but as she watched they pulled their caps down over their heads —ski masks! —and began sprinting down the steps.

"Tim!" she cried.

She saw him turn at the sound of their pounding feet but he had no time to react before they were upon him. They knocked him onto his back in the sand, punched his face, then began tearing at his coat pockets, ripping them open. For a few heartbeats Quinn stood paralyzed with shock and terror —she'd never witnessed anything like this, had always thought it happened to other people —before she began screaming for help and beating on the backs of the assailants. One of them turned and shoved her back. The blow was almost casual, but it over-balanced her and her feet slipped in the sand and she went down. In the cold moonlight she saw chips falling and scattering on the sand next to Tim as she continued to cry for help. The smaller of the attackers began to scoop up the chips while the bigger one kept battering Tim and tearing at his coat. Finally, after rocking Tim's head with a particularly vicious blow, the bigger one got to his feet at about the same time Quinn regained hers. He lunged toward her but she leaped for the stairs, shouting non stop for help, praying someone would hear, or maybe see her. She was half way up when he caught her, grabbing the waistband of her slacks and trying to pull them off her. With his other hand he began pawing between her legs. She jabbed back at him with her elbow but it glanced off his shoulder. She was losing her balance.

Suddenly Tim loomed up beside them, bloody nose, bloody mouth, and he was yanking the big one around and slamming his fist into the bump of the nose behind the mask. Quinn heard a crunch, heard a cry of pain, and then the smaller one was there, pulling his partner away, pointing toward the underside of the boardwalk.

Quinn kept up her shouting. She craned her neck above the level of the boards and saw security guards rushing toward them from the casino entrance. When she turned back the two muggers were already disappearing into the darkness under the boardwalk. Then she saw Tim slump against the hand rail, gasping, retching. Quinn darted to his side and hung there, not knowing what to do, where to touch him, where not to touch him, but knowing too well that her control was tearing loose and that all she wanted to do was throw her arms around him and cry.

So that was what she did.

 

 

MONITORING

 

Louis Verran snatched up the phone on the first ring.

"Yeah?"

"Chief —it's Elliot."

Tell me something good, Elliot!

"We got it."

Verran let out a long, slow sigh. At last. All this grief over a lousy bug.

"Where are you now? You made it out of town okay?"

"No problem." He sounded pumped, half delirious with relief that he'd come through without getting pinched. "We're at a rest stop on the Delaware pike. We took him outside on the beach. It was too perfect to pass up. He put up a fight but we nailed him good. Then we ducked under the boardwalk, ditched the ski masks, and reversed the jackets. Kurt ran north to his car and I went south to mine, just like we planned. Nobody gave us a bit of trouble. Very smooth, Chief. Very smooth."

Of course it was smooth, Verran thought. You plan out all your moves ahead of time, it always goes smooth. Even if the AC cops could have got out an APB in time, they'd have been looking for two guys of unknown race wearing black or dark blue windbreakers. A lone white male driving out of town in a red jacket wouldn't get a second look.

"And the cops? You give them a call?"

"Didn't have to. The hotel fuzz was coming to the rescue just as we were leaving."

Perfect.

"Where's Kurt now?"

"He's in his car not ten feet from me, waiting to get home."

"Good. Both of you come straight here. I'm proud of you guys."

And besides, Verran wanted to see and feel that rotten lousy defective bug in his very own hand. Tonight.

 

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

"At least I didn't lose any teeth."

Tim sat on the bed with an ice pack against his right cheek. Quinn knelt beside him, her hands clasped between her thighs, still shaking inside. The room was warm but her hands felt cold; she felt cold all over.

"You could have lost your life."

They'd been to the hotel infirmary once, in and out of the hotel security office twice —she had to say the Taj Mahal had been genuinely solicitous, even though the mugging had occurred off their premises —and to the Atlantic City Police department and back. They had filled out forms, given descriptions, and recounted the events leading up to and during the attack until they were both sick of talking about it.

The consensus was that it had been a random mugging, but Quinn remembered that feeling of being watched. She hadn't said anything to the police about it, though. But she suspected the two attackers had watched them win heavily, seen them go outside to the deserted boardwalk, and made their move.

Tim fingered the tears in his sport coat with his free hand.

"Look at this. Torn to shreds." He looked at her, reached out and rubbed her arm. His warm touch felt good. "You okay?"

She nodded. "I only got shoved around a little. But I feel completely worn out." She felt as if she'd been inflated to twice her size, and then had her plug pulled. A dull, throbbing headache topped it off.

"I know what you mean. But you got more than just shoved around. That goddamn creep!"

She didn't want to talk about it, even think about it. She put her hand over his. "You were very brave."

He snorted. "Brave? They had me down on my back and were punching my lights out."

"No. I mean after, when the big guy was attacking me. I know they hurt you, but still you got up and... came to help."

"I couldn't very well lie there and let him maul you, could I?"

"But you were hurt."

"Yeah, but I've seen all those John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies. They sort of make you feel there are things you should do even though you know you're going to get hurt."

Quinn slid closer and leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder.

"Does this hurt?"

"I'd say that's just what the doctor ordered."

Quinn felt oddly warm, with rushes of heat coursing through her. Short of breath too. All the good feelings she had for Tim crowded close around her, pressing her to him, and all the doubts and reservations she'd had, all the irritations he caused were gone, blown away. They didn't matter any longer. Tonight they'd walked together through a fire. She felt joined to this man.

She lifted her head and kissed him on the lips, gently.

"Sorry," she said. "I don't know why I did that." And that was true. She hadn't planned it, or even thought about it. She'd just... done it.

"Do it again," he said softly. "But easy on the lower lip. It's killing me."

And what followed came very naturally, very slowly, with their clothes being shed bit by bit, like old skin, and the heat building incrementally but irresistibly till it pulsed and throbbed with an incendiary life of it own as they joined like longtime lovers who'd known each other forever.

 

 

 

Quinn lay face down on the sheets and shivered in the dark as Tim's fingers traveled lightly up and down her spine. On one trip they continued further down and he ran his hands gently over her rear.

"I always knew you had a—"

"Don't say it."

"—nice butt."

"You said it."

"It's true."

"I have a caboose butt on an Olive Oyl body."

"No, you've got a Bluto brain. You need therapy for your distorted body image."

She lay quiet, her thoughts in turmoil, as he continued his feather-light caresses.

"What have we done, Tim?" she said finally.

"What comes naturally."

"I'm serious."

"You mean, have we ruined a beautiful friendship?"

"Exactly."

He moved closer, sliding against her right side, crossing his knee over the backs of her thighs. His lips brushed her ear.

"I hope not. I desperately hope not. But we can't pretend this didn't happen."

"I know."

"Do you want to stop and never do this again?"

"No. God, no. But every time you stop by the room, are you going to want to be like this? Am I? I didn't want to be involved, Tim. I really didn't."

"Are you involved?"

Quinn turned toward him and felt his chest hair brush her nipples as their legs entwined. She couldn't remember feeling this way about anyone else. Ever. This had to be love.

"Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Are you?"

"Have been since I first saw you at orientation last December. From that moment I knew it was going to be you and me. I didn't know how long it would take or how many different roads we would travel, but some part of me seemed to sense that we'd wind up together. You must have sensed something like that too."

Quinn laughed and hugged him closer —but gently. "No way! I thought you were an obnoxious brat, one of the last people on earth I wanted to have anything to do with. Just slightly ahead of Saddam Hussein."

"Thanks a lot." He nuzzled her throat. "But I have an idea. A compromise. We'll make it a rule between us that we don't make love on campus. When we can we'll sneak away to the No-Tell Motel or something and go nuts, but at The Ingraham we stay strictly platonic."

Quinn tried to see his face in the dark. Was this one of his put-ons? She wished she knew because it sounded perfect to her.

"Where'd you come up with that?"

"Oh, I don't know. I just put myself inside a very practical, borderline-nerdy mind and tried to imagine what that mind could come up with."

She punched him lightly on the shoulder and he winced.

"Ouch!"

"Sorry. But is that what you think of me?"

"Isn't that what you'd have come up with?"

Reluctantly, she had to agree.

He said, "But there's got to be an angle we can work with this. Maybe we can apply to Dr. Alston for extra credit when we make our little off-campus trips."

"Extra credit?"

"Sure. Extracurricular studies in anatomy. Or how about human sexuality lab? Gotta be worth something. In fact I think I'm ready to earn a few extra credits right now."

Quinn slid her hand down his abdomen. "Yes, you are. Yes, you are indeed."

 

 

MONITORING

"What the hell happened to you?"

Verran was staring at Kurt's swollen, purpling nose as he and Elliot arrived in the control room.

"The kid got in a lucky one when I wasn't looking." He sounded like he had a bad cold.

"Great. Just great. That means you're going to have to stay out of sight until that thing heals."

"What the hell for?"

"Because Brown saw you in the student lot before he left and your nose was fine then. If he knows he clocked one of the guys who attacked him on the nose and then he sees you with a freshly busted beak —"

"Aw, he'd never put the two together."

"Maybe not. But these kids ain't here because they're dummies. Just to be sure, I'm keeping you on the graveyard shift till that heals up."

"Aw, Lou."

Verran held out his hand. "Where's the bug?"

Elliot leaned forward and dropped it into Verran's palm.

"Safe and sound, Chief."

Verran stared at it. Such a tiny thing to cause so goddamn much trouble.

"Want me to see if I can fix it?" Elliot said.

"Are you kidding?"

Verran bent and placed the errant bug on the concrete floor, straightened, then ground it flat under his heel.

"That's the last time that little sonovabitch will give us any grief."

Elliot grinned and headed for his console while Kurt went to find some ice for his nose. Verran surveyed the varicolored meters, terminals, and LEDs of his little domain with quiet satisfaction. Only one problem remained to mar his serenity: the Cleary broad.

Elliot had run an exhaustive, comprehensive check on her SLI unit yesterday and had found everything in perfect working order, but tightass Alston was still insisting that there had to be something wrong with it. Verran knew there wasn't. As far as he was concerned, the problem wasn't with the unit, it was with the girl.

And since it was Alston's responsibility to screen the students, that put the ball in his court.

Which was a big relief to Verran. He'd solved his own missing bug problem; let Dr. Tightass figure out the Cleary problem.

As far as Louis Verran was concerned, it was back to business as usual in the control room.

 

 

DECEMBER

 

THE WORLD'S LONGEST CONTINUOUS

FLOATING MEDICAL BULL SESSION

(III)

 

Tim had dragged Quinn to another session tonight in Harrison's room. He told her the usual: She was working too hard lately and needed a break. But that wasn't the main reason. He simply needed to be with her a little more.

During the weeks since Atlantic City, despite the awful time he'd had keeping his hands off her, Tim had stayed true to his word and abided by their agreement, hands-off on campus. And when he'd suggested some HSR lab —HSR being their code for human sexual response —Quinn had never turned him down. She'd even suggested it a couple of times herself. After Thanksgiving break she'd told him she'd started on the pill, but still she insisted he wear a condom. One very careful lady.

They didn't get to the Quality Inn that often, but when they did she left Tim wrecked for days.

Those nights were like his wildest dreams come true. For all the no-nonsense prudishness Quinn projected when she was fully dressed, between the sheets she was a different species. Her inhibitions seemed to slough off with her clothes. She approached sex like she approached everything else —seriously, practically, with boundless enthusiasm. She attacked it, she studied it —that was hardly a surprise —and wanted to try everything. Very little was taboo. She even rented triple-X videos for instruction and she and Tim had spent exhausting nights mimicking the couples on the screen.

But for Tim the sex was the icing on the cake. It cemented the substance of their relationship, which for him was simply being with her, sharing her presence. He never seemed to get enough of her. Between the hours they were required to spend in class and in the various labs, plus Quinn's job as Dr. Emerson's research assistant, and the wasted hours grudgingly surrendered to sleep, there wasn't any time for them simply to be together. Sometimes they'd study together, holding hands when they weren't scribbling notes or turning pages, but her presence was too distracting for Tim to get much done.

He hungered for her presence. And that baffled him. He'd always been so self-sufficient. Now, when Quinn wasn't around, he felt incomplete. Tim wasn't sure he liked that.

But looking at her face now, at the disturbed and troubled expressions playing across it, he wondered if he'd been wise to include her in the bull session tonight. Her expression drifted toward horrified as Harrison elaborated on his ideas on the formation of a central government authority to oversee the equitable redistribution of medical resources. Tim couldn't understand her reaction. Harrison's plan made perfect sense to him.

"I don't believe you people," Quinn said when Harrison took a breath. "You're all talking about 'redistributing' medical care like you're discussing natural resources."

"A country's medical care is a natural resource," Judy Trachtenberg said. "Once of its most valuable resources."

"But it's not a natural resource," Quinn said. "It wasn't sitting underground waiting to be dug up. It's human made. You're not talking about moving lumps of coal or steel around, you're talking about people —doctors, nurses, technicians. I don't know about you folks, but I don't become a national resource just because I've earned a medical degree. I'm not something to be shipped around at the whim of some appointee in Washington. I don't remember signing off my human rights when I became a student at The Ingraham."

The room was silent. The eight other occupants sipped Pepsi or munched pretzels as they stared at her.

"Easy Quinn," Tim said.

"No. I won't take it easy." She was getting hot now. He could see the color rising in her cheeks.

She said, "Since when are all of you in favor of bureaucrats making medical decisions? What are we going to medical school for? To become glorified technicians? To spend our professional lives taking orders from a bunch of political appointees? 'Here, Brown. Fix this one here but forget that one over there.' They'll shunt you here and shift you there and call you a 'provider' and a 'resource,' but what about the patients?"

The room was utterly silent. Tim saw eight uncomprehending faces staring at Quinn as if she were speaking a foreign language.

"Well," Harrison said slowly, "it's because of the patients —for the patients —that tiering is necessary. They can't all receive top-level care, so some will have to be satisfied with second-level care, and some with third-level care. And someone has to decide who deserves what level of care. No one's happy with that, but it's a reality that has to be faced. Hiding your head in the sand won't make it go away."

The crack annoyed Tim but Quinn simply laughed it off.

"Who's got his head in the sand? You're talking about social engineering. What next? Eugenics? Or maybe a new Master Race?"

Judy groaned. "We're not Nazis."

"You know, I wish you'd all wake up and smell the coffee. I mean, don't you think there'll be a temptation for some of us to 'tier' patients according to political, religious, and racial prejudices?"

Harrison cleared his throat. "I can't see that being a problem for an ethical physican."

"I aggree," Quinn said. "But we're not all ethical —we're human. And we should be treating illness wherever we find it, not just in a select population. That's a God game I don't want to play."

"But it's going to be the only game in town," Harrison said. "That's why it's so important that graduates of The Ingraham go into primary care. That's where the front lines are. That's where we'll be exposed to both the useful and the useless members of society. That's where we can make a real difference. And maybe we can work it so that some of those useless folks can contribute something to society." He turned to Tim. "You've been unusually quiet tonight, Brown. Any comments?"

Tim shook his head. "No, uh... just listening."

Tim avoided Quinn's eyes but knew she was giving him a strange look.

He deserved it. He felt strange. He'd had the oddest feeling while sitting here listening to the conversation. Schizoid. Dissociated. A deep part of him completely agreeing with Quinn and yet another part tugging him the other way. The only times he noticed this dichotomy in his attitudes was on those rare occasions when he discussed medical politics with Quinn, or when she stopped by the bull session. He'd attributed his attitude shift to the fact that he was now more conversant with the issues associated with the coming healthcare crisis than he had been in September. None of the bull session regulars seemed to differ much on the issue of tiering health care delivery, simply on the mechanics of how to implement it. Quinn was becoming the gadfly, the Devil's Advocate they maybe needed to goad them into examining their premises.

Except no one was examining premises. Tim seemed to be the only one of the group even remotely receptive to Quinn.

But what had rocked Tim back on his heels was Harrison's last statement.

That's why it's important that graduates of The Ingraham go into primary care. That's where the front lines are. That's where we'll be exposed to both the useful and the useless members of society. That's where we can make a real difference. And maybe we can work it so that some of those useless folks can contribute something to society

It had been a typical Harrison statement. That wasn't the problem. The problem was in Tim's head: The same statement -not the same sentiment, the same statement, word-for-word —had gone through Tim's mind in response to Quinn's question.

Almost as if he'd been coached.

Suddenly he wanted out of the session.

Not to walk out. To run.

 

 

MONITORING

 

"Guess who's on his way down," Elliot said.

Louis Verran looked up from the daily status printout and groaned. "Don't tell me..."

"Yep."

"Shit," Verran said. He wasn't in the mood for Alston tonight. But then, when was he ever in the mood for Doc Tightass? "All right, pull that last bull session tape. Maybe it'll get him off our backs."

Alston had developed this thing for the Cleary girl. He'd been on her case and had been dropping by the control room regularly since Thanksgiving, looking for anything and everything Verran could get on her.

"Good evening, gentlemen," he said, breezing through the door like he owned the place. "Any new elucidating snippets of tape for me, Louis?"

"As a matter of fact, yes," Verran said. "We found some good stuff for you this time." He turned to Elliot. "Got that tape cued up there? Let her roll."

Alston took a seat and cocked his ear toward the speaker, listening intently. Verran listened, too, not so much to the words —he'd already heard them —as to the quality of the recording. Not bad. Pretty damn good, in fact. The kids must have been circled around the mike. Let Alston try griping this time about not being able to understand what they were saying.

Verran didn't record everything. Couldn't, and wouldn't want to if he could. Most of what went on in the dorm was studying and sleeping, the sound of pages turning followed by deep, rhythmic breathing. And when the kids were talking, it was usually about the most trivial, boring junk imaginable. So he sampled here and there. He'd rotate from pick-up to pick-up, eavesdropping from within the rooms or along the telephone lines, listening for anyone who might be talking about The Ingraham, or about any particular staff or faculty member. Happy talk was bypassed for the most part, but gripe sessions were always recorded. And any talk of a potentially compromising nature —sexual encounters, schemes to cheat on tests —was recorded and cataloged and filed away in Louis Verran's personal J. Edgar Hoover file... just in case.

The roving bull session tended to be as boring as all the other talk, except when a couple of them disagreed and got real pissed, but that only happened between newcomers early in their first year. After they'd all been here awhile, not only did the disagreements rarely get vehement, they rarely happened.

But when Verran had picked up the Cleary girl's voice in last night's bull session, he'd stopped his wandering ways and settled down to record the whole thing. Alston had said he was looking for any tidbits that would give him another look into Cleary's views on the future of medicine. Verran had recognized one of her rare participations in the bull session as a golden opportunity. Originally he had planned to tease Alston along with it, dangle the recording before him like a carrot before a mule. But when he'd heard Cleary sounding off like she did, he knew he couldn't wait. He had to dump the whole thing on Alston in one shot... and watch him squirm.

Verran watched the growing concern on Alston's face as he listened. He barely moved. He was still sitting there listening even after Cleary had quit the session. He knew exactly what Dr. Tightass was thinking: Who can I blame this on?

But Louis was ready for him when Alston finally swiveled in his chair and faced him.

"What do I have to do, Louis, to induce you to repair that young woman's defective SLI unit?"

"There's nothing to repair."

"It's quite obvious to me, and I am sure it will be equally obvious to our overseers from the Foundation, that you are not getting the job done."

Verran had suddenly had enough. He wanted to grab this twit and shake him until his brain rattled inside his skull. Instead he squeezed the arm rests of his chair.

"I'm not in the mood for games, Doc, so here's the story: Her unit checks out. Elliot and I went back to her room again last weekend while Cleary and her boyfriend were off campus boffing each other. It checks out. You hear that, Doc: Her SLI is in A-1 shape. Perfectamento. So stop blowing smoke and tell me what you're going to do about it?"

Alston was silent for a moment. His voice sounded tired when he finally spoke.

"What else can I do? She'll have to flunk out."

 

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

 

Tim was feeling restless, edgy. He couldn't handle studying tonight. He wanted to be with Quinn but she was booking it for the anatomy practical tomorrow. So he wandered.

He wound up in the north wing's first-floor lounge —soft, shapeless leather couches, a dropped ceiling for acoustical effect, snack and soft drink machines lined up against the rear wall. Joe Nappo was stretched out in front of the big rear-projection screen watching some cop movie. Tim dropped into one of the rear seats. He didn't recognize the movie but he did recognize Peter Weller's face from the Robocop flicks. On the screen, Weller was tearing his apartment apart, looking for something. Tim didn't know what the film was about and didn't care. He stared at the screen without really following the action. He had other things on his mind.

Like his own mind, for instance.

His last bull session —the one Quinn had sat in on —still bothered him. It baffled him how he could believe one way and think another. The shrinks had a term for it: cognitive dissociation. Two conflicting points of view existing within the same person.

... on the screen Peter Weller pulled his telephones apart, then began unscrewing the plates over the electrical outlets in his walls...

Tim realized he had two intellectual positions, one very much like Quinn's, the other identical to Harrison's, warring within him. The first seemed to spring from his gut, seemed to belong to him, but it had been battered into the mud by the second position. He might have forgotten it had ever existed had not Quinn's arguments caused it to stir. And that stirring had pointed up the vague strangeness of Harrison's position. What was it doing in his head? It sounded like an echo of everybody else who spoke up at the bull sessions.

Everybody else.

Tim had always prided himself on not thinking like everybody else. Yet he could sense himself becoming an intellectual clone of Dr. Alston. The guy was a charming and disarming lecturer, true, but he wasn't that good.

... on the screen Peter Weller was holding up something he had found. A small dark object. He was examining it, turning it between his fingers. The camera moved in for a close-up...

Tim bolted upright in his chair.

"What the hell?"

The object in Peter Weller's hand looked startlingly familiar, like a tiny hockey puck on a pin.

"Hey, Joe," he said. "What is this?"

Nappo spoke without turning around. "Called Rainbow Drive or something like that."

"What's going on?"

"His partner got killed in the opening scenes and —"

"No. I mean now. What's he up to?"

"He just found out his apartment's bugged."

Tim stared at the screen in cold shock, then got up and hurried for the door. His thoughts swirled in a chaotic jumble as he trotted down the hall and burst into the chill December night outside. The sky was a clear bubble and the stars seemed to spin as he walked aimlessly along the paths between the buildings that made up The Ingraham. He jammed his hands into his pockets against the late fall chill.

A bug. His mind shied away from accepting the fact that his little stick pin had been an electronic pick-up. He'd heard of them, but he'd never expected to see one in real life. Not at The Ingraham. Certainly not in Quinn's room. The possibility had never even occurred to him.

Was The Ingraham bugged? Or more specifically, was the dorm bugged? The very idea seemed ludicrous. A paranoid delusion of the first order. Because why in the name of sanity would anyone want to monitor the blatherings of a bunch of medical students? The idea zoomed past the ludicrous to the laughable.

And yet... How come I'm not laughing?

Because in some way he couldn't fathom, it seemed to dovetail with whatever it was that was making him so edgy lately.

Okay, he told himself. Let's run this through and follow the likely scenarios to wherever they lead. Let's assume the dorm is bugged. Or more specifically, since I found the bug in Quinn's room, that Quinn's room is bugged.

Why?

Who knows? We'll leave why for later. For now, let's just get logical.

Premise: Room 252 is under electronic surveillance.

If we accept that premise, who would be in charge of that surveillance?

Obviously, campus security.

Who's in charge of campus security?

Mr. Louis Verran.

Who has been caught twice in Quinn's room when she was scheduled to be out?

Mr. Louis Verran.

Tim shook his head as the pace of his walking slowed of its own accord. This was getting scary. Syllogistic logic had its flaws, but this little syllogism hit a too close to recent events: If room 252 is bugged, and if campus security is in charge of the bugging, and if Louis Verran is in charge of campus security, then one would expect Louis Verran to display an inordinate level of interest in room 252. Which he had.

Tim stopped short and watched his breath fume in the cold air as his thoughts raced through his mental pantries, grabbing incidents and observations from the shelves and tossing them helter-skelter into the stew. He didn't like the aroma that was beginning to rise from the pot.

Fact: Louis Verran saw the bug in my lapel last month — that so-called exterminator with him had pointed it out. And twelve hours later I get rolled in A.C., supposedly for my winnings. But maybe those guys were after a different sort of chip. They put a lot of effort into ripping up my coat, and afterwards, my little stick pin just happens to be missing along with my chips.

He swung around and headed back toward the dorm. Normally the glow of the lights in the rooms would have seemed warm beacons beckoning him in from the cold. Tonight they looked like a multifaceted cluster of eyes, watching him.

Because if one room was bugged, why not more? Why not all the rooms?

He pushed through the entrance to the south wing and turned toward the stairs to the second floor, heading for Women's Country. He had to tell Quinn. She had to know.

Then he stopped, unsure. Was that fair? Between classes, labs, and tests, plus her research job, she had enough on her mind. This would make her as crazy as it was making him. And maybe all for nothing. He could be wrong. Why dump any of this on her until he was sure?

But how could he be sure, unless... ?

If Quinn's room was bugged, there was a good chance his was too. Tim could think of only one way to find out: tear it apart.

He headed for his room.

 

 

 

"I really appreciate this, Kevin."

It had taken a fair bit of doing, but Tim had convinced his roommate to bunk in with Scotty Moore for the night. Moore's roomie, Bill Black, had gone home for a long weekend due to a death in the family. Kevin, a good guy but a congenital straight-shooter, wasn't crazy about the idea. He was afraid it was against the rules, but he hadn't been able to find a rule against it. So he'd agreed, reluctantly.

"Yeah, well, it's okay this time, but don't make a habit of it."

"This is the only time I'll ask this of you, Kev," Tim said. "I swear."

He'd told Kevin that he and Quinn needed "some time alone together" and that the inhabitants of Women's Country were too damn nosy to allow them any "real privacy." Pretty thin, but it was the best Tim could come up with on short notice. He didn't feel he could wait until Kevin went home for a weekend; he wanted to search the room now. It worked, mainly because everyone knew that Quinn and Tim had a thing going on. Kevin read between the lines what Tim had written there for him, and finally agreed.

"And you'll stick to your bed, right?" Kevin said.

"Stick? What on earth —"

Kevin's dark features darkened further. "I mean, you'll just use your own bed, right? You won't... do anything in mine?"

Tim held up three fingers. "Scout's honor."

"All right. But I've got to get back in here first thing in the morning."

"Have no fear, buddy. Everything will be exactly as you left it."

As soon as Kevin was gone, Tim ducked out and ran down to the parking lot. He took the tool kit from his car trunk and lugged it up to the dorm. Back in the room, he locked the door and stood there, looking around.

Where to begin?

He decided to try the bedroom first. After all, wasn't it in Quinn's bedroom that he'd stepped on the bug he mistook for a stick pin?

He started with the furniture. Flashlight in hand, Tim crawled around the room, peering into every nook, cranny, corner, and crevice. He crawled under his bed and Kevin's, and when he found nothing on the underside of the frame, he pulled off the mattress and box spring and inspected the frame from above. He couldn't move the bed around because it was bolted to the headboard unit which was fixed to the wall, so he unbolted the bed frame from the headboard and gave it a thorough going over. He emptied the closets, pulled out the nightstand drawers, cleaned out the bookshelves built into the headboard unit, took down the curtains and dismantled the curtain rods.

Nothing.

Then he remembered what he'd seen in the movie. He attacked the telephone, dismantling both the base and the handset. Then he removed the wall plates from all the electrical sockets and light switches. He dissected the desk lamp and the gooseneck tensor lamp atop the headboard unit.

Nothing.

Hours after starting, Tim stopped and surveyed the carnage around him. It looked like Nirvana had shot a video here. He'd torn the place apart. All for what? He was tired —probably the one of the last people awake in the dorm —and he was angry. There was something here. There had to be. Too many coincidences lately to be ignored. And he wasn't crazy.

He flopped back onto the mattress and box spring where they lay on the floor. He put his hands behind the back of his head and lay there staring at the ceiling, thinking: Where is the best spot to place a microphone if you want to pick up every sound in the room? Someplace centrally located with no possibility of being covered and muffled...

Tim's gaze drifted past the light fixture in the ceiling, then darted back to it.

Of course!

He jumped to his feet and stood on his mattress, but it was too much of a stretch to reach the fixture. He pulled a desk chair over, and he was there. As he loosened the central screw on the frosted glass diffuser he wondered if it was just coincidence that the glass on these fixtures hung an inch below the ceiling. A sensitive bug positioned up here would pick up every word said in the room.

When the glass came free, Tim set it on the bed, then squinted at the two sixty-watt standard bulbs. He couldn't see much in the glare, plus they'd been on for hours and were hot. He craned his neck, this way and that, trying to check it from all sides, but saw nothing.

Damn, he thought. Not only was it the perfect place, but it was the last place. He gave up and was fitting the diffuser back on its spindle when he spotted something in the tangle of wires behind the bulbs. A tiny thing —black like the one he'd found in Quinn's room, only this one's face was more beveled —with its pin inserted into the insulated coat of a wire above the bulb sockets. Completely unnoticeable, even to someone changing a bulb.

"Jesus."

Tim could barely hear his own voice.

An uneasy chill rippled through his gut as he stared at the bug. He realized then that deep within he hadn't expected to find anything. He'd been suspicious, there were unanswered questions, but this whole exercise had been something of a game. His hunt was not supposed to yield a real bug. Nestled in the unspoken rules had been the assumption that he would do a thorough search and find nothing, and then the game would end, leaving him frustrated at having no hard evidence to back up his suspicions.

But the game was no longer a game. Hard evidence was half a dozen inches from his nose. He stared at it a moment longer, then stepped down to the floor and sat on the corner of the bed.

Now what?

Report it? To whom? Certainly not Louis Verran. And what did one bug prove? No, the best way was to spread the word, have everybody check out their ceiling fixtures, and then present all the bugs en masse to the administration, even though they were probably involved as well. But even if they weren't, what could they do? What could they say? He could imagine what they'd say:

Yes, you have indeed found electronic eavesdropping devices in the rooms, but that doesn't prove anyone is actually listening. It's got to be some sort of elaborate practical joke. Because in the final analysis, why on earth would anyone want to listen to the incidental conversations of a group of medical students? We certainly don't. We can't imagine anything more boring.

Neither could Tim.

But that opened the door to another question: If the administration had nothing to do with the bugging and didn't care what was being said in the dorms, why did they insist that all Ingraham students live here for their entire four years as medical students?

It didn't make sense.

Unless there was something else going on.

He'd been puzzled by the seemingly alien thoughts taking hold in his mind. What if they'd been planted there?

Tim shook his head. This was getting wilder and wilder. The bug was one thing, but...

... but what if the people behind the bugging were interested in hearing what was coming out of the students as a way of monitoring what they were putting in?

Nah. The whole idea was too far-fetched. Besides, how could they possibly put ideas into your head? Where could they hide the equipment?

His gaze drifted to the only piece of furniture in the room he hadn't disassembled.

The headboard unit.

Before attacking that, he replaced the glass diffuser on the ceiling fixture without touching the bug —better not to tip off the listeners that they'd been found out. Then, screwdriver in hand, he approached the headboard.

 

 

Monitoring

 

"Yo, Chief."

Louis Verran looked up from his copy of Shotgun News and saw Elliot motioning him to his console. He rose, dropped the magazine on his seat, and waddled over.

It had been a very routine night so far. Less than a routine night. Nothing much of interest going on in the dorm, what with all the first- and second-year kids studying for their first-semester finals. Even the bull session was in a lull.

Dull. Just the way Verran liked it.

"What's up?" he said, leaning over Elliot's chair and scanning his read-outs.

"Something's going on in room one-two-five."

"Yeah? Let's listen."

"No. No chatter, Chief. But I've been picking up strange noises all night long."

"Yeah? Like what?"

"Like all sorts of scrapes, squeaks, scratches, and sounds like furniture being moved."

"Somebody's redecorating?"

"I don't think so. Especially since I'm almost sure he was fooling with the ceiling fixture."

Great, Verran thought. Just what we need.

"The pick-up still working?"

"Yeah. Perfectly."

"All right." Verran let out a deep breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "So even if he was fooling around with the light fixture for whatever reason, he didn't find nothing."

"I can't say that for sure," Elliot said. "All I can say is he didn't touch the pick-up. But I wish I could say the same for his SLI."

Verran felt a sheen of cold sweat break out between his shoulder blades and spread across his back.

"Stop beating around the fucking bush, Elliot. What's wrong?"

"It went dead about five minutes ago. I'm not getting any feedback from it at all."

"You run the trouble-shooting program?"

"Sure. First thing. But you can't do a software troubleshoot on a dead unit."

"Shit!" Verran said. Was this how the year was going to go? First Alston bitches about Cleary's unit when nothing was wrong, and now they had a unit that was genuinely on the fritz. "What do you think's wrong with it?"

Elliot gave him a sidelong glance. "You really want to know?"

"Of course I want to know!"

"I think it's being tampered with."

Verran reached for a chair and gently lowered himself into it. He hadn't wanted to know that.

"You mean he's into the headboard?"

Elliot nodded. "Not only into it, I think he unplugged the unit."

"Who?" Verran said. "Who the fuck is it?"

"Brown."

Brown. Verran rubbed a trembling hand over his eyes. It was happening again. Just like two years ago.

"I should've known. Where's Kurt?"

Elliot glanced at his watch. "Not due in for another hour yet."

"Call him. Get him down here right away. Tell him we need him pronto."

"Take it easy, Chief. This could all be a false alarm."

"False alarm, my ass! That Brown kid has been trouble since the day he stepped onto this campus. We've got to do something about him."

Brown has a roommate, he thought. Is he in on this too? Christ, two of them at once. What was he going to do?

As Elliot made the call, Verran pressed a hand against the right side of his abdomen, trying to ease the growing pain there. His ulcer was kicking up again. It had started two years ago, now it was back full force, mostly because of the Brown kid and his girlfriend Cleary.

Trouble. Nothing but trouble.

And if Elliot was right about Brown opening up the back of his headboard, the shit was really going to hit the fan.

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

 

All right, Tim thought as he stared at the maze of wires running throughout the rear section of his headboard, I've found it. But what have I found?

It hadn't been easy getting into the base of the headboard. Steel bolts with recesses in their heads had been used instead of conventional slotted or Phillips-head wood screws; they'd been wound tightly into steel bushings. Apparently these headboards had been custom made to take a lot of punishment. But Tim had found an Allen wrench in his tool box that did the trick —not with ease, but after an hour of cursing and earning a few fresh blisters, he'd managed to loosen the panel and expose the innards.

He knew something about electronics —he'd poked through his share of PCs, stereos, and VCRs —but he'd never seen anything like what lay behind the panel. Wires and circuit boards, okay, but what was that big, black, shiny disk facing the bed? It reminded him of a giant sub-woofer.

Whatever it was, he knew he was out of his depth. Something big was going down here. He was too beat to open up Kevin's headboard, and besides, he was sure he'd find the same thing. The same damn science-fiction rig was probably inside every damn headboard in the whole damn dorm.

Something clinked against the window then and Tim jumped. He stared at the drawn curtains. Was someone on the other side? His was a first-floor room. The window sill was chin level to a man of average height. If someone wanted to check out what he was up to in here, the first thing to do would be to try to look in the window.

Steeling himself, Tim stepped to the curtain and pulled it aside. Cold air trapped between the glass and the curtain swirled around him, raising gooseflesh on his arms, but thankfully there were no faces peering through the panes. Nothing but darkness out there.

I'm getting jumpy.

He closed the drapes and turned back to the exposed workings within the headboard. Maybe he had good reason to be jumpy. What if there was a trip switch of some sort within that mess of wire in there that set off an alarm somewhere when the headboard was tampered with?

Maybe he should get out of here.

Tim was scared now. He felt himself shivering and his hands shook as he pulled on a sweater. He wished he'd never begun this search, wished he'd left well enough alone.

But dammit, things hadn't been well at all. Somebody had been tampering with his mind, skewing his values. How could he have let that go on?

But now he had to tell Quinn. She had to know what was going on, what they were doing to people's heads here.

Funny thing about that, though... Quinn seemed unaffected. She'd stayed the course...

... which might explain why Verran kept returning to her room. Maybe the thing in her headboard wasn't working.

He had to tell her. He glanced at his watch. Late, but this couldn't wait. He snatched Quinn's room key off his dresser and shoved it into his pocket. They'd traded keys awhile back —he'd given her a set to his car and she'd given him one to her room so he could use it anytime he wanted to be alone when she was out.

But he couldn't talk to her there, or anywhere else in the dorm. Where? He grabbed a scratch pad and a pen as he left. He hoped he could figure out a safe place to talk by the time he reached the second floor.

 

 

 

"Wha —?"

Abruptly, Quinn was awake and she didn't know why. She lifted her head and looked around the darkened room, listening. She felt extremely vulnerable in the dark, especially since she was wearing only an oversized T-shirt and a pair of panties. But nothing was moving, nothing—

She head the hall door click closed.

Someone's here!

She reached for the phone beside her.

"Who's there? Tim, is that you?"

The light went on in the front room and Tim's voice drifted through the open door.

"Just me, Quinn." His voice sounded strange... strained.

She glanced at the radio alarm. The red LED display read 2:34.

"Do you know what time it is?"

He stepped through the door and flicked on the light.

"I'm sorry it's so late, but I couldn't sleep."

Quinn squinted in the sudden glare. "Must you?"

"Yeah. I want to look at you."

When her eyes adjusted, she stared at him and gasped. He looked ghastly —pale, haggard, and... frightened.

"Tim, what's wrong?"

"Nothing. I just had to see you."

As he finished speaking he held his index finger to his lips and thrust a note pad toward her.

"What —?"

He tapped the finger against his lips insistently and pointed to the pad. Quinn stared at the block printing.

THE ROOM

IS BUGGED!!!!

"What? You've got to be—"

He was frantically jamming his finger against his lips now. She looked at him and shrugged, completely bewildered. Was this one of his gags or had he gone off the deep end completely?

He took the pad and scribbled lengthwise on the next sheet.

MAKE SMALL TALK!

Quinn gaped at him. He appeared to be in genuine distress. She fumbled for something to say.

"Uh... you ready for the anatomy practical?"

He gave her the O-K sign and began writing on a third sheet as he spoke.

"Sure. You know me. I'm a quick study. Nothing to those practicals."

He held up the new note.

MEET ME IN THE

ANATOMY LAB

MY CAR AND I'LL

EXPLAIN EVERYTHING

"Yeah. I wish I had a memory like yours," Quinn said as she grabbed the pen and pad from him and jotted her own note.

ARE YOU FOR

REAL???

His slow, grim nod gave her a chill.

He yawned loudly as he retrieved the pad, scribbling as he spoke.

"Well, I've bothered you long enough. I'll leave you alone and see if I can get some sleep."

He handed the pad back to her.

I'LL WARM

UP THE CAR

She nodded. "Good idea. See you soon."

Tim flashed her another O-K sign, waved, and left her there in her bed, wondering what on earth had come over him. She sat for a moment or two, staring at the pad he'd left with her, flipping through the bizarre series of notes. She decided the only way to find out what was going on was to meet him in his car.

She jumped out of bed and began to get dressed.

 

 

 

"Can you hear me, Chief?"

It was Elliot's voice, transmitting via the pick-up in room 125.

Louis Verran stood in the control room with his face all but pressed against the fabric of the speaker.

"You know damn well I'm listening," he said irritably, though he knew just as damn well that Elliot couldn't hear the reply.

"Listen, we're in the bedroom of one-two-five. We couldn't see anything through the window —he almost caught us doing the Peeping Tom thing —so we came inside when he left. I was right, Chief. He's got the whole place torn apart, including the headboard."

"Shit!" Verran said. "Shit, shit, SHIT!"

"We don't know where he is now, but we can guess. We're going to go looking for him. Out."

"Yeah," Verran muttered. "Out."

This was bad. Very bad. Kurt and Elliot would have to find Brown and bring him in before he talked to anyone.

And Louis Verran would have to pick up the phone and call Dr. Arthur Tightass Alston and tell him that the nightmare scenario from two years ago was starting a rerun.

His intestines coiled into a Gordian knot as he reached for the receiver.

 

 

 

Tim checked his pockets as he galloped down the stairs, and realized he didn't have his car keys. He'd have to stop off at his room.

When he opened his door, the room was dark. Had he turned the lights out? He didn't remember. As he reached for the switch someone grabbed his arm and yanked him inside. The shock and sudden terror of it stole his voice. He heard the door slam behind him and now he was in complete darkness. He started to yell but someone rammed a fist into one of his kidneys and all that escaped him was an agonized groan. As the pain drove him to his knees, gasping, retching, his arms were pinned behind his back.

Here it comes, he thought. A bullet through the brain.

But then something —a rag of some sort —was forced into his mouth. He heard the scritch of tape being pulled from a roll and then a piece was pressed over his mouth. He had to breath through his nose. Air whistled in and out of his nostrils. He fought panic as he listened to another piece of tape being torn from the roll. If they covered his nose he'd suffocate. But this piece went across his eyes. And then he felt metal bands tighten around his wrists.

Handcuffs. His panic ebbed toward mere terror. They weren't going to kill him.

At least not yet.

 

 

 

Quinn knew something was wrong before she reached the parking lot. As she hurried down the slope she spotted Tim's car in its usual spot, but the motor wasn't running. She approached Griffin cautiously and peered within.

Empty.

She touched the hood and found it cold.

What's going on, Tim? What are you up to?

She shivered in the chill breeze. She'd thrown on a sweatsuit and a jacket but still she was cold. She'd just got out of a warm bed from a dead sleep and her body wasn't ready to handle this drop in temperature.

She heard a creak as one of the dorm's outer doors opened and closed.

Finally!

She looked toward the darkened dorm, expecting Tim to appear on the slope, heading her way. She heard the squeak of wheels, like someone rolling a wagon along the walk up there, thought she saw a shadow or two move across the space between the dorm and the caf, but they were gone before she could focus. She waited, but still no Tim.

Who else would be wandering around the campus at this hour?

Meet me in the car. That was what the note had said. Tim had said he was going to warm it up.

That gave Quinn an idea. She pulled out her key ring and picked out Tim's car keys. She opened the door and got inside. The cold of the vinyl raced through the fabric of her sweats, chilling her rear and the backs of her thighs. She started the car and pushed the thermostat up to the maximum.

If Tim wasn't going to heat up the car for her, she'd heat it up for him. But she wished he'd hurry. It was creepy out here.

She pushed down the door lock and rubbed her hands together, waiting for the heat.

Come on, Tim. Come out, come out, wherever you are.

 

 

 

Tim tried to keep the encroaching panic at bay by cataloging what he knew.

First off, he was still alive. That was a good start.

Second, he was unharmed —relatively. His left flank still ached and throbbed from that one, nasty kidney punch —which he now assumed had been dealt to shut him up —but after that he'd been handled roughly but without any evidence of malice. His abductors didn't seem to have anything personal against him. It was all pretty businesslike. Tim wasn't sure whether or not he should take heart from that.

Third, he was still on campus —where, he wasn't sure. After binding and gagging him, they'd dumped him into one of the laundry hampers the maids used for dirty linen and wheeled him out of the dorm —just the way convicts used to break out of prison in the old B movies. He'd bumped and rattled along a series of fairly level concrete walks, so he'd assumed he was traveling among the buildings of the campus. Then he'd been pushed uphill a short distance, into a building, into an elevator for a short trip down, along a hallway and into this room where he'd been strapped into a padded armchair that creaked like wood when he shifted his weight.

His best guess: He was in the basement of the Science Center.

Suddenly the tape was ripped away from his mouth. Tim spit out the gag and gulped air. He waited for the blindfold tape to be removed but it remained untouched.

"Who are you?" he heard someone ask him.

The tantalizingly familiar voice startled him with its matter-of-fact tone.

"What?" Tim's tongue was dry from the cloth gag and he sounded like a frog who'd been singing all night. He worked up some saliva to moisten it.

The question came again. "Who are you?"

Now he pegged the voice: Louis Verran's. He found a certain grim satisfaction —if no comfort —in realizing that his suspicions were now proved correct.

"You know damn well who I am —" He almost added Verran's name but caught himself. Maybe the blindfold had been left on for a reason. Maybe he'd be endangering himself by revealing that he recognized his interrogator.

"I want you to say it. Say your name."

Okay. He'd cooperate. No harm in that.

"Timothy Brown."

"From what college did you graduate, Mr. Brown?"

"Dartmouth."

"And which is your room here on campus?"

"Room one-twenty-five."

"All right," Verran's voice said, moving closer. "He's all yours."

Tim grimaced with pain as the tape was ripped from across his eyes, taking some of his eyebrows with it. He squinted in the unaccustomed glare, but gradually the light and shadows began to take form.

"Mr. Brown, Mr. Brown, Mr. Brown," said a tired voice he recognized instantly. "Whatever are we going to do with you, Mr. Brown?"

Tim blinked to bring the figure standing before him into focus.

"Dr. Alston!"

"Yes, Mr. Brown."

"You're in on this?"

Dr. Alston pulled up a chair and seated himself facing Tim. He looked utterly relaxed, completely in control.

"In on what, Mr. Brown? Just what is it you think is going on here?"

Tim glanced around. He could have been in an electronics hobbyist's heaven —or hell. Monitors, speakers, computers, equalizers, oscilloscopes, white, red, and green blinking lights, wires, cables, and an array of other equipment he couldn't identify. Louis Verran was off to the right, watching a monitor. Tim tried to pull his arms free but they were securely bound —wrists, forearms, and biceps —to the armchair. He noticed wires connected by clamps to his fingertips. Were they going to shock him? He wiggled his fingers, trying to shake off the clamps, but they held firm.

He looked at Alston who smiled.

"No, Mr. Brown. We have no intention of torturing you. But we do want to make sure you stay put until we are through with you."

No question about staying put. He was trapped. Caged like a lab animal. The realization was a sick, sinking sensation in his chest. But at least Dr. Alston was a safe, sane, respected physician, researcher, and academician.

Wasn't he?

Alston said, "Again: What do you think is going on?"

"I don't know," Tim said. "But I do know you've got The Ingraham bugged six ways from Sunday."

Dr. Alston smiled that thin, cold smile of his as he lounged in his chair. "'Six ways from Sunday.' How quaint. I assure you we do not have The Ingraham bugged."

"The dorm, then."

"The dorm, yes. And you've discovered that, haven't you? What else have you discovered, Mr. Brown?"

Tim saw no use in lying about dismantling the headboard. The two goons who'd mugged him must have seen it.

"Something in the headboard."

"What in the headboard?"

"I don't know."

"You're the brainy medical student, Mr. Brown. What do you think?"

Might as well let it all hang out, Tim thought.

"I think you're brainwashing us."

Tim saw Dr. Alston stiffen and straighten in his chair. He was no longer lounging.

Bingo.

"What on earth could lead you to such a farfetched conclusion?"

"You really want to know or are we just killing time?"

"I quite sincerely want to know, Mr. Brown. It's important to me."

Tim believed him. Briefly he ran down the suspicions he'd developed about the stick pin/bug, the change he'd perceived in his own attitudes, his search of his room, and what he'd discovered.

Dr. Alston listened with visibly growing agitation, glancing frequently at Verran who was partially insulated in the earphones of his headset and seemed absorbed in his read-outs.

"So am I to understand it that if you hadn't stepped on that misplaced bug you would still be a model student here at The Ingraham?"

"Not quite," he said. "One of the other students at the bull sessions hasn't shown any change in attitudes." Tim didn't want to bring Quinn into this so he changed her sex. "His unchanged opinions made me aware of the change in mine."

"He's not talking about a 'he'," Verran said in a low voice. "He means Cleary, the girl in two-five-two."

"Ah, the redoubtable Miss Quinn Cleary. Her name keeps popping up. By the way, why isn't she here?"

For the first time since the tape had been pulled from Tim's eyes, he saw Louis Verran look up from his read-outs.

"She's not supposed to be here."

"I wanted her brought here," Dr. Alston said.

"Kurt and Elliot are too busy with damage control right now to play footsie with her."

"I specifically told Kurt I wanted her brought in."

Verran swiveled in his chair and stared at Dr. Alston.

"Kurt? You told Kurt to bring her in? He's a fucking animal!"

Tim clenched his fists as a ball of lead dropped into his stomach. Kurt? Who was Kurt?

Dr. Alston sniffed. "He won't do anything rash when he's operating on my direct orders."

"Don't be too fucking sure of that."

Dr. Alston waved Verran off. "Never mind."

Tim said, "If anything happens to her —"

"What?" Dr. Alston said, turning to him. "You'll do what? I'll tell you what you'll do, young man. You'll do nothing but sit here and listen as I explain to you what's really happening here at The Ingraham. And once you've heard the whole story, I'm sure you'll feel quite differently about it."

But Tim couldn't listen. All he could think about was Quinn and what this Kurt animal might do to her.

 

 

 

Quinn flicked on the courtesy lights and checked the dashboard clock. 3:02 a.m. The car heater was going, she was warm, but still no Tim.

Her concern was mounting with every passing minute, like a knot, tightening in her chest. Tim... he'd looked so strange, so frightened. And those notes about the room being bugged. Was he having some sort of breakdown?

And where was he? He'd said to meet him here. She'd read the note correctly, hadn't she? She wished she'd brought those notes with her, but she'd left them on her bed.

She thought back, trying to picture the note about meeting him in the car. He'd had something else written first and then crossed out. The anatomy lab. That was it. He'd wanted to meet her in the anatomy lab first but had changed his mind.

Maybe he'd changed it back. Quinn saw no use in sitting in Griffin any longer. She turned off the engine, stepped out into the cold air, and trotted up the slope to the center of the campus. She passed through the darker shadows between the caf and the administration building, skirted the pond with its newly formed skin of ice, and made a beeline for the lighted doors of the class building. They were unlocked, as usual. She hurried down the lighted hall.

She found one of the double doors to the An Lab open when she got there. Her spirits lifted. They normally were kept closed. That could only mean Tim was already here.

But the lights were out.

"Tim? Tim, are you in here?"

Silence replied. She flipped on the lights.

"Tim?"

The An Lab was empty except for the rows of sheet-covered cadavers on their tables.

Quinn moved forward, hesitantly. She'd grown accustomed to the place during the day, but at this time of night —morning, rather —it was creepy.

"Tim?"

The lab was empty, no question about it. She made her way toward their table in the far corner of the room. Someone had been here and left the door open. Maybe it was Tim. Maybe he'd left her a message at their table.

But no, Dorothy lay just as they'd left her. No note pinned to her sheet.

Tired, baffled, worried, Quinn sighed and leaned against the table. Where could —?

The lights went out.

Quinn spun in the sudden darkness and saw the entry doors swinging closed. A human-shaped shadow flitted across the rapidly narrowing wedge of light flowing between them from the hall.

It wasn't Tim. Tim liked jokes but he wasn't cruel. This was not Tim.

She wanted to scream but suppressed it. What good would screaming do? There was no help within earshot, and it would only give away her position.

With her heart punching against the base of her throat, she ducked and fumbled her shoes off. The concrete floor was cold through the socks on her gliding feet as she moved to her left, away from Dorothy, using the rear wall of the lab as her guide.

Whoever was in here with her hadn't removed his shoes. She could hear him scuffing along the floor, moving at a diagonal from her, heading directly for Dorothy.

She thought, Oh, God, Dorothy, I wish you were alive. I wish you could sit up and take a poke at this creep, whoever he is.

As the scraping steps continued to move away from the entry doors, Quinn edged back and around, gradually circling closer to the front of the lab, using the sliver of light leaking between the doors as a beacon to guide her. A few more minutes and she'd be able to make a break for those doors.

The lab went silent. The whispered scraping from the intruder's shoes died and Quinn froze, hovering in the darkness, afraid to move, afraid even to breathe for fear of giving herself away.

Shoes in hand, she dropped into a crouch, listening

Where was he? Why had he stopped? Had he found the area around Dorothy deserted and was deciding which way to go next? Or had he taken off his own shoes and was at this instant slipping toward her?

Suddenly a flashlight beam lanced through the darkness, ranging back and forth above the tables, coming her way, moving closer. It was gliding down the aisle on the far side of the table she was crouched behind, approaching, coming even, then passing by. Quinn was about to exhale with relief when the intruder suddenly roared in triumph and swung the light around, shining it directly in her face.

There was no holding back this time. Quinn cried out in terror as she recoiled from the glare and instinctively batted at the light. Her shoes were still in her hand and they connected, sending the flashlight flying. It landed with a crash and a tinkle of broken glass and abruptly the An Lab was dark again. As she rose, a clutching hand brushed her arm; she yanked the sheet off the nearest corpse, tossing it at the intruder, tangling him in it. He stumbled and went to his knees. She slid the half-dissected corpse off its table and pulled it on top of him.

As he cried out in shock and loathing, Quinn turned and ran for the doors, her socks slipping on the floor. She heard scrabbling footsteps behind her and lunged for the light-sliver, felt her palms slam against the doors, sending them swinging open into the light, but she wasn't home free, she knew. The building was empty and she was as vulnerable as ever, so she kept running, careening around the corner—

—and colliding into someone, someone male and heavy, someone with two strong hands that gripped her shoulders and pulled her upright, someone with white hair and round, rimless glasses—

"Dr. Emerson!"

"Quinn!" he said. "What on earth—?"

She was so relieved she wanted to cry. She clung to him.

"In the anatomy lab!" she said, gasping for air. "Someone in there! After me! Had a light!"

He disengaged her arms. "After you? Are you sure?"

"Yes!"

"Here? On campus? This is intolerable!"

He started down the hall, toward the lab, but Quinn pulled him back. She was afraid for him.

"No, don't. He might still be there. Let's get out of here."

"Very well," said. "You come to my office. We'll call campus security from there and have them check it out." He took her arm and led her toward the front doors. "By the way, what on earth are you doing here at this hour?"

"I was supposed to meet Tim—"

"Oh, yes. Mr. Brown. Your cadaver mate. A little last-minute cramming before the practical?"

Quinn didn't know how much to tell Dr. Emerson. She didn't want him thinking Tim had gone crazy. As they stepped out into the chill air, she slipped back into her shoes and ducked his question by asking one of her own.

"I know why I'm here at this hour," she said. "But why are you? You don't have a practical tomorrow."

"I don't sleep well. Haven't since my wife died. Maybe I don't need as much sleep as I used to."

Quinn had heard he was a widower, but this was the first time he'd mentioned it.

He tapped the frayed notebook protruding from the side pocket of his coat. "I came to retrieve this from Lecture B. Then I was going over to Science for a while."

"More work on 9574?" Quinn said.

He nodded. "I suppose. But I'll gladly postpone that." He pointed toward the Administration building across the pond. "We'll stop in my office, we'll call security, I'll make us some tea, and you'll tell me exactly what happened tonight."

Quinn nodded in the darkness. She'd like that. She felt safe with Dr. Emerson.

But where was Tim?

 

 

 

Tim watched Dr. Alston pace back and forth before him.

"You've heard my lectures, Mr. Brown," he said. "You're a bright young man. I trust I don't have to go into too much detail about the grim future of medical care and the delivery of medical services during the span of your productive years."

"I don't care about any of that," Tim said. "I want to know about Quinn."

"Forget her for now. You must listen to me and —"

Tim glared up at him. "How can I listen to you when she might be in trouble? Get real, Alston."

"Oh?" he said with arched eyebrows. "It's 'Alston' now, is it?" He turned to Verran and sighed. "Louis, see if you can learn the status of the Cleary girl."

Verran said, "I'll signal Kurt to call in."

He went to another console and tapped in a code, then they all waited in silence, a sweaty, anxious silence for Tim —until a bell rang. Verran flipped a switch and muttered into the mike on his headset. Then he turned to Dr. Alston.

Tim's heart leaped at his first words.

"She got away," he said. "Kurt almost had her but your buddy, Dr. Emerson, happened by at the wrong moment and so Kurt had to let her go."

"Walter?" Alston said. "He has a talent for saying and doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. What's he doing here at this hour?"

"I dunno," Verran said with a shrug. "Maybe—"

The phone by his elbow jangled. He picked up on the second ring.

"Campus Security... Yes, sir. In the anatomy lab you say?... Yes, sir. We'll get right on it."

He grinned at Alston. "Speak of the devil. That was your friend Emerson on the phone, telling me that a 'Miss Cleary' reported being chased through the anatomy lab by an unknown intruder. He says the girl is staying with him —drinking tea, he said —until we've checked the matter out."

"At least we know where she is." He turned to Tim. "Satisfied?"

"How do I know any of it's true?"

Alston smirked. "Look at where you are and look at where I am. I don't have to lie to you, Mr. Brown."

"Okay, okay," Tim said. Quinn trusted Dr. Emerson. If he was looking after her, she was probably all right. "What do you want from me?"

"Your attention. Listen to me with an open mind and then we'll see what you think when I'm finished."

"I already know what I think."

"But you're intelligent enough to be influenced by logic, and logic is what I'm going to give you."

"How about unstrapping me from this chair?"

"All in good time. First, you listen." He began to pace again. "I'm going to tell you everything. But in order for you to fully grasp the import of what I have to say, you'll have to have some background."

"That's usually helpful."

"When Mr. Kleederman set up his Foundation —years before you were conceived, Mr. Brown —he peopled its board not only with a former senator, but with an international array of high government officials and other influential men in industry and labor who shared his cause, his vision. Kleederman Pharmaceuticals was already well established in the U.S. by that time, but even then he saw the writing on the wall: the new drug approval process was going to thicken into a stagnant quamire unless intelligent changes were made. But he knew those changes would never be made, so he embarked upon a course to find a better way to bring new pharmaceuticals to the sick of the world despite the interference of their own governments."

"And perhaps in the process," Tim said, "move Johann Kleederman from the ranks of mere multimillionaire to multibillionaire?"

"I don't believe he is driven by money. I doubt that he and all his heirs can spend even the interest on his fortune. No, he truly has a vision. Disease is a scourge upon mankind. The tools to defeat it merely wait to be discovered. Yet petty bureaucrats entangle new compounds in endless miles of red tape, delaying their use for years. Mr. Kleederman finds that unconscionable, and so do I."

"Everybody seems to have a bitch about the FDA, but what's that got to—"

"The bedrock of the Kleederman vision is Kleederman Pharmaceuticals. From there he branched out into medical care, building nursing homes, buying up failing hospitals within easy reach of major cities and converting them to medical centers which have become paradigms of compassionate, top-quality care. Those medical centers have always operated under the rule of providing that top-quality care to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. That's why they're always located near urban centers —to allow access to the neediest cases from the inner cities. Mr. Kleederman gathered the medical centers, the nursing homes, and the pharamceutical company under the conglomerate umbrella of Kleederman Medical Industries. KMI funds the Kleederman Foundation, which in turn funds the Ingraham College of Medicine."

"Fine," Tim said. Alston hadn't told him a damn thing he didn't already know. "But none of that explains the bugs, or the contraptions in our headboards."

"Tell me, Mr. Brown: Do you have any idea what it currently costs to bring a new drug to market in the United States?"

"That doesn't answer my question."

"Do you know?"

Tim didn't, so he picked a number out of the air. "Fifty million."

"Oh, if only that were so!" Alston said, laughing. "Actually, the figure is closer to a quarter of a billion —231 million dollars, to be exact."

Tim blinked at the staggering figure. "Okay, I'm impressed, but you've got 17 years under patent to get your money back."

"Not true. We have nowhere near 17 years. It takes 12 years, from synthesis to FDA approval, to bring a new drug to market... twelve years before you can recoup dollar one on a new drug. But the patent clock begins running as soon as the compound is registered, so you try to hold off registering a compound as long as you can. But still it frequently takes a full seven years from registration to final approval. That leaves you only ten years with exclusive rights to sell a product you developed from scratch."

"I haven't seen the pharmaceutical companies standing in line to file for bankruptcy."

"With the price regulation the president's talking about, you may. But profits aren't the point. At least not the whole point. I'm speaking of an enormous waste of resources. And a tremendous human cost as beneficial drugs sit unrecognized while their useless brothers go through exhaustive animal trials only to be discarded because they are ineffective in humans; and even when the useful compounds are identified, they sit on the shelf, beyond the reach of the people they could help, while their paperwork drags through the quagmire of the approval process. For every 10,000 investigational compounds, only ten —ten! —make it past rodent and primate studies. That's an enormous loss in and of itself. But then consider that of the ten surviving compounds, only one makes it through human studies and gets to market. A one in ten thousand success rate, Mr. Brown. A ninety-nine point ninety-nine percent failure rate. What's your gambler's opinion of those odds, Mr. Brown?"

"Sort of like dropping a marble off the edge of the Grand Canyon and trying to hit a particular ant on the bottom."

"Precisely. And people wonder why new drugs cost so much. That lone surviving compound has only ten years to make up all the negative costs of the 9,999 compounds that didn't make it, plus show enough profit to convince the stockholders that this research and development merry-go-round is worthwhile. But without R&D, there'd be no new drugs at all."

"Isn't the answer obvious?" Tim said "Lengthen the patent life for new drugs."

Alston's smile was sour. "A few lucky compounds do get an extension, but it's a form of noblesse oblige, rather than a legal right. The pharmaceutical companies have spent decades lobbying for more time... to no avail."

"Then get the FDA to speed the approval process."

"We're already paying for extra staff at the FDA —to keep the line moving, as it were. Any futher suggestions?"

Tim thought a moment, bringing his economics courses into play. "Only one other way I can see: narrow the field."

"Meaning?"

"Find a way of weeding out the useless compounds earlier in the process. That will cut your front-end expenses."

Alston grinned and clapped his hands. "Mr. Kleederman would be proud of you! Exactly his solution! Running an investigational compound through the endless mandatory animal studies only to learn later that it's completely worthless in humans is a sinful waste of time and money."

"So what are you talking about? Trying it on humans first?" He was afraid of the answer.

"Of course not."

"Good. For a moment there—"

"We run it through some rodents and primates to make sure it's not toxic, then we try it on humans."

Tim stared at him, not wanting to believe this.

"The problem, of course," Alston went on, "is the supply of human subjects —sick human subjects. Obviously we can't evaluate a drug's efficacy against disease by giving it to healthy people. That's where The Ingraham graduates come in."

Tim saw a mental image of the "Where Are They Now" board and the pieces began to fall into place.

"All those inner-city clinics, the nursing homes..."

"Precisely. The inner cities especially are loaded with disconnected people of no social significance who do not care for their health and are consequently rife with diseases —some of them might be described as ambulatory pathology textbooks. We needed a way to funnel those patients to the Kleederman medical centers where investigational compounds from Kleederman Pharmaceuticals could be tested on their many and various conditions. Since we could not count on enough run-of-the-mill physicians to come through for us, no matter how much of a bounty we offered them, the Foundation decided to produce a custom-designed model of physician to serve its needs. And the only way they could see to do that was start their own medical school. They bought Laurel Hills hospital, turned it into a top medical center, built a medical school adjacent, and voila, The Ingraham."

"So you admit it, then!" Christ, it was true. No reason for Alston to make this up. "You have been brainwashing us!"

"Brainwashing is such a loaded term, Mr. Brown. Attitude adjustment is much more palatable. You see, with its well-connected board, the Foundation had access to all sorts of government agencies. The Vietnam war was going full swing then, and one such agency developed something called a subliminal learning and indoctrination unit for use on U.S. troops before they went overseas —to give them the proper attitude toward the war effort and their Viet Cong enemies. But the SLI proved impractical for that use. It worked, but it took years to achieve its maximum effect, so the project was defunded. The Foundation saw a use for the SLI units and intercepted them on their way to the scrap heap. They hired the original designers and technicians to perfect them and retool them to the Foundation's needs, and the units have been in use at The Ingraham with great success for almost two decades now."

"That's brainwashing," Tim said. "Pure and simple."

"No. Attitude adjustment. We don't wash your brain, we don't change who you are, we simply mold your attitudes concerning the appropriateness of certain sickly individuals reimbursing society for all the benefits they have reaped but never contributed to; or of allowing other individuals with but a few useless years left to help make this world a better place as they take leave of it. We also incite in you a desire to practice where you are most likely to run across such patients. And when you do find a disconnected individual suffering from one of the more common ailments that afflict mankind, you feel a compulsion to refer that individual to the nearest KMI medical center."

Tim thought of Dorothy, the cadaver he shared with Quinn. Her doctor had been an Ingraham graduate who referred her to the medical center next door. She didn't leave it alive. Had she been a human guinea pig? And he thought again of all those Ingraham graduates working the inner city clinics across the country, all connected to KMI medical centers. This was big.

He swallowed his loathing.

"So all this talk about rationed medical has been a smoke screen."

"Not completely. Rationed care is on the way, I guarantee it. But that was merely a vehicle to introduce the concept of social tiering to your conscious minds while the SLI units were whispering it to your unconscious."

"How? I've never heard of a subliminal method that's a hundred percent effective."

"None is. But The Ingraham system works —not by chance, but by careful selection of its students."

Dr. Alston pulled a chair closer and sat a few feet before Tim, leaning forward, his face and hands more animated than Tim had ever seen them. An air of suppressed excitement crackled around him. He was really into his story now.

"The special entrance exam is the key. Because The Ingraham is the so-called '24-karat medical school,' all the best pre-med students in the country apply here. From those applications we choose the brightest and most outgoing, and we invite them here to spend the day and night before the entrance exam —actually, we insist on it, but we're euphemistic about it. While they're asleep in the dorm the night before the exam, we introduce them to the SLI unit by implanting information in their unconscious minds about a non-existent formula called the Kleederman equation. In the exam the following day, we ask them three questions about the Kleederman equation. Those who answer them correctly reveal themselves as being susceptible to the SLI's influence. In one fell swoop we've identified the susceptible subgroup out of our applicant population. We choose our students exclusively from that." He barked a laugh. "Isn't it brilliant?"

You son of a bitch, Tim thought. You son of a bitch!

"Not so brilliant," Verran said. "What about Cleary?"

Tim stiffened at the mention of Quinn's name. "What about her?"

"We've had some trouble with the SLI unit in your girlfriend's room," Alston said.

"The unit's working fine," Verran said. "The kid's not responding."

Alston seemed uncomfortable. "At this time I am unable to explain Miss Cleary's apparent imperviousness to the influence of the SLI. She answered two of the three Kleederman equations on her test and got them both right. She couldn't have done that unless she was susceptible to the SLI. There's a variable here that I haven't been able to identify. But I will. I assure you, I will."

Tim repressed a smile as he realized he was the variable. He'd marked the correct answers on Quinn's sheet as he'd passed on his way to hand in his test. Quinn hadn't had the faintest idea what the Kleederman equations were.

But the inner smile died in the heat of Tim's mounting anger as it dawned on him how he'd been duped and manipulated —how they'd all been duped and manipulated by the Kleederman Foundation, by The Ingraham's administration.

But how far did this conspiracy go? How deep did it reach? It was big, no doubt about it. Johann Kleederman controlled a multi-national empire, and apparently people like former Senator Whitney jumped when he spoke. So it went high, but how far down The Ingraham's academic tree did it reach? The Ingraham wasn't a complete front. There was a real medical center attached, and genuinely important research like Dr. Emerson's was going on here.

"Is everybody on staff part of this?"

"Heavens, no. The fewer people aware, the less likelihood of a leak. Only key personnel in Administration, the admissions committee, and part of the clinical staff answer to the Foundation. The rest have no idea."

Who was friend, who was foe? Tim wondered. And how could you tell?

Alston was still crowing. "But occasional glitches aside, we've been extraordinarily successful here at The Ingraham. As a result, every city of any consequence has Ingraham graduates delivering healthcare to its neediest citizens."

"How do you people do that to us and live with yourselves?"

"Quid pro quo, Mr. Brown. You get the world's finest education at no cost, and—"

"No cost? What about our souls?"

"Please don't be so dramatic. Your soul, should such a thing exist, remains quite intact. All we get in return are a few referrals."

"Right. Referrals to an early grave."

"Come, come. You make the medical centers sound like death death camps. They are anything but. These are sick people being referred to us. And we treat their illnesses."

"With experimental drugs!"

"That very often work. We cure people every day."

"And the ones you don't?"

"Then we try another."

"How many deaths on your hands, Alston?"

He shook his head with annyance. "Look, Brown, I'm not some megalomaniacal comic book villain. This plan was already in development when I came to The Ingraham. The Foundation's board, composed of some of the keenest minds in industry, labor, and government, arrived at this policy after months and years of debate. There's nothing haphazard or whimsical here. It's all been carefully thought out."

"How'd they get you?"

"They recruited me. They'd heard me speak, read some of my articles critical of FDA policies and protocols; they scouted me, hired me, watched me very closely, and eventually let me in on their grand plan. I joined them —enthusiastically. I believe in what we're doing here. We're bringing amazing new therapies to medicine, to the world. This is the most important thing I will ever do with my life. And I'm proud to do my part."

Am I being recruited? Tim wondered. He decided that it might be in his best interests —and Quinn's, as well —to bite back any critical remarks and feign a growing sympathy with Alston's point of view.

"But I don't see how this can work."

Alston smiled. "Oh, it's already working, Mr. Brown. Kleederman's ability to bring a whole array of new products to market has made it the top pharmaceutical company in the world. Consider all the benefits being reaped by patients on adriazepam and fenostatin and carbenamycin —compounds that would still be lost in the investigational jungle if not for our program. Lives have been saved by those drugs. And thousands upon thousands of people are living better lives because of them."

"I never looked at it that way," Tim said, nodding slowly, thoughtfully, hoping he looked and sounded convincing. "Maybe you're not as crazy as you sound."

"Crazy?" Alston frowned. "I see nothing crazy about trying to remain on the leading edge of technology and therapeutics. Do you want to practice with second-rate tools, Mr. Brown?"

"No. Absolutely not." No lie there.

"Then we must be willing to take risks."

Risks, Tim thought. Right. But with whose lives?

"It's a glorious challenge. Enormously exciting. But if you're not with us, you're against us. So what do you say, Mr. Brown? Do you want to be part of this? Do you want to join Mr. Kleederman in advancing the frontiers of therapeutics and leading medicine into the twenty-first century?"

What will happen to me if I say no? Tim wondered.

He had relaxed while listening to Dr. Alston's spiel, but suddenly he was afraid. He knew too much. If he went to the papers, the FBI, or even the AMA, he could blow the lid off The Ingraham and, at the very least, undo the decades of effort and millions of dollars Kleederman had invested in this intricate, monstrous conspiracy. The scandal could conceivably topple KMI itself.

They had to get rid of him... unless Tim convinced Alston that he'd play along. And now he realized why Alston had taken all this time to explain everything to him —he didn't want to have to get rid of Tim. It was easier, much less complicated to simply enlist him. And Alston's monstrous ego had absolute faith in his ability to make Tim see the light. He was offering Tim a chance. Tim saw no choice but to take it.

And he would play along. He'd be a model Ingraham student until he saw an opening, then he'd get the hell out of here and blow the whistle loud and clear.

"Count me in," Tim said.

Alston was watching him closely. "Why should I believe you?"

Tim met his gaze. "As you said, why should I want to practice with second-rate tools?"

"Don't answer my question with another question. Convince me, Mr. Brown."

"You're the one who's convincing, Dr. Alston. You've made a powerful case. And by the way, can we possibly arrange some KMI stock options for me?"

"Can I take that to mean that you will continue your studies here as if nothing has happened, that you will never reveal what you know about The Ingraham?"

"You can."

Alston stepped over to where Verran was concentrating on his console.

"Well, Louis. What do you say? Can we take Mr. Brown at his word?"

Verran shook his head. "He's lying."

Tim's stomach plummeted at the words. They were spoken not as opinion but as fact.

"I'm not!" Tim said. "How can you say that?"

"The chair's a lie-detector, kid," Verran said. "And it says you're lying through your teeth." He pressed a button and spoke into a microphone. "All right, guys. Time to move him."

His gut squirming now, Tim began struggling in the chair, writhing, straining at the straps around his arms, but they wouldn't budge.

"Damn you!" Alston said. His face was contorted with genuine anger as he leaned close to Tim. "Why couldn't you have gone along? Your shortsightedness forces us into an untenable position. We must now take extreme measures to protect ourselves."

"L-like what?" Tim had never stuttered in his life, but he was starting now.

"You'll see."

Alston pulled a syringe and a small vial of clear fluid from his pocket.

Panic became a rapier-taloned claw, raking at the lining of Tim's gut.

"What's that? What're you going to do?"

Alston said nothing as he filled the syringe and approached him. Tim made a desperate, futile attempt to squirm away from the needle as Alston plunged it into his deltoid without bothering to roll up the overlying shirt sleeve. Tim flinched at the sting of the point, the burn of the fluid emptying into his muscle from the syringe.

Part of his brain was screaming that he was going to die, going to die, going to die, while another part refused to believe it. Then the door opened and two men came in. Tim recognized both. One was the blond security guard he and Quinn had seen in the parking lot before going to Atlantic City and the other had been the phony exterminator in Quinn's room.

The big blond guy stalked forward and stopped in front of Tim.

"His number's up?" he said to Verran.

Verran nodded. He didn't look too happy. "Yeah, Kurt. His number's up and gone."

"Good," Kurt said. "That means no more Mr. Nice guy."

He cocked his right arm and punched Tim in the face.

Amid the sudden blaze of pain, Tim heard Alston say, "Stop that immediately! What's gotten into you?"

"This is the sonofabitch who broke my nose."

"That's no excuse to mistreat him, especially considering what's about to happen to him."

Perhaps it was the injection, perhaps the punch, perhaps Alston's remark, or perhaps it was a combination of all three. Tim passed out.

 

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN

 

Quinn watched anxiously as Dr. Emerson spoke into his phone. She noticed that his tweed jacket was worn at the elbows, his corduroys were rumpled, and he needed a shave. He looked tired.

"Very good. I'll tell her. No, that won't be necessary. Thank you." He hung up and turned to her. "That was Security. They've combed the anatomy lab and the entire class building without finding anyone. Whoever it was must have been scared off."

The news brought Quinn no sense of relief.

"I'd rather they'd caught him," she said. "Now they probably think I'm some sort of hysterical female."

"I'm sure that isn't so. They say they think it was a thief, sneaking through the building, looking to steal whatever wasn't nailed down. You just got in his way, that's all. Security even offered to send over someone to escort you back to the dorm. I told them not to bother." He began to push himself up from his chair. "Come. I'll walk you back myself."

"No, please," Quinn said. "I'll be all right." She glanced out the window at the approaching dawn. "The sun's almost up. I'll be fine."

"Are you quite sure? It's really no trouble —"

"You've done enough already," she said. She drained her teacup as she rose. "Thanks for your help."

"It was nothing, child. Absolutely nothing. Any time you need my help, you just call."

Funny thing about Dr. Emerson calling her "child." She didn't mind.

"I hope that won't be necessary."

"By the way," he said as she reached for the doorknob, "Security wants you to stop by as soon as you can and give them a description of your assailant."

"I don't know what I can tell them. All I saw was a shadow and a flashlight."

"They need to make a report to the local authorities, so tell them what you can. You never know what tiny snippets will lead to an identification."

"Will do."

Quinn waved, stepped out into the hall, and hurried toward the exit.

The pre-dawn air was cold and clear and a rime of frost had crystallized on the grass. Quinn broke into a jog toward the dorm, her breath steaming and streaming around her. She couldn't help anxious glances left and right at the shadows tucked behind the shrubs and foundation plantings. Security had said the intruder was gone, but Security was supposed to keep intruders from getting on campus in the first place.

Despite her lingering anxiety, it felt good to move, to run, to inhale cold air and feel it swirl through her bronchial tree, clearing her lungs and her brain. Last night's fright seemed remote, almost as if it had happened months ago, to someone else. All of the night's strange events had taken on a air of vague unreality.

But what about Tim? What had he been thinking last night? Such erratic behavior —it gave her the willies, especially in someone she'd come to care for so much. And where had he been all this time? Probably back in his bed sound asleep. She smiled. She'd kill him.

She trotted directly to his room and raised her fist to pound on the door, but stopped herself when she realized she'd probably wake Kevin and most of the residents on this end of the floor. She could wait.

Quinn trotted up the stairs to her own room. It would be nice to grab a few winks to make up for some of her lost sleep, but she knew the caffeine in Dr. Emerson's tea wouldn't let her do that. Maybe she could bone up a little more for the anatomy practical. But first...

She searched through her rumpled sheets and blankets for the notes Tim had written her when he'd popped in last night. She wasn't going to let him forget how crazy he'd acted. She'd hold onto them, and perform dramatic readings whenever the situation warranted.

But where were they? She was sure she'd left them right here by the pillow. She tore the bed apart. She looked under the bed. She checked all her pockets.

Gone.

She sat on the edge of the bed, dumbfounded. Where on earth —?

Unless Tim had come back and taken them.

She slapped her thighs. That did it. She reached for the phone. Sorry, Kevin, but you're about to get a wake-up call. Blame it on your crazy roommate.

Ten rings. No answer.

Uneasy now, Quinn ran back downstairs and began knocking on Tim's door, calling his name. She wished now she'd accepted one of his room keys when he'd offered it, but she hadn't felt right taking it when he had a roommate, even someone as easygoing as Kevin.

"Hey, Quinn. What's up?"

She turned and gasped. "Kevin!"

He was coming down the hall dressed in a T-shirt and boxer shorts, his pillow slung over his shoulder.

"You two have a fight?"

"Where's Tim?"

He grinned. "Hey, you spent the night with him, not me."

"What are you talking about? I just got here. I called a minute ago and there's no answer."

His grin vanished. "You kidding?"

"No. Open up, will you? He was acting awfully strange last night."

Kevin already had his key in hand. He unlocked the door and Quinn pushed ahead of him, rushing through the front room to the bed room.

"Oh, God."

Neither bed had been slept in. The room looked just like all the bedrooms looked after the maids were finished. She ran to the closet and slid the door aside. It wasn't empty, but there were a lot of unused hangers on the rod.

"Where is he, Kevin? What did he say to you last night?"

Kevin told her about Tim asking him to bunk down the hall so the two of them could have some time alone together.

With her terrified heart pounding against the wall of her chest, Quinn pushed past Kevin and ran full tilt for the parking lot. She slid to a halt on the frosty grass at the top of the rise. Even from up here, even in the skim-milk light of pre-dawn, she could see that Griffin was gone. She searched the rest of the lot for it, but no gray Olds Cierra anywhere. Tim's invisible car was nowhere to be seen.

"Tim!" she called to the dawn, knowing there would be no reply but compelled to cry out for an answer.

Where are you? What's wrong with you? What have you done?

Her voice rose to a scream that echoed down the hill.

"Tim!"

 

 

 

"I warned you there'd be only trouble if you went to that school. You remember that, don't you?"

Quinn groaned within. She'd told herself she'd regret it if she called her mother, but after the way the day had gone, she needed to talk to someone. She felt as if she were losing her mind.

She'd stumbled through the day in a daze, unable to concentrate on her classes. Her mind was on Tim and where he could be, and how he was, and why he hadn't made any of his classes and missed the practical. Between every class, when she wasn't calling Tim's room, praying he'd pick up the phone, she was out on the slope overlooking the student parking lot, searching for a glimpse of Griffin.

The thought of eating repelled her, so she'd used her lunch hour to stop by the Security Office, ostensibly to make her report on the incident in the anatomy lab, but mainly to see if they had any idea of where Tim might be.

Mr. Verran looked exhausted, more hang-dog than ever. He didn't seem the least bit concerned by Tim's disappearance.

His attitude was: "So? He's skipped a few classes and took off on a long weekend. He ain't the first student to do it, and he won't be the last, I promise you."

Quinn knew he was wrong. Tim might have a cavalier attitude about studying, but he didn't miss tests.

Mr. Verran wouldn't hear of reporting Tim as a missing person. There was a 24-hour minimum before anyone would start looking for him. Quinn left the Security Office angry and frustrated at her inability to convey to anyone the fearful urgency exploding inside her.

After staggering through the anatomy practical and realizing she'd barely passed, she'd called Dr. Emerson and asked to be excused from her research duties for the afternoon. He told her, by all means stay out —after last night's ordeal, he wouldn't dream of asking her to come in. He thought she was still strung out from the incident in the lab. She didn't tell him about Tim.

After a half-hearted attempt at dinner, she scanned the parking lot once more, then returned to her room and called Matt at Yale, praying he'd heard from Tim —or better yet, that Tim was right there, lounging by the TV, drinking a beer.

But Matt hadn't heard a word from his old roommate, and was dumbfounded. She made him promise to call her the minute he heard anything. Anything.

The next call had been the toughest: Tim's folks. Mrs. Brown answered, and quickly passed it to her husband. Mr. Brown was hostile at first, and why not? He'd never met Quinn and didn't want to hear what she was telling him. But something in her voice must have carried her feelings along the wire —her fear for Tim and genuine bafflement as to his whereabouts —for he began to soften, to really listen, and ask questions. By the end of the call he was somber and subdued. He took Quinn's number and said he would call her if he heard from his son.

After that she'd sat on her bed in her darkening room. Despite the voices drifting in from the hall —someone laughing, someone shouting —the dorm seemed empty. She felt alone in the universe. She'd had a sudden, irrepressible urge to call her parents, to make sure they were okay, to reassure herself they still existed, and to affirm that she herself was real.

"Yes, Mom," she said. "I know you warned me. But you said something would happen to me. This is a friend of mine."

Her mother's voice softened. "I've gathered from how you've spoken of him that Tim is more than just a friend."

"Well, yes."

"Do you love him?"

"I... I think so." Quinn knew so, but couldn't go into that now with her mother. She missed Tim desperately, and if she began talking about her feelings for him, she'd break down completely. "He's very special."

Her mother's voice suddenly turned plaintive. "Come home, Quinn. Come home now before the same thing happens to you."

The change in tone startled her as much as the words.

"Mom, what are you talking about?"

"Something terrible's happened to your friend, Quinn. Can't you feel it?"

"Don't say that, Mom. You can't know that. You're scaring me."

But what was truly frightening was that Quinn did feel it, a deep, slow, leaden certainty in the base of her neck that something unimaginable had befallen Tim. She couldn't tell her mother that, couldn't let her think that she too might be experiencing "the Sheedy thing." Not after disparaging it for so long.

"I'm already scared, Quinn. I've been living in constant fear since you left for that awful place."

It was almost as if her mother knew about the incident in the An-Lab last night. But how could she? Quinn hadn't mentioned it. And this was why.

"But it's not an awful place, Mom. It's one of the most highly respected medical schools in the world. How can you say that?"

"It's just a feeling I have."

"I've got to go, Mom. I didn't get much sleep last night. I'll call you if Tim shows up."

"Call me anyway, Quinn. Call me every day. Please."

"Mom—"

"Please?"

The naked anxiety warbling her mother's words forced Quinn to relent. "Sure, Mom. Every day. I'll do my best."

She hung up feeling more worried and fearful than before. She checked to see if her door was locked, then she angled the back of a chair under the knob. Without undressing, she crawled into bed and pulled the covers over her head. She cried for a while. Eventually, she slept.

 

 

 

An insistent pounding on her door yanked Quinn from her sleep. The room was bright. She glanced at her clock: after nine. She'd slept almost twelve hours. Rubbing and slapping her face to rouse herself, she stumbled to the door, moved the chair away, and pulled it open.

She almost screamed, she almost fainted, she almost threw herself into his arms, but then she realized it wasn't really Tim, so she leaned her trembling body against the door jam and gaped at him.

"Quinn Cleary?"

She recognized the voice through the pounding in her ears.

"You must be Mr. Brown."

Tim's father was young, or at least young looking. He had Tim's lean body and dark brown hair and eyes. On a good day he might have passed for Tim's older brother. But this obviously was not a good day. He looked haggard and worn, like he'd been driving all night. And he looked wound too tight, as if he were barely holding himself in check, barely restraining himself from exploding and flying off in all directions. Mr. Verran stood behind him in the hall like a watchful mastiff.

"Yes," Mr. Brown said, extending his hand. "Have you heard anything from..."

"No. Nothing." His palm was moist against hers as she shook his hand. "I keep hoping the phone will ring, but..."

"I know." He released her. "Mr. Verran has graciously agreed to drive me to the sheriff's office to make out a missing-person's report on Tim. Since you were the last one to see him, I was hoping —"

"Of course." She knew she should wash up, change the wrinkled clothes she'd slept in, but that would mean more time before people began looking for Tim, and too much time had been wasted already. "Just let me grab my purse."

 

 

 

Quinn sat with her cold hands clamped between her thighs, watching and listening and thinking this couldn't be really happening as Deputy Southworth of the Frederick County Sheriffs' Department sat before them filling out forms. The three of them clustered around his desk, one of four in a large open area. Quinn yearned for an enclosure. This was private. This was about Tim. But the deputy was cool, professional, and appropriately sympathetic as he quizzed Mr. Brown on what his department considered useful and relevant about Tim: Vital statistics, physical characteristics, scars, medical history, Social Security, driver license, and credit card numbers, hobbies, vices, a list of close friends, and on and on. Quinn noticed that Mr. Brown did not mention gambling. Perhaps he didn't know.

Most of all, the deputy needed pictures. Mr. Brown had come prepared with an envelope full of wallet-size graduation photos.

Next the deputy asked Mr. Verran if he could add anything. Quinn sensed a strained atmosphere between the two. The Ingraham security chief shrugged.

"Not much. I checked his record before coming down. He gets good grades and seems to be well liked by everyone who knows him. He does stay out all night rather frequently, though. More than any other student in The Ingraham."

Quinn felt the flush creep into her face and hoped nobody noticed. She knew exactly where Tim went on those overnights, what he did, and with whom. She hoped no one else knew. And she wondered how Mr. Verran managed to keep such close tabs on Tim's comings and goings.

His father apparently wondered the same thing.

"Really?" Mr. Brown seemed genuinely surprised. "That's news to me. How do you know?"

"The gate in and out of the student parking lot. Every kid with a car gets a card to work it. The card is coded with his name. The gate records the date and time and card owner every time it opens."

"Do you know if he goes alone or with somebody?"

"The gate doesn't tell us that."

Which isn't an answer, Quinn thought. She had a feeling Mr. Verran knew she'd been in the car with him most of those times — at least the times since Atlantic City —but was glad he hadn't mentioned it.

Wanting to swing the talk away from overnight jaunts, Quinn said, "Do you think Tim's disappearance could have anything to do with the break-in at the anatomy lab last night?"

"A break-in?" Deputy Southworth said, looking sharply at Mr. Verran. "I hadn't heard about that."

"Nothing was really broken into," Mr. Verran said quickly. "Nothing stolen. More of a trespasser than anything else. I filed the incident report with the Sheriff's secretary yesterday. It would have been completely minor except that Miss Cleary wandered into the building when he was there and he frightened her." His voice lowered to a growl. "I don't take kindly to trespassers frightening students at The Ingraham. He'd better pray I don't catch him on campus."

The deputy turned to her. "Well, we haven't heard from you yet, Miss Cleary. What were you doing out at that hour?"

"I was looking for Tim."

Suddenly she was the center of attention.

Quinn had been dreading this moment since Mr. Brown had asked her to accompany him here. How much should she tell them? Certainly not about their relationship, their intimacy. That was none of their business, had nothing to do with Tim's disappearance. At least, God, she hoped it didn't. She didn't know if she could be sure of anything anymore.

But what about the last time she'd seen Tim, that bizarre scene in the wee hours of yesterday morning when they'd sat there saying one thing while writing other things on the note pad passing back and forth between them because Tim thought the room was bugged? She didn't want to repeat it, any of it. It made him sound deranged. And he wasn't.

But Tim certainly hadn't been himself that night. Had he broken with reality? Was he crouched in the dark somewhere, cold and hungry, hiding from some army of imagined enemies.

The thought of it brought her to the verge of tears.

She had to tell them. It might offer some clue into Tim's state of mind at the time, and that might lead them to where he'd gone.

Deputy Southworth said, "When was the last time you saw your friend Timothy Brown, Miss Cleary?"

Quinn told them all about it —the scribbled notes, waiting in the car, going to the anatomy lab, the intruder, Dr. Emerson. Everything.

The office was tomb silent when she finished.

"Bugged?" Mr. Brown said finally. "He told you he thought the room was bugged?"

"He wrote it," she said, her mouth dry from telling her story. "On the note pad."

"Do you still have those notes?" the deputy asked.

She shook her head. "That's the weird thing. I went back to my room to look for them but couldn't find them. I was sure I'd left them on my bed."

"Bugged?" Mr. Brown said again. He turned to Mr. Verran "Where on earth would he get an idea like that?"

The security chief shrugged. "I couldn't tell you."

The deputy said, "Did your son have any history of mental illness, Mr. Brown? Has he ever been under a psychiatrist's care?"

"No, never." He seemed offended.

"They're under a lot of pressure at The Ingraham," Mr. Verran said. "Every once in a while one of the kids cracks."

"This isn't the first time this has happened," the deputy said.

"It isn't?" Mr. Brown straightened in his chair. He turned to the security chief. "You mean other students have disappeared without a trace?"

Mr. Verran looked acutely uncomfortable. "Two years ago we had a second-year student run off before finals."

"Proctor, wasn't it?" Deputy Southworth said.

"Prosser." Mr. Verran pressed his hand against his lips and stifled a belch. "Anthony Prosser."

"Did he ever turn up?"

"I'd heard that he did," Mr. Verran said. His eyes were watching the scuffed tile floor and Quinn wondered what was so interesting there. "The family doesn't keep in touch with me, so I couldn't swear to it, but I believe I'd heard something to the effect that he'd returned home." He cleared his throat. "So you see —"

"Listen to me, both of you," Mr. Brown said. Quinn saw angry fire flashing in his eyes. "We just had Tim home a few weeks ago at Thanksgiving. He was as sane and relaxed as could be, and happier and more content than I've ever seen him. My wife and I both noticed it and even mentioned it to each other. And one thing that young man has never felt is academic pressure. He's always been able to stand toe-to-toe with any course and take whatever it could dish out. Nothing like that was going to send him wandering off in some sort of fugue state. If he said a room was bugged, you can bet he had damn good reason to think so."

"I'm sure you're right," Deputy Southworth said. He rose and extended his hand across the desk. "Mr. Brown, I'm going to get this missing person report out immediately. We'll put out an APB on his car and run a check on his credit card. I'll file it with the Feds because in a state this size it's a good bet he's already crossed the state line. I have the number of your hotel and I'll be in touch as soon as I hear anything."

"Come on." Mr. Verran rose from his own chair, speaking sorrowfully. "We've done what we can here. I'll drive you both back."

Mr. Brown didn't move. He stood by the desk like a statue. Quinn saw his throat working, his eyes blinking back tears. She fought the urge to throw her arms around him and tell him he had the greatest son in the world and not to worry because everything would be okay, that nothing bad could happen to Tim because she wouldn't let it.

But she allowed herself to touch only his elbow, and to say, "Let's go, Mr. Brown. You never know. Maybe Tim's waiting for us back at the dorm."

He gave her a weak, grateful smile. "Yeah. Maybe he is."

Neither of them believed it.

 

 

 

Quinn was sitting, staring out the window at the afternoon sky but seeing nothing, when someone knocked on her door. It was Mr. Brown. With him is Mr. Verran and another man she'd never seen before.

"Quinn?" Mr. Brown said. "Could I trouble you to let this man" —he nodded toward the stranger —"check your room for bugs?"

He said it with the same tone one of the supers might have mentioned checking her bathtub for leaks.

She stifled a gasp. A queasy sensation settled in her stomach. Tim had said something about the room being bugged, and now here was his father, actually looking to prove it. She gave Mr. Brown a closer look. His face seemed to have been turned to slate. In the hall behind him stood Mr. Verran, and he did not look too happy.

"Sure," she said. "I guess so."

"All right, Don," he said to the stranger. "Do it."

The man stepped past Quinn produced a wand of some sort. It was black and had a loop at the end, reminding her of the electric contraption her father used to start the briquettes in their charcoal grill. He began waving it about the room, along the walls, all around the fixtures. There was something ritualistic, almost shamanistic about the procedure.

"What's he doing?"

"Sweeping the room, looking for electronic pulsations, microwave transmissions."

The feeling of unreality swept over Quinn again as she watched. Almost in a trance, she followed him into the bedroom and watched as he scanned every object in the room. She wished she'd thought to pick up the place. But you so quickly get used to a maid, and the maid had the weekends off.

He did a visual search, and even disassembled the telephone.

When he was finished he nodded pleasantly to her and returned to the front room where Tim's father waited. Mr. Verran was still outside the door in the hall, hovering, watching.

"Not a blip," the man called Don said. "The place is clean, just like your son's."

Mr. Brown nodded. He seemed neither pleased nor displeased. He turned to Mr. Verran.

"I had to know. You understand that, don't you? I had to know for sure."

"Of course I understand," Mr. Verran said. "A hundred percent. I'd've done the same thing myself."

As Don slipped past him into the hall, Mr. Brown turned back to Quinn. "Thank you, Quinn."

"Has there been any word? Any word at all?" She felt foolish asking —they'd only completed the report a few hours ago —but it was a compulsion she could not deny.

"No." His eyes were bleak, his mouth a thin, grim line. "Not a word."

"Will you...?"

"I'll let you know if I hear anything." He touched her arm and managed a smile that was heartbreakingly close to Tim's. "Thanks for caring."

As soon as the door closed behind him, she broke down and cried.

 

 

 

Quinn had dozed only sporadically through the night, so she was already up and showered when someone knocked on her door Sunday morning. She ran to it, hoping, praying...

It was Mr. Brown. He wasn't smiling, but he didn't look quite so grim.

"I think we've found him," he said.

Quinn's knees were suddenly weak. Her heart began pounding in her ears. As the room threatened to tilt, she reached behind her, found a chair and sat down.

"He's... he's all right?"

"We don't know. They found his car at the airport south of Baltimore."

"BWI."

"Right. It's in the long-term lot. They checked with the airlines and learned that he purchased a one-way ticket to Las Vegas Friday morning."

Visions scuttled across Quinn's brain: Tim in his dark glasses, sitting at a blackjack table, drink in hand, lights strobing all around him as he grinned and flashed her his Hawaiian hang-loose signal.

"And a further check of his credit card shows he arrived and rented a car from Avis. Signed for a week's rental."

"Vegas," Quinn said softly, still trying to comprehend.

"Yes. I don't understand any of it, but I'm so relieved to know he's alive. For days now I've had these visions of Tim lying in a ditch somewhere."

Quinn said nothing. She was too numb with relief to speak.

"We learned something else," Mr. Brown said with a sidelong glance in her direction. "A report from the Atlantic City police department."

Quinn closed her eyes. Her name was on that report as well. She supposed she should have known that would come to light eventually.

"Maybe I should have said something before," she said. "But I didn't see that it had anything to do with —"

"Does Tim have a gambling problem?"

She looked at Tim's father and found his eyes intent upon her. The answer was important to him.

"I don't know if I'm fit to judge that, but —"

"Was he getting in with the wrong kind of people?"

"No. Why do you say that?"

"Well, he's been staying out all night a lot, and he got beat up outside a casino."

"We were mugged. If I hadn't wanted to go down on the sand, it never would have happened. And truthfully, Mr. Brown, Tim isn't really interested in gambling. He's never once mentioned going back since then. He's more interested in beating the system with his memory than in gambling itself."

Mr. Brown smiled for the first time. "That memory of his. He was always playing games, doing tricks with it." He extended his hand. "I'm glad I stopped by, Quinn. Even though there's still a lot of questions left to be answered, you've eased my mind some."

"Where are you going?"

"To Las Vegas. I can't sit back and wait. I've got to go looking for him."

Take me with you! Quinn wanted to say. She'd go herself if she had the money.

"You'll call me as soon as you find him?"

He nodded. "Better yet, I'll have him call you himself." He waved and let himself out.

Quinn remained in the chair, staring at her trembling hands. Las Vegas... what on earth... ?

At least she knew he was still alive.

Why didn't she feel better?

She sat there for she didn't know how long, her mind almost blank. Finally she stood and shook off the torpor. She couldn't give in to this. She had to keep moving.

A walk. That was what she needed. Fresh air to clear her head and help her think straight. As soon as she stepped outside she headed for the student lot. It had become a habit now, a compulsion: Whenever you're outside, check the lot. Maybe you'll see Griffin easing through the gate.

She checked. No Cierra.

Quinn followed the walk around the pond and found herself nearing the Science Center. She checked the pocket of her coat for her wallet. Her security card was in it. She thought: Why not? She needed a distraction, something to do with her mind besides worry about Tim. Sorting, filing, setting up the data on 9574 for analysis might distract her, make the time go faster. Trying to study now would be nothing but wasted effort.

And maybe Dr. Emerson would be there. It was a good possibility. 9574 had become his life. You never knew when you'd find him in the lab. She hoped he'd come in today. His presence alone had a soothing effect on her. He was a deep-set rock to cling to in all this chaos.

Up on the fifth floor, she passed Ward C with her usual quick glance through the window to make sure all was well within, then continued down the hall.

She stopped. Something had changed in Ward C. She couldn't say what, but there was something...

She walked back and looked again. Immediately she knew what was different. There were eight patients in Ward C today. A new burn victim had arrived since she'd last been up here.

Quinn continued down the hall toward the lab, wondering what catastrophe had befallen that poor soul.

 

 

MONITORING

 

"I wish the hell I knew what they talked about in there," Louis Verran said as he watched Timothy Brown's father leave the dorm on the video monitor.

"Well," Kurt said, stretching languidly after his flight back from Vegas, "you're the one who wanted the bugs pulled from those two rooms."

"And a damn good thing I did, too! You two guys have any idea how I felt when Brown's old man showed up with that industrial espionage consultant? I damn near blew lunch."

"Why? The rooms were clean. Nothing to worry about."

"Oh, really? You two guys haven't exactly been models of efficiency lately. You had to put Brown's SLI back together and replace the headboard, cut the power to his roommate's SLI, clean out all our bugs, and make like maids and neaten everything up. That's a lot of stuff. You could've missed something."

"But we didn't. And don't forget whose idea it was to check out the girl's room."

"Okay, okay. I admit it. That was a good thought."

A damn good thought. Verran rubbed a hand across his queasy stomach. If Elliot hadn't checked Cleary's room, they wouldn't have found the notes. And then when Brown's father had shown up with that sweeper, Verran had quickly ordered the power cut to all the SLI units in the building.

Not that the sweep would have picked up the bugs anyway. The electrets were non-radiating. Plus, the dorm phone taps were all off-premises.

Altogether a bad weekend, though, spent worrying all night about who else the Brown kid might have told. But nobody new had made any noise about it yet, so it was pretty safe to assume that they'd managed to keep the lid on everything.

The only ongoing risk would be Deputy Ted Southworth. Verran knew the Ingraham's security measures rubbed the Sheriff's department the wrong way —they saw Verran's crew as some sort of vigilante force —but Southworth had had a special hard-on for The Ingraham since the Prosser thing two years ago. He'd asked an awful lot of pointed questions when Prosser had disappeared and he'd made it clear he wasn't satisfied with the answers.

He turned to Kurt. "You ditch the rental good in Vegas?"

"Just like you said: Wiped clean as a whistle and sitting smack dab in the middle of the MGM Grand parking lot."

Verran nodded. Hide in plain sight. That was the best way. The Vegas hotel lots were always loaded with rented cars. It would be a long time before that one was picked up. And when it was, no one would suspect a damn thing.

"All right then," he said, leaning back. "I think we've got everything under control again. They all think the kid has a gambling problem and is still alive and making the scene in Vegas. The father's off our backs, looking for him out in Nevada."

Kurt yawned and said, "All we've got left to worry about is the girl. What do we do about her?"

"We don't chase her around the anatomy lab again," Verran said sharply. "That's for sure."

"Hey, Alston wanted me to bring her in."

"Yeah, well, it's just as well you flubbed it."

"I'd've had her if Emerson hadn't wandered by."

The door to the control center opened then, and Doc Alston walked in. He looked pale as he dropped heavily into his usual seat.

"I've just been on the phone with Senator Whitney and two of the board members."

"All at once?"

"A conference call." His hand shook as he rubbed his high forehead. "And they are not happy —with either of us. Not happy at all."

Verran felt his heart begin to hammer. Two board members and the senator on the phone at once. Someone was majorly pissed. And that someone could only be Johann Kleederman himself.

As much as he disliked Alston, Verran could not help feeling a twinge of sympathy for him.

"Did you explain?"

Alston nodded. "I explained my heart out. Believe me, it's not easy explaining away two near disasters in two years."

"Will they be... calling me next?" His mouth went dry at the thought.

"I don't think so. I think I settled everything."

If that was true, he owed Alston. But...

"They always want to blame someone," Verran said, watching Alston closely. "Who's getting the blame?"

"I managed to spread it around. I told them this has to be expected. If they want only the cream of the intellectual crop, it's inevitable that every so often one member of that crop is going to spot an inconsistency and follow it up."

"And they bought it?"

"Of course. It's true, and the logic is inescapable. They were somewhat mollified when I told them that we intercepted Brown before he told his girlfriend much of anything. I hope that is still true, Louis."

"Yeah. Truth is, I don't think we ever had a real worry there. Turns out Cleary doesn't know squat. And it also turns out a good thing Brown's father brought in his electronics man yesterday. Cleary stood right there in that room and heard him say there were no bugs. So even she's convinced her boyfriend's cuckoo."

"Do we replace the bugs?" Elliot said.

"Not yet. She's alone in the room, so she doesn't do any talking anyway. And we've got the off-premises tap on her phone. So I say we leave things as they are for the moment." He looked at Alston. "You agree?"

Alston nodded. "She wasn't responding to the SLI anyway. Might as well leave her room entirely cold until I can think of a way to get her out."

"You got it," Verran said.

"But I want her phone monitored 24 hours a day."

"No problem. I'll have Elliot hook up a voice-activated recorder to her line and we'll check it all the time."

"That will do, I suppose. But I want someone to know where she is every minute of the day," Alston said. "Got that?" He fixed Kurt and Elliot each with a hard stare, then looked at Verran. "Every minute."

"You're the boss," Verran said.

 

 

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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