The Select | Chapter 7 of 7

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

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Floating. In darkness. Falling through a limitless black void with no sense of movement or direction, without so much as the sensation of air passing over his skin.

I'm alive.

Tim didn't know the hour, the day, or even the month, where he was or how he got there, but he knew he was alive.

Or was he? In this formless darkness in which he could feel nothing, hear nothing, could he call this being alive?

Cogito, ergo sum.

Okay. According to Descartes, he was alive. But was he was awake or dreaming?

He seemed to be awake. He was becoming aware of faint noises around him, of movement, of an antiseptic odor. He tried to open his eyes but they wouldn't budge. And then he realized that he didn't know if he was lying on his back or his belly. He couldn't feel anything.

Where the hell was he?

And then he remembered... he had passed out after being punched in the face in the early hours of Friday morning. Suddenly he wanted to shout out his rage, his anger. But how could he? He couldn't even open his mouth?

Wait. That must have been a dream. Had to be —the bug in the fixture, the weird device in the headboard, the grilling by Dr. Alston, the man's elaborate Kleederman conspiracy. All a nightmare.

Get these eyes open and the whole thing would be over. He'd see that ugly fixture in the ceiling of the bedroom, the one in his dream he'd thought was bugged. And then he could roll over and see his roomie conked out in the other bed. Good old Kevin.

The eyes. He concentrated on the lids, forcing them to move. Light began to filter through. He kept at it, and the light brightened slowly, like the morning sun burning through fog. But this wasn't sunlight. This was paler. Artificial light. Fluorescent.

Shapes took form. White shapes.

And then he saw himself, or at least his torso, lying in bed on his right side, under a sheet.

That's more like it.

He tried to roll over, but his body wouldn't respond. Why not? If he could just—

Wait. His left arm, lying along his left flank, draped over his hip —it was wrapped in white. Some sort of cloth. Gauze. And his right arm, too, lying supine upon the mattress, was wrapped in gauze to the fingernails. Why?

Maybe he was still dreaming. That had to be it. Because although he could see his gauze-wrapped arms, he couldn't feel them —couldn't feel the gauze, couldn't feel the pressure of their weight on his hip or the mattress, couldn't feel anything. Almost like having no body at all.

Then he saw the transparent tube running into the gauze from an IVAC 560 on a pole beside the bed. An IV.

He was on IVs! That meant he was in a hospital. Jesus, what had happened to him? Had he had an accident?

He spotted another tube, also clear but larger gauge. This one coiled out from under the sheet and ran down over the edge of the bed. The yellow fluid within it flowed downward, out of him and over the edge.

A catheter. He'd been catheterized. He'd seen those rubber tubes with the inflatable balloon at the tip. His insides squirmed at the thought of one of those things being snaked up his penis and into his bladder. Apparently it had already been done. Why couldn't he feel it sitting in there?

Tim dragged his gaze away from himself and forced his eyelids open another millimeter to take in his surroundings.

He wasn't alone. There was another bed next to him, half a dozen feet away. And a white-swathed body under the sheet. And beyond that, another. And another. All mummy wrapped, with tubes running in and out of them. And beyond them all, a picture window, looking out into a hallway.

Tim realized he'd seen this place before. But he'd seen it from another perspective, from the hallway on the far side of that window.

I'm in Ward C!

He wanted to scream but his larynx was as dead as the rest of him.

Tim battled the panic, bludgeoned it down. Panic wouldn't help here. He tried to think. He had to think.

The dream, the nightmare of being bound and gagged, and then listening to Dr. Alston while strapped into that chair in the basement of the Science Center, that all had happened. And now he was a prisoner in Alston's private preserve.

At least they hadn't killed him.

But maybe this was worse.

Tim shifted his eyes down to his body. He saw white gauzy fabric all around the periphery of his vision —his head was wrapped like the rest of his body. Another faceless Ward C patient. And something else: snaking up past his right eye... a white tube. It seemed to go into his nose. A feeding tube, snaking through a nostril, down the back of his throat, and into his stomach.

Further down his body he saw the gentle tidal rise and fall of his chest. Quinn had told him the properties of the anesthetic Dr. Emerson was developing, and how it was being used on the patients in Ward C. Obviously he'd been dosed with it as well.

What had she said? She'd called it 9574 and it supposedly paralyzed all the voluntary muscles while it let the diaphragm go on moving —like in sleep. But it didn't have complete control of him. He'd managed to open his eyes, hadn't he? He could move his eyeballs, couldn't he?

He drew his gaze away from the ward about him and looked at himself again.

He had to get control of his body. He could move his eyeballs and eyelids. But he needed his hands. He searched out his right hand where it lay flopped out before him on the mattress, palm up. If he could move it...

Maybe start small. Just a finger. One lousy finger. He picked his little finger, the pinkie. He imagined himself inside it, crawling through the tissues, wrapping himself around the flexor digiti minimi tendon and pulling... pulling for all he was worth...

And then it moved. It moved!

He tried it again. Yes, the tip was in motion, flexing and extending, back and forth. The arc was no more than maybe a centimeter, but he could move it, dammit, he could move it. And he could actually feel something down there. A faint tingle. He was regaining control. He was going to get out of here. And then he was going to bring the walls down.

"Good morning, Number Eight. About time you woke up."

A nurse, dark skin, brown eyes, her nose and face behind a surgical mask, her hair tucked into a surgical cap, was looking down at him. Tim's eyes fixed on her blue eye shadow, so glossy, almost luminous. The eyes smiled down at him.

"Time to turn you, Number Eight. But first —" She held up a syringe filled with clear fluid. "Time for your two-o'clock dose."

She poked the needle into the rubber tip of the Y-adapter on the intravenous line and emptied the syringe into the flow.

She patted his shoulder —he felt nothing. "I'll be back in a sec to turn you."

Tim watched her go, then returned his attention to his tingling fingers. He watched his pinkie finger move again, but this time the arc seemed smaller. He had to keep working at it. He tried again, struggling, pushing harder, but this time it wouldn't budge. And the tingling, the parasthetic, pins-and-needles sensation in his hand had faded.

... Time for your two-o'clock dose...

The nurse's syringe. It had been loaded with 9574. The fresh dose had turned him into dead meat again. They had him on a round-the-clock schedule.

Movement... at the window into the hall. Someone standing there, looking in. His eyes focused so slowly.

Quinn! Jesus, it was Quinn, looking right at him. Didn't she recognize him? But no, how could she? He was swathed head to toe in gauze. He tried to shout, begged his hands to move, but his voice remained silent, his limbs remained inert.

Fear, frustration, terror, and rage swam around him. Helpless... he was utterly helpless.

And then Quinn turned and walked on.

Tim's vision blurred. He knew a tear was running down his cheek, but he couldn't feel it.




Matt Crawford turned from the floor-to-ceiling view of the harbor and crossed his living room. He'd been putting it off all day. By nine o'clock he could hold out no longer. He picked up the phone and called Quinn.

What a nightmare wild man Brown had started by running off to Las Vegas. Both his parents were ready for rubber rooms. Matt had spoken to Tim's mother just yesterday and all she'd done was cry; she'd heard from Tim's father in Vegas but his search for Tim was getting nowhere. Apparently Tim hadn't used his credit card again after renting the car at the airport.

And Quinn... Quinn had sounded like someone on a ledge. When she'd called him last Friday, there'd been something in her voice when she spoke Tim's name, something that said she was worrying about someone who was a lot more than just a friend.

No question about it, Quinn had been hurting. And that could only mean...

Quinn and Tim... he hadn't let it sink in at the time, but maybe it was possible. She did sound broken-hearted that he'd left... left her.

And Tim. What the hell was he thinking about with this Las Vegas stunt? Matt knew the guy, knew how he liked to keep you off balance, be unpredictable, but this went way beyond anything he'd done since Matt had known him.

And that was what had been bothering Matt since Friday. This wasn't like Tim. This was something else. This smelled bad.

Matt listened to the phone ringing. Quinn picked up on the third. When he said hello she all but jumped through the phone, the words frantically spilling out.

"Matt! Is it about Tim? Have you heard from him? Did they find him?"

He'd intended to ask her point blank if she and Tim had something going on. Now he didn't have to. He wasn't sure how he felt about this. Quinn had never been his, so why did he feel as if something special had been stolen away from right under his nose?

"No, Quinn. Nothing yet. I just called to talk to you and see how you're doing."

"I'm okay."

"Are you?"

She didn't answer, at least not with words. Matt heard soft sobbing on the other end.

"You miss him that much." It wasn't a question.

Her voice was a gasp. "Yes."

"He'll be back soon."

"I'm afraid, Matt." She was getting her voice back now. "I've got this horrible feeling I'm never going to see him again."

She sounded so lost. This wasn't like the Quinn he knew. Was this what love did to you?

"You'll see him. He's got to come back soon."

"You really think so?" She sounded like a ship-wrecked sailor groping for a piece of floating debris.

"I guarantee it. When are you getting in Friday?"

Christmas break was a few days away. Maybe he'd drive out to Windham County and try to cheer her up.

"For Christmas? I won't be leaving until next Friday."

"The twenty-third? Our break starts the sixteenth. Why so late?"

"Well, I'm working on this project. I can get overtime if I stay, and I thought if Tim comes back I ought to be here."

Matt resisted the impulse to say that's crazy, that if Tim's old man finds him in Vegas, he'll bring him straight back to New Hampshire.

"You're going to hang around an empty campus?" He hated the thought of her being alone in a deserted dorm. "You think that's a good idea?"

"It's not empty and you sound like my mother."

"Sometimes mothers make a lot of sense."

"I just got off the phone with her. She's got one of her 'feelings' and wants me to come right home."

"Is that so bad?"

"Do you have any idea how quiet a farm gets in the winter?"

"How about I come visit you down there?" he found himself asking without thinking.

"No, Matt. You've got better —"

"What's better than visiting an old friend who sounds like she needs a friend."

"That's nice of you, Matt, but really, I'll be busy in the lab and there's not much to do around this part of Maryland if you aren't working. I appreciate it, and I'll be fine. And I promise to call you as soon as I get back home. Then the three of us can go out together and catch up."

"The three of us?"

"Sure. Tim will be back by then. He's got to be. He wouldn't stay away through Christmas."

"Right," Matt said slowly. "Sure. The three of us. That'll be great."

I hope you're right, Quinn, he thought as he hung up a few minutes later.

The phone rang almost immediately. Matt didn't recognize the voice at first.

"Matthew? This is Lydia Cleary. Quinn's mother."

Why on earth was she calling? She sounded upset.

"Hi, Mrs. Cleary. I was just talking to Quinn."

"Oh. That's why your line was busy. I was speaking to her earlier and she says she's going to stay down there next week."

"She told me."

"Matthew, you've got to get her home. Something terrible is going to happen to her if she stays there. Just like it happened to that friend of hers."

Cold fingers did a walk along Matt's spine.

"What do you mean, 'happened' to Tim? Tim took off for Las Vegas."

"I don't know about any of that. I just know something bad's happened to him and the same will happen to Quinn if she stays down there. You know how stubborn she is. She won't listen to me."

"She won't listen to me, either."

"Maybe if you go down there, Matthew. Maybe she'll listen to you then and you can bring her back. I know it's a lot to ask..."

"It's not a lot," he said, trying to soothe the growing agitation in her voice. "Not a lot at all. I'll leave as soon as they cut me loose on Friday."

"Oh, thank you, Matthew." She sounded ready to cry. "I'll be eternally grateful for this."

He eased himself off the phone, then sat there, wondering, feeling uneasy. Her sense that something had 'happened' to Tim rattled Matt. And she was so convinced the same was going to happen to Quinn. Superstition, of course, but still...

Matt decided then to leave for Maryland Friday afternoon without telling Quinn. He'd catch her by surprise and work on her all weekend. By Sunday he'd have her packed up and ready to go.

In a few days he'd have Quinn home safe and sound. But what about Tim? He wished he could do the same for Tim.

Tim, old buddy, where the hell are you?




Tim existed in a timeless space of boredom, rage, and terror. Sometimes he slept, and dwelt in a nightmare in which he had no body. Sometimes he was awake, and dwelt in a nightmare in which he could not feel his body.

The staff took good care of that body. Three times a day, every shift, his limbs were put through their ranges of motion to keep the joints limber and prevent contractures. He was turned back and forth, his position changed every few hours to prevent pressure ulcers in his skin. And whenever they were in the ward, all the nurses spoke to him constantly, like girls talking to their dolls.

And that was what Tim began to feel like. He couldn't feel, couldn't reply, couldn't move on his own. He was a giant Ken doll.

Despite all the care, he was afraid for his body. What had they done to it? Had they scorched his skin? Was he now a burn victim like the others? He felt nothing. If only he could feel something —even pain would be welcome —he might know.

And Tim had begun to fear for his mind. Imprisonment in an inert, mute body was affecting it. Every so often he would feel his mental gears slip a few cogs, would catch his thoughts veering off and have to reel then in from wild, surreal tangents filled with giant, floating syringes and stumbling, mummified shapes. He knew one day —one day too soon —those thoughts could slip their bonds and never come back.

Focus. That was the only thing that kept his mind in line. Focusing on movement, on brief, tiny increments of victory over the drug that crippled his nervous system.

He'd learned to recognize the signs that his previous dose of 9574 was wearing off. Mostly it was a tingling, beginning in his fingertips and toes and spreading across his palms and soles. When the sensation came he focused all his will on his fingers. Sometimes he was positioned so he could see them, but many times he wasn't. He didn't let that stop him. For most of the day, his hands didn't exist. But when the tingling came, it told him where they were, and then he could locate them, focus on them, make them the center of his world, and demand that they obey him.

Tim couldn't be sure, but it seemed to him that the episodes of tingling were lasting longer, starting a little sooner before each new injection. What did that mean? Was he building up a tolerance to the drug? Was his liver learning to break it down faster? He'd read that the liver could "learn." When a new substance was introduced to the bloodstream, the liver's job was to break it down and dispose of it. At first it would metabolize the substance slowly. But as the substance made more passes through the liver, the enzymes within the hepatic cells adjusted and became increasingly efficient. That was why a teetotaler could get tipsy on a single glass of wine while a drinker might down half a bottle with little or no effect: the teetotaler's liver has no experience breaking down ethanol but it's routine for the drinker's.

Tim knew he had a good tolerance for alcohol —always had. Maybe that indicated an especially efficient liver. Maybe his liver was learning new ways to clear the 9574 from his blood, and getting a little better at it every day.

He clung to that thought. It wasn't much of a hope, but at least it was hope. And he needed all the hope he could muster. His hands were tingling now. He was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling, so he couldn't see them. But he knew where they were now. There was another sensation today. A dull pain on the outer aspect of his left thigh. He ignored that. It was his hands that concerned him. He focused on them, concentrating his will...

"Is Number Eight awake?"

That voice. He knew that voice!

"Yes, Doctor."

Alston. Dr. Arthur Alston. Tim wanted to roar the name, wanted to spring up and hurl himself at his throat, but all he could do was lie here and feel the growing tingle in his hands.

"When's he due for his next dose?" Alston's voice said.

"Not for another twenty minutes."

"Give it to him now. I've got a little debriding to do here, and I don't want him twitching."

Suddenly Dr. Alston's face loomed over him. He was wearing a surgical mask and cap.

"Hello, Brown. I'm terribly sorry it had to come to this, but you gave me no choice. This, by the way, is the last time you'll be referred to by your name. From now on, you're the John Doe in bed eight. Don't look for rescue from the Ward C staff. These nurses have been hand picked by the Foundation. They don't know your real name, but they do know you're not one of our usual burn victims, and they know you're here because you're a threat to the Foundation."

Tim would have groaned if he could. The nurses too?

"Is that surprise I see in your eyes, Brown? A male chauvinist reaction? Do you see some reason why professional women such as these nurses can't share the goals pursued by the Foundation? We all have many common goals here in Ward C. Perfecting the semi-synthetic burn grafts is just one. We are all committed individuals, and we all work toward those goals in our own way. But it's a group effort."

Alston sounded so sane, so rational. Tim would have much preferred a mad-doctor persona. It would have been easier to take. This was so damn unsettling. It almost made Tim feel like the deviate. Almost.

Dr. Alston's face was replaced by the mocha-skinned nurse's. Her eyes crinkled warmly as she smiled behind her mask. She did something out of Tim's sight. He guessed it was another dose of 9574. When the tingling in his fingers and toes faded, he knew he was right.

"All right, Marguerite," Alston said. "He should be ready now. Turn him on his side and we'll get to work."

Tim's stomach gave a little heave and the room did a quick spin as hands he could not feel rolled him off his back and onto his right side. The picture window into the hall swam into view but the curtains were drawn.

"Watch out for the N-G tube," Alston said. "Good. Don't worry, Number Eight. That feeding tube is only temporary. We'll put in a deep line for TPN soon. That's total parenteral nutrition —something you would have learned about in your clinical training over the next few years."

Clinical training...

Tim realized he'd never see his clinical training.

"Right there," Alston said to Marguerite. "Perfect. And now the tray, please."

Tim's mind screamed out to know what Alston was doing. He must have sensed Tim's thoughts. He spoke from somewhere behind him.

"Just because you've been reduced to a vegetative state doesn't mean your days of usefulness as a productive human being are through. Quite the contrary. You're earning your keep, Number Eight. And you're making a significant contribution to the well-being of your fellow man."

Tim sensed movement behind him, heard a rustle, the soft clank of a metal tray.

"You see, one of the ongoing problems we've had with fully researching the new grafts has been our inability to test them on fresh burns. Since the grafts must be grown from cultures of the victim's own skin cells, they are, ipso facto, unavailable for treatment of a fresh burn. We could keep a bank of grafts for people at high risks for burns —firefighters, for instance —for immediate use should a burn occur, and I'm sure that such a program will come into being eventually, but at this early stage it's not feasible. So what we've needed for a while is another test subject whose skin grafts can be cultured in advance and then tested on fresh burns of varying severity and surface area."

Another test subject? Tim thought.

"You do realize, don't you, that you're not the first student to learn too much. We've had a few unfortunate incidents in the past when the subliminal intrusion of the SLI unit has triggered unsuspected psychoses in a student, but until now only one other student has learned as much as you. That was Anthony Prosser, two years ago."

Tim remembered the phrase he'd heard a few second-year students use: To pull a Prosser. It meant to go over the wall and never be heard from again.

Everybody probably thinks I've pulled a Prosser.

"Anthony has been known as Number Five for two years now."

Two years!

"During that period he has made an enormous contribution to our graft research. But now..." Tim heard Alston sigh. "Now he's given all he has to give. Now he just lies there, completely mad. But we're not abandoning him. We'll take care of him as long as he lives."

Give? What did Prosser give?

"So, as unfortunate as it was that you had to stumble on our little secrets here at The Ingraham, in a way it proves rather timely. We were just beginning to perfect our acute-stage grafting techniques when Number Five ran out of undamaged skin. You can take over where he left off."

Tim's brain was screaming. They're going to burn me!

"We've been culturing your skin cells since you arrived. Yesterday we added a sedative to your afternoon dose of 9574. While you were unconscious, I inflicted a thirty-six-square-inch third-degree burn on the lateral aspect of your left thigh."

Ward C —what Tim could see of it —blurred and swam before his eyes. They'd already burned him!

"I felt it was kinder to put you out during the procedure. Even though you'd feel nothing, you'd still smell it. The odor of burning human flesh is rather unpleasant, especially unpleasant when it is your own. I spared you that. We're not cruel here, Number Eight. We bear you no ill will, no malice. In fact, we feel sorry for you. You are the victim of a particularly vicious and ironic Catch 22: The very attributes of intellectual curiosity and sharply-honed analytical brilliance that once made you an asset to The Ingraham have now caused you to become a liability. We couldn't let you go, and we couldn't kill you —despite what you must think of us, we're not murderers, Number Eight. So we chose this method of neutralizing your threat to the Foundation and The Ingraham. You still have your life and, in a very important way, you're still contributing to the medical well-being of your fellow man. Which was one of the reasons you came to The Ingraham in the first place, isn't it, Number Eight?"

But you did kill me, Tim thought. You must have. Because this is worse than death. This is Hell.





Louis Verran noticed the red light blinking on the recorder. He nudged Elliot.

"How long's that been lit?"

Elliot glanced up at it and shrugged. "Beats me."

"When was the last time you checked it?"

"This morning when I came in. Wasn't blinking then."

With an effort, Verran kept his voice low and even.

"Well, it's blinking now. And when it's blinking it means the recorder's been activated. And when the recorder's been activated it means Cleary's been on the phone. And in case you forgot, we're monitoring all her phone calls. So do you think you could spare some time from your busy schedule to listen to it?"

"Sure, Chief."

Verran shook his head. The best goddam high-tech voice-activated recorder wasn't worth shit if nobody listened to it.

He watched Elliot slip on the headphones and replay the conversation. He looked bored. Finally he pulled them off.

"Same old crap, Chief. Her mother wants her to come home Friday. Her old boyfriend wants her to come home too, even offered to come down and get her but she blew him off. She's staying."

"She should go. She's bad news, that kid."

"She thinks Brown's coming back and she wants to be here." Elliot grinned. "She's got a loooooong wait, huh?"

"Yeah," Verran said. "But as long as she's waiting, you keep an eye on that recorder. Anytime you see that light blinking, you listen right away. Not later. Right away."

Verran almost felt sorry for Cleary. Her boyfriend was never coming back. There was no way out of the place Alston had put him.





Tim watched the day-shift nurses —the dark-skinned one called Marguerite and another whose name he hadn't caught yet — string garland and holly around the window on the hallway. They worked on the far side of the window; apparently Christmas decorations weren't allowed in the antiseptic confines of Ward C. They were laughing, smiling, presenting a Norman Rockwellesque portrait of holiday cheer.

Who on earth would believe what they were involved in on this side of the window?

And what would a Rockwell portrait of my right thigh look like? Tim wondered.

All the shifts told him how well the graft was taking, as if he cared. How long since Alston had burned him? How long since he'd placed the graft? If only there was a clock here. Or a calendar. Tim's only measure of time was his injections. He knew today was Friday —he'd heard Marguerite say "TGIF" this morning —but which Friday? Was it one Friday before Christmas, or two?

He was betting on two. That made today the sixteenth of December. Maybe.

He hadn't been placed on his left side since the graft. He'd been on his right side, faced toward the hall window for the past few hours. Never since his arrival had he been rotated to the spot directly in front of it. Each of the other seven patients on Ward C got a regular turn there, but Tim was always kept near the back. Why?

Because of Quinn, he guessed. Even mummy-wrapped as he was, there was still a chance she might recognize him if she got within a couple of feet.

The thought of her was a deep ache in his chest. He liked being positioned so he could see some activity —anything but hours of staring at the ceiling —but he hoped Quinn wouldn't pass by. He longed for the sight of her, but each time she walked on after pausing at the window, a part of him died.

He preferred watching Marguerite and the other nurse decorating the window.

Go on, ladies. Do a good job. Take your time. Take all the time you want.

Because the longer they stayed out there, the longer it would be before his next dose of 9574.

Already his hands were tingling to the wrists. He'd begun concentrating on his left fingers the instant the tingling began. He knew they lay on his left hip. He wished he could see them, to measure his progress.

And he was making progress —no question about that. He could feel his fingers moving, feel the pinky flex, then straighten... flex, then straighten. He just wished he knew how much movement he'd gained. He didn't know how far he could trust his proprioception —he needed to see those fingers move to believe it.

Tim noticed one of the nurses —Marguerite —looking in his direction. He froze his hand in position. Had she seen the movement? He prayed not. If they saw the 9574 wearing off, they'd give him another shot of it. They might even start keeping a special eye out for movement. And if they saw too much they might up his dose.

Tim was sure that would push him over the edge into madness. All that kept him sane were these moments when he could feel something, do something. He spent his day waiting for these moments. He lived for them. If they were taken away...

Marguerite turned and said something to the other nurse and they both laughed. They went on decorating the window. Good. She hadn't seen him. He could go on moving his fingers.

He switched his concentration to his left thumb.









As she hurried toward Science, Quinn brushed at a flake that had caught in her eyelashes. The Baltimore radio stations were all talking about the big snowstorm charging in from the Midwest. Pennsylvania and New Jersey were slated to take the brunt if the storm stayed on its present course, with Maryland collecting a few inches from the periphery.

Normally, she'd be excited. Quinn loved snow, loved to ski. During college, whenever a snow hit New England, she and a couple of friends would hop in a car and head for Great Barrington where her roommate's family had a ski condo.

But she felt no interest, let alone excitement, in the coming storm. It didn't matter. Not much seemed to matter anymore.

One thing the threatened snowfall did accomplish was the cancellation of the Friday afternoon labs. Since this was the last day before Christmas break, the administration had decided to let the students get a head start on the storm.

Everyone who was going home, that is. For Quinn it meant an early start in Dr. Emerson's lab. She'd had lunch, helped a couple of friends load up their cars, and waved them off to their Merry Christmases.

Merry Christmas.

Not bloody likely.

Another reason for not going home until the last minute: Quinn wasn't feeling very Christmasy —anything but Christmasy. And Mom always did Christmas up big, decorating the first floor like she was entering it in a contest. Everything would be so cheery and warm and happy and Quinn knew she'd be a horrible wet blanket. If she was going to mope, better to do it in private.

She shook herself. This had to stop. Everything was going to be fine, everything was going to be all—

Why did you leave me, Tim? Why did you make me care about you and then run off like that? Why?

She bit back a sob.

"I'm okay," she said softly. "Really. I'm okay."

She groaned as she entered Science. The entry vestibule and the lobby were festooned with Christmas ornaments. There wasn't going to be any getting away from The Season To Be Jolly.

Nobody was at the security desk. One of the male guards was holding a ladder while Charlene stood on the top step and taped a strand of golden garland to the wall. They recognized Quinn and waved her through.

Fifth was no better. Santa faces, Merry Christmas greetings, plastic mistletoe, fake holly, and tinsel garland hung all over the place.

Quinn kept her eyes straight ahead, glancing left only briefly when she passed the newly decorated Ward C window, trimmed with tiny Christmas bulbs, blinking chaotically.

She stopped as a thought struck her: Here I am in the dumps about my Christmas... what about theirs? Her gaze roamed the ward, coming to rest on the patient against the far wall. He appeared male, and his body was long and slim.

Like Tim's, Quinn thought with a pang.

He was lying on his right side, facing her. She couldn't make out his eyes between the folds of gauze wrapped around his head, but he seemed to be looking at her.





Jesus, it was Quinn. And she was staring directly at him. If only he could reach up and yank the gauze off his face, or screech her name, or just wave and attract her attention. Anything but to lie here like a goddam asparagus and watch her walk away again.

His hand... his left hand... if he could get it to move now... now, when he needed it... to signal her... something definitive... something that wouldn't look like some sort of random muscle twitch... if only he knew sign language...

And then Tim realized that he did know a sign language of sorts.




Quinn stared at the bandaged-covered face, trying to read something there. She had a feeling he was staring back at her, trying to tell her something. His body looked slack, utterly relaxed, yet she sensed a bridled intensity about him.

Movement caught her eye. His left hand was twitching where it lay on his left hip. The fingers were curling into a fist. No, not all of them. Just the middle three. The thumb and pinky finger remained extended.

And then, ever so slightly, the hand wagged back and forth.

Quinn felt a smile begin to pull on her lips. Why, it almost looked like—

As she cried out, her knees buckled and she fell against the window with a dull thunk that echoed down the hall.

Tim's Hawaiian hang-loose sign... the patient on the far side of Ward C was looking her way and doing a crude version of the shake-a-shake-a signal Tim had used in the casino.

Suddenly hands were gripping her upper arm, supporting her.

"Are you all right?"

Quinn looked up and saw a nurse holding her arm, steadying her as Quinn straightened and leaned against the window frame.

"I..." Her throat locked, refusing to let another syllable pass.

"You look terrible," the nurse said. "You're white as a ghost."

I've just seen a ghost, she thought.

She was shaking, dripping with perspiration. Bile surged against the back of her throat but she forced it back down.

"What's wrong?" the nurse was saying, looking at her closely. "Are you a diabetic or hypoglycemic?"

I probably look like I'm having an insulin reaction, Quinn thought. I almost wish I were.

She shook her head and started to say something, to ask about that patient at the far end of Ward C, then bit back the words.

It couldn't be Tim. Not in Ward C with the burn patients. Anywhere but Ward C.

If she said anything about it, they'd think she was losing it. Hallucinating. Breaking with reality. Word had already spread around The Ingraham about Tim having a breakdown and running off —pulling a Prosser. The administration would think she was cracking too. They'd send her home. Maybe for good. One breakdown per class was more than they wanted to deal with.

"My period," she said, improvising. "I always get bad cramps the first day."

The nurse's face relaxed. "I get some whoppers myself. Come on over here. I'll give you a couple of Anaprox."

Keeping one hand on the wall to steady herself, Quinn followed her to the nursing station where she sat, blotted the beaded perspiration from her face with a paper towel, and choked down the two blue tablets.

After a few minutes, she felt strong enough to move on. She thanked the nurse and made it down the hall to Dr. Emerson's lab where she told Alice that she didn't feel well enough to work today.

Alice took one look at her and bounded out of her seat.

"I should say you don't! You look awful! You might have the flu. Dr. Emerson won't be in until tonight, so you get right out of here and over to the infirmary right this minute. As a matter of fact, I'll take you there myself."

"That's all right. I'll be okay. Just tell Dr. Emerson I'll be in tomorrow."

Alice shooed her out and Quinn stood outside the lab, looking down the hallway. The elevators were on the far side of Ward C. She was going to have to pass the window to get to them.

She wasn't sure she could handle that.

But she didn't feel strong enough for the stairs right now, so what choice did she have?


Taking a deep, tremulous breath, Quinn straightened her spine and marched back down the hall. The nurses station was empty as she passed it, and she intended to keep walking past Ward C, but when she reached the window she had to stop. No way she could breeze by without one more look.

Both nurses were in there now, standing around the patient who'd signaled her. Marguerite was just removing a syringe from his IV line. Was something wrong?

Quinn pressed closer to the glass. The blinking lights bordering the window made it difficult to see, but she still could make out the patient's left hand, the one that had been stretched into the hang-loose sign —it now hung limp and lifeless. As she watched, the nurses gently rolled him to his left and repositioned him on his back. Everything so normal. Just another day of routine patient care on Ward C.

The nurse who had helped Quinn a few moments ago looked up and smiled at her. Quinn gave her a friendly wave, then forced herself to walk on.

Half dazed, still weak and shaky, feeling as if she were in a dream, Quinn found the elevator control slot and slipped her card into it.

What had just happened here? What was real? What was not? The questions whirled about her in a maelstrom of confusion. Nausea rippled through her stomach and inched up toward her throat. She feared she might get sick right here in the hall.

She had to get out of here, back to the dorm. Back to her room where she could lock the door, crawl into bed, pull the covers over her head and think.

Maybe Mom and Matt had been right. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to stay down here the extra week.

When she got outside, the snow was falling heavily. Everything was covered with a thin coat of white. At any other time she might have stopped to appreciate the silent beauty of the scene. But now she broke into a careful run for the dorm.




Tim stared at the ceiling.

What was wrong with Quinn? She'd been looking right at him as he'd given her the hang-loose signal. She'd even reacted as if she'd seen it, looked like she'd been about to faint, but she'd done nothing.


Maybe she hadn't really seen it, or maybe she didn't believe she'd seen it. It didn't matter which. He'd never get a chance like that again. It was over. Might as well pack in the hope and forget about ever getting out of here.

Still staring helplessly at the ceiling's mottled whiteness, Tim felt himself tumbling into a black hole of despair.





This isn't a highway, Matt thought. This is a parking lot.

The New Jersey Turnpike wasn't exactly stopped dead, but for an hour now it had been moving too slowly for the speedometer to register. As far ahead as the he could see, the three southbound lanes were a stagnant river of glowing brake lights fading into the falling snow.

Not falling, exactly. Racing horizontally was more like it. And lots of it. The windows on the passenger side of Matt's Cherokee were caked with an inch or better of white. It was piling up on the road and the shoulders.

Matt banged impatiently on the steering wheel and glanced at the dashboard clock. Nine o'clock. He should have been there by now. Instead he was just south of Exit 7A, only halfway through Jersey. And the longer he stayed here, the worse it was going to get. He'd played all his CDs twice, and the radio had nothing but traffic reports about the snarl-ups all over the East Coast and weather reports about how much worse it was going to get during the next few hours.

This little jaunt was turning into an ordeal.

A sign on the right with logos for Roy Rogers, Big Boy's, and Sunoco told him that the "Richard Stockton Service Area" was two miles ahead. Matt glanced at his gas gauge and saw it edging onto "E". At his present pace, those two miles could take an hour, maybe more. Running out of fuel now would be the icing on the cake.

He edged the Cherokee to the right and began riding along the shoulder at around twenty miles per hour. It wasn't legal, but at least he was moving. He just had to hope he didn't run into a cop. A ticket would be the candle on the icing on the cake.

He slammed on his brakes and skidded to a halt as a beat-up, twenty-year-old Cadillac DeVille with New York plates pulled out in front of him and stopped. Matt flashed his high beams and honked, but the Caddy didn't budge. He had two choices: sit here behind the guy, or try to slip past him on the right, but that meant risking the snowy slope that dropped away from the shoulder at a good forty-five-degree angle.

He got out and walked up to the Caddy. The driver window rolled down as he approached and a bearded face glared at him.

"Don't fuck with me, man."

"How about letting me by," Matt said. "I'm trying to get to the service area."

"You wait like the rest of us."

"I'm going to run out of gas."

"Tough shit."

Matt stared at him a moment. Everyone was fed up, but this guy was looking for a fight. Matt was tempted to help him find it, but for all he knew there could be three others like him in that car. He looked at the big heavy caddy, at the snowy slope beyond it, and had a better idea.

Without a word, he returned to the Cherokee. He put her in four-wheel drive and slowly eased to the right. The Cadillac responded, moving right to block him. Matt edged further onto the slope, and the Cadillac mimicked him, matching Matt's every rightward move.

When he was sure all four of the Caddy's tires were on the slope, Matt pulled sharply to his left, darting back uphill. The heavier car tried to respond but its rear wheels spun uselessly on the snow. It began to fishtail as it slipped further down the slope, swerving ninety degrees until it was sliding back-end first, its rear wheels spinning madly. It stopped with a jolt in the gully at the bottom, its headlights pointing skyward.

Back on the shoulder again, Matt gave two quick toots on his horn and drove away.

"All I wanted to do was get by," Matt said softly.

No one bothered him the rest of the way to the service area.

"What's the problem up ahead?" he asked as the attendant filled the Cherokee's tank. He had stringy blond hair and was maybe nineteen. "It can't be just snow."

"It ain't. Scanner says a tractor trailer jack-knifed coming down the Exit 6 on-ramp."

"Six? That's where I get off. Damn, I'll be here forever."

"Maybe longer. We heard that four cars piled into the truck. There was a fire and everything. A real mess. If I was you I'd find a parking spot, get a comfortable seat in Roy's or Big Boy's, and figure on spending the rest of the night there."

Uh-uh, Matt thought. He saw a set of headlights glide across the overpass just south of the service area.

"Will that road take me to the Pennsylvania Turnpike?"

The attendant followed Matt's pointing arm and nodded.

"Yeah. Eventually. If you could get on it. But there's no off-ramp to that road. Like the man says: You can't get there from here."

"Suppose I make my own ramp?"

The attendant looked at the Cherokee, then back at Matt.

"There's a corn field back of the service area here. With four-wheel drive you just might be home free."

"I'm not heading home, but at least I'll be free of the Turnpike."

"Hope it's real important to get where you're goin'. You bust an axle or blow a tire out in that field you'll have a lotta explaining to do in the morning."

"I've got a friend in need," Matt said.

The attendant grinned. "And you're the friend indeed, right?"

"You might say that."

"I got my break in a couple of minutes. I'll show you a way out the back."

Matt shoved a twenty into his hand.

"Show me now."




Quinn sat cross-legged on the bed in her darkened room and watched the snowflakes tumble through the bright cones from the dorm's exterior floodlights. She wished she could glide out the window like one of the kids in Peter Pan and get lost in the storm.

Then she wouldn't have to think about that patient in Ward C, and the hand signal he'd made for her.

It was Tim.

As crazy as it sounded, it had to be Tim. The more she thought about it, the more convinced she became.

He was Tim's height, had Tim's build, and he'd given her the signal, the Hawaiian hang loose that only Tim would have known to give.

Quinn's first impulse had been to run to the police, to call Deputy Southworth and demand that he charge into Ward C and save Tim from whoever had imprisoned him there for whatever reason.

She'd made it as far as her door before having second thoughts. And third thoughts.

She imagined the conversation with the sheriff's department:

"Who do you think kidnapped your boyfriend and imprisoned him in the burn ward, Miss Cleary?"

"Dr. Alston, I guess. He's in charge of Ward C."

"Why would The Ingraham's Dean of Medical Education want to do something like that?"

"I don't know. Maybe because Tim discovered the place was bugged."

"But his own father brought in an expert who couldn't find a shred of evidence of electronic surveillance."

"He's there in Ward C. I know he's there."

"How do you know that, Miss Cleary?"

"I was watching one of the Ward C patients when he gave me a secret hand signal Tim and I used in Atlantic City."

"A secret hand signal. I see. Did you get close to him? Did you see his face?"

'No, but—"

"Why were you watching this particular patient?"

"He's built like Tim. He reminded me of Tim."

"You really miss your buyfriend, don't you. You really wish he was back."

"Yes, but—"

"We understand, Miss Cleary. We'll be sure to look into this matter very soon. But don't call us. We'll call you when we find something. Good night."

So now Quinn was back on her bed, staring into the swirling wilderness and racking her brain for a way to convince the police that Tim was in Ward C.

If indeed he was in Ward C.

Sometimes you see what you want to see.

What if she did manage to convince Deputy Southworth to barge into the Science Center and they found out the new Ward C patient was a farm boy from West Virginia who'd been riding a tractor when the fuel tank exploded under him? What would happen then?

The Ingraham would probably kick her out.

And then where would she be? She'd still be without Tim, but she'd be without a medical education as well.

Quinn could come up with only one solution: She had to be able to go to the sheriff's office and say she had looked into the patient's face and it was Timothy Brown.

And that was just what she was going to do. Tonight. After the change of shift.

It was the only way.

She shivered. It wasn't cold in the room. She was terrified.




Matt rubbed his burning eyes. His arms were leaden, his fingers cramped from gripping the steering wheel, and his right leg throbbed from incessant switching between the gas and brake pedals. He glanced at the dashboard clock.

I don't believe this, he thought. After midnight and I haven't hit Gettysburg yet. And it's still snowing like crazy.

After getting lost twice in the rural backroads of western New Jersey, he'd finally made it to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. That, too, had been slow going, with accidents eastbound and westbound, but it least it had been moving —a big improvement over the Jersey Pike.

But he'd made his big mistake around Harrisburg when he got off the Pennsy Pike and headed south toward Maryland. He'd had three choices: Route 83, Route 81, or Route 15. The first two were major roads, but 83 would swing him too far back east, and 81 would take him too far west; Route 15 ran right between the other two and offered to bring him closest to The Ingraham in the fewest miles.

But Route 15 was only two lanes, lined with dark, sleeping houses and snow-coated trees bending their laden branches low over the road. Matt had been crawling for miles, with hours more to go, most likely.

This is crazy, he thought.

The best thing to do would be find a motel and spend the night. Forget about The Ingraham for tonight and get some sleep. The roads would be clearer in the morning.

He pulled onto the shoulder and yanked the cellular phone from its cradle between the bucket seats. He fished out a slip of paper with Quinn's number and punched it in.

If he wasn't getting there till tomorrow, he wanted to make sure she didn't zip off to Baltimore or the like for the day.

The signal was shaky but he recognized her hello.

"Hey, Quinn, it's Matt."

"Oh, Matt. Thank God you called. It's Tim! I think he's here!"

"What? He came back?"

Matt was stunned. But beneath the shock was a strange mix of emotions, an uneasy balance between relief that Tim was back and anger at him for running off in the first place.

"No. I don'... ink he ever went away..."

The signal was breaking up. Through the static Matt thought he'd heard her say something about Tim not going away.

"Come again, Quinn? I didn't catch that."

"I th... 's here, at... ngraham... ink they're hiding him."


"... 'm going... ind out... sure... night... Sheriff's.... Southworth..."

And then he lost the signal completely. He tried the redial button a couple of times but couldn't make a connection. Either he was on the fringe of the local cellular transmitter zone or the storm was doing it. Whatever, he'd lost the connection.

But even through the static, Quinn had sounded strange. Frightened. Almost deranged.

Something about somebody hiding Tim at The Ingraham? What was happening to her?

To hell with knocking off, he thought as he put the Cherokee back in gear. He'd push through to The Ingraham tonight. A glance at the dashboard clock and he corrected himself: This morning. It was almost one a.m.




Quinn waited for Matt to call back. She'd barely been able to understand him. He'd sounded as if he'd been calling from a car phone. But why would he do that from Connecticut?

She waited a while, and when he didn't call again, she decided it was time. Enough waiting. Time to do. She had everything ready, lined up on the bed: her sneakers, her security pass card, and her penlight. All she had to do was put on her coat and slip into her boots.

Her hands shook as she slid the leather boot tops over her calves. One part of her mind was scolding her for even thinking of engaging in such a foolish, no-win stunt —if she didn't find Tim but was caught by security, she'd be in deep trouble with Dr. Alston and maybe even Dr. Emerson; if she did find Tim and got caught, she'd be in even deeper trouble, because she'd know something she shouldn't, and the people who had shangaied Tim would have to do the same to her.

But she wasn't going to get caught. She could do this. She had to do this.

Because another part of her was prodding her on, telling her she couldn't last another night wondering if that had been Tim in Ward C, couldn't go on with another day of her life until she knew the truth.

But what did she want the truth to be? Did she truly want to find Tim tonight? If that was Tim in Ward C, at least she'd know he was alive and know where he was. But she didn't want to find him there. Because that would mean there was something hideous about The Ingraham. Knowing that would put her in jeopardy and Tim in greater peril than he was already.

I have to know, she thought as she slipped into her coat. I won't have a moment's peace until I know.

With her sneakers jammed into the pockets of her overcoat, Quinn exited the dorm at a dead run, ducking past the camera in the lighted doorway, and dashing outside to where the powdery snow was gusting through the frigid air. The flakes seemed smaller now, and there were fewer of them falling, but the wind was rearranging them, building dunes around the shrubs and between the buildings, and scraping the open areas clean.

She had decided against the direct route to Science along the walks around the pond on the central campus. That would mean running the gauntlet of security cameras on all the flanking buildings. She opted instead for the rougher, woodsier route behind the class building to approach Science from the rear. She was a little concerned about her footprints at first, but when she turned to see how much of a trail she was leaving she saw the wind busily filling it in almost as soon as she completed a step.

When she reached Science, Quinn paused in the darkness outside the cone of light in front of the emergency exit door on the west side and looked around. No one about, nothing moving except the flakes. Still, she felt as if she were being watched. She knew there was a camera over the door, but were there others about? She wished she'd bothered to take note of their positions during the months she'd been here, but who'd have thought it would ever matter?

She pulled her security card from her jeans and took a deep breath, then she marched up to the door, slipped her card into the slot, and entered. She eased the door shut behind her but kept her snowy boots as close to the threshold as possible. Quickly she pulled her sneakers from her coat pocket and laid them on the floor. Then with repeated, nervous glances down the hall, she began pulling off her boots. She hated standing here in the fully lit, deserted corridor, sure to be spotted by anyone who walked into the rear end of the building's lobby, but she didn't dare leave a trail of wet footprints in the hall.

She also figured this gave her an excuse in case anyone in security had been monitoring the camera on the west side of Science during the two seconds she'd been on screen. If someone came to check, instead of a skulking interloper they'd find a student standing in plain view, changing her shoes. Quinn even had a story ready: She couldn't sleep so she'd come over to see if Dr. Emerson was around and if she could put her insomnia to good use.

But no one had come to investigate the door by the time she got into her sneakers, so she carried her boots over to the stairwell door, unlocked it with her card, and ducked inside. She left the boots in a corner and started up the steps, pulling off her coat as she climbed.

On Fifth Quinn carded herself out of the stairwell, blocked the door open with her coat, then crouched in the corner and checked the hall. Most of the overheads were out; only those by the nurses station were on. Softly glowing night lights were spaced low on the walls along the hallway. A Neil Diamond song was playing softly on the radio at the nurses station.

Quinn crept down the hall. So far she hadn't broken any rules. If they caught her now, her insomnia story would still hold up. She glanced into Ward C as she passed the window but it was dark in there. The only illumination came from the vital signs indicators, IVAC infusion pumps, and cardiac monitors over the beds. She tried to identify the patient she suspected was Tim but in this light they were all indistinguishable.

She stayed close to the wall as she edged toward the nurses station. Neil Diamond's baritone had segued into Michael Bolton's caterwaul on the radio —apparently one of those easy-listening stations. She knew there were two nurses on the late shift; she heard the muffled sound of their voices behind the music. They didn't sound as if they were at the desk, so she chanced a peek around the corner at the station.


The music and the voices were coming from the little lounge room behind the med cabinet. That was where the nursing staff gave report, relaxed, and listened to the control board for alarms from the monitors in the ward.

This was her chance. She had to act now, before they came out onto the floor again. As the two nurses broke into soft laughter, Quinn moved. Without giving herself time to change her mind or lose her nerve, she dropped into a crouch, scurried around the corner, and ducked through the door into Ward C.

Now you're over the line, she thought as she eased the door closed and felt her terrified heart beating a mad tattoo against the inner wall of her chest. Now you've got big trouble if you're caught.




For a few seconds, Louis Verran didn't know where he was. He jerked forward in his chair and looked around. He was in Monitoring.

Christ! He'd dozed off.

He rubbed his eyes. Good thing he was alone. If Kurt or Elliot had caught him, they'd have given him a helluva razzing. But Elliot was in Baltimore on some R&R and Kurt was sacked out next door in the on-call room.

Goddam Quinn Cleary.

They all should have been getting some R&R. Christmas break wasn't a break for Security, as a rule, not with all those applicants rolling through here next week. Christ, it seemed like a treadmill at times. But at least they used to get off the first weekend of Christmas break. Not this year. Because Cleary was staying, and because Alston wanted close tabs on her, only one of them was off tonight. Elliot had drawn the high card.

Verran got up and stretched. His gut burned. He needed a break. He craved a break. He was still feeling the stress of last week —hauling in the Brown kid, putting him in storage, none of it was his cup of tea. He hadn't figured on any rough stuff when he took this job —who'd have thought? It was rare, but the potential was always there, and it never failed to set his stomach acid production a few notches higher.

He grabbed for his bottle of Mylanta and unscrewed the cap. As he tilted back his head to chug a couple of ounces, he saw the red light blinking on the recorder.

Shit! She'd been on the phone. When the hell had that happened?

He hit the rewind button, put on his headphones, and listened.

An incoming call from her friend, Matt. Lots of static. Those two had already talked earlier in the day. Verran relaxed and smiled. Maybe old Matt was trying to move in on the absent Tim. But the smile vanished when he heard Cleary mention Tim.

"It's Tim! I think he's here!"

Acid surged anew into Verran's stomach.

"I don't think he ever went away"... "I think he's here, at the Ingraham. I think they're hiding him"... "I'm going to find out for sure tonight. If something happens to me, call the County Sheriff's office. Ask for Deputy Southworth."

Verran tore off the headphones. Where had she got those ideas? And when had her friend called her? There was no timer on the recorder.

... I'm going to find out for sure tonight...

Christ! She could be upstairs in Ward C right now.

He grabbed the phone and dialed her dorm room. If she picked up, okay —he could sit down and carefully consider his next move. If not...

Half a dozen rings and no answer. He began to sweat. Four more and he slammed down the receiver. If she wasn't already here she was on her way.

He dialed the Ward C nurses station. Doris answered.

"This is Verran. Anybody strange wandering around up there?"

"Strange?" Doris laughed. "There's nobody wandering around up here but us chickens."

"Check Ward C anyway."

"Mr. Verran, there's no way —"

"Check it now, goddammit!" he said through his teeth. "We may have a trespasser."

He could hear her swallow. "Yessir."

He hung up and began shouting for Kurt.




Got to make this fast.

The penlight trembled in Quinn's hand, its narrow beam wobbling ahead of her as she moved among the Ward C occupants, weaving her way toward the rear of the room to where she'd seen the patient who'd signaled her.

As she approached the bed, she heard a phone begin to ring out at the nurses station. She flashed the light on the patient's bandaged face. Only the eyes were visible; they were closed in sleep and the lids did not open in response to the light. Holding her breath, Quinn hooked a finger under the facial bandages and pulled down.

The nose came free. It wasn't Tim's.

She pulled farther down, exposing a pale, shiny area of scar tissue. She jerked her hand away. Not Tim.

She stood there in the dimness, confused and uncertain: Crushed because it wasn't Tim, which meant he was still among the missing; elated because it wasn't Tim, which meant he wasn't the victim of some grisly plot.

She rearranged the bandages into their original position. How could she have been so terribly wrong? She'd been so sure.

She stepped back from the patient to make sure she was in the right spot. Yes. This was it. This was where she'd seen—

Wait. She flashed her light along his body. This patient was short and heavy. The one who'd signaled her had been long and lean.

Like Tim.

As she turned to survey the darkened ward, she saw a shadow appear at the window in the door. Quinn dropped to the floor. A heartbeat later the door swung open and the overhead lights went on.




Kurt stood blinking in the glare of the lights.

"Jesus, Lou. I was sound asleep."

Verran envied him. He could have used a few solid hours of sleep himself.

"Enjoy the memory. That's the last you're going to have for a while. Our friend Cleary's on the loose."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Don't ask me how, but she suspects we've got Brown. I heard her on the phone. She's on her way here —may be here already."

"Fuck damn!" Kurt said. "I knew we should've taken her out with the Brown kid."

"That's not our decision. Besides, the situation is still salvageable. From what I gathered, she doesn't know Brown's here. If we intercept her, send her back to the dorm, then move Brown out, we can make her look like a nut case and kick her ass back to Connecticut."

"Why go to all the trouble?" Kurt said. "Let me handle it. I'll see to it she's found in the woods fifty miles from here —a rape-murder victim. Our worries'll be over."

Verran stared at the big blond man. Sometimes Kurt really frightened him.

"Just do as you're told. She's not in her room. I called Fifth and they're checking Ward C. She didn't get by the security desk in the lobby, so she's probably on her way."

"What about the side door?" Kurt said, turning to his console. "The bitch pulled a fast one like that on me once before." He tapped away at his keyboard, then pointed to the screen. "There she is: the west door, ten minutes ago."

Christ, no!

"Get upstairs! Stop her! If she gets into the ward and finds him our asses will be in a sling!"




Tim watched the whole sequence of events, and could do nothing. Real life was reduced to television, and he was a passive, helpless viewer. Couldn't even change the damn channel.

His tingling hands had awakened him but he'd wished they hadn't. He'd been too depressed over the day's events —non events, rather —to work his fingers in much more than a desultory fashion. No hope, no future —what difference did it make how well he could move his fingers? Even when the tingling reached his elbows, the highest yet, so what?

So he lay there in the darkness, staring at the blinking lights around the hall window, but from a different angle this time. They'd moved his bed at the end of the day shift, rotating him to the side of the room farthest from the door. The current shift had propped him up on his right side again.

When he saw a familiar blond head bob past the hall window, he thought he'd fallen back to sleep and was dreaming. But when he saw her slip through the door and begin flashing a penlight, he prayed it was real. It had to be real.

He wanted to laugh, he wanted to cry, he wanted to shout with booming joy. There was a God, there was a Santa Claus. Quinn was here! She'd seen! She believed!

Then he wanted to scream at her when she approached the wrong bed.

Over here! Over here! They moved me over here!

He watched her flash her light in the other patient's face, saw her flinch back when she realized it wasn't him. Silently he begged her not to think she'd been seeing things this afternoon and give up. When she started looking around again, he knew there was still hope, but he was bewildered when she suddenly dropped into a crouch.

Then the lights came on and he understood.

Squinting, Tim watched the nurse called Doris step inside the door. She appeared wary as she stood with her hands on her hips, surveying the ward. Tim couldn't remember a night when the overheads had been turned on like this. Had she heard something? Was she looking for Quinn?

Maybe it was his own cardiac monitor that had brought her in. His heart was tripping along at a breakneck pace.

He could see Quinn crouched beside Number Four's bed, statue still, barely breathing.

Jesus, she had guts. How many women —how many men —would brave this place at night to search for him?

Apparently satisfied, Doris turned off the lights and closed the door behind her.

Quinn's shadow popped up almost immediately and she began to flash her penlight at the patients around her.

Over here, dammit!

Maybe she caught the thought. Or maybe she spotted the madly flashing rate light on his cardiac monitor. Whatever the reason, she came directly toward him and shone the light in his face.

She didn't have to pull at his bandages. She seemed to know as soon as she saw his eyes.

"Oh, Tim!" It was a whisper encased in a moan.

She bent and clutched his shoulders and buried her face against his neck, sobbing.

"Oh, Tim, it's you, it's you, I knew you'd never leave me like that."

He felt his own sobs welling up in his chest with nowhere to go, searching for a voice, an exit. His vision blurred and he was startled to feel the wetness of tears on his cheeks. Sensation was returning to his face.

If only he could speak. Because as wonderful as this was, she had to go now.

Okay. You've found me. Now get out of here, get somewhere safe and call the cops, the FBI, the CIA, the Pentagon, just make sure you're safe first!

And then over Quinn's shoulder, through the blur of tears, he saw the other nurse, the one called Ellie, walking past the window in the hallway. She stopped abruptly and stared into the ward. She leaned closer to the window and cupped her hands around her eyes for a second or two, then she jerked away from the window and darted back the way she had come.

But Quinn hadn't seen a thing.

She had to get out of here, had to run! He had to let her know! Tim tried his voice again, knowing he couldn't make a sound, yet he had to try.


The word shocked him. His voice sounded like a tree limb scraping against a stucco wall, but it was his voice.

Quinn straightened and stared at him. "Tim! Can you speak?"

He tried to tell her that a nurse had seen her but his lips and tongue wouldn't cooperate. He had to keep it simple.


"Not without you. I'm never—"

Then the overheads came on.




Quinn whirled in the sudden burst of light and saw two nurses —one heavy and blonde, the other thin and brunette — standing inside the door, gaping at her.

"Now do you believe me?" the thin one said.

"Who are you?" said the heavy one. "And what are you doing here? Do you realize how you're endangering these patients?"

Quinn was tongue tied for an instant. She'd had a story set to use had she been intercepted before she reached Ward C, but nothing for why she was actually in the ward. She realized that they didn't know who she was. Why should they? The only times she'd ever been on Five Science were in the afternoon. She could be anybody. So she blurted the first thing that came to mind.

"I thought they might be lonely," she said as lamely as she could. She tried to look dazed, out of it as she shuffled toward the nurses... toward the door. "But no one will talk to me."

The nurses glanced at each other, then the heavy one spoke again. She seemed to be the head nurse for the two-woman shift.

"You could have brought an infection in here."

"Oh, no," Quinn said with intense sincerity as she continued her approach. "I wash my hands every day. But they still wouldn't talk to me. Will you talk to me?"

Another glance flashed between the nurses, then the thin one spoke.

"Of course we'll talk to you." She pulled open the door to the nursing station. "Come on out here. We've got coffee and donuts and we'll talk as long as you like."

Quinn gave a sleepy smile as she walked between them and out the door... and kept walking. She turned to her right toward the hallway.

Someone grabbed her shoulder. "Not that way." It was the heavy nurse. "The lounge is over here."

"That's okay," Quinn said, shrugging off the hand. "I don't feel like talking anymore."


Quinn pulled away and began running down the hall, ignoring the shouts behind her as she headed for the exit stairs. She could see the door was still propped open by her coat and she complimented herself on her foresight. She was scared, but her adrenalin was flowing now and she knew she could outdistance either of the nurses here in the hall. Before they could phone the lobby and get security moving, she ought to be down the stairs, out into the snow, and pelting across campus toward the dorm. Once back in her room, she'd barricade the door and call the sheriff's office. She'd blow the lid off Ward C and expose everybody involved in this horror and then Tim would be free and they'd be together once more and she wouldn't care if she never saw The Ingraham again.

She was half way there when the door opened the rest of the way and a blond man stepped over her coat and into the hall. Quinn recognized him immediately as someone from campus security —the one she and Tim had seen in the parking lot before leaving for Atlantic City last month.

His sudden grin had a nasty twist to it. "Well, well, well. I've been looking for you, sweetheart."

Quinn's sneakers squeaked as she skidded into a turn and ran the other way. The heavyset nurse had been close behind her but Quinn's sudden change in direction took her by surprise and she slipped and fell. Quinn dodged around her and headed back the way she had come.

Panic was beginning to crowd her now, nipping at her heels. She wouldn't make it into the stairwell at the other end of the hall. She'd have to use her card to unlock it and the blond guy would be all over her while she was trying to get it into the slot. Maybe the lab—

As she passed Ward C again she spotted the little lounge behind the nurses station. Maybe she could lock herself in there, and if they had a phone...

But the thin, dark-haired nurse was at the station, on the phone, undoubtedly to security. When she saw Quinn coming, she dropped the receiver and moved to intercept her. Quinn didn't think she could duck around the nurse so she barreled right into her, sending her flying backward into the meds cart, knocking it over. She had a brief glimpse of the bottles and syringes flying off the top, smashing on the floor, the drawers below falling open, spilling their contents, adding more liquid and broken glass to the mess, then she ducked into the lounge, slammed the door behind her, and locked it.

She whirled, found the phone, lifted the receiver, hit 9, then dialed 4-1-1. If only she'd thought to memorize the number of the sheriff's office.

She got a busy signal. How could Information be busy at this hour?

As fists began pounding on the door, she hung up and tried again, only this time she listened after she hit the 9 for an outside line: busy signal. Someone in security had blocked phone access to the outside.

A heavy weight slammed against the door. The molding by the doorknob cracked.

Quinn began to shake. Her stomach hurt. She was trapped. And she was going to end up like Tim, she knew it.

Another slam against the door, a bigger crack in the molding. Desperate now, ready to try anything, she jumped up, twisted the lock switch in the doorknob to the off position, turned the knob ever so slightly to free the latch, then stepped aside, flattening herself against the wall just to the right of the knob.

The door slammed open with a violence that almost ripped it off its hinges as the blond man hurtled into the room, out of control, stumbling wildly.

Quinn was on her way out the door immediately. She didn't see him land, but heard the crash of tumbling furniture, then groans and angry curses behind her as she dashed once more into the hall. The two nurses were there, blocking her way, their eyes wide with surprise at the sight of her. They clutched at her arms but she shook them off and darted behind the station counter, taking the longer, flanking route to the hall. She would have made it, too, if her sneaker hadn't slipped on the wet floor. She prevented a fall by grabbing the counter, but the delay gave the heavy nurse a chance to reach the other end of the station and cut her off.

As Quinn straightened she noticed three fist-sized multi-dose bottles of a clear liquid near her right hand. She grabbed one and flung it at the big nurse. It struck her in the shoulder, bounced off, and smashed. Quinn grabbed another, spun, and winged it at the thin nurse who deflected it with her hands. That too smashed. Quinn turned again and threw the last at the heavy nurse who ducked. It sailed over her head and shattered against the far wall. Before the nurse could straighten, Quinn was past her and again sprinting down the hall.

This time she made it to the stairwell. She grabbed her coat as she passed, pulled it on and fumbled her pass card from the pocket as she bounded down the steps. She ignored her drying boots as she burst from the stairwell onto the first floor. She jammed the card into the emergency door slot and ran out into the icy air.

At first she ran through the snow without a destination — down the hill toward the campus buildings, anywhere as long as she was putting distance between herself and Science. Then she heard the exit alarm sound from the Science building —someone had come through without using a card. She turned and saw the long trail she'd left in the snow and the big blond guy from security running down the hill, following it. She might be able to outrun him, but she'd never lose him, not in this snow.

She heard a whimper of fear and realized it had come from her.

Ahead lay the faculty office building. One of the windows was lit. Dr. Emerson's?

"Oh, God, please, God!" she said softly, pushing her speed to the red line.

She skidded into the entry door, yanked on the handle —it opened. She ran inside, locked it behind her, then kicked off her sneakers. Wet footprints were as easy to follow as a trail in the snow. She padded down the hall in her socks toward Dr. Emerson's door. She burst into his office without knocking and slammed the door behind her.

Dr. Emerson jumped in his seat and looked up at her.

"Oh, Dr. Emerson, thank God you're here!"

"Quinn!" he said, pulling off his glasses. "What on earth's wrong?"

"You've got to hide me! Security's after me! You've got to call the Sheriff's Department!"

"What are you talking about?"

"Tim Brown! He didn't run off to Vegas. He's still here, in Ward C!"

"Preposterous! Who told you such a thing?"

"I saw him, Dr. Emerson. I just came from Ward C and Tim Brown is there!"

Shock and confusion warred across Dr. Emerson's features.

"But why—?"

"I don't understand why. None of this makes any sense. I just know he's there and Dr. Alston's using your compound to keep him there and we've got to get him out." She was starting to cry. She didn't want to, but she was so afraid and the sobs seemed to have a will of their own. "So please, please call the sheriff!"

Dr. Emerson closed his eyes and shook his head, as if trying to shut out something he didn't want to hear.

"This is terrible," he muttered. "This is awful." He looked heartbroken.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. This just confirms my worst fears." He rubbed a hand over his eyes, then straightened in his chair. "Very well. Hide in that closet over there if you wish. I still can't believe this, but I'll make the call. But I won't tell the authorities a thing. I'll try to get someone from the sheriff's office here and you can tell him yourself. Is that fair enough?"

"Yes! Oh, yes! Thank you!"

Quinn hurried over to the closet, stepped inside, and closed the door behind her. On the far side of the door she heard Dr. Emerson pick up the phone and dial. She listened as he spoke.

"Sheriff's office? Yes, this is Dr. Emerson at The Ingraham. I have a very frightened young woman in my office who feels she is in some danger. Could you send a car over immediately? Yes, I'm in room 107 in the faculty building. Thank you." He hung up and said, "They'll be here shortly."

Quinn breathed a deep sigh of relief and slid to a sitting position on the floor of the closet. She hadn't been sure she could trust anyone connected with The Ingraham, including Dr. Emerson. Now she chided herself for doubting him, even for an instant.

It's almost over.

All she had to do now was sit tight here until the sheriff or a deputy came, then lead them up to Ward C and show them the missing Timothy Brown. And then heads would roll.

Maybe she'd learn what this nightmare was all about. Because that was exactly what this was like —bizarre, scary as hell, surreal, and it made no sense at all.

Outside in the office, a door opened.

"Where is she?" a voice said.

Dr. Emerson, sounding very old and very tired, replied: "In the closet."

Quinn was rising to a standing position when the closet door was flung open. She screamed when she saw the blond security guard standing there, smiling at her.

No! It can't be! Can't BE!

She tried to dart past him but he grabbed her arm and squeezed her biceps. Quinn winced with the pain.

"Don't hurt her," Dr. Emerson said.

"Are you kidding?" the guard said. "After all the shit she's put me through tonight. Thought I busted my arm up there on Five Science. All because of her."

As she was dragged past his desk toward the hall, Quinn stared at Dr. Emerson in shock and disbelief.

"You? You too?"

He wouldn't meet her gaze. He stared instead at his desk top. His betrayal was a knife through her heart. Her terror receded and the hurt poured out of her.

"How could you? I thought you were a decent man, a great man! I thought you were my friend!"

Finally he looked up at her. His face was stricken, filled with grief. There were tears in his eyes.

"So did I. But there are some processes that cannot be stopped once they are set in motion."

Quinn's hurt suddenly turned to fury. It flared up, fueled by the growing fear for her life, and suddenly she was shoving the security man, wrenching her arm from his grasp with a sudden burst of strength that took her as much by surprise as it did him.

She was free, and she was running again, but with nowhere to go.

Quinn glanced over her shoulder and saw the guard racing after her, arms and legs pumping, teeth bared, face a mask of rage. She screamed and stretched her legs to their limit but her socks gave her little traction on the polished floor. He gained quickly this time and tackled her just as she was banking into a turn in the hall.

His weight slammed her to the floor, knocking the air out of her as they slid into a wall. He lurched to his knees and hovered over her, panting, murder ablaze in his eyes as she struggled to breath.

He grabbed the front of her hair. "I've had enough shit from you for one night!" he said.

Quinn felt her scalp burn as he yanked her head up. Before she could reach up to grab his arms, he slammed her head down against the floor. Jagged bolts of white light arced from the back of her skull along both sides of her brain and met in the space behind her eyes, then plunged into darkness, dragging Quinn with them.






Matt felt the crushing fatigue begin to lift as he turned off the road and up the drive toward The Ingraham's gates. It had stopped snowing, and there were only six inches or so on the ground here. The going became much faster and easier once he'd crossed into Maryland and pushed south of Emmitsburg. The roads from there on had been plowed sporadically, but at least none of them was blocked by four-foot drifts like a few up in Pennsylvania.

The guard in the gatehouse looked at him suspiciously as he pulled up to the brightly lit entrance. He seemed reluctant to open the window to his heated cocoon.

"Help you?"

"Yeah. I'm here to visit a first-year student named Cleary."

"They've all gone home for Christmas break."

"She's still here. She's expecting me."

"I wouldn't know about that. I'm afraid I can't let you on campus at this hour."

"I've come all the way from Connecticut. I would've been here hours ago if I hadn't got stuck in the storm. Please give her room a call. Two-fifty-two."

The guard shrugged, slid his window closed, and dialed his phone. And waited. And waited. Finally he shook his head and hung up. He opened the window again.

"No answer. Like I told you: They've all gone home for the break. Won't be back till after the first of the year."

An uneasy feeling began to worm through Matt. Even through the static Quinn had sounded frightened. And why not? The things she'd been saying...

Matt had spent the hours since their abortive phone call trying to piece together the fragments he'd heard. The more he'd thought about them, the more unsettling they became.

It's Tim! I think he's here!... I don't think he ever went away... I think they're hiding him here...

They were enough to shake up anybody.

"I know she's here. I spoke to her a couple of hours ago. Call her again."

He shook his head. "I already let it ring a dozen times. If she was in that room, she would've picked up."

"Then maybe something's happened to her. Maybe —"

"The only thing that's happened to her is she's gone home for a couple of weeks."

"But she could be hurt. Let me go up and check on her."

The guard shook his head with deliberate slowness. "Nobody goes wandering around this campus without an escort, and there's nobody to spare for an escort at this hour. You come back after eight when the day shift's on and they can help you out. Right now, I suggest you turn around and take the road two miles further west to the Quality Inn and spend what's left of the night there."

"But —"

The guard shut his window.

Matt stared at him, then glanced at the red-and-white striped gate a few feet ahead. He was tempted to slam the Cherokee into gear and drive right through that slim, brittle-looking two-by-four. But what would that do? He'd get kicked off the campus before he learned anything, and probably be banned from ever entering again. He did not need that.

Maybe the Quality Inn was a good idea. But before he headed down the road again, there was one more thing he had to do.

Hoping the local cellular transmitter was working, he picked up the car phone and dialed Quinn's number. He counted a dozen rings, then let it go on ringing after that. Finally, when he couldn't stand the sound any longer, he hung up. But her words from hours ago echoed and reechoed through the canyons of his brain.

It's Tim! I think he's here!... I don't think he ever went away... I think they're hiding him here...

Either Quinn had gone paranoid, and that seemed unlikely — about as unlikely as Tim dropping out and flying to Las Vegas —or there was something nasty going on at The Ingraham.

Matt rubbed his eyes.

God, I'm tired.

He was too exhausted to think straight right now. Maybe it would all make sense in the morning. It sure as hell didn't now. But he'd be back at eight on the dot to find Quinn and straighten out this whole mess.

He was shifting into reverse when he heard the vibrato thrum of a helicopter. He looked up and saw the lights descending toward the helipad behind the medical center. When he'd been here last year he'd seen ex-senator Whitney land in one. Matt doubted he'd be coming to The Ingraham at this hour. Probably a MedEvac shipping in an emergency case.

Great things, helicopters. Snow-choked roads didn't slow them down a bit.

Matt turned the Cherokee around and went in search of the Quality Inn.




Tim lay on his right side in an agony of suspense. He'd seen Quinn leave the ward flanked by the two nurses, flash past the hall window with a nurse in pursuit, run back the other way chased by the blond bastard who'd punched him in the face that night ages ago when he was strapped in the chair talking to Dr. Alston.

Nothing had happened for a few minutes. He'd heard heavy banging vibrating through the walls, then the faint sound of glass breaking, then he'd seen Quinn run by the window again. Soon after, but not too close behind, the blond security goon had followed.

That was the last he'd seen of Quinn.

She got away.

Tim had been repeating that over and over, making a litany of it. She had to have got away. She couldn't have expended all that courage, braved all those risks, just to be caught and dragged downstairs to face Alston in Verran's little hidey hole. That would be too cruel, too unfair.

No, she got away, and the cops would be here soon.

But just in case Quinn had been caught, Tim was doing his damnedest to get his arms and legs working. His 2:00 a.m. dose of 9574 was late. Had to be. How else to explain the gnawing pain in his left thigh where Alston had burned and grafted him? Pain. When had Tim last experienced an iota of physical discomfort? And how else to explain this sudden ability to flex his elbows, shrug his shoulders, bend his knees? The joints were stiff and painful, but they did move. The daily physical therapy had kept them limber.

The important thing was he could move them. On his own. And he kept moving every joint he could, repeatedly flexing and extending, back and forth. But he had to be careful. They'd left the lights on, so any movement could be seen. He saw some of the other patients moving, twitching, jerking, like B-movie mummies in the earliest stages of reanimation. But none seemed to have anywhere near his degree of mobility. So as he worked his limbs Tim kept his eyes trained on the window and the door. He couldn't let the nurses catch him moving. They'd dose him right back into flaccidity.

Quinn's escape must have upset the dosage schedule —must have upset a lot of things out there. She'd probably thrown their whole routine into chaos.

What a gal. Tim grinned —yes, grinned. He could feel his facial muscles move, feel his cheeks crease with the smile. Can I pick 'em, or what?

He wiped the grin and froze his limbs as he saw a head appear in the door window. The door opened and Doris, the shift's head nurse, walked in. She strode directly to Tim's bed. She frowned as she looked down at him.

"Do you have any idea how much trouble your girlfriend caused up here tonight?"

Not entirely, but I hope it's a lot. He felt the muscles in his hands begin to fasciculate. He was glad they were hidden under the sheet.

"Is that graft on your leg hurting you? Feel it? It's only a fraction of what your fellow patients are going to be feeling soon. And it's all your girlfriend's fault."

What was she talking about?

"She went crazy out there. Broke near every vial of injectable we have. Threw them at us."

Good for her.

"So as a result we have none of the special neuromuscular agent we've been using left on the floor."

No 9574! Tim restrained himself from pumping a defiant fist in her face. Yes!

"But not to worry. There'll be more along as soon as Dr. Alston opens up the third floor for us. And then you'll get your dose, Number Eight. A little late, but better late than never, ay?" She smiled sourly. "And who knows? Maybe your girlfriend will be up here by then, and she'll be getting her own dose of it."

Tim squeezed his eyes shut, and fought his hands from creeping up and covering his ears.

Oh, no. Not Quinn. Not here.

"Well, you didn't really think she got away, did you? Not a chance. Kurt caught up to her, but I doubt that's the last we've seen of her." She sighed. "Why couldn't the two of you have just let things be? Why'd you have to go snooping about? It puts us all in a terrible position. Believe me, nobody's happy with this situation. This is not what we're about."

She turned and walked among the other patients, reassuring them, checking their IVs and their dressings. Suddenly the room began to vibrate. It took Tim a moment to recognize the sound: a helicopter. Who'd be coming in by helicopter at this hour —whatever it was? Doris must have wondered too. She bustled out to the nurses station, turning off the lights as she closed the door behind her, leaving the patients of Ward C in the dark.

Tim lay still for a few moments, dazed and sickened by the news that Quinn was a prisoner, then he burst into furious activity, moving his limbs, rubbing his hands together, massaging his muscles. He'd lain here like a lump long enough. He had to do something, had to think of something he could do despite his weakened state. How long did he have before Doris returned with a fresh supply of 9574? An hour? A few minutes?

Whatever the answer, he had to be ready for her.




"Do I have to tell you how upset Mr. Kleederman is, Arthur?"

Quinn heard the distantly familiar voice through the thick, sick, unrelenting pain that hammered against the inner wall of her skull. She was on her back; the feel of the cushions against her shoulders and buttocks was very much like a couch, but she had no idea where that couch was.

Wherever the couch was, the air smelled stale, like old cigar smoke.

"No. Not at all. Your very presence here at this hour is testimony to that."

A new voice. Quinn knew that one: Dr. Alston. No surprise there. She'd guessed he was in on this. But Dr. Emerson...

She fought a sob and forced her eyes to open a slit. She saw Dr. Alston half turned away from her. The man he was speaking to was tall, sleek, well-dressed, with not a single one of his salt-and-pepper hairs out of place. Even through the web of her eyelashes, Quinn recognized him immediately: former Senator Whitney.

"We need a major overhaul of the screening process, Arthur."

"The screening process works extremely well," Dr. Alston said. "But it's not perfect. No system dealing with human variables can be perfect."

Through her lid slits, Quinn saw the senator point her way without looking at her.

"This will be the third student to disappear in two years, Arthur. Three in two years. Sooner or later, and I fear it will be sooner, someone is going to become suspicious and begin asking questions. Someone is going to demand an investigation. With my connections and the combined influence of our board, we can bury a certain amount of that sort of thing. But one suspicious parent coupled with one loud-mouthed reporter and we could have the makings of a disaster for the Foundation. Tell me, Arthur: How do we explain two students disappearing this year?"

"I..." Dr. Alston didn't seem to have an answer.

"And she does have to disappear, Arthur. She doesn't know The Ingraham's mission and methods, but she can bring charges of kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, battery, and who knows what else against us. If you can think of another way out of this, I'll gladly present it to the board. I don't like this, any of it, but you and I know how the board decides on these matters: She's got to go."

Quinn knew she had to be hallucinating. A former U.S. senator and a respected professor at one of the world's premier medical schools were discussing the necessity of making her "disappear." This couldn't be true.

Then came a third voice, also familiar: "I think I've got the answer."

Security Chief Verran was speaking from somewhere to her right.

"Well, don't keep us in suspense, Lou," Whitney said. "How do we settle this?"

"We put the two disappearances together. Link them. Make them one disappearance."

Dr. Alston had turned to face Verran, who Quinn still couldn't see.

"We're listening," Whitney said.

"I've already set it in motion. I got hold of Elliot in Baltimore. He says there wasn't much snow down there and the airport never shut down. So I sent him out to BWI to get the Brown kid's car out of the long-term lot and drive it back here."

"What?" Dr. Alston said. "Are you insane? That will only serve to point the finger directly at us!"

"Let him finish, Arthur," Whitney said.

"Thank you, Senator. My plan is to say the Brown kid came back, picked up his girlfriend Cleary, and the two of them drove off together. We haven't seen them since."

"I see," Whitney said. "So even though we've got two missing students, it's really only one incident. I like it. Excellent thinking, Louis."

"But we've still got a car to get rid of," Dr. Alston said.

"I'm sure we can hide it for awhile until things cool down, then find a way to destroy it," Whitney said.

"Destroy it tonight."

A new speaker, a fourth voice.

Verran's voice said, "What do you mean, Kurt?"

The blond man who had chased her and knocked her out stepped into Quinn's field of vision.

"Crash and burn. It's the perfect night for it. We inject a little booze into the guy's bloodstream, pour a little down his throat. The two lovebirds go racing down the icy road, skid into a tree, the gas tank explodes, boom, they have to be identified by their dental records. No disappearances. No questions. A tragic case of drunk driving. Case closed."

Quinn watched Dr. Alston and the former senator look at each other, saw their gazes meet, then break away. Her heart began to pound.

Why aren't they saying anything? The man's talking about a double murder. Why isn't anybody telling him to shut up?

Whitney broke the silence. "No. That's out of the question."

Thank you, God! A voice of sanity!

The man called Kurt shrugged. "Just a thought."

Silence. Complete except for the low electrical hum of the equipment that filled the room.

Suddenly Whitney said, "You could... handle this?" He kept his eyes down, not looking at Dr. Alston, not looking at Kurt, looking at no one.

"Sure," Kurt said. "No problem." His tone was apropos to someone discussing who was going to make a run to the nearby Pizza Hut.

Another silence, chilled and calculating this time, was shattered by the ringing of the phone. Quinn jumped and hoped nobody noticed.

From her right, Verran spoke monosyllables into the receiver, then hung up.

"It's Doris up on Fifth, Doc," Verran said. "She's howling for that fresh supply of juice you promised her."

"She'll have to be patient," Dr. Alston said.

"She says the natives are getting restless."

"Oh, very well," Dr. Alston said peevishly. "Call her and tell her to meet me on Three. I'll be right back."

"First we settle this," Whitney said. "I think the car crash sounds like the answer."

"Now wait a minute," Dr. Alston said. "Do you realize what you're saying?"

Whitney spun on him. "Of course I do, Arthur! And I don't like it any more than you! I loathe it! But extreme problems sometimes call for extreme solutions."

"But we're talking murder here."

"Really. And I suppose you'd prefer that we transfer this latest transgressor to your private abattoir where you can slice and dice her to your heart's content in the name of science."

Dr. Alston's head rocked back as if he'd been slapped in the face. "I resent that! My research will save burn victims, improve the quality of countless lives. This... this car ride will accomplish nothing!"

"It may well save The Ingraham," Whitney shot back. "It will certainly protect the Foundation. Isn't that enough? More than enough?"

Dr. Alston said, "I know the Foundation is quite willing to take extreme measures to protect itself, but —"

Whitney leaned into his face. "Or shall I set up a meeting between you and Mr. Kleederman and the board of directors so you can discuss your reservations with them face to face?"

Dr. Alston shook his head glumly, shrugged, and turned away, moving toward the door.

Spicules of ice crystallized in Quinn's veins as former Senator Jefferson Whitney pronounced sentence.

"All right then. We'll wait for the car to arrive. Then we'll leave the matter in Kurt's hands."




Tim retched.

As his reflexes began to return, the nasogastric feeding tube snaking through his nose, down the back of his throat, and into his stomach, had begun to trigger his gag reflex. The retching was becoming intolerable. He had to get it out.

He reached his right hand up, wrapped his fingers around the glossy plastic tubing, and began pulling. The sensation was indescribably nauseating, like extricating a thick, white tapeworm from your gut via your nose. Tim's stomach heaved, his esophagus spasmed, his throat tried to close around it, but still he pulled, relentlessly dragging on the tube until he felt its soft, blunt end scrape against the back of his throat. Then, accompanied by a final retch, it slithered through his right nostril and dropped free onto the mattress, trailing a thick glob of mucous.

Tim grimaced as he watched it slink over the side rail and fall to the floor.

Now the IV.

His fingers pushed aside the overlying gauze on his forearm and fumbled with the tape over the IV site. His gross motor control was returning but his nervous system didn't seem ready for fine manipulation yet. No matter. He'd simply have to bull through this. One way or another that IV was coming out.

He wriggled his index finger under the tape and ripped it up, exposing the hub of the IV needle and more tape. He guided his twitching fingers around the tape and hub, grasping them as one, then he yanked back. The needle pulled free painlessly, dribbling clear fluid across the sheet while a droplet of blood welled in the puncture site.

Tim jabbed the IV needle into his mattress, then dammed the blood flow with his thumb. He didn't want any telltale red splotches on his arm. He maintained the pressure for what he guessed was a minute, then checked the site: No more bleeding. He sucked the blood off his thumb, then pushed the tape and gauze back into place.

Okay, he was ready. But first he decided to try something radical: he pushed himself up on both elbows, grabbed the side rails, then pulled himself to a sitting position.

The room pinwheeled clockwise while the bed did its own tilt-a-whirl in the opposite direction. He felt seasick and ridesick, he closed his eyes but the feeling of spinning into the void pursued him. He'd figured his inner ear would pull this sort of stunt on him after his being flat for so long, but he hadn't imagined it would be this bad. He clenched his teeth against his rising gorge and held on for the duration of the hellride. He wasn't going to let go.

Finally the vortical movement slowed. When it stopped, Tim dared to open his eyes. The room was steady. He dropped back onto the mattress, gasping, sweating. He'd done it. In a couple of minutes he'd try it again. In the meantime he'd keep working his limbs, keep stretching and contracting those muscles. And all the while he'd be waiting.

Tim was surprised at how good he'd become at waiting.




As tired as Matt was — exhausted was more like it — sleep would not come.

He lay among the mute shadows of the motel room and listened to a snow plow scrape by on the road outside. He knew why he couldn't sleep —because he shouldn't sleep. He should be up and out and doing something.

Because the more he lay here and thought about it, the surer he was that Quinn was in trouble. Big trouble. She'd sounded so frightened on the phone, and now it looked as if she'd disappeared.

He'd replayed their fragmented cellular phone conversation countless times in his mind, looking for an answer, and with each run-through it sounded progressively more disjointed and bizarre. But the last two words he'd heard kept nudging him.

... Sheriff... Southworth...

Matt threw off the covers and sat on the edge of the bed. It was obvious he wasn't going to get any sleep, so he might as well get up and do something. Get into motion. Even if he wasn't accomplishing anything, at least he'd feel better about himself. He pulled out the slim Frederick County phone book, looked up the number of the sheriff's office, and dialed. A man who announced himself as Deputy Harris answered and Matt asked for Sheriff Southworth.

Harris laughed. "The sheriff's name is Clarkson. But there's a Deputy Southworth."

"Is he around?"

"Won't be in till eight."

"Could you call him at home?"

"I don't think he'd appreciate a call at this hour. Can I help you?"

Matt hesitated, then figured, What the hell. He told Deputy Harris about Tim's disappearance —Harris was familiar with that — and about his phone call to Quinn.

"And now Quinn's gone too," Matt said.

"We don't know that yet," Harris said.

"But she did mention the name Southworth. Couldn't you give him a call? Maybe Quinn told him something."

"I guess I could give Ted a buzz," Harris said slowly. "He's been following the Brown case..."

"Please do."

Matt gave Harris his room number at the motel should he or Southworth want to get back to him, then hung up and waited.

Not a long wait. The phone rang three minutes later.

"You the one who just called the Sheriff's Office?" said a deep voice.

"Yes. Deputy Southworth?"

"That's me. Start talking."




Tim froze as the door opened and the lights came on. Ellie, the skinny nurse, entered, pushing a wheeled tray ahead of her. Tim watched the door swing shut behind her. She was alone. He was relieved to see her instead of Doris. He didn't know if his plan would work on the bigger woman.

As she headed in the direction of Number One, she glanced Tim's way and stared. Tim kept his face slack and expressionless.

"Well, look at you, Number Eight. Looks like you've been busy while I'm out."

She turned and wheeled the tray toward Tim. He noticed a row of filled and tagged syringes lined up on the tray —eight of them. She stopped the tray beside the bed and gazed down at the feeding tube on the floor.

"Now how did you manage that?"

Tim's right arm and the IV line were under the sheet. His left arm lay on top. He moved his left index finger back and fourth.

"Oh, I see. Getting a teeny bit of movement back, are we? So are the others. Well, we'll fix that. Looks like the new supply arrived just in time."

Tim watched her check the IVAC flow rate, then shut it off and swab the rubber injection port on the Y-adaptor with alcohol. She then selected a syringe from the tray, pulled off the needle protector, jabbed the point into the port, and pushed the plunger home, emptying the barrel's contents into the line.

As she restarted the flow, Tim pulled the IV needle out of the mattress with his right hand. Then he reached up with his left hand, grabbed a fistful of the starched white uniform over Ellie's breast bone, and yanked her toward him. Her eyes widened with shock that changed to pain and fear when Tim rammed the IV needle through her uniform and into her abdomen.

She started shouting, struggling, but Tim pulled her further over the bed rail, levering her kicking feet off the floor, and pressing her face against his chest, muffling her cries in the gauze that swathed him. He watched the IV continue dripping, hoping the 9574 was flowing into her abdominal cavity, hoping it was being absorbed into the bloodstream via the peritoneal lining, praying it would work soon because he didn't know how long his weakened muscles could keep this up.

Suddenly, as if someone had pulled her plug, Ellie went limp. Tim loosened his grip, saw her eyes looking out at him from a slack face, and knew the 9574 had gone to work. Ellie would not be a problem for the next six hours.

He released the nurse and let her slip to the floor like a stuffed toy. He propped himself up on an elbow and grabbed one of the syringes from Ellie's tray.

Then Tim lay back and began waiting again. He hoped it didn't take Doris too long to come looking for her co-worker.




"Elliot!" Verran said to the slim, dark man who had just arrived. "What took you so long?"

Still feigning unconsciousness and watching through her barely-parted lids, Quinn immediately recognized the newcomer as the exterminator who had been in her room with Verran.

"In case you forgot, Chief," Elliot said, "there's been some snow."

"Never mind that," Whitney said. "Did you bring the car?"

"Left it in one of the public lots by the hospital."

"Very good." Whitney turned and looked at the others. "You all know what to do. I'll return to Washington now. I'll be expecting a call imminently, informing me that this matter has been satisfactorily disposed of. I will pass the news on from there."

Then he brushed past Kurt and Dr. Alston, and strode through the door.

"There's a guy in a big hurry," Elliot said.

Verran nodded. "Yeah. A rat deserting the ship. He wants to be out of state when it goes down."

"When what goes down?" Elliot said.

Verran jerked his thumb at Quinn. "Her and the Brown kid. They're going to have an accident in that car you just brought in."

"Shit," Elliot said. His gaze darted nervously about the room. He was visibly upset. "I didn't sign on for anything like this."

"None of us did," Verran said. He rubbed his upper abdomen, as if in pain.

"We've no other choice," Dr. Alston said. "We've been given instructions and I'm afraid we're stuck with them."

"Right," Kurt said. "So let's stop standing around like a bunch of biddies and let's figure out how, when, and where we're gonna do this. We haven't got much darkness left."

Quinn listened in horror as they discussed the mechanics of situating the two of them in the front seat of Griffin, running it off the road into a tree, and making sure the gas tank blew up. She looked for a way out but there were four men between her and the exit. No way she could get past them. But a chance might present itself later if they thought she was still out cold. Maybe she could get free and get to a phone, or find somebody who could get a message to the sheriff's office...

A lump formed in her throat as she remembered Dr. Emerson, and how she'd thought he'd called the sheriff for her...

"All right," Verran said. He sounded tired and unhappy. "We can't put this off any longer. Let's get it over with. Elliot, get up to Five and wheel Brown down here. I'll call up and have Doris transfer him to a gurney for you."

With Elliot gone, there were only three men left in the room. Come on, Quinn thought, mentally urging the rest of them to leave. Don't any of you have someplace to go?

But Verran and Dr. Alston sat in glum silence while Kurt whistled, clipping his fingernails.





Tim closed his eyes as he saw Doris stick her blond head through the door and scan the ward. He heard her step inside and walk over to the prep room.

"Ellie, where are you?"

He heard Doris's footsteps turn in his direction, stop abruptly, then—

"Oh, my God! Ellie! Ellie, what's wrong?"

He opened his eyes then and saw Doris beside the bed, bending over the unconscious nurse. The white fabric of her uniform was stretched across the expanse of her back. The strap of her bra was a whiter band across her ribs. Holding the syringe like a dagger, Tim snaked his arm through the bars of his bed's safety rail and poised the needle over Doris's back. He hesitated. This was a gamble. He didn't know if the 9574 would be absorbed from the pleural cavity. But that wouldn't matter if he hit a rib and bent the needle.

He clenched his teeth and remembered Doris's words to him earlier. And who knows? Maybe your girlfriend will be up here by then, and she'll be getting her own dose of it.

Here's your own personal dose, bitch, he thought, and plunged the needle into the right side of her back, just above the bra strap. He felt the point graze a rib, then pop through into the lung cavity. Immediately he rammed the plunger home.

Doris jerked and reared up, clutching at her back, reaching around her side and over her shoulder, trying frantically to get to whatever was causing the sudden stabbing pain. When she turned and saw Tim up on his elbow, looking at her, Doris's eyes bulged.


She began to gasp for air. And then she saw the tray of syringes next to the bed. She coughed.

"Oh, no! Oh, NO!"

Tim grabbed for her as she lurched away from the bed but his fingers only managed to brush her sleeve, then she was tottering out of reach toward the door, wheezing loudly, her hands still clawing at her back, trying to reach the syringe that was still buried to the hub between her ribs. She staggered against the door and almost fell, but leaned on the frame and pulled it open. She squeezed through the narrow opening and stumbled out to the nurses station.

"Damn!" Tim croaked as she disappeared from view. If she got to a phone...

He fumbled at his side rail, found the release, and lowered the rail. Slowly he pushed himself up to a sitting position. Everything remained stable —the practice runs had helped. He let his legs drop over the side of the bed. The room spun for half a minute and he grabbed fistfuls of sheet to keep from falling off. When his equilibrium returned he slowly slid his legs down to the floor. His knees wobbled but held as they accepted the unaccustomed burden of his weight. The tile floor was cold but Tim wouldn't have cared if it had been ice —it felt wonderful to be on his feet again. All around him, his fellow Ward C residents were moving under their sheets.

Still holding onto the bed for support, he took a tentative step toward the door. He wished his legs were shorter, stumpier, so they'd hold him better, but his present models were doing the job. He took a second step—

—and searing agony shot through his penis and pelvis.

Grunting with the pain, Tim doubled over and would have fallen if the bed hadn't been there to lean on. Gasping, bleary-eyed, his breath hissing between his clenched teeth, he looked down to see what—

The catheter. He'd forgotten the urinary catheter.

He groaned and backed up one, two shaky steps. He didn't have time for this. Doris could be out there right now calling the security goon squad. But he wouldn't get far dragging his urine collection bag along like a purse. He had to disconnect it.

As he turned, searching for the bag, he spotted Ellie's bandage scissors protruding from the side pocket of her uniform. He stretched over and fumbled in the pocket. He came out with the scissors and a credit card. No, not a credit card, a security pass key, just like Quinn's. That might come in handy.

But now the scissors. Slowly, carefully, he got the handles situated in his fumbling fingers and managed to cut through the brick-colored tube protruding from the tip of his penis.

A tiny stream of clear water shot from the severed end. Tim knew these catheters were multi-bored. A thin tube ran within the wall of the larger tube, ending in a small sack at the bladder end. After the catheter was inserted into the bladder, water was injected along the tube, inflating the balloon, and locking the catheter in the bladder. By cutting the catheter, Tim had deflated the balloon. But did he have the courage to remove it?

He had no choice. Gritting his teeth, he grabbed the distal end and pulled.

It wasn't quite like dragging barbed wire through his urethra, but it came close. He shuddered twice as he was forced onto his tip-toes, and then it was out. He tossed it aside without looking at it, then sagged against the bed, but only long enough for a few ragged gasps. Then he straightened his knees and grabbed the remaining syringes from Ellie's tray; with those in one hand and the security key in the other, he wove his way across the ward like a drunk on rollerblades.

Tim pushed on the door and found Doris on the floor behind the nurses station counter, the syringe still protruding from her back, the phone still on its cradle.

Had the 9574 hit her nervous system before she'd had a chance to call? Tim hoped so.

From outside in the night, he heard the thrum of a helicopter again, this time rising and fading. Whoever had flown in before was flying out again.

No time to lose. He shuffled to the elevator and shoved Ellie's card into the slot. When the car arrived, he stepped in, inserted the card into the interior slot, and pressed the basement button. If they were holding Quinn in the Science Center, she'd be in the basement.

As the doors closed, Tim thought he heard the hum of the cables in the neighboring shaft. He wondered who else was riding the elevators at this hour.

As his car started down, Tim leaned against the rear wall, bracing his elbows on the hand rail. He was startled by his reflection in the metallic doors. Even taking into account the distortion of the uneven surface, he was one hell of a sight. He looked like Kharis the mummy after a run-in with a mob of angry villagers. The gauze wrappings over his left thigh were soaked with blood; apparently the graft was bleeding. There was even a splotch of blood over his genitals, probably oozing from his penis after his none-too-gentle removal of that catheter. He had no desire to examine either area closely.

He pawed the gauze from his face but left the rest in place. It was the only clothing he had.

He suddenly realized he might need a weapon of some sort beyond a loaded syringe. Something heavy. He hit the 3 button just in time, and the car stopped. He stuck his card back in the slot and pressed the OFF button. The lights went out and the car went dead. He stepped into a dim hallway, lit only by widely spaced night lights along the floor. He shuffled up and down, trying doors. He wasted five precious minutes or more looking for something, anything he might use as a club. He would have been grateful even for a broom handle. But everything was locked.

He returned to the elevator, flipped on the power, and continued down. He'd have to rely on his syringes of 9574. Trouble was, they took so damn long to take effect.

As the car slowed to a halt, Tim glanced up at the floor indicator. L was lit.

"Oh, no!" he cried softly, jamming his palm against the basement button. "No!"

When the doors opened on the lobby, he'd be in plain view of the security desk.




Louis Verran's stomach rumbled and shot him another stab of pain — just in case he'd momentarily forgotten about his ulcer. He reached for his Mylanta. The soft blue bottle felt light. He shook it. Empty. He tossed it in the trash and rubbed his ample, aching gut. Christ, he had more acid bubbling inside than a Delco warehouse. He reached for a cigar, then changed his mind; that would only aggravate his stomach.

He'd left the CIA to get away from stress situations, from pressure, from dirty jobs. The Ingraham was supposed to be like semi-retirement, but it was beginning to make the Company look like play school.

He glanced over at the girl, Cleary. He had a feeling she was coming to, but she hadn't stirred. Kurt must have clocked her good. When he'd carried her in, limp as a dishrag, blood smeared over the back of her head, Verran had thought she was already dead and had nearly panicked trying to figure out what to do with the body.

Wasted worry, it turned out. But now, thanks to Kurt and the senator, she was going to be truly dead, and soon.

More pain as another surge of acid found a tender spot in his stomach lining and torched it.

He used to think of himself as one of the good guys. Now...

He looked across the room at Kurt scraping away at his cuticles and Alston flipping through one of Kurt's skin mags. He certainly hadn't been hanging out with the good guys.

But Christ, there was no other way to silence the girl so soon after her boyfriend's disappearance. And Cleary had to be silenced. She could put all their heads in a noose.

Verran sighed and burped. You do what you have to do, and then you try to forget about it and hope you never have to do it again.

The phone rang. It was Elliot.

"We got trouble, Chief."

"Aw, no," Verran groaned. "What now?"

Across the room, Kurt stopped fooling with his nails and Alston rested his magazine in his lap. Both stared Verran's way.

"I'm on Five and we've got two doped-out nurses on the floor and Ward C is shy one patient —Brown."

"Oh, Christ. Where is he?"

"I've checked this floor from one end to the other and he's not on Five, I can tell you that."

"But he couldn't get off. It's a secure floor."

Kurt put his nail clipper away; Alston dropped the magazine and rose to his feet.

"What is it, Louis? What's happened?"

Verran concentrated on the phone and waved at Alston to shut up.

Elliot said. "He's off, Chief. Trust me on this."

"Then find him, dammit!" Verran said. "Go down to Four and start looking. We'll start on One and work our way up. Get moving!"

As he hung up, Verran decided to go on the offense. He pointed to Alston.

"You fucked up again, Doc. Brown is on the loose."

"That's impossible! He was dosed with..." Alston's voice trailed off.

"Right. But they ran out of the stuff, didn't they."

"Good Lord!"

"It's okay," Verran said. "We'll seal the building until we find him. But it's a damn good thing the Senator left when he did."

Alston nodded mutely.

Verran had an awful feeling, wondering what else possibly could go wrong, when the phone rang again.

"I'll bet that's Elliot," he said. "Probably found Brown in the bathroom or something."

It wasn't Elliot. It was Bernie from the lobby security desk. Since Bernie wasn't part of the big picture at The Ingraham, Verran immediately began inventing explanations in case he'd found Brown wandering around. But that wasn't the problem.

"Mr. Verran, there's a couple of men here to see you."

At this hour? Verran's mouth went dry.


"I only got the name of one. He says he's Deputy Southworth from the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, and he wants to talk to you."

"Tell him..." Verran wanted Bernie to tell Southworth to get lost, or come back later, but knew that wouldn't work. Southworth hadn't come here in the wee hours of the morning to chitchat. "Did he say what he wants?"

"Yeah. He wants to talk to you about the disappearance of one of the students."

"At this hour? He wants to talk about Timothy Brown at this hour?"

"No, sir. He says he wants to ask you about someone named Quinn Cleary."

Verran almost dropped the phone. For a few heartbeats his voice failed him as acid bubbled up and seared the back of his throat.

"Tell him I'll be right up."

Verran hung up and turned to the others. Suddenly he was exhausted. When was this going to end?

"A couple of guys from the Sheriff's Department are upstairs asking about a missing student named Cleary."

"Cleary?" Alston said. "How on earth does anyone know she's gone?"

"We are about to find out. Kurt, you stay here and keep an eye her. The Doc and I will go up and see what this is all about."

"You let me do the talking," Alston said as they hurried toward the stairs to the lobby. "I'll handle this yokel."

"You do that, Doc," Verran told him. "'Cause I don't feel much like talking."

As they stepped out of the stairwell and into the lobby, Verran spotted Southworth immediately, but the guy with him wasn't another deputy. He could have been one of The Ingraham students but Verran didn't recognize him.

And then he got a sudden, awful feeling that this was the guy Cleary had been talking to a few hours ago. But that couldn't be. He'd been calling from Connecticut. Hadn't he?

Verran told Bernie to take a break. As Bernie headed for the security lounge on Second, Verran introduced Alston to Southworth who in turn introduced the kid as Matt Crawford, an old friend of Quinn Cleary's.

Yeah, that was the one. But how the hell had he got here so fast —and in the snow, no less?

As they were all shaking hands, Verran heard the elevator bell sound behind him. His stomach acid began another dance as everyone turned to look. All he needed now to cap off the night would be Timothy fucking Brown standing there in the elevator, staring out at them. He forced himself to steal a glance over his shoulder, and sighed quietly when he saw the empty car.

As the doors slid closed again, he turned back to Southworth to see what he knew. He desperately wanted something for his stomach. He was ready to trade his left hand for a roll of Tums.




As the elevator doors closed and he was once again safely sealed in the car, Tim released the breath he'd been holding. Just before the doors had opened on the lobby, he'd flattened himself against the side wall by the control panel. He hadn't been able to see the security desk, and the security desk hadn't been able to see him. But he'd heard voices out there, and knew he'd acted not a second too soon.

Tim maintained his position by the control panel as the elevator continued its descent to the basement. When it stopped, he flattened himself against the wall again, planning to check out the immediate area before leaving the car.

As the doors opened he heard a muffled shout of pain. It came from behind one of the doors down the hall on the left.

But it wasn't Quinn's voice. It was a man's.




Quinn's hopes had risen when she'd heard that Tim had escaped; they'd leapt higher when Verran said there were a couple of deputy sheriffs up in the lobby. Now they soared as Verran and Alston walked out.

That left only one man to get past. But big, blond Kurt was the most formidable.

She spied on him through her lashes: For a moment he stood at the door to the hall, watching Alston and Verran head for the first floor, then he closed it and approached her. Quinn closed her eyes.

"C'mon, baby," he said, his voice close as he shook her shoulder. "Wake up and play. Ol' Kurt's got something for you. Something you're gonna love."

Quinn repressed a shudder and willed her body to remain limp as his fingers moved to her throat and began unbuttoning her blouse.

"You're too fine to waste without a little taste. Ol' Kurt's gonna get some of you before you become a french fry."

He opened her blouse and pushed up her bra. Quinn locked a scream in her throat as his rough palm cupped over her left breast and squeezed.

"Mmmm, they ain't big but any more than a handful's wasted, right? C'mon, honey. Wake up. Ol' Kurt wants you to know what's happening. He ain't into humping corpses."

He leaned over her and began nuzzling her neck as he unbuckled the belt on her slacks.

"Wish the hell you were wearing a dress," he mumbled against the flesh of her throat.

Quinn couldn't take any more. She came unglued. She opened her eyes and saw his ear an inch away from her lips.

In a panic, she bit it.

She more than bit it. She locked her teeth onto the earlobe and ground down with every ounce of strength in her jaws. She grabbed two fistfuls of his shirt and held on, rising off the couch with him as he reared up, howling in pain, trying to beat her off. Despite the pounding impacts of the blows, Quinn held on. Her rage and terror were in control now and refused to allow her to let go. Finally, with a violent shove, he broke her grasp and sent her sprawling against the console.

He leaned against the wall, groaning in pain, blood running down his cheek and neck from under the hand he had clasped over the side of his head.

"My ear! You bitch! You bit my fucking ear!"

Quinn felt something soft in her mouth. She spit, and gagged when she saw a bloody earlobe splat on the counter. Thoughts of AIDS skittered fearfully across the surface of her mind, but vanished in the urgent need to get out of this place and away from this beast.

Quinn tried to dart past Kurt but she wasn't quick enough. His hand caught her arm and he whipped her around, sending her sprawling back onto the couch. He came toward her with his right fist balled, his arm cocked, and murder in his eyes.

"You just made the biggest fucking mistake of your goddamn life!"

Quinn screamed and raised her arms to protect herself, then gasped in shock as a familiar face appeared over Kurt's shoulder.




Tim was pushing his legs as fast as he thought they'd safely carry him — he couldn't afford to fall now — but when he heard a faint, high-pitched scream that sounded like Quinn's voice, he ditched all caution and broke into a tottering jog.

He reached a door marked ELECTRONICS, threw it open, and saw Kurt, the big blond son of a bitch who'd punched him in the nose. His back was to Tim, but there was no mistaking him. He was leaning over a woman on the couch. Her blouse was pulled open, one breast was exposed, her mouth was all bloody, and she was screaming.


Tim almost lost it then. Any other time he would have leaped on Kurt's back and begun flailing away at him, but he knew he hadn't the strength to do much more than annoy him. Restraining himself, he uncapped one of the syringes in his hands and slipped up behind Kurt. As he raised it over the exposed back, he prayed this dose worked a little faster than the one he'd emptied into Doris's pleural cavity. With a grunt of effort, he drove it into Kurt's chest and pressed the plunger almost immediately.

But the needle struck a rib and bent, jamming the plunger. Kurt let out a howl and straightened up. He whipped his right arm around as he turned, leading with his elbow. Tim tried to duck but his reflexes weren't up to it yet. The flying elbow caught him on the side of the head, sending him sprawling against one of the consoles. The remaining syringes slipped from his grasp as the room dimmed and wobbled.

"Well, I'll be damned!" Kurt said. "Look who it is: the asshole from Ward C."

With the whiteness of his rage-contorted face accentuated by the glistening crimson smear painting his left ear and side of his neck, Kurt was a fearsome sight as he closed in on Tim.

"You've got no idea how much I'm going to love kicking your trouble-making ass!"

Tim looked around for the syringes and spotted them on the floor by his feet. If he could get to one, maybe he could inject Kurt in the belly. But as he reached down, Kurt's right fist caught him with solid uppercut to the face that knocked him to the floor. His vision swam and he lost sight of the syringes, of Quinn, of everything but the berserk monster looming over him.




For a few heartbeats, Quinn couldn't move. One moment she'd been cowering on the couch, waiting to be bludgeoned by Kurt's fists, the next Kurt was turning away from her, and battering Tim.

Tim! He was down now, huddled against the wall, virtually defenseless as Kurt began kicking him. She had to do something.

As she rose from the couch, she automatically tugged her bra down over her breasts, but she left her blouse unbuttoned. She needed a weapon, something she could use as a club —or a knife. She noticed a syringe dangling from the back of Kurt's shirt. As she watched, it slipped from the fabric and fell to the floor.

Quinn spotted a number of other syringes scattered on the floor and her mind began to race. Obviously Tim had brought them. He'd tried to inject Kurt with one. What was in them? A sedative? A poison? Or...

... 9574?

Of course!

She snatched a pair off the floor, uncapped both, dropped into a crouch, and crept up behind Kurt where he was viciously driving those big boots into Tim's slumped, defenseless body.

"Stop it!" she screamed as she plunged one of the needles to the hub into the back of his thigh and emptied it.

It wasn't an intravenous injection, but if nothing else it would stop him from kicking Tim.

Kurt grunted and lurched around, clutching at the back of his thigh. Quinn tried to jab him with the other needle but he took an off-balance swing at her and she had to duck away.

And then she saw that the door was wide open and the path to it was clear.

She ran.

"I'm going for help, Tim!" she shouted as she passed him.

Tim lay slumped on the floor, a still, bloodied form. She didn't know if he heard her or not, wasn't sure he was still conscious —or even alive. A sick, cold anger added its own power to the terror already fueling her feet. Kurt had hurt Tim. She'd get him for that.

Heavy, pounding footsteps behind her shattered her little fantasy and yanked her back into horrific reality. She had a good lead on Kurt but she didn't know where she was going. The elevator was out of the question.

The stairs! Where are the stairs?

She lost a few steps as she slowed, reading the signs on all the doors. And then she saw the EXIT sign. She lost more ground pulling open the door, ground that Kurt did not lose because he caught the door before it closed—

—and he grabbed Quinn as she reached the first landing.

He snagged her ankle and wrenched it back and up, trying to topple her. Quinn clung to the railing with her free hand and twisted around to look down at him. With the blood oozing along the side of his neck and soaking into his collar, and with a grin as triumphant as it was ferocious, Kurt looked like an escaped lunatic. He had her now. He'd won. And there was no hint of mercy or compassion to be found in the glacial blue of his eyes. She was going to pay dearly for what she'd done to his ear.

"No!" Quinn shouted and defended herself with the only weapon she had. She stabbed at him with the syringe, backhanded, blindly, squeezing the plunger as she struck. It sank deep into his right eye socket.

Two things happened immediately:

Quinn released the barrel and recoiled in horror at the sight of the syringe jutting from Kurt's stunned, horrified, agonized face.

Kurt released her ankle and his hands darted toward his face.

They never made it. Both hands stopped within inches of his face and remained there, fingers splayed, trembling. His expression was a mixture of shock and dismay. The tremor spread to the rest of his body as it shuddered and shook like a fish on a hook. And then his body stiffened. Slowly he teetered backward like a felled redwood and landed head first on the steps behind and below him. With a sickening snap, his head bent on his shoulders to very nearly a right angle. His body shuddered once, then lay still.

Quinn stood trembling on the landing, unsure of which way to turn, torn between running back to see if Tim was all right and climbing the rest of the stairs to the lobby to find Deputy Southworth.

She chose the latter. The only way to save herself and Tim was to break through the Ingraham's iron shell of security and drag in the outside world.

She just hoped the deputy was still there.




Louis Verran was actually allowing himself to relax. The subdued lighting of the lobby —they cut half the switches after Science closed down for the day —lent it a quiet, peaceful atmosphere. Almost like church.

Cleary's friend, Crawford, didn't really know that much. He'd only heard snatches of Cleary's end of the conversation on his car phone. And Verran had to hand it to Doc Alston —he handled Southworth beautifully.

A bad moment came when Dr. Emerson walked through the front doors. He looked dazed, like a guy in shock. Almost looked as if he'd been crying.

"Walter," Alston said. "What on earth are you doing here at this hour?"

But Emerson said nothing. He walked past like a zombie, eyes straight ahead, on a beeline for the elevators. Verran held his breath. Emerson was one of the faculty members who knew the score at The Ingraham, but he was a bit too unpredictable for Verran's liking.

But Emerson kept his mouth shut. He stepped into the elevator and went up to Fifth.

And Verran vented another sigh of relief.

"You see?" Alston said to Southworth as the elevator doors closed behind Emerson. "I'm not the only faculty member here at this hour.

"Fine," Southworth said, "but let me get this straight: Mr. Verran called you in because Timothy Brown had reappeared?"

"Not quite," Alston said with exaggerated patience. "Louis does not 'call me in,' as it were. He called to inform me that Mr. Brown had returned. I decided to come in to see Mr. Brown for myself. As Director of Medical Education, I thought it my duty to question him about his missed tests and classes and to warn him of his imminent risk of failure. He wanted to hear none of it. All he wanted was to collect Ms. Cleary and take her skiing."

"I don't believe any of this," Crawford said.

Alston shrugged dramatically. "I don't know what else I can tell you, young man. Mr. Brown returned, picked up Ms. Cleary, and the two of them drove off together. I certainly disapproved, but I had no power to stop them."

"Just when did Brown show up?" Southworth asked.

"Just before midnight, Ted," Verran said, jumping in. "I called Dr. Alston right away."

"And that would explain that fragment you heard from your friend," Alston told Crawford. "About Tim being here. That was what she meant. Your mutual friend had returned."

"No," Crawford said, shaking his head. "That doesn't hang together. Quinn said —"

Alston raised his hand. "None of us can be sure what Ms. Cleary said. You were tired, she was tired and overwhelmed by her friend's return. I suggest we all get a good night's sleep and discuss this further in the morning."

Southworth looked at Crawford. The deputy had been pretty quiet, soaking up everything in his usual low-key way. No telling for sure what Southworth was thinking. Ever.

He said, "I think Dr. Alston's got a point there. I'll put out a bulletin on Brown's car and we'll wait and see if they're picked up. Meanwhile, if you want to do anything, try hanging around the airport and see if they show up there."

Verran loved the idea but Crawford didn't look too happy with it. Finally he gave a reluctant shrug.

"All right. I'll try that. None of this makes any sense, but if they're not here, I guess they're not here."

Alston stepped forward and put a hand on Crawford's shoulder, guiding him toward the doors as he spoke.

"Don't you worry, young man. We'll find them. The Frederick County Sheriff's Department is second to none in its dedication and expertise. If your friends are still in Maryland, they'll locate them. And if they contact The Ingraham, I promise, you'll be the first to know."

That's it, Doc, Verran thought. Lay it on thick. Say whatever you have to say, just get them the hell out of here.

And then, behind him, through the door to the basement stairs, Louis Verran thought he heard a female voice shout No! But it was so faint he couldn't be sure he'd actually heard it.

No matter. Southworth and Crawford hadn't heard it. They were almost to the doors.

Keep going. Keep going.

A dozen or so feet and they'd be gone.

Half a dozen feet...

They were at the doors, passing through...

A sound behind him. A door opening. Verran turned and thought his heart was going to stop as his worst nightmare became real: The Cleary broad, her shirt flapping open, blood smeared around her mouth, bursting into the lobby. Verran made a grab for her but he was far too slow. And he was too stunned by the sight of her. Had that jerk Kurt tried something on her? And if so, where the hell was he? What had happened downstairs?

Not that it mattered. The end of his cushy job at The Ingraham, and no doubt the end of his life as a free man, was sprinting across the floor toward Southworth and Crawford, screaming at the top of her lungs.

"Matt! Oh, God, Matt! Matt, Matt, Maaaaaaatt!"

She leapt into Crawford's arm's and they hugged like a long-lost sister and brother while she babbled a mile a minute.

Suddenly Southworth was no longer low key. He grabbed Alston by the shoulder, turned him around, and shoved him back toward the security desk. Verran felt his stomach acid explode and wanted a place to hide.

"Seems we've got a little bit of a discrepancy here, Verran," Southworth said as he and the others reached the desk. He stood two feet back from the counter with his hand resting on the grip of his pistol —still in its holster, but the meaning of the gesture was not lost on Verran. "This young lady says she's Quinn Cleary —and Crawford here confirms that —and she says Tim Brown is being held downstairs as a prisoner. What the hell do you have to say about that?"

"Somebody call an ambulance," Cleary was saying as she buttoned the front of her shirt. "Tim's hurt. He needs help."

"Show me where," Crawford was saying. "Maybe we can —"

"Everybody stay put!" Southworth said. "I want some answers here."

The deputy was reaching for the radio remote on his left hip when Verran heard that sound again —the stairway door opening. Who was it going to be now? Brown himself? This was turning into a goddamn circus.

No. It was Elliot. And oh shit, he had a gun. He raised it in a professional two-handed grip and aimed it at the deputy. But Verran saw the way the barrel wavered and knew Elliot was on the edge of panic.

"Your gun, Southworth," Elliot said. "Take it out and put it on the counter."

Southworth remained cool, didn't move. "This isn't going to help," he said softly.

"Do it!" Elliot's voice cracked on the first word.

Southworth's face looked more annoyed than anything else as he removed his revolver from the holster and placed it on the counter.

"Take it, Chief," Elliot said, then he glanced at Alston. "And now I want to know what's gone down here. When I went up to Fifth a little while ago, everything was under control. I come back down and there's a dead guy in Monitoring" —Cleary moaned and began to cry on Crawford's shoulder —"and I find Kurt on the stairs with a chewed up ear and a broken neck. What the fuck's happening?" He glanced back at Verran again, then at Southworth's .38, still on the counter. "Go ahead, Chief. Take the gun."

"I don't want it." As Elliot stared at him wide eyed, Verran said, "It's over, Elliot."

"No way!" he said, shaking his head violently. "I'm not going back inside! We can..."

And then he ran out of words as he finally realized what Verran had known the instant he'd seen Quinn Cleary dash into the lobby.

"No," Verran said softly. "We can't."

Alston was moving. He reached around Verran and picked up the .38 by the barrel.

"Louis is right, Elliot," Alston said. "The dominoes have begun to fall." He turned to Southworth and lifted the gun. "I'm going to borrow this, deputy. You may have it back in a few minutes."

He strolled to the stairway door and made his exit.

Fright and confusion swirled across Elliot's face.

"What's he —?"

Verran jumped as a single gunshot from the other side of the stairway door answered his question.

"Oh, shit!" Elliot said.

And then he was running for the front doors.

Before Elliot was through them, Southworth had his radio in hand and was calling for back-up, emergency medical assistance, and putting out an APB on Elliot. As he returned the remote to his belt, he jabbed an index finger at Verran.

"Stay put."

Verran could only nod. His whole world was falling apart. He wished he had the guts to end it like Alston, but knew he'd never be able to pull that trigger.

Strangely enough, his stomach didn't feel so bad right now.




With Matt at her side, Quinn crowded close behind Deputy Southworth as he headed for the stairwell.

"We've got to get to Tim," she said.

He couldn't be dead. She didn't care what Elliot had said, Tim was alive. He was alive.

She kept repeating the phrase, hoping that would make it true.

The deputy opened the door, looked into the stairwell, then closed it again. His face was a shade paler as he turned to them.

"We'd better take the elevator."

Quinn clung to Matt as the deputy used her security card to take them down to the basement. A residue of the overwhelming joy she'd felt upon finding a familiar face in the Science Center lobby still trickled through her anguish for Tim. She couldn't get over Matt's being here. How had he managed to come so quickly? Not important now. She'd find out later. Right now she had to get to Tim.

"How was he when you left him?" Matt said.

"He... he wasn't moving."

Deputy Southworth's expression was grim as the car stopped and the doors began to slide open.

"Maybe you'd better let me—"

Quinn slipped through the doors as soon as the opening was wide enough to let her pass. She wasn't waiting for anybody.

She ran to the room where she'd been a prisoner and skidded to a halt at the door. Tim lay huddled against the angle of the wall and the floor, his back to her, one arm splayed out at an unnatural angle. He was perfectly still. She couldn't see his chest move. There was blood...

She screamed. "Tim!"

The body jerked, the limp arm stiffened, the thumb and pinky finger straightened, and waggled back and forth.

Quinn didn't know whether to laugh or to cry as she knelt beside him and slipped her arms around him.

"Oh, Tim."





"Just a couple more questions," Deputy Southworth said.

Quinn fidgeted in her seat behind the counter. The police had taken over the security desk as a command center.

"Okay, but just a couple."

She was anxious to get over to the hospital and see Tim. The EMTs had wheeled him out of the basement on a gurney. He'd looked awful. She wondered how his x-rays had turned out.

Matt had gone along with Tim, and after they were on their way, the people from the morgue had removed the two bodies from the stairwell. The State Police led Louis Verran away in handcuffs. New nurses were brought in to care for the patients in Ward C. Things were settling down. Quinn had wanted to go with Matt and Tim but the deputy needed a statement.

"Now... is there anyone else you can think of who might be directly involved in this?"

"Only one." Quinn's throat constricted as the thought of him. "Dr. Emerson. He's over in the faculty building. Or at least he was."

She told him what had happened in his office.

Deputy Southworth stopped writing.

"Dr Emerson... first name Walter? Old guy?"

"That's him. Why?"

"He came through here shortly after we arrived. Took the elevator. Does he have an office upstairs?"

"A lab. On Fifth."

"I wonder why we haven't seen him. We've had people all over the fifth floor."

"He's probably locked in his lab." With the other rats. "But..." Quinn fished in a pocket for her key ring, then held it up. "I have the key."

She rose from her seat and started for the elevators.

"Wait a minute," Deputy Southworth said. "I'll take those."

Reluctantly, Quinn handed over the keys.

"All right," she said. "But I'm going with you. I want to be there when you arrest him."

Southworth smiled as they stepped into the elevator. "You've really got it in for him, don't you."

Quinn nodded grimly. She saw nothing amusing in his betrayal. She had put her life in Dr. Emerson's hands, and he'd handed her over to her executioners.

On Fifth, she led the deputy down the hall to Dr. Emerson's lab. The Christmas decorations on the walls and doors seemed hollow now, devoid of any warmth or meaning, almost sacrilegious. She stood close by Southworth's shoulder as he unlocked the door, and edged in behind him as he stepped through.

"There he is," she said as she saw the familiar figure sitting at one of the computer consoles. "That's him."

She slipped past Southworth and approached Dr. Emerson from the side. He didn't look up.

"It's all over, Dr. Emerson," she said, fighting the tears that sprang into her eyes, angry at her voice for teetering on the rim of a sob. She was supposed to be angry, vindictive. Why did she feel so sad? "It didn't work. I'm still around."

He didn't move, simply sat and stared at the screen.

Then Quinn noticed the chrome pole on the far side of him. And the bag of clear fluid suspended from it. And the clear plastic tubing running down into his arm.

She touched his shoulder, shook him gently. His body sagged and started to topple to the side.

"Holy —!" Southworth said. He lunged forward and caught Dr. Emerson's body before it fell.

Quinn stood frozen, staring at the computer screen and the words that had been entered there.

To Whom It May Concern: If my calculations prove correct, this should establish beyond a doubt that 9574 does indeed have an LD.

"'LD'?" Southworth said after easing Dr. Emerson to the floor.

"Lethal dose."

Quinn's voice sounded as empty as she felt. All her emotions seemed burned out, used up. She felt like a hollow, desiccated husk.

"Can I go now?" she said.

She needed very badly to be with Tim.





"Any news?" Quinn said as Matt stepped through the door to Tim's hospital room.

Late morning sunlight glared off the white of the bedsheets and the polished floor. She sat on the edge of the bed, holding Tim's hand, not simply because she was so glad to have him back, but because it was one way of keeping him in bed.

Tim was a lousy patient. He had six broken ribs, a cerebral concussion, and a large third-degree burn on his left thigh, but he wanted out of the hospital. Now. Only Quinn's restraining presence and the weakness of his atrophied muscles kept him in place.

He'd spent much of the morning explaining to the State Police and the FBI all he knew and what had happened to him. Quinn had been at his side, listening in awe to his incredible tale of mind control at The Ingraham and human experimentation on a national scale.

At first the various law-enforcement agents had seemed uniformly skeptical. But when they returned for follow-up questions after investigating Verran's control room and dismantling a few of the headboards in the dorm, they were obviously believers.

Matt waved a copy of the Baltimore Sun as he dropped into a chair. "KMI and the Kleederman Foundation are stonewalling. They say the charges are preposterous, and even if they should prove to be true, Kleederman and the directors know nothing."

Anger tightened in Quinn's chest.

"You mean he's going to get away with it?"

Matt shrugged. "I called my father and talked it over with him. He says unless some pivotal conspirator spills his guts, it's going to be rough getting convictions on the higher ups. After all, they're pretty well insulated and it's your word against a billionaire businessman with an international reputation, a former U. S. Senator, and the other big shots on the board."

Tim said, "I don't see Verran as the type to make a deal, do you? They haven't caught that Elliot guy yet, and Alston and Emerson removed themselves. We don't know who else was in on it here and who wasn't. And without written records, where does that leave us?"

"Probably with a lot of lower-echelon indictments, according to my father," Matt said. "But once they start asking questions around the KMI medical centers, someone's bound to crack, and then the truth anout the experimentation will come out and the whole network will collapse."

"And maybe the investigations will work their way back to Kleederman himself," Tim said, setting his jaw. "Criminal charges, civil suits, whatever they can do to hound that son of a bitch into the ground."

Quinn squeezed his hand. "Easy now." And then a thought struck her. "What about the graduates?"

"Right," Tim said softly. "What about them? All the 'Where Are They Now' docs. Those poor bastards."

"Why do you say that?" Quinn said.

"They're the real victims. None of it's their fault, but their reputations will be ruined or, at the very least, highly suspect."

"Don't count on it," Matt said. "They won't believe they've been brainwashed, and frankly, I doubt there's any way to prove that someone's been brainwashed. They'll say they were never affected by any silly science-fiction machine, or they'll say none of those contraptions were in their headboards when they were students at The Ingraham. And unless somebody turns up some written records, who's to say those SLI units or whatever they're called weren't installed last summer?"

"So they'll go on as they are?" Quinn said.

"They're still well-trained physicians. They'll go on giving the inner-city populations excellent medical care —even better care now that the patients they're subconsciously compelled to refer to the medical centers will no longer be pharmaceutical guinea pigs."

"So it's over?" Quinn said, finally letting the relief seep through her. "Really over?"

"For all intents and purposes, yes," Matt said. "You two pushed over the first domino. Just a matter of time now before they all go down. It's over."



New Medical School Opens


(Budapest) A new international charitable organization, The Eastern Europe Medical Care Foundation, has announced the opening of a tuition-free medical school in Budapest and a string of medical centers located in Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Poland to bring the benefits of modern medical care to the poor, the disadvantaged, and the disconnected of Eastern Europe.

The Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung




Also by F. Paul Wilson


Repairman Jack

The Tomb



All the Rage


The Haunted Air






By the Sword

Ground Zero

Fatal Error


Young Adult

Jack: Secret Histories

Jack: Secret Circles

Jack: Secret Vengeance


The Adversary Cycle

The Keep

The Tomb

The Touch





The LaNague Federation Series


Wheels Within Wheels

An Enemy of The State

Dydeetown World

The Tery


Other Novels

Black Wind


The Select



Deep As the Marrow

Mirage (with Matthew J. Costello)

Nightkill (with Steven Spruill)

Masque (with Matthew J. Costello)

The Christmas Thingy


The Fifth Harmonic

Midnight Mass


Short Fiction

Soft & Others

The Barrens & Others

Aftershocks & Others



Freak Show



user comment image
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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