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Coma by Robin Cook. Part seven

“I’ll use the information terminal at the control desk. Meanwhile, you could take a look here and see if you can see him. Or you can come with me and wait in the waiting room. No guests are permitted in the control room.”

“I’ll wait here, thank you. There is enough of interest here to keep me occupied for a week.”

“Suit yourself, but, needless to say, don’t touch any of the wires or the patients under any circumstances. The whole system is very carefully balanced. The electrical resistance of your body would be picked up by the computer and an alarm would sound.”

“No need to worry. I’m not about to touch anything.”

“Good. I’ll be right back.”

Michelle removed her goggles. The door to the visiting room opened automatically and she was gone.

Michelle walked through the visitors’ room and halfway down the corridor beyond it. The door to the control room opened for her. It was dimly illuminated like the control room on a nuclear submarine. A good portion of the light in the room came from the far wall, which was actually a two-way mirror permitting observation of the visitors’ hall from the control room.

Two other people occupied the room when Michelle entered. Sitting in front of a large U-shaped bank of TV monitors was a guard. He was also dressed in white, and wore a wide white leather belt, a white-bolstered automatic, and a two-way Sony receiver. He sat in front of a vast console with multiple switches and dials. A battery of TV monitors in front of him was scanning rooms, corridors, and doors throughout the hospital. Several screens had constant images, such as the monitors for the front door and the entry hall. Others changed as remote control video cameras scanned their areas. The guard looked up sleepily as Michelle entered.

“You left her by herself in the ward? Do you think that was wise?”

“She’ll be fine. I was told to let her see what she wanted on the first floor.”

Michelle walked toward a large computer terminal where the other occupant of the room, a nurse dressed like Michelle, sat watching the data displayed on the forty or more screens in front of her. Intermittently the computer’s printer to her right would activate and print out information.

Michelle plopped herself down in a chair.

“Who the hell does she know to get invited here by herself?” asked the computer nurse, suppressing a yawn. “She looks like a Goddamn LPN or something. She doesn’t even have a pin or a cap. And that uniform! It looks like she’s been wearing it for six months.”

“I haven’t the slightest idea who she knows. I got a call from the director saying that she was coming and that we were to let her in and entertain her. I was to call Herr Direktor when she arrived. Do you think there’s some hanky-panky going on?”

The computer nurse laughed.

“Do me a favor,” continued Michelle, “and punch in the name of Sean Berman. He was a Memorial referral. I need his patient number and location.”

The computer nurse began to key in the information. “On our next shift, you can be the computer-sitter while I float. Playing with this machine is starting to drive me up the wall.”

“Gladly. The only break in the routine of floater for the past week has been this visitor. A year ago, if someone told me I would be tending a hundred intensive-care patients myself, I’d have laughed in his face.”

One of the display screens flashed: Berman, Sean. Age 33, sex male, race Caucasian. Diagnosis: cerebral brain death secondary to anesthetic complications. Sample number 323 B4. STOP.

The nurse keyed Sample number 323 B4 back into the computer.

The guard at the other end of the room slouched over, watching the monitors as usual, as he had been doing for two hours since his last break, as he had been doing for almost a year. The picture of the main ward appeared on screen number 15; moving as the video camera slowly panned from one end of the huge room to the other. The dangling nude patients held no interest for the guard. He was finally accustomed to the gruesome scene. Automatically screen number 15 shifted to the intensive-care visitors’ ward as its camera started to scan.

The guard sat up suddenly, looking at the screen of number 15. He reached for the manual mode switch and returned the scan to the main ward. The video camera scanned the enormous room again.

“The visitor is no longer in the main ward!” said the guard.

Michelle turned from the computer display screen and squinted to see screen number 15 of the monitor, “No? Well check the visitors’ ward and the corridor. Maybe she had enough. The main ward is usually a shock for first-time visitors.”

Michelle turned and looked out through the glass to the waiting room, but Susan was not there either.

The display screen on the computer flashed: Sample 323 B4 terminated. 0310 Feb. 26. Cause of death: cardiac arrest. STOP.

“Well if she came here for Berman, she’s too late,” said Karen without feeling,

“She’s not in the visitors’ ward,” said the guard, activating a series of switches. “And she’s not in the corridor. It’s not possible.”

Michelle got up from the chair, her eyes staying on screen 15 until she was at the door. “Calm down. I’ll locate her.” Michelle turned to the nurse at the computer. “Maybe you should try to call the director again. I think we’d better get rid of this girl.”

Thursday, February 26, 5:20 P.M.

As soon as Michelle left the main ward, Susan had removed the Xeroxed copies of the Jefferson Institute floor plans she had folded in her notebook. She oriented herself from the entrance, traced their route to the main ward, and then checked the routes for gaining access to the second floor. She saw two choices. There was a stairway from MG or an elevator from M Comp R. Susan glanced down at the key in the lower right hand corner. MO stood for morgue; M Comp R was the main computer room. Susan quickly decided that the stairs would be safer than the elevator, she thought that the computer room might well be occupied.

She walked toward the far end of the ward, where there was a conventional door, and tried the knob. It turned and Susan opened the door into the corridor beyond. It seemed to be quite dark; then she remembered the goggles. She took them off and put them in her uniform pocket. The corridor was like the others she had seen, starkly white with the illumination coming through the floor. At either end of the corridor was a large mirror, and its multiple reflections made the corridor seem infinitely long.

There were no sounds and no one in sight. Susan checked the floor plan, which indicated that the morgue and the stairs were to the right She closed the door to the ward behind her. Moving quickly, she made her way down to a door at the end of the corridor. There were no markings on the door, but at least it too had normal hardware. Susan tried the knob; the door was unlocked.

As silently as possible, she opened the door, just a few inches at a time. She could see the tiles of the near wall. Then she began to see the upper part of a stainless steel dissecting table. A corpse lay naked on it. Susan heard some voices and a laugh, followed by the sound of a scale.

“So much for the lungs. How much should we say the heart weighed?” said one of the voices.

“Your turn to guess,” laughed the other.

Nudging the door an inch more, Susan could just glimpse the head of the corpse. She squinted, then felt weak. It was Berman.

Letting the door close without a sound, Susan stood in the doorway for a few deep breaths. She felt slightly nauseated but it passed. She realized that she had very little time. The elevator.

Susan’s pause in the doorway had been perfect timing. The TV scanner behind the one-way mirror finished its five-second scan as Susan stepped back into the corridor. It would resume its scan in ten seconds.

She hurried back into the main ward and reached the doorway to the computer room. Hesitantly she tried it. It too was unlocked. She opened the door about ten inches and looked into the room. To her relief, it seemed unoccupied. As she pushed the door farther she could see a fantasy of computer consoles, input-output equipment, and tape storage systems.

A movement in the far corner near to the ceiling caught Susan’s eye. She recognized it immediately. It was a TV monitor camera. As its unhurried pan brought its lens toward Susan, she ducked back and closed the door. When she guessed that the camera had panned past, she whipped open the door and began to run the length of the room, to the elevator. But her timing was off; she would be spotted by the TV camera on its return sweep. Susan dived behind a computer console only halfway to her destination.

She had to work her way down the rest of the room, from console to console, trying to avoid the roving eye of the camera. Making a dash for the elevator, she pressed the button frantically. Susan could hear the machinery start up inside the shaft. The elevator was on another floor.

The TV camera reached the end of its arc and started back. Susan pressed the elevator button several times in succession. The sound of the elevator machinery stopped, the doors quivered and then began to open. Susan glanced up at the TV camera before rolling around the edge of the elevator door, groping for the “close” button. The door closed but Susan had no idea if she had been observed or not

The elevator was cavernous and correspondingly slow. There were only three burtons. She pressed the button for floor two and felt the machine begin to ascend. The floor plan for the second floor showed that the ORs were at the extreme opposite end of the building from the elevators. A long hall stretched from the elevators back to the OR area. Both the eighth and ninth doors to the right led into the OR complex.

When the elevator stopped and the doors opened, Susan stayed inside with her finger poised over the “door-close” button. No one in sight. The corridor was similar to those of the first floor except that the doors were more deeply recessed. The ceilings carried tracks for the trolleys.

As the elevator doors began to close Susan plunged down the corridor, mentally checking off the number of doorways she had passed. Suddenly, in the distance, Susan saw a man driving a miniature forklift loaded with units of whole blood. He appeared to emerge from an intersecting corridor. She half-skidded, half-ran into one of the recessed doorways, crashing up against the wall, her breath coming in gasps. She listened. The sound of the machine receded. She peered into the corridor. Empty. She pushed off and reached the ninth door.

She waited until her breath returned to a semblance of normal before cracking the door and checking the room. She slipped in quickly.

She was in a dressing room. A partially smoked cigarette lay in an ashtray, its smoke curling up in the still air. An open doorway led to a bath area. Susan could hear the sound of a shower going.

Michelle reentered the control room. Her sense of ennui had disappeared. Her mouth was set, but her eyes moved incessantly. Like the guard, she was now very nervous.

That girl has literally evaporated. She couldn’t have walked out, could she?” asked Michelle.

“Impossible. There’s no way the front door, or any outside door for that matter, can be opened without me activating the door release.” The guard was still switching from scanner to scanner.

“I think we’d better give direction another call. This affair could get serious,” said the nurse at the computer console.

“I don’t understand it. We have these monitors placed in all the key areas. She’s got to be in some doorway,” said the guard.

“She’s not in a doorway. I went all the way through to the main ward. What about the elevator?”

“That’s a thought,” said the guard. “If she does get upstairs there could be big trouble. I’m going to secure the building and activate all the automatic locking mechanisms on all stairway doors and electrify the perimeter fence. I’ll hold the general alarm until direction is reached.”

Michelle moved to a red telephone. “This is absurd, really! Totally unnecessary. Why was she allowed in by herself without a group?”

Swinging doors opened from the dressing rooms to the OR receiving area. Susan stepped into it. Here the appearance was more traditional. The lighting came from fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling alongside the omnipresent tracks for the patient trolleys. There was a faint glow that Susan remembered from the main ward, and she guessed there was an ultraviolet component to the light. The floor was of white vinyl, the walls surfaced in white ceramic tile.

The OR reception area was not large. In the center was an empty desk. There were apparently four operating rooms, two on each side, with ancillary rooms between. Susan’s attention was attracted by muffled sounds from the first OR. Light coming through a small window suggested that an operation was in progress.

A dark window in the door of the adjacent ancillary room suggested that it was empty. Susan walked over, peered in, and stepped into the darkness.

This service room was dimly lit through a window of a door leading to the occupied OR.

Susan waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. Slowly the objects in the room took form. There was a central table supporting several large objects from which emanated a low-pitched continuous noise. Counter tops ran around the room. In the left counter top there was a large sink. Immediately to her right she could see the form of a gas sterilizer.

As quietly as possible, Susan opened the cabinet beneath the sink, and with her hands she ascertained that there would be enough room to squeeze in if necessary. She then returned to the hall door and ran her fingers along its edge until she found the knob and depressed the lock. Then she paused and listened to make sure there had been no change in the pattern of noises from the OR. Susan looked at the objects on the central table, but the light was too poor to distinguish them.

Susan trod lightly to the OR door and raised herself on tiptoe. She saw two surgeons, gowned and gloved in the usual fashion, bending over a patient. But she could see no anesthesiologist. There was no operating table. The patient was still strung up in a frame. But he was maintained on his right side; an incision gaped across his loins. The surgeons were closing, and Susan could hear their conversation with relative ease.

“I wonder where that heart’s going from that previous case?”

“San Fran,” said the second surgeon, running down a knot, pulling it tight. “I think it’s only bringing seventy-five thousand dollars. It was a poor match, only two out of four, but it was a rush order.”

“Can’t win ’em all,” said the first surgeon, “but this kidney is a four-tissue match, and I understand it’s going for almost two hundred thousand. Besides, they might want the other one in a few days.”

“Well, we don’t let it go until we find a market for the heart,” added the other, tying another rapid knot.

“The real problem is finding a tissue match for Dallas. The offer is a million dollars for a four-match. The kid’s father is in oil.”

The second surgeon whistled. “Any luck so far?”

“We found a three-tissue match scheduled for a T&A at the Memorial next Friday and …”

Susan’s mind was desperately trying to find some alternate explanation for what she thought she was hearing, but before she could, the door from the reception hall jiggled as someone tried to open it. Susan’s first impulse was to run into the other empty OR. Instead, she raced back to the sink, as she heard someone enter the lighted operating room. She squeezed herself into the cabinet under the counter, wincing at the sound of several jars that tipped over when she pulled her feet in after her. It was tight quarters; she struggled to get her arms in. She was unable to close the door completely by the time the door to the OR opened and the room lights went on. Susan held her breath.

With her head twisted sideways, and the cabinet door slightly ajar, she could see two Plexiglas structures sitting on the table. They resembled fish tanks. Then she understood the pumping noise she had heard when she entered the room. It came from two self-contained machines, battery-driven, which perfused the two Plexiglas tanks. The first contained a human heart, suspended in a fluid. It was quivering, but not beating. The other contained a human kidney, also suspended in a fluid.

Suddenly the whole nightmare was clear to Susan. Now she had a motive, a horrible motive for making patients comatose. The Jefferson Institute was a clearinghouse for black-market human organs!

Susan had little time to think. A man walked past the sink, his trousers brushing against the half-closed cabinet door. He unlocked the door to the hall, then he went over to the table. Audibly straining, he lifted the tank which contained the heart and carried it away, leaving the light on and the door ajar.

Susan’s mind raced back over all the details of her investigation: the T-valve on the oxygen line, D’Ambrosio’s face, the image of Nancy Greenly, and the heart in the Plexiglas container. She remembered the conversation in the morgue below, and she realized that the heart must have been Berman’s. She began to feel a sense of urgency, a sense of pervading panic. The concept of this lurid affair was too overwhelming. She had to get away and, for the first time, she realized how difficult that was going to be. This was no ordinary hospital. At least some of the people running it were criminals. She had to get out and get to someone who could comprehend what was going on. Stark. She had to get to Stark. He would be able to appreciate the whole business and was powerful enough to do something about it.

Carefully Susan moved her left hand out of the cabinet onto the floor, pushing open the door as she did so. She listened. There were no noises except for the quiet whir of the pump perfusing the kidney on the table. With great effort she began to pull her right leg from the far corner of the cabinet. Then she heard footsteps in the hall. There was only a second. Her foot went back where it had been. She pulled in her arm, pushing herself into the cabinet as far as possible. The elbow of the drain from the sink above dug into her back.

The man came back into the room at a fast walk. He came between the sink and the table and kicked the cabinet door shut. The sound and compression made Susan’s ears ring. She heard him strain with the second tank. Then his footsteps left the room and receded down the corridor.

Susan stayed still for another two or three minutes before she dared to move, listening. There were no footsteps, only a muffled laugh from the first OR. Susan extracted her cramped body from beneath the sink. A spray can fell out onto the floor and rolled a short distance. Susan froze. Nothing. Then she ran for the door into the unlit operating room.

She had to pause once again to allow her eyes to adjust to the darkness. Here the forms of the overhead operating lights were visible. Carefully Susan moved to the common wall with the corridor, feeling for the door handle. Once she found it, she cracked the door and looked into the scrub area immediately beyond.

At that instant a piercing alarm shattered the stillness and all the lights went on in the previously darkened room. In a panic Susan let go of the door and turning threw herself against the wall expecting an assailant.

The room was empty.

A red light was blinking on and off next to a small loudspeaker. The loudspeaker crackled: “There is an unauthorized intruder in the building. Female. She must be detained immediately. I repeat … there is an unauthorized individual in the building … detain immediately.” The loudspeaker went dead. Susan sighed in relief. She left the OR and peered around the wall of the scrub area. The corridor was dear.

Two white-uniformed guards strode briskly through the main ward, oblivious to the hundred-odd human beings strung op around them. Each had a pistol in his hand. The larger of the two was listening to his Sony two-way radio. He replaced it on his belt. “I’m to take the elevator in the computer room up to two. You’re to head through the morgue and down to the machinery spaces.”

The two men entered the corridor beyond the ward.

“And remember, our orders are clear. If you find her and she comes along willingly, fine; if not then shoot her. But shoot her in the head. They may want the kidneys or the heart, depending on her tissue type.”

The two men split. The large man walked down the corridor and entered the computer room. Methodically he checked the room, then he summoned the elevator.

Susan dashed down the OR reception area, past the first operating room. She opened the door to the dressing area but heard voices within. Without hesitation she changed her plan and turned for a door she knew must open into the main corridor. Then she spotted a large pair of scissors on the reception desk. She picked them up; they were a weapon of sorts. Then she let herself into the main corridor.

The corridor was still empty, to Susan’s intense relief. She could see all the way down to the closed elevator doors at the far end. Taking a deep breath, she sped toward the elevator.

She was about halfway down the hundred-and-fifty-foot hall when the elevator arrived. Susan slowed as the doors quivered and opened. The guard stepped out and Susan stopped. Each was startled to see the other.

“All right, young lady, we’d like to talk to you downstairs.” The guard’s voice was not threatening. He began to advance slowly toward Susan, keeping his pistol behind his back.

Susan took a few indecisive steps backward, then she spun and raced toward the OR area. The guard pelted after her. In desperation Susan tried several doors. The first was locked; so was the second. The guard was almost on her. The handle of the third door turned and the door opened.

She rolled around the door, trying to slam it shut. But the guard gripped the edge of the door with his left hand and wedged his left foot between the door and the casing.

Susan pushed with every ounce of strength she could muster but it was hardly an even match. The guard was over two hundred pounds, and his weight and strength prevailed despite Susan’s efforts. The door began to open.

Keeping her shoulder and left hand against the door, Susan gripped the scissors like a dagger. With a quick overhand stroke, she plunged the scissors into the guard’s hand.

The point of the scissors struck between the knuckles of the second and third fingers. The force of the blow carried the blades between the metacarpal bones, shredding the lumbrical muscles and exiting through the back of the hand. The guard screamed in agony, letting go of the door. He staggered back into the corridor with the scissors still embedded in his hand. Holding his breath and grinding his teeth, he pulled them out. A small arterial pumper squirted blood in short pulsating arcs onto the opaque plastic floor, forming a pattern of red polkadots.

Susan slammed the door shut and locked it. She whirled to survey the room. It was a small laboratory, with a laboratory bench in the center. To the left were two desks back to back. Against the wall were several filing cabinets. At the far end was a window.

The guard in the hall recovered enough to wrap a handkerchief about his left hand and curb the spurting blood. He passed the cloth between his index and middle fingers and tied it around his wrist. He was furiously angry, as he fumbled with his passkeys. The first key would not turn in the lock. The second key he selected would not fit it. The third key also would not turn. Finally, the fourth key turned, and the lock mechanism sprang back, releasing the door. With his foot, the guard kicked the door open with such force that the knob went through the plaster wall to the right. With his pistol cocked, the guard sprang into the room, spinning around. Susan was gone. The window was open and frigid February air was streaming into the warm room. The guard ran to the window and leaned out enough to see the ledge. He returned to the room and took out his two-way radio.

“OK, I found the girl, floor two, the tissue lab. She’s something. She stabbed me, but I’m OK. She went out the window onto the ledge. … No, I can’t see her. The ledge goes around the corner. … No, I don’t think that she would jump. Did the Dobermans get released? … Good. The only worry is that she might attract some attention if she gets to the front of the building. … OK. … I’ll check the ledge on the other side.”

The guard put his radio back on his belt, closed the window and locked it. Then he ran out of the room, clutching his wounded hand.

Thursday, February 26, 5:47 P.M.

The heavy industrial-weight vinyl ceiling tile was slowly slipping from Susan’s grip, and she clenched her teeth. Her hands were numb from holding it with just the tips of her fingers, forcing the tile against its metal supports on the opposite side of its six-foot expanse. She could hear the guard below talking on his two-way radio. If the tile fell, he’d find her. She closed her eyes as tightly as she could to take her mind off her fingers and her aching forearms. It was slipping. It was going to fall. The guard switched off. Then the window closed. Susan held on somehow. She didn’t hear the guard exit, but the tile fell with a dull thud that jarred the whole suspended ceiling. Susan listened intently as blood rushed into her tingling fingers, painfully. There was no sound below. She let herself take a deep breath.

Susan was up in the ceiling space above the tissue lab. It was ironic that before her search of the ORs at the Memorial, Susan never knew of the existence of ceiling spaces. Now clambering up there had saved her life. Thank God for the filing cabinet on which she had stood to lift the tile.

Susan took out her floor plans and tried to examine them in the sparse light filtering up through the edges of the ceiling tiles. She found it impossible even after her eyes had adjusted. Looking around in the gloom, she noticed a rather concentrated beam of light coming from some larger fissure in the ceiling about twenty feet from her position. With the help of the upright studding marking the wall of the tissue lab and a neighboring office, Susan managed to work her way over to the light source and position herself so that she could see the plans. What she wanted to find was the main chase like the one she had seen at the Memorial. She thought that if it were big enough it would be a possible way out. But the chase was not listed in the key. However she did find a rectangular enclosure drawn next to the elevator shaft. Susan decided that it probably represented the chase she was after.

She moved along the top of the wall of the tissue lab, holding onto the upright studs until she reached the step up to the fixed ceiling of the corridor. It was made of concrete, to support the tracks for the trolleys. Once on it, the going was much easier. She moved toward the elevator shaft.

The closer she got to the elevator shaft the more difficult was her progress both because it got significantly darker and because more and more pipes, wires, and ducts converged in the direction she was heading. She had to move by feel, advancing a foot forward slowly, blindly. Several times she touched a steam pipe and it burned her. The smell of burnt flesh drifted into her nose.

In utter darkness she reached the elevator shaft and felt the vertical concrete. Rounding its corner, she followed a pipe with her hands and felt it turn down at a ninety-degree angle. Other pipes did the same. Leaning over them, she looked down into the darkness. A faint light filtered up from far below.

With her hands Susan determined the size of the chase. It was about four feet square. The wall common to the elevator shaft was concrete. She selected a pipe about two inches in diameter. Lowering herself into the chase, she put her back against the concrete wall and grabbed the pipe with both hands. Then she put her feet against other pipes and pushed back firmly against the concrete wall. In this fashion she inched herself down the chase, like a mountaineer in a chimney.

The going was not easy. Moving only inches at a time, she tried, although not always successfully, to avoid the steam pipes, which were blistering hot. After a while she was able to distinguish the pipes in front of her. Looking into the darkness, she could see vague forms, and she realized that she had reached the ceiling space of the first floor. She was making progress and she felt a certain elation. But it was tempered by the thought that if she could use the chase to go down, someone could use it to go up. And she realized then how relatively easy it was for someone to gain access to the T-valve in the oxygen line at the Memorial.

Susan continued inching downward. Below her there was a bit more light filtering upward. There was also the progressively louder sound of electrical machinery. As she approached the basement level, Susan realized that there was no suspended ceiling below her in the basement There would he no way to conceal herself and move laterally. She worked herself down until her eyes cleared the structural floor on the first level, then stopped her movement, wedging herself securely against the concrete to survey the scene.

The machinery room and its power plant were lit by a few work lights. The pipe Susan was using for her descent, apparently a water pipe from its feel, continued to the floor. But several other pipes, larger than the one she was holding, angled off horizontally, hanging by metal straps about four feet below the concrete slab of the building’s first floor. They ran high above the machinery area.

Susan stepped onto one of these pipes. She was no acrobat, but perhaps her natural ability as a dancer helped. With her right hand and her head pressed against the solid concrete, she moved crouching along the pipe, trying not to look down.

She teetered a bit but gained confidence. Ahead she saw a wall and beyond, another ceiling space. By maintaining pressure on the ceiling above she did a tightrope walk along the pipe. Susan passed directly over the power plant and was within four feet of her goal when there was a startling flash of light very close to her, almost causing her to lose her balance. The lights had come on in the machinery room.

Susan shut her eyes, pressing her hands against the ceiling and hooking the groove of her shoes against the pipe. Beneath her a guard moved slowly around the machinery, a big flashlight in one hand, a pistol in the other.

The next fifteen minutes were probably the longest single period of time in Susan’s life. She felt so exposed, with a white dress against the dark pipes and ceiling, that she could not fathom why she was not seen. The guard searched carefully, even the cabinets under the workbench. But he never looked up. Susan’s arms began to tremble from the tension necessary to keep her balance secure. Then her legs followed, so that she was afraid her shoes would soon be tapping a message against the pipe. Finally the guard was satisfied and left, turning out the main lights.

Susan did not move immediately. She tried to relax, conquering her tension and incipient vertigo. She longed for the fixed ceiling about four feet away. It was so close yet so far. She moved her right foot forward about six inches, then put weight on it. Then she moved the left up to the right. Both her arms and legs pained her tremendously. She thought about just letting herself fall forward onto the ceiling but she was afraid of the noise being heard. Instead she continued in her painful caterpillar way. When she reached the ceiling, she collapsed onto her back, breathing hard and letting the blood flow back into her deprived muscles.

But she knew she could not rest for long. She had to find a way out of the building. Lying on her back, she again consulted the floor plans. There were two possible exits. One was the supply room very close to where she now was. Another was at the far end of the building, beyond a room labeled “Dp.” Susan checked the key. Dp stood for dispatch.

Thinking about the man carrying the heart and the kidney from the auxiliary room between the ORs made Susan opt for the dispatch room despite the proximity of the supply room. She thought that perhaps they were planning on transporting the organs. She knew that transplant organs should be used as soon as possible.

Replacing the floor plans, Susan pulled herself to her feet. Her dress was now badly soiled and torn. She kept to the fixed ceiling over the basement corridor as she made her way in the direction of the dispatch room. The going was comparatively easy because it was not totally dark. Like the machinery space, large sections of the basement had no ceiling at all, and enough light was transmitted along Susan’s path that she could move at a regular pace, avoiding the pipes and ducts with ease.

She arrived at the extreme corner of the building and guessed from another glance at the floor plans that she had reached her goal. She lay supine on the fixed corridor ceiling with her head over the dropped ceiling of the dispatch room. As carefully as she could, she lifted a tile until she could just get her fingers under its edge. With effort she pulled it up until she could just see below. The room was occupied!

Not daring to let the ceiling tile go for fear of noise, Susan watched the man below, bent over a desk, filling out a form. He was dressed in an unzipped leather coat. On the floor were two insulated cardboard boxes. They were boldly labeled: “Human Transplant Organ—This side up—Fragile—Rush.”

A door which she could not see opened below. A second man appeared. It was one of the guards.

“Let’s go, Mac. Let’s get these things loaded and out of here. We’ve got work to do.”

“I’m not taking nothing until the proper papers are done.”

The guard left by a swinging door on the far side of the room. Susan got a glimpse of another area before the door closed. It looked like a garage.

The driver finished his forms and tossed a copy into a basket on the counter. The other copy he put into his pocket. He loaded the cartons onto a dolly and backed through the swinging doors.

Susan let the ceiling tile fall back into place. Quickly she moved over to the wall at the far end of the corridor. She could hear the noise of a truck door being shut and latched.

It was darker near the wall, and Susan ran her hand along the wall expecting to feel concrete. Instead she felt vinyl tile, oriented vertically. Susan could plainly hear a truck engine turning over. She pushed against the tile but it seemed to be securely held in place by a metal flange. The truck engine caught, coughed, and quit. The starter began to whine again.

Desperately Susan pushed against the metal flange, feeling it bend up. She repeated the maneuver in several locations. The truck engine caught again, rattled and coughed and then roared, finally sinking back to a controlled idle. Susan then heard the distinctive rumble of a massive and heavy garage door being elevated. Her fingers clawed for the top of the vinyl tile. She pulled it toward herself but it stayed firm. She raised more of the flange and pulled again. The tile came in suddenly, causing Susan to fall backward. She recovered quickly and stared through the vertical opening into an underground garage area. Directly below was a relatively large truck belching exhaust. By the entrance stood the guard, activating the overhead door switch. He was watching the door ascend.

Susan leaped into space and hit the top of the truck with her feet and hands at the same time. The noise of the impact was lost within the echo of the truck engine and the rumble of the garage door. She flattened herself spread-eagled as the truck lurched forward. She felt the inertia of her body cause her to slide backward. She tried to grip something, anything, but the top of the truck was smooth metal and her hands groped in vain. She managed to clear the garage door, but as the truck mounted the incline to the street, Susan’s backward slide became more uncontrollable. Her feet actually slipped over the rear of the truck as she tried to press her hands flat against the smooth surface.

The truck reached the street and the driver braked before turning left. Susan’s body then slid forward, careening counterclockwise. The frigid cold struck her. The driver picked up speed, and Susan felt a sense of helpless terror. She inched toward the cab and clamped her numb fingers over a low ventilator. Then there was a bump and Susan’s body flew up, only to slam down on the metal roof a moment later. Her chin and nose hit the surface so hard that it dazed her. She was only vaguely conscious of what happened after that.

Susan became lucid rather suddenly. She lifted her head and recognized that her nose and lip were bleeding. She watched the buildings and recognized the area. It was the Haymarket. Of course, she thought the truck was heading for Logan Airport.

The truck halted for a traffic light. Traffic was still rather heavy. Susan worked her way right up to the cab. She pulled her feet around and stood up on the roof of the cab. Then she sat down and let her feet onto the hood. At that point she lowered her head and looked through the windshield at the driver. The man was shocked and immobile, his eyes staring without believing, his hands rigidly gripping the steering wheel.

Susan slid from the hood to the fender, then leaped for the ground. She scrambled to her feet and ran between the cars toward Government Center. The driver recovered somewhat, opened his door, and shouted after her. Other angry yells and blaring horns drove him back into his cab. The light had changed. As he put the truck into gear and pulled forward, he told himself that no one would believe this story.

Thursday, February 26, 8:10 P.M.

The tattered and flimsy nurse’s uniform was little protection against the razor-sharp cold. It was seventeen degrees with a twenty-five knot north wind, making the wind chill factor somewhere around twenty below zero. Susan ran along the deserted Haymarket vegetable stalls, trying to avoid the empty cardboard boxes that were being blown across her path. The debris made her progress slow, and it reminded her of the nightmare that had started the day.

At the corner she turned left and braved the full power of the wind. She was shivering now, and her upper and lower jaws clattered against each other as if they were beating out some urgent message in Morse code. On the City Hall mall it got worse. The particular design of the Government Center area, with its curved facades and expansive mall, functioned as a wind tunnel, pushing the north wind to greater effort. Susan had to bend herself into the wind to make progress up the wide steps. To her left the remarkable modern architecture of the City Hall loomed eerily in the darkness; its stark geometric protrusions formed dark, intervening shadows, giving the whole scene an ominous air.

Susan needed a telephone. When she got to Cambridge Street there were a few other humans, bent over, faceless in the wind and the cold. Susan stopped the first pedestrian; it was a woman. The stranger’s head came up, the eyes looked at Susan first with disbelief, then fright

“I need a dime and a telephone,” said Susan through her chattering teeth.

The woman pushed Susan’s arm away and hurried on without looking back and without saying a single word.

Susan looked down at her nurse’s uniform. It was torn, soiled, and bloodstained. Her hands were totally black. Her hair was irretrievably tangled and matted. She realized she looked like a psychotic, or at best a derelict.

Susan stopped a man and asked her question. The man backed up from Susan’s appearance. He reached into his pocket and extended some change toward Susan, his eyes also revealing a mixture of incredulousness and consternation. He dropped the coins into Susan’s hand as if he were afraid to touch her.

Susan took the change. It was more than the single dime she had asked for.

“I think there’s a phone in the diner down on the left,” said the man, looking at Susan. “Are you all right?”

“I’ll be all right if I get to a phone. Thank you very much.”

Susan’s cold fingers had trouble wrapping around the change. Her hands were so numb that she could not even feel the coins in her palms. She ran across Cambridge Street toward the diner.

The steamy, greasy warmth of the place was a welcome relief as Susan entered. A few faces looked up from their food, and noted her strange look. But in deference to the anonymity guaranteed by a large American city, the diners returned to their fare, to keep from becoming involved.

Susan was gripped by an irrational paranoia, and her eyes went from person to person, trying to detect an enemy. The warmth brought even greater shivering. She hurried to the pay phone near the restrooms.

Her hands had great difficulty manipulating the coins, and most of them dropped to the floor before she got a dime into the slot. No one got up to help her retrieve her money. The grease-smeared tattooed counterman watched her blankly, inured to the curiosities of Boston street life.

The operator answered at the Memorial.

“I’m Dr. Wheeler and I must speak with Dr. Stark immediately. It is an emergency. Do you have his home number?”

“I’m sorry, but we cannot give out the doctor’s number.”

“But this is an emergency.” Susan glanced around the diner, half-expecting someone to challenge her.

“I’m sorry, but we have our orders. If you want to leave your number, I’ll have the doctor call.”

Susan’s eyes roamed around for the number.

“523-8787.”

There was a click. Susan replaced the disconnected receiver. She had one dime left in her hand. She thought perhaps hot tea would help. She searched around for more change on the floor. She found a nickel. She looked in a wider area. She knew that she had had a quarter.

One of the patrons got up from the counter and sleepily walked around to use the phone. He was reaching for the receiver when Susan spotted him.

“Please. I’m expecting a call. Please don’t use the phone for just a few moments.” Susan stood up, beseeching the stubbly-faced man.

“Sorry, sister, got to use the phone.” The man picked up the receiver and reached up to drop in his dime.

For the first time in her life, Susan lost all semblance of control or rationality.

“No!” she screamed at the top of her lungs, causing every head in the diner to snap around in her direction. To emphasize her determination, Susan clasped her two hands together, the fingers interlocking, and brought them up swiftly, hitting the man’s forearms. The surprisingly fast blow knocked both the receiver and the dime from his grasp. With her hands still clasped, Susan brought them down so that the heels of her hands hit the man on the forehead and the bridge of his nose. It sent the surprised individual stumbling backward into the edge of a booth. Almost in slow motion, he sank to a sitting position, his feet outstretched. The suddenness and the fury of the attack had left him momentarily dumbfounded, and he didn’t move.

Susan quickly replaced the receiver on the phone, holding onto it, closing her eyes tightly, hoping it would ring. It did. It was Stark. Susan tried to contain herself in the surroundings, but the words bubbled out of her.

“Dr. Stark, this is Susan Wheeler. I have the answers … all of them. It’s unbelievable, really it is.”

“Calm down, Susan. What do you mean you have all the answers?” Stark’s voice was reassuring and calm.

“I have a motive; I have both the method and a motive.”

“Susan, you’re talking in riddles.”

“The coma patients. They’re not accidental complications. They’re planned. When I was doing the chart extractions, I found out that all the victims had been tissue-typed.”

Susan paused, remembering how Bellows had talked her out of attaching any significance to the tissue-typing,

“Go on, Susan,” said Dr. Stark.

“Well, I didn’t give it any significance. But I do now. Now that I’ve been to the Jefferson Institute.”

Saying the name made Susan look around the diner suspiciously. Now most of the eyes in the place were directed at her. But no one moved. Susan withdrew into the alcove by the restrooms, cupping her hand over the receiver.

“I know it will sound incredible, but the Jefferson Institute is a clearinghouse for black-market transplant organs. Somehow these people get orders for organs with a specific tissue type. Then whoever runs the show reaches around in the hospitals here in Boston till they find patients with the proper type. If it’s a surgical patient, they merely add a little carbon monoxide to his anesthesia. If it’s a medical patient he—or she—gets a shot of succinylcholine in his I.V. The victim’s upper brain is destroyed. He’s a living corpse, but his organs are alive and warm and happy until they can be taken out by the butchers at the Institute.”

“Susan, that’s an incredible story,” said Stark. He sounded stunned. “Do you think you can prove this?”

“That’s one of the problems. If there is a big fuss—say the police were brought to Jefferson Institute for a look-see—they probably have a contingency plan to cover up. The place masquerades as an intensive-care hospital. Besides, both, carbon monoxide and the succinylcholine are metabolized quickly in the victim’s bodies, leaving no trace whatsoever. The only way to break up the organization behind these crimes is for someone like yourself to convince the authorities to make a real surprise raid on the place.”

“That might be an idea, Susan,” said Stark. “But I’d have to hear the particulars that brought you to your fantastic conclusions. Are you in any danger now? I can come and pick you up.”

“No, I’m all right,” said Susan, glancing into the diner. “It would be easier if I met you somewhere. I can catch a cab.”

“Fine. Meet me at my office in the Memorial. I’ll leave immediately.”

“I’ll be there.” Susan was about to hang up.

“Susan, one more thing. If what you say is true, then secrecy is tremendously important. Don’t say anything to anybody until we’ve talked.”

“Agreed. See you in a few minutes.”

Replacing the receiver, Susan looked up a cab company. She used her last dime to order a cab. She gave the name Shirley Walton. They said it would take ten minutes.

Dr. Harold Stark lived in Weston, along with nine-tenths of Boston’s other doctors. He had a sprawling Tudor house which also boasted a Victorian library. After speaking with Susan, he replaced the receiver on the phone on top of his desk. Then he pulled open the right-hand drawer and extracted a second phone, a phone carefully maintained and checked electronically for any additional resistance or interference. It could not be tapped without Stark’s knowledge. He dialed quickly, watching the tiny oscilloscope in the drawer. It functioned normally.

In the control room of the Jefferson Institute a manicured man, slight of build, reached for the ringing red telephone.

“Wilton,” yelled Stark, only partially concealing his anger, “for a whiz kid with figures and an aptitude for business, you’re pretty impotent when it comes to catching young, unarmed girls in a building built like a castle. I cannot understand how you could allow this matter to get so far out of hand. I warned you about her days ago.”

“Don’t worry, Stark. We’ll find her. She got out on the ledge but obviously has to return to the building. All the doors are sealed, and I’ve got ten men here now. Don’t worry.”

“Don’t worry,” snarled Stark. “Well, let me tell you something. She just called me on the phone and outlined the entire core of our program. She’s already out, you ass.”

“Out! Impossible!”

“Impossible. What kind of statement is that? I said she just called me. What do you think, she’s using one of your phones? Christ, Wilton. Why didn’t you take care of her?”

“We tried. Apparently she’s eluded a very reliable hit man. The lame man who took care of Walters.”

“God, that was another thing. Why didn’t you just dispose of him rather than stage that suicide?”

“For your benefit You’re the one that was so uptight when the drugs that old codger was hoarding were found. I mean you were the one who was so worried that it might drag in the authorities for some sort of grand investigation. We not only had to get rid of Walters but we had to associate him with his goddamn drugs.”

“Well, this whole affair has made up my mind for me, I think it’s time we wind down this operation. Do you understand, Wilton?”

“So the great doctor wants out, does he? At the first ripple of trouble in almost three years, you want out. You got all the money to rebuild that whole hospital of yours. You got yourself appointed Chief of Surgery. And now you want to leave us dry. Well let me tell you something, Stark, something that you’re going to find hard to take. You are not giving orders anymore. You’re going to follow them. And the first order is to get rid of this girl.”

Stark found himself holding a dead connection. He slammed the phone down and replaced it in the drawer. He was trembling with rage. He had to hold himself back from smashing his own belongings. Instead he gripped the edge of the desk until his fingers turned milky white. Then his fury began to abate. Anger per se had never solved anything, Stark knew. He had to rely on his analytical powers. Wilton was right. Susan represented the first ripple of trouble in his progress in almost three years. The progress that had been made was beyond Stark’s wildest dreams. It had to go on. Medical science demanded it. Susan had to be eliminated. That was certain. But it had to be done in a way so as not to cause suspicion or alarm, especially from some narrow-minded people like Harris or Nelson, who lacked the vision Stark knew he had.

Stark got up from behind his massive desk and walked along the ranks of bookshelves. He was deep in thought and he let his hand carelessly caress the gilded edges of a first-edition Dickens. Suddenly it came to him in a moment of inspiration that brought a smile to his face.

“Beautiful … so appropriate,” he said out loud. He laughed, his anger already forgotten.

Thursday, February 26, 8:47 P.M.

Susan dashed from the cab without paying and made a bee-line for the Memorial entrance. She had no money and did not intend to get into an argument. The driver jumped out of the cab, too, shouting angrily. He caught the attention of one of the guards, but Susan was already through the entrance.

Susan had to slow to a walk in the main hall. Ahead of her she was dismayed to see Bellows, headed in the same direction. Susan worked her way up to a position directly behind him and debated with herself about catching his attention. She thought again about how he had caused her to disregard the tissue typing done on the coma patients. There was a chance that Bellows was involved. Besides, she remembered Stark’s admonition to speak to no one. So when they reached the corner of the corridor, Susan let Bellows continue down toward the ER. She turned toward the Beard elevators. One was waiting, and she got on and pushed 10.

Susan’s view of the hall became progressively occluded by the closing door. But at the very last minute a hand wrapped around the edge of the door, halting it. Susan stared blankly at it before the face of a guard came into view.

“I would like to have a word with you, Miss,” he said, still holding the door open despite its continued attempts to close, as Susan pressed on the “door close” button.

“Please come off the elevator.”

“But I’m in a terrible hurry. It’s an emergency.”

“The emergency room is on this floor, Miss.”

Susan reluctantly complied with the guard’s demands and got off the elevator. The doors closed behind her, and the car began its ascent to the tenth floor without any occupants.

“It’s not that kind of emergency,” pleaded Susan.

“So much of an emergency you couldn’t pay your cab?” The guard’s voice was a mixture of admonition and concern. Susan’s appearance lent a definite credence to her plea that it was an emergency.

“Take his name and company, and I’ll settle it later. Look, I’m a third-year medical student. My name is Susan Wheeler. I have no time at this moment.”

“Where are you going at this hour?” The guard’s tone had become almost solicitous.

“Beard 10. I’m meeting one of the doctors there. I’ve got to go.” Susan depressed the up button.

“Who?”

“Howard Stark. You can call him.”

The guard was confused, dubious. “All right. But stop by the security office on your way down.”

“Of course,” agreed Susan as the guard turned to go.

Just then the next elevator arrived and Susan boarded it, pushing past a few departing passengers, who looked at her disheveled appearance curiously. On the slow ride up to 10 she leaned against the car’s wall gratefully.

The corridor presented a totally different environment from the one she remembered from her previous daytime visit. The typewriters were quiet The patients gone. The floor was as still as a morgue. The thick carpet absorbed the sound of her own hesitant footsteps as she moved toward her goal and safety. The only light came from a lonely table lamp in the middle of the hall. The New Yorker magazine stacks which could be seen were carefully straightened. The faces on the portraits of the former Memorial surgeons were smudges of violet shadow.

Susan approached Stork’s office and hesitated for a moment, composing herself. She was about to knock, but tried the door. It opened. The anteroom of Stark’s secretary was dark, but the door to his private office was slightly ajar, light slanting through it. Susan pushed open the door and stepped in.

The door shut behind her that instant Susan’s overwrought psyche caused a tremendous panic reaction as she whirled to face an assailant. She had to fight to keep from screaming.

Stark was locking the door. He must have been behind her.

“Sorry for the dramatics, but I don’t think we want anyone interrupting this conversation.” He smiled suddenly. “Susan, you’ll never know how glad I am to see you. After these experiences you told me about, I should have insisted on picking you up from when you called. But no matter, you got here safely. Do you think you were followed?”

Susan’s fight reaction tapered, her heart rate reached an apogee and began to slow. She swallowed. “I don’t think so, but I can’t be sure.”

“Come and sit down. You look like you’ve been through World War I.” Stark touched Susan’s arm, guiding her to a chair in front of his desk. “Looks like you could use a little Scotch, at the very least.”

Susan felt a terrible exhaustion; mental, physical, and emotional, descend over her. She didn’t respond audibly. She simply followed, her chest heaving. She sank into the chair, barely comprehending what she had been through.

“You’re an amazing girl,” said Stark, walking over to the small bar cabinet across the room.

“I don’t think so,” returned Susan, her voice reflecting her exhaustion. “I just happened to walk blindly into an amazing horror.”

Stark got a bottle of Chivas Regal. He carefully poured out two drinks and brought them over to the desk. He handed one to Susan. “I think you’re being too modest.” Stark rounded his desk and sat down, his gaze fixed on Susan. “You’re not hurt, are you?”

Susan shook her head, her hand inadvertently shaking her drink so that the ice clinked against the side of the glass. She tried to steady herself by using both hands. She took a mouthful of the comforting, fiery liquid, letting it slide down her throat between deep breaths.

“Now then, Susan. I want to make sure where we stand. Have you spoken to anyone since we talked?”

“No,” said Susan taking another drink.

“Good, that’s very good.” Stark paused, watching Susan sip her drink. “Does anyone besides yourself have any idea about all this?”

“No. No one.” The Scotch felt delightfully warm inside Susan, and she began to feel a calmness settle over her. Her breathing began to slow to normal She looked at Stark over her glass.

“OK, Susan, now why do you think the Jefferson Institute is a clearing house for transplant organs?”

“I heard them talking. I even saw the shipping cartons for the organs myself.”

“But Susan, it isn’t surprising to me mat a hospital Med with chronic-care, comatose patients would be a source of transplant organs as the patients succumb to their disease processes.”

“That might be true. But the problem is that the people behind this were the ones making at least some of those patients comatose in the first place. Besides, they were getting paid for these organs. Paid a lot of money.” Susan felt her upper eyelids droop, and she raised them forcefully. She felt a torpor stealing over her. She knew she was exhausted but dragged herself straighter in the chair. She took another mouthful of the Scotch and tried not to think about D’Ambrosio. At least she felt warm.

“Susan, you are amazing. I mean, you were only in the place for a short time. How did you learn so much so quickly?”

“I had floor plans from City Hall. They showed operating rooms, and the girl who was showing me around said there were no operating rooms. So I checked them out myself. Then it was clear. Frightfully clear.”

“I see. Very clever.” Stark nodded his head, marveling at Susan. “And they let you leave. I would have imagined that they would have preferred that you stay.” He smiled again. “I was lucky. Extremely lucky. I left with a heart and a kidney on their way to Logan.” Susan suppressed a yawn, trying to hide it from Stark. She felt tired, very tired.

“That’s all very interesting, Susan, and that’s probably all the information I really need. But … you are to be commended. Your activities over the last few days are a study in clairvoyance and perseverance. But let me ask you a few more questions. Tell me …” Stark put his hands together and rotated in his chair so that he could see out over the black waters of the harbor. “Tell me if you can think of any other reasons for this fantastic operation you have so cleverly exposed.”

“You mean, other than money?”

“Yes, other than money.”

“Well, it is a good way to get rid. of someone you don’t want around.”

Stark laughed inappropriately, or so it seemed to Susan.

“No, I mean a real benefit. Can you think of any benefits other than financial?”

“I guess the recipients of the organs get a certain benefit, if they don’t have to know how the donor organ was obtained.”

“I mean a more general benefit. A benefit for society.”

Susan again tried to think, but her eyes wanted to close. She straightened up again. Benefit? She looked at Stark. The meaning of the conversation was becoming diffuse, strange.

“Dr. Stark, I hardly think this is the time …”

“Come on, Susan. Try. You’ve done such a remarkable job at uncovering this thing. Try to think. It’s important.”

“I can’t. It’s such a horror that I have difficulty even considering the word benefit.” Susan’s arms began to feel heavy. She shook her head. For a second she thought she had actually fallen asleep.

“Well, then I’m surprised at you, Susan. From the intelligence that you have so amply displayed over the last couple of days, I thought that you would have been one of the few to see the other side.”

“Other side?” Susan closed her eyes tightly, then opened them, hoping they would stay open.

“Exactly,” Stark rotated back toward Susan, leaning forward, arms on the desk. “Sometimes there are situations where … what should I say … the common folk, if you will, cannot be depended upon to make decisions which win provide long-term benefits. The common man thinks only of his short-run needs and selfish requirements.”

Stark got up and wandered over to the corner where the expansive walls of glass joined. He looked out over the great medical complex he had helped to build. Susan felt herself unable to move. She even had difficulty turning her head. She knew she was tired but she never felt so heavy, so languorous. Besides, Stark kept going in and out of focus.

“Susan,” Stark said suddenly, turning around to face her again, “you must realize that medicine is on the brink of probably the biggest breakthrough in all of its long history. The discovery of anesthesia, the discovery of antibiotics … any of those epochal achievements will pale before the next giant step. We are about to crack the mystery of the immunological mechanisms. Soon we’ll be able to transplant all human organs at will. The fear of most cancer will become a thing of the past. Degenerative disease, trauma … the scope is infinite.

“But such breakthroughs do not come easy, not without hard work and sacrifice. Not without a price. We need first-rate institutions, like the Memorial and its facilities. Next we need people like myself, indeed like Leonardo Da Vinci, willing to step beyond restrictive laws in order to insure progress. What if Leonardo Da Vinci had not dug up his bodies for dissection? What if Copernicus had knuckled under to the laws and dogma of the church? Where would we be today? What we need for the breakthrough to actually happen is data, hard data. Susan, you have the mind to appreciate that.”

Despite the darkening cloud she felt settling over her brain, Susan began to realize what Stark was saying. She tried to get up, but she found she could not lift her arms. She strained but only succeeded in knocking the remains of her drink to the floor. The ice cubes scattered.

“You do understand what I am saying, Susan? I think you do. Our legal system is not geared to handle our needs. My God, they cannot make a decision to terminate a patient even after it is certain that his brain has turned to lifeless Jell-O. How can science proceed under a public policy handicap of that proportion?

“Now, Susan, I want you to think carefully. I know it is a little hard for you to think at this moment, but try. I want to say something to you and I want your response. You are a bright, very bright, girl. You’re obviously one of the … what should I say? … elite sounds too much like a cliché, but you know what I mean. We need you, people like you. What I want to say is that the people who run the Jefferson Institute are on our side. Do you understand, our side?”

Stark paused, looking at Susan. She struggled to keep her eyelids above her pupils. It took all her strength.

“What do you say to that, Susan? Are you willing to dedicate that brain of yours to the good of society, science, and medicine?”

Susan’s mouth formed words but they came out in a whisper. Her face was expressionless. Stark leaned forward to hear. He had to bring his head up to within inches of Susan’s lips.

“Say it again, Susan. I’ll be able to hear if you say it again.”

Susan’s mouth struggled to bring her lower lip against her upper teeth to form the first consonant. It spilled out in a whisper.

“Fuck you, you cra—” Susan’s head slumped back, her mouth gaping and her respirations coming in regular deep-sounding breaths.

Stark looked at Susan’s drugged body for a few moments. Susan’s defiance angered him. But after a few moments of silence his emotion faded into disappointment. “Susan, we could have used that brain of yours.” Stark shook his head slowly. “Well, maybe you can still be useful.”

Stark turned to his phone and called the emergency room. He asked for the admitting resident.

Thursday, February 26, 11:51 P.M.

The surgical residents’ on-call room at the Memorial was rather minimal in its amenities. It had a bed, a hospital bed, which could be cranked into a number of interesting positions,. a small desk; a TV which got two stations provided you didn’t mind a double image; and a collection of torn, stained old Penthouse magazines. Bellows was sitting at his desk, trying to read an article in the American Journal of Surgery, but he couldn’t concentrate. His mind, particularly his conscience, was functioning in an abnormally irritating manner. It kept reminding him of Susan’s appearance a few hours earlier. Bellows had seen her when she entered the Memorial. He knew she had come up behind him, and he had expected her to stop him. It had been a surprise when she didn’t.

Bellows had not looked at Susan directly, but enough to see her matted hair, her bloodied and torn dress. He had felt immediate concern, but at the same time felt a definite inclination to leave well enough alone. His job at the Memorial was on the line. If Susan needed medical help, she had come to the right place. If she needed psychological support, it would have been better to call and meet him outside the hospital. But Susan had not stopped him and had not called.

Now Bellows had learned that Susan had been admitted as a patient, that Stark himself was handling her case. As the senior surgical resident on call, Bellows knew that Susan was scheduled for an appendectomy. It seemed quite a coincidence, but there it was. Stark was going to operate. At first Bellows thought he’d scrub. Then prudence told him he was far from objective about Susan and that could become a handicap in the OR. So he decided to send a junior resident and wait it out.

Bellows looked at his watch. It was almost midnight. He knew that they’d be starting Susan’s appy in ten minutes or so. He tried to go back to the Journal article but something else bothered him. Bellows stared out of the grimy window and brooded. Then he picked up the phone and asked in which room the appy was scheduled.

“Number eight, Dr. Bellows,” said the OR duty nurse.

Bellows put the phone down. Funny. Susan had told him about finding the T-valve in the oxygen line to that room, the room in. which so much had gone wrong.

Bellows looked at his watch again. Suddenly he got up. He’d forgotten about getting his mid rats in the cafeteria. He was hungry. Bellows pulled on his shoes and set off for the cafeteria. But he thought about the T-valve.

He got on the elevator and pushed 1 for the cafeteria. In the middle of the descent he changed his mind and pushed 2. What the hell, he could take a look for that T-valve on the oxygen line himself, while Susan was having her surgery. It was stupid, but he decided to do it anyway. At least it would satisfy his conscience.

A phantasmagoria of geometric images, color and motion emerged from the darkness, gradually expanding. The geometric images collided, split, and recombined into forms and shapes without meaning. Out of the confusion the image of a hand being stabbed by scissors preceded a sequence of chase. The autopsy room at the Memorial appeared with a realism that included auditory and olfactory aspects. A spiral staircase took dominance; then a corridor filled with the face of D’Ambrosio grinning in sadistic delight seemed to move closer and closer. But D’Ambrosio’s face disintegrated and he fell spinning into the abyss. The corridor twisted and turned kaleidoscopically.

Susan regained her consciousness in fluctuating stages. Finally she realized that she was looking at a ceiling, the ceiling of a corridor that was moving. No, she was moving. Susan tried to move her head but it seemed to weigh a thousand pounds. She tried to move her hands. They too were unbelievably heavy, and it took all her concentration just to lift her hands up from her elbows. Susan was lying on her back, moving down a corridor. Sounds started to appear. Voices … but they were unintelligible. She felt someone grip her hands and push them down to her side. But she wanted to get up. She wanted to know where she was. She wanted to know what happened to her. Was she asleep? No, she’d been drugged. Suddenly Susan knew that. She fought with the effects of the drug, to try to lift herself from its grasp. Her mind began to clear. She could understand the voices.

“She’s an emergency appendectomy. Apparently a hot one, too. And she’s a medical student You’d think she would have had enough sense to be seen sooner.”

Another voice, deeper than the first “I understand she had called in sick this morning to the dean’s office, so obviously she knew something was wrong. Maybe she was worried about being pregnant.”

“Maybe you’re right But she tested negative.”

Susan’s mouth tried to form words but no sounds issued from her larynx. She found that her head could move from side to side. The drug was beginning to wear off. Then the movement stopped. Susan recognized the area. She was in the scrub room. By turning her head to the right she could see the scrub sink. A surgeon was scrubbing.

“You want one or two assistants, sir?” said one of the voices behind Susan.

The man at the scrub sink turned. He was wearing a hood and a mask. But Susan recognized him. It was Stark.

“One’s enough for a simple appy. I’ll have it out in twenty minutes.”

“No, no,” cried Susan, voicelessly. Only a bit of air hissed between her lips. Then she began to move toward the operating room. She could see the door open. She saw the number over it. Room No. 8.

The drug was wearing off. Susan could lift her head and her left arm. She saw the huge operating room lights. The glare dazzled her. She knew she had to get up … to run.

Strong arms gripped her waist, her ankles and head. She felt hands thrust under her, and she was lifted effortlessly onto the operating table. Susan lifted her left hand to grasp at anything. She grabbed an arm.

“Please … don’t … I am …” the words came slowly, almost inaudibly from Susan’s throat. She was trying to sit up despite the weight of her head.

A strong arm was laid across her forehead. Her head was pressed back.

“Don’t worry, everything will be all right. Just take, some deep breaths.”

“No, no,” said Susan, her voice gaining slightly in power.

But an anesthesia mask dropped over her face. She felt a sudden pain in her right arm … an I.V. The liquid started into her vein. No. No. She tried to shake her head from side to side but strong arms held her. She looked up and saw a masked face. The eyes looked into hers. She saw an I.V. bottle with bubbles dancing up through the fluid. She saw someone thrust a syringe into the I.V. line. The Pentothal!

“Everything will be all right. Just relax. Take a deep breath. Everything will be all right. Just relax. Take a deep breath. …”

The atmosphere in room eight at 12:36 A.M. that February 27 was extremely tense. The junior resident had found himself all thumbs during the case, even dropping clamps and fumbling ties. Stark’s presence and reputation had been too much for the fledgling surgeon, especially after the initial rapport had evaporated.

The anesthesiologist’s handwriting was even more erratic than usual as he put the finishing touches on his anesthesia record. He wanted the case to be over. The patient’s sudden cardiac irregularities in the middle of the case had totally unnerved him. But even worse had been the sudden closure of the non-return valve on the wall oxygen line. In his eight years as an anesthesiologist, it was the first time that piped-in oxygen had actually failed. He had made the transition to the green emergency cylinders smoothly, and he was fairly confident there had been no change in the amount of oxygen he had been delivering. But the experience had been frightening; he knew he could have lost the patient.

“How much longer?” the anesthesiologist asked over the ether screen, putting his pen down.

Stark’s eyes were wildly dancing from the clock to the door, then back to the operative field. He had taken over tying the skin sutures from the bumbling resident.

“Five minutes, tops,” said Stark as he ran a knot down with his deft fingers. Stark too was nervous. That was obvious to the resident, who thought he himself must be the cause. But Stark was nervous because he knew that something was not right.

The oxygen non-return valve should not have failed. That meant that the oxygen pressure had fallen to zero in the main line. Of the operating team, only Stark knew that the patient’s cardiac irregularities meant that she had received carbon monoxide with the mainline oxygen. But when that oxygen source failed, he couldn’t be sure whether Susan had received enough of the deadly gas for his purposes.

And then there had been the muffled shouts which had caused the circulating nurses to check the corridor. But Stark knew that the noises came from above, from the ceiling space.

But that wasn’t all. As Stark was making the next to last skin suture, his eyes caught a surge of movement in the corridor through the window of the OR door. The corridor seemed to be filled with people, and at 12:35 A.M. that was inappropriate, to say the least.

Stark placed the last skin suture and dropped the needle bolder onto the instrument tray. As he picked up the ends to tie the knot, the OR door swung open, and Stark saw at least four people advance into the room. Mark Bellows was among them.

The sudden visitors wore surgical gowns, and Stark’s pulse began to race as he realized that most of them had thrown their gowns over blue uniforms. A deadly silence hung in the OR. But as Stark straightened up from the operating table, he knew now that something was wrong. Something was very Wrong.

THE END.

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