Devil’s Waltz. By: Jonathan Kellerman

Devil’s Waltz. By: Jonathan Kellerman

Devil’s Waltz. By: Jonathan Kellerman

It was a place of fear and myth, home of miracles and the worst kind of

failure. I’d spent a quarter of my life there, learning to deal with

the rhythm, the madness, the starched whiteness of it all.

Five years’ absence had turned me into a stranger, and as I entered the

lobby anxiety tickled my belly.

Glass doors, black granite floors, high, concave travertine walls advertising the names of dead benefactors.

Glossy depot for an unguided tour of uncertainty.

Spring, outside, but in here time had a different meaning.

A group of surgical interns God, they were taking them young-slouched

by on paper-soled scrub slippers, humbled by double shifts. My own

shoes were leather-bottomed and they clacked on the granite.

Ice-slick floors. I~~ just started my internship when ~~~y~~ been installed. I remembered the protests. Petitions against the illogic

of polished stone in a place where children ran and walked and limped

and wheeled. But some philanthropist had liked the look. Back in the

days when philanthropists had been easy to come by.

Not much granite visible this morning; a crush of humanity filled the

lobby, most of it dark-skinned and cheaply dressed, queued up at the

glassed-in booths, waiting for the favors of stone-faced clerks. The

clerks avoided eye contact and worshipped paper. The lines didn’t seem

to be moving.

Babies wailed and suckled; women sagged; men swallowed curses and

stared at the floor. Strangers bumped against one another and sought

refuge in the placebo of banter. Some of the childrenthose who still

looked like children twisted and bounced and struggled against weary

adult arms, breaking away for precious seconds of freedom before being

snagged and reeled back in.

Others-pale, thin, sunken, bald, painted in unnatural colorsstood there

silently, heartbreakingly compliant. Sharp words in foreign tongues

crackled above the drone of the paging operators. An occasional smile

or bit of cheer brightened the inertial gloom, only to go out like a

spark from a wet flint.

As I got closer I smelled it.

Rubbing alcohol, antibiotic bitters, the sticky-ripe liqueur of elixir

and affliction.

Eau Hospit”‘l. Some things never changed. But I had; my hands were


I eased my way through the crowd. Just as I got to the elevators, a

heavyset man in a navy-blue rent-a-cop uniform stepped out of nowhere

and blocked my way. Blond-gray crewcut and a shave so close his skin

looked wet-sanded. Black-frame glasses over a triangular face.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“I’m Dr. Delaware. I have an appointment with Dr. Eves.”

“I need to see some ID, sir.”

Surprised, I fished a five-year-old clip-on badge out of my pocket.

He took it and studied it as if it were a clue to something. Looked up

at me, then back at the ten-year-old black-and-white photo. There was

a walkie-talkie in his hand. Holstered pistol on his belt.

I said, “Looks like things have tightened up a bit since I was last


“This is expired,” he said. “You still on staff, sir?”


He frowned and pocketed the badge.

I said, “Is there some kind of problem?”

“New badges required, sir. If you go right past the chapel, over to

Security, they can shoot your picture and fix you up.” He touched the

badge on his lapel. Color photograph, ten-digit ID number.

“How long will that take?” I said.

“Depends, sir.” He looked past me, as if suddenly bored.

“On what?”

“How many are ahead of you. Whether your paperworks current.”

I said, “Listen, my appointment with Dr. Eves is in just a couple of

minutes. I’ll take care of the badge on my way out.”

“Fraid not, sir,” he said, still focused somewhere else. He folded his

arms across his chest. “Regulations.”

“Is this something recent?”

“Letters were sent to the medical staff last summer.”

“Must have missed that one.” Must have dropped it in the trash,

unopened, like most of my hospital mail.

He didn’t answer.

“I’m really pressed for time,” I said. “How about if I get a visitors

badge to tide me over?”

“Visitors badges are for visitors, sir.”

I’m visiting Dr. Eves.

He swung his eyes back to me. Another frown-darker, contemplative. He

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