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Authors: Belinda Frisch

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Cure

BOOK: Cure
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CURE

 

 

Belinda Frisch

 

 

 

 

 

Something Darker Press

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Belinda Frisch

Edited by A.J. Brown

 

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only.  This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people.  If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient.  If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy.  Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

Disclaimer:

This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to persons living or dead (unless explicitly noted) is merely coincidental.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special thanks to A.J. Brown, not only for his editorial guidance, but for his patience and encouragement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Brent, who has always believed in me.

 

 

 

 

1.

 

The Oncology Unit of the Nixon Healing and Research Center was winding down from a busy day of too many admissions. The new ad campaign offering low or no-cost healthcare flooded the Center with uninsured or vagrant patients. Test subjects
that wouldn’t necessarily be missed.

Dr. Howard Nixon made his final rounds. He adjusted his white lab coat to hang squarely on his lean frame and then sat on a wheeled stool at a small computer station. An unresponsive, middle-aged male occupied the bed behind him. A respirator hissed and shushed, keeping the man alive. Nixon scratched at a tuft of graying hair sticking out from beneath his surgical cap and called up the patient’s records. He scanned the various reports with bottomless, dark eyes that conveyed intelligence, experience, and power. 

Zach Keller, a new security recruit, watched from the doorway. He clasped his calloused hands behind his back and stood with his feet shoulder-width apart. Nixon had given him a lab coat to wear but his stance, his build, and his close-cropped blonde hair implied ex-military. He was an answer to a mounting problem. The center was in the crosshairs of a rogue group of locals and the threatened violence had both escalated and gone public.

Nixon pointed to the blue plastic binder in a bin on the wall. “Hand me that chart, please.” He typed several orders into the computer and remained emotionless as he entered the last one: palliative care
.

Zach handed Nixon the file and couldn’t help reading over his shoulder.
Palliative.
He knew the word from his mother’s final hospitalization, when the doctors eased her into comfortable death with calculated doses of morphine.
The same end that loomed for his young wife, Allison, dying of cancer in a room down the hall.

At thirty-two-years-old, Allison’s diagnosis couldn’t have been more unexpected. The cancer started in her pancreas and devoured the bulk of her liver before she was ever diagnosed. Chemo, radiation, nothing worked to treat it. Nixon offered Zach, an expert marksman, a security position in exchange for experimental medical treatment that was Allison’s last hope. Zach reluctantly accepted, but so far, Allison was no better off.

The sound of hard rubber clogs on tile stopped Zach’s wandering mind. A young intern wearing dark liquid-spattered scrubs rushed into the room.

“Excuse me, sir.” The intern cleared his throat to get Nixon’s attention. He crossed his arms presumably to hide the circles of nervous sweat extending halfway from his armpits to his waist.

Nixon looked up from the chart, the faint lines of concentration intensifying across his face. “What’s the matter?”

 “A delivery, sir. The patient’s water just broke.”

 

* * * * *

 

Zach stood next to Nixon, waiting for the main lobby elevator to arrive. Nervous anticipation gnawed his gut. He was hardened to war, death, and disfigurement, but the invasive treatment of live beings, surgery in particular, touched a nerve.  

The metal door slid open and Nixon waved him in.

“Jim is getting you your own key,” he said. Jim Lockard was the center’s handyman and whether it was his tenure or his discreetness, he was held in unexplainably high honor. Nixon twisted the stubby key in the control panel and hit the “B” button for basement. “This is the only way down.”

The elevator descended and Zach couldn’t help thinking the worst. He felt like he was walking into a trap and, not for the first time, things didn’t add up.
Labor and Delivery was on the second floor and yet, they were headed to the basement because someone’s water broke.
He wiped his sweaty palms on his navy blue pants and hummed to clear his racing mind.

The car jerked to a halt and before they were even out, another intern approached.

“Dr. Nixon, the patient is fully dilated.”

Nixon snatched the clipboard from the intern’s hand and shook his head. “This wasn’t supposed to happen. She’s not due for another three weeks. Why didn’t anyone call me sooner? Cesarean. Delivery. Only. How many times do I have to say that?”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

Nixon rushed to surgical storage and handed Zach a gown and cap.

“It ties in the back,” Nixon said. “I hope you have a strong stomach.”

“Two years in a war zone prepares you for a lot.”

The intern scoffed. “Take that ‘lot’ and multiply it by ten. Then you’ll be about halfway to as sick as this gets.”

Nixon flashed a stern look and the intern cowered.

The basement was a maze of windowless rooms. There were no murals, pictures, or flowers--no comfort items like on the upper levels--and the sickening smell of disinfectant saturated the air. Zach followed Nixon and the intern past a dozen desolate labs. The stainless steel tables, microscopes, and Petri dishes were all unattended.

Where was everyone
? The sinking feeling grew worse, distracting him from his usual thoughts of Allison.

Nixon waved a small, grey key fob at the device to the left of a solid metal door. Behind it, the entire intern staff waited.

The patient, a young brunette in her late teens or early twenties, was partially restrained to a delivery bed. Her wrists were fastened to the side rails with thick, leather straps and she kicked at the interns. Her blue and white hospital gown rode up and exposed her watermelon stomach. Her dark hair matted to her sweaty face. She screamed like someone who was in unbearable pain and Zach wanted desperately to help her.
This is all wrong
. The reality of what he signed on for started to sink in. He looked over his shoulder to see the others’ reactions and found nothing but indifference and methodically calculated movements orchestrated by Nixon.

The girl screamed at him and thrashed against the bindings. “You did this to me!”

“Get her legs. Tie them down.” Nixon held the padded stirrups. A pair of interns wrestled her legs into them and fastened her in at the ankles. “Hand me that vial.” He drew up a syringe of clear liquid.

The girl’s panic increased, her eyes opening wider. “No, no please, no.”

Zach turned away, unable to watch as Nixon injected the sedative into the girl’s bicep.

“Please, no.” Her lids fluttered and her eyes rolled back, showing only the whites. Pain drained from her young face. She twitched and went still.

Don’t say anything. You’re here for Allison.
It took every ounce of Zach’s self-restraint to avoid lashing out.

Nixon took his position at the foot of the bed, an intern lingering over his shoulder. The girl was limp and sadly compliant.

“The amniotic fluid is black just like the last one,” said the intern.

An inky flow spilled from between the girl’s legs and onto the floor. A sour, rotting smell emanated from her.

Zach fought the urge to cover his mouth and nose. A metallic twang settled on his tongue, making it hard for him to swallow.

Nixon wiped the spill. “It doesn’t mean anything, not yet. Hand me the forceps.” He pulled on a pair of protective gloves and used a set of enormous tongs to coax the infant from inside the girl. Its head crowned, the peeking hair dark and thick. Nixon rotated its body until its shoulders were clear. The rest slid out on its own. “Check her.” He nodded toward the mother.

The intern checked the girl’s vitals and pupillary response. “Pupils equal, round and reactive to light. She’s sedated, but stable.”

Zach waited to hear the newborn’s cry and when it didn’t come, curiosity forced him to see why. The sight triggered his gag reflex. “Oh my God.”

Nixon shushed him and barked orders at the intern. “Hand me a bulb syringe, now!” He laid the disfigured infant in the clear plastic bassinette and checked for a pulse. It was still and silent, half-digested as if by acid and its skin slipped from its tiny bones.

“It’s dead,” said the intern. “Just like the last one.”

Nixon parted the infant’s lips and inserted the bulb syringe, clearing thick mucus from its throat. Tiny, piranha-like milk teeth lined its small mouth. “I’m not ready to make that call yet.” He started CPR. “1-2-3.” He counted out thirty compressions while the intern manned the bag covering the infant’s nose and mouth. “Breathe. Come on, come on.”

The delirious young mother cried. “Will you let me go now,
please
?” The drugs caused her to slur her words. “Please, I did what you wanted me to do. You can let me go now. I won’t say anything. I swear. Please, just let me go.”

Zach put his fingers in his ears and stepped away from the scene, regret hitting him head-on.

Nixon continued compressions.

“Four minutes,” said the intern. “We need to call it.”

Nixon kicked the wheeled surgical tray, sending the remaining supplies flying. “Shit! Shit. Shit. Shit.”

“Please,” the girl begged.

Nixon moved to her bedside, the thick, purple vein in his forehead throbbing. “I’m sorry. I just can’t do that.” He turned to the intern. “Take her to recovery and put her on lockdown. She’s out of commission with the other one. We’ll try again in a month or two. Get her out of here.” He waved his hand at the bassinette. “And destroy that
thing.”

 

 

 

 

 

2
.

 

Miranda Penton opened her bathroom door and steam clouded the tiny bedroom of her small, efficiency apartment. There was nothing homey about her place, just a neatly made bed on a stock metal frame and a stack of packed boxes including one that now doubled as a nightstand. It was like living in the barracks again. She sighed longingly, holding her hand over her stomach. Her muscle tone had mostly come back, but the small bulge beneath her belly button reminded her every day of the stillborn infant she and Scott, her now ex-husband, lost.

The pregnancy ended her Army career though she was sure she could’ve made General--at least, that’s what she told herself on stronger days. They weren’t all so easy.

She picked up the sonogram picture off the box of keepsakes she didn’t admit to Scott she had taken. A lump formed in her throat and she smoothed her finger over the image of her lost daughter.

In the nine months of her pregnancy, the growing maternal feelings defined her. Getting back to who she had been before the baby was harder than she expected.

She tucked the picture safely away and rummaged through her camouflage duffel bag for comfortable driving clothes. A flurry of knocks came at her door before she was even dressed.

“Miranda, are you there?”

It was Scott.

She put on a pink t-shirt and her favorite shredded jeans she never imagined fitting back into.

“Miranda, come on. Open up.”

Her shoulder-length, auburn hair soaked the back of her shirt and she wrapped it up in a towel before answering.

“What do you want, Scott?” She opened the door, but didn’t slide the chain and kept her eyes downturned to prevent the inevitable emotional tug.

Scott stood there, shaking. “Miranda, we need to talk. It’s important.” He reached to undo the lock, but his hand was too thick to fit. “Please let me in.” His bloodshot, hazel eyes were swollen from crying. He was still wearing his wedding ring and there was a familiar emptiness in his expression.

She sniffled and called back the tears that came so easily for him. “I can’t keep doing this. Whatever you have to say, I don’t want to hear it.” She started to shut the door, afraid to let him see her break down.
She knew what that led to before.

He used the toe of his black boot to keep it from closing. There was no aggression, no hint of anger, only desperation and longing. “One conversation, Miranda. Hear me out and then I’ll give you whatever space you need. Please?”

BOOK: Cure
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