Read F Paul Wilson - Novel 03 Online

Authors: Virgin (as Mary Elizabeth Murphy) (v2.1)

F Paul Wilson - Novel 03 (28 page)

BOOK: F Paul Wilson - Novel 03
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17

 

Manhattan

 

           
 
"Something bothering you, Jose?"

           
 
Dan and Dr. Joe ambled crosstown after
splitting a sausage-and-pepper pizza and a pitcher of beer at Nino's on St.
Mark's and Avenue A. Jose had been unusually quiet tonight.

           
 
"Bothering me? I don't know. Nothing bad
or anything like that, just. . . I don't know."

           
 
"That's the first time you've put that
many words together in a row all night, and six of them were 'I don't know.'
What gives?"

           
 
Jose said, "I don't know," then
laughed. "I . . . aw, hell, I guess I can tell you: I think two of my AIDS
patients have been cured."

           
 
Dan felt an anticipatory tightening in his
chest and he wasn't sure why.

           
 
"You're sure?"

           
 
"It's not just my diagnosis. They were
both anemic, both had Kaposi's when I'd seen them in July. They came in last
week and their skin had cleared and their hematocrits were normal. I had them
admitted to Beekman for a full work up. The results came back today."

           
 
"And?"

           
 
“They're clear."

           
 
"Cured?"

           
 
Dan saw Jose's head nod in the dark.
"Yep. They're now HIV neg. Their peripheral smears are normal, their CD
four cell counts are normal, their skin lesions are gone. Not a single goddam
trace that they were ever exposed to HIV. Hell, they both used to be positive
for hepatitis B surface antigen and now even
that's
gone."

           
 
Jose sounded as if he was going to cry.

           
 
"But how—?"

           
 
"Nothing I did. Just gave them the
usual—AZT, didanosine, TP-five—and let me tell you, man, they weren't all that
reliable about taking their meds. Fucking miracle, that's what it is. Medical
fucking miracle."

           
 
Dan's mouth went dry. Talk of miracles did
that to him lately. So did talk of seeing the Virgin Mary in his neighborhood.

           
 
"Miracle. You mean like . . .
Preacher?"

           
 
"I can't say much about Preacher. I've
got no medical records on him from when he was blind, so I can't say anything
about the condition of his retinas when he couldn't see. All I can say is that
his vision has improved steadily until it's almost twenty-twenty now. But . . .
these two AIDS patients, they were documented cases."

           
 
Dan sensed a certain hesitancy in Jose.

           
 
"I wouldn't happen to know these two
patients, would I?"

           
 
Jose hesitated, then sighed. "Normally I
wouldn't tell you, but they're going to be in all the medical journals soon,
and from then on they'll be news-show and talk-show commodities, so I guess
it's okay to tell you they're both regulars at your Loaves and Fishes. You'll
hear their names soon enough."

           
 
Dan stumbled a step.

           
 
"Oh my God."

           
 
"Well, you knew some of them had to be
HIV positive."

           
 
Dan tried to remember who hadn't been around
lately.

           
 
"Dandy and Rider?" he said.

           
 
"You guessed it."

           
 
"They had it but they're
cured?"

           
 
"Yep. Both with a history of IV drug use,
formerly HIV positive, now HIV neg. You figure it out."

           
 
Dan was trying to do just that.

           
 
He knew Carrie wouldn't have to think twice
about an explanation when she heard the news: The Virgin did it.

           
 
And how was he supposed to counter that?
Damned if he wasn't beginning to think she might be right. First Preacher gets
his sight back, then people all over the area start sighting someone they think
is the Virgin Mary, and now two of their regular guests at St. Joe's are cured
of AIDS.

           
 
The accumulated weight of evidence was getting
too heavy to brush off as mere coincidence.

           
 
He glanced at Jose and noticed he still looked
glum.

           
 
"So how come you're not happy?" Dan
said.

           
 
"Because when I gave Rider and Dandy the
news they gave
me
all the
credit."

           
 
"So?"

           
 
"So I didn't do anything. And if they go
around blabbing that Dr. Martinez can cure AIDS, it's going to raise a lot of
false hopes. And worse, my little clinic is going to be inundated with people
looking for a miracle."

           
 
A miracle . . . that word again.

           
 
Dan clapped him on the shoulder, trying to
lighten him up.

           
 
"Who knows. Maybe you've got the healing
touch."

           
 
"Not funny, Dan. I don't have the
resources to properly treat the people I'm seeing now. If the clinic starts
attracting crowds I don't know what I'll do." Suddenly he grinned.
"Maybe I'll direct them all to St. Joe's Loaves and Fishes. If they're
looking for a miracle, that's the place to find it."

           
 
A knot of dread constricted in Dan's chest,
stopping him in his tracks.

           
 
"Don't even kid about that!"

           
 
"Hey, think about it," Jose said,
laughing. "It all fits. Preacher regained his sight there, and both Dandy
and Rider are regulars. Maybe the cure-all can be found at Loaves and Fishes.
Maybe Sister Carrie's stirring some special magical ingredient into that soup
of hers."

           
 
Dan forced a smile. "Maybe. I'll have to
ask her."

           
 
Carrie held up two Ziploc bags. "Here
they are. The magic ingredients."

           
 
When he'd mentioned Jose's remarks to her this
morning, she'd smiled and crooked a finger at him, leading him down to the
subcellar. It was the first time he'd been down here since he'd carried in the
Virgin. After Carrie lit the candles, Dan saw that the Virgin looked different.
Her hair was neater, tucked away under her wimple, and those long, grotesque
fingernails had been clipped off. The air was suffused with the sweet scent of
the fresh flowers that surrounded the bier.

           
 
Carrie then reached under her bier and
produced these two clear plastic bags.

           
 
Dan took them from her and examined them. One
contained an ounce or so of a fine, off-white powder; the other was full of a
feather-light gray substance that looked for all the world like finely chopped
. . . hair.

           
 
He glance back at Carrie and found her
smiling, staring at him, her eyes luminous in the candle glow.

           
 
"What are these?" he said, hefting
the bags.

           
 
"Hers."

           
 
"I don't get it."

           
 
Carrie reached out and gently touched the bag
of fine, gray strands. "This one's her hair." She then touched the
bag with the powder. "And this is what's left of her fingernails."

           
 
"Fingernails?"

           
 
"I trimmed her nails and filed the
cuttings down to powder."

           
 
"Why on earth . . . ?"

           
 
Carrie explained about the strand of hair in
Preacher's soup, and how he'd begun to see again almost immediately after.

           
 
"But that was coincidence," Dan
said. "It had to be."

           
 
"Are you sure?" she said, trapping
him with those eyes.

           
 
"No," he said. "I'm not sure. I
no longer know what I'm sure of or
not
sure
of anymore. I haven't been sure of much for a long time, and now I'm not even
sure about the things I've been sure I couldn't be sure of."

           
 
Carrie started to laugh.

           
 
"Sounds like a country-western song,
doesn't it," Dan said, then he too started to laugh.

           
 
"Oh, Lord," Carrie said after a
moment. "When was the last time we laughed together?"

           
 
"Before
Israel
," Dan said.

           
 
Slowly, she sobered. 'That seems like so long
ago."

           
 
"Doesn't it."

           
 
Silence hung between them.

           
 
"Anyway," Carrie finally said,
"I've been dosing the soup with tiny bits of her hair and her ground-up
fingernails every day since she arrived."

           
 
Dan couldn't help making a face.
"Carrie!"

           
 
"Don't look at me like that, Dan. If I
put in a couple of snippets of hair I mix it with the rosemary. If I use some
fingernail, I rub it together with some pepper. Tiny amounts, unnoticeable,
completely indistinguishable from the regular spices."

           
 
"But they're
not
spices."

           
 
"They are indeed! You can't deny that
things have changed upstairs since the Virgin arrived."

           
 
Dan thought about that and realized he
couldn't deny that things had changed. In fact, strange things had been
happening at the Loaves and Fishes during the past month or so. Nothing so
dramatic as the return of Preacher's sight, but the place had
changed.
Nothing that would be apparent
to an outsider, but Dan knew things were different.

           
 
First off, the mood had changed. The undercurrent
of suspicion and paranoia that had prevailed whenever the guests gathered for a
meal was gone. They no longer sat hunched over their meals, one arm hooked
around the plate while the free hand shoveled food into the mouth. They ate
more slowly now, and they talked. Instead of arguments over who was hogging the
salt or who'd got a bigger serving, Dan had actually heard civil conversation
along the tables.

           
 
Come to think of it, there hadn't been a fight
in two weeks—a record. The previously demented, paranoid, and generally
psychotic guests seemed calmer, more lucid, almost rational. Fewer of them were
coming in drunk or high. Rider had stopped talking about finding his old Harley
and had even mentioned checking out a Help Wanted sign he'd seen outside a
cycle repair shop.

           
 
But the biggest change had been in Carrie.

           
 
She'd withdrawn from him. It had always seemed
to Dan that Carrie had room in her life for God, her order, St. Joe's Loaves
and Fishes, and one other. Dan had been that one other for a while. Now he'd
lost her. The Virgin had supplanted him in that remaining spot.

BOOK: F Paul Wilson - Novel 03
9.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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