Authors: Susan Dunlap
“No one’s been touched. This is a missing person.”
“Hookers, pimps, the Company?”
“Not if you work fast.”
“Not any more so than the average.”
The Weasel rolled back from the window, no longer concerned with his view. He had bigger things to worry about. The guy had started making impatient little tapping noises on the phone. He knew McGuire wasn’t going to let five thou go. The tug-of-war wasn’t about if he’d do the job, just about how much he’d have to lay on the line.
“You have accidents on those investigations of yours, McGuire?”
“Yeah, I get hurt.”
“I don’t mean you.”
So that was it. It fit with the no-reference and no-name shit. This was just what he hated about these damn amateurs. They needed the mud shoveled out of their way, but they wanted their own hands clean. When they slapped those scrubbed and manicured palms together and trotted up the aisle to take the sacrament, they didn’t want to be tripping over corpses. “Yeah, but it’ll run you more’n five.”
“I’m looking for Grady Hummacher, a geologist just back from the Panama/Colombia line. He may have two deaf kids from Panama with him. If you can’t get him back here, bring them to me.”
“Yeah, alive. What do you think—I’m in the international memorial business?”
No, I do not. I think you’re Adcock Explorations. That would make you Reston Adcock. And if you assumed I’m too lame to have Caller I.D. and a reverse directory
why’d you bother hiring me
“Weasel, these kids may be sick, with some kind of foreign virus.”
“That’s what Hummacher told me.”
“Whew!” Disease, he knew what that meant. In 1994 a hundred people got laid low from something in the Vegas water. City went crazy. Tourists thought
, pictured their last breath disappearing up the air-conditioning vents, and shunned the hotels like they were coroners’ slabs. City lost millions. Mob lost millions. And that was over a bug that caused nothing worse than the stomach flu. With this—“Whew! And you’re asking me to get next to these kids, these walking packages of foreign germs? For five thou? I don’t like taking risks normally, and this, this is crazy.”
“Ten thou. And you don’t need to get downwind of them. Just get me their location.”
“Ten. This job’s big. I’ll remember it.”
McGuire hesitated. Disease freaked him. All those too-small-to-see things eating your insides out. He really didn’t want this case. But he knew Adcock’s reputation. It’d be easier dealing with the two little germ-bags than looking over his shoulder forever for Adcock. “Okay, but I need the ten now.”
“Half’ll be under your door when you get back.”
“What’re you, crazy? I don’t work like—”
“It’ll be there in half an hour. But you have to move now. You’ve got a date at a clinic run by Dr. Louisa Larson.”
“There’s a lead there to Hummacher?”
“What do you think?”
McGuire let out a wheezy puff of air and his lips curled upward. “You’re hiring me for scorched earth. So this Hummacher character, you care if he’s scorched?”
“I need Hummacher. Or I need the boys.”
“Do you care what happens to anyone else?” McGuire waited, forcing the issue. At least make Adcock admit he’d be stepping over bodies on his way up the aisle.
“I need Hummacher. Or I need the boys.”
ARSON STARED AT
the spotless examination room. Her arms ached, her blond hair was plastered flat against her scalp with sweat. The room reeked of Clorox, enough to kill every virus in Nevada. She wouldn’t be able to put a patient in this room for a week, even with the windows wide open.
She hadn’t needed to clean that ferociously. One sensible scrub would have done it. As it was, she might as well have dunked Juan and Carlos into the vat.
Juan and Carlos. An icy shiver shot through her body at the thought of them. Why had she ever agreed to care for them? Because she was the one person who could make things happen for them. She could
She should have realized how much time they would require. She had thought they’d be ripe for every virus in town, but until now they exhibited signs of no more than colds. But for the time they took, they might as well have had meningitis.
Oh, shit. Meningitis. Type-A meningococcal meningitis erupted in fevers, headache, nausea, vomiting. But not hemorrhaging from the eyes. Not petechiae so dense that the bleeding through the skin turned it red. Not like Juan and Carlos. They had to have picked up something else. Somewhere else. Not here in her clinic. Surely.
Was she fooling herself? What was she going to do, tell the world they’d contracted an unnamed hemorrhagic fever while they were in her care? They had only been in their apartment, here with her, or off with Grady on the picnic to the Breadfruit Park. Oh God, they couldn’t have gotten it from the research project. She wasn’t a researcher by nature; she was a healer. But when you accept a college grant, you have to pay it off. So she’d worked on the project. It had only been for a year. Done nothing to advance her career. Less than nothing. All she had to show for it was the pass to the Breadfruit Park. That couldn’t have had anything to do with the boys. Their condition had to be an anomaly. But two cases? It could torpedo her career.
She stepped into the hallway and walked slowly past the pediatrics room with the bunny decals on the wall, the adult rooms she had painted herself in cheery yellow or calming green. She stopped, gazing at the painting of the mountains that looked like you could walk into it and disappear. Too good for an examination room, her friends had said. “You don’t need distraction in your living room,” she’d shot back. “The exam room is where people need escape from the terror.”
“First, do no harm.” The primary tenet of the Hippocratic Oath. She hadn’t meant harm. One rash decision in a week of crises, how could anyone—
But they would blame her. The guys with half-empty waiting rooms, the ones who called her a smarmy snake when they figured she could barely hear them, they’d elbow each other out of the way to cast the first stone. She couldn’t let them, couldn’t let anyone know.
She jerked her attention away from the painting, took a breath, and was almost in her waiting room when she heard the first knock.
desperate to see me?” Kiernan demanded as Deputy Potter pulled onto the highway.
Potter didn’t answer.
“Where are you taking me?”
No response. Potter sat behind the steering wheel, hands at ten and two, eyes straight ahead. She couldn’t tell whether his stiff posture was from fear, or just habit. She guessed him to be about twenty-one. The car was relatively new, but already the backseat smelled of stale sweat and the vinyl beneath the grating was streaked from being kicked.
“Look, when I agreed to this meeting, I assumed it would be here in Las Vegas, close enough for me to get back to the airport in time for my flight. If not, my agreement’s off. Take me back to the airport. Now!”
Potter’s hands didn’t move; the car moved straight ahead. Finally he muttered, “Can’t talk about it.”
“Don’t talk,” Kiernan pleaded. “Let me out. This is kidnapping!”
“Did Jeff Tremaine call the sheriff? What about the health department, are they in Gattozzi already?”
No comment from the front.
“Just tell me where we’re going. It’s not like you’re letting the cat out of the bag; I’ll find out when we get there anyway.” She was aiming to make her tone conversational, but even she could tell she was failing. If he hadn’t been protected by the grating between the seats, she would have thrust her hands around his neck and squeezed. It had been a long, frustrating day, and choking Deputy Potter would have made her feel better.
Potter could be worked. And Sheriff Fox knew he could be worked, otherwise why give him this order of total silence?
As the patrol car passed beyond the flashy casinos of the Strip, she crossed out the question of destination. Potter was indeed taking her back to Gattozzi or at least to the county seat, which, as she recalled, was only about twenty miles closer.
Potter can be worked.
A charming chatterer might lead him to a number of openings during the three-hour drive, but Kiernan knew better than to put herself in that category. One thing she’d learned in med school was that she had no bedside manner. And no interest in developing one. If she couldn’t deal with patients with legitimate concerns, no way was she going to coddle Deputy Potter all the way to Gattozzi.
“Those birds under the power line, they’re dead, right?”
Potter grunted. Taking the sheriff’s injunction seriously.
“Poison and such.”
“Poison from the covering, right? But what’s the ‘such’?”
Potter pointed out the window at a nonlinear scattering of corpses and feathers. “Buckshot.”
“Little fun while they can’t fly, huh?”
Sarcasm flowed from her voice. Potter’s shoulders tensed. The man wanted to retort, but he kept his mouth shut.
“What happens when some local sharpshooter aims an inch too low and turns the lights off in half the county?”
A sound escaped before Potter slammed his teeth together. His neck and shoulders quivered, and Kiernan wondered how good a story he was keeping to himself.
She sighed. He had the radio so low, she could hear only static and the occasional mumble of sheriff talk, and see his jaw moving as he mouthed silent asides. Not a man comfortable in the great void of silence. Fine. The halls of no words, she knew well. If silence had been a craft, the O’Shaughnessys would have been purveyors to the Queen. The April after her sister’s death she started counting back. Neither of her parents had spoken for eleven days. Potter, she thought, you are way out of your league. She leaned back, propped her feet against the front seat, and stared out at the desert shrubs. The light was beginning to fade and as she watched, the sand seemed to darken from tan to khaki.
Jeff Tremaine had lied to her. That was a no-brainer. But about what? Was there really a safe house up in the mountains to guard women like the one who had died? Surely that must be true; it was too elaborate a fantasy to create on the spur of the moment.
But it didn’t have to be a sudden inspiration. Jeff Tremaine had had a whole day or more to concoct his story.
If you’re lying, though, the simplest story is the best. Elaborate details are more likely to entrap the teller than entrance the hearer, she knew that from painful experience. Gaining entry to a suspicious San Francisco apartment with the story that she was a city earthquake inspector had garnered her no evidence, and she’d ended up having to check out every weight-bearing beam in the place. By the time she’d finished, the real stash, in the apartment below, was gone.
So what about Jeff Tremaine? What did she really know about him? The man had seemed so ordinary, so parochial. The biggest question she had had about him was why he chose San Francisco for medical school. But bedside manner or no, you couldn’t say, “Why didn’t you go somewhere duller where you would have fit in?”
But the change in him had not come after med school at all. There were plenty of dull, parochial cities with medical schools, but dull, parochial-seeming Jeff Tremaine had opted for San Francisco. And once there, he hadn’t taken the safe road and limited himself to studies and spouse, he had come to the parties where he didn’t fit in, had coffee with the students who found him parochial. He’d done it almost on principle.
Still, he was the last person she’d have expected to find in Africa five years later. By that time he should have been right up the interstate here, happily treating measles, chicken pox, and offering the occasional flu shot.
She shut her eyes and tried to recall him at those parties or in the rotations they had shared: ob-gyn, surgery, pathology. Try as she might, she could get no picture but the straight arrow, the guy with the naval scholarship who was pleased to be looking at four years’ service in the navy.
Four years? Had he just been out of the service a year when he arrived in Africa? Why did she think not? It took dredging up six conversations in Africa before she recalled him saying it had been awkward to leave his practice after only three years.
So Jeff Tremaine had been in the navy only two years instead of the four he owed them? Why?
She stared out at the black power lines running in tandem against the darkening sky. The distant hills were charcoal shadows and the whole landscape had taken on the unreality of dusk, the time mystics called the doorway.
In the front seat Potter drove, hands still atop the wheel, shoulders tight.
Jeff? Did the navy discharge him for drugs, drink, incompetence? Maybe the dead woman in Gattozzi was a local who came to Jeff Tremaine ill, and he made the wrong diagnosis and prescribed the wrong treatment and when she died, he panicked and called for a second opinion. No. It would take more than wrong treatment to cause the woman to bleed out. And there had been no smell of alcohol on Jeff’s breath, no dilated pupils or twitching hands.
But he certainly balked at performing the autopsy. And that, Kiernan realized was least like him. Because … because why? In Africa Jeff had been nowhere near the senior doctor, not even the senior American. But after her needle stab it was he who called everyone within five hundred miles of Takema to get her the ribavirin.
jumped in the truck and drove overnight and back to get it to her.
made the decision to use the only available dosage for her.
He had loved Hope Mkema. He hadn’t even liked Kiernan. But it was the principle that had motivated him. Maybe he would have called more hospitals, driven twice as far for Hope, but by the time she was symptomatic, he knew there was no ribavirin left anywhere.