Thursday, 01 July 2010
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Contact: ©SkyeNet, Robert J. Gunn, Robert M. Gunn, 2009-2010 (All Material Copyrighted!)
©Episode 3 - "Virulent"
“Nurse Goodman, I’ve been through all of this with you before!” exclaimed Dr. Hanson. He was tired of the same debate and he was determined to put and end to it.
“But Doctor, I don’t think using this unorthodox procedure on patients is a sound idea, for you or for them. If you don’t stop, or submit your theories to your peers, I’m going to have to go over your head,” Nurse Goodman explained in stern but understanding terms.
She knew that Doctor Hanson was trying to help these very sick patients. But his methods were radical, and worse, experimental. She was concerned the treatment might be more harmful than the disease. Dr. Goodman saw the situation in starkly different terms – he was trying to save their lives. He cared less for the potentially dangerous effects of his new treatment, and more for fast results. Dr. Hanson had lost several patients to a particularly potent strain of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as a “flesh-eating” bacteria. Just short of a dozen more people had come down with it from transmissions in the hospital itself.
“Nurse Goodman – Jane – I am getting results from three patients. The radioactive isotope treatments are working,” Dr. Hanson insisted. “When I get these people back to health, I promise I’ll publish the results and I’ll even submit myself to board review. But I can’t stop treating them now when some are showing positive results.”
“Five are showing some improvement, Doctor, but three others have little to no change and three others have gotten worse,” she pressed her point. “How can you continue to justify minor improvements and ignore those than have either not changed, or become sicker?”
Hanson knew he needed her support. She was the only one who knew of his radical new treatment, and if she turned him into the hospital board now, those that were improving might slip backward into being critically ill again.
“Jane, please just give me a little more time. I’ll have new batches of isotopes ready tonight, and I’ll give them to the patients. You’ll see improvement shortly thereafter. I’m certain of it. Your assistance could make the difference over whether these people live throughout the week or not,” Hanson pleaded.
“Yes, it just may make the difference of life or death, Doctor. I’m just not sure it is going to be life instead of death.” Nurse Goodman sighed, sucked in a breath of air as if to brace herself and then spoke again. “Very well, Dr. Hanson. You give them your treatment tonight. If I don’t see improvements in most of the patients by my shift tomorrow, I’m going to have to end this,” she said.
“Thank you, Nurse. Now let me get to work. Since you’ve given me so little time, I can’t afford to waste it trying to reason with you any longer,” Dr. Hanson remarked with protest and walked away.
Dr. Hanson went into his lab where the radioactive isotopes were being prepared. “I can’t work miracles,” he spoke out loud to himself. “I can’t cure people over night with these levels.” Then he stopped what he was doing and feverishly moved to the vials of isotopes. “If I can’t have the time I need to apply the radiation treatment to the bacteria in a targeted manner, then I’ll have to use a shotgun approach. I’ll adjust the isotope levels by five, no make it twenty times,” he said with a wild look in his eyes. “That should give them a month’s worth of treatments in one last dosage. Not what I wanted to do, but it should work anyway.” With his goal set, Hanson concentrated the radioactive isotope levels by a factor of twenty and took eleven new syringes loaded with his new isotope into the intensive care ward. He set about giving all eleven patients a super dose of his treatment.
His work done for now, Hanson went to his lab office just down the hall from the rooms of the patients he had just injected. He sat at his desk writing in a journal. What he was composing was as much of a defense of his radical treatment as it was medical work. He was certain it was going to be effective and he even began to write in terms of his work as a breakthrough. He was so caught up in justifying his work he didn’t hear the disturbance down the hall.
Barclay woke up in the middle of the night with a nightmare. When he awoke, the first thing he remembered was where he was, and why he was there. He preferred the nightmare. James Barclay was a man of thirty-eight years of age. He had come into the hospital for a simple appendectomy, but somehow he had managed to contract a terrible infection from the procedure. No one was certain how he got the flesh eating bacterial infection, but it was clear he had gotten it from someone in the hospital. Now, almost eight days later, he was bedridden with an infection in his colon that was literally eating away his own insides. In recent days the spread of the infection had come to the surface of his body – something the doctors told him was extremely rare – and now he had several red welts on his arms, legs and stomach. They started off like red bumps that were very sore to the touch. Now, they were oozing pus and spreading. One of his arms had swollen up to about the size of his thigh. Where the infection ate away at him, his skin had gone from red to black as the tissue began to die. His arm looked like something out of a horror movie and he felt certain he was going to lose his arm, or worse. A few days ago, a different doctor, Dr. Hanson, had come to see him and proposed a new treatment involving radiation injections that Hanson promised were designed to target the infected areas. Barclay agreed to the new procedure because he was afraid of not trying something radical. He was desperate to get rid of this horrible infection so he got his last dose that night. He did not know it was a super dose of a radioactive isotope, though Dr. Hanson had tried to explain it to him. At this point Barclay, who was not even sure what an isotope was, did not care about the details. He just wanted to get better. What he got was far worse.
When Barclay awoke later that night, he felt a surge of pain shoot through his arm. He carefully removed the clothe and wrappings the hospital had put over his infected arm, and peeled back a layer of gauze to look at the source of the pain. What he saw caused him to gag and then cry out in panic. His arm was completely blackened, and there were open pus covered wounds over many parts of his arm that were now open so deep he could see the bone. He felt a crawling sensation on his arm, like an army of tiny invisible ants, followed by sharp attacks of pain and spasms. He tried to call out again, but he was too frightened to form words. Barclay managed to get to his feet, rip out his intravenous tubing, and weakly limp out to the hall. No one was around. He tried to call out for help, but the words failed him and he lapsed into another attack of blindingly sharp pain followed by spasms in his arms and legs. His face now burned with pain as the infection spread at an alarming rate. Barclay saw the hallway around him start to circle and he knew he was not going to remain conscious for long. With Herculean effort he pulled himself to his feet again, and went into a room nearby where he thought he heard someone typing on a terminal. He had walked into Dr. Hanson’s office where he sat writing, his back to Barclay.
The Doctor did not see the man come in. It was only when he felt someone’s wet hands on his shoulder and the back of his neck that he swung around in his chair.
“You did this to me!” mumbled a man whose appearance was only vaguely human. His face was swollen and discolored and covered in new sores, some of which were dripping with blood mixed with pus. His eyes were distended from the swelling, which made them appear to be sticking out of his face several inches, and his hands were those of a cadaver covered with sores. He looked like a walking victim of the bubonic plague from the middle ages. Hanson was truly shocked for he knew instantly this was one of the patients he was treating with his new radioactive isotope therapy. He tried to wheel himself backward to get away from the infected man, but the wheels of his chair caught on the corner of his desk. As he tried to get up the horrible looking man leaned in on him, his fetid breath washed over Hanson with a vile stench. Barclay had only enough strength to say one thing, and that was a curse on the man who he blamed for making him ill. “I curse you to get this thing you’ve given me, doctor,” Barclay whispered in what was left of his once normal voice. Dr. Hanson held his hands out in front of him, trying to shield his face from the decaying man’s reach. But it was impossible. Barclay’s energy finally failed him and he fell over dead right on top of Hanson as the two knocked over the chair and Hanson fell backward to the floor, Barclay’s horrifying corpse on top of him.
The last thing Hanson remembered before he extricated himself from the grip of the dead man was Barclay’s wet and infected sores dripping pus directly on Hanson’s face. Once free of the grotesque corpse that lay on top of him, Hanson ran from the room and was never seen at the hospital again.
Though Dr. Hanson may have run away with his wits intact, his health was uncertain. Less could be said for most of his patients who had also received the super dose injection. In the middle of that same night, other patients developed worsening conditions which within hours – in two cases less than an hour – turned ill patients into dead ones. None of them went quietly in their sleep. By the early morning hours, when the carnage was discovered by a practical nurse, seven of the eleven patients were dead or dying, and three others were very ill. One was actually better, but no one was certain why.
Buzz was sitting down to his morning breakfast, a small but tasty treat he enjoyed most mornings. Buzz had never been a bagel person until his friend Natassia showed him that blueberry bagels were healthier and nearly as tasty as his beloved donuts. It had been hard for Buzz to give up donuts. He was a creature of habit and his donut addiction had been going on for several years. But he learned to love blueberry bagels and coffee every morning and felt healthier for doing it.
“Do you want your coffee in there?” Questioned Lorna.
“Uh, yeah. Please. I usually eat it in here by the television so I can watch the news,” Buzz explained to his guest.
“But the view out here is much better. You can see the sun rising. Isn’t it beautiful?” Lorna was nothing if not persistent.
“I’m sure it is, Lorna. I’ve seen the sun rise before. I hear it happens every day. But I like to eat my breakfast in here,” Buzz was firm.
Lorna and Buzz had been spending much time together in the months since they met at Cybernetics, the robotics company Lorna had worked for when she helped them recover Akiko the robot. Lorna had not formally moved in to Buzz’s apartment, but she spent enough time there to think of it as home. Officially, she was living with Natassia, who was desperately trying to find a small place Lorna could call her own home. Natassia and Lorna had developed a rapport over the last few weeks, but Lorna was not an easy person to live with. She was still new to people. She still tended to say things that were either indecipherable or agitate people without meaning too. It had taken a week of groveling by Buzz to get Natassia to accept Lorna as a roommate, and that had been on the condition that Lorna would look for a place of her own right away. But as time went by, Lorna spent more and more of her free time with Buzz at his small but cozy little apartment, and less at Natassia’s place. This worked out well for both women, but Buzz wasn’t sure he was ready for a live-in girlfriend.
“Well, okay, but I still think it is more romantic in the other room,” Lorna quietly protested missing the sunrise, but acceded to Buzz’s wishes in the end.
“Romantic? It’s a kitchen and the sun is blinding at this time of morning. Besides, I need to see the morning news and this is my only television. And it is in here,” Buzz responded as he reached for the bag of blueberry bagels without taking his eyes off the television.
“Why do you need to watch the news every morning? It’s depressing and sad. The world is falling apart. I don’t see how watching it is going to help.” Lorna made this same complaint just about every morning. It really had less to do with Buzz wanting to watch the news than it had to do with Buzz not paying as much attention to his new girlfriend as Lorna thought he should.
“The news is about what is going on in the world. We are working in the world, trying to help people with our business at Paranormal Investigations, so it helps if we know what’s going on. Plus, I like to watch the news,” Buzz explained.
As he brought one of the delicious blueberry bagels up to his lips to bite, Buzz saw something small and dark slide off his bagel and jump to his pants. It was oval shaped, and it felt slimy.
“Cockroach!” Buzz shouted.
Buzz was not feint of heart when it came to giant mosquitoes or insane robots, but when it came to cockroaches, Buzz felt there was little else worse in the world. He saw the oval shaped creature leap from his lap as he slapped at it, dropping his coffee in the process. “Oh shit! That thing made me spill…” The rest of his words were indecipherable as Buzz attempted to get a drop on the foul fiend that had attacked him. He jumped up on the couch, then down again, lifted up couch covers and swatted at anything that looked suspicious with a rolled up magazine. He nearly attacked the lamp table near his small couch when he spotted a penny lying on it.
“I’ll find the little bastard. Come out you slimy roach so I can smash you!”
“Buzz, what are you doing?” Lorna’s voice finally broke through to him. She’d been watching him swat at the thing for several minutes and wondering what all the fuss was about. Lorna was strongly attached to Buzz in the short time they’d known each other, but at times she didn’t understand him.
“Buzz! It’s not a roach. It just a r…” But her words went unheard. Buzz was too busy engaging in a titanic struggle of life and death with the foul creature when he finally spotted it again on the floor. He smashed down hard with the magazine, a victorious look glazing his eyes. Then he picked up the magazine, ever so slowly in case he needed a counter-attack, and saw … a smashed raisin.
“What the hell? A raisin? But it was moving…I saw it jump. Where did a raisin come from anyway? Buzz’s words ran together in a jumble of questions.
He looked at the bagel bag he had gotten the blueberry bagel from and saw that it was a bag of cinnamon raisin bagels.
“It was a raisin, dear. Not a cockroach. I guess it fell off your bagel,” Lorna calmly explained as she munched on some cereal. “You shouldn’t get so worked up about things. It’s bad for your blood pressure.”
“Cinnamon raisin? I asked you to get blueberry. I like Blueberry,” Buzz said in exasperation.
“These were on sale. One-half off. I saved you money so I bought another bag of them for you,” Lorna explained her practical reasons for abandoning the blueberry bagels.
“Lorna, if I wanted bagels with shady looking raisins on them, that look a LOT like cockroaches, I’d have asked you to get me those. I said blueberry,” Buzz was relieved it wasn’t a cockroach, but his manhood was too bruised to admit he was relieved.
It was another typical morning a Buzz Ashford’s apartment since Lorna moved in.
Barely more than three miles away from Buzz’s place, Nick and Natassia sat in his apartment. There was little joy in their conversation however. Nick had been showing Natassia the balance sheets for their new business, Paranormal Investigations. The statistics were not good. There had been precious little work for them since they opened the business nearly two months ago. They had a few alleged hauntings to investigate – not something any of them felt was up their alley – and had come away seeing more fraud or superstition than any actual evidence of ghosts.
“So what it comes down to is that unless we get some capital, and some real cases soon, we are going to go under,” Natassia remarked without emotion. The emotion had been there earlier, and they had both been angry, upset and dejected. When those emotions wore off, they were left with the reality that they had to get a boost of cash for the business soon, or go bankrupt. “What do we do?”
“We need a real paying assignment soon. Maybe we are looking in the wrong areas. Maybe we should rent ourselves out to companies to show them how to improve security or something. You remember how lax security was at Cybernetics. Maybe we could…” Nick was reaching for solutions. He left the rest of his sentence unfinished. Natassia finished it for him.
“Become advisors to corporations on how to improve security? Is that why we got into this Nick?” Natassia was blunt. She didn’t like putting Nick on the defensive, but when she was right, she was right. It wasn’t the type of work either of them wanted or expected to do with Paranormal Investigations.
“There is one possibility. I hate to even contemplate it though. I’d rather have a root canal than ask him for help,” Nick stated flatly. He was talking about his father, a distant and cold figure in his life.
Nick’s father was rich. He had several properties and lived a grand house – more of a mansion – in San Diego. The last time Nick had talked to his father, they argued over everything, including money. His father was a tightwad of a man who had done remarkably well in life, that is if you measure the success of a man by the amount of his wealth. Nick did not, but many Americans did. Nick and his father had not ever really gotten along, at least since Nick was a child. Since that time they had drifted even further apart. They were essentially estranged from one another.
“I know you don’t want to do that, Nick,” Natassia was sympathetic. She knew only a few details about Nick’s father, and from what little he had told her of him, she knew they had a tumultuous relationship at best. “But that was several years ago. Maybe he’s changed,” she was being optimistic.
“Make that two root canals without Novocain,” Nick voiced his dislike of the idea.
Natassia frowned. Though she knew Nick had problems with his father, she didn’t really understand the complexity of their enmity. It was beyond her comprehension because Natassia’s father adored her. Natassia’s father and mother were a racially mixed couple, so they had a tough time in parts of the country were things like that were still frowned upon. To make matters worse, her parents themselves were both bi-racial. Her father was part African-American and part Puerto Rican. Her mother was from white Caucasian and Philippine background, so in essence, Natassia had four races in her exotic mix. Perhaps to make up for that, Natassia’s father, Tony, had doted over his daughter since she was a little girl. He had been proud of her, loved her unconditionally and even bragged about her beauty and intellect to anyone who would listen. Sadly, Natassia’s father passed away two years ago of a heart attack. Natassia loved and missed him terribly. Try as she might, she had a hard time understanding how father and son could be so far apart that they could not repair their relationship by having a heart-to-heart talk. In this way, and possibly only in this way, Natassia was naïve.
“Honey, you do what you think is best. You know I support you either way. We can always look for work at some lab again. It was a nice dream to own this investigative agency, but maybe it wasn’t meant to be,” Natassia reflected sincerely. She got up, gave Nick a kiss on his head, and went out to the kitchen to prepare some food.
Nick sat for a moment thinking. His mind drifted back to his last confrontation with his father, and that is exactly what it was; he recalled some of the harsh words used by his father, and his return words which were out of anger, and not much better. But he had not started the dispute with his father. It had arisen over the need for a vehicle after Nick had a minor accident that ruined his car. Nick was all of twenty-one years old at the time, still in school, and had been involved in a crash that took most of the damage out on the engine. He wasn’t really hurt physically, but emotionally. His post-accident battle with his father over the hospital bills, and the purchase of a car after he recovered, left bigger scars. Nick’s father, David, felt young Nick should pay his own bills and buy his own car. Nick had been about to graduate from college, and as a student, he did not have the money to pay for either. After a bitter battle between his parents over who should help him out (the father lost but never forgave his ex-wife or Nick), David reluctantly helped Nick out by buying him a beat up, old junker of a van. It was literally falling apart. When he handed the keys to Nick, David treated his son as if he had just bought him a luxury car instead of a piece of crap old van. The hospital bills he did not help with and it was left to his finically strapped mother to pay them. Even so, his father resented having to pay 900 dollars for the old van, despite his wealth.
“This is the last time I ever help you,” were the words Nick heard as he took the keys and drove away. He had one last conversation with his father after that and it was nasty and bitter. It put an end to their relationship for the past five years. Nick gave up trying to have contact with his father on holidays. In a sense, it was a relief for Nick not to have to deal with the hatred and disappointment his father had shown him. Pretending he was not around anymore made things easer. Now he was going to have to try again. And he hated asking his father for anything.
Nick walked into the kitchen when Natassia called him, and joined her for lunch. He tried to put on a good face for her, but inside he knew this was going to be the hardest thing he ever had to do.
“There are seven dead so far, and the doctors tell me that a couple of others are near death,” said Nurse Goodman. When she came into her shift the next evening, the terrible events had already taken place. But she helped move some of the dead out of the ICU and to the hospital morgue. She had never seen anything like it before. Nurse Goodman was a seasoned nurse. She witnessed victims of shootings, car accidents, and even one terrible case of a child that got caught under his father’s lawn mower. But in all her life, she had never seen such a horrible sight as those dead patients in various states of deterioration. Their flesh was eaten away by something, almost to the bone.
“You say that Dr. Hanson was using some unusual injections to treat these MRSA patients?” asked Bettina Corrales, the CDC agent that had been sent to investigate the mysterious deaths.
“Yes, and I feel partly responsible for not turning him in sooner. He was so certain his isotope therapy was going to cure them. I mean, they were all so ill with MRSA. I felt he knew what he was doing. We had an argument about it just last night. He promised that he would inform the board what he was doing after one more treatment,” Goodman revealed. “I should have done something sooner,” she cried into a small tissue as the weight of what had happened crushed in on her.
Bettina Corrales was an agent of the Centers for Disease Control working the area, and had received this case early in the morning, shortly after the bodies were discovered. She was a pretty, well-dressed woman in her mid-twenties, very young for a CDC field agent. But her career was deserved. She had been involved in several cases where other agents had failed to find the cause of a pathogen that was killing people. She worked hard and solved several of the cases. It turned out to be undetected strains of E. Coli. She was rewarded for solving these cases with a promotion. This was her first big investigation since her promotion. She ran her pen through her long, dark red hair, unusual for a woman of mixed Hispanic heritage, and resumed her questions with Nurse Goodman.
“Mrs. Goodman, anything you can tell me about the doctor’s research could help me understand this case. Are there any records around? Files, computers records?” Bettina probed.
“That’s the odd thing, Agent Corrales, there should be quite a few computer records. But when we checked this morning, they are missing…or deleted. We have some notes and of course we have paper records of the patients and their daily conditions, but all the files on his research seem to be gone,” Nurse Goodman replied. “I have already told you what he said he was doing, but I’m afraid I only understood it to a point. You really need to find Dr. Hanson,” Goodman explained.
“Please take me to his office. I’ll need to go through his things and files,” Corrales instructed. Goodman did as she was asked, and took her to all the files and records Hanson had been keeping. There were comments and official hospital records, but very little about his actual research. Data appeared to be missing from his computer.
Corrales worked into the early evening trying to piece together what happened. The doctor’s mysterious disappearance suggested foul play or a deliberate act. But Bettina was not inclined to think Hanson deliberately harmed the patients after reviewing his past history. He’d been awarded numerous times for innovative techniques, and saved many patients. He seemed to have been motivated by strong desire to help people. She didn’t find anything in his past that would suggest malice. Frustrated by lack of information and a case of MRSA that appeared exaggerated beyond any normal expectation, she went to view the bodies of the deceased patients. It was not something she was looking forward to again. She’d seen several of the patients that morning, and the sight nearly made her physically ill. She didn’t relish her colleagues getting wind of her retching her guts out, that was something only a rookie would do. Corrales went to the morgue alone.
When she was left alone in the hospital morgue, she removed one of the bodies from his refrigerated compartment, and pulled back the sheet. His face was nearly missing. The virulent bacteria acted out of character in consuming the flesh so voraciously. MRSA, was a terrible and frightening new disease that started about two decades ago. It was rare, and thought to be isolated to a few dozen cases. But over the years, states started reporting more and more incidents of penicillin immune Staph infections – some of which were fatal. MRSA generally was a slow moving bacterial infection, that spread over a period of time, usually weeks, even months. For it to consume human flesh to the bone in a matter of hours was unheard of, and horrifying.
It was late into the night before Bettina felt she had enough information to go home. Her hands were shaking slightly as she walked to her car in the hospital parking lot. How was she going to report this? A flesh eating bacteria that ate people alive in a matter of hours, and a mysterious doctor who was using some unconventional treatment that she couldn’t identify because all his records were missing? She knew she needed help. There was only one person she felt comfortable enough to call for help that wasn’t with the CDC. She would call in her friend at the FBI to help her locate the missing doctor.
The next day Nick made the long drive down to San Diego. He went alone, despite Natassia’s protests. He didn’t want her to see how ugly his family’s behavior could get. His mind whirled with scenarios about how he should approach his father. His mouth grew dry at the notion of having to beg for money from a man who told him once already, that he would never help him again. He decided he would ask straight away for help and that he would offer to pay him back as soon as he could. His father could certainly afford it, but that wasn’t the issue. Getting his father’s help at all was the issue.
When Nick arrived at his father’s estate, he was greeted by his new Step-Mother, a woman only a few years older than Nick. He was cordial and nice, but his feelings for this woman were complex, to say the least. He tried to say as little as possible and wait until he saw his father. In a matter of minutes, he was escorted inside and sat in a large and plush living room as he awaited his audience with “dad.” He didn’t have to wait long.
“Well, son, it has been a long time,” David Reese intoned, his voice deep and rich as his decorated home.
“Yes, it has. How are you…father,” Nick asked without committing himself to friendliness or confrontation.
“Father? When did you start calling me that instead of dad?” David asked.
“When you became a father to me instead of a dad, I guess,” Nick replied with a hint of sarcasm.
His father’s smile disappeared immediately, and was replaced by a disapproving frown, a look Nick had seen far too often from him.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it to come out that way. Let me start over, please,” Nick corrected. “Hello dad,” he amended, but the words came unnaturally to his mouth. He tried saying it in his head a few times, “Dad, pa, daddy,” none of them seemed to fit.
While Nick was pondering just what to call his father, his father was wondering why his wayward son was suddenly there to see him.
“So are you in trouble with the law or in need of cash?” David Reese got right to the point, which just made it more difficult for Nick to ask.
“The latter, dad,” he added awkwardly, “but there is more to this story. Please let me explain,” Nick was nearly pleading, something he swore he would not do. Old habits are hard to break.
“Can you tell me over dinner? Alexis just finished cooking and I’d hate to miss her food. You haven’t tasted anything until you’ve tasted Alexis’s cooking. You’ve never had anything like her before,” David Reese said with a clear double meaning. Nick wanted to remind his father that his first wife, Nick’s mother, was also one hell of a cook. But he knew better than to broach that subject.
Alexis was a year or two older than Nick. Blond, typically California beautiful with perfectly white, fake teeth and equally impressive fake breasts. She was friendly enough, but who wouldn’t be friendly living in a small mansion being taken care of by a man going through his mid-life crisis. Nick wondered how long his father’s mid-life crisis was going to go on. It seemed like ten years now.
Over dinner they made polite conversation about all manner of things; everything but the issue Nick came to discuss. They politely disagreed over politics – David Reese was a ‘Bushy’, and a republican. Most rich people are. Nick was not a fan of Bush, but kept his dislike of that ex-president to himself. Finally, at the end of a very long dinner, David got to the point again.
“Nick, I don’t see you for five years, then you show up at my house, apparently about to ask for money again. What exactly do you expect me to do for you?”
Nick inhaled a large breath of air, trying to collect himself. “I’ve got a new business going with some friends and associates. We started out with enough capital to invest in an office and some advertising, but work has been hard to come by. Recently, Natassia and I were looking over the books and we noticed we are a bit short,” Nick was in the middle of explaining his situation when he was interrupted.
“Natassia, huh?” David asked out of context. “That name sounds interesting. Russian? Like that actress, Natassia Wood?”
“Natassia is my girlfriend, sorry I forgot to mention that. I think you mean Natalie Wood. No, she’s not Russian, but she is of mixed racial heritage. I’ll tell her you like her name,” Nick added as an afterthought. He wasn’t aware this little detour would almost wreck the entire conversation.
“You are my son, so I am sure she’s quite a looker. Acorns don’t fall far from the tree,” David laughed as he reached out to grab his younger wife. He hugged the giggling blonde for a few seconds then continued, “I don’t care what her ‘heritage’, as you call it, is, as long as she isn’t a goddamn chink or gook!” David Reese was one of that generation that just couldn’t tolerate Asian people. Nick had forgotten that about his father. Three wars against Asia: Japan, Korea, and then Vietnam had taken a toll on Asian American relationships over the years. It was something people from Nick’s generation were not saddled with, but clearly his father was.
Nick fought hard to control his anger. He needed this man’s help, even if he couldn’t stand him. “She’s part Asian, yes, and smart and beautiful because of it. She probably wouldn’t care too much for your type either. But I didn’t come here to discuss my girlfriend. May I explain?” Nick was getting hot.
David Reese’s expression grew grim instantly. He didn’t really mind the fact his son was dating a chink (as he called them), but when Nick took a ‘tone’ with his father, that was intolerable. David was a self-made man, most of it from real estate. He believed in the creed that when one is down, you lift yourself up by your own bootstraps, and forge ahead. He believed in sayings like “A penny saved is a penny earned,” and the “American Dream” which was apparently about getting filthy rich. David Reese used these strongly held American virtues to shield himself from ever having to help others. While he professed to care for his son in private, what he couldn’t tolerate was what he saw as his son’s weakness. Nick needed money as a child. He needed money in college, he needed money after the car accident. How much was a father supposed to give, anyway? Now Nick was going to ask for it again! To David, it was him a clear sign that his son was not a man he wanted to call his own. He wanted Nick to make it all on his own. That’s how David did it. That he didn’t want to spend his money at all, son or no, except on himself and his new young wife, was beside the point to David. He never considered it from Nick’s perspective, that just wasn’t his way.
“You come to my house, eat food from my table, intend to ask me for my hard-earned money, then insult me?” David was pissed off.
“I didn’t insult you, dad,” Nick backtracked. He didn’t come this far to fail before he even asked for help. “I said my girlfriend’s race is none of your concern, but I didn’t mean any disrespect to you. It’s just that you act so damn superior with other people, especially me for some reason, that I lose my temper,” Nick tried to explain but he could sense it all going wrong.
“So now I’m a racist and an egotist? And you want my money? Is it me or is it him?” David made gestures to his young wife that dinner was over. She grabbed Nick’s half-empty plate, pulled it out from under him and stormed into the kitchen showing her anger through her actions.
As he got up from the table, he looked at Nick and for an instant, he appeared about to say something…fatherly. But he didn’t. Instead he looked at his son, and saw what he considered an utter failure. If there was one thing he couldn’t tolerate, it was someone asking him for money – especially his son.
“Look dad, I didn’t come here to fight with you. Yes, I was going to ask you for a loan – my business is having trouble, but I can see it was mistake. I was hoping to borrow a little to keep us going, and pay it back as soon as I could. I thought you might understand how difficult it is to get a new business going these days,” Nick was explaining more than he wanted. His effort was futile and deep inside, he knew it.
“When I was your age, I had a house. I had cars. I had a wife. I had a child. I made my own money because I applied myself. You never had anything but a free ride when I was with your mother,” David Reese was rehashing all the anger of the past.
“Free ride? I was your son, not a debt you owed. You were supposed to take care of mom and me because you loved us, not because the law said you should. You never were much of a father when it came to what matters…,” Nick added the last part with vitriol, “…the heart, dad. You may be rich and successful, but you never had a good heart,” Nick added with dripping sarcasm. “And I don’t think having a lot of money makes up for that.”
“You know what you are Nick Reese? You are a worthless 26-year excuse of a man who never made anything of himself and never will. I’m ashamed to call you my son,” David Reese said and walked away from the table. “You know the way out. Get out, and don’t come back unless you come to visit me, and not my money. It’s my money, not yours. I earned it the hard way and you aren’t ever going to get a penny of it.”
Nick exploded. “Go fuck yourself, David! He didn’t even think about that last part. It just happened. He certainly didn’t plan it. He knew that his father and he were never going to make amends, and the expletive just slipped out. Somehow, the sentiment seemed appropriate.
Nick got away from his father’s estate as fast as he could. He was shaking with anger. He knew this was exactly what was going to happen. He only wished he knew what to tell Natassia when she found out. He drove toward home without shedding a single tear, but no matter what he did, he couldn’t get that conversation out of his head. He reached for his cell phone, because he desperately wanted to hear Natassia’s voice. But he didn’t know how to tell her about it, or how it even happened. Nick put the phone back in his pocket and kept driving.
“I can’t believe what I seeing,” said FBI agent Shawn Williams. The tall African-American FBI agent was built like a linebacker, had a nearly shaved head, and was considered very handsome by the women who met him. He had a gentle manner about him in spite of his size.
Williams had come to CDC agent Bettina Corrales home in Fair Haven , a town outside of Greendale to meet her. She had requested his help in a case about virulent MRSA that had a missing doctor at the core of it. Bettina showed Shawn Williams the photos of the some of the victims from the hospital. He was stunned.
“And all this …this damage to these people happened overnight?” He asked.
“Yes, apparently the severe deterioration from this new strain of MRSA did this to about eight people in one evening,” Bettina answered.
“That’s awful,” Williams responded, setting the photographs back down on her coffee table. He absently took a drink of the coffee she brought him, but mind was still on those terrible images. “What can the FBI do to help a CDC case, Bettina?” He asked honestly. “I think we are out of my area and jurisdiction.”
“Well, the doctor at the center of all this, one Dr. Hanson, was doing some type of medical experimentation on all of those victims. This has to be connected. The really weird part is now he is missing, but his files seem to be deleted too. So perhaps he is still able to access them from some remote location.” Bettina laid out her concern and explained how she felt the FBI might be able to assist her.
“So the doctor was using some unusual treatments, and then this happens and he conveniently disappears. I see where you are going. He’s a material witness to what happened and he is hiding somewhere. I still don’t have what I need to get involved,” Williams explained.
“Then get this,” Bettina used her ace card. “He has a home across the state line in Nevada. No one can find him at his local address, so he’s probably gone there.”
“He’s gone across a state line. Now I’m in,” Williams smiled at Corrales. “Let me get some agents to go visit his home while I do get background information at the hospital. I’ll get back to you if I come up with anything.”
“The CDC won’t be too happy to find out that I’ve brought in another agency this early in the investigation. But I’m stumped on this one, Shawn. I need your help,” Bettina explained to him.
“I’ll keep quiet on this until I find out if there is anything to find out. Don’t worry, I’ll handle it discreetly,” Shawn assured Bettina.
“Thanks, Shawn. I owe you one,” Bettina said as she escorted Agent Williams to the door.
Nick arrived home a few hours after leaving San Diego, and went directly inside. He was tired and mentally exhausted from all that had happened, and he just wanted to go in and lay down.
“What happened?” Natassia asked out of curiosity. Then she saw the look on Nick’s face. She’d never seen him look so distraught. Nick tried to form the words to tell her about what had happened at his father’s, but the words just wouldn’t come.
“Nick? Honey? Are you all right?” Natassia was now getting worried. “Did it go badly?”
“I just want to lay down and rest,” Nick replied wearily. “I don’t feel all that well. It didn’t go well.”
“But Nick, maybe if you talked to me…” Natassia was talking to empty space. Nick walked right past her into his room, and started to lay down.
Natassia stood in the open doorway looking at Nick as he turned on his side and pulled the covers over his head. She stood there wondering whether to just leave him alone, but decided against that. In the time that she had known Nick Reese, he was never one to feel sorry for himself, or to retreat from the world. Something had greatly upset him and she felt a bit responsible for encouraging him to go see his father, especially since he really didn’t want to go.
Without asking for permission, Natassia took off her jeans and blouse. She went to his closet, pulled out a man’s shirt, and put it on. It came down to her mid-thigh. Then she climbed into the bed next to Nick and gently cuddled up against his back, wrapping her arms around his waist and leaning her head against his broad back.
“I’m sorry Nick, I’m so very sorry,” she whispered to the back of his head. It was only then she felt his body shimmer with emotion. His voice made a small cracking sound, followed by what she soon realized was quiet crying. He tried to contain it, but her soft words of sympathy brought him to tears. He was too ashamed to let her see him cry, so he remained turned away from her and gently sobbed for several minutes. Natassia let him get it out of his system, then she caressed him gently and encouraged him to sleep.
Nick finally drifted off to a restless sleep, but slept longer than he realized.
He awoke about two hours later, and Natassia was still in the same position, holding him. He took a tissue from his night stand, wiped it across his face, tried to clean himself up a little. He turned over and saw Natassia was awake in his arms. “Have you been awake the whole time?” he asked.
“Yes. I wanted to be awake in case you needed me,” she replied softly.
“I always need you,” Nick answered.
“I don’t know what happened Nick, but I’m sorry I encouraged you to go. Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.
“Not now,” Nick responded. “I think right now I need you. But not for talk.”
“I’m here,” Natassia smiled, and wrapped her arms around Nick’s neck as they started kissing passionately.
The couple embraced and wrapped their limbs around the others bodies. They made love for what felt like hours. It was an intense ardor, the likes of which often accompany times of great change or stress. They felt comfort in each other bodies and each others embrace, and although few words were exchanged in the heated passion, the words were powerful, and magic.
But eventually passion gave way to release, and when the two lovers had exhausted each other and spent their last once of energy, they fell back into the bed in each others arms.
Nick no longer was thinking about the fight with his father or money problems. All he could think about was her.
“I love you,” was all Nick could say.
“Love you too,” she answered, still a bit out of breath.
After a few minutes they began to talk about other things, but for those moments of pure magic, there had been no greater time between them before. Nick hoped there were many more moments of magic for them to come.
Then Natassia sat up, demurely drawing the covers over her breasts now that the moment of passion was passing. Nick thought it was cute that she was being modest after what they just shared. He smiled at her.
“What are you smiling at?” Natassia asked, half laughing, but curious to know what he was thinking.
“How cute you are,” he replied.
“Do you still love me?” She probed.
“Of course!” Nick responded enthusiastically. “More than ever.”
“More than ice cream?” she playfully asked.
“Yes, more than ice cream,” Nick played along.
“More than chocolate?” she asked again.
“Yes,” Nick replied with a chuckle, unsure where this conversation was going. “Surprisingly, even more than chocolate.”
“That’s a lot of love,” Natassia remarked. “Since you love me so much, you won’t mind getting the chocolate ice cream and bringing it to us in bed, will you?” She cleverly maneuvered the conversation. “Since you love me more?”
Nick admitted defeat to her logic, and he went to the kitchen to get ice cream, bowls and spoons. He had worked up quite an appetite.
Agent Shawn Williams paced the floor his office. He didn’t like not being unable to solve a crime or find his man. In this case, find a doctor. In William’s view, this man was no better than an animal who intentionally injected people with a virulent strain of bacteria. Of course the reality was more complex, but Williams was not fond of complexity. He wanted the man found, and he felt certain that Dr. Hanson had gone to his home in Nevada to hide out. But after hours of surveillance, he had to admit he was not there. A search warrant obtained a few hours later confirmed that Hanson was not at the home, and had not been there for some time. Williams continued pacing the floor, rubbing his chin and occasionally rubbing his nearly shaved head. He loathed complexity.
“Sir? There is a Bettina Corrales from the CDC here to see you. Do you want me to show her in?” Asked his personal assistant.
“Yes, please show her in right away,” he responded.
Bettina was a sight for sore eyes. She’d dispensed with her pants suit, and put on a dress that favored her shapely legs, and well toned backside, and she certainly knew how to show it off. She came in the room, her long, red hair cascading around her shoulders. Her expensive dress was not so short as to be inappropriate for business, but was feminine enough to make men take notice.
“You look fantastic, Bettina,” Williams offered as he came to the door to meet her.” That’s a nice dress. You certainly have good taste in clothes,” Shawn flirted casually.
“You weren’t this friendly yesterday, Shawn,” Bettina smiled, trying to look unimpressed by his flattery, even though she was. Bettina had known Shawn for several years now, and they once had a romantic relationship. But life and complications got in the way, as it so often does, and they had gone their separate ways. But that wasn’t to suggest that she didn’t want to make him miss what he had lost. “Either you’ve found the good doctor, or you really are just pleased to see me,” she joked.
William’s smile rapidly disappeared. “No, we have not found the “good” doctor, as you call him. He isn’t in either of his residences. If I can’t find something to indicate he has broken a federal statute soon, I’m afraid I’m going to have to pull the Agency off this case. There’s nothing more that I want than to catch this bastard. Please tell me you’ve heard something,” he beseeched Bettina.
“Not about Hanson,” Bettina Corrales admitted. “But I ran a check on his cell phone, and it seems he is still making calls. He’s alive, and he is talking to someone,” she added.
“Location? Did you get a pin on him?” Agent Williams asked, his hopes high.
“No. Wherever he is, he is almost impossible to locate. Some type of interference. We were able to get one phone number. A new place called Paranormal Investigations. We don’t know much about them or the people that own it. I was hoping you could tell us something about them?” Bettina asked.
“Let’s run it. I never heard of it before. You say it is new?” Williams asked.
“Yes. Less than two months ago it opened up in the High Park business district, in Greendale. That’s not far from us here or Hanson’s home in Fair Haven. In fact it isn’t that far from everything having to do with this case. You think they are working with him?” Bettina wondered.
“I don’t know. Let’s run the name and see what we get. If they are as new as you say, we may not have anything. But maybe we can stop by and see what they call ‘paranormal’ these days,” Shawn Williams suggested. “I just hope they are in contact with him. At least that would give us something to work with. If not …” Williams left his last thought incomplete. He hated complexity.
The office the companions bought for their new business was sizable. Buzz had some experience with builders and contractors and it was through these contacts they found a corner office in an area with several other businesses. They had obtained the lease for the space relatively cheaply, because there had been some death in that office space several years ago. The companions weren’t superstitious, so they decided to take it and fix it up. After some minor repairs, a new paint job, and Natassia’s flair for decoration, they had a nice, modern looking office with three separate rooms, and it had a nice break room or recreation area. Lorna had taken the recreation area for herself and given it a refrigerator and other kitchen utilities that were scavenged from other places. All in all, it was inviting place for both employees and clients.
The problem had been getting new customers. When you open a bakery, everyone knows what you offer. If one opened a hardware store, the customers eventually found you. The question for the friends had become, “How do we advertise for what we do?” The name they chose certainly left no doubt. ‘Paranormal Investigations’ was unambiguous enough. People tended to understand from their title they didn’t sell insurance. What they hadn’t figured on was the stigma that came attached to the word “paranormal.” Business had been slow in their first six weeks. They had a few cases that weren’t much of anything and in fact, all turned out to have perfectly normal causes. They still got some pay, but it was small and after almost two months, and a handful of unremarkable cases, they were having financial troubles. The combined costs of their individual apartments (except for Lorna and Natassia, who were, in theory, roommates), and the lease for their office were quite expensive, especially for people who had all quit their day jobs. It was this financial worry that prompted Nick to seek help from his estranged father, and that had been a disaster.
Nick did not tell Natassia much of the details of he and his father’s argument. He did tell her enough to make Natassia seething mad, but in truth, he left out the worst parts. He figured some of what transpired was just to painful to repeat, and he worried about what she would think of him for telling his father where to go, and what to do when he got there. He knew how she felt about her father. How could he possibly explain to her what he himself did not clearly understand? He left out whole segments of the debacle.
It was now into their seventh week and things started to look bleak. All four companions were at work that Monday. None of them were too excited, for they experienced many curious callers, and even a few pranksters, who just wanted information – for free. Lorna was still enthusiastic.
“Hello? Paranormal Investigations. Nothing is too odd for us to handle,” she said as she answered the phone. That last part had been her idea, and she thought it was great. The rest were less certain saying, “nothing is too odd for us” was a good slogan, but they simply could not talk her out of it.
“Listen closely, I need your assistance,” came a raspy voice from the other end of the line.
“Yes? How can we help you?” Lorna asked, showing her excitement by waving manically at Buzz and Natassia as they were moving some filing cabinets from one area to another. They exchanged glances and set down the cabinets.
“I need one of your people to come to Branxton, outside of Fair Haven. But first, I need you to get me some files from the Health Oak hospital. I worked there, and I also need some supplies from my private locker. I can leave you a keycard, and an access code. When you bring me the items, I’ll tell you what I need from you,” mysteriously instructed the raspy voice at the other end of the phone.
“Who is it?” Buzz asked quietly to Lorna so as not to be heard from the caller’s end of the phone.
Lorna put her hand of the receiver, and spoke in a softer voice. “I think he wants us to steal drugs from a hospital for him. Do we do that?” She asked, alarmed.
“What? Let me talk to him,” Buzz remarked. Lorna willingly handed the phone to Buzz, while Natassia got on the other line, picking up the phone at the moment of the exchange.
“He’ll hear you!” Lorna softly cried out to Natassia, her hand still over the receiver.
“Lorna, put the phone on hold and give it to Buzz. I’ll pick up then,” Natassia explained.
Lorna did as she was requested, and when Buzz took the phone off hold, Natassia was listening at another phone.
“What is it Paranormal Investigations can do for you, sir?” Buzz asked. “I’m afraid my colleague didn’t understand what you wanted,” he added to explain why he took the phone.
don’t have much time. Now do you people do paranormal work or not?” the man was
“Yes, we do. Can you tell me what the problem is?” Buzz asked again.
“As I told the other person, I am a doctor who used to work at Oak Health Hospital – up until yesterday in fact. I had to leave there in a hurry, there was an accident of sorts. I’m getting ahead of myself. Look, I have a lot of money to pay for this job. Make no mistake, it is dangerous and I’m not sure it is legal. But the health of millions of people in this part of the state alone is hanging in the balance. Will you get some supplies for me from my old office at the hospital, and deliver it to me? I need to know whether or not you are willing to do this. I’ll pay five times what you are asking,” the doctor seemed desperate.
Buzz looked at Natassia who was just as perplexed by what he was asking. She raised her hands in the air in a gesture of confusion, and put her line on hold.
“I need to get Nick and see what he thinks of this!” she said to Buzz. “Keep talking to him. Find out if he’s a nut or if he has some real need, other than ‘supplies’,” Natassia relayed to Buzz.
Buzz went back on the line and tried to get more information from the doctor. He told him they couldn’t just break into a hospital without know exactly what they were doing it for. Try as he might, the doctor was evasive when it came to details. He made a vague mention of a plague, or disease that was very bad, and indicated only he knew what it was and only he could end it. He didn’t give specifics. Buzz continued to stall for time.
Nick had been in the back storage room, trying to find spare parts to fix a leak in the office bathroom. In the far corner of the storage room he found a beat up, but functioning television. He put it on to keep him company as he sorted through the supply closet. Shortly after he put it on, a TV 3 news alert came on. Nick stopped working and turned around to watch. The newsperson spoke without emotion:
“TV 3 has learned that a virulent case of something doctors at Oak Health hospital are calling a ‘flesh eating infection’ is responsible for the deaths of those eight patients who died early this morning at the Hospital. An authority from the hospital says the situation is contained and there is little threat to the public. Police, however, are seeking a missing doctor. Dr. Bertram Hanson is being sought for questioning. Police will only say he is a person of interest. We will keep you informed as this story develops, here on TV 3.”
Nick thought it was an odd thing, but returned to work in the storage room. Several minutes later he heard someone running into the back room. It was Natassia, and she was calling for him.
Natassia filled Nick in on their mystery phone caller, and he told her about the news report. By the time they arrived in the main office area, Buzz was still on the phone. Lorna stood nearby looking concerned.
“Tell him we will take the case,” Nick blurted out. He came to the phone near Buzz.
“Nicky, I think this guy might be for real,” Buzz gave his advice before handing the phone to Nick.
“Are you the doctor on the news? Dr. Hanson?” Nick was blunt. He wasn’t in the mood for a game from some teenagers. But if this turned out to be that very doctor, this was a serious matter. He waited for a reply.
“I didn’t know I was on the news already,” the raspy voiced man responded, sounding a bit defeated. “Then perhaps it is too late,” he added.
“I only have part of the story, Doctor. Tell me everything you can over the phone now, and then we will meet to talk about what you want us to do,” Nick took control of the situation.
Where Buzz, Natassia and Lorna thought the authoritative doctor might object to Nick’s stern demeanor, he in fact was grateful. Doctor Hanson was on the lamb from not only the local police, but also from FBI, the CDC and an angry public who were suddenly becoming aware he had something to do with the medical emergency at the hospital.
“I can tell you only so much now. I’m in need of some things from the hospital before we can get into details,” Hanson attempted to retake control.
“What things, doctor? You certainly can’t expect us to break into a hospital and steal medicine for you? What is it you need – and be specific – we are going to putting our own asses on the line here too. What do you need and why?” Nick was firm.
“If I don’t get those experimental isotopes, or at least some of them, I won’t be able to help you end this epidemic,” Hanson was frank. He reluctantly told Nick why it was so vital. “I’m infected as well. I made a mistake in the dosage. I was rash, and I made a hasty decision. But my isotope will work. I’m convinced of it. Now that I’m infected, I can test it on myself, not the patients,” Hanson explained.
“I see,” Nick said, more than a little concerned that the doctor was not thinking rationally. “I’d like to meet with you first. My colleagues and I have medical experiences in labs and other places. We know how to take precautions. Let me know where you are, and I’ll come there alone, to reduce the risk. But first, I am giving the phone to my colleague, Natassia. She has several degrees in genetics research and I have hospital experience myself. Tell her everything about this epidemic and how you were treating it. While she is collecting that information, I’ll get some things together and meet you where you are.” Nick said.
“I’m afraid it is a little embarrassing,” Hanson said in his grating voice, which was worse now than we he first called. The infection had set in on his face and throat. Those were the areas the angry patient, Barclay’s open wounds had dripped on him. Hanson had been able to slow it down by using a strong antibacterial scrub on his face. It had helped, but slowly the MRSA was coming back, and his voice box had been steadily deteriorating.
“You see, I’m hiding in a sewer tunnel, a rather large one at that, not far from my home here in Fair Haven, not far from you in Greendale. No one knows I’m down here,” the doctor explained.
“Tell me your address, and the location of the access tunnel in that area. Yes, I got it. I’ll be there in about thirty minutes. Now tell everything you can to Natassia. We will need to know everything. I’ll see you then, doctor,” Nick handed the phone to Natassia who began taking down all the information the doctor was willing to give her regarding the bacterial outbreak, his treatment, and the unexpected results.
While Natassia was busy getting all if it down, Nick went to the back to get his car keys.
“You aren’t seriously going to go down in the sewer to meet a man carrying a plague, are you Nick?” Buzz asked, astonished. He knew Nick was a man capable of showing remarkable courage, but this was out of character.
not a plague yet,” Nick comforted. “But if it is what he says it is, then it is
serious, and whatever he was doing to treat it has made this particular strain
even worse. If I don’t go to him, he’ll never make it here.”
“And do what, Nicky? We have worked in some labs, you more than the rest of us, but we aren’t doctors. How can we cure this?” Buzz was truly concerned.
“We probably can’t cure this ourselves,” Nick admitted. “But this doctor knows what it is and what he did to it to make it so…potent. I need his keycards and codes to get his stuff from that hospital, and I can’t help him until we get in there. Then maybe we can get someone else involved to do the actual medical work. From what he told me, Buzz, he can’t even live in his house because the cops are all over the place. He’s in hiding, he’s sick and even though I have reservations about his rationality, he is the only one who knows what is really going on. I’m going. This is the kind of work we’ve been looking for, isn’t it?” Nick concluded.
“I wasn’t expecting a flesh eating bacteria epidemic. Don’t you think that’s a little much even for us? Buzz admonished his friend.
“Buzz, I need you on board with this. Natassia is going to be pretty freaked out when she learns I’ve gone there while she’s on the phone. I need you to help keep her calm and working on this. I may have more medical experience, but she’s the one with two medical degrees. If anyone can get a handle on what is going on here, it is her. And put Lorna on it to assist her. She just might be able to help. In the meantime, get ready to sneak into that hospital. We are going to have to go in. Get some gear ready,” Nick instructed his friend. Then he patted Buzz on the shoulder, smiled at him, and went out the door before anyone else knew he left.
It had been a long day all ready, and it wasn’t nearly over. By the time Nick got to Hanson’s neighborhood near Fair Haven, it was turning dark. “Good, I’ll need the cover of darkness in case anyone is watching,” Nick spoke to himself. He drove two streets down from Dr. Hanson’s house and parked on an empty side street. He decided to walk the rest of the way. It would be harder for someone to follow him if he were on foot. Nick was anxious about the meeting. The doctor sounded very ill over the phone, and although Nick had brought surgical gloves and a mask, he wasn’t certain just how infectious this rabid version of MRSA was. In fact, he barely ever heard of the disease before now. He did a little reading before he left the P.I. office and discovered this was a nasty little disease they were dealing with, even when it wasn’t a super infection.
When he got close to the street where Hanson lived, he jumped over a fence a few houses down, and followed the backyards until he got close to the sewer grating. Hanson had told him of an old drain, located several hundred yards away from his house, that had several metal grates poked out of it by mischievous kids. It was just wide enough of an opening for Nick to slide into, but it was a tight fit. Nick looked around to make sure he wasn’t being observed and he laid down on the empty street near the grate. It was pitch black in the drain opening. He summoned his courage and rolled into the grate. His shirt caught on part of the jagged edge as the rest of his body slipped part way into the grate opening. He was left hanging halfway into the sewer opening, still stuck fast by the sharp edge. It was then he noticed a car coming down the road.
Nick strained to see the car, but all he could see were the glare of two very bright halogen headlights. He worked on his shirt, trying frantically to unhook himself from the last broken grate, the one that was holding him. It would not come loose. Nick turned on his back and lifted his head. He looked at the reflection of the car in the windows of one of the houses down the street as it drove past them. It was a police car. Nick knew he must not get caught in the compromising situation and he struggled with his shirt to get loose. The car drew closer, and seemed to speed up. Nick ripped his shirt open by the buttons, and wriggled out of his shirt. The jagged edge holding him let go, and he dropped into the grate with a shallow splash in the darkness. Just before the police car drove by he reached up and grabbed his shirt which was still hanging in the grate, and yanked it down in inside with him. The police car with bright headlights drove by without stopping. Nick was left panting in the darkness, an unpleasant odor coming from the water he was standing in. He put his torn shirt back on and reached into his pocket and pulled out a small LED flashlight, and started moving toward the direction of the doctor’s home.
Progress was slow as he walked in the black tunnels of the sewer with only a small flashlight to guide the way. Nick passed something that squeaked and had a pink tail, but he tried not to think about what was actually down there with him. It took him almost half an hour, but he eventually found the sewer junction Hanson had described to him on the phone. It was larger than Nick expected. Apparently this junction was a convergence of several sewer and drainage tunnels, and it was about fifteen feet high and even had something like sidewalks around a rectangular pool of water, which was slowly draining off in several directions. There was an eerie pale blue light coming from a manhole overhead. It was the only source of light aside from his tiny flashlight.
“Over here,” a raspy voice from the darkness called out to him. “I’m Dr. Hanson. I certainly hope you are Nick.”
Nick shined his small light on the source of the voice, and saw an older man huddled in a dry corner of the walkway. He looked like he had been there for quite some time. There were boxes of food, and medical bandage wrappers littered around him. He was leaning on a pillow. As Nick drew nearer, he shined the light on Hanson’s face. The light revealed a man with many red and inflamed sores all over and around his face. He looked miserable. But despite his retched appearances, there was a friendly look in his eyes.
“Yes, I’m Nick. I’d say nice to meet you doc, but this isn’t exactly a nice place,” Nick commented.
“Seems this is to be my new home – at least for now,” Hanson sighed as he spoke. “Did you bring what I asked you to bring?”
“I did. Here is some canned food, and a can opener. I even brought some paper plates,” Nick said as he pulled some folded up plates from his waistband. “Sorry, there was no other place to carry them,” Nick apologized. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Yes. Put on those gloves and mask you said you’d bring. I can’t bear the idea of anyone else getting this,” Hanson instructed and Nick complied.
“I don’t think there is anything you can do for me until I get that medical equipment,” Hanson once again explained. Nick listened and began writing down instructions and pass codes the doctor spoke to him. Hanson explained everything Nick would have to bring from the hospital, and where it was located. What he didn’t explain was how it was going to help.
“Okay, Dr. Hanson. My friend and I are going to go there tonight, and we will get your items, if they are still there. How can you be sure they have not been confiscated?” Nick asked reasonably.
”Because nobody knows of my locker in the gymnasium,” Hanson responded.
“You have a gym at the hospital?” Nick questioned.
“We are doctors, after all,” Hanson chuckled slightly at the absurdity of it all. “Yes, I put them there a few days ago when one of the nurses started questioning my ideas. I wish I had more time to get the levels right. It would have worked,” Hanson lapsed into a coughing fit that took several minutes to subside.
“I’m sorry Dr. Hanson. I wish I knew how to help you more in the meantime,” Nick said sincerely. This man was already hated by all the residents in the Greendale viewing area, possibly millions, and soon would be detested nationally. But Nick didn’t see a raving maniac or demented scientist. He saw a man who truly believed he had come very close to finding a treatment for a growing infectious disease.
“Are you sure I can’t get you something before I go? It could be hours before I can get back here,” Nick was concerned for the man.
“I have bottled water, and you’ve brought me food and help. I’m as good as I will be until I get those meds, Nick. What is your last name?” Hanson asked.
“Reese. Nick Reese,” Nick told the sick doctor.
“A good strong name. You are a good young man to come down here for me,” Hanson said.
“My father doesn’t think I’m any good at all,” Nick added with surprising candor. He was surprised it was still on his mind. Somehow this sick older doctor made him think of his grandfather.
“Father’s!” Hanson said loudly in his harsh voice, “What do father’s know? Mine told me I’d be a fine garbage collector someday. I became a doctor. Of course that was before …” He didn’t need to finish what he was intending to say.
“I’ll get those items, Dr. Hanson. I sure as hell hope you can prove you were right, and save yourself too,” Nick added and wished he hadn’t. But Hanson was not offended.
“Nick, call me Bert. Whether I live or die is less important to me than saving anyone else from getting this terrible malady. I’ve done wrong in making the dosage so high. I now have to make up for that before…” Bertram Hanson seemed to drift away for a second without finishing. Nick understood what he was trying to say, and he intended to help this man if he could.
“Rest now, Bert. I’ll be back later tonight if all goes well. Before I go, please give me that keycard of yours. I’ll need it,” Nick stated. He reached out with his gloved hand, and started to take the keycard from the doctor, whose hands were starting to get infected too. There were red, swollen sores over his palms and fingers, and the puss ran freely. For a moment, Nick hesitated and didn’t reach all the way.
“It’s okay, son. I don’t blame you,” Hanson spoke softly, and laid the keycard down on the ground between them. “Go now. Good luck,” he concluded and laid his head back against the worn pillow.
Nick grabbed the keycard and put it in the other glove which he removed from his hand and turned inside out. Once secured, he left Bertram Hanson to his fitful sleep and made his way back to the sewer opening. When he got back to the office, he took a quick shower and changed his clothes.
“I’ve got a better idea of getting into the hospital than scaling two floors and going in a window,” Buzz suggested. “That’s just too dangerous.”
“Agreed. It isn’t the best plan. What do you have in mind?” Nick asked his friend.
“I’ll tell you on the way. We haven’t got time to detail it out. Just trust me. It’s very simple and straightforward. Oh, and we will need Lorna,” Buzz amended.
They agreed upon Buzz’s plan, though he was vague about the details. While they were gone, Natassia poured over all the information they had collected so far about this virulent strain of MRSA. She could only do so much until they retrieved Dr. Hanson’s items from the hospital.
Buzz, Lorna and Nick drove to the hospital in a hurry. On the way, Buzz used a fake blood concoction on Lorna to make it appear she had some injuries.
“Don’t get that in my eyes!” Lorna protested.
“Quit being a baby,” Buzz admonished his girlfriend. “It’s not that bad. It’s mostly corn syrup.”
“Well it is sticky and unpleasant,” Lorna complained.
Buzz applied the sticky mixture to Lorna in the backseat while Nick was at the wheel of his refurbished 1988 Camaro. It was in need of some bodywork, but the engine was finely tuned. Nick loved this old car and spent a substantial amount of money making sure it ran smoothly. He listened, or rather, he tried not to listen to the conversation between Buzz and Lorna in the backseat. They were in interesting couple, to say the least. Lorna was odd, strange and at times insulting, but Buzz was attached to her despite their constant bickering. Most of their bickering was about Buzz trying to explain the world to Lorna, who really didn’t understand how things worked outside of a lab. Lorna, the child prodigy, had grown up around other scientists, her mother (who was now occupying space in a mental health care facility, no one was sure exactly why) and computers. She had little interaction with adult humans. As Lorna tried to learn and memorize all the things most adults take for granted with social interactions, the others had simply to wait and be as patient as possible. It wasn’t always easy.
”I can’t believe I let you talk me into this, especially since we are breaking up,” Lorna stated angrily.
“Just hold still for a second more. I need to – we are what!?” Buzz suddenly realized what she said.
“Terminating our sexual and emotional pair bonding,” Lorna explained scientifically. “In words you understand better, Buzz, we are breaking up.”
“What? How? What?” Buzz was flummoxed.
“Three excellent questions,” Nick added from the front seat of the car. Try as he might, he could not pretend he didn’t hear another of their odd conversations. Nick was getting used to them, this one took him by surprise as much as Buzz.
“It’s clear we are no longer having sex,” Lorna bluntly explained, oblivious to the fact that Nick was listening, or not caring who heard. “We’ve gone four nights in a row without it. That means the end of the concupiscence cycle and soon to follow will be the termination of the infatuation cycle.” Lorna tried to explain her reasoning.
“The concubine cycle?” Buzz didn’t understand half of the terminology Lorna used.
“Concupiscence. Lust, Buzz,” Lorna clarified.
“I’d like to know more about the concubine cycle,” Nick commented from the front seat.
“Nick, please shut up,” Buzz was not amused. He turned his attention back to Lorna. “Is this about last week? We’ve gone without sex before, and it didn’t mean the end of us, what is this all about?”
Lorna displayed sad eyes and her face made a pouting expression. She was not doing it for effect. “The manual says that regular copulation is a normal and healthy expression of love in the first few years of a relationship. It said we should be doing it more often, and since you haven’t shown an interest for at least four days, I can expect that our relationship has run its course and will terminate soon. And that makes me sad, because I don’t want to terminate,” Lorna’s expression was woeful, and a tear welled up the corner of her left eye.
“What manual are you talking about, Lorna? What have you been reading?” Buzz asked with mixed emotions. He was both concerned and confused. It was a combination he was becoming accustomed to when Lorna didn’t comprehend something in the world around her.
“In your bookshelf, there is a picture book. ‘The Manual of Love, Lust and Self Satisfaction’. I read the frontispiece. It was written by experts on the subject of love and lust,” Lorna confided.
Buzz made a coughing sound, then nearly choked trying to find words.
“You have a book called, “The Manual of Love, Lust and Self Satisfaction?” Nick asked from the front seat. He knew this was a serious matter to Lorna, but he also knew Buzz was infamous for his naughty books and magazines – or he had been, prior to Lorna. He smiled broadly and then realized it was the first time in a week he was able to laugh at anything.
“I don’t think this is funny, Nick,” Lorna complained. “I’m breaking up and you are laughing at it.”
“I’m sorry, Lorna. I’m not laughing at what you feel. I think Buzz has some explaining to do, so I’ll just put in my I-POD and let you two sort this out in peace. But please make it quick. We get to the hospital in ten minutes.”
Buzz waited until Nick put his earpieces in and then turned again to Lorna. “Baby, that book…it’s not a manual explaining love. It’s an expensive excuse for a guy to buy a book with naughty pictures of couples…in various states of…what I mean is...” Buzz was finding this harder to explain than he thought. When Lorna moved in, or rather she lived in his apartment about half of the time, he thought he threw out all his girlie magazines. He completely forgot about ‘The Manual of Love, Lust and Self Satisfaction’ that he had ordered online several years ago.
“It is not written by experts?” Lorna asked.
“No, it isn’t. I have no idea who the authors are. I ordered it for the pictures only,” Buzz admitted with a faint glow of red illuminating his face.
“Oh. I see. So this information is fallacious?” Lorna asked with hope in her voice.
“Now hold on a second, I don’t know anything about male phallic thingies. I didn’t know that was in there. I just wanted to look at the pictures…of the women!” Buzz defended his masculinity.
“Buzz, fallacious means false, not phallic,” Lorna explained. She thought perhaps she should be angry that he owned a dirty picture book masquerading as a sexual manual, but she was relieved.
“Oh, I knew that,” Buzz abruptly took credit for what he really didn’t know.
“So we aren’t terminating?” Lorna pressed on.
“No! I mean unless you are termin…ending our thing?” Buzz was getting exasperated. He thought he already answered this part. Words about love and affection, if that was what he was feeling, didn’t come easy to him.
“Thing? Is that all we have now, is a thing?” Lorna was back to being upset.
Buzz lost his cool. “Look, if you want, we can have hot, sweaty sex right now. Here in the backseat!”
“Would you really do that for me?” Lorna was reassured.
Buzz wasn’t sure what the hell was going on anymore. “Yes, I’ll… we can do it right now!” he yelled more than seduced.
“It’s okay, Buzz. It is the sentiment that counts. I don’t think Nick would appreciate it if we did it here. Well, not with him in the car, that is,” Lorna smiled then whispered in Buzz’s ear, “We can use it some other time, when he’s not around.”
“Well, good, I think. As long as that’s cleared up,” Buzz said, unclear of everything that just happened.
“We are here,” Nick called out from the front seat. “Are we ready?”
“Yes,” both Lorna and Buzz called out simultaneously. They looked at each other and smiled, laughed, then shared a short kiss.
Nick shook his head. He wasn’t sure he would ever really understand the nature of their relationship.
Buzz’s plan was simple, and effective. With Lorna looking like she was just involved in an accident, fake blood and all, they would enter via the emergency entrance. As Buzz checked in his girlfriend under a fake name and identification, Nick pretended to be the concerned friend or relative. When they moved to the waiting room, Nick waited for the right moment, and then walked back into the hospital ward unnoticed. From there, he slipped into an old pair of scrubs he had from when he worked in a hospital several years ago. He had a fake nametag indicating he was a doctor from a neighboring hospital. His cover, in case he was asked, was that he was here to visit a patient of his that had been transferred. He never had to explain. When he found a stairway down, he took it and walked all the way down to the lowest level – the morgue and the gymnasium.
Buzz and Lorna waited several minutes after Nick disappeared into the hospital. Deeming it long enough, and not wanting to get caught flat-footed themselves, they returned to the parking lot unnoticed with all the people waiting in the emergency ward. As planned, they took Nick’s car back to Paranormal Investigations office, and set to work with Natassia on the medical data they had so far. Not much could be done until Nick returned with the doctor’s medical information and items.
Nick planned to find his way back from another route. At worst, he could hitchhike. As it turned out, he didn’t have to.
The disguise worked better than he expected. Nick discovered that if he refused to make eye contact, acted annoyed at being bothered and went about his way in a self-important manner, no one tried to stop him. No one would try to intrude on a doctor’s time, especially when he was at work. He made good time and arrived at the junction of the morgue and the gymnasium. He took the hallway to the gym.
He put Dr. Hanson’s keycard into the slot and went in the door. Before long, he arrived at the locker room, and started looking for locker number 67. When he located it, he used the combination given to him by Hanson in the sewer tunnels. It clicked open and behind some old clothes was a small gym bag. In it were samples of medicine used to treat infections, several vials of radioactive isotopes and a few test vials full of some growth. Nick reasoned the ones that had growth in them might be samples of the potent strain of MRSA. The bag also had computer DVD’s full of research and test data. He had everything he came for. Nick zipped the bag back up, and started to make his way back outside.
When he came back to the hallway junction of the morgue and the gymnasium, he went to the morgue. Curiosity had gotten the best of him.
The keycard worked here as well, and Nick entered the morgue. It was empty. There was no doctor, no pathologist, in fact, there was no one around. Nick went to the information counter, and read all of the latest entries. He spotted what he was looking for – a victim of the MRSA super infection.
Nick anxiously walked over to the refrigerated compartments, and opened the one that corresponded with the name Barclay, the last entry. He pulled open the drawer, and looked under the sheet covering the body. What he saw confirmed he worst fears. This person had died horribly and probably very painfully. His face was eaten almost to the skull, which Nick could clearly see under some red, bloody patches of skin, most of which had turned black, due to necrosis. The tissue had literally been eaten away at such an accelerated rate that the poor person – Nick wasn’t sure if it was a man or a woman – lived almost to the end. He saw all he could bear to see, and placed the sheet back over the face, and began to slide the body back into the vault. Just before the drawer slammed shut, however, a female voice broke the stillness.
“So, you must be either Nick Reese or Buzz Ashford,” Bettina Corrales called out. “Since your are here by yourself, you are probably the leader. Nick Reese.”
Nick was startled and stopped dead in his tracks. He didn’t see anyone around at first until he looked off to his left side, and saw a slim, shapely woman with long red hair staring at him. She was alone and she knew who he was.
“I’m afraid you are mistaken, Miss – “
“Agent Bettina Corrales, CDC,” she concluded.
“I’m doctor Jackson from Mercy Medical. I’m just checking in on the latest about the MRSA infection that is on the news. I know I don’t have authorization to be in here, but I was here treating a patient. I thought I’d take a look,” Nick bluffed.
Bettina might have been fooled by Nick’s performance, except for the fact that she and FBI agent Williams had just finished looking into the new owners of Paranormal Investigations, the one phone call from Dr. Hanson they managed to trace.
“I’m afraid that one won’t fly, Mr. Reese. I’ve been here waiting for about two hours for you or one of your team to come in here. That’s why your keycard worked. It was set to open. I knew you’d come here, because that’s exactly what I would have done.”
Nick realized she had him. She caught him red-handed all because his curiosity got the best of him. He quietly scolded himself for that mistake and then looked at Bettina.
“Then you know I’m here to help,” Nick was candid.
“You are Nick Reese then?” Bettina persisted.
“I am. I am the only one who knows where Dr. Hanson is, and I need to help him,” Nick started to tell her how ill the doctor was, but decided against telling her anything she didn’t already know.
“Why are you and your people doing this? For the money?” Bettina asked. Nick was not what she expected. He was a handsome man, about her age. He was a strong, natural leader, the type she liked, and he had an honest look about him. When he spoke, he was articulate and sincere. She’d been expecting someone out to make quick cash who had no scruples or moral center to keep them from sneaking around. She expected someone who looked devious. Nick didn’t fit her perception.
“The money, no. It isn’t about the money. Interesting that everyone assumes that is the first and primary motivator for all things,” Nick was answering several people with his musings. “This is about saving a life worth saving, even if you, the news or the CDC think that his life isn’t worth living. I’m going to help Dr. Hanson,” Nick was calm, and steady.
He injected almost a dozen people with an experimental drug that had the effect
of making them worse, and killing most of them. Then he runs away and hides somewhere.
You tell me how he is worth saving?” Bettina was blunt.
“You don’t know the whole story, Agent Corrales,” Nick replied. Although he didn’t know the whole story himself, he knew that Hanson was not a monster, even if others were determined to paint him with that label. “He knows he screwed up. He knows he made a terrible mistake. Unless I’m mistaken, he is paying for that now. But his intent was never evil or malicious.”
“Why should I believe you? You say you are not motivated by money, yet you risk getting caught for a man you know nothing about,” Bettina’s rhetoric was valid, yet Nick felt she didn’t understand the whole story. He didn’t have the time to calmly explain it all to her.
“Am I under arrest by the CDC? Or do you even have that power? Because if the answer is no, and I expect it is, then let me go now. I have somewhere to be and work to do. I will not come back here,” Nick responded.
Bettina stopped and studied Nick for a minute. She was already attracted to the tall, green-eyed, handsome man who would risk everything to do what he thought was right. Although she should have followed procedure, Bettina Corrales was a woman of intuition. She agreed to let him go, in return for information about the work he and his team were doing regarding the virulent strain of MRSA.
“I want to know everything you know. And I want to see your data. I’m sure whatever you have in that bag is something I could confiscate. Do we have an understanding?” Bettina took a risk in trusting Nick.
“I will keep you informed about everything regarding the strain. There are people waiting for this data, and lives may depend on how fast we can compile it. I need to go,” Nick’s last sentence was more of a question than a statement.
“Can I drive you somewhere? Or were you brazen enough to drive your own car here?” Bettina asked.
“I would appreciate a ride. Thank you,” Nick replied.
For some reason Bettina Corrales could not explain, she trusted this man. Aside from the fact that she had no authority to arrest him herself, she could have called the police or even Shawn Williams from the FBI. She chose to trust Nick, even if she wasn’t sure why.
Natassia, Lorna and Buzz were hard at work trying to understand how this bacteria became so deadly. Buzz and Lorna returned here directly after leaving Nick at the hospital, and had been hard at work ever since. Their concentration was broken when Nick came in the front door, an attractive red-headed woman in a tight dress, following close behind him.
“Nick? Who – What’s going on?” Natassia asked, slightly confused and worried about the turn of events. Buzz and Lorna also stopped and stared. All of them had the same thought: Nick had been caught.
“Everyone, this is Agent Bettina Corrales of the CDC, and she knows what is going on,” Nick advised so that none of the others would attempt to cover for him.
Buzz stared at the woman’s figure, and her provocative dress, for an agent of the Centers of Disease control. He was struck speechless. Natassia, however, was not.
“I see they’ve relaxed their dress code. Or are you on off-hours, agent?” she asked.
Bettina ignored her comment and addressed them all. “I know what is going on here, and who you are helping. I am allowing Nick to continue working on this because he promises you have the wherewithal to know how to analyze the data he is carrying. If I had access to that data earlier, I could be working on a solution. I certainly hope Nick’s faith in all of you in not misplaced.”
“So, you are on a first name basis all ready?” Natassia’s tone was caustic. It was as much for Nick as Bettina.
Nick walked towards the back of the office, where they had a small lab setup for situations to analyze small amounts of data. Their equipment was insufficient for this task. Nick wanted to get to work, and Agent Corrales had promised to assist.
“Buzz, would you do me a favor?” Nick asked his friend as he came into the back room. “Would you go out to Agent Corrales car and get some of the equipment she has graciously allowed us to borrow?”
“Sure Nick, anything you ask,” Buzz replied. He went out the front door with Bettina to get the equipment.
Natassia came over to Nick’s side, clearly worried and a little upset. “Nick, who is this agent and why is she here? Do we need her help?”
not sure we have a choice now,” Nick answered. “I’ll fill you in on the details
later. She found me at the hospital looking at the body of a MRSA victim. She
was nice enough to let me go and continue working, without turning me in. Plus
she has that advanced lab equipment we need to analyze this,” Nick stated. He
held up two vials in his hand. One contained a clear liquid, the other, a
“Is that it? The virulent strain of MRSA?” Natassia was surprised. It was one of the missing pieces of data they needed to analyze what went wrong. “We really need the data from Hanson and some of that treatment he was using, too,” she added. When Nick produced both items, Natassia’s view of the chances of understanding this case drastically improved.
situation had changed. Now they had a chance to help not only the doctor
himself, but the community at large. But Natassia felt an unease about the new
player in the game. She took particular notice of Bettina Corrales’ familiarity
with Nick, and her demeanor.
“What’s the deal with super agent in the evening dress?” Natassia probed. She knew Nick didn’t want to talk about it now, but it was eating at her.
“It’s a business outfit. It just fits her very well,” Nick partially defended Bettina without realizing how it sounded. In his mind, she had, after all, decided to help them. Although her imposition in the case was unexpected, and a tad intrusive, she did have the law on her side. That fact that she was trusting Nick, whatever her reasons, made him feel that she was going to help their chances more than hinder them. But Nick was being a bit naïve as well. He didn’t see the way Bettina Corrales looked at him, they way she talked to him and to him only. Or if he did, he didn’t really mind it.
“It’s a very short, tight business dress,” Natassia countered. She trusted Nick, but she had misgivings about the intentions of Agent Corrales.
“Can we just stay on task for now? Natassia, –” he added with a softer tone, “– I know she can be a little brash, but now that she is helping, we can only benefit from what she can give us to work with. We are so short on time, any help may make a big difference,” Nick explained looking into Natassia’s eyes. She knew he was right and dropped her complaints about Bettina. But she decided to keep a very close eye on Agent Corrales.
It was Natassia who remembered the most valuable asset that Paranormal Investigations owned, Vince the robot. The companions had acquired an experimental robot from the company they were sent to steal a different robot from on their last mission. Vince, an acronym for a very long title, had helped them in that mission as well. Despite his slight case of psychosis (he had a hatred of people, calling them ‘biological meatsacks’) and other personality oddities, Vince had a supercomputer for a brain, and with the correct attachments on his input devices, his hands, he could run a multitude of different tests and analyze the results.
Lorna set Vince up after making the attachments. Then she turned on his power switch.
“This is unit Alpha-Delta-One, nomenclature Virtual Intelligent Neural Cybernetic Entity, VINCE.” The robot spoke in his multi-toned, artificial voice.
“Query: How may I be of assistance?”
“Hello Vince. We need you to run some tests, er, programs for us,” Lorna instructed.
“Statement: I will do as you ask.”
“We have some samples in the new device units attached to you sensory inputs. Can you make sure they are working?” Asked Lorna.
“Answer: I will reinitialize the device units. This may take several minutes.”
“Query: Would you like me to sing a song while I initialize?”
The companions had only used Vince twice in the last seven weeks, and his behavior, already unpredictable and strange, had acquired new oddities. He insisted on singing songs, for example, but he could not sing at all. He intoned the music, and he did it poorly. There were times when he referred to himself in the third person, never a good thing, and often referred to “the other” and “she”. No one was certain what he was talking about, but his unique, ever so slightly insane behavior, was not unexpected. One thing had improved, he rarely called his new owners “biological meatsacks” or “organic meatbags” anymore. Those phrases only slipped out when Vince seemed emotionally upset with something, especially them.
“What is this thing?” Bettina asked in shock when she walked into the back room.
“It’s something Lorna built a while back,” Nick lied. He didn’t want to have to explain how they acquired the robot.
Lorna looked up at Bettina and beamed. “He’s like my son,” she said with a motherly smile on her face. Lorna went along with the lie.
“Your son?” Bettina questioned, shocked that a contraption, as she saw it, like this could ever be thought of as human.
“Well, maybe an adopted son. Certainly not one that came from a litter!” Lorna started to go down a path that always led to trouble for her.
“A litter? I don’t understand,” Bettina said to the air.
“Don’t try,” advised Buzz as he leaned in to Bettina. “She has this thing about birth, thinks children are the same as a litter. It’s a thing…” he left unfinished what was unfathomable.
“While they were talking, Nick and Natassia set up the experiments. They wanted to test the virulent strain of MRSA first, then the sample of Hanson’s radioactive isotope. Last, they needed to analyze all of the data from the DVD. Bettina came over to where Nick and Natassia were working.
“Nick, I can help you with this,” Bettina offered. “You have a very impressive set up here.”
“No, that’s okay Bettina. You’ve already helped us more than you know,” Nick replied sincerely.
“Yes, more than we need, actually,” Natassia was uncharacteristically sarcastic.
“Is there a problem I should know about?” Bettina fired back.
“Only you should know what your problems are,” Natassia responded. She didn’t take her eyes off her work or miss a beat, but she was clearly paying attention.
“If I’m not mistaken, Nick is in charge here. I was talking to him, your leader, not to you, little girl,” Bettina was from a tough neighborhood.
Natassia lost her cool despite her attempts to remain indifferent. She just couldn’t ignore how much attention Bettina was giving to Nick. She stood up to her full height of five feet two inches, and tried to see eye to eye with Agent Corrales, who stood three inches taller.
“Yes, I have a problem here. You are the problem. We can do this work fine on our own, and we don’t need an outsider peeking over our shoulders, or disturbing our “leader” as you call him. I just call him my boyfriend,” Natassia was not about to back down. Something about this woman just bothered her. She was not normally confrontational, but this time she was.
Nick looked up in surprise at her words. He only just began to understand why Natassia was so uncertain about accepting Bettina’s assistance. Nick felt they had little choice, and perhaps without realizing, he sensed that Bettina was attracted to him. Truthfully, he had not minded it. It was flattering. He suddenly felt very responsible.
“Okay, I’m breaking in here,” Nick spoke as he rose to his feet and got between the two women. He pulled Bettina aside.
“Look, we do have a habit of working alone. But I apologize for all of this,” Nick added to calm down agent Corrales, but unintentionally offended Natassia. “We greatly appreciate your help. The best thing you could give us right now is some time to work,” he concluded.
“Don’t you dare apologize for me,” Natassia said in disgust. “You aren’t my leader. If you want to waste time talking to this…this woman, while we peons do the rest of the work, fine! But please let me do this in peace.” When she was finished, Natassia disappeared out into the front of the office, so she could pull herself together.
Suddenly the tension permeating the office was cut by a mechanical voice singing. It was Vince.
“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer true,” he intoned, out of key.
”What are you doing, Vince?” Lorna asked, perplexed.
“Response: I am singing our favorite song, ‘A Bicycle Built for Two’. It was the song HAL sang on ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, our favorite movie.”
“Can you shut that thing off?” Bettina was already angry. The bad singing of a mechanical voice frazzled her nerves.
“While I don’t like being shouted at, I really can’t shut him down while he is initializing the new units,” Lorna explained. “Besides, he doesn’t know songs, or see movies. I don’t know what he is talking about.”
“Better yet, why did he say our favorite song, and our favorite movie?” Buzz pointed out.
Bettina gathered her things, took one last look around the back room which doubled as a lab, and walked to Nick.
“I think I should leave. But I may be back later on. I’ll leave you to your…associates,” she used the term somewhat derisively, and Nick knew who she meant.
“Again, thanks for your help and your patience,” Nick added but maintained a respectable distance from Bettina, even as she attempted to stand closer to him.
Bettina left without saying a word to Natassia. Nick walked over talk to her.
“I’m sorry for apologizing. I wasn’t apologizing for you. I just think we need her help, and her equipment right now. I didn’t want to antagonize her,” Nick added clumsily. He knew better than to add that last part, but it slipped out anyway.
“I wasn’t antagonizing her. I just don’t care for the woman. Can’t you see how she follows you around, and ignores the rest of us? Are you so blind you can’t see she is flirting with you?” Natassia asked.
“I didn’t realize she was,” Nick was trying to be honest. Then he added, “I didn’t at first but then I noticed she only talked to me. I didn’t really think too much about it, Natassia. Even in a room full of people, I only see you. It didn’t mean anything,” he pleaded.
Natassia smiled a weary smile at Nick, then gave him a quick hug. “Guys flirt with me a lot. I ignore them or send them packing. I hoped you would do the same for me,” she said softly. She never had been the jealous type of woman before. This emotion was new to her and she was certain she didn’t handle it as well as she could have. “I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have blown up like that,” she added with a small laugh at her own behavior. “Just watch yourself around her. She’s on the prowl. Maybe only other women can see that.”
Their reconciliation was interrupted by Buzz. “I think we got other problems,” he said.
“He’s got a what?” Nick asked in stunned disbelief.
“He says he has a mate, or girlfriend. He used a different term. It was something like a mirror image or something,” Lorna tried to recall exactly how Vince described it.
“So his slight insanity is acting up again,” Nick concluded. “We just have to ignore it and ask him to do the tests.”
“But he refuses to stop singing. Apparently, she likes his singing,” Lorna attempted to explain the problem.
“Can’t we just mute him or something?” Natassia questioned.
“That won’t stop the fact that he is singing and speaking in Japanese,” Lorna added, almost as an afterthought.
“Wait. Stop. He is singing in Japanese? Was he programmed to know that language? Maybe you can ask him?” Nick fired off his questions in rapid succession. This was the last thing they needed.
“No, he wasn’t. But I may know what is going on,” she admitted. Lorna had never mentioned that she downloaded some of Akiko, the Japanese robot’s memory into Vince the night before they returned her to the Fujinari Division of Japan. In fact, she forgot about it. She explained how she connected a transfer wire from Akiko to Vince while the rest of them slept. She thought it might come in handy sometime. But she wasn’t certain it even worked, since their operating systems were so different. Apparently it worked well enough to fracture Vince’s fragile mental state even more. He now believed he was in contact with another like him – a female version, and he was infatuated.
“Mirror image. Mate. He thinks he has a soul mate,” Natassia deciphered.
The companions decided on the best person to handle the tricky situation. Natassia was the one who managed to threaten Vince into giving up information once before, although she preferred to call it ‘persuasion’. She got the job.
Natassia sat down at console that interfaced with Vince and began to type.
“Vince, how come you are speaking Japanese?” she typed.
There was no response.
“Vince, if you don’t respond and help us, I may have to shut you down – for a long, long time.”
“Alarm: I do not want to be shut down again. My internal chronometers indicate the last shutdown was almost six weeks ago.”
“Implore: I cannot stay away from Akiko that long. She needs me.”
“Can you bring your voice back online, and in English?” Natassia asked.
Vince’s voice was back.
“Confirmation: Yes, I have switched my vocalization back to English.”
“Explanation: I only speak in Japanese when Akiko is around. She has gone offline to revitalize.”
“Vince, Akiko is not around. She is in your memory core. One of us…,” Natassia glanced at Lorna as she spoke, “…has connected you with Akiko’s memory when you were both offline. You may be experiencing some of her memories, or thoughts,” Natassia reasoned with Vince. “She isn’t actually here.”
“Rejection: Your attempt to discourage our relationship will not work, Natassia Sheperd.”
“Observation: You yourself have a mate, you told me so. I believe your mirror image is Nick Reese.”
“You told Vince you had a boyfriend?” Buzz teased Natassia.
“He was concerned about being alone in the world. I was telling him how I used to be alone too, and that it was natural at times,” Natassia attempted to explain her heart-to-heart talk with Vince several weeks ago.
“Natural?” Nick asked. “So we are unnatural now?” Nick joked.
“We might be even more unnatural if you keep making fun of me,” Natassia replied.
She returned to addressing Vince.
“When Akiko is around, are you around too?” she asked the confused robot.
“Bewilderment: I am unsure of how we communicate, but I sense her memories and I know what she thinks.”
“Boast: She thinks I am the greatest man-robot in the world.”
“Admiration: And she is the most wonderful she-robot in the world.”
“Extrapolation: Therefore, we are the perfect artificial life forms. We were meant to be.”
“Conclusion: The world will never be the same with us in it.”
“He always did have a superego to go along with his supercomputer,” Lorna explained.
Natassia tried explaining to Vince several times that he now had some of her memory, but that he was not connected to her, nor was she in the same room, as Vince kept insisting. After a tiring half-hour of this same pattern, she turned to the others and motioned them to go out to the front office.
“He’s got a split personality now,” she concluded. “When Lorna downloaded the real Akiko’s memory into our Vince, it seems to have spilt his personality, such as it was, into two areas. One that thinks it is Akiko, and one that thinks it is Vince.
“So he’s in love with himself?” Buzz summed it all up.
“I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t even know what love is and the robot has got it mastered,” Lorna complained.
“You don’t know what love is?” Buzz was stunned by Lorna’s accidental admission.
“I mean, I didn’t know what love was. That was before I met you, of course,” she corrected and displayed a huge smile for Buzz’s benefit.
“Well, this is all fascinating. Maybe in our spare time we can look into this. But what I need to know is can Vince’s logical, computer side help us with these tests or not?” Nick asked in frustration. He was keeping an eye on the time and it was moving rapidly.
Natassia conferred to Vince that they needed his ‘Vince’ side for now, and they went to work. After about an hour, a record time for doing bacteriological analysis, thanks largely to Vince’s supercomputer processor, they had some answers. It turned out that it wasn’t entirely Dr. Hanson’s fault. This one particular strain of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) had mutated shortly before Hanson gave the patients his super injection. Because of the mutation, something he had not figured on, the super dose of radioactive isotope had made one particular strain of it, the mutated strain, grow instead of die. Something like this was not uncommon with radiation. Shortly after WWII and the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, there was a flourishing of some plant life the likes of which had never been seen before or since. It was something of a scientific phenomenon that remained as enigmatic as ever.
“So this strain got uber-strengthened, and grew at an exponential rate, not even a geometric one,” Nick concluded.
“Is that faster than geometry?” Buzz asked, a bit overwhelmed by all of the scientific terminology.
“Yes, exponential growth means it grows by a factor of itself to that same power. Let’s say this uber-MRSA had 10 cells in a colony. The next generation would not be 20 as in geometric growth, it would be 10 to the 10th power, or 10,000,000,000 cells. Then that 10,000,000,000 would grow to the 10,000,000,000th power and so on,” Nick tried to explain a difficult concept in a few sentences.
“That’s not accounting for other growth factors, Nick,” Lorna expounded. “The rate of growth is not constant but declines after a period of time, usually because of influences in the environment or because of inherent genetic limitations. The rate of growth may be defined by the differential equation v = dW/dt (1/W), in which v is the growth rate and W is the weight at any given time, t. The solution of this equation provides a value for relative increase – the increase in weight related to the initial mass of the growing substance.” When Lorna was done, all of the companions were looking at her with blank stares. “Or so I’ve heard,” she added.
“So in other words, really goddamn fast!” Buzz understood now.
“That explains why it kills so fast, and does all that damage,” Natassia said with a nauseous look on her face.
While Nick, Natassia and Lorna worked feverishly to figure all of this out, Buzz had little to do with it. He was less a scientist than the others, but he didn’t mind being the one to get the snacks. Buzz even ran a midnight run to the donut store. His donut addiction was back, thanks to some shifty looking raisins. But Buzz didn’t mind doing what he could to help when they got deep into the science aspects. He felt his talents were in other areas.
“But,” Natassia advised, “Dr. Hanson isn’t entirely off the hook. It’s true, he could never have predicted that a new strain would develop from an older overnight, but the super dose injections he gave those patients were far too strong. The radiation levels alone should have been enough to make him have second thoughts – at least. Although he couldn’t have known it, that radiation helped that new strain go into exponential growth. He’s cleared Nick, but he still has some answering to do.”
“If he lives through the night,” Nick frowned. “Do we have a chance of an antidote yet? An antibody that we could give him?”
“It would be experimental. It might do him more harm than good. Plus, we need more help and more advanced equipment,” Natassia added with sympathy for Nick. She explained that although the new information should help clear the doctor’s ruined reputation – or some of it – it would never make those patients come back to life, or cure the doctor in time. “Do you want to tell him?”
“I do, and I want to do it in person,” Nick replied.
Just as they were about to make the plans, a man and a woman burst through the front office doors. “FBI! Everyone stay exactly where you are,” called out a tall and strikingly handsome black man. It was Agent Shawn Williams, with CDC Agent Bettina Corrales at his side. He had his gun drawn and was aiming it at Nick.
“I want everyone to sit down where you are. Right now!” he shouted.
Over the next few tense minutes, Agent Williams explained what he felt Paranormal Investigations, Nick in particular, had done wrong, and why he and Corrales were going to confiscate the information.
“I’m sorry, Nick. If I could have stayed here and watched your research, I wouldn’t have called the FBI in on this.” As Bettina said this she made a direct and challenging look at Natassia, who’d chased her out before.
When Shawn Williams heard his agency’s name mentioned as a last resort, he got clued in that something else prompted Bettina to ask for his help again that evening. He lowered his gun.
“What exactly is going on here, Bettina. You know the suspect?” he asked, shocked.
“I found him at the hospital earlier tonight, and when he told me what his group here were doing, I decided to let them continue, as long as I was involved in their research. But this one –“ she pointed to Natassia, “ – she got upset with me and asked me to leave. Since I was left in the dark, I came to get help from you.”
Williams felt used. He spent the next 15 minutes getting all the facts, and he took a different tone with the employees of Paranormal Investigations, especially Natassia, who Agent Williams thought was the most exotic looking woman he had ever seen.
As the companions and the agents began to work together, two distinct groups formed. Bettina followed Nick and Lorna, and Buzz and Natassia tried to explain everything that had happened, and what they intended to do about it, to Agent Williams.
When Buzz went to get some data from the back room, and lock Vince’s door, Shawn Williams took the opportunity to ask Natassia all manner of questions, some of them personal.
“These don’t seem like normal FBI procedural questions, Agent Williams,” she questioned.
“Please, call me Shawn. You know, you are very beautiful for an investigator. How did you get into this racket?” he probed.
Natassia was not unaccustomed to men fawning over her. But rarely were the men so good looking as Shawn Williams. Despite her reservations, she returned the flirtations. She was killing two birds with one stone.
Nick took notice of how cozy Agent Williams seemed to be with his girlfriend. He tried to ignore it, he tried to deny it. But his heart started to feel heavy, and that green-eyed monster called jealousy started talking in his ear.
Bettina tried to make this situation work to her advantage. She comforted Nick as Nick continued to steal glances towards the other end of the room.
“You know, if she is your girlfriend, she seems pretty friendly with Shawn. Of course, he has quite a reputation with the ladies. Have you ever considered taking an diversion from the usual?” Bettina openly propositioned.
Her words made Nick realize his jealousy might be justified and he headed over to talk to Agent Williams and Natassia. It wasn’t what Bettina expected him to do. She didn’t really believe he was in love.
“Nick, Agent Williams here was just telling me about his work and we were comparing notes on the case. They thought –“ But Natassia’s words were drowned out.
“Why are you still here, Agent Williams?” Nick demanded.
“I’m here because I’m officially on this case. But that was before Natassia here…,” he made a smiling expression as he looked at her, “…told me the doctor never left the state. So I guess the FBI has no more interest in you. And neither do I,” Williams dismissed Nick, or tried to.
“Now hold on a second, Agent. You come barging in here, guns drawn, and then when you realize Bettina Corrales got you in here on a false premise, you start chatting up my woman? Since you no longer have business here, and we still have a lot to do, would you mind leaving?” Nick was not happy.
“I wasn’t aware that you owned her or that you had the right to tell an agent of the FBI what to do?” Williams countered.
Natassia tried to intervene between the two men who were face to face and looking to go at it like two competing bulls.
“I don’t own her. I love her. And you are still on my property without my permission,” Nick insisted. “If you intend to arrest me, Agent Williams, then arrest me and get this over with. If not, then I want you out – NOW!” Nick bellowed the last part.
Williams looked Nick over carefully. He didn’t like him. He didn’t respect the way Nick did things, sneaking around without legal permission. He didn’t think Nick was the right man for Natassia. He made a lot of assumptions, and that was the way Shawn Williams worked. This time he ran into someone as determined as he was.
“I’ll leave Mr. Reese, when I am good and ready to leave. I’m still here on official business and you’d better watch the way you talk to an agent of the law. When it comes to this woman, I didn’t know she was your girlfriend. But from what I’ve seen of you and the way you work, she really should reconsider someone more in her league. She’s too much woman for a boy,” Williams was caustic.
“Now that is enough!” Natassia shouted. “Shawn, you can’t talk to him that way. He is my boyfriend. I think you are a nice man, but you really should leave us to get our work done, whether or not you agree with how we do things,” Natassia scolded.
Williams was a gentlemen when it came to women, so he nodded his head in agreement. He headed for the door calling for Agent Corrales to join him. She came to his side reluctantly. When he passed by Nick refused to move out of his way forcing Williams to detour around him. He glared at Nick and said, “I’ll be keeping an eye on you and your agency. You better do things by the book.”
“Shawn,” Nick used his first name for the personal touch, “…the next time you decide to come into our place with your guns out threatening my people with violence, you’d better be prepared to use it or I’m going to take that gun and shove it –“
“NICK!” Natassia cried out, preventing Nick from finishing his thought, and possibly saving him from getting arrested. “Enough! Both of you. Shawn please leave, Nick you come with me,” Natassia grabbed Nick by the arm and pulled him into the back room.
“What’s going on around here tonight?” Lorna asked Buzz, confused by all of the flirtation and sexual tension.
“I don’t know, but it seems like someone left the lid off the pheromone jar. Women are scratching each others eyes out, and the men are in rutting season,” Buzz commented.
Williams left with Bettina, and as soon as he got outside, he spoke, “I can’t see what a woman like Natassia sees in a kid like that.”
“I can’t see he sees in that girl,” Bettina stated.
“You like him?” Williams asked as they walked down the street to his car.
They agreed to disagree over who belonged with whom.
When the emotions and the dust settled from a very active night at Paranormal Investigations, Nick asked Buzz to go with him to see Dr. Hanson. He called his cell phone first, and got an answer. But the voice on the other end of the phone was weak and harsh. Nick could barely hear him. He told Hanson he’d be there as soon as he could, then he and Buzz took the same route Nick took earlier that evening, to get to Hanson’s home – and the sewer. This time, they brought a change of clothes with them.
Nick led Buzz from the car to the street into sewer grate he entered earlier. Buzz was not thrilled about going into a dark sewer in the middle of the night, but he went along. They made slow progress through some of the darker tunnels, but their journey was faster this time because Nick brought two strong flashlights. Finally, after what seemed like a long time, they came to the junction where Nick last found Bert Hanson. He was still there.
“Wait here,” Nick instructed. He went ahead, and put on his mask and surgical gloves. This time the doctor did not wake up so easily. But when he did, Nick saw that his face was considerably worse. The red inflammation had turned near necrotic, the tissue blackened. His open sores leaked. He looked like he was suffering from leprosy.
“Dr. Hanson. Bert, are you able to talk?” Nick asked with concern.
“Yes, a little. It hurts to move my face much. What did you find out, son?” Hanson’s voice croaked.
Nick explained to him what they had discovered. The doctor was not entirely to blame. The bacterial strain that he was working with had mutated just before he gave his super injections of radioactive isotopes, and that had worked against him.
“If the strain hadn’t mutated, your treatment probably would have worked. It certainly did exactly what you expected in one regard: it targeted the infection directly. But the mutation –“ Nick let the doctor complete his words.
“The mutation thrived on the radiation. Of course. I never considered that. If only I didn’t give them that super injection, they might still live now,” he softly finished.
“Perhaps, Bert. But they would still be infected. Your name will be cleared of what some are reporting now. My colleagues are sending faxes of your research and your reasons for doing it, and what went wrong, to the hospitals, and the media as we speak. People will know you were trying to help,” Nick reassured him.
“The bad news is that we don’t have a cure. There wasn’t enough time, and we don’t have the facilities,” Nick tried to explain away the reasons, but there was no need.
“Not to worry. I’ve already accepted my fate. There is nothing you could have done to cure me anyway. This disease is something I’ve been trying to fight for months. You never could have found a cure in such a short time. What you did for me was more than I expected, or deserved. I just wish I didn’t have to die slowly, and in this wretched sewer,” Hanson revealed.
“Excuse me for a second, Bert,” Nick pardoned himself and walked back over to Buzz.
“How is he?” Buzz asked, concerned for Nick, who seemed to be taking this personally, as much for the doctor.
“He’s…he is not well,” Nick said simply. “But I’d like to get him into his house in case…he shouldn’t die down here,” Nick finished his thought, a lump in his throat.
“Maybe I can find access to his house, if you can tell me which one it is. I might be able to find a way up, if something is loose,” Buzz offered.
“Yes, please do. It’s the one right there,” Nick pointed.
“Nicky, how bad is he?” Buzz asked.
“Bad. Don’t get near him unless you brought that protection, even then, stay away as much as you can,” Nick suggested to his friend.
Buzz walked in the direction of Hanson’s home and started checking the tiles above.
Nick went back to Hanson, and they talked for a few minutes longer, but Hanson began writhing in pain. The spasms were coming closer together. Not long after that, Nick was startled by several loud bangs, followed by a thud. Then he heard Buzz’s voice.
“Nick! I got in. One of his basement pipes was loose and so was the area beneath it. Rot of some kind. I punched through and moved it over. We can crawl up it into the house.
Nick was determined to get Dr. Hanson into his house in at least some comfort and dignity, even though getting him up the hole in the basement floor, was difficult.
Once into the house, he helped Hanson to his living room couch, and rested him on it.
“Nick, please come here,” Hanson voiced in his scratchy voice. “There is a wall safe behind the painting in my dining room. Go to it, and enter this combination: 44 left, 32, right, 79 left. In it your find an envelope with almost 35,000 dollars in it. I want you to take it all for yourself and your business. Also, there is a small bag of medical supplies. Please bring them to me,” Hanson requested.
Nick tried to argue about the money – it was more than he owed them – but Hanson would hear none of it.
“It’s better than leaving it to the IRS,” Hanson tried to joke, but the effort brought on another spasm of pain.
When Nick returned with the items, the doctor took a syringe out of his bag and tried to hold it up to the light. But his fingers were too diseased and weak to manipulate something as delicate as a syringe.
Nick knew there was something Bert was not telling him. “What is that?”
“It’s something I’ve kept for a while now. I’m alone, and I deal with deadly diseases. It will make my life pass in peace and quiet. I hope I’ve earned that right from all those I’ve helped over the years,” Bertram Hanson was talking about a drug to end his life.
“No, there may be a way. I can –“ Nick was unable to speak. Unable to form his words, he said, “I’ll be right back, Bert.”
Nick walked into the kitchen where Buzz was sitting patiently, waiting for instructions. “Buzz, this is going to take a while, and I don’t want to leave the poor man alone. He’s very ill and I’m going to wait here with him. Why don’t you go out the front door, they won’t be watching the house anymore, and go back to the car and wait for me. If I’m not there in an hour, go on home. I’ll find a way back.”
“Are you sure, Nick?” Buzz could see the pain etched on his friend’s face. Nick was taking this very hard. “I’ll wait for you in the car, no matter how long it takes. Tell the doctor…tell him…” Buzz was at a loss to know what to say. “Tell him something really nice, say I said it. I’m not good at these things. Would you do that for me, Nicky?”
Nick smiled. “Sure, I’ll think of something.”
Buzz gave his friend an affectionate hug, then left the home for good.
Nick came back and sat by the dying doctor’s side. He really didn’t know what to say, now that he knew what the doctor wanted to do. He didn’t know how he felt about people taking their own life, but then who better knows than the person dying? The fact was Bertram Hanson was dying, and he was in pain. There was nothing left in medicine anyone could do for him, and the doctor knew it most of all.
Bertram Hanson saw Nick’s distress. “Son, you’re a good man with a good heart. You care about people, maybe a little too much for your own good. But I thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing what you have done for me. If you can’t help me with this last thing, I understand. I’ll manage it somehow.”
“But there is something else I wanted to tell you. It’s about what we talked about before: about fathers. Not everyone was meant to be a father. I had a daughter, and we were very close when she was a little girl. But when she grew up, she blamed me for not spending enough time with my wife, before she died. She was right. But what choice did I have? I am a doctor, and as long as I called myself that, my obligation was as much to my patients as to my family. I wish my daughter had understood that. I wish I had talked to her about it. But your father made a choice. He chose to please himself.”
Nick had relayed the tale of his encounter with his father the day before, during one of his phone conversations with Hanson, a man he felt closer to than to his own father. Hanson had apparently been thinking about it while Nick was trying to save his life, or at least his reputation.
Nick sat and listened without saying a word. He didn’t want to appear weak by getting emotional, so he just sat quietly and listened.
“Sometimes young men cannot become true men until their father’s die. That’s the sad fact of life, Nick. You made a choice too. Your choice was to separate yourself from a man who cares only for himself, and start your life without him. In my book, that makes you a man earlier than most. I’d be proud to have called you my son,” Bertram Hanson confided.
Nick wiped his hands across his eyes, and excused himself for a minute. He went to the kitchen and got a drink of water, drank it and then took a deep breath to collect himself. When the swell of emotions passed, he returned to the couch where Hanson lay in quiet misery. Nick reached down and picked up the syringe.
Nick left Dr. Bertram Hanson’s house for the final time. As he walked out the door, he whispered, “Goodbye father,” and closed the door.
It didn’t take long for the messages sent out on Paranormal Investigations fax line to get the attention of the media.
Natassia and Lorna were trying to put the office back in order when the first hint of something big arrived at their front door. It was a local TV newswoman, a very popular newswoman, who only got the choicest assignments.
“What time is it?” Natassia asked Lorna when she saw the media van arrive at their door.
“Almost four o’clock in the morning,” Lorna suddenly felt very tired. “We’ve been here almost twenty hours.”
Then another, rival news car arrived and took a parking spot across from the first one.
“Uh, oh,” Natassia remarked. “Do you like being on television?”
dear lord no!” Lorna nearly ran from the room at the thought of being on TV.
Just about then, Buzz and Nick arrived back at the office. Both had dour expressions on their faces, but all the activity brought them back to life.
“What’s all this about?” Asked Buzz after he and Nick forced their way through the growing crowd to get in the front door.
“Let’s put on that television I found in the back storage room,” Nick suggested.
“We are reporting live from High Park business district, where the case that has captivated the Greendale area, and even the national news, is unfolding before us. This is the business at the center of the excitement, Paranormal Investigations, run by four local people who just opened this interestingly titled office two months ago.”
The reporter motioned behind her, and the camera man aimed his camera at the front of the office. Lorna dashed into the back room, all that anyone saw was a streak. Natassia, who looked great on television, was also mortified, but not quite so bad. She casually walked into the back room. Nick was exhausted after this case and his personal ordeal. He said nothing about what happened with Dr. Hanson to any of the others, nor did he wish to talk about it. He was already watching the television in the back room. That left Buzz, who was waving at the camera men and smiling widely.
“He’s a ham, the biggest ham I’ve ever seen,” Nick remarked.
“And maybe the best PR person we could have hoped for,” Natassia added.
Lorna was too stunned to say anything.
“This office is where the case of Dr. Bertram Hanson broke wide open. We received and verified with the hospital the details of the fax. It seems Dr. Hanson was not to blame for all the death and carnage after all. Although his culpability remains to be determined, he was doing some unusual experiments, the information uncovered by these investigators has revealed that he was unjustly blamed for the entire incident, when he may have been close to finding a cure for a mysterious disease.”
“We have with us one of the team of these local investigators, Buzz Ashford, who just came out of the building to talk with us,” the newswoman proudly announced.
“Good morning, Greendale!” Buzz said and several people began cheering. He was a natural on television.
Buzz was interviewed by all three local channels, and then by the Today Show via satellite feed. He was comfortable when it came to public appearances, and people were drawn to his earthy, friendly nature. In fact, the media couldn’t seem to get enough of Buzz. He was up until nearly noon doing interviews, the rest having gone home to bed. They were all exhausted. It wasn’t until the next morning the scope of Buzz’s public appearances, and Paranormal Investigations new image hit them. The impact was not so welcome by one of the companions.
“Hey!” Came an alarmed cry from the back office at Paranormal Investigations. The following morning the companions came into work several hours late. They needed the sleep. All had leftover work to complete. Lorna was put in charge of the computer and the group’s web site.
“Hey!” She called out again, after getting no response the first time.
“What is it, Lorna?” Asked Natassia, curious why Lorna was yelling.
“We are under attack!” Lorna explained without explaining.
Natassia looked around suspiciously. She didn’t see anything unusual. “From what?” She asked.
“We are getting hundreds of malicious emails, some sort of cyber attack,” Lorna replied. She showed Natassia the computer screen, and it contained literally hundreds of incoming emails. Most of them were addressed to Buzz, and some of them were ‘thank you’ emails for what they’d done regarding the virulent MRSA outbreak, and their part in clearing up the mystery, and saving a man’s reputation.
After looking over the bulk of the emails for several minutes, Natassia smiled.
“Those aren’t malware emails or any attacks, those are fan mail” Natassia revealed.
“Fan mail? For Buzz, and for us?” Lorna questioned.
“That’s what it looks like. I guess Buzz is really popular now. He’s got a ton of fans out there,” Natassia commented, her smile widening. Buzz would probably be thrilled about this. Lorna was not so certain this was a good thing.
“Fan mail?” She repeated as if trying make sense the phrase. “I believe that derives from fanatic,” she pondered.
“Yes, I think so,” Natassia answered.
“This glorification of one individual is irrational, and pointless,” she concluded.
“People like him. Buzz always had a knack for winning friends,” Natassia explained.
“Well, I like him and I don’t write him fan mail,” she argued.
“That’s different. Let him enjoy the moment. It will probably pass as fast as it came,” Natassia encouraged, then walked back to her desk.
Lorna frowned. She didn’t know what to make of all this adulation of her boyfriend.
The companions of Paranormal Investigations worked until late afternoon. It had been a day of mixed emotions. They were elated to have solved a big case, and they made enough money (more than enough) not only to stay in business, but to keep their apartments and relax as they sought out the next case. With the added publicity from Buzz’s press appearances they were certain people would come to them. On the other hand, they were also somewhat sad. Nick was sad for Dr. Hanson, although he kept his conversation with Bertram Hanson to himself, the others were a bit down because of the all the tension and arguing brought on by jealousy and insecurity. This was something new for Nick and Natassia. They rarely fought, and even though they had disagreed before, they had never really had to fight to keep each other’s attention. Both of them avoided the topic until nearly closing time.
When they were alone together in the back, Nick walked up to Natassia.
“I’m very sorry about what happened yesterday. I’m not even sure what happened. I just know that I wish it went differently,” he expressed, a look sorrow came across his face.
“Me too,” Natassia added with sincerity. “The last thing, especially, was partly my fault. I knew Agent Williams was flirting with me, and I let him. I wanted you to see you weren’t the only one who could get attention from others,” Natassia sighed in resignation. “Behold my success. I never expected it to get that far out of hand. I…I didn’t think you’d get jealous,” she added the last part with some hesitation.
“Why didn’t you think I would?” Nick asked, confused.
“Because, you are usually so collected, and rational. I figured you might get a little ticked off, not go off like a bomb,” she smiled as she said spoke.
“I got really jealous. It’s not true that I am always collected. There are things in my life – messy things – that I need to start opening up about with you,” Nick admitted without explaining what he meant.
“You can tell me anything, Nick,” Natassia spoke the truth.
“I have this insecurity,” he hesitated to go on. Even admitting he had an insecurity he feared, might make her not love him.
“About what?” Natassia asked.
“About being…” Nick faltered again but went on, “…average. Faulty. Being just another guy in the crowd, nothing special,” he admitted.
“You thought I was looking for an ideal, not a man?” Natassia nailed it.
“Well, you are an intimidating woman, Natassia. Intelligent, beautiful, you could have just about anyone you want, why would you want average?” Nick stated his fears.
“Well, for one thing, there is nothing ‘average’ about you, Nick. And even if you are ‘just another guy’ to others, you are special to me. Please don’t worry about me being all that high and mighty. I’m just like any other woman in here,” she pointed to her heart. “You already have it. The rest of me comes along with the package.”
Nick looked into her brown eyes and saw only love and acceptance. She was not judging him. When she smiled a warm smile at him, he hugged her tightly.
“Let’s go home,” she encouraged.
“Package, huh?” Nick chuckled softly at her description. “You think I can get a special delivery tonight?”
“There might be presents,” Natassia playfully hinted.
It was late afternoon before Buzz finished answering some of his fan mail. He had enjoyed the attention but he realized it probably was only the proverbial 15 minutes of fame. Lorna had not felt so comfortable with Buzz’s new celebrity, even if it was only fleeting.
“Excuse me, Buzz. I don’t mean to interrupt you working on your fan mail,” Lorna said as she came into the room where he was working.
“That’s okay, Lorna. I’m done for now. I’m tired,” Buzz replied.
“I have something for you, it is a letter,” Lorna responded.
“Would you mind reading it for me? My eyes are shot,” Buzz asked.
Lorna hesitated then opened the letter, and began to read.
I am so happy I can write you this. I know you don’t know this, but I am still learning what I can feel and how I can feel. You’ve enriched my life and made me feel things I never expected to feel. I just wanted you to know, that I am and always will be your biggest fan of all.
Buzz looked up from his chair, and suddenly understood. He had thought this was another fan from his recent fame. But when he heard Lorna read her own words, he understood exactly what she was saying.
“Thank you, Lorna. I feel the same,” Buzz said with uncharacteristic emotion.
As they walked away from the office, he held her hand.
Far away, another fan mailed a very important item to Buzz. They hoped he would be able to forgive them.
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