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  For a few minutes, Gaetano stood in the darkness and rationalized that it was better this way. If he’d been able to walk up to the lanai, pull off a quick shot to nail the professor, and then skedaddle, it would have been less than satisfying. It would have been too easy and too quick. Far better was a more protracted stalking, involving a bit of danger that called upon his experience and expertise. That was when the process was truly satisfying.
   Gaetano let go of the gun, wiggled his leg so the silencer dangled properly within his pant leg, and straightened his jacket. Then he turned around and headed for the hotel’s common areas—if the professor and the girl had not left the hotel for dinner, that’s where they would be.
   The first restaurant was sited considerably closer to the beach than the buildings housing the hotel’s rooms, requiring Gaetano to walk along the edge of the sea grapes with the beach now to his left. The dining room’s French doors opened directly toward the ocean, and Gaetano was close enough to hear conversation. He picked up his pace to move quickly beyond the diners’ line of sight. His worry was the possibility that the professor would recognize him. That was where the danger lay, because if the professor saw him, security would be alerted, and probably the police.
   Once beyond the French doors, Gaetano entered the restaurant by its front entrance, all the while keeping a sharp lookout for the professor. He walked past the hostess’s desk, where several couples were waiting to be seated, and paused at the entrance to the dining room, quickly and methodically scanning the room. When he was certain the professor wasn’t there, he left as quickly as he had arrived.
   Next was the more casual restaurant with a bar at its center that Gaetano had strolled through on his first visit. It was built right at the edge of the beach, with a thatched roof like an enormous tiki hut. It was packed with guests, particularly the bar. Once again, being extremely careful, Gaetano made a loop around, walking between the center bar and the periphery tables. The professor was not there.
   Resigning himself that his mark had probably left the hotel for dinner, Gaetano followed the walkway that traversed the lawn to the main building. His intent was to reoccupy the same couch he’d used on his previous visit, which afforded a view of the hotel’s entrance. He hoped the bowls of fruit would still be there. After walking through the two restaurants and smelling the savory aromas, Gaetano’s stomach was grumbling.
   There were a few people in the main lounge. Unfortunately, Gaetano’s sofa was occupied by a couple carrying on a conversation with two others in facing chairs. Gaetano wandered over to the small bar and its bowl of peanuts. By coincidence, it was manned by the same gentleman Gaetano had chatted with on his previous visit. Gaetano could still see the hotel’s entrance, although not quite as well as from the couch, yet it was good enough.
   “Hey!” the bartender said. He extended a hand. “Long time no see!”
   Gaetano was mildly disturbed that the man recognized him, with as many people as the man undoubtedly saw on a daily basis. Gaetano smiled weakly, shook the man’s hand, and took a handful of peanuts. The bartender was a transplanted New Yorker, which had been the topic of conversation a week and a half earlier.
   “Can I get you something?” the bartender asked.
   Gaetano saw one of the hotel’s beefy security men appear at the archway into the reception area. With his arms akimbo, he casually scanned the room. He was dressed in a nondescript dark suit. It was obvious he was security, because he wore an earpiece in his left ear, with the wire snaking under his jacket.
   “A Coke would be nice,” Gaetano said. It was best to look relaxed and engaged so as not to appear as if he didn’t belong. He half sat on one of the barstools with his left leg straight, so as not to disturb the hidden gun with its silencer. “Ice with a twist of lemon would make it perfect.”
   “You got it, pal,” the bartender said. He set to work opening the Coke and filling a glass with ice. He twisted the lemon peel, ran it around the glass’s rim, and put the drink in front of Gaetano. “Are your friends still staying here at the hotel?”
   Gaetano nodded. “I was supposed to run into them here at the hotel tonight, but they’re not in their room or at either of the restaurants.”
   “Did you try the Courtyard?”
   “What’s that?” Gaetano asked. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the security person disappear back into the reception area.
   “That’s actually our best restaurant,” the bartender explained. “It’s only open for dinner.”
   “Where is it?”
   “Just go up into reception and turn left. Go through the doors, and you’re there. It’s literally in the courtyard of the oldest part of the hotel.”
   “I’ll give it a try,” Gaetano said. He tossed back the Coke and grimaced at its effervescence. He put a sawbuck on the bar and patted it. “Thanks, buddy!”
   “No problem,” the bartender said, pocketing the bill.
   Gaetano walked up the two steps into reception, keeping an eye out for the security man. He saw him immediately engrossed in a conversation with the head doorman. Following the bartender’s directions, Gaetano turned left, went through a door separating the air-conditioned space from the non-, and found himself in a courtyard-cum-restaurant. It was a long, rectangular space filled with palm trees, exotic flowers, and even a central fountain beside the tables and chairs. Encircling the area was a two-story hotel building. A balcony ran around the second story with a wrought-iron railing. Live music floated out over the scene from an ensemble above and out of Gaetano’s sight.
   “Can I help you?” a dark-haired woman asked from behind the hostess podium. She was dressed in a tight, tropical-print, ankle-length spaghetti-strap dress that made Gaetano wonder if she could walk without pulling it up to her waist.
   “I’m just looking,” Gaetano said. He smiled. “It’s a beautiful setting.” Although there was some dim light coming from the hotel’s open hallways, most of the illumination in the dining area came from a combination of tall candles on each table and the moon overhead.
   “You’ll need a reservation if you want to join us one evening,” the hostess said. “We’re completely booked this evening.”
   “I’ll keep that in mind. Is it all right if I just look around a bit?”
   “Certainly,” the hostess said, gesturing for Gaetano to proceed.
   Gaetano saw a stairway to the second floor, and believing he would have a better view from there, he climbed it. Reaching the second floor, he saw the musicians. They were set up in a small sitting area directly above the hostess stand. To make room, they had pushed the hotel’s furniture aside.
   Gaetano walked down the open hallway on the right, running his hand along the railing as he progressed. He had a good view of the diners below, at least at those tables not obscured by the vegetation. The candles conveniently illuminated the people’s faces. Intending to make a full circuit, Gaetano was confident he would be able to see everyone unobtrusively.
   All at once, he stopped, and the same hairs that had arisen earlier stood bolt upright once again. Not more than fifty feet away, sitting at a table beyond a flowering oleander bush, was the professor, engaged in what looked like an animated conversation. His head was bobbing as he talked, and he was even jabbing an index finger in the air as if to make a point. Gaetano couldn’t see Stephanie’s face, as she was facing in the opposite direction. Quickly, Gaetano backed up to put the oleander back between himself and the professor. Now came the fun part. If he had a rifle with a scope, he could pop the professor from where he was standing, but he didn’t have a rifle, and besides, such a hit would hardly be sporting. He knew all too well that with a handgun, even with a laser sight, you had to be practically on top of the mark to be sure it was a kill. With that in mind, he knew he’d have to bide his time.
   Gaetano looked around. Now that he found the lovebirds, he wondered where he could wait for them to finish their romantic dinner. As soon as they did, they undoubtedly would head back to their room on one of the many dark, isolated walkways, which would be a perfect location for the hit. Worst case, they’d take a walk on the beach, which would be equally fine as far as Gaetano was concerned. With his excitement growing, Gaetano smiled contentedly. Finally, everything was falling into place.
   Ahead, there wasn’t much except a stairway. It led to a spa, at least according to a sign Gaetano could read from where he was standing. Gaetano glanced back at the sitting area where the musicians were playing and decided it would be a perfect place to wait. Although he probably wouldn’t be able to see the professor or Tony’s sister, due to the intervening oleander bush by their table, he’d see when they got up to leave, which was the important thing. Equally important was that while he waited, it would look like he was sitting there listening to the ensemble if one of the security people happened by.

   Daniel rubbed his eyes to give himself patience. He blinked a few times before looking back at Stephanie, whose expression was one of exasperated anger that perfectly mirrored his own. “All I’m saying is that the security man, whatever his name is, said he searched you when he found you trespassing, which isn’t so unexpected.”
   “His name is Kurt Hermann!” Stephanie spat. “And I’m telling you, he groped me disgustingly. I was humiliated and terrified, and I’m not sure which was worse.”
   “Okay, so he groped you as well as searched you. I’m not sure where one stops and the other begins. But be that as it may, you shouldn’t have been the hell in the egg room in the first place. It’s like you were asking for it!”
   Stephanie’s mouth slowly dropped open. She was appalled that Daniel could say such a thing. It was the most insensitive thing he’d ever said, and he’d said some pretty insensitive things during their relationship. Abruptly, Stephanie pushed back her wrought-iron chair, which made a considerable grating noise against the concrete pavement, and stood up. Daniel reacted almost as quickly by leaning forward and grabbing her forearm.
   “Where do you think you’re going?” he demanded.
   “I’m not sure,” Stephanie snapped. “At the moment, I just want to leave.”
   For a few beats, they eyed each other across the table. Daniel did not let go, but Stephanie did not try to struggle either. They had become aware that the people sitting at the nearby tables had gone silent. When both Daniel and Stephanie glanced around, they saw that all eyes were on them. Even several waiters had stopped in mid-stride to stare.
   Despite how she felt, Stephanie sat back down. Daniel continued to hold her arm, although his grip significantly loosened.
   “I didn’t mean that last statement,” Daniel said. “I’m angry and upset, and it slipped out. I know you weren’t looking to be molested.”
   Stephanie’s eyes were blazing. “You sound like one of those people who think rape victims purposefully put themselves at risk by what they wear or how they act.”
   “Absolutely not,” Daniel said. “It was a slip of the tongue. I’m just really angry you went into that egg room and caused this major flap. You promised you weren’t going to make waves.”
   “I didn’t promise,” Stephanie retorted. Her voice had lost a bit of its edge. “I said I would try my best. But my conscience is hounding me. I went into that egg room to try to prove what I feared, and I did. Among the other things we already knew about, they are definitely impregnating women and then aborting them for fetal ovaries.”
   “How can you be so sure?”
   “I saw definite proof.”
   “Okay, can we talk about this without yelling at each other?” Daniel eyes darted around at the nearby tables. People had gone back to their own conversations, and the waiters had resumed their duties.
   “Not unless you avoid saying things like you just did a second ago.”
   “I’ll try my best.”
   Stephanie eyed Daniel, trying to decide if his last statement was deliberately passive-aggressive or if he was making fun of her by echoing her. From her perspective, it had to be one or the other, and along with everything else, it wasn’t a good sign.
   “Come on!” Daniel said. “Tell me this definitive proof!”
   Stephanie continued to stare at Daniel. Now she was trying to decide if he had changed during the last six months or if he’d always been so dispassionate about everything but his work. She looked away for a moment to reprogram her emotions and get herself under a semblance of control. It wasn’t going to solve anything if she stalked off or they sat there and bickered. Turning back to Daniel, she took a deep breath and described everything she had seen, particularly the details about the ledger book that had laid it all out in black and white. When she finished, they stared at each other across their unfinished dinners. It was Daniel who finally broke the silence.
   “Well, you were right. Does being right at least give you some satisfaction?”
   “Hardly!” Stephanie said, with a sarcastic laugh. “The question is—can we proceed at this point, knowing what we do?”
   Daniel looked down at the table and fiddled absently with his silverware. “The way I see it is that we accepted the oocytes before we knew the details of their origin.”
   “Ha!” Stephanie scoffed. “That’s a mighty convenient excuse and a world-class example of fair-weather ethics.”
   Daniel raised his eyes to meet Stephanie’s. “We are so close,” he said, solemnly enunciating each word. “Tomorrow, we’ll start differentiating the cells. I’m not stopping now because of what is going on at the Wingate Clinic. I’m sorry you were manhandled, mistreated, and molested. I’m also sorry I got beat up. This has not been a picnic, but we knew treating Butler was not going to be easy. We were well aware from the outset that the Wingate principals were unethical, venal idiots, yet we decided to proceed in spite of it. The question is—are you still with me or not?”
   “Let me ask you a question,” Stephanie said, leaning closer to Daniel and lowering her voice. “After Butler has been treated, and we go home, and CURE has been saved, and everything is hunky-dory, can we somehow anonymously alert the Bahamian authorities to what is going on at the Wingate?”
   “That would be problematic,” Daniel responded. “To get you out of Kurt Hermann’s private jail cell immediately, which I thought was of prime importance for all concerned, I signed a confidentiality agreement that precluded doing what you just suggested. These people we are dealing with might be crazy, but they are not stupid. The agreement also spelled out what we are doing at the Wingate, meaning that if their secret is revealed, they will reveal ours, which could undo everything we’ve tried to accomplish by treating Butler.
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   Stephanie absently twirled her wineglass, which she had otherwise not touched. “What about this idea?” Stephanie said suddenly. “Maybe once Butler is cured, he won’t be so emphatic about secrecy.”
   “I suppose that’s a possibility,” Daniel offered.
   “Can we then say we will at least leave the issue open for discussion down the road?”
   “I suppose,” Daniel repeated. “I mean, who knows? Things might happen that we have not anticipated.”
   “That seems like a fair description of the whole affair to date.”
   “Very funny!”
   “Well, nothing has happened exactly as we’ve planned!”
   “That’s not quite true. Thanks to you, the cellular work has progressed exactly as we planned. By the time Butler gets here, we could have ten cell lines available, any one of which could cure him. What I need to know is whether you are with me, so we can complete what we need to do and get out of Nassau.”
   “I do have one more demand,” Stephanie said.
   “Oh?”
   “I want you to make it clear to Spencer Wingate that you’re not happy he is making inappropriate overtures toward me. And while we’re on the subject, why have you been so passive about it? It’s humiliating. You’ve never even brought it up between us.”
   “I’m just trying not to make waves.”
   “That’s making waves! I don’t understand! If Sheila Donaldson was making equivalent overtures to you, I would certainly support you however you wanted me to.”
   “Spencer Wingate is a self-centered blowhard egotist who thinks he’s a gift to womankind. I was confident you could handle him without turning the situation into a bad scene.”
   “It’s already been a bad scene. He’s become progressively and offensively insistent, even to the point of touching me, although after today’s flap, maybe he’ll be less so. Anyway, I want some support from you about this. Okay?”
   “All right! Okay!” Daniel said. “Is that it? Can we just move on and finish this whole Butler affair?”
   Stephanie nodded. “I suppose,” she said without a lot of enthusiasm.
   Daniel ran his fingers through his hair several times, puffed up his cheeks, and then let his breath out like a balloon deflating. He smiled weakly. “I’m sorry again for what I said a little while ago. I’ve just been beside myself since hearing you were locked up in that jail cell. I thought for sure we were going to be kicked out of the Wingate because of your nosing around, just when we were in sight of success.”
   Stephanie silently wondered if Daniel had any inkling of how self-centered he was himself. “I hope you are not leading up to saying I shouldn’t have gone into the egg room.”
   “No, not at all,” Daniel admitted. “I understand that you did what you felt you had to do. I’m just glad that ultimately our project hasn’t been derailed. But this episode has made me realize something else. We’ve been so busy and preoccupied that we haven’t taken a moment to ourselves other than to eat.” Daniel put his head back and looked up through the palm fronds at the star-speckled sky. “I mean, here we are in the Bahamas in the middle of the winter, and we haven’t taken advantage of it in any way or form.”
   “Are you suggesting something in particular?” Stephanie asked. Occasionally, Daniel surprised her.
   “I am,” he answered. He took his napkin off his lap and plopped it onto his dinner plate. “Neither of us seems particularly hungry, and we’re both stressed. Why don’t we take a moonlit stroll up through the hotel’s formal garden and visit that medieval cloister we saw from a distance on our walk our first morning here. We were both curious about it, and it would be awfully appropriate. In the middle ages, cloisters were shelters from the turmoil of the real world.”
   Stephanie lifted her own napkin and put it on the table. Despite her current aggravation with Daniel and the further questions it raised about her future relationship with him, she couldn’t help but smile at his cleverness and razor-sharp intellect, traits that had had a lot to do with her initial attraction to him. She stood up. “That might be the best suggestion you’ve made in six months.”

   This looks promising! Gaetano said to himself as he saw Stephanie’s head and then Daniel’s appear over the top of the oleander that blocked his view of their table. He’d seen Stephanie’s for a moment earlier, but she had apparently sat back down. Gaetano hunkered down in his chair, lest Daniel chance to look up at the ensemble on the balcony. Gaetano fully expected the couple to make their way in his direction and pass the hostess desk directly below on their way back to their suite. But they fooled him. They started off in the opposite direction and never looked back.
   “Crap!” Gaetano mumbled. Every time he thought he had everything under control, something unexpected happened. He glanced over at the lead musician, with whom he’d made eye contact during the time he’d been waiting. The man had been demonstrably appreciative of Gaetano’s attention. Gaetano smiled and gave a little wave as he got to his feet.
   At first Gaetano walked at a normal pace along the balcony to avoid giving the impression that he was hurrying. But once he was far enough away from the musicians, he upped his pace while keeping a hand on the gun in his pants pocket to keep it from banging against his leg. In the courtyard below, the professor and the girl had already disappeared into the spa that occupied the first floor of the eastern end of the building.
   At the opposite end of the balcony, Gaetano skidded to a stop at the head of the stairs. He descended rapidly, still clutching the gun through the fabric of his slacks. When he arrived at the spa door, he stopped, briefly composed himself, made sure he wasn’t being observed by anyone in the restaurant, and then slowly opened it. He had no idea what to expect. If the professor and the girl were in sight, signing up for a treatment, he’d just back out and rethink what he should do. But the spa was shut for the night, as evidenced by a sign on the empty reception desk illuminated by a single votive candle. All at once, Gaetano remembered having passed through the same area on his first visit when he had been searching for the hotel’s pool. Guessing the pool was the professor and his girlfriend’s destination, he hurried across the empty room and out the other side.
   Gaetano was now in the section of the hotel grounds composed of individual villas. Splotches of dim light defined each entrance, but the area was otherwise dark beneath a canopy of palms. Gaetano walked briskly, remembering the route. He was pleased. Guessing the pool and its snack bar would also be closed and deserted, he’d have his choice of appropriate locations to do what he needed to do.
   As he rounded a sharp right-hand turn in the walkway, Gaetano caught a glimpse of the professor and Tony’s sister before they disappeared down a short run of stairs beyond a baroque limestone balustrade. Gaetano picked up his pace again. Reaching the balustrade, he looked out over the pool area. As he had expected, it was closed for the night, and the surrounding buildings were dark. The pool itself was illuminated with underwater lights and appeared like a huge, flat emerald.
   “I don’t believe this!” Gaetano whispered to himself. “It’s so perfect!” His excitement was palpable. Daniel and Stephanie had walked around the edge of the pool and were now starting off into the extensive, dark, and deserted formal gardens. In the darkness, Gaetano couldn’t see many of the details beyond some isolated suggestions of statuary and hedges. But what he could see clearly was the lighted medieval cloister. It stood gleaming in the distant moonlight like a crown capping a series of rising, shadowy garden terraces.
   Gaetano’s hand slipped into his left pants pocket and wrapped itself around the handle of the silenced automatic. He shivered from the sensation the cold steel caused, and in his mind’s eye, Gaetano could see the red laser dot on the professor’s forehead, which would precede his pulling the trigger.
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Twenty-One

   9:37 P.M., Monday, March 11, 2002
   “I recognize this statue from somewhere,” Daniel said. “Do you know if it’s famous?”
   Daniel and Stephanie were standing on a manicured patch of grass, gazing at a white marble reclining nude that appeared to glow in the humid, misty semidarkness of the Ocean Club’s Versailles-inspired garden. A silvery blue illumination washed over the formal landscape and contrasted sharply with the deep purple shadows.
   “I think it’s a copy of a Canova,” Stephanie replied. “So, yes, it’s reasonably famous. If it is the one I’m thinking of, the original is in the Borghese Museum in Rome.”
   Daniel shot an awed glance in her direction, which she missed. She was absorbed in lightly touching the woman’s thigh. “It’s amazing how much like skin the marble appears in the moonlight.”
   “How on earth did you know it is a copy of a Canova, whatever the hell that is?”
   “Antonio Canova was a renowned eighteenth-century neoclassical Italian sculptor.”
   “I’m impressed,” Daniel said, with continued awed disbelief. “How do you happen to have such arcane facts at your fingertips? Or are you pulling my leg from having read about this garden in the brochure in the room?”
   “I didn’t read the brochure, but I saw you reading it. Maybe you should be giving us a tour.”
   “Not a chance! The only part I read carefully was about the cloister up on the hill. Seriously, how did you know about Canova?”
   “I was a history minor in college,” Stephanie said. “That included a survey course in art history, which I remember more about than most of my other classes.”
   “You amaze me sometimes,” Daniel commented. Following Stephanie’s example, he reached out and touched the marble cushion on which the woman reclined. “It is uncanny how these guys were able to make marble appear so soft. Look at the way her body indents the fabric.”
   “Daniel!” Stephanie said with sudden insistence.
   Daniel straightened up and tried to read Stephanie’s expression in the darkness. She was staring back toward the pool area. He followed her line of sight but saw nothing out of the ordinary in the shadowy moonlit landscape. “What’s the matter? Did you see something?”
   “I did,” Stephanie said. “I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I think there is someone over there behind that balustrade.”
   “So what! There’s bound to be people wandering around out here, as beautiful as this place is. It’s not as if we can expect to have this huge garden to ourselves.”
   “True,” Stephanie agreed. “But it just seemed as if whoever I saw ducked away as soon as I turned my head. It was like they didn’t want to be seen.”
   “What are you trying to suggest?” Daniel questioned, with one of his scornful laughs. “Someone is spying on us?”
   “Well, yeah, something like that.”
   “Oh, come on, Stephanie! I wasn’t serious when I suggested it.”
   “Well, I’m serious. I really think I saw someone.” She raised herself up on her tiptoes and strained to see in the darkness. “And there’s someone else!” she said excitedly.
   “Where? I don’t see anybody.”
   “Back by the pool. Someone just disappeared from the light into the shadows of the snack bar.”
   Daniel reached out and gripped Stephanie by both shoulders, making her turn to look at him. She resisted initially. “Hey! Come on! We’re out here to relax. We’ve both had a hell of a day, and you in particular.”
   “Maybe we should go back and take a walk on the beach, where there are always people. This garden seems too big, too dark, and too isolated for my current taste.”
   “We’re going up to that cloister,” Daniel said authoritatively, pointing up the hill. “We’ve both been intrigued by it, and as I said earlier, our visiting it is metaphysically apropos. We need some shielding from our current turmoil. And nighttime is the best time to visit ruins. So pull yourself together and let’s go!”
   “What if I really did see someone duck behind that balustrade?” Stephanie went back to craning her neck to see over the bougainvillaea.
   “Do you want me to run back there and check? If you do, I’ll be glad to go to put your mind at ease. You’re being understandably paranoid, although paranoid nonetheless. We’re on the hotel’s grounds, for Christ’s sake. They have security all over this place, remember?”
   “I suppose,” Stephanie reluctantly agreed. A fleeting image of Kurt Hermann leering at her passed through her mind. She had a lot of reasons to be on edge.
   “What do you say; do you want me to run back there?”
   “No, I want you to stay here.”
   “Well, come on then! Let’s go up to the cloister.” Daniel took her hand and guided her back to the central promenade that led through a number of terraces and up widely spaced flights of steps to the crest of the hill where the cloister was sited. In contrast to the dark garden, the cloister was illuminated with hidden ground-level lights to highlight its gothic arches and give it a jewellike quality in the distance.
   As they gained each terrace and skirted a central fountain or statue, they noticed additional statuary to either side within shadowed arbors. Some of these side statues were marble, while others were stone or cast bronze. Although tempted to take a look at them, they avoided any more detours.
   “I had no idea there was so much art out here,” Stephanie commented.
   “It was a private estate before it was a hotel,” Daniel said. “At least according to the brochure.”
   “What did it say about the cloister?”
   “All I remember is that it’s French and was built in the twelfth century.”
   Stephanie whistled in wonderment. “Very few cloisters have ever left France. In fact, I only know of one other, and it’s not that old.”
   They climbed the last flight of steps, and when they reached the top, they found a paved public road cutting across their path and isolating the cloister from its formal gardens. When they had viewed the cloister from below, there was no way to see the road unless a vehicle had gone by, and none had.
   “This is a surprise,” Daniel said, looking up and down the road. It ran east to west along the spine of Paradise Island.
   “I guess it’s the price of progress,” Stephanie said. “I bet it goes out to the golf course.”
   They crossed the road, the blacktop of which was still radiating the heat of the day, and climbed a few more steps to gain the crown of the hill dominated by the cloister. The ancient structure was merely a square, roofless, double row of gothic-columned arches. The inner row had a bit of tracery in the form of a single foil within each arch.
   Daniel and Stephanie approached the edifice. They had to watch their footing, because in contrast to the lower garden, the ground near the cloister was uneven and littered with chunks of stone and crushed seashells.
   “I have a feeling this is going to be one of those things that looks better from a distance than close-up,” Stephanie said.
   “That’s part of the reason ruins are better viewed at night.”
   They reached the structure and carefully made their way into the aisle that ran between the two rows of columns. Their eyes, adapted to the dark, had to squint against the glare of the outside illumination.
   “This portion was roofed in its former life,” Stephanie said.
   Daniel looked up and nodded.
   Avoiding the debris underfoot, they stepped over to the inner balustrade. Both leaned on the ancient limestone handrail and peered into the central courtyard. It was about fifty feet square and filled with flat mounds of stone and shell fragments, plus a complicated interplay of shadows from the display lights and the intervening arches.
   “It’s sad,” Stephanie commented. She shook her head. “Back when this was the center of a functioning cloister, this courtyard would have had a well and maybe even a fountain, plus a garden.”
   Daniel’s eyes roamed around the enclosure. “What I find sad is that after lasting almost a thousand years in France, it’s not going to last very long here, exposed to the tropical sun and sea air.”
   They straightened up and looked at each other. “This is a bit anticlimactic,” Daniel said. “Let’s go take that stroll you suggested on the beach!”
   “Good idea,” Stephanie said. “But first, let’s give this structure the benefit of the doubt and a bit of respect. Let’s at least take one walk around the ambulatory.”
   Hand in hand, they helped each other avoid the obstacles on the ground. With the glare of the outside lights, it was hard to see details. On the side opposite their hotel, they paused briefly to admire the view out over Nassau’s harbor. The illuminating lights made that difficult as well, and soon they were back on their way.

   Gaetano was ecstatic. There was no way he could have planned things any better. The professor and Tony’s sister were now standing in a square of light that kept Gaetano all but invisible as he approached within striking distance. He could have approached back in the darkness of the garden, but he’d correctly guessed their destination, and he knew it would be perfect.
   Gaetano had decided it was best for Tony’s sister to know without an ounce of doubt where the hit was coming from, so as not to think the professor was a victim of a random act of violence. Gaetano considered this significant, since she was going to be taking over the company. He thought it was important that she knew exactly how the Castigliano brothers felt about their loan and about how the company was being managed.
   At that moment, the couple was on the far side of the ruins, making a slow circuit of the edifice. Gaetano had positioned himself just outside the pool of light along the western side. His intention was to wait until they were no more than twenty feet away before vaulting into the aisle to confront them.
   Gaetano’s pulse began to race as he watched Daniel and Stephanie round the final corner and start toward him. With growing excitement, he extracted the gun from its makeshift holster and made sure a bullet was in the chamber. Holding it up alongside his head, he prepared himself for what he loved best—action!

   “I don’t think we should be reopening this subject,” Stephanie said. “Not now, and maybe not ever.”
   “I apologized for what I said back at the restaurant. All I’m saying now is that I would rather be groped than beaten up. I’m not saying that being groped isn’t unpleasant; it’s just easier to take than being beaten and physically injured.”
   “What is this, a contest?” Stephanie questioned derisively. “Don’t answer that! I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
   Daniel was about to respond when he gasped, stopped in his tracks, and tightened his grip on Stephanie’s hand. Stephanie had been looking down at the ground so she could navigate over a large hunk of stone when Daniel’s response shocked her into raising her eyes. When she did, she gasped as well.
   A hulking figure had leaped into their path, holding a huge handgun and pointing it at them with an outstretched arm. Daniel, more than Stephanie, was aware of a red dot just beneath the gun’s barrel.
   Neither Daniel nor Stephanie could move, as the man slowly approached. He had a sneering expression on his broad, flat-featured face, which Daniel recognized with a shudder. Gaetano came within six feet of the stunned and immobile couple. At that point, it was abundantly clear that the gun was aimed directly at Daniel’s forehead.
   “You made me come back, asshole,” Gaetano growled. “A bad decision! The Castigliano brothers are very disappointed you did not return to Boston to safeguard their loan. I thought you had gotten my message, but apparently not, and you made me look bad. So goodbye.”
   The sound of the shot was loud in the humid stillness of the night. Gaetano’s arm holding the gun fell to his side while Daniel staggered backward, dragging Stephanie with him. Stephanie screamed as the body fell heavily, facedown, arms out to the sides. There were a few muscular twitches, but then all was still. A large exit wound on the back of his head oozed blood and gray matter.
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Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
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Apple iPhone 6s
Twenty-Two

   9:48 P.M., Monday, March 11, 2002
   For the duration of several heartbeats, Daniel and Stephanie did not budge. When they did move, it was only to allow their eyes to engage each other after having been transfixed on the prone body sprawled at their feet. In their befuddlement, they did not even breathe, each vainly hoping the other would explain what they had just witnessed. With their mouths agape, their faces reflected a mixture of fear, horror, and confusion, but fear quickly won out. Without saying a word and unsure of who was leading whom, they fled by scrambling over the low wall to their left and ran headlong back the way they had come in the direction of the hotel.
   At first, their flight was relatively controlled, thanks to the illumination provided by the ground-level display lights directed at the cloister. But as soon as they passed into the darkness, they encountered trouble. With their eyes now accustomed to the cloister’s lights, they were like blind people rushing across an uneven, obstacle-filled landscape. Daniel was the first to trip over a low bush and fall. Stephanie helped him up but then fell herself. Both suffered minor abrasions, which they didn’t even feel.
   Marshaling their willpower, they forced themselves in their blindness to walk to avoid further falls, even though their terrified brains were screaming at them to run. Within minutes, they reached steps leading down to the road. By then, their eyes were beginning to discern details in the moonlight, and by seeing the terrain, they could up their pace.
   “Which way?” Stephanie demanded in a breathless whisper when they gained the pavement of the road.
   “Let’s stick to the route we know,” Daniel hurriedly whispered back.
   Hand in hand, they fled across the road and descended the first of the garden’s many flights of hand-laid stone steps as rapidly as their slip-on dress shoes would allow. The steps’ unevenness contributed to their difficulties, although on the intervening patches of grass, they sprinted full-tilt. The farther away from the cloister they got, the darker it became, but their eyes progressively adapted, and the moonlight was more than enough to help them avoid careening into any of the statuary.
   After the third flight of stairs, their exhaustion slowed them to a jog. Daniel was more out of breath than Stephanie, and when they finally entered the sphere of illumination coming from the pool and what they felt was relative safety, he had to stop. Stooped over, he put his hands on his knees and panted. For a moment, he couldn’t even talk.
   With her own chest heaving, Stephanie reluctantly glanced back the way they had come. After the shock of what had happened, her imagination had them pursued by all manner of demons, but the moonlit view of the garden was as idyllic and peaceful as it had been earlier. Somewhat relieved, she turned her attention back to Daniel. “Are you okay?” she managed between breaths.
   Daniel nodded. He still couldn’t speak.
   “Let’s get into the hotel,” she added.
   Daniel nodded again. He straightened up, and after a brief glance of his own back the way they had come, he took Stephanie’s outstretched hand.
   Permitting themselves to walk, albeit quickly, they skirted the pool and started up the flight of limestone stairs that led up to the Baroque balustrade.
   “Was that the same man who assaulted you in the clothing store?” Stephanie asked. She was still breathing heavily.
   “Yes!” Daniel was able to answer.
   They passed the villas and entered the candlelit, deserted reception area of the spa, which also functioned as a pass-through into the hotel from the pool complex. After the shocking carnage they’d witnessed up in the ruined cloister, and the subsequent terror it had engendered, the spa’s simple Asian aura, cleanliness, and utter serenity seemed otherworldly to the point of being schizophrenic. By the time they entered the Courtyard Terrace restaurant filled with smartly dressed diners, live music, and tuxedo-clad waiters, they felt even more discombobulated. Without speaking to anyone or each other, they passed into the hotel proper.
   In the high-arched reception area, Stephanie pulled Daniel to a stop. To their right was the living room, with guests carrying on quiet conversations punctuated with muted laughter. To their left was the open entrance of the hotel, leading out to the porte cochere. Liveried doormen stood at the ready. Ahead were the individual reception desks, only one of which was occupied. Above, tropical fans turned lazily.
   “Whom should we talk to?” Stephanie questioned.
   “I don’t know. Let me think!”
   “What about the night manager?”
   Before Daniel could respond, one of the doormen approached. “Excuse me,” he said to Stephanie. “Are you all right?”
   “I think so,” Stephanie responded.
   The doorman pointed. “Do you know your left leg is bleeding?”
   Stephanie glanced down and for the first time realized how bedraggled she looked. The fall she had taken in the darkness had soiled her dress and torn its hem. Her thigh-high hose were in worse shape, particularly below her left knee, where they were shredded. Runs extended all the way down to her ankle, along with a rivulet of blood descending from her knee. She then noticed that her right palm was also abraded, with tiny pieces of broken shell still clinging.
   Daniel had not fared much better. There was a tear in his trousers just below the right knee, with an associated bloodstain, and his jacket was peppered with broken shell fragments and had all but lost its right side pocket.
   “It’s nothing,” Stephanie assured the doorman. “I wasn’t even aware I’d hurt myself. We tripped out by the pool.”
   “We have a golf cart right outside,” the doorman said. “Can I give you a ride to your room?”
   “I think we’ll be fine,” Daniel said. “But thank you for your concern.” He took Stephanie’s arm and urged her ahead, toward the door that would take them back to their room.
   At first, Stephanie allowed herself to be led forward, but just before they got to the door, she pulled her arm free. “Wait a second! Aren’t we going to talk to someone?”
   “Lower your voice! Come on! Let’s get to the room and get cleaned up. We can talk more there.”
   Confused at Daniel’s behavior, Stephanie let herself be guided outside onto the walkway, but after a few steps, she stopped. She again took her arm out of Daniel’s grasp and shook her head. “I don’t understand. We saw a man get shot, and he’s seriously injured. An ambulance and the police have to be called.”
   “Keep your voice down!” Daniel urged. He glanced around, thankful no one was in earshot. “That thug is dead. You saw the back of his head. People don’t recover from that kind of injury.”
   “All the more reason to call the police. We witnessed a murder, for God’s sake, right in front of our faces.”
   “True, but we sure as hell didn’t see who did it, nor do we have the slightest clue who could’ve done it. There was a shot, and the guy fell down. We saw nothing except the victim fall—no people and no vehicles! We were eyewitnesses only to the fact that the man was shot, which certainly will be clear to the police without our help.”
   “But we still witnessed a murder.”
   “But we would not be able to add anything from having seen it. That’s the point. Think about it!”
   “Hold on here!” Stephanie said, trying to organize her chaotic thoughts. “What you are saying may be true, but as I understand it, it’s a crime not to report witnessing a crime, and we definitely saw a crime.”
   “I have no idea whether keeping quiet is a crime or not here in the Bahamas. But even if it is, I think we should take the risk of committing it, because at this moment in time, I don’t want us to be involved with the police. On top of that, I have zero sympathy for the victim, which I suspect is your feeling as well. Not only was he the one who beat me up, he was threatening to kill me, for Christ’s sake, and maybe you too. My worry is that if we go to the police and get drawn into a murder investigation, which we will not be able to aid in any way, we’ll risk putting the Butler project in jeopardy, and we are so close to finishing. The long and short of it is that we’d be risking everything for nothing. It’s as simple as that.”
   Stephanie nodded a few times and ran a nervous hand through her hair. “I suppose I see your point,” she said reluctantly. “But let me ask you this—you thought my brother was involved when you were beat up. Do you think he was involved this time?”
   “Your brother had to be implicated in the first instance. But this time, I have my doubts, since the thug didn’t keep you out of it like he obviously did on the previous occasion. Yet who’s to know for sure?”
   Stephanie stared off into the distance. Her mind and emotions were a jumble. Once again, she felt conflicted concerning what she should do, thanks to a strong sense of guilt. Ultimately, she felt responsible for involving her brother, who had involved the Castiglianos, who certainly had now proved themselves to be mobsters.
   “Come on!” Daniel urged. “Let’s go to the room and clean up. We can talk some more if you’d like, but I have to tell you, my mind is made up.”
   Stephanie allowed herself to be guided along the pathway toward their suite. She felt almost numb. Although she was hardly saintly, she’d never knowingly broken the law. It was a strange sensation to think of herself as some sort of miscreant because she failed to report a felony. Equally strange was the thought that her brother was involved with people capable of murder, especially since such an association gave a whole new meaning to his racketeering indictment. Adding to her agitation were the residual physiological effects of having witnessed violence. She could feel herself trembling, and her stomach was doing flip-flops. She had never seen a dead person, much less one killed in front of her in such a graphic manner.
   Stephanie shook off a wave of nausea at the horrid image now etched for life into her memory. She wished she was anyplace but where she was. From the moment Daniel had suggested surreptitiously treating Butler, she had thought it was a bad idea, but never in her wildest imagination did she think it could have gotten as bad as it was. Yet she was caught in the affair as if it were a bog of quicksand, sinking in deeper and deeper, unable to get out.
   Daniel was feeling progressively more confident about his decision. At first he’d not been so sure, but that had changed when his memory of Professor Heinrich Wortheim’s prophecy of disaster came back to haunt him. Daniel had vowed from the outset that he was not going to fail, and to avoid failure, Butler had to be treated, meaning entanglement with the police had to be avoided. Since he and Stephanie would be the only leads associated with the murder, if not outright suspects, even a slipshod investigation would invariably involve what they were doing in Nassau. At that point, Butler would have to be apprised of the situation, because after his arrival, his involvement would most likely be discovered in the course of the inquiry, which would ignite a media firestorm. With the threat of such a scenario, Daniel doubted Butler would come at all.
   When they got to their suite, Daniel keyed open the door. Stephanie went in first and turned on the lights. The turndown service had come and gone, and the room was the picture of tranquility. The drapes were closed, classical music issued softly from the bedside radio, and the beds were prepared, with candies on the pillows. Daniel secured the door using all the locks.
   Stephanie lifted her dress to look at her knee. She was relieved that her injury wasn’t as bad as suggested by the amount of blood, which by now had run all the way down into her shoe. Daniel checked his own knee by dropping his pants. Similar to Stephanie’s wound, he had an abrasion the diameter of a golf ball. Both injuries had some embedded seashell fragments, which they knew had to come out or there would be an infection.
   “I feel awfully jittery,” Daniel admitted. He stepped out of his pants before holding out his hand. It shook as if he was shivering. “It must be the adrenaline rush. Let’s open a bottle of wine while we draw a bath. We should soak these abrasions, and the combination of wine and bath should calm us both down.”
   “Okay,” Stephanie said. A bath might help her think more clearly. “I’ll run the tub. You get the wine!” She turned on the hot water full-blast after adding some bath salts to the tub. The room quickly filled with steam. Within minutes, the aroma and the soothing sound of the rushing water had a calming effect on her. When she emerged from the bathroom in a hotel robe to tell Daniel the bath was ready, she felt significantly recovered. Daniel was sitting on the couch with the yellow pages open on his lap. There were two glasses of red wine on the coffee table. Stephanie picked one of them up and took a sip.
   “I’ve had another thought,” Daniel said. “Obviously, these Castigliano people were not as impressed as I hoped about the reassuring conversations you’ve been having with your mother.”
   “We can’t be sure my brother told the Castiglianos what we wanted him to.”
   “Whatever,” Daniel said with a wave of his hand. “The point is, they sent this thug down here to do me in and maybe you. They are unhappy people, to say the least. We don’t know how long it will take for them to learn that their henchman isn’t coming back. Nor can we guess what their reaction will be when they do learn it. For all we know, they’ll think we killed him.”
   “What are you suggesting?”
   “We use Butler’s money to hire twenty-four-hour armed security. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a legitimate expense, and it’s only for a week and a half, two weeks tops.”
   Stephanie sighed with resignation. “Are there any listings in the phone book?”
   “Yeah, there are quite a few. What do you think?”
   “I don’t know what to think,” Stephanie admitted.
   “I think we need some professional protection.”
   “All right, if you say so,” Stephanie said. “But it might be more important for us to start being even more careful in general than we have been. No more walks in the dark. I mean, what were we thinking?”
   “In retrospect, it was foolish, considering my having been beaten up and warned.”
   “What about the bath? Do you want to get in first? It’s ready.”
   “No, you go ahead. I’ll make some calls to these agencies. The sooner we have someone, the better I’ll feel.”
   Ten minutes later, Daniel came into the bathroom to sit on the edge of the tub. He was still sipping his wine. Stephanie was up to her neck in sudsy water, and her wineglass was empty.
   “Do you feel better?” Daniel asked.
   “Much. How did you do on the phone?”
   “Good. Someone will be here in a half hour to be interviewed. It’s a company called First Security. They were recommended by the hotel.”
   “I’ve been trying to think of who could have shot that guy. We haven’t voiced it, but he was like our savior.” Stephanie stood and wrapped herself in a towel and stepped out of the tub. “It had to be someone who was a damn good shot. And how did he happen to be there just when we needed him? It was like Father Maloney at the Turin airport but ten times more critical.”
   “Do you have any ideas?”
   “Only one, but it is far-fetched.”
   “I’m listening.” Daniel felt the bathwater and began adding more hot.
   “Butler. Maybe he’s had the FBI keep an eye on us for our own protection.”
   Daniel laughed as he got into the tub. “That would be ironic.”
   “Do you have any better ideas?”
   “Not one,” Daniel admitted. “Unless it had something to do with your brother. Maybe he sent someone down here to watch over you.”
   Now Stephanie laughed in spite of herself. “That’s even more far-fetched than my idea!”
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
mob
Apple iPhone 6s
   As the nighttime security supervisor, Bruno Debianco was accustomed to calls from his boss, Kurt Hermann. The man had no life other than as head of Wingate security, and since he lived on the grounds, he was always around hassling Bruno with all sorts of minor requests and orders. Some of them were unexpected and ridiculous, but tonight’s took the cake. A little after ten, Kurt had called on his cell phone to instruct Bruno to drive one of the black Wingate vans out to Paradise Island. The destination was to be the Huntington Hartford cloister. Bruno was only supposed to stop if the road was clear, and if it was clear, he was to turn off his headlights before slowing down. Once stopped, he was supposed to walk up to the cloister but avoid stepping into the light. At that point, Kurt would accost him.
   Bruno waited for the traffic light to turn green before accelerating up onto the bridge leading to Paradise Island. Never had he been ordered to leave the Wingate Clinic on a mystery mission, and what made it particularly strange was the request to bring a body bag. Bruno tried to think of what possibly could have happened, but nothing came to mind other than the trouble Kurt had gotten into in Okinawa. Bruno had served with Kurt in the Army’s Special Forces and knew the man had a love-hate reaction to whores. It had been an obsession that had suddenly erupted into a personal vendetta on the Japanese island. Bruno had never quite understood it, and he hoped he wasn’t currently being drawn into a recrudescence of that problem. He and Kurt had a good thing going with Spencer Wingate and Paul Saunders, and Bruno didn’t want it to get screwed up. If Kurt had started up his old crusade, it was going to be a problem.
   The main east-west road that ran along Paradise Island had moderate traffic, but it dropped off after Bruno passed the shopping areas. It dropped off even more after the first few hotels, and after the turnoff to the Ocean Club, it was deserted. Following orders, Bruno switched off the lights as he neared the cloister. With the moonlight and the white stripe in the middle of the road, he had no problem driving in the dark.
   Passing the final coppice of trees, the illuminated cloister came into view on Bruno’s right. He pulled across the road into a shoulder parking area and stopped the car. He turned off the engine and got out. To his left, he could see down the hill to the Ocean Club’s lighted pool.
   Bruno went around to the back of the van and opened the rear door. He pulled out the folded body bag, and with it under his arm, he mounted the steps leading up to the cloister. Before he got into the light, he stopped. Ahead, the cloister was deserted. His eyes scanned the surrounding area, trying to peer into the darkness of the trees. He was about to call out Kurt’s name when the man materialized out of the shadows to Bruno’s right. Like Bruno, he was dressed in black and almost invisible. He waved for Bruno to follow him and said, “Move it!”
   With the moonlight, it was fairly easy for Bruno to walk, but once they were within the trees, it was a different story. After a few steps, he stopped. “I can’t see a blasted thing.”
   “You don’t have to,” Kurt said quietly. “We’re here. Did you bring the body bag?”
   “Yeah.”
   “Unzip it and help me load it up!”
   Bruno did as he was told. Gradually his eyes adjusted, and he could make out Kurt’s form. He also could see the vague outline of the body on the ground. Bruno extended the end of the body bag toward Kurt, who took it and stepped down to the corpse’s feet. Together they pulled it taut, placed it on the ground, and folded back the edges.
   “On three,” Kurt said. “But watch the head. It’s a little messy.”
   Bruno got his hands under the corpse’s armpits, and at the appropriate moment lifted the torso while Kurt lifted the legs.
   “Good grief!” Bruno grunted. “Who is this guy, an exlineman for the Chicago Bears?”
   Kurt didn’t answer. The two of them got the body into the bag, and Kurt drew up the zipper from the foot.
   “Don’t tell me we have to carry this two-ton guy down to the van,” Bruno said. The idea was daunting.
   “We’re not leaving him here. Run down and open the van’s back door. When we get down there, I don’t want there to be any delay getting him inside.”
   A few minutes later, they shoved Gaetano’s upper body, encased in the body bag, into the van. To get the rest in, Bruno had to climb in himself and pull while Kurt pushed. Both were winded when they were finished.
   “So far so good,” Kurt commented, as he closed the door. “Let’s get out of here before our luck runs out and someone drives by.”
   Bruno went around to the driver’s side and got in. Kurt put his black rucksack in the backseat before climbing into the front passenger side. Bruno started the engine. “Where to?” he asked.
   “The Ocean Club’s parking lot,” Kurt said. “The guy had keys to a rent-a-car Jeep in his pocket. I want to find it.”
   Bruno made a quick U-turn before switching on his headlights. They drove in silence. Bruno was dying to ask who in the hell the stiff in the back of the van was, but he knew better. Kurt had a habit of only telling him what he thought he needed to know and got pissed whenever Bruno asked questions. Ever since Bruno had known him, Kurt had been a man of few words. He was always tensed up and on edge, as if he was constantly angry about something.
   It only took a few minutes to get to the parking lot, and when they did, it only took a few more minutes to find the car. It was the only Jeep in the lot and was positioned close to the exit, with nothing blocking it. Kurt had gotten out to check to see if the keys opened the doors. They did. The car’s papers were in the glove compartment, and Gaetano’s carry-on was on the backseat.
   “I want you to follow me to the airport,” Kurt said when he came back to Bruno’s window. “Needless to say, drive carefully. You don’t want to get stopped and have them discover the body.”
   “That would be embarrassing,” Bruno agreed. “Especially since I don’t know a blasted thing.”
   Bruno thought he detected a glare in Kurt’s eyes before he went back to climb into the rent-a-car. Bruno shrugged and started the van.
   Kurt got the Cherokee started. He hated surprises, and the day had been nothing but surprises. With his Special Ops Army training, he prided himself on careful planning, as was necessary for any military mission. Accordingly, he had been observing the two doctors for more than a week, and he thought he understood their mind-set and situation. Then the woman doctor had broken into the egg room; that had been totally unexpected and had caught him unprepared. Even worse was what had happened tonight.
   As soon as they got through town and on open road, Kurt pulled out his cell phone and pressed the preprogrammed number for Paul Saunders. Although Spencer Wingate was the titular head of the clinic, Kurt preferred dealing with Paul. It had been Paul who had hired him back in Massachusetts. Besides, Paul, like Kurt, was always at the clinic, which was in sharp contrast to Spencer, who was always out looking for loose women.
   As per usual, Paul answered after only a few rings.
   “I’m on my cell,” Kurt warned before saying anything else.
   “Oh?” Paul questioned. “Don’t tell me there is another problem.”
   “I’m afraid so.”
   “Is it related to our guests?”
   “Very much so.”
   “Does it have anything to do with what happened today?”
   “It’s worse.”
   “I don’t like the sound of this. Can you give me some idea what it is about?”
   “I think it is better that we meet.”
   “When and where?”
   “In three quarters of an hour in my office. Let’s say twenty-three hundred hours.” By force of habit, Kurt still used military time.
   “Should we involve Spencer?”
   “That’s your call.”
   “See you then.”
   Kurt ended the call and slipped the phone into its holder on his belt. He glanced into the rearview mirror. Bruno was following at a comfortable distance. Events seemed to be back under control.
   The airport was all but deserted, save for the cleaning crews. More specifically, the rent-a-car concessions were all closed. Kurt nosed the Cherokee into one of the appropriate rent-a-car slips. He locked the car and took the keys and the papers over to the after-hours deposit box. A moment later, he climbed back into Bruno’s van. Bruno had kept the engine idling.
   “Now what?” Bruno asked.
   “You are going to drive me back to the Ocean Club to get my van. Then we are both going to drive out to Lyford Cay Marina. You’ll be taking a moonlight cruise on the company yacht.”
   “Aha! I’m starting to get the picture. My guess is that we’ll soon be in the market for a new anchor. Am I right?”
   “Just drive,” Kurt said.
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   True to his word, Kurt pushed open the door to his office almost to the second of his eleven o’clock commitment. Both Spencer and Paul were already there, accustomed to his signature punctuality. Kurt brought his rucksack over to the desk and dropped it. It made a resounding thud against the desk’s metal surface.
   Spencer and Paul were sitting in the two chairs facing Kurt’s utilitarian desk. Their eyes had followed Kurt from the moment the security chief had walked through the door. They were waiting for him to say something, but Kurt took his time. He took off his black silk jacket and draped it over the chair. Then he pulled out his gun from its holster in the small of his back and carefully placed it on the desk.
   With obvious exasperation, Spencer exhaled noisily and rolled his eyes. “Mr. Hermann, I am forced to remind you that you work for us and not vice versa. What the hell is going on? And it better be good, for having dragged us in here in the middle of the night. I happened to have been pleasurably occupied.”
   Kurt peeled off his form-fitting gloves and put them next to his automatic. Only then did he sit down. He reached out and lifted his computer monitor and put it to the side to have an uninterrupted view of his visitors.
   “I was forced in the line of duty to kill someone tonight.”
   Both Spencer and Paul’s mouths slowly dropped open. They stared in consternation at their security supervisor, who calmly stared back at them. For a beat, no one moved and no one spoke. It was Paul who first found his voice. He spoke hesitantly, as if afraid to hear the answer: “Could you tell us who it was you killed?”
   Kurt used one hand to open the buckle on his rucksack and the other to pull out a billfold. He pushed it across the desk at his bosses and then sat back. “His name is Gaetano Baresse.”
   Paul reached out and picked up the wallet. Before he could open it, Spencer slammed his palm down on the surface of the metal desk hard enough to make it sound like a kettledrum. Paul jumped and dropped the wallet. Kurt didn’t visibly flinch, although all his honed muscles tensed.
   After pounding the desk, Spencer leaped to his feet and began to pace with both hands clasped on top of his head. “I don’t believe this,” he wailed. “Before we know it, it will be Massachusetts all over again, with the Bahamian authorities instead of U.S. marshals knocking at our gate!”
   “I don’t think so,” Kurt said simply.
   “Oh, yeah?” Spencer questioned sarcastically. He stopped pacing. “How can you be so sure?”
   “There’s no body,” Kurt said.
   “How can that be?” Paul asked, as he bent over to retrieve the wallet.
   “As we speak, Bruno is dumping the body and its effects into the deep. I returned the man’s rent-a-car to the airport as if he left the island. The man is just going to disappear. Period! End of story.”
   “That sounds encouraging,” Paul commented, as he opened the wallet and pulled out Gaetano’s driver’s license, which he examined.
   “Encouraging, my ass!” Spencer shouted. “You promised me this…” Spencer pointed at Kurt while searching for the right descriptive word, “… this half-assed Green Beret wouldn’t kill anybody, and here we are, barely with our doors open, and he’s already iced somebody. This is a disaster in the making. We can’t afford to move the clinic again.”
   “Spencer!” Paul said sharply. “Sit down!”
   “I’ll sit down when I feel like sitting down! I’m the head of this freaking clinic.”
   “Suit yourself,” Paul said, gazing up at Spencer, “but let’s hear the details before we fly off the handle and conjure up doomsday scenarios.” Paul looked at Kurt. “You do owe us an explanation. Why was killing this Gaetano Baresse from Somerville, Massachusetts, in the line of duty?” Paul put both the wallet and the driver’s license on the desk.
   “I told you I got the bug in Dr. D’Agostino’s phone. To monitor it, I had to stay close. After dinner, they took a walk in the Ocean Club’s garden. As I followed at a distance, I realized this Gaetano Baresse was also following them, but much closer. So I closed in on them. It soon became apparent that Gaetano Baresse was a professional hit man, and he was about to do in the doctors. I had to make an instantaneous decision. I thought you would want the doctors alive.”
   Paul glanced back up at Spencer with arched eyebrows to question Spencer’s reaction to what he had just heard. Spencer leaned over and picked up the driver’s license. He stared at the photo for a second before flipping it back onto the desk. He yanked his chair back to where he was standing and sat down, slightly apart from the others.
   “How are you so sure this Baresse guy was a professional hit man?” Spencer asked. His voice had lost most of its bluster.
   Using his left hand, Kurt again opened his rucksack. Reaching in with his right, he pulled out Gaetano’s gun. He pushed it across the desk as he had done with the wallet. “This is no Saturday night special, particularly not with a built-in laser and a suppressor.”
   Paul picked up the weapon gingerly, glanced at it, and extended it back toward Spencer. Spencer motioned that he didn’t care to touch it. Paul put it back on Kurt’s desk.
   “With my mainland contacts, I may be able to learn more about this man,” Kurt said. “But until then, there is no doubt in my mind he is a professional, and with a weapon like this, which he had to have gotten since his eight o’clock arrival, he’s connected.”
   “Talk in English!” Spencer commanded.
   “I’m talking about organized crime,” Kurt said. “He was undoubtedly connected to organized crime, probably drug-related.”
   “Are you suggesting our doctor guests are into drugs?” Spencer asked with disbelief.
   “No,” Kurt said simply. He stared back at his bosses, challenging them to put it all together as he had while waiting for Bruno to show up at the cloister.
   “Wait a minute!” Spencer said. “Why would a drug kingpin send a professional killer over here to the Bahamas to do away with a couple of researchers if the researchers weren’t into drugs?”
   Kurt stayed silent. He stared back at Paul.
   Suddenly, Paul nodded a few times. “I think I’m getting Kurt’s drift. Are you suggesting the mystery patient might not be connected with the Catholic Church?”
   “I’m thinking he might be a rival drug lord,” Kurt said. “Or at least some sort of Mob boss. Either way, his rivals do not want him to get better.”
   “Goddamn!” Paul remarked. “You know, it makes sense. It would certainly explain all the secrecy.”
   “It seems far-fetched to me,” Spencer said skeptically. “Why would a couple of world-class researchers be willing to treat a drug lord?”
   “Organized crime has many ways to put pressure on people,” Paul said. “Who knows? Maybe some drug cartel laundered money by investing in Lowell’s company. I think Kurt has something here. I mean, a sick drug lord from South America or a sick Mob boss from the Northeast would probably be Catholic, which could explain the Shroud of Turin part.”
   “Well, I can tell you one thing,” Spencer said. “All this is souring me about finding out the patient’s identity, and it’s not just because of this killing. There’s no way we would try to lean on some organized-crime figure. We’d be shooting ourselves in the foot.”
   “What about our involvement in general?” Paul asked. “Do we want to reconsider allowing the treatment to go forward?”
   “I want that second payment,” Spencer said. “We need it. We should just remain passive, so as not to anger anyone.”
   Paul turned to Kurt. “Was Dr. Lowell aware he was in danger?”
   “Most definitely,” Kurt said. “Gaetano had confronted him and had his gun aimed at Lowell’s forehead. I took him out at the last second.”
   “Why do you ask that?” Spencer questioned.
   “I’m hoping Lowell will look to his security,” Paul responded. “Whoever sent Gaetano might send someone else when they learn Gaetano failed and is not coming back.”
   “That’s not going to be for some time,” Kurt said. “I went to great lengths to make the guy disappear for that very reason. And as far as Dr. Lowell is concerned, I can assure you he was scared shitless. Both of them were.”
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Twenty-Three

   2:50 P.M., Saturday March 23, 2002
   The clutch of people exited the Atlantis resort’s Imperial Club elevator on the thirty-second floor of the Royal Towers west wing and started down the carpeted hallway. In the lead was Mr. Grant Halpern, the hotel manager on duty, followed by Ms. Connie Corey, the day-shift reception supervisor, and Harold Beardslee, Imperial Club director. Ashley Butler and Carol Manning were a few steps behind, slowed by Ashley’s shuffling gait, which was more pronounced now than it had been a month earlier. Bringing up the rear were two bellmen; one pushed a hotel cart stacked with Ashley and Carol’s checked suitcases, and the other carried their hand luggage and garment bags. It was like a miniature safari.
   “Well, well, my dear Carol,” Ashley voiced, drawing out the words in his Southern drawl but with a newly acquired monotone. “What is your first impression of this modest establishment?”
   “Modest may be the last adjective that would come to my mind,” Carol answered. She knew Ashley was merely playing to the hotel staff audience.
   “Now, what adjective might you believe to be more befitting?”
   “Whimsical but impressive,” Carol said. “I wasn’t prepared for such theatrical grandeur. The lobby downstairs is truly creative, particularly with its textured columns and golden, seashell-coffered dome. I would be hard put to guess how tall it is.”
   “It soars to seventy feet,” Mr. Halpern said over his shoulder.
   “Thank you, Mr. Halpern,” Ashley called ahead. “You are so kind and admirably well-informed.”
   “At your service, Senator,” Mr. Halpern said without slowing down.
   “It pleases me that you are impressed with the lodging,” Ashley said, lowering his voice and leaning toward his chief of staff. “I am sure you are equally impressed with the weather as compared with Washington at the end of March. I hope you are glad to be here. Truth be known, I feel guilty for not having had you accompany me here last year on my reconnaissance visit, when I was putting this whole endeavor together.”
   Carol shot a surprised glance at her boss. Never had he expressed any guilt in relation to her about anything, much less a trip to the tropics. It was another small but curious example of the unpredictability he had displayed on and off during the past year. “You needn’t feel guilty, sir,” she said. “I’m delighted to be here in Nassau. How about yourself? Are you glad to be here?”
   “Most assuredly,” Ashley said, without a trace of accent.
   “Aren’t you a little scared?”
   “Me, scared?” Ashley questioned loudly, suddenly reverting back to his histrionics. “My daddy told me that the proper way to face adversity is to do your homework and everything else in your power to do, and then put yourself in the Good Lord’s hands. And that’s what I have done, plain and simple. I’m here to enjoy myself!”
   Carol nodded but said nothing. She was sorry she had asked the question. If anyone felt guilty, it was she, since she was still conflicted about the outcome she hoped for the current visit. For Ashley’s sake, she tried to convince herself she wanted a miraculous cure, while for herself, she knew she hoped for something less.
   Mr. Halpern and the other hotel personnel stopped at a large double mahogany door decorated with carved mermaids in low relief. As Mr. Halpern fumbled in his pocket for a master keycard, Ashley and Carol arrived.
   “Hold on here,” Ashley said, with a quavering hand outstretched like he was making a point on the Senate floor. “This is not the room I occupied on my last sojourn here at the Atlantis. I specifically requested the same accommodations.”
   Mr. Halpern’s suave expression faltered. “Senator, perhaps you didn’t hear me earlier. When Ms. Corey brought you into my office, I mentioned that we had upgraded you. This is one of our few themed suites. It’s the Poseidon Suite.”
   Ashley looked at Carol.
   “He did say we were being upgraded,” Carol said.
   For a moment, Ashley appeared confused behind his heavy, thick-rimmed glasses. He was dressed as he always was, in a dark suit, generic white shirt, and conservative tie. A line of perspiration ringed his hairline. His doughy complexion appeared particularly pale as compared with the hotel staff’s.
   “This suite is larger, has a better view, and is far more elegant than the one you occupied last year,” Mr. Halpern said. “It is one of our very best. Perhaps you’d like to see it?”
   Ashley shrugged. “I suppose I’m just being a country boy, unaccustomed to being made a fuss over. Fine! Let’s see the Poseidon Suite.”
   Ms. Corey, who had stepped ahead of Mr. Halpern, produced a keycard and opened the door. She stepped aside. Mr. Halpern gestured for Ashley to enter. “After you, Senator,” he said.
   Ashley walked through a small foyer into a large room, the walls of which were muraled with a surreal underwater view of an ancient submerged city, presumably the mythical Atlantis. The furniture consisted of a dining table for eight, a writing desk, an entertainment console, two club chairs, and two oversized couches. All the exposed wood was carved in the form of sea creatures, including the arms of the two facing couches, which were porpoises. The prints and colors of the fabrics and the design on the rugs continued the pelagic theme.
   “My, my,” Ashley voiced as he took it all in.
   Ms. Corey went to the entertainment console to check on the minibar. Mr. Beardslee fluffed the pillows on the couches.
   “The master bedroom is on your right, Senator,” Mr. Halpern said, gesturing in the direction of an open door. “And Ms. Manning, as requested, there is a fine bedroom for you on your left.”
   The bellmen immediately began to distribute the luggage to the appropriate rooms.
   “And now for the pièce de résistance,” Mr. Halpern said. He had stepped around Ashley’s blocky, stooped figure to a series of wall switches and now threw the first. With an electric whir, the drapes that covered the entire outside wall of the room began to pull apart, progressively revealing a stunning scene of an emerald-and-sapphire sea beyond a balustraded, mosaic-tiled balcony.
   “My word!” Carol exclaimed with a hand clasped to her chest. From the vantage point of thirty-two stories, the view was breathtakingly commanding.
   Mr. Halpern threw another switch, and the sliding-glass-door ensemble retracted to stack at each side. When the whirring stopped, the balcony and the room were one large, open space. He proudly gestured out to the balcony. “If you’d care to step outside, I can orient you to some of our many outdoor attractions.”
   Ashley and Carol followed the manager’s suggestion. Ashley went right to the waist-height, reddish-brown, stone balustrade. Leaning on his hands on the wide rail, he looked down. With a mild fear of heights, Carol approached more slowly. Gingerly, she touched the top of the rail before looking down. It was as if she thought the balustrade could fall over. Below was a bird’s-eye view of the extensive Atlantis beach and waterpark, dominated by the Paradise Lagoon.
   Mr. Halpern moved to stand next to Carol. He began pointing out the landmarks, including the jewellike Royal Baths Pool, almost directly in front of where they were standing.
   “What’s that to the left?” Carol asked. She pointed. It looked to her like a displaced archeological monument.
   “That’s our Mayan Temple,” Mr. Halpern said. “If you are feeling courageous, there is a heart-stopping waterslide that takes you down from its six-story summit through a Plexiglas tube submerged in the shark-filled Predator Lagoon.”
   “Carol, my dear,” Ashley gushed. “That sounds like the perfect activity for someone like yourself, seriously contemplating the pursuit of a Washington political career.”
   Carol glanced at her boss with the fear that there was more to his comment than humor, but he was blankly staring out at the view over the ocean, as if his mind had already moved on.
   “Mr. Halpern,” Ms. Corey called from inside the room. “All seems to be in order, and the senator’s keycards are on the desk. I should be getting back to the reception desk.”
   “I’ll be going as well,” Mr. Beardslee said. “Senator, if there is anything you need, just let my staff know.”
   “Now, I want to thank you folks for being so very kind to us,” Ashley exuded. “You are all a tribute to this fine organization.”
   “I too should leave so you folks can get settled,” Mr. Halpern said, as he started to follow the others.
   Ashley lightly gripped the manager’s arm. “I would be most appreciative if you would wait for just a moment,” he said.
   “Of course,” Mr. Halpern responded.
   Ashley waved as the others departed, then let his gaze return out to the expansive ocean. “Mr. Halpern, my being here in Nassau is no secret, nor could it be, having arrived on public transport. But that does not mean I wouldn’t look kindly on respect for my privacy. I would prefer the room be registered solely under Ms. Manning’s name.”
   “As you wish, sir.”
   “Thank you kindly, Mr. Halpern. I shall count on your discretion to avoid publicity. I want to feel I can enjoy the pleasures of your casino without fear of offending the more righteous of my constituents.”
   “You have my word we will make every effort in that regard. But, like last year, we cannot prevent your being approached in the casino by any of your many fans.”
   “My fear is reading about my presence in the newspapers or that someone could merely call the hotel to ascertain that I am here.”
   “I assure you we will do everything in our power to protect your privacy,” Mr. Halpern said. “Now, I should leave you folks to unpack and unwind. Some complimentary champagne should be on its way, with our wishes for a most relaxing stay.”
   “One more question,” Ashley said. “Reservations were made for our friends at the same time as ours. Has there been any word from Dr. Lowell and Dr. D’Agostino?”
   “Indeed! They are already here, having checked in less than an hour ago. They are in 3208, one of our Superior Suites, just down the hall.”
   “How very convenient! It seems to me you have admirably taken care of all our needs.”
   “We try our best,” Mr. Halpern said, as he bowed briefly before stepping back into the room on his way to the door.
   Ashley switched his attention to his chief of staff, who had become progressively acclimated to the height and was mesmerized by the view. “Carol, dear! Perhaps you can be so kind as to see if the doctors are in their room and, if so, whether they would care to join us.”
   Carol turned and blinked as if waking from a trance. “Certainly,” she said quickly, remembering her role.

   “Maybe you should go in by yourself,” Stephanie suggested. She and Daniel were standing outside the mermaid-carved door of the Poseidon Suite. Daniel’s hand was poised over the doorbell.
   Daniel breathed out in frustration, letting his arm fall limply to his sides. “What can possibly be the matter now?”
   “I don’t want to see Ashley. I haven’t been wild about this affair from day one, and after all that has happened, I’m even less wild about it now.”
   “But we’re so close to finishing it. The treatment cells are ready. All that’s left is the implantation, which is the easy part.”
   “So you believe, and hopefully you’ll be right. But I haven’t shared your optimism from the beginning, and I can’t imagine my negativity now can serve any constructive purpose.”
   “You didn’t think we could have treatment cells in a month, and we do.”
   “That’s true, but the cellular work is the only part that has gone smoothly.”
   Daniel rolled his head and his eyes around to relieve the sudden tension. He was exasperated. “Why are you doing this now?” he questioned rhetorically. He took a breath and looked at Stephanie. “Are you trying to sabotage the project here in the eleventh hour?”
   Stephanie gave a short, pretend laugh, as color rose to her cheeks. “Quite the contrary! After all this effort, I don’t want to ruin things. That’s the point! That’s why I’m suggesting you go in alone.”
   “Carol Manning specifically said Ashley wanted to see both of us, and I said we’d be right there. For God’s sake, if you don’t come in, he’s apt to think something is wrong. Please! You don’t have to say or do anything. Just be your charming self and smile. Surely that’s not asking too much!”
   Stephanie fidgeted and looked down at her feet and then back at their bodyguard, lounging against the wall outside their room, where they had told him to stay. For Stephanie, his presence was a stark reminder of everything that had gone awry. The whole ghastly affair had come down to the wire, and her intuitive misgivings were again driving her crazy. On the other hand, Daniel was right about the implantation. With their mouse experiments, the actual treatment phase, once they got it right, had been problem-free.
   “All right!” Stephanie said with resignation. “Let’s get this over with, but you are doing the talking.”
   “Good girl!” Daniel said as he rang the bell.
   It was Stephanie’s turn to roll her eyes. Under normal circumstances, she would never tolerate such a condescending, sexist appellation.
   Carol Manning opened the door. She smiled and was superficially friendly, yet Stephanie sensed an underlying nervousness and distraction, as if she was a kindred spirit in their present situation.
   Ashley was sitting on one of the couches with porpoise arms, although Daniel and Stephanie didn’t immediately recognize him. Gone were the dark suit, plain white shirt, and conservative tie. Even the signature dark-rimmed glasses had been abandoned. He was wearing a short-sleeve, bright green, Bahamian-print shirt, yellow pants, and white leather walking shoes with a matching belt. With his pasty, pale, hairy arms, which suggested they had never seen the light of day, much less the sun, he was a caricature of a tourist. His blue-tinted, trendy sunglasses curved around the side of his face like those of a professional cyclist. Also unique was a fixity of facial expression that Daniel and Stephanie had not seen before.
   “Welcome, my dear, dear friends,” Ashley spouted in his familiar accent but with an unfamiliar, less modulated voice. “You are a sight for sore eyes, like the cavalry charge in the nick of time. I cannot describe the joy I feel seeing your handsome, intelligent faces. Excuse me not leaping to my feet to greet you appropriately, as my emotions dictate. Unfortunately, the clinical benefit of my medication wears off decidedly more quickly since we last met.”
   “Stay where you are,” Daniel said. “We are glad to see you as well.” He stepped over to shake hands with Ashley before taking a seat on the couch across from him.
   After some indecision, Stephanie sat next to Daniel and tried to smile. Carol Manning preferred to sit apart, having turned the desk chair around to face into the room.
   “After such limited communication during the past month, my belief in your ultimate appearance here was based mostly on faith,” Ashley admitted. “The only encouraging clue that progress was being made was the considerable and relentless drain on the funds I put at your disposal.”
   “It has been a Herculean effort in more ways than we would care to explain,” Daniel responded.
   “I hope the implication is that you are prepared to proceed.”
   “Most definitely,” Daniel said. “In fact, we have made all the arrangements for the implantation to take place tomorrow morning at ten A.M. at the Wingate Clinic. We hope you are prepared to move ahead so quickly.”
   “It can’t be too soon, as far as this old country boy is concerned,” Ashley said, becoming more serious, with only a vestige of his usual Southern accent. “I’m afraid I’m on borrowed time, keeping my degenerative infirmity from the media.”
   “Then it is in our mutual interest to get the implantation done.”
   “I am to assume you have been able to complete the arduous process of making the treatment cells you described a month ago.”
   “We have,” Daniel said. “Mostly thanks to the skill of Dr. D’Agostino.” Daniel gave Stephanie’s knee a squeeze.
   Stephanie temporarily managed a slightly broader smile.
   “In fact,” Daniel continued, “over the last week, we have created four separate cell lines of dopaminergic neurons that are clones of your cells.”
   “Four?” Ashley questioned with no accent whatsoever. He was regarding Daniel with an unblinking stare. “Why so many?”
   “The redundancy is merely a safety net. We wanted to be absolutely certain we at least had one. Now we can choose, since all would be equally efficacious to treat you.”
   “Is there anything I need to know about the morning, other than getting my sad body out to the Wingate Clinic?”
   “Only the usual preoperative restrictions, like no solid food after midnight. We would also prefer you not to take any of your medication in the morning, if it is at all possible. With our mouse studies, we saw rapid therapeutic effects after implantation, and we anticipate the same for you. Your Parkinson’s drugs would mask this.”
   “Fine by me,” Ashley said agreeably. “The last thing I want to do is confuse the issue. Of course, the burden will be on Carol to bear the brunt of getting me dressed and down to the limo.”
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Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
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Apple iPhone 6s
   “I’m certain the hotel will have a wheelchair we can borrow,” Carol said.
   “Am I to assume from the proscription of food after midnight that I will be having anesthesia?” Ashley asked, ignoring Carol.
   “I have been told the anesthesia will be local, with heavy sedation,” Daniel said. “An anesthesiologist will be in attendance, with the option of deeper anesthesia if it is needed. I should tell you we have retained the services of a local neurosurgeon who has experience doing this kind of implant, although certainly not with cloned cells. His name is Dr. Rashid Nawaz. He knows you as John Smith, as does the Wingate Clinic, and both have been apprised of the need for discretion, and both are fine with that.”
   “It seems you have attended most admirably to all the details.”
   “That was our intention,” Daniel said. “Following the procedure, we will recommend you remain in the Wingate Clinic’s inpatient facility so we can closely monitor you.”
   “Oh?” Ashley questioned, as if surprised. “For how long?”
   “At least overnight. After that, it will be as your clinical course dictates.”
   “I have counted on returning here to the Atlantis resort,” Ashley said. “That is why I made arrangements for you all to stay here as well. You can monitor me to your hearts’ content. You are just down the hall.”
   “But the hotel lacks medical diagnostic equipment.”
   “Like what?”
   “What a normal inpatient facility has, like laboratory services and an X ray.”
   “X ray? Why an X ray? Are you expecting complications?”
   “Absolutely not, but it is only prudent to be careful. Remember, for lack of a better word, what we are doing tomorrow is experimental.”
   Daniel cast a quick glance at Stephanie to see if she wanted to add anything. Instead, she briefly rolled her eyes.
   Acutely sensitive under the circumstances to any nuances, Ashley caught Stephanie’s reaction. “Do you have a more appropriate term, Dr. D’Agostino?” he asked her.
   Stephanie hesitated a moment. “No. I think experimental is quite accurate,” she said, while in reality, she thought foolhardy would be closer to the truth.
   “I hope I’m not detecting a subtle negative undercurrent here,” Ashley said, as his eyes switched back and forth between Daniel and Stephanie. “It is important to me that I feel you researchers are as positive about this procedure as you were in my hearing room.”
   “Absolutely,” Daniel declared. “Our experience with our animal models has been nothing short of amazing. We could not be more excited and eager to bring this godsend to humankind. We are looking forward to treating you in the morning.”
   “Good,” Ashley said, but his unblinking eyes zeroed in on Stephanie. “And you, Dr. D’Agostino? Are you in a like mind? You seem rather quiet.”
   There was a brief silence in the room, broken only by the distant squeals of delight from children rising from the crowded pools and waterslides thirty-two stories below.
   “Yes,” Stephanie said finally. She then took a breath to give her time to pick her words carefully. “I’m sorry if I seem quiet. I suppose I am a bit tired after all that we have gone through to create your treatment cells. But, to answer your question, I am of a like mind in that I can say without qualification I’m excited to finish the project.”
   “I am relieved to hear you say so,” Ashley remarked. “That means you are happy with these four cell lines you have cloned from my skin cells?”
   “I am,” Stephanie said. “They are definitely dopamine-producing neurons, and they are…” She paused as if searching for the right word, “…vigorous.”
   “Vigorous?” Ashley questioned. “Hmmm. I’ll assume that is advantageous, although it sounds rather vague to this layman. But tell me—do they all contain genes from the Shroud of Turin?”
   “Most assuredly!” Daniel answered. “But it was not without considerable effort on our part to get the shroud sample, extract the DNA, and reconstruct the necessary genes from fragments. Yet we did it.”
   “I want to be sure about this,” Ashley said. “I know there is no way for me to check, but I want to be certain. It is important to me.”
   “The genes we used for HTSR are from the blood on the Shroud of Turin,” Daniel said. “I give you my solemn oath.”
   “I will take your word as a true gentleman,” Ashley said, his accent suddenly returning. With great effort, he got his bulky, stiff body up from the couch to a standing position. He extended his hand toward Daniel, who had also gotten to his feet. Once again they shook hands.
   “For the rest of my life, I shall be beholden to your efforts and scientific creativity,” Ashley said.
   “As I shall be to your leadership and political genius in not banning HTSR,” Daniel responded.
   A wry smile slowly spread across Ashley’s otherwise expressionless face. “I like a man with a sense of humor.” He let go of Daniel’s hand and then extended his toward Stephanie, who’d stood when Daniel had.
   Stephanie regarded the proffered hand for a moment, as if debating whether to take it or not. Ultimately, she did and felt her own hand enveloped by Ashley’s in a surprisingly powerful grip. After a stiff, prolonged shake and an extended moment of staring into the senator’s unblinking eyes, she tried to retrieve her hand, without success. Ashley held on firmly. Although Stephanie could have guessed the episode was a reflection of the senator’s Parkinson’s disease, her immediate reaction was sudden, irrational fear of being permanently ensnared by the man as a metaphor of her involvement in the whole madcap affair.
   “My heartfelt gratitude for your efforts as well, Dr. D’Agostino,” Ashley said. “And, as a gentleman, I feel I must make a confession of being enchanted by your considerable beauty from the first moment I had the pleasure of seeing you.” Only then did his sausage-shaped fingers slowly release their formidable hold on Stephanie’s hand.
   Stephanie clasped her now closed fist against her chest, lest Ashley try to grab her again. She knew she was continuing to be irrational, but she couldn’t help herself. At least she managed a nod and a half smile in acknowledgment of the senator’s compliment and professed gratitude.
   “Now,” Ashley stated. “I demand you doctors get a good night’s rest. I want you both well rested for tomorrow’s procedure, which you have led me to assume will not be a lengthy affair. Is that a fair assumption?”
   “My guess would be an hour, perhaps a little more,” Daniel said.
   “Glory be! A little more than an hour is all that modern biotechnology needs to bring this boy back from the precipice and career disaster. I am impressed. Praise be to the Lord on high!”
   “Most of the time will be spent fitting you with the stereotaxic frame,” Daniel explained. “The actual implantation will only take a few minutes.”
   “There you go again,” Ashley complained. “More incomprehensible doctor’s jargon. What in heaven’s name is a stereotaxic frame?”
   “It is a calibrated frame that fits over your head like a crown. It will enable Dr. Nawaz to inject the treatment cells into the exact location where you have lost your own dopamine-producing cells.”
   “I’m not at all certain I should be asking this,” Ashley said hesitantly. “Am I to believe you will be injecting the treatment cells directly into my brain and not into a vein?”
   “That’s correct—” Daniel started to explain.
   “Hold it right there!” Ashley interrupted. “I’m afraid at this point the less I know, the better. I am an admittedly squeamish patient, especially without being put to sleep. Pain and I have never been compatible bedfellows.”
   “There will be no pain,” Daniel assured the senator. “The brain has no sensation itself.”
   “But a needle has to go into my brain?” Ashley asked in disbelief.
   “A blunt needle, to avoid any damage.”
   “How in God’s name do you get a needle into someone’s brain?”
   “A little hole will be made through the bone. The approach in your case will be prefrontal.”
   “Prefrontal? That’s more doctor gobbledygook.”
   “It means through the forehead,” Daniel explained, pointing to his own forehead just above his eyebrow. “Remember, there will be no pain. You will feel vibration when the hole is made, somewhat like an old-fashioned dental drill, provided you are not asleep from the sedation, which happens to be a strong possibility.”
   “Why aren’t I going to be definitely asleep through all this?”
   “The neurosurgeon wants you awake during the actual implantation.”
   Ashley sighed. “That’s quite enough!” he remarked, raising a trembling hand protectively. “I felt better laboring under the delusion the treatment cells went into a vein like a bone-marrow implant.”
   “It would not work for neurons.”
   “That’s unfortunate, but I will deal with it. Meanwhile, tell me my alias again!”
   “John Smith,” Daniel said.
   “Of course! How could I have forgotten? And you, Dr. D’Agostino, shall be my Pocahontas.”
   Stephanie managed another weak smile.
   “Now!” Ashley said, marshaling his enthusiasm. “It’s time for this old country boy to put the concerns of his infirmity aside and head down to the casino. I have an important date with a group of one-armed bandits.”
   A few minutes later, Daniel and Stephanie were on their way down the hall en route to their room. Stephanie acknowledged their bodyguard as they passed, but Daniel didn’t. Daniel was demonstrably irritated, as evidenced by the way he slammed the door when they entered. Their suite was half the size of Ashley’s. It had the same view but without the balcony.
   “Vigorous! Give me a break!” Daniel snapped. He’d stopped just inside the door with his hands on his hips. “You couldn’t think of some better description of our treatment cells than ‘vigorous’? What were you doing in there—trying to get him to back out at this juncture? To top it off, you acted like you didn’t even want to shake his hand.”
   “I didn’t,” Stephanie said. She went over to their single couch and sat down.
   “And why the hell not? Good God!”
   “I don’t respect him, and as I’ve said ad nauseam, I don’t have a good feeling about all of this.”
   “It was like you were being passive-aggressive in there, pausing before answering simple questions.”
   “Look! I did my best. I didn’t want to lie. Remember, I didn’t even want to go in there. You insisted.”
   Daniel breathed out noisily. He stared at Stephanie. “Sometimes you can be aggravating.”
   “I’m sorry,” Stephanie said. “It’s hard for me to pretend. And on the subject of aggravation, you don’t do so bad yourself. Next time you are tempted to say ‘good girl’ to me, restrain yourself.”
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Twenty-Four

   10:22 A.M., Sunday, March 24, 2002
   If, over the years, going to a physician had become emotionally difficult for Ashley Butler because of its unwanted reminder of his mortality, going into a hospital was worse, and his arrival at the Wingate Clinic had been no exception. As much as he joked about his generic alias with Carol in the limo en route and used his Southern charm on the nurses and technicians during admission, he was terrified. The thin veneer of his apparent insouciance was particularly challenged when he met the neurosurgeon, Dr. Rashid Nawaz. He was not as Ashley had pictured, despite having been told his plainly ethnic name. Prejudice had always played a role in Ashley’s thinking, and it was operative now. In his mind, brain surgeons were supposed to be tall, serious, and commanding figures, preferably of Nordic heritage. Instead, he was confronted by a short, slight, dark-skinned individual with even darker lips and eyes. On the positive side was a lilting English accent that reflected his Oxford training. Also on the positive side was an aura of confidence and professionalism leavened with compassion. The man recognized and sympathized with Ashley’s plight as a patient facing an unorthodox treatment and was gently reassuring, telling Ashley the upcoming procedure was not at all difficult.
   Dr. Carl Newhouse, the anesthesiologist, was more in keeping with Ashley’s expectations. As a mildly overweight Englishman with ruddy cheeks, he looked like the Caucasian doctors Ashley had encountered in the past. He was dressed in OR scrubs complete with a hat and a facemask. The facemask was tied around his neck but dangled over his chest. A stethoscope was draped around his neck, and a collection of pens protruded from his breast pocket. A tourniquet of brown rubber tubing was coiled around his pants’ tie.
   With exhaustive thoroughness, Dr. Newhouse had gone over Ashley’s medical history, particularly in relation to allergies, drug reactions, and episodes of anesthesia. While Dr. Newhouse auscultated and thumped Ashley’s chest as part of a cursory physical examination, he also started an IV with such practiced ease that Ashley hardly felt it. Once it was flowing to Dr. Newhouse’s satisfaction, he told Ashley that he’d be giving him a powerful intravenous cocktail that would make him feel calm, content, possibly euphoric, and definitely drowsy.
   “The sooner the better,” Ashley had silently voiced. He was more than ready to feel calm. With his fears about the upcoming procedure, he’d had difficulty falling asleep the night before. And on top of the psychological stress, it had not been an easy morning. Following Daniel’s advice, he’d avoided his Parkinson’s medication, with consequences more severe than he’d anticipated. He hadn’t appreciated the extent to which the drugs had been controlling his symptoms. He’d not been able to stop his fingers from an involuntary rhythmical motion as if he were trying to roll objects in his palms. Worse yet was the stiffness, which he likened to trying to move while totally immersed in gelatin. Carol had to get a wheelchair to get him down to the waiting limo, and two doormen had to struggle to get him from the wheelchair into the car. The arrival at the Wingate had been equally difficult, with equivalent indignity. The only good part of the ordeal was that no one seemed to have recognized him, thanks to his tourist disguise.
   Dr. Newhouse’s intravenous cocktail had been everything he’d promised and then some. Currently, Ashley felt considerably more content and calm than if he’d downed several tall tumblers of his favorite bourbon, and this was in spite of being seated in a tiled operating room on an operating table cranked up to a sitting position with both arms splayed out to the sides and secured to armboards. Even his tremor was better, or if it wasn’t, at least he wasn’t aware of it. He was clothed in a skimpy hospital johnny with his stocky, pasty white legs thrust out in front of him. His bare, dry, and bunioned feet with curling yellow toenails pointed up at the ceiling. The IV was in one arm and a blood-pressure cuff around the other. EKG leads were attached to his chest, and the beeping of the readout echoed about the room.
   Dr. Nawaz was busy with a tape measure, a marking pen, and a razor, as he prepared Ashley’s head for the stereotaxic frame, which Ashley could see next to a collection of sterile instruments on a draped table off to the side. Despite the frame appearing like a torture device, Ashley, in his drugged state, was unconcerned. Nor was he bothered about Dr. Lowell and Dr. D’Agostino, who had appeared with Dr. Spencer Wingate and Dr. Paul Saunders at a window looking out into the operating suite hallway. Dressed in scrubs, the foursome seemed to be watching the preparations as if it were entertainment. Ashley would have liked to wave, but he couldn’t with his hands tied. Besides, it was hard to keep his eyes open, much less lift his arms.
   “I’ll be shaving and prepping small areas on the sides and back of your head,” Dr. Nawaz announced, while handing the marking pen and tape measure to Marjorie Hickam, the circulating nurse. “These will be the sites where the frame will be secured to your head, as I explained earlier. Do you understand, Mr. Smith?”
   It took a moment for Ashley to remember his assumed name was Mr. Smith and that he was being addressed. “I believe I do,” he announced in a slurred monotone. “Perhaps you could shave my face while you’re at it. Without my medication, I’m afraid I did less than a commendable job this morning.”
   Dr. Nawaz laughed at this unexpected humor, as did the other occupants in the room, which included a scrub nurse by the name of Constance Bartolo. She was already gowned and gloved, and stood next to the table with the frame and the instruments as if on guard.
   A few minutes later, Dr. Nawaz stepped back and eyed his handiwork. “I’d say that looks rather good. I’ll duck out to scrub, then we’ll drape, and we can begin.”
   Despite what should have been a terrifying circumstance of waiting to have a hole drilled into his skull, Ashley fell into a peaceful, dreamless slumber. He was soon partially awakened by the sensation of sterile drapes settling over him, but he rapidly fell back asleep. What succeeded in waking him a few minutes later was a sudden, searing scalp pain on the right side of his head. With great effort, he partially pulled up his heavy eyelids. He even tried to lift his right arm against its restraint.
   “Easy!” Dr. Newhouse said. He was standing behind and to the side of Ashley. “Everything is okay!” He laid a restraining hand on Ashley’s arm.
   “I’m just injecting some local anesthesia,” Dr. Nawaz explained. “You might feel a stinging sensation. There are going to be four locations.”
   “Stinging sensation!” Ashley marveled silently in his stupor. It was just like a doctor to downplay the symptom, because the pain was more like a white-hot knife cutting his scalp away from his skull. Yet Ashley was strangely detached, as if the pain involved someone else and he was a mere observer. It also helped that in each instance, the pain was fleeting, to be replaced by absolute numbness in the area.
   Ashley was only vaguely aware of the process of being fitted with the stereotaxic frame. He floated effortlessly in and out of consciousness during the more than half hour of manipulations and adjustments it took to anchor the frame with pins attached firmly to the outer table of his skull. He had no awareness of the past, the future, or the passage of time.
   “That should do it,” Dr. Nawaz said. He reached up and grasped the calibrated semicircular arms that arched over Ashley’s head and gently tested the frame’s stability by trying to move it in any direction. It held solidly, with its four setscrews rooted into the senator’s cranium. Pleased with the result, Dr. Nawaz stepped back, clasped his sterile, gloved hands against his gowned chest, and cleared his throat. “Miss Hickman, if you would be so kind, please let X ray know we are ready for them.”
   The circulating nurse stopped in her tracks en route to getting another bottle of IV fluid for Dr. Newhouse. Her gray-blue eyes first looked at her colleague Constance for a modicum of support before meeting Dr. Nawaz’s gaze. For the moment, Marjorie was at a loss for words, since she’d had experience during her training with neurosurgeons’ short fuses and operating-room tantrums, and she expected the worst.
   “I say,” Dr. Nawaz announced with an edge to his voice, “let’s not dally. It is time for the X ray.”
   “But we don’t have any X ray,” Marjorie said hesitantly. She switched her attention to Dr. Newhouse for corroboration, lest she bear the full brunt of responsibility for the current problem.
   “What do you mean there’s no X ray?” Dr. Nawaz demanded. “You bloody well better have an X ray, or we’ll be wrapping up and going home! There’s no way I can do an intracranial implantation without an X ray.”
   “What Majorie means is that these two operating rooms were not set up for X ray,” Dr. Newhouse explained. “They were designed primarily for infertility procedures, so they have state-of-the-art ultrasound available. Would that be of assistance?”
   “Absolutely not!” Dr. Nawaz snapped. “Ultrasound would be no help whatsoever. I need a full size X ray to get accurate measurements. The frame’s three-dimensional reference grid has to be related to the patient’s brain. Otherwise, it would be like shooting in the dark. I need some bloody X rays! You mean to tell me you don’t even have a portable machine?”
   “Unfortunately, no!” Dr. Newhouse said. He waved through the window for Paul Saunders to come into the room.
   Paul poked his head through the door while holding a mask to his face. “Is there a problem?”
   “You’d better believe there’s a bloody problem,” Dr. Nawaz complained angrily. “I’ve been informed belatedly that there is no X ray.”
   “We have X ray,” Paul said. “We even have MRI.”
   “Well, get the blasted X ray in here!” Dr. Nawaz commanded impatiently.
   Paul stepped into the room and looked back out at the others through the window. He waved for them to come in, which they did, holding masks to their faces like he was.
   “There is a problem no one thought of,” Paul said. “Rashid needs X ray, but the room is not set up for it, and we have no portable unit.”
   “Oh, for Christ’s sake! After all this effort, is it going to come down to this?” Daniel asked rhetorically. Then, looking directly at the neurosurgeon, he said, “Why didn’t you mention you needed an X ray?”
   “Why didn’t you tell me it wasn’t available?” Dr. Nawaz retorted. “I’ve never had the dubious honor of working in a modern OR that didn’t have access to X ray.”
   “Let’s think about this a moment and let cooler minds prevail!” Paul suggested. “There has to be a solution here.”
   “There’s nothing to think about,” Dr. Nawaz snapped. “I cannot localize an injection into the brain without X rays. It is as simple as that.”
   Except for the metronomic beeping of the cardiac monitor, the room sank into a strained silence. Everyone avoided locking eyes with anyone else. No one moved.
   “Why not take the patient to the X-ray room,” Spencer suggested suddenly. “It’s not that far.”
   The others had thought of the idea but dismissed it. Now they reconsidered the suggestion. Taking a patient from the OR to the X-ray room in the middle of a procedure was hardly routine, yet it wasn’t out of the question in the current circumstance. The facility was brand-new and practically empty, so contamination was less of an issue than it would have been normally, especially since the craniotomy had not yet been made.
   “I have to say it sounds reasonable to me,” Daniel said optimistically. “We’ve got enough hands. We can all help.”
   “What’s your opinion, Rashid?” Paul asked.
   Dr. Nawaz shrugged. “I suppose it would work, provided we keep the patient on the OR table. With him sitting up and the stereotaxic frame in place, it would be ill-advised to move him on and off a gurney.”
   “The OR table is on wheels,” Dr. Newhouse reminded everyone.
   “Let’s do it!” Paul said. “Marjorie, alert our imaging tech we’re on our way to X ray.”
   It took a few minutes for Dr. Newhouse to detach Ashley from the cardiac monitor as well as untie his arms from the armboards. With them sticking out laterally, it would have been impossible to get out through the door. When all was ready and Ashley’s hands were safely in his lap, Dr. Newhouse released the wheel lock with his foot. Then, with Dr. Newhouse pushing and Marjorie and Paul pulling, they rolled the OR table into the hallway. Except for the scrub nurse, who remained in the OR, everyone else trooped behind. Ashley stayed asleep and completely oblivious to the unfolding drama, despite his being in a sitting position and being jostled. With his head locked into the futuristic-appearing stereotaxic frame, he could have been a slumbering actor in a science-fiction movie.
   Once in the corridor, everyone but Dr. Nawaz lent a hand pushing, although it was hardly necessary. The OR table rolled easily across the composite flooring, with only a quiet rumble from its considerable weight. When the group arrived in X ray, a discussion ensued whether to move Ashley from the OR table to the X-ray table. After weighing the pros and cons, it was decided it was best to leave him on the OR table.
   Dr. Nawaz donned a heavy lead apron, as he insisted on personally aligning and supporting Ashley’s head while the films were taken. Everyone else retreated back out into the hallway. Ashley never awoke.
   “I want the films developed before we move him back,” Dr. Nawaz told the technician, when she came in to retrieve the exposed plates. “I want to be absolutely certain they are adequate.”
   “I’ll have them back in a jiffy,” the technician said brightly.
   Dr. Newhouse returned inside the X-ray room to check Ashley’s vital signs. Paul and Spencer accompanied the X-ray technician to await the emergence of the X-ray film from the developer. Daniel and Stephanie found themselves momentarily alone.
   “This is like a comedy of errors that’s not at all funny,” Stephanie whispered, with a disgusted shake of her head.
   “That’s not fair,” Daniel whispered back. “The X-ray misunderstanding was nobody’s fault. I can see both sides, and it’s already water under the bridge. The X rays have been taken, so the implantation is back on track.”
   “It doesn’t matter if it’s anyone’s fault or not,” Stephanie retorted with a pshaw. “It’s still a screw-up, and it’s been one thing after another from that fateful, rainy night in Washington until now. I keep asking myself what else can go wrong.”
   “Let’s try to be a bit more optimistic,” Daniel snapped. “The end is in sight.”
   Paul and Spencer emerged from the processing room with the technician a few steps behind. Paul clutched the X rays in his hands. “They look good to me,” he remarked, as he passed Daniel and Stephanie and went into the X-ray room. The others followed. Paul snapped the films up on the viewing box, switched on the light, and stepped to the side. The images were of Ashley’s skull surmounted by the opaque image of the stereotaxic frame.
   Dr. Nawaz moved over, and with his nose close to the films, he carefully examined each in turn, orienting himself mostly by the indistinct shadows of fluid-filled ventricles in Ashley’s brain. For a moment, no one spoke. The only sound was Ashley’s deep breathing briefly obscured by the noise of Dr. Newhouse inflating the blood-pressure cuff on Ashley’s arm.
   “Well?” Paul questioned.
   Dr. Nawaz nodded reluctant approval. “They look okay. They should work.” He took out a marking pen, a protractor, and a precision metal ruler. With great care, he located a specific location on each film and marked it with a small X. “That is our target—the pars compacta of the substantia nigra on the right side of the midbrain. Now I have to figure out the x, y, and z coordinates.” He set to work drawing lines on the X rays and measuring angles.
   “Are you going to do that here?” Paul asked.
   “This is a good light box,” Dr. Nawaz said. He was preoccupied.
   “We should get the patient back to the OR,” Dr. Newhouse said. “I’ll feel more comfortable with him reattached to the cardiac monitor.”
   “Good idea,” Paul said. He immediately went to the foot of the OR table to lend a hand. Dr. Newhouse released the brake on the wheels.
   Both Daniel and Stephanie peered over Dr. Nawaz’s shoulder and watched in rapt attention as he plotted the coordinates for the implantation needle, the guide of which would be firmly affixed to the frame.
   With Paul pulling and Dr. Newhouse pushing, they maneuvered the OR table out of the X-ray room. Dr. Newhouse kept one hand on Ashley’s shoulder to help stabilize him as they moved. It probably wasn’t necessary, since Dr. Newhouse had taped Ashley’s chest to the cranked-up part of the OR table earlier, but he wanted to be certain.
   Once in the hallway, Paul turned to face forward while holding on to the foot of the OR table behind his back. It was easier than trying to walk backward. He continued pulling, but his contribution was more for steering, since the OR table, with its four casters, had a tendency to yaw. Marjorie walked alongside, holding up the IV bottle but also ready to help support Ashley if need be. Spencer brought up the rear, giving occasional orders, which everyone ignored.
   “His color is not great,” Dr. Newhouse complained in the bright fluorescent illumination of the hallway. “Let’s move it!”
   Everyone upped the pace.
   “His color was pasty from the moment he entered the front door,” Spencer said. “I don’t think it has changed.”
   “I want him back on the monitor,” Dr. Newhouse said.
   “We’re here!” Paul announced, as he thrust open the OR door and entered without turning around to face the OR table. In his haste, he failed to align the table with the doorway, causing the table to come in at an angle. The result was that one of the front corners thumped into the metal doorjamb with enough force to cause Ashley’s body to jolt against the tape that bound his chest to the table. The inertia of the stereotaxic frame caused a mild whiplash effect, snapping Ashley’s head forward obliquely. Both Dr. Newhouse and Marjorie reacted swiftly and caught Ashley’s arms, which had also flopped up from the impact.
   “Good grief!” Dr. Newhouse blurted.
   “Sorry,” Paul said guiltily. Since he was mostly responsible for the steering, the collision was his fault more than anyone else’s.
   “Did the frame hit the doorjamb?” Dr. Newhouse questioned, as he patted Ashley’s hand down into his lap.
   “No, it missed,” said Marjorie, who was on the side of the collision and might have been able to avert it had she seen it coming. It just happened too quickly. She let go of Ashley’s arm to push the front of the OR table away from the doorjamb.
   “Thank goodness for small favors,” Dr. Newhouse said. “At least we didn’t contaminate it. If we had, we would have had to start from the beginning.”
   Constance hurried over from where she was standing at the scrub table. Since she had remained gowned and gloved while everyone had gone down to X ray, she was able to grasp the frame without threatening its sterility, straighten it up along with Ashley’s head, and support it.
   “Am I finished already?” Ashley asked, sounding inebriated. The collision had jarred him from his drugged repose. He tried to open his eyes, with little success. His lids were only able to struggle to less than halfway open. Sensing the strange weight on his head, he strained to reach up and feel what it was. Dr. Newhouse grabbed his raised arm; Marjorie restrained the other.
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   “Get the table into position,” Dr. Newhouse ordered.
   Paul pulled the table to the center of the room. He helped Dr. Newhouse get the armboards in place. A moment later, Ashley’s arms were appropriately restrained. Ashley helped by immediately falling back asleep. Dr. Newhouse handed the EKG leads to Marjorie, who connected them to the electronic unit. Soon the regular and reassuring beeping of the cardiac monitor replaced the tense silence in the room. Dr. Newhouse took the stethoscope from his ears after taking the blood pressure. “Everything is fine,” he announced.
   “I should have been more careful,” Paul said.
   “No harm done,” Dr. Newhouse responded. “The frame wasn’t compromised. We’ll let Dr. Nawaz know so he can check it. Does it feel stable, Constance?”
   “Rock-solid,” said Constance, who was still supporting the frame.
   “Good,” Dr. Newhouse said. “I think you can let go now. Thanks for your help.”
   Constance released her grip tentatively. The frame’s position did not change. She returned to stand by the scrub table.
   “I guess you were right about the patient’s color,” Dr. Newhouse called over to Spencer. “There’s been no change in his cardiovascular status. At the same time, I think I’ll set up a pulse oximeter. Marjorie, could you get one for me from the anesthesia room?”
   “No problem,” Marjorie said, before disappearing through the door into the adjoining space.
   A figure appeared at the window to the hallway and caught Paul’s attention. Although the man was dressed in scrubs and was wearing a mask, Paul instantly recognized Kurt Hermann. Paul’s pulse rate shot up again after having recovered from the collision with the OR table against the doorjamb. He was nervous, since it was highly unusual for Kurt Hermann to be seen in any building other than admin, where his office was located, and particularly unlikely in the OR suite. Something had to be seriously wrong, especially with the typically restrained Kurt waving for Paul to come out into the hall.
   Paul made a beeline for the door and stepped out into the corridor. “What’s up?” he asked anxiously.
   “I need to talk with you and Dr. Wingate in private.”
   “What about?”
   “The patient’s identity. He’s not Mob-related.”
   “Oh, really?” Paul voiced with relief. The last thing he expected was good news. “Who is he?”
   “Why don’t you get Dr. Wingate.”
   “Okay! Just a moment!”
   Paul returned to the OR and whispered into Spencer’s ear. Spencer’s eyebrows arched. He made a point to look out the window at Kurt, as if he didn’t believe what Paul had just told him. With alacrity, he followed Paul back out into the hallway. Kurt motioned for them to follow him across the corridor and into the OR storeroom. Once there, he made sure the door was closed before turning to stare at his bosses. He didn’t have a high regard for either one of them, especially since he was never quite sure who was in control.
   “Well?” Spencer questioned. He didn’t have the patience with Kurt that Paul had. “Are you going to tell us or what? Who is he?”
   “First, a bit of background,” Kurt said in his clipped military style. “I learned from the limo driver that he’d picked up the patient and his woman companion from the Atlantis resort. Through employee contacts at the resort that I’d been provided by the local police, I found out they are staying in the Poseidon Suite, registered to Carol Manning of Washington, D.C.”
   “Carroll Manning?” Spencer questioned. “I never heard of him. Who the devil is he?”
   “Carol Manning is a she,” Kurt said. “I had a friend run the name on the mainland. She’s the chief of staff of Senator Ashley Butler. I checked with the Bahamian immigration authorities; Senator Butler arrived on the island yesterday. It is my belief the patient is the senator.”
   “Senator Butler! Of course!” Spencer said, while slapping the top of his head. “You know, I thought I recognized him this morning, but I just couldn’t put the face and the name together, at least not with him in that ridiculous tourist outfit.”
   “Crap!” Paul swore. He jammed his hands onto his hips and paced in the small area the storeroom afforded. “All this trouble to find out who he is, and he turns out to be a freaking politician. There goes our big payoff.”
   “Let’s not be too hasty here,” Spencer said.
   “And why the hell not?” Paul said. He stopped and looked at Spencer. “We were counting on the mystery man to be rich and famous. That meant a celebrity like a movie star, a rock star, or sports hero, or at the very least, a prominent CEO. Certainly not a politician!”
   “There are politicians and there are politicians,” Spencer said. “What could be important to us is that there’s been considerable talk of Butler running for the ’04 Democratic nomination for President along with everyone else.”
   “But politicians don’t have any money,” Paul said. “At least, not any of their own.”
   “But they have access to people with a lot of money,” Spencer said. “That’s what’s important, particularly with serious Presidential contenders. When the field of Democratic Presidential hopefuls gets whittled down, which it undoubtedly will, there will be lots of money. If Butler runs, and if he does well in the early going, we could get that monetary windfall yet.”
   “That’s a number of big ifs,” Paul said with a wry, disbelieving expression. “But regardless, I’m happy with what we’ve got already. Windfall or not, I got great exposure to HTSR, which we’ll profit from greatly, and that’s in addition to the forty-five K, which isn’t chicken feed. So I’m happy, especially getting Dr. Lowell to sign that statement. He’s not going to be able to deny what he’s done here, and I’m going to push for that article with the Shroud of Turin twist in the NEJM. Publicity will be our big long-term payoff, and for that, a politician is as good or better than any other celebrity.”
   “I’ll be getting back to my normal security duties,” Kurt said. He wasn’t going to stand there and listen to the drivel of these two buffoons. He stepped to the door and pulled it open.
   “Thanks for getting the name,” Paul said.
   “Yeah, thanks,” Spencer added. “We’ll try to forget it took you a month and you had to kill someone in the process.”
   Kurt glared back at Spencer for a moment, then he was gone. The automatic closer pulled the door shut.
   “That last comment wasn’t fair,” Paul complained.
   “I know,” Spencer said, with a wave of dismissal. “I’m trying to be funny.”
   “You don’t appreciate his contribution around here.”
   “I guess I don’t,” Spencer agreed.
   “You will when we get up and running at full capacity. Security is going to be a big issue. Trust me!”
   “Maybe so, but for now let’s get back to the implantation, and let’s hope it goes better than it has so far.” Spencer pulled open the door and started out.
   “Wait a second,” Paul said, grabbing Spencer’s arm. “Something just occurred to me—Ashley Butler is the senator who has been spearheading the movement to ban Lowell’s HTSR. Now that’s ironic, since he is now going to be the beneficiary!”
   “It’s more hypocritical than ironic, if you ask me,” Spencer said. “He and Lowell must have come up with some kind of clandestine deal.”
   “That has to be the case, and if it is, it bodes well for our financial windfall, since both would be committed to keeping it a deep, dark secret.”
   “I think we’re in the driver’s seat,” Spencer said with a nod. “Now, let’s get back in that OR to make sure there are no more problems, so the implantation actually takes place. It was a damn good thing we were around for that X-ray muddle.”
   “We’re going to have to get a portable X-ray machine.”
   “Let’s hold off until we get some cash flow, if you don’t mind.”
   Spencer hesitated just outside the OR door. He turned back to Paul. “I think it is important we don’t let on about knowing the senator’s true identity.”
   “Of course,” Paul said. “That goes without saying.”
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