<= Back [ "The Wafer" Chapter One cont.: page 2 ]
She followed him up one flight of stairs and down a railed balcony paralleling the wall above the garage into a kitchenette. He crossed to the living room windows, and peeked out. Thunder rumbled behind a black cloud boiling out of the west, and a flash of sheet lightning blipped the landscape in stark outline. Twilight had deepened; streetlights were on in the drizzling rain, trees in the park across the street hidden in darkness.
As he closed the curtains and reached toward a lamp, the same muted sound of a speeding car swished down the street and she said, "Please don't turn the light on for a moment."
She collapsed on the couch. In the shadows she appeared to loom into a new depth of reality. Her shocked exhaustion enfeebled her like the spent flight of a defenseless creature rescued from a rapacious stalker. She covered her face with both palms and her bobbed black hair fell over her hands.
"Oh God ... I was so terrified I thought my heart would burst."
He crossed the room and stood looking down at her, thinking, not knowing what to say or to do. "Would you like wine, or a cocktail?"
"No, not just yet, but water; I could drink a gallon."
He returned from the refrigerator with pitcher and glass, and she drank while he waited, watching, wanting to help. Uneasily, he said, "I will start dinner in a few minutes. When you feel up to it, come sit at the breakfast bar while I work."
"Okay. But right now I want to enjoy this moment of being alive and free. Thank God you recognized my predicament."
"Just followed my impulses. You can tell me about it when ready."
"After I catch my breath and rest."
He hesitated, then sat on the edge of the couch beside her. She nestled back, rested her head on a pillow, and closed her eyes. He half turned and watched. The last few minutes were difficult to believe, this beautiful woman suddenly there, like a dream still in the dreaming-an alabaster beauty-a regal and delicate woman of uncommon loveliness. Yet, he sensed a robustness and strength hidden behind a beguiling litheness. Everything seemed very right.
She drifted into sleep, twitched, cried out, and awakened briefly, then drifted back into sleep. Drowsy himself from forty hours on duty without sleep, and sweaty and muggy, he needed bath, food, and bed. He eased off the couch and went to the shower.
When he reentered the room she aroused and looked up in surprise, recovered her bearings, and moved to rise. He snapped on a lamp and reached for her hand. He guided her by an elbow to a barstool then crossed into the kitchenette and began dinner preparations.
"You've bathed while I was sleeping. I like your leisure suit."
"Yes. Feel free to do the same. Pick what you like from clothes in the bedroom ... first door on the right."
"Thanks. I will directly, but I could use wine now. May I pour for you, too?"
"Chardonnay and champagne in the refrigerator, glasses above the sink. You choose."
She poured champagne. They clinked rims as she offered a toast.
"Here's to being alive."
"And to staying alive."
"By all means."
"Do you think, by any chance, the people pursuing you might be trying to steal the organs you carry?"
"Perhaps, but there is more to it. They could grab the container and run, but they don't. And this afternoon I had already completed a mission when they began chasing me."
"You work for Marcus Mann?"
"Yes. You know him?"
"I do. No one is more respected for the quality and the readiness of his banked tissue, and his handling of live organs from the brain dead."
"Oh, yes! He founded LifeChain, one of the largest tissue and organ distributors in the world, and he has grown with the transplant era, a pioneer working to perfect the science of tissue and organ salvage, the most giving person I have ever known, almost totally altruistic."
"Does he know you are in danger, for whatever reason?"
"During the past two months, each of the other ten regions of UNOS has lost at least one courier. They disappeared while making runs with live organs. Ours, number eleven, is the only one not to lose a courier yet. But it's beginning to look like open war on the national system and I'm afraid our luck will run out. So far, the media is paying scant attention. As to Mann's concerns about me, he knows I feel harassed."
"UNOS? What's UNOS?" asked Eric.
"Oh, you know, United Network for Organ Sharing. The people who bring the source of the organs to you."
"Of course. I suppose I just never paid attention to the acronym."
"Understandable, busy as you guys are with the desperate."
Eric hesitated a moment, then said, "But I have heard rumors of trouble with the couriers, apparently it's being hushed up. Something seems to be happening behind the scenes."
"Oh, yes. I suspect there is a spy in the LifeChain system selling information."
"Two avenues of deception. One would be the identity of potential donors with the right qualifications, such as blood type and body build, to fit the specific needs of a dying patient waiting for a heart or another organ."
"And the result?"
"The right person could be kidnapped, rendered brain dead, and used as a donor by the purchaser."
"Betraying well-intentioned people who have agreed to donate at the moment of some distant and unlikely personal tragedy, a tragedy they don't actually believe will ever happen."
"Oh, indeed, and who never suspect lurking deception."
"The time is certainly ripe for something of the sort."
"Nine out of ten cardiacs die while waiting for a suitable donor on our service, and I'm sure the same is true in all major centers. This is a tragic and frustrating situation in any affluent society and will sooner or later lead to unconventional sources for the needed organs."
"Then the inevitable begins to happen while we complacently hope it won't."
"And probably Marcus Mann expects it, too."
"Perhaps, since he so readily told me to hide if the need arises. He knows my dedication to the cause."
"The other deception? ... you mentioned two."
"The stealing or robbing of live organs from the brain dead by betraying the organ couriers en route to the dying recipient. And for the betrayal, there would almost surely be a spy in the operating rooms at Sentara General, locally, and in similar situations in other cities."
"You suspect this?"
"Yes. I believe the hospital lookout calls the spy at her desk in the LifeChain building and alerts her to the presence of a donor as the organs are about to be taken. The sale is then made to a pirate somewhere."
"You said her."
"There are no male employees inside LifeChain headquarters dealing with the distribution of live organs."
"So the person betraying you or other couriers would have to be a woman."
"I think so."
"Has Mann tried to protect you?"
"He has tried to stop me from delivering organs."
"Won't he fire you?"
"He can't fire me."
"I do not need the employment financially, and I work for a dollar a year."
"Have you heard of the Pully's, down on the Carolina coast?"
"Joseph Mixter Pully?"
"My father. He has contributed more money than any other one person to financing the startup of LifeChain, and I sit on the board in his place."
"Holy God, everybody in this community talks about him. One of the first tales I heard upon my arrival here three years ago-richer than Croesus, and more powerful than the Mafia in his own bailiwick."
"Right on every count, but he is not mean for meanness' sake, nor for money-but meaner than mean for principle's sake, when the principle of it arises, if you know what I mean."
"Yes. He's awesome but not really bad. Does he know about your situation?"
"Oh, no. And I wouldn't dare tell him. Not yet anyway. Subtle or cautious he is not. If we pinpointed a definite target and needed help, then I would tell him."
"In every way, but a dangerous crusader."
"I like his potential."
"Oh yes, and I may come to need it one day."
"Deadly pursuit. Did you provoke it in any way?"
"No. My pattern of activity has not changed."
"Would you recognize the people chasing you?"
"Locally, always a man in a gray well-tailored suit with proper shirt and tie, and always wearing a fedora. I have distinguished several different faces and figures so outfitted."
"Perhaps from other suppliers of organs and tissue besides LifeChain?"
"We know of two competitors locally, one outfit called Legation, the other called Mercury. Have you heard of them?"