Chapter 16

George checked his watch.

7:45 p.m.

He was already on the third floor and ready to move. Just a few more minutes to go.

From his spot inside the lab doorway George watched Sara Lowell and Reece Porter leave Michael's room. Perfect. Right on time. Ten minutes earlier Dr. Harvey Riker had made his exit.

Now Michael Silverman was alone in his room, probably asleep.

George listen closely, but he heard no voices. Sara and Reece were waiting for the elevator in perfect silence. Nothing to be said, he guessed.

Well, they'll have plenty to talk about tomorrow.

The familiar adrenalin rush was beginning to build inside of him, but George remained cool. No reason to rush. Rushing led to mistakes.

He knew he would have to wait a few more minutes until the nurse came by to check on Silverman. When she left his room, George would be able to waltz down the hallway and spend a little quality time with Michael.

And what do you know? Lookie here. George would not have to be patient much longer.

The nurse was at Michael's door already.

No more than two minutes after Reece and Sara had left, Janice Matley entered Michael's room. Her ears were greeted by a mixture of the soothing strings of Mozart coming from the tape deck and the gentle sounds of slumber coming from Michael.

Out like a light, the nurse said to herself. Sleeping like a baby, the poor thing. Not enough he had to have this awful virus he has to go through it while the whole world tries to watch. Damn shame, that's what it was. Nice young fella like that.

Damn shame.

She checked his chart. According to the file, Dr. Riker had given Michael an injection of SRI less than an hour ago. That would mean he would not have to be wakened for another four hours. Good. Lord knows the boy could use some rest. She looked at her watch. Ten minutes to eight. She would go downstairs until one a.m. Then she'd come back for his shot.

She pulled down the shade on his door window and left the room. She was just about to head down the stairs when something made her stop short. She could not say exactly what it was. There had been no sound, no voices, no rustling noises in the lab. There was only the steady hum of the fluorescent overhead lights. Damn lights made the most annoying noise. They can put men on the moon, she thought, but they can't make a long light bulb that doesn't sound like an angry bee.

Her eyes passed over the empty corridor, but nothing appeared out of place. She shook her head in a vague attempt to clear it. What on God's green earth was bothering her?

Nothing. Nothing at all. Everything was peaceful and quiet. Or maybe it was the very quiet that needled her. Maybe it was the sense of pure desolation that gave her reason to pause. And yet, when something was so quiet, so damn still, it's almost like someone was making it like that, like someone was standing so still that the whole room does the same.

Janice decided not to use the stairs just yet. Instead, she walked toward the lab at the other end of the hallway.

This was something George had not planned.

Shit! What the hell was the dumb bitch doing?

Relax, George. What harm can she do?

She can see me. Hell, she definitely will see me.

Then you'll have to take care of that problem, won't you?

Damn. He hated deviations from his plans, and the fat nurse was a big goddamn deviation.

Okay, calm down. There's no need to panic.

But she's coming this way!

He could clearly hear the nurse walking toward him. She stepped hesitantly but with authority. He wondered how his employer would react to the death of the old nurse. Not too happily, George imagined.

Very pissed off, in fact. But George could not worry about that now.

He had far bigger worries. He had to get to Michael Silverman before the damn doctor returned.

He pressed his back against the nook in the lab doorway and waited.

From the sound of her footsteps the old lady could not have been more than ten steps away. He reached into his pocket and slid out his stiletto. She was only a yard away now.

His muscles tensed in preparation.

Two floors below Sara hobbled next to Reece Porter.



"How did he look to you?"

Reece Porter shrugged. Immediately after hearing Michael's statement, Reece had left the Knick locker room, taken a taxi to the Seattle airport, waited eight hours for the next available plane to New

"York, flew across the entire country, spent the day trying to find out where Michael was, located Sara at Dr. Simpson's office, and then obtained permission from Harvey to visit Michael.

A damn long twenty-four hours.

"Mikey looked okay," he said at last.

"Just tired mostly."

"From the SRI, I think," Sara added.

"I'm glad you came, Reece. It means a lot to him."

Reece shrugged.

"So how are you feeling?"

'"I'm fine."

"Uh huh. Sure you are."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Your walk, for one thing. It looks like somebody did a deep freeze on your leg."

It was true. Her leg had been cramping up all day, the soreness clenching down on the very bone with sharp teeth.

Every step was a new adventure in pain.

"I'll be all right. It's just a little stiff."

"Then wait here," Reece said.

"I'll get the car."

"I can walk."

He shook his head.

"I swear, Sara, you can be as big a pain in the butt as Mikey. Just wait here and stop being so goddamn stubborn. Sit over there."

With a weak smile she did as he asked.

"I parked in the visitor's lot on 167th Street," Reece continued, heading for the exit.

"Give me ten minutes."

"I'll be here."

She glanced about her surroundings. There were two armed security guards at the door plus two plainclothes policeman in cars outside the clinic's door. Her leg throbbed as though her heart had dropped down into the area above her ankle. She would soak it when she got home.

Yes, she would take a long, hot bath, find a good book, smother herself with blankets and pillows and... And what?

Lay there and worry, she guessed. When she had first been told about Michael's condition, the news did not really reach her.

It was as though her mind had built a barrier more like a sieve actually which only let in the facts but kept out the emotions and ramifications. Unfortunately, the holes in the sieve were beginning to widen. They were opening up enough to allow reality to seep into her conscious thoughts.

Sara had done a few stories on the AIDS epidemic. She had seen what it could do to a person, how the virus could eat you alive from the inside. Her mind began to swirl with the devastating images, and like the horror AIDS inflicted, the images lunged at her in no particular order.

Wasted bodies now little more than a defenseless battle zone for disease: Kaposi's sarcoma; pneumocystis carinii; lymphoblastic lymphoma; fierce fevers over 105 degrees; respiratory infections; whole body systems collapsing; mental deterioration; delirium to the point of babbling like an Alzheimer's patient; every breath an intolerable struggle; lungs filling with fluid until a tube was shoved through the rib cage in order to drain them; getting weaker before your eyes, so weak that even eating becomes impossible; in and out of comas; a handsome young face changing overnight into a haggard skull-mask; healthy physiques disintegrating into little more than brittle bones with skin hanging off;

painful and unsightly purple lesions everywhere; sores inside the mouth so thick that swallowing produces only choking sounds; no control over bowel movements; constant, inescapable agony; eyes that can actually see Death standing around the corner, waiting patiently to step forward and claim its conquest... And the fear of the disease, the confusion, the discrimination.

Even now, 25 percent of the American people were so ignorant about AIDS that they actually believed it could be transmitted from just donating blood.

No, there was nothing pretty about AIDS, nothing romantic, nothing gothic, nothing cinematic. There was just pain, horror, and death.

With AIDS, your body and mind fought a constant battle against agonizing illness after agonizing illness. You suffered through one devastating bout after another, no time to recover, like a weakened club fighter who is forced to go yet another round with the champ. But against AIDS there was no chance for the one-punch comeback.

Eventually, you lost.

She replayed what Harvey had told Michael and her no more than an hour ago about his visit from Raymond Markey. And yet, when she considered the cruel severity of the AIDS virus, her mind could not comprehend his words. Could someone really be trying to prevent a cure? Could someone really be trying to turn back the clock, delaying a cure for tens or even hundreds of thousands of fellow human beings? The weight of the cruelty boggled the mind.

Could someone be so desperate to keep the AIDS virus alive that they would murder? It made no sense. And all of this just made her want to talk to Michael more, want to, at the very least, look in on him one more time before heading home.

"Hi, Sara."

She looked up. Eric was standing in front of her. Despite the r fact that he had been working for fifty of the last sixty hours, he looked fresh and neat. He smiled at her warmly.

"Are you okay?";

She nodded.

"On your way home?" Eric asked. I "Yes. I'm just waiting for Reece."

"I'm on my way out too. I haven't slept in...1 can't even remember the last time I slept. I just have to run up to the lab and slide this under the door first."

"Is it anything important?"

"Not really. It's just a memo for Winston O'Connor. Harvey wants us all to meet tomorrow morning."

"I, uh, I can bring it up for you."

Eric looked at her, puzzled.

"But I thought you just said you were on your way out."

"I am. I mean, I will be." She pushed down hard against the top of her cane in order to stand.

"It's just..."

"Just what?"

She half- shrugged.

"I want to see Michael again."

"He's probably sleeping, Sara."

"I know. I don't want to wake him. I just...1 don't know. I just want to peek my head in and make sure everything is okay." Eric smiled tightly.

"I understand, really I do, but I don't think-" "Please," she said.

"It's important to me."

Eric hesitated. Then: "Okay, here's the memo. If he's still awake, say good night for me too."

"I will. Thanks, Eric." She took the paper from his hand, kissed his cheek, and pushed the call button. A few moments later she was ascending in the elevator toward the third floor.

Janice Matley saw George's sneakers first.

The toes were jutting out from the doorway of the lab. They were black sneakers, or at least the toe part was black. With the kids and their crazy sneakers nowadays, who knew what color the rest of the sneaker was? Her grandson had a pair of Nike Air Jordans that had more colors than a rainbow.

She swallowed.

"Who's there?" she called out.

Her voice, she was surprised to hear, sounded steady, confident.

"I said, who's there?"

She saw the foot slide forward. The sneaker was completely black after all. Reeboks, as a matter of fact. A man, a big man, followed the sneakers. He was dressed entirely in black. Black sneakers, black socks, black sweater, black pants. His shirt sleeves were pushed up, revealing powerful forearms the size of Popeye's.

He stepped out from inside the doorway and smiled at her. The smile was wide, bright, but mostly... unfeeling. It touched no other part of his face. When she looked up into his dark, bleak eyes, a cold chill rippled in her belly.

And once again, she knew.

"Hi," he said.

"Nice night."

Janice never had a chance to react. With one hand George palmed the back of her head and yanked it forward. With the other, he flicked the switch on the side of the stiletto, releasing the eight-inch blade. The point of the thin knife penetrated the hollow of Janice's throat and sliced through her windpipe. Thick streams of warm blood spurted onto George's face as the stiletto exited out the back of her neck, inches below the spot where his hand gripped her skull.

Janice's gaze locked onto his. She could see her own horror stricken face reflected in the cold blankness of the murderer's eyes.

His grip on her head tightened. She gargled on her blood for a moment before her eyes rolled into her head. The last sounds she heard were the buzzing of the lights and the inhuman choking noises still forcing their way past her own lips.

George watched the corpse slide to the ground, the stiletto still implanted through the neck. He calmly took out his handkerchief and wiped the blood off his face. Messy. Too messy for a pro like himself. There was blood splattered everywhere, but he had no time to clean it up now. He would have to move fast.

With a weary sigh, George dragged the body into a supply closet. Once inside, he tugged hard at the blade in order to release it from the throat area. Grudgingly, the corpse surrendered the weapon with a sucking pop. George closed the blade, pocketed it, and headed down the hall toward Michael's room.

When he reached the door, George tried to peek into the room through the shade over the door window, but it was pulled closed. Slowly, George turned the knob and pushed open the door. Like Janice Matley before him, George heard Michael's deep breathing and the violins from the cassette deck. George debated his next step and then made a decision. He would turn on the lights... He wanted to see what he was doing. Heck, the old nurse was certainly not going to mind and the rest of the floor was abandoned. A little illumination might help him along his way.

Besides, what was the risk? If Silverman woke up very unlikely anyway George would be all over him before his first flinch.

George's fingers found the switch and flicked it up. The light was bright, startling, but Michael did not stir. His chest continued to rise and fall at the same steady, undisturbed pace. Nothing surprising in that. But now, as George stepped toward Michael's bed, something surprising did indeed happen.

George heard the elevator door opening.

During the elevator ride Sara had concentrated very hard on something completely inane: which would she do first, slide the memo under the lab door or look in on Michael? As the elevator doors opened, she decided to slide the memo under the lab door first. She knew that if she looked in on Michael first and then went to the lab, she would crave a second peek on her way back.

Her leg ached like a bastard as she stepped out of the elevator.

She checked her watch. Reece would be another five minutes at least.

Good. She was really happy he had visited today. She could tell that Michael was thrilled too. Reece meant a lot to him.

They shared a special bond, one that only teammates Sara froze. Her eyes widened.

Oh my God... She stared down the hall in the direction of the laboratory.

The walls looked like some kid had finger painted them with red paint.

Only the texture was too thin for paint, too dark for ketchup, too syrupy for anything but blood.

Maybe somebody dropped a blood sample on their way to the lab?

Then how do you explain the tiny fact that the blood was splashed all over the place?

Maybe whoever it was tripped and the blood sample went flying all over the place and... And nobody cleaned it up? Good try, Sara.

Her heart pounded in her chest as another thought pushed its way through the confusion and into the front of the brain:


She spun back toward the door to Michael's room and hobbled forward.

Her knees buckled in fear when she saw the door shade was illuminated.

Why is Michael's light on? Why the hell... For a brief second the light created a silhouette against the window shade. The brief image was as clear to her as those presidential cut-outs kids did in school during President's Week.

It had been the silhouette of a man.

Her leg felt anchored to the ground, but she dragged it along like an inanimate object. When she reached the door, she grabbed the knob and pushed without hesitation. She limped in, her eyes searching.

No one.

Her mind began to whirl aimlessly. There was no one in the room except, of course, for Michael. He lay sleeping. Or was he?

Yes, his eyes were closed, but there was something very strange, something so obvious and yet so subtly horrifying that she felt her chest tighten. She could not breathe. If Michael was just sleeping, then how come his face was upside down? How come his head was lolling at a strange angle. And most important, how come he was lying half off the bed?

From behind her came a voice.

"Good night, Sara."

She turned, but Sara never got a chance to see the man's face.

Wednesday, September 25