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The Hunters

Fan Fiction by Adam Smith (USA)

Chapter 10


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Chapter X

Thursday, December 19, 2002 – 10:25 a.m.

“Good morning.  Markle, Regan & Walsh.”

“Hi.  I’m trying to reach Roger Carson.”

“One moment, please.”  Jed was placed briefly on hold.  Then a new female voice, this one somewhat older and carrying a haughty, british accent, came on.

“Mr. Carson’s office.  May I help you?”

“Hi.  My name’s Jed Inverness.  I need to speak with Roger.”

“Does he know why you’re calling?”

“No.  I’m a neighbor of his.  I need a little legal advice.”

“All right.  Hold on, and let me see if he’s available.”

There was a click and a pause.  After several seconds, the smooth, familiar voice of Roger Carson came on.  It seemed strange to Jed to be hearing him over a telephone.

“Jed!--how are you?  I didn’t even know you had a phone!”

“Good, good.  Yep, I finally broke down and got a cell.”

“Will wonders never cease.  How you been?  I’ve been meaning to get your chainsaw back to you.  Do you need it, or something?”

“Oh, hangin in there, I reckon, just like always.  And no, I’m not calling about the saw.  I just need a little legal advice, that’s all.”

“If I had to list the people least likely to need a lawyer, I’d put you at the top, Jed.  Did you get into an auto accident or something?”

“Well, I did, but it’s not about that.”

“Okay.”  His voice changed from lighthearted to softly serious.  “I didn’t mean to be presumptuous.  How can I help you?”

“I guess I need to talk to someone about adoption and immigration.”

“Adoption and immigration.”  Silence ensued; Jed imagined the gears turning in Roger’s head: why in God’s name would he need to speak with someone about those things?  He waited for Roger to ask, but he didn’t.

“Well, I don’t specialize in those areas.  But there’s a lawyer in our personal services department who has handled some adoptions, maybe even some international ones.  Would you like to talk to her?”

“Sure.”

“All right.  Her name is Ramira Toro.  Do you want me to see if I can get her on the phone with us, or do you just want her phone so you can call her directly to set up an appointment?”

“Why don’t you just let me have her number.  I may need to run an errand or two before I can give her a shout.”

“Okay. It’s (202) 835-0202.  Just tell her that I referred you.”

“Got it.”

“You’re welcome.  And . . . good luck.”

“Thanks.”

Jed pushed the tiny button on his phone to end the call.  He started to dial the number he’d just gotten from Carson, but stopped.  How was he going to explain this to a lawyer?  Lay it all out?  Describe his situation in generalities?  Just ask for answers to certain questions, without providing anything specific?  He put the phone down on his table and decided he would clean up the kitchen area while he thought things over.

He poured some hot water in the sink and started scrubbing the morning dishes.  Dr. Cook was right—shit was coming down the pike.  Dave had called about an hour earlier, asking to see Eli again this evening at the hospital with Dr. Andrews to discuss the results of the tests and studies that had been done so far, and what they wanted to do next.  He’d hinted that Jed might want to start thinking about talking with a lawyer about Eli’s “situation.”  Could the docs really keep a lid on everything while they tried to figure out what made Eli tick?  He sure as hell hoped so, but he wasn’t keeping his fingers crossed.  Human nature being what it was, after all—who could possibly resist talking about a person with Eli’s abilities?  It was like finding out your next door neighbor was an alien from outer space—you’d have to tell someone.

He finished cleaning up, dried his hands, and wandered over to his bed where Eli lay, fast asleep.  Eli had said yesterday that he needed Jed to protect him during the day.  But if word of Eli got out, how, exactly, would he do that?  And if Eli kept his word and refused to return to Jed’s cabin tonight after their appointment with the doctors, how would Jed keep in touch with him?  What if people started snooping around his cabin, trying to find Eli, or catch a glimpse of him?  Or some government person showed up, demanding to know where Eli was, or began following Jed around?  An image floated up in his mind—a couple of trench-coated FBI agents on his porch, flashing their IDs.  Mr. Inverness, we have a warrant for the arrest of Eli ErikssonPlease stand aside.

He returned to his kitchen table, peered at the scrap of paper with his notes, and dialed the number.

“Ramira Toro’s office.”

“Hi, my name is Jed Inverness.  I got Ms. Toro’s name from a partner in your firm, Roger Carson.  He told me to give her a call about a legal problem I have.”

“She’s on the phone right now.  Would you like to hold, or go into her voicemail?”

“Umm . . . do you think she’ll be long?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Well, maybe you should put me into her voice—”

“Hold on—she’s getting off.  One moment.”

“Okay.”  Jed sat down, shifted the phone to his left hand, and got the pencil.

“Hello, this is Ramira Toro.”  She spoke with an Hispanic accent, and her voice was strong, low and raspy--not at all what he was expecting.  Jed tried to picture what she looked like at the other end of the line, but besides imagining black hair, he couldn’t.

“Hi, Ms. Toro.  My name’s Jed Inverness.  I’m interested in finding out if I could adopt someone.  Roger Carson told me that you do that kind of work.”

“Um, yes, that’s part of my practice.  I mostly help people with contested divorces--custody and visitation, that sort of thing.  But I have done some guardianships and adoptions.”

“That sounds like what I need.”

“Are you adopting through an agency, or is this a private adoption?”

“Ah—neither, I guess.”  Jed paused.  Here we go.  “Is everything I tell you confidential?”

“Yes.”

“Even if, you know, I don’t end up hiring you?”

“It doesn’t matter whether you hire me or not, Mr. Inverness.  It’s confidential.”

“Good.  So, here’s the deal.  This child showed up on my property back in November.  He’s from Sweden, and he’s been in the States for about a year.  His parents are dead, and he has no foster parents.”

“I don’t understand.  Are you saying that no one has legal custody of him?”

“That’s right.”

“How old is he?”

“He looks to be about twelve, but he doesn’t have a birth certificate.”

“How did he get into the U.S.?”

“He says he boarded a cargo ship that sailed from a port in Sweden to Norfolk.”

“Where do you live?”

“In Virginia.  Out near Flint Hill.  I’m about an hour-and-a-half west of D.C.”

“And where is the child living?”

“He’s with me.”

“Hmm.  Well, what you are proposing is very difficult, Mr. Inverness.  The biggest problem is his illegal residency status.  Right now he’s a juvenile delinquent, subject to deportation.  Assuming that could somehow be resolved, because he has no parents he would probably need to be taken into custody by the county social services, and they would have to consent to the adoption.  You could then file  petition for adoption.  The court appoints a guardian ad litem—usually, an attorney—to investigate you and your family to determine whether the adoption is appropriate.”

“How long would all that take?”

“Months to years.  And the child would need to return to his country of origin before he could properly apply for U.S. citizenship.”

“He’d have to go back to Sweden, then.”

“Yes.  And that’s what complicates things, because he’s a minor and we would need to consult with counsel in Sweden about whether you could adopt him under their laws.”

“Is all of this something you could help with, assuming I want to go down this road?”

“I think so.  We would need to meet and discuss the details.”

“Right.”  There was a pause.  “How do you usually charge for this sort of thing?”

“I would bill hourly.  For routine adoptions, I usually charge a flat fee, but this is clearly not routine.”

“Gotcha.”

“And my firm requires a deposit.  Depending on your circumstances, it’s usually around $3,000.  The amount is firm policy, but we can make exceptions, if necessary.  I would bill against that, and use it to pay any expenses related to the case.”

“All right.”  Jed thought for a moment.  “Let’s do this.  Let me talk to Eli about what you’ve told me.  Then I’ll call you back, and maybe we can set up a time.”

“That’s fine.  I’ve got next Tuesday afternoon open from 3 to 5.”

“Would you need to meet with Eli?”

“Eli is the child, I assume?”

“Yeah.”

“It would probably be helpful, but not necessarily.”

“Well, if you want to do that, it’ll have to be after hours.  He’s got a really bad allergy to sunlight, and can only go out at night.”

“I work late all the time, Mr. Inverness.  It won’t—”

“You can call me Jed.”

“Jed.  It won’t be a problem.”

“Great.  I’ll get back to you.”

He ended the call, put the phone down on the old, scarred tabletop, and looked dejectedly at the notes he’d written under her name and phone number.  “Mo’s/yrs.  Must return to Sweden.  $3K up front.”  Why did it have to be so hard?  It would never work.  He knew that Eli would never agree to do any of the things Toro had mentioned--not in a million years.  Or would he?

He re-read the final line he’d scribbled at the bottom of the note:  My Child.  Without really thinking, he put a square around it; then, for no particular reason, he embellished the square with little sun rays enamating away from the words within.

The prize.  Yes, that was the prize: to claim Eli as his own, before the whole world.  To walk, hand in hand, down the middle of the sidewalk on Main Street in the bright, crisp sunshine of a warm Spring day in some place like Warrenton or Leesburg; Fairfax, Virginia or Washington, D.C.  Where they were didn’t matter, only the ability to do it—to declare to everyone and anyone that Eli was his beloved son.  He would happily pay thousands of dollars to Toro, or a lawyer in Sweden, or to a legion of lawyers, for that matter, to make it happen.

He pushed back from the table.  It was time to run into town and get Eli some decent clothes.  And stop at the bank to cash in some CD’s.

Dr. Cook had finished seeing his last morning patient, an overweight man in his 50’s whom he had started on Lipitor to help control his Cholesterol, when his pager went off.

Earlier that morning he had called Jennifer Simon, the hospital’s risk manager, about securing Eli’s medical file in the Legal Office instead of Medical Records.  When he had outlined the circumstances of Eli’s bizarre physiology, she had readily agreed.  Then he’d called the lab to follow-up on the blood cultures, both of which remained negative.  Finally, he had telephoned Jed to explain the precautions he had arranged, and to convey his concerns about the possible need for a lawyer.

His morning clinic load had passed without any real sense of connection with his patients.  His mind had been distracted with thoughts of Eli, and what might explain his medical circumstances.  And because of the conversation with Dr. Andrews late the night before, he had not slept well.  His thoughts kept circling back to what Bill had said about Eli’s religious implications.  Although neither one of them had said it, the thought had been there, buoyed up by what Bill had said:  that Eli was a divine being who did not understand that he was divine.  Perhaps a real, honest-to-god angel.  Or something else?  A person who could live indefinitely; for whom eating and breathing was a choice, not a necessity.  Who had an unsettling presence.  And once Dave thought about that, then he began to replay his exchange with Eli in Jed’s cabin.  How the child had stepped up right next to him to state in no uncertain terms what their roles were, and what was expected of him.  It had been scary; had hinted at a power, hidden within the child.  But a power to do what?

He removed the pager from its belt clip and looked at the number.  It was Dr. Silver.  He had 25 minutes for his lunch break, but his tuna salad would have to wait.  He went to his office, closed the door, and dialed her up.

“Dave, is that you?”

“Yeah, Becky.  You paged me?”

“Yes.  I got a call a few minutes ago from Dr. Presad, Chief of Pathology at Walter Reed, on the skin biopsy.  I wanted to let you know what I was told.”

“Great.  What’d he say?”

“The tissue that was taken for microscopy wouldn’t stain.”

“What do you mean?”

“They couldn’t process it.  Couldn’t fix it in formaldehyde, couldn’t make paraffin blocks.  And the H & E wasn’t absorbed into the cells.”

“Why not?”

“He’s not sure.  He said he’s never seen anything like it, but there’s only one explanation he can think of.”

“What’s that?”

“The cells aren’t dead.”

He was about ready to say how ridiculous that was, but stopped himself.  “Aren’t dead.  But they’d have to be, wouldn’t they?”

“Dave, we’re talking about Eli, here.  All bets are off.”

“Yes, of course; you’re right.  I just—so what does this mean?”

“It means that there’s no good way to examine the tissue with a microscope.  He can slice it thin enough to put it on a slide, but it’s all just . . . clear.  There’s no contrast.”

Dave sighed and began to rub his temples.  “Well that’s just great.  Just great.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Is there any other way to examine the tissue?  Couldn’t they use some other equipment?  Some other kind of microscope, maybe?”

“I don’t know.  He said he’d talk to some of his colleagues, but he didn’t sound too hopeful.  There’s one other piece of information, though—they did test a sample in sunlight.”

“And?”

“It went poof.”

“Just like Eli said.”

“Yes.  In an instant.”

“Was there a control?”

“Yes.  They took another sample and exposed it to artificial light in the visible wavelength—you know, about 380 to 780 nanometers.  Nothing happened.”

“Okay.  Well, I guess that confirms what we already knew.”

“There’s more, though.”

“What’s that?”

“They then exposed the control to light in the near-infrared range.  And then to several forms of ultraviolet, one by one.  Nothing happened.”

“Okay.  So . . . that’s . . . .”

“Dave, what I’m telling you is that they exposed the control to artificial light of all known spectra of sunlight.  UVA, UVB, UVC, IR—everything.  It wasn’t affected.  They even did it simultaneously.  Same result.”

“So you’re saying that the control sample ended up being exposed to the equivalent of sunlight, only it was artificial.”

“Yes.”

“And nothing happened.”

“Yeah.”

“How did it know?”

She laughed, but her voice was full of anxiety; nothing more.  “I don’t know.  It just did.”

“Shit.”  He thought for a second.  “Was there any residue?”

“Yes.  They’re analyzing that right now.  But they probably won’t have the results until tomorrow.”

Dave sighed a second time.  “All right.  Well, call him back and tell him to fax his report to me as soon as possible.  And tell him not to make any copies of the report, or tell anyone else about it.  Do you have my fax number?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”  He paused.  “You know, I think we should have him try to examine a sample of the blood--to see if it’s governed by the same rules as the skin.  Do you agree?”

“Yes.  That’s a great idea, actually.”

“Good.  Would you like to follow-up with Pathology here at the hospital and track down one of the samples?”

“Of course.”

“Great.  So are there any conclusions we can draw from this, Becky?”

There was silence on the line as she organized her thoughts.  “Yes, I think so.  If Dr. Presad is right, I think it may be that every cell in Eli’s body is immortal.  And somehow, they are impervious to invasion by ordinary chemicals like formaldehyde, Hematoxylin and eosin. 

“The sunlight part, I don’t get.  Unless there’s something in sunlight that we don’t know about.  That’s the only explanation I can think of right now.”

“Becky . . . if you’re right about the cells, would you agree that our chances of finding a cure for Eli just took a huge hit?”

“I’m afraid so.  Especially if we can’t even examine them properly under a microscope.”

“All right.  Give me a call if you hear anything further from Walter Reed, or have any other ideas.  Bill and I are hoping to meet with Eli and Jed tonight and get that echo done.  And Bill’s gonna try to talk them into a 24-hour sleep EEG.”

“Are you going to get together at the hospital?”

“Yeah.  I booked that conference room.”

“Okay.  I’ll join you if I can.  I’m on call, though, so it’ll be catch as catch can.”

“Gotcha.”

He hung up the phone and glanced at his watch.  Ten minutes before his next patient.  He left his office and scooted down the hall to the tiny staff kitchen.  He had just sat down and unwrapped his sandwich when Marjorie came in and placed some papers in front of him.

“Fax for you--it’s from Dr. Andrews.”

“Thanks.”  He flipped back the cover sheet and began to read as he wolfed down his lunch.

Re: Eli

Dear Dave:

Spent the morning doing some digging.  Here is a list of questions regarding Swedish history to help validate Eli’s age.  Thank God for the internet!

1.   Who was the king at the time of your birth?  A: Adolph Frederick

2.   Who was Elisabeth Olin?  A: Swedish Opera singer  (1740 - 1828)

3.   Describe the coat-of-arms of Ostergotland.  A:  golden griffin on red background with 4 roses

4.   What was the motto of Karl XV?  A:  “By law the land shall be built”

5.   Who is Lars Ericsson and where was he born? A: Swedish inventor/entrepreneur; founder of telephone manufacturer Ericsson; born in Varmskog, Varmland but grew up in Vegerbol

6.   What is the origin of the yellow cross on the Swedish flag?  A:  King Eric the Holy  saw a gold cross in the sky when he landed in Finland during the First Swedish Crusade in 1157, which he took to be a sign from God

7.   Who was the governor of Ostergotland from 1775 to 1783?  A:  Frederic Ulric Reenstierna

8.   When were women first allowed to vote in Sweden?  A: 1921

9.   Who was Louis De Geer?  A:  industrialist/benefactor of Norrkoping (1587 - 1652)

10. Who burned Norrkoping down in 1719?  A:  the Russians (Great Northern War)

11. What canal runs east-west across Ostergotland?   A:  Gota Canal

12. In what year did Sweden last fight a war?  A: 1814 Campaign of Charles XIII against Norway

I don’t know that we need to use all of these, but at least it gives us something to run with.  Not sure if Eli will be amused or upset by this.  I guess we’ll see.  Page me when they arrive.

Thursday, December 19, 2002 – 4:49 p.m.

As quiet as a cat, Eli appeared at Jed’s side.  He put down his whittling. Eli looked around the room.

“Looks like you really cleaned up around here.”

“Yep.  I’ve been busy while you slept.”

Eli frowned slightly and touched his shoulder.  “I’ve never seen you in that shirt.  Is it new?”

“Nope.  I’ve had this old Pendleton for years.  Wears like iron—that’s why it still looks good.”

“I like the color.  It reminds me of the trees in the Fall.”

“Mmm hmm.”

“And you shaved.”

“Bathed and shaved.  I feel like a new man.  And I got hot water goin’ for you, too.”

“Good—I think I might need it.”

He leaned over and gave Eli an exaggerated sniff.  “Maybe so.”  Then he grinned.  “We wouldn’t want to offend good ole Dr. Cook, now would we?”

“He could handle it.”  Eli’s gaze settled on the kitchen table.  “What’s in the bag?”

“New clothes for you, like we discussed.”

“Oh!  May I look?”

“Help yourself.”  Jed gestured at the bag.  Eli went to the table and began to withdraw the clothes from the big shopping bag:  three turtleneck sweaters—green, blue and red—and two rugby shirts, one with black and white stripes, the other with yellow and gray.  A Redskins sweatshirt with a hood.  And some nylon pants: two beige, and one dark gray.

“The legs on them pants are zippered, so you can convert ‘em into shorts once the weather gets nice.”

“I’ve never heard of pants like these.  And they have so many pockets, too.”

“Yep.  But none quite big enough to accommodate your egg, I suppose.”

Eli laughed.  “I need to finish putting that back together.”

“Yeah.  I wish I could help you there, but the pieces are just too small for me.”

“Oh—there’s more?”  Eli dug further and pulled out some white bundles wrapped in plastic.

“Socks, T-shirts and underwear.  Wasn’t sure if you wanted the boys or girls, there, but . . .”

“I think I’ll try the boys for awhile.”

“Whatever suits ya.”

Eli put the packages down on the table and turned to Jed.  “Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome.”

They continued to talk as Eli took a bath behind the curtain.

“I called a lawyer today.”

“You did?  About what?”

Jed was quiet for a time.  “About adopting you.”

The splashing behind the curtain stopped.  “Adopting me?”

“That’s right.”

“Jed . . . why would you want to do that?  It’s not necessary.  I know how you feel about me.  Like we talked about the other night.”

“I’m not sayin it would change how I feel about you, or vice-versa, Eli.  It has to do more with . . . I don’t know—how the world might see us, I suppose.”

“Why is that important?  So you could decide what medical treatment I could get?”

“No, no—I’m not talkin about that.  I know you’re callin the shots on that.  I guess what I’m sayin is, that maybe if we did this, I could look someone in the eye, and say . . . and say—”

“Say . . .”

“Goddamn it.”  He sniffed and hauled out his hanky.  “I’ve gotten upset more times in the space of a month living with you than I did for the last five years.  Shit.”

Silence behind the curtain.

Jed got up and went to the stove.  Although the fire was fine, he opened the door and threw in another piece of wood, then bent down and stirred the embers around with his poker.  At last, turned away from Eli, he was able to speak, but the words did not come easily, and he felt foolish when he spoke them.  “What I’m tryin to say is, that I could tell the whole doggone world that you’re my son.”

He turned to look at the curtain around the tub.  It parted and Eli stepped out, wrapped in a towel, his wet hair hanging in slick, black, locks around his face and down to his shoulders.  He looked at Jed for what seemed an endless time.

“I will be your son.”

When they pulled up to the main entrance to Culpeper Regional, Dr. Cook and Dr. Andrews were waiting for them.  With Dave leading the way, they headed back to the administrative conference room.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you what happened to your leg, Jed,” Dr. Andrews said as they approached the door.

“We were in a car accident last month.  Some guy T-boned my pickup truck and I wound up with a broken leg.”

“Mmm.  Sounds like it was a pretty serious accident.”

“Yeah, it was.  Coulda been much more serious, though.”  He patted Eli’s shoulder.

Dr. Cook opened the conference room door and switched on the lights.  “Come’on in, everybody.  May I offer either of you anything?”

Jed shrugged.  “I’m fine.”

“Eli?  How about you?”

“No thanks.”

“Okay.”  Dr. Cook sat down at the end of the table with Dr. Andrews by his side.  “Eli, I didn’t know you were a Redskins fan.”

Eli looked down at her maroon hooded sweatshirt with the Redskins logo on the front.  “I’m not, actually.  Jed got this for me.”

“I figured.  But you know what--if you ever want to go to a game, let me know.  I’ve got season tickets, and there’s nothing quite like the experience of an NFL game at JFK stadium.”

“Thanks!  I’d love to.  I’ve never been to a big football game before.”

“They’re playing Houston this Sunday, if the two of you would like to go.”

Jed glanced at Eli, then spoke.  “What doya say we cogitate on that a little before we decide, huh, Eli?”

“Okay.”

Dave smiled.  “Understood.  We must keep our priorities straight.

“First thing on the agenda is to bring the two of you up to speed on Eli’s medical workup.  The skin sample that Dr. Silver obtained yesterday underwent testing by exposure to natural and artificial light this morning at a lab at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  The results confirm what you already knew—that Eli’s skin will spontaneously combust when exposed to sunlight, but not to artificial light.”

Jed looked at Eli and nodded.  “I knew it.  When I pulled your hand out that one morning and it started to smoke.”

Eli spoke.  “Is there some way to stop it?”

“We don’t understand yet why it occurs.  The control sample was subjected to several different forms of radiation, like visible light, ultraviolet, and near-infrared, and did not burn.  In fact, it was exposed to all of the known forms of radiation that make up sunlight, all at the same time.  Still nothing happened.”

Jed frowned.  “Maybe there’s more to sunlight than we realize.”

“I think that may be the case.  The burnt residue is being analyzed, but we will probably need to get another sample and do further testing.  The testing will probably include trying to determine whether anything could be placed on or over the skin to protect it.

“SPF-1 million.”

Dave and Bill laughed.  Eli looked at Jed, puzzled, before Dave clarified.  “It’s a reference to suntan lotion, Eli.”

“Sorry, Eli.  I know that to you, it’s not that funny.”

Eli managed a small smile.  “It’s all right. 

“So this means that Dr. Silver will do another punch?”

“Well, we might need to get a bit more tissue this time.  So I’m thinking maybe a skin graft is the way to go.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a technique that’s been developed in the field of plastic surgery to help people who have been burned.  A layer of skin is removed from one area of the body and grafted over the damaged area.  The area from which the skin is taken grows back.  With more skin to work with, the testing could be done more quickly, and given your healing abilities, presumably you would recover without a scar.  We would need to speak with a plastic surgeon about the procedure, the risks, and so forth, but I’m fairly sure you would need anesthesia.  The upside would be that we would have more skin to work with, so the testing could be done more quickly.”

“Okay.  Do I need to decide that right now?”

“No.  Just think about it, and I can arrange for you to speak with a plastic surgeon if you want to know more. I understand your concern about being placed under anesthesia.”

Dave paused to collect himself before continuing.  “Now, here’s the more troubling thing about the skin analysis.  We were hoping to look at your skin under a microscope, to see whether the cells that make up your skin are any different from normal.  But we were unable to do that.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, the short answer is that your skin didn’t want to cooperate.  By that, I mean that we were not able to prepare the skin sample in a way that makes it possible to look at it under high power magnification.”

Jed shook his head.  “I don’t follow you, doc.”

“Me either.”

“Eli, tissue prepared for the microscope is usually fixed in formaldehyde to preserve it from deterioration.  It then goes through a process of dehydration and staining.  The stains help the pathologist distinguish different structures in the tissue.  But your skin didn’t like the formaldehyde and the stain very much.  And we think the reason for this is that your skin is still alive.”

“You mean that little piece that Dr. Silver pulled out?  Even though it’s not still attached to me?”

“That’s right.  Now, we don’t know for sure—it’s just sort of a working theory at the moment.”

“So what does that mean?”

“Well, we’re not sure.  But it suggests that your ability to live such a long time has something to do with a process that occurs at the cellular level.  And so I asked Dr. Silver to submit a sample of your blood to the folks at Walter Reed to see if it’s still alive.”

“My blood.”

“That’s right.”  Dave hesitated.  “Is that okay?”

“They, um . . . they wear gloves when they do that stuff, right?  So that there wouldn’t be any chance that they’d—you know—”

“Oh, yes.  The people who process specimens in the lab are very careful about that sort of thing.  You needn’t worry about it.”

Eli appeared relieved.  “Good.  So you’re saying that they can’t look at my skin microscopically?”

“Well, they are exploring other techniques.  I am waiting to hear back from them on that.”

“Okay.”

“Now, on another note, we wanted to let both of you know that we won’t be charging you for our services.  We discussed this last night, and we’re all in agreement about it.  So Jed, you don’t need to worry about getting a bill from me, Bill, here, Dr. Goodwin or Dr. Silver.”

Jed and Eli looked at each other; then Eli spoke.  “Oh!  Thank you very much, Dr. Cook!  And you too, Dr. Andrews.”

Dr. Andrews smiled.  “Eli, you can call me Bill, remember?  And you’re welcome.”

Jed looked carefully at Dave and Bill.  “Are you sure about that?  I was prepared to pay you for everything.  And who knows how hard this is gonna be.  I’m sure you’ve both invested quite a bit of time already.”

Dave’s voice was firm.  “We’re sure.  Eli is a unique case, and we all feel that it’s a privilege to be helping him.  Now this doesn’t mean there won’t be any expenses.  After all, we’re relying on the hospital here and Walter Reed for their lab services, the MRI, and so forth.  And those charges won’t be insubstantial.  So Bill is proposing that we contact the NIH about a grant to help pay for it.”

Eli looked uncertainly at Bill.  “What’s the NIH?”

“It stands for the National Institutes of Health.  They’re the branch of the Department of Health and Human Services that does biomedical research.  Their main campus isn’t too far from here—it’s up in Bethesda, Maryland.  And their mission is to help understand and treat human diseases.  I am extremely confident—in fact, virtually certain--that they would be quite eager to write a grant to help defray these costs.  And it would also provide a means to access medical specialists and specialized equipment that you might need, since it is beginning to look like your problems will soon outstrip what we have to offer.”

Eli frowned.  “What do you mean, ‘outstrip what you have to offer’?”

Dave spoke softly and gestured with his hands as he tried to explain.  “What we’re trying to say, Eli, is that if, as we suspect, the root of your condition is at the cellular level, you’re going to need advice from experts in molecular biology.  Bill, Dr. Goodwin, Dr. Silver and me, we’re clinicians, not research scientists.  In other words, we’ve spent most of our professional careers treating people with day-to-day health problems, not in a laboratory or doing translational research.  And because no one in the world, at least, as far as we know, shares your condition, we’re starting from scratch here.  That being the case, you’re going to want top-drawer people lending a hand to understand how your body functions.  And an NIH grant would be an ideal way to find that help.”

Eli nodded.  “I understand--and it sounds like a good idea.  But won’t that mean more people knowing about me?”

Bill nodded his head.  “Yes it will.  And filing for a grant triggers certain exceptions to the privacy laws that would otherwise preclude the release of confidential patient information.  In other words, some of the information that makes your physiology unique will have to be disclosed to the DHHS.  That’s one of the trade-offs that you’ll need to consider.”

“I don’t like that idea.  I want you two to be my doctors.”

“Well, we would still be your doctors, Eli.  We’re just worried that we’re going to need a lot of help to figure you out.  I thought you wouldn’t react too favorably to the idea, but I felt obligated to bring it to your attention as a possible source of funding for what will likely prove to be a very expensive endeavor.”

Jed spoke.  “Maybe we can talk to the folks here at Culpeper Regional about cutting us a deal on the costs.”

Dave nodded.  “You’re welcome to do that, of course—and I’d be happy to go to bat for you, and arrange for a meeting with Ms. Simon, the hospital’s attorney.  Which reminds me—before I forget, I want to let you know that I talked with her this morning about keeping your medical chart secure.”  He tapped the folder in front of him.  “And she has agreed that it’ll be kept under lock and key in her office, rather than down in Medical Records, just to be extra safe.”

Jed nodded.  “Sounds like a good idea.”

Eli joined in.  “I appreciate that.  But how many people know about me already?”

“Well, obviously the team here—me, Dr. Andrews, Dr. Goodwin and Dr. Silver—we have the most information.  But there are several people who know some things, or have a little slice of the pie, so to speak.  Obviously I had to explain a little bit to Ms. Simon so she’d understand the importance of keeping your medical records secure.  And then there are the folks who have been helping us with your studies and tests.  Dr. Oliverio in Radiology.  Dr. Presad at Walter Reed.”

Dr. Andrews spoke.  “And we also had your MRI reviewed last night by Dr. Jack Marsden, a neuroradiologist at a hospital downtown.  Because Dr. Oliverio wanted help with some of the things he was seeing in your brain.”

Dave nodded.  “Yes.  And we can talk more about that in a moment.  But so far, that’s it.”

Eli spoke.  “That’s eight.  And it’s only going to get larger, right?  I mean, as we keep getting further into this.”

“Well, we do our best, Eli.  But the days of having one doctor who knows all there is to know about medicine are long gone.”

Eli nodded.  “I guess we’ll just have to deal with it.”

“I’m afraid so.  But I want you to know that we’re doing what we can to keep your medical record confidential.  And that leads me to another point that I want to discuss with you—what we’re going to do if news about you gets out despite our best efforts.  I shared a little about my concerns with Jed this morning.  Have the two of you had an opportunity to talk about it?”

Jed shook his head.  “No, we haven’t.  But I did tell Eli that I’d called a lawyer today to check out tryin’ to adopt him.”

“That’s good.  I think that’s a start in the right direction.  But Bill and I think there is more to discuss.”

Jed nodded.  “I agree—and I’ve been worrying about it, too.  But I wanted you fellas to be here when we talked to Eli.”

Eli looked at the three men, puzzled.  “What are you talking about?”

Bill spoke.  “Eli, what we’re concerned about is the possibility that even though we’ve done everything we possibly can to keep you a secret, word about you somehow gets out to the public.  Your story, to put it mildly, would be sensational.  Because death, and finding ways to delay it, have been a central preoccupation of mankind since the dawn of time—or at least, as long as anyone can remember.  The knowledge that there is someone in the world who is able to live indefinitely would provoke strong reactions in just about everybody.  And we think that would include people who would think your existence has religious implications.”

“’Religious implications’ meaning what?”

Bill cleared his throat.  “Well, some people might think that you are some sort of divine being.”

Eli frowned slightly, then looked at Jed, who remained studiously silent.  “But I’m not.”

Dave spoke.  “Maybe you don’t think so.  But that may not be as important as what other people think.  And the question really is, how to react if this were to happen.  That’s all we want you to think about.”

Bill nodded.  “All we’re really saying is, the two of you need to consider ways to protect your privacy if Eli becomes known.  Jed, you’re probably fairly isolated up there in your cabin, but that may not be enough.  You might consider where you could go in the event strangers or paparazzi start showing up at all hours of the day and night.  Because that could happen.  Crazy types, too.  Crackpots.”

“I understand.  Eli and I have talked a little bit about this already.   He’s a bit skittish, as you know, about this whole deal.  But on the other hand, he’s committed to trying to find a cure for his condition.  So we’ll talk further.”

“Good.  Because I’d hate to see something bad happen.”  Dave pulled the fax from Dr. Andrews out of his folder.  “Now Eli, I’d like to change gears here for a minute.  When all of us met yesterday evening to review your case, a point was raised that we should try to find some way to verify your age.  I mean, you’ve told us that you were born in Sweden in 1761, and I’m not trying to suggest that I doubt you on that score.  But you know, a certain amount of healthy skepticism in the field of science and medicine is a good thing.  It helps us make certain we know what we’re dealing with.”

“Mmm hmm.”

“And of course, we’re not Swedish.  So Dr. Andrews and I put our heads together and came up with a little pop quiz, if you will.  And I’m sorry if it seems kind of silly, but it would give us some measure of confidence that you’re really as old as you say you are.  Because obviously we’re to the point where we’ve invested quite a bit of time and resources to try and help you.  And we’ve barely scratched the surface in understanding how you’ve managed to stay alive.”

Eli smiled.  “Okay.  Go ahead.”

“Great.”  Dave looked down nervously at his list of questions.  “So, the first question we have is, when you were born, who was the king of Sweden?”

“That’s easy--Adolf Frederick.  He spent his time making snuff boxes, and then he ate too much dessert and died.  Then his son Gustav took over.”

Bill raised an eyebrow and looked at Dave.  “On to number two.”

Dave could not restrain a chuckle.  “Yeah.  I feel silly already.  Just remember, these were your questions.”

“I know, I know.”

Eli spoke.  “Go ahead.”

“Who was Elisabeth Olin?”

“I don’t know.” 

“Okay.  On to the next one, then.”

“Wait-who was she?”

Jed chimed in.  “Yeah—fill us in.”

Dave looked down at his paper.  “Apparently she was a famous Swedish Opera singer.  She died in 1828.”

Eli looked at Jed.  “I’ve never heard of her.”

“It’s all right.  Keep goin’, doc.”

“What does the coat-of-arms of Ostergotland look like?”

“Um, it’s got a griffin with some flowers around it.”

“And the colors?”

“Red and gold.”

“Super.  Now, one of your kings named Karl  the Fifteenth had a motto.  Do you know it?”

Eli put his head down and thought for a moment.  “I don’t know.”

“By law the land shall be built.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Okay.  Well, can you tell me who Lars Ericsson was?”

“His company made radios and stereo equipment.”

“That’s right.  Where was he born?”

“Varmskog or Vegerbol—I’m not sure which.”

“Close enough.  He was born in Varmskog, but grew up in Vegerbol.”

“Okay.”

“Where did the yellow cross on the Swedish flag come from?”

“That’s easy.   God showed the cross to King Eric.”

“Do you remember the circumstances?”

“Not really.  He was off fighting some battle.”

“Okay—close enough for government work.”

“Who was the governor of Ostergotland from 1775 to 1783?”

“I don’t know.   I didn’t stay in Ostergotland after this happened to me.”

“When were women first allowed to vote in Sweden?”

“During the Age of Liberty.”

“Can you be more precise?”

Eli shook his head. 

“When was the Age of Liberty?”

“The 1700’s.  It ended when I was little.”

“Good enough.  Who was Louis De Geer?”

“The first Prime Minister of Sweden.  Everyone knows that.”

Dave looked at Bill.  “What’s this you wrote down here?”

Bill took the sheet away from Dave and read it.  “That’s not who I thought he was.”  He looked at Eli.  “I thought he was a famous industrialist from Nörrkoping.”

“Must’ve been before my time.  I always thought he was the first Prime Minister.”

Dave frowned at Bill and took the sheet away from him.  “Make a note to follow-up on that one.”

Jed spoke.  “Got any more?  Obviously he’s from Sweden.”

“Yeah—just a few.  Can you tell us who burned down Nörrkoping in 1719?”

Eli sighed.  “The Russians.”

“I’m sorry.  I know this is getting a little old.  What canal runs east-west across Ostergotland?”

“The Gota.”

“Right.  Last one--in what year did Sweden last fight a war?”

“I don’t know.”

“It was the 1814 campaign of Charles XIII against Norway.”

“Okay.”

Dave skimmed back through the list.  “Well, let’s see.  You got seven, maybe eight right out of twelve.  That’s like a ‘D,’ or maybe a D-minus.”  He looked at Eli over the top of the page.

Bill spoke.  “Eli, can you tell us a few things about Sweden that you know from personal experience?  Maybe that would help.”

Eli looked down at the table for a time, thinking about what to say.  He did not look up when, at last, he spoke.

“I was the youngest of three children.  I don’t know where my parents are buried, or even when or how they died because I never saw them again after this happened to me.  I never made contact with my older brother and sister afterwards either, but I tried to learn what became of them.  I eventually found out that my brother Jakob died in the North Sea on a merchant ship called Freyja in 1781 or 1782.  He was only 25 or 26, and never married.  His ship ran aground one night at Horn’s Reef off Blåvandshuk—that’s in Denmark.  

“My sister Gerda married and moved to Linköping.  She lived there her whole life, and had two children.  She died in 1813 at the age of 56 from consumption.  Her marker is in the cemetery in Linköping--the oldest part, since she was one of the first people to be buried there.  Gerda Valberg.  You can find it if you look.  I don’t know what happened to her children.

“There used to be a lot more wolves in Sweden than there are now.  After this happened to me, I didn’t want to be around people too much, and I lived in the Tiveden Forest in Örebro County, about a hundred kilometers northwest of where I was born.  That’s where I first encountered wolves in the wild.  I lived in caves now called Stenkälla.  And the old stories are true—there were bandits and bad people in those hills back then.  And there was a big rock formation called the Trollkyra, where Christians were forbidden to go, or they would die.  There was also a stave church in those woods that had been there since Viking times.  But it was torn down in 1826 by the Church because they thought pagan sacrifices were going on.

“In 1977 I lived for a time in Crown Park, near Karlstad.  It was a new apartment complex that had been a part of the ‘Million Program.’  I stayed with a man named Stig in a flat at Signalhomsgatan 502.  The apartment is still there—I could show you where it is. Stig had been convicted of molesting his step-daughter, but only had to serve two years.  He had been out of prison for a little over a year before I met him.  I left when he started bringing women and children from Serbia into the apartment.  I think he was taking them to someone in Stockholm so they could be sold to people in the U.K.”

Dave coughed.  “Did you say ‘sold’?”

Eli looked up.  “Yes.”

Jed spoke.  “Eli, did this guy ever do anything to you?”

Eli paused.  “Nothing I didn’t agree to.”

An awkward silence reigned for a few moments while each member of Eli’s stunned audience attempted to formulate a meaningful response to his sobering description of child abuse and human trafficking.  Jed responded first.  “I think Quiz Time is over.  We’ve put Eli through enough, don’t you think, fellas?”

Bill surprised himself at how readily he agreed.  “Yes, I do.  And I’m sorry if we upset you by asking these questions, Eli.  We weren’t trying to make this painful for you.  We just felt like . . . we had to be sure about all of this, that’s all.”

Dave nodded.  “That’s right.  We weren’t trying to embarrass you.”

Eli looked down again, his hands clasped in his lap.  “It’s all right.  I know you need to confirm things.”

The tension in the room broke.  Bill put down his pen and sat back, happy to have the question and answer session over.  He cleared his throat.  “Eli, I’d like to talk about something else for a few minutes.  I want to persuade you to come have that EEG that we talked about yesterday.”

“Okay.  What’s an EEG, again?”

“It’s a study that shows us the electrical activity of your brain. Your brain makes electricity called brain waves.  Most people’s brains use glucose to work.  Glucose is just a fancy word for sugar.  So brains need lots of sugar all the time—in fact, the human brain consumes about a quarter of the body’s glucose production.  And of course, it needs oxygen, too.  But for some reason, yours doesn’t—you don’t have any glucose or oxygen in your bloodstream, and we need to figure out why.  So I’d like to take a look at your brain wave patterns and see how they compare to an ordinary patient’s.  And it would be helpful if we could see them while you are awake and asleep.”

“I don’t like being around people I don’t know very well when I’m asleep.”

“Well, you don’t need to stay there the whole day.  I’d like to capture several hours, if you’re willing, but if you want Jed to take you home after that, that’s fine.”

“No—I’m sorry.  You can do it while I’m awake, but I’m not staying to sleep.”

Jed turned to Eli.  “I could be there with you—couldn’t I, doc?  It’s not like you’d be alone.”

Bill nodded.  “Sure.”

Jed continued.  “And if staying might help Dr. Andrews figure out your medical situation a little better, I think we should think about it pretty hard.”

Dr. Andrews continued.  “I don’t have any authority, nor would I think it appropriate, to tell you what to do, Eli.  I think I understand why you’re concerned about being in the custody of someone you don’t know too well while you’re vulnerable.  If I shared your physiology, I suspect I would probably feel the same way.  So if you are at all on the fence about this, I would propose that you come by the sleep clinic tonight.  I’ll give you a little tour so you can see where you would be staying, if you agree.  Then you can make your decision.  And if you still don’t want to, that’ll be fine.  We’ll just do what we can while you’re awake.”

Eli looked from Dr. Andrews to Jed, and then back to Dr. Andrews.  “All right--let’s do it that way.  Are we going now?”

Dave spoke.  “Not quite yet.  There are some other things I’d like to go over with you, and then we would like to take you downstairs for an echocardiogram.”

“What’s that—something like the MRI?”

“No.  The technologist will just be putting a transducer on your chest that’ll shoot sound waves through your body.  It’ll take about ten minutes, and it won’t hurt a bit.  He’ll just squirt a little gel on you first so that the probe makes good contact with your skin.”

“Okay.  But why do I need it?”

Dr. Andrews answered.  “Eli, Dr. Oliverio reviewed your MRI yesterday with Dr. Marsden, the doctor I mentioned a little bit ago who specializes in reading MRIs of the brain.  He wanted to get a better handle on those structures in your brain stem that I told you about last night.  And the two of them also tried to enhance the pictures of that tumor that we discovered on your heart.  As it turns out, there’s more to that than we thought.”

“More to it, meaning what?”

Bill glanced at Dave, then sighed.  “Well, it’s not totally clear yet, but we believe that the tissue on your heart may not really be a tumor.  The enhanced images suggest that it may be symmetrical, which you wouldn’t expect to see with a tumor.  So, we think it may be a new organ—and we’re hoping that the echocardiogram might tell us more about it.  It’s not the best form of echo we could do, but given your aversion to anesthesia and injected medications, it’ll have to do.”

“What kind would you prefer to do?”

“It’s called a transesophageal echo--‘TEE,’ for short.  It would require you to be sedated so the transducer that emits the sound waves could be inserted into your esophagus and positioned behind your heart.  That way, you don’t have to worry about the chest wall and lungs interfering with the study.”

“How do you do it?”

“I believe that they numb your throat with a spray and then give you a sedative so that when you swallow the transducer and the tube that is attached, it’s not uncomfortable.  The sedatives are usually short-acting, but it would be best to talk to Dr. Goodwin.”

“Okay.  Well, I’ll talk to him if you think it will help.”

A look of surprise crossed Bill’s face.  “Oh--great!  Let me page him, then.”

Dave spoke.  “I’ll do it, Bill.”

They all got up and stretched as Dave punched Dr. Goodwin’s pager number into the phone.  When he was finished, he poured himself some coffee and everyone sat back down.

“Eli, we agreed last night that we need more information about the events surrounding this transformation that occurred when you were twelve.  Are you up to answering a few more questions about that?”

“I guess so.”

“Now, you said that something bit you on the neck and that when you woke up, you were different.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you remember anything about what it was that bit you?  As I remember, you said it wasn’t a bug.  But it had to have been something very unusual, to have caused all these changes.”

“I was bitten by the man who cut me.  Down there, like I told you.”

Dave looked at Bill; their eyes met.  “A man bit you.”

“Yes—the man.  Our lord.  The same guy.”

“Well, what—I mean, why did he—”  Dave frowned, then shook his head.  “Can you just maybe explain a little more about all of that?  Because we’re having . . . I mean, at least I’m having a hard time understanding it.”

Bill nodded.  “I am, too.”

Jed’s chair squeaked as he shifted position and rolled his chair a few inches closer to Eli’s.  His stomach tightened.

“He called us to his castle.  The castle is gone now, but its ruins were still there for years and years, until . . . I don’t know when.  But he . . . wanted to have a competition.  Or at least, that’s what he called it.  All the families who worked his land had to do it.  Boys between eight and twelve years old, I mean.  And he rolled some dice, and counted down the line.  And he picked me.  Only, it wasn’t supposed to be me.  That was his trick.  And I—”

Eli turned in his chair and looked away toward the window, his hands busily kneading themselves in his lap.  “I’m sorry.  This is just very difficult to talk about.”

There was an awkward pause.  Jed was on the verge of concluding that Eli was going to end the conversation, when Eli continued with a look of bitter resolve, his speech compressed as if he were in haste to get his words out, lest his courage falter.

“He picked me and one of his guards covered my face with alcohol or something while the others held back my mother.  And then I was in this little room, like a secret room.  It had a little door.  And I was tied down to a table.  I couldn’t move, I was . . . there was a knot in my mouth so I couldn’t scream.  There was another man there, a little fat man—his helper.  With a bowl and a knife.  And he said something that made the man crawl under the table, under to where I was—because you see, the table had a hole in it, a hole where my—” he nodded down at the place between his legs.  “Where that was.  And when he gave the signal, the little man cut me with the knife.  Cut me off.”

Jed could no longer stand to look at Eli.  His vision blurred as the tears came, and he swiveled his chair around slightly so that he could look away.  As quietly as he could, he got out his handkerchief and started to work on his eyes.

“Just . . . cut it all off.  And I started to scream, but I couldn’t scream because of that rope.  I thought I was on fire inside me and I went to my mama to put it out, to put out that fire, but it didn’t work. And then the little man came back out with the bowl.  The bowl had my blood in it.  And the lord drank it right there in front of me.  And after he did that, he bit me.  And bit me again.  And again.  And then I became his prisoner, for . . . I don’t know how long.  Because that’s when I stopped growing, and time sort of . . .”  He shook his head, unable to finish.  Tears streaked down his cheeks, but he paid them no attention.

“Eli . . .”  Dave’s voice trembled and broke.

“You see, Dr. Cook—Dr. Andrews.  I used to be Elias.  That’s my real name.  But now I’m just Eli.  Because I’m not a boy . . . but I’m not a girl.  I’m only twelve, but I’m not really twelve.  I’ve outlived my family, even though I haven’t aged.  And I’ve been cursed to live like this.  And there’s only one thing I can drink—and it’s not water.”

It clicked inside Dave’s mind—the chief complaint.  I’m a vampire.

Dr. Andrews suddenly pushed back from the table, stood up with his mouth agape, and backed away toward the window.  Then he turned, threw open the door, and fled down the hall.

“Bill!  Wait!”  Dr. Cook jumped up and ran out after him.  Jed rose up out of his chair, hesitated, and then sat back down.  Better to stay with Eli. 

The footsteps grew fainter; then they heard the heavy clunk of the metal door to the stairwell twice in short succession.  Then all was quiet.  Outside, snow had begun to fall, swirlivng starkly against the dark glass.

Eli turned and looked at Jed, his face full of resignation and disappointment.  “I knew this would happen.”

Jed put away his handkerchief.  “I think we might’ve just lost our neurologist.”  He gave Eli’s thigh a reassuring pat.  “But you did the right thing--you told them what happened.  Now they know the truth, and we’ll just have to see whether they still want to help you.”

The phone on the conference table suddenly rang, startling Eli in his chair.  Jed picked it up.  “Hello?”

“This is Dr. Goodwin--I’m returning a page.  Who’s this?”

“Jed Inverness.”

“Oh—hi, Jed.  Did you page me?”

“No, Dr. Cook did.  He wanted you to come up here and talk about the trans-echo thing.”

“Trans-echo . . . oh, you mean the TEE.”

“Yeah.  Eli is thinkin’ it over.”

“All right.  You all up there in the conference room?”

“Well, sort of.  Dr. Andrews just left, and Dave went after him.”

“Oh.  An emergency?”

Jed looked at Eli, who had gone to the window and was staring out at the night.  Jed realized that he could see Eli’s reflection in the glass, and a thought  crossed his mind as he spoke into the receiver: so much for that old story

“No, Eli just told them somethin that shook Bill up, I think.”

“What’s that?  I’m beginning to think we’re never going to run out of surprises with your boy.”

“You’d best come up here so we can explain things.”

“All right.  I’ll be there in a few.”

The stairwell, being unheated, was cooler than the rest of the hospital.  Dave hammered down the steps, his footsteps echoing off the bare cinderblock walls, and swung around the tubular handrails to catch up with Bill, who was descending at a rapid clip that was not quite an outright run.  He managed to grab him by the shoulder just as Bill was pushing through the fire door on the first floor.  For a second or two, warm air, light, and the voices of hospital patrons entered the dank, shadowy confines of the stairwell.  Then they were cut off as Dave dragged Bill back in and spun around, blocking the exit.

He had never imagined he would see Bill in his present condition.  Above his crooked bow tie his face was drained of color, and his doctor’s coat was half off his shoulder.  His hair was even more of a mess than usual, and Dave could see the whites all the way around his pupils.

“Pull yourself together, Bill!”

Bill did not seem to care that Dave had grabbed him; he just stood in front of Dave, his panting voice high and hysterical.  “He’s a vampire!  My God, the kid’s a fucking vampire!

Shhh!  Be quiet, for God’s sake!”  He spoke through clenched teeth, his hands balled into fists.

Bill continued at only a slightly reduced volume.  “It explains everything.  The aversion to sunlight, his strength . . . seeing in the dark . . . all of it!”

“Dammit, Bill—shut up!  You want the whole fucking hospital to hear?”

Bill paused and for the first time, seemed to realize that Dave was there.

“Sorry!  Sorry.  It’s just . . . I’m a little—”

“He’s our patient, Bill.  For Christ’s sake, act like a fucking professional.”

Bill laughed.  “Our patient?  He’s not even human, Dave--don’t you get that?”  He laughed again, longer this time.

“Bill, I’ve known you for eleven years.  But so help me God, if you ever say that again, I’ll beat the living shit out of you.”

Bill took a deep breath and straightened his coat and tie.  “Dave, listen to me.  That thing may look like a little boy, but it’s not.  How do you think it’s been alive for two hundred years, hmm?  It hasn’t been living on water—it told you that itself.  It’s . . . it’s evil.”

“Bill, if Eli was evil, he wouldn’t have come to us for help.  Isn’t that obvious?”

“He tricked us, Dave.  He’s . . . it’s known all along what it is, but it didn’t tell us.  It’s been hiding its true nature the whole time while it was busy sucking us in.”

“That’s actually not true.  The first thing Eli told me was that he was a vampire. I didn’t write it down because it was ridiculous, but in retrospect . . . it makes perfect sense.  And apparently, it was the truth.”

“He told you that?”

“Yeah.  Right at the get-go—and I didn’t believe it.  But let me ask you: if he’d told you, would you have believed it?”

Bill paused, then looked down as he shook his head.  “No . . . I can’t say I would have.  Nobody would’ve.”

Dave sighed and ran his hand through his hair.  “That’s exactly right.  So try to put yourself in the kid’s shoes for a minute, Bill.  Can you think of any way he could’ve sought medical attention, other than the way he did it with us?”

Bill thought for a moment; when he spoke again, the indignation was gone.  “No.  Not really.”

Dave nodded.  “He wouldn’t have gotten past my front office staff.”

Bill chuckled.  “Yeah.  Rita would’ve had a field day with him.”

Dave laughed.  “Rita—is that old warhorse still working for you?  I can’t imagine what would’ve happened.”

“Yup.  She’s 66, and still works 7 to 7.”

“Hmm.  Well maybe she’ll get her chance.  Now look, Bill, I know it’s been awhile, but there was a certain thing we swore to do when we got our medical degrees.  Remember that?”

Bill sighed.  “Yeah, yeah.  But--”

“No ‘buts,’ Bill--the kid needs our help.  So let’s go back up there and talk to him before he runs away.”

“Hang on a second—before we do that, we need to talk for a minute.  We don’t know a damn thing about what we’re dealing with here.  You may be right—Eli might just be an innocent kid who’s had horrible things done to him.  But that doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous.”

“I know that.  That’s why we need to talk to him.”

“Well, what if he admits that he is dangerous?  It’s because of us that he’s here in this hospital.  He’s coming into contact with the staff, other doctors, hell, even members of the public, who have no idea what he is, or what he might do under the right circumstances.  What about them?  We could be jeopardizing their safety.”

Dave slowly shook his head.  “I agree, that’s a huge issue.  And if it turns out that he is dangerous, then we’ll need to decide how to proceed—maybe get the hospital administration involved.  But let’s take this one step at a time.  Maybe there’s a way to help him that won’t involve putting others at risk.”

“Dave, to say I’m extremely nervous would be a gross understatement.  Did you really hear that story he told?  It’s . . . incredible.  If I didn’t know his physiology, I’d never believe it.  Not in a million years.”

“But we do know what he’s like.  And everything he’s said so far has been consistent with what we’ve discovered about him.  So until we have some evidence to doubt him, I think we have to accept it, as bizarre as it sounds.”

Bill shook his head.  “I agree, but . . . I just—it’s so hard to get my head wrapped around this kid.  Things keep getting weirder every day.”

“I know.  But we’ve seen the test results; looked at the films.  Examined him carefully.  This is no fantasy.”

“Dave, I don’t want to burst your bubble, but surely you realize that the likelihood of us being able to do anything for him is slim at best.  He’s so . . . refractory to analysis.  Like the problems with the punch biopsy.  Who’s ever heard of that before?  And those structures in his brainstem.  The only way I can think that we’re going to get a handle on their function is to do some very sophisticated imaging—a PET scan or a functional MRI.  And his brain doesn’t use glucose, so how’s it gonna work if he doesn’t take up contrast?”

“Bill, I don’t know the answers to all of this.  All I know is that the kid has reached out to us for help.  I feel strongly that we have an obligation to respond and do what we can.  Maybe you’re right: when the dust settles, he won’t be any further down the line than he is right now.  But at least he’ll know that someone cared enough to try to help.  I have to believe that’s worth something.”

Continued next week

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