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The Hunters

Fan Fiction by Adam Smith (USA)

Chapter 13


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Chapter XIII

They were a quarter-way across Chain Bridge, and Jed was reasonably sure they were not being followed.  Eli sat in the middle seat, sniffing and wiping his eyes and nose; Dave, riding shotgun, was as stiff as a board and kept glancing in the side-view.  Jed rolled down his window, swerved briefly into the oncoming traffic lane, and heaved his pistol out.  It sailed over a tall metal guardrail and disappeared into the darkness toward the Potomac River below.

When he reached the Virginia side of the bridge, he took a right and headed up Chain Bridge Road, ignoring the throbbing in his broken leg.  There were no streetlights, and the dense, dark trees rushed past their windows, intermittently broken by gated driveways and multi-million dollar homes. 

Dave spoke as Jed took the ramp for the GW Parkway.  “Where are we headed, Jed?”

Jed shook his head. “Don’t know yet.  Right now I just want to get the hell away from D.C.  So I guess the Beltway, for starters.”

“We should avoid the Toll Road.  Take 66 West instead.”

“Yeah.”

A brown and white sign for the CIA entrance appeared in the distance and grew larger.  Jed slowed, his eyes scanning for gray or white Crown Victorias, but there were none, and the sign sailed by. The knot of anxiety in his stomach loosened, and after a few moments he set the cruise control at 50 miles per hour.

As the parkway continued to roll uneventfully past, the tension in the cabin lessened.  Eli stopped sniffling.  Dave glanced out his mirror again, his face pulled down in a frown.  “Why would he do that?  Of all things.”  He shook his head.  “I just—I just can’t believe it.”

“I dunno.  Never woulda guessed he’d do a thing like that.  I mean, I didn’t know him that well, but he seemed okay to me.  A real decent fellow.”

Dave nodded.  “He was.  He was a great doctor.  I always knew that if I referred a patient to him, they’d be okay.  You know—in good hands.”

“Know anything about his personal life?”

“A little.  His wife passed away two or three years ago after a long battle with lupus.  That hit him hard.  And he had a couple of sons, but he didn’t talk about them much, and I never met them.”

“Can you think of any reason why he’d do that?  Anything at all?”

Eli turned his head and looked a Jed.  “He was either dying or dead when it happened.  And it’s my fault.”

The truck swerved a little as Jed returned Eli’s stare.  “What are you talking about, Eli?”

“He didn’t die when you shot him in the chest or the head, so he had to be undead.  The same thing happened to Håkan.”

Dave stopped staring in the mirror.  “Undead?  What?”

Jed searched his memory for the story Eli had related about Håkan.  “Håkan?  But I thought you said that you—”  He stopped in midsentence, suddenly remembering that Dave was with them.

“He didn’t die after that.”  Eli glanced at Dave, then back to Jed.  “It doesn’t matter at this point if he knows, Jed.”  He shook his head.  “It’s all so screwed up anyway.”

“Who’s Håkan?”

Eli sighed.  “A man I lived with about 20 years ago.  He got caught by the police and was hurt, so they took him to a hospital.  I came to him at the hospital and he offered his blood to me.  I told him I’d have to kill him afterwards, but he didn’t care.  His life was basically over at that point—we both knew it.  Another chapter in my . . . but after I’d done it, the police came—I couldn’t finish.  And he fell out the hospital window; fell a long way down.  But as it turned out, he didn’t die.  Because of the infection.”

“So you’re saying that he—”

Eli turned to look directly into Dave’s eyes.  “Dr. Cook, the infection spreads by the blood and the nervous system.  If I bite someone, I can infect them with my blood.  But the nerves are affected first.  And if you don’t disconnect the brain from the body, the person will become another vampire.  Or, in Håkan’s case, the undead.  That’s what happens when the infection is in the body but the brain is basically gone.  There’s no human control.”

Dave shook his head.  “But I thought that the second brain on your heart controlled everything.  Are you saying that’s not the case?”

“I don’t know for sure.  All I know is that—”  he swallowed and looked once again out the windshield.  “He came back.  I was in the basement of the apartment building where I was living at the time.  And he tried to rape me.  We fought.  I rammed a stick into his eye, and I destroyed his heart with my hand.”  Remembering, he balled his right hand into a fist.  “But he still kept going—just like Dr. Goodwin.”

Jed’s voice was hard.  “Tried to rape you?”

Eli shook his head in frustration.  “It . . . that’s over.  Done with.  Håkan doesn’t matter any more.  I can’t think about that right now.”

“Okay.”

Dave was quiet for a moment as he absorbed what Eli had said.  Then he looked up at Jed.  “They said he had called in sick.  That could’ve been a lie, but maybe he really wasn’t feeling well.  Maybe something happened.  Maybe he thought that he was—you know, in bad straits for some reason.”

“Well, whatever it was, it didn’t work.  And it was just such a—”

“Incredible breach of trust.”

“I was gonna say an incredibly dumb idea.”  He took the right-hand exit for 495 South.  “And no way was it your fault, Eli.  You just disabuse yourself of that notion right now.”

“It is my fault.  If I hadn’t gone to see Dr. Cook for my condition, Dr. Goodwin could never have gotten my blood like that.”

Dave spoke, his voice soft.  “Eli, that’s just not fair.  You have every right to try to find a cure.  And Tom was a grown-up.  More than anyone else, he understood what your blood could do.  He made a choice, and the consequences were entirely his responsibility.”

Jed joined in.  “Dave’s right.  And Tom knew that.  He apologized to you, Eli, not us.  You.”

Eli looked at Jed, the wetness in his eyes returning.  “But what you said is true: he was good.  I liked him from the start; I could tell he wanted to help me.  But then something bad must have happened.  I don’t know—something that made him think that he was going to die.  And of course, he thought about me, and about my blood.  So if he hadn’t met me, he never would’ve been tempted to do anything bad.  That’s my point.  Just being around me, or knowing what I am, can hurt people who are basically good.  Like Dr. Goodwin—he didn’t deserve to die like that.”

“But Eli, you didn’t want that to happen.  It’s not something you caused.”

Eli shook his head angrily.  “I know that.  But that’s not the point.  It happened anyway, didn’t it?  Just because I am who I am.  And that’s why I want all of my blood samples destroyed as soon as possible.  Burned.  Or returned to me so I can get rid of them.”  He turned to look at Dave and swallowed hard.  “And that’s why you can’t be my doctor anymore, Dr. Cook.  You, Dr. Silver, and Dr. Oliverio.  All of you.  Because something bad will happen, and someone will get hurt, and I don’t want that.  I’d rather die than live knowing that one more person like Dr. Goodwin got hurt or died because of me.”

The shocked sadness in Dave’s face made him cry harder.  He lowered his head and took the handkerchief that Jed had produced from his coat pocket.  “I’m sorry, but that’s the way it has to be.”

Dave tentatively reached over, gave Eli’s hand a squeeze, and spoke softly.  “Eli, I think we need to slow down and think our way through this.  I know you’re upset about what happened with Tom—we all are.  But please, please—don’t let his mistake deny you the opportunity to find a cure for your problem.  In four days we’ve gone from knowing absolutely nothing about you to having a pretty good idea of what’s involved with your condition, and a potential strategy for treating it.  I know we don’t know everything, particularly after what I saw tonight, but still, I’d hate to see you flush all that down the toilet just because Dr. Goodwin did something that was—well, frankly, very foolish.”

“Dr. Cook—” Eli’s voice softened.  “. . . Dave.  Don’t you realize how much trouble you’re in right now because of me?”

“I—I have some understanding of that.  Yes, I do.”

Jed spoke.  “No one knows we went there, Eli.”

“True, but we tried to page him, and Dr. Oliverio and Dr. Silver know we were trying to call him.  And then Dave talked to that other guy who works with him.”

Dave nodded.  “Dr. Fiske.”

“Dr. Cook, you’ve been very kind to me.  But you’re married, right?”  Eli glanced at his wedding band.

“Yes.”

“And do you have children?”

“Two boys.”

“You need to think about them.  They need you.”  Eli put his hand on Jed’s forearm and squeezed.  “I want you to take us back to the hospital in Culpeper, Jed.  I want my medical file.  And then we’ll leave Dave at the hospital so he can go home.”

Jed began to speak, but Dave cut him off.  “Eli, no.  This is no time for me to bail out.”

Eli quickly turned back to Dave, his eyes big and pleading.  “When the police come, you tell them that I did it.  That I set Dr. Goodwin on fire.  Don’t admit that you got  the gas.”

“Eli, my fingerprints are on the gas can.”

Eli paused; then his lower lip trembled.  “Maybe the can burned in the fire.  Maybe your prints were burned off.”

Dave fought hard to keep his tears at bay.  This child.  So . . .

He shook his head.  “Eli, listen.”  His voice was as patient and gentle as he could make it.  “My medical career is over.   I’m going to lose my license, and I’ll be lucky if I don’t end up in prison. Lying about what happened will only make things worse, and I would never try to exculpate myself at your expense.  So, please understand.  I’m not going home tonight.  I’m staying with you two.  We’ll get your medical file, like you said.  And then I think we need to get you to Boston as quickly as possible.  There’s an extremely skilled pediatric surgeon up there with a national reputation.  I think he’s your best bet for a cure at this point.  I’m your doctor, and the one good thing I can do now is get you in front of him.  If I can do that, I’ll be happy, even if everything else goes to hell in a handbag.  Which it likely will.”

“But—”

“Eli; Eli.  You need to understand that there are some things you can control and some things you can’t.  What’s going to happen to me now, neither of us can control.  But I took an oath to heal the sick.  You have a terrible disease.  I’m going to do my best to help you beat it.  It’s the one thing left that I can do.  Maybe.”

Eli turned urgently to Jed.  His hand returned to Jed’s forearm and squeezed harder.  “Jed, please, please—tell him he can’t come with us.  There’s still a chance that he can get away.”

Jed sighed.  “Eli, I think Dave’s sized up the situation pretty well.  I’m just as committed to getting you cured as he is.  Seems to me we need all the help we can get at this point.”

Eli’s temper flared and he grew agitated.  “No.  No!  You stop this truck right now and tell him to get out!  And if you won’t, I’ll make him get out myself.  It’s not right!  It’s not fair!”

Neither Jed nor Dave spoke.  Jed put on his left turn signal, glanced over his shoulder, and then merged smoothly into the heavy traffic on I-495.

“Jed!”

Jed shook his head.  “It ain’t happenin’.”  When Eli reached for the steering wheel, he shot him a warning glance.  “And don’t even think of touching that.  You’ll cause and an accident and kill both of us.”

Eli crossed his arms and fumed.  To his great surprise, Dave found himself surpressing a smile.  There was nothing funny about their circumstances, yet watching Jed defy Eli’s tantrum was amusing.  Eli may have been twice as old as both of them together, but he was still a child.

“I’m just going to leave both of you.  As soon as this truck stops.”

Jed did not take his eyes off the road.  “Uh huh.”

“You don’t think I will?  Watch me.”

At last Jed looked at him.  “Eli—grow up a little.  This isn’t helping.  Dave’s right, and you’re wrong.  Get over it.”

Eli glared first at Jed, then at Dave.  The side of his cheek bulged briefly as he put his tongue between his side teeth in frustration.  Then he stared sullenly out the windshield and fell silent.

The Beltway curved somewhat as they crossed the Dulles Toll Road, and in the distance an impressively tall, brightly lit brick building came into view on the right-hand side of the highway, looming up over the trees.  Eli’s eyes were drawn to it as they approached.  She soon realized that its fascade was curved, and there was an arch in the middle at the top, supported by the tallest columns he had ever seen on a building.  They ran all the way from the bottom to the top.  He pointed to it.  “What’s that?”

Jed grunted.  “The Shopping Bag.”  Then he rubbed his thigh.  “Damn this leg.”

“What?”

Dave spoke.  “That’s just what they call it.  It’s actually called the Tycon Tower.  It’s just an office building.  They built it in the 1980’s, when there was a building boom in this area.  It’s the tallest spot in Fairfax County.”

“Oh.  It looks really cool.  I’d like to go to the top and look around.”

“There’s a very nice restaurant up there called The Tower Club.  Maybe someday, if we ever see our way through all of this, I’ll take the two of you to lunch there.  We can sit with all the high rollers and feel important.”

Jed chuckled, but then grimaced.  “We’re going to need to find a place to pull over soon.  I gotta get that brace back on.”

Dave looked at him with concern.  “I wondered why you had it off.”

“I got fed up with it, that’s why.  I almost left it at the cabin, but then I thought better of it.”

“Do you have any painkillers?”

“Yeah—Tylenol with Codeine.  It’s in the back.”

Eli had forgotten about Jed’s broken leg.  “I’m sorry it’s hurting.”  Then he suddenly remembered.  “What are we going to tell Dr. Andrews?  Aren’t we supposed to go to his sleep clinic tonight?”

Jed pushed his cap up and rubbed his forehead.  “Oh yeah.  Completely forgot about that.  Well, it’s obviously out the question—don’t you agree, Doc?”

“I think it would be very risky.”

“Should we call him?”

Jed shrugged.  “I think it would be best not to.  The fewer people know what’s going on with us right now, the better.”  He glanced at Dave, who nodded in agreement.  “What kinda car you got out at the hospital, Doc?”

“Ford Explorer.”

“I think we oughta swap cars when we got out there, if you’re in agreement.  That might help for a little while.”

“Where are we going to leave this beast?”

“I’ve got a place to stash it.”

“All right.”

“So tell us some more about this surgeon.”

“Dr. Samuel Mattias.  He’s a cardiothoracic surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Boston.  He knows all there is to know about pediatric heart surgery—and more.”

“Do you know him?”

“Not personally.  I met him at an AMA meeting about five years ago, and sometimes his cases have been reported in the media.  He’s actually from Australia.  Got his surgical training there.”

“Well, what are we going to do?  Call him?”

“That’s up to Eli.  He’s the patient.”

Silence descended for a few moments as Eli looked first at Dave, then to Jed, then back to Dave; then he spoke hesitantly.  “Do you think we know enough about me to try?”

Dave sighed.  “Probably not, but I think our circumstances are catching up with us.  I don’t think doing more tests here in Virginia is feasible.”

Jed grunted.  “Got that right.”

“Eli, if we can get you into Dr. Matthias’ hands with your chart and the films, he’ll have to decide if he wants to take your case.  He may want to do further testing up there, but at least you’d be at a facility where that kind of surgery can be performed.  Putting you on a heart-lung bypass machine is no small matter.”

Eli nodded.  “We’re going to call first, right?”

“Not tonight, but first thing tomorrow morning, sure.  And if we can, we’ll fax your reports up to Boston ahead of time.”

“Do you think he’ll try to help me?”

Dave put his arm around Eli’s shoulders and gave him a little hug.  “I don’t know.  But he has a reputation for taking challenging cases.  So maybe.”

“Okay.  Then that’s what I want to do.”

Dave smiled.  “Good!”

Jed spoke.  “Once we get on 66, I’m gonna pull over on an access lane and grab them things out of the back.”

They were ten miles northeast of Culpeper when Jed’s phone rang.  It was 9:30 p.m.  He pulled the phone out and stared at the tiny screen.  It was Bill.

“Shit.”  His thumb vascillated between “yes” and “no”; lightly touched first one small, soft button, then the other as Eli and Dave watched apprehensively.  He looked at them, uncertain.  “I hate to be rude to the guy.”

Eli spoke. “Don’t answer it.”

Dave shook his head.  “I agree.”  Then he added, “Don’t worry.  He’ll understand, if we ever get a chance to explain things to him.”

Jed hesitated a moment longer; then pushed “no.”  He tucked the phone back in his pocket.  “Sorry, doc.  Can’t talk right now.”

At Dave’s suggestion, Eli turned on the radio and searched through the AM dial for 630, WMAL.  As they approached the outskirts of Culpeper, they listened anxiously for the news.  It came after traffic and weather, just as Jed turned left onto Sunset Lane and the hospital became visible on their right.

“And now, breaking news . . . reports of a house fire in Northwest Washington this evening at approximately 8 p.m.  At least one person is reported dead.  The blaze was brought under control shortly after firefighters arrived at the scene, and did not threaten neighboring homes.  The origin of the fire is unclear at this time, but neighbors reported suspicious activity shortly before the fire, and police are actively searching for suspects.  In Sports, the Washington Capitals beat the Boston Bruins yesterday five to three.  The Caps will take on the New York Islanders tomorrow . . . .”

“Where’s your Explorer, Dave?”

“Around back.  The doctors’ lot.”

They pulled up to the gate and after Jed opened it with Dr. Cook’s passcard, they entered the lot and stopped behind Dave’s truck.

Dave zipped up his coat.  “I’ll be right back.”  He opened the door and climbed out.

Jed looked around nervously.  “Make it snappy.”

A wind had picked up, and it tousled Dave’s hair as he sprinted into the building.  Eli watched him go; felt the truck rock softly on its springs from a gust.  An older man, tall and thin with white hair, came out, wrapped his dark coat around himself, and trudged over to a Toyota Camry parked a short distance away; he glanced briefly at them before disappearing into his car.  A few seconds later, he backed out and left.

Jed turned a knob and doused his headlights.  Beyond the hood, darkness descended, held at bay by the yellow running lights.  Eli glanced at him.  “Do you think Dr. Goodwin had anything to do with that car up at your cabin?”

“I been wonderin’ the same thing.  Possible, I suppose, but I doubt it.  Sounds like he acted on a spur of the moment.”

Eli nodded.  “I still can’t believe he did that.”

“Me neither—of all the damnest things.”  He frowned, pulled off his cap, and tossed it up on the dashboard.  “We gotta make sure Dave holds onto that vial and everything.  Might be the only thing that saves our hides.”

Jed thought about what evidence the police might find at the house.  Maybe a few fingerprints, like Dave had said.  The brass from his Colt.  Whatever they might sort out from Tom’s remains.  But no blood or anything like that.  Nothing smeared on the floor.  Because of the way it had . . . .

He glanced silently at Eli, who was turned away from him, staring vigilantly at the hospital door.  A sudden feeling of hopelessness settled over him, making him feel heavy and weighed down; pulled into his seat.

Magic

Yes--that was what they were dealing with.  There was no scientific explanation for what had happened when Tom had reconstructed himself.  The blood, the brains—they’d disappeared into thin air.  And what applied to Tom, applied to Eli.  They could analyze the kid six ways from Sunday, run him through a thousand scanners, stick him under a hundred microscopes--it didn’t matter.  He defied explanation.

The truck cab suddenly felt claustrophobic.  He took a deep breath, sucking in oxygen so that he might see reality.  And that reality was that their entire game plan was a dumb idea—a huge, incredibly risky, waste of time.  And here the poor kid was, putting his faith in him and Dr. Cook, thinking that this might work, wanting to believe that science and medicine might actually save him. 

He could no longer look at the back of Eli’s small head as the boy waited, solemnly and full of anxiety and hope, for Dave’s return, so he looked in the other direction, out his own window.  You stupid old man.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  How dare you give him hope? You’ll destroy him with this idiotic scheme of yours.

Run away.  Yes, that was what they needed to do.  Run away now, before it was too late.  Forget Dave.  Leave him here.  Eli was right—he might still be able to hang onto his life; might not have to see it flushed down the crapper in pursuit of this hare-brained idea

(that, oh by the way, was entirely yours)

that some surgeon in Boston or whereever could possibly reverse something as deeply entrenched and unknowable as Eli’s disease.

(Eli’s curse.)

Yeah.  His curse.  Just like Eli had said.  Call it what it is, asshole. 

And why was he doing all this?  So he could have someone to love.  That was the truth of it, plain and simple.  How colossally egotistical and self-centered he had been, to lead Eli down this primrose path, and pull in these doctors, these fine medical men, to their destruction.  Like Dr. Goodwin.  And like it would be with Dr. Cook, too, unless he acted.

The urge to speak Truth bubbled up within him, rising toward the surface, but it stopped at the back of his throat.  He had to say something, do something, to reverse course, throw the rudder hard over.  But—but—Eli would . . .

(Be angry with you.  Stop loving you.)

Doesn’t matter.  Stop being this way.

“Eli.”  A tiny budge.

The hospital door opened and Dave emerged, tucking an envelope inside the breast of his coat.  He trotted toward them.

Eli relaxed, clearly relieved to see Dave.  Then he glanced at Jed.  “Hmm?”

Jed tried to speak, but the words were still stuck.  They wouldn’t come out.  He reached out, grabbed the shift lever, put the truck into drive, and started to let off on the brake.  Do it--before Dave could . . .

Dave reached the door.

Eli raised his eyebrows.  “What?”

He exhaled and resumed pressure on the brake.  “Slide over and make room.”

Dave opened the door and a gust of cold air blew in.  The wind whipped around the truck, whistling past the big side mirrors.  Dave did not climb in, and for a moment Jed was confused; then he remembered that Dave would have to follow them in his own truck to the U-Stor-It.  Dave pulled the manila folder out and handed it to Eli.  He raised his voice over the wind.

“Here’s your medical record.  It’s got the MRI and everything on a CD.  You and Jed hang onto it, no matter what.  Got that?”

Eli nodded.

Dave looked at both of them as he zipped his coat back up.  “I ran into Jennifer Simon up there.  Kinda surprised to see her this late, but apparently there was a sentinel event in the ER this afternoon and she had to stay.  Anyway, when I told her I needed Eli’s file, she mentioned that Bill had made himself a copy of the chart yesterday.”

Jed put the truck back in Park and looked at Dave uncertainly.  “Uh huh.  Did he need it for the sleep thing?”

Dave shook his head, clearly troubled.  “I wouldn’t think so.  And he never told me about it.”

Jed said nothing; merely nodded.

Eli looked back and forth at the two men.  “What does this mean?”

“This ain’t the time or place to talk about it, Eli.  Dave, I’ll pull up.  Follow me so we can ditch this truck and transfer our stuff to yours.”

“Will do.”  Dave shut the door and disappeared.

Friday, December 20, 2002 – 10:56 p.m.

At Fairfax Neurology and Sleep Medicine, Dr. Bill Andrews sat behind his desk, catching up on his dictation so he would not have to think about Eli and the recent turn of events. 

It was very quiet. Because he had wanted to ensure that Eli would be alone, there were no patients in any of the three EEG suites.  As a result, Jamie, his 26-year-old technician, had nothing to do and was reading a Tom Clancy novel in the lab area with his feet up on the desk.

Bill was nervous and frustrated.  Dave Cook had called a little after 6:30 p.m. to tell him that they would probably be late, but had not explained what was going on, or when they would arrive.   He had tried to call Jed around 9:30, and then again fifteen minutes later, and fifteen minutes after that, but there was no answer.  Then he had tried Dave and got nothing.  He could not understand it.

For the third time in the last ten minutes, he glanced at his watch.  It was almost 11.  At this rate, Eli would not leave his clinic until after noon on Saturday, assuming he did 12 full hours of monitoring.  And when the monitoring was over, the doctors from the CIA—no, no, the NIH, the NIH, he kept telling himself—would be here to take Eli into custody.  Which would be the best for everyone involved.  Because he, Doc Goodwin, and certainly Dave, were well out of their depth with him, or it—whichever it was.  Real specialists were needed, as was close monitoring in a controlled environment.

He reached toward the phone, preparing to call Weyerhaeuser and let him know that Eli was still not on site, but before he touched it, it rang.  He picked it up immediately.

“Hello?”

“Weyerhaeuser.”

“Yes, sir.”

“What’s the status?”  Bill explained the situation.

“Keep calling.  And if you get either Inverness or the doctor on the phone, keep them on the line as long as possible.  Even if they say they are on their way to you, keep them talkng.”

“O-Okay.”

“Have you spoken with Dr. Tom Goodwin today?”

“No.  Why do you ask?”

“I can’t tell you right now.  Do you know whether Goodwin was supposed to see the patient today?”

“Not that I know of.”

“All right.  If and when they show up, call me as soon as you are able.  Understand?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Good.   Talk to you soon.”

He hung up the phone with a frown.  Something was going on; for some reason, the plans had changed.  Why had he asked about Tom?

He suddenly felt the urge to stand.  He paced back and forth behind his desk for a few moments, his eyes flitting around the objects on his desk and credenza.  Then he pulled a business card out of his pocket and turned it over--Tom’s pager.  He dialed the number, punched in his callback, and hung up.  Maybe he would know more.

He sat back down and drank some water out of a glass on his blotter.  It was warm and unsatisfying.  Why would Weyerhaeuser want him to keep Jed or Dave on the phone, like he’d said?  His knowledge of police tactics and surveillance was quite sketchy, but it must have something to do with tracking them.  Maybe somehow they could use the phone signal to triangulate, or whatever it was called.  Pinpoint their location and track them.  And the longer he kept the line open, the easier it would be.  But if that were true, it would mean that . . .

His phone was tapped.

But that couldn’t be.  Wouldn’t they need his permission to do something like that?  Or a court order?  He wasn’t sure.  And would he dare ask Weyerhaeuser the next time they spoke?

No.  The best thing to do at this point was cooperate fully and get the whole thing over as quickly and painlessly as possible.  Eli, Jed, and everyone else would thank him in the end, as the only one with sufficient clarity of vision to do what had to be done; the right thing.  The thing that would be best for Eli, and ensure the safety of ordinary citizens to whom he would otherwise be exposed.  He would be safely in the best medical hands in the nation; if anyone could cure him of his disease, it would be them.

Eli piped up from the back of Dave’s Explorer as they headed north on Route 15.  “So how long will it take us to get to Boston?”

Jed, who was in the passenger seat, shrugged and glanced at Dave.  “I don’t know.  What do you think, doc?  Eight or nine hours?”

“Something like that--ten or eleven is probably more like it.  But at least we’ll be headed up there at night, when the traffic’s not as heavy.  We’ll take the beltway around D.C. and pick up 95 north; take the tunnel around Baltimore and keep going.  Only problem will be that we’ll be getting into Boston right around rush hour, or at least the tail end of it.  But we’ll manage.”

“What are we going to do about my blood samples?”

“Well, I’m fairly sure that Tom took the last of it from Culpeper.  I’ll need to call Dr. Presad in the morning and direct him to return their samples to me.  Then I can dispose of them.”

“Will he do that?”

“I would think so.  He’s a consulting physician, and he’s been doing the testing at our request.”

“Okay—good.  I was  just worried.”

Jed spoke up.  “Yeah, sounds like a plan.  I don’t think a detour to Bethesda is in the cards, do you, Dave?”

“No, I don’t.  There’s quite a bit of security on that campus.  I wouldn’t want to go anywhere near that place right now.”

Jed yawned.  “I’ll feel better when we get away from D.C.  He reached over and turned on the radio, then scanned through the AM range.  Let’s see if there’s anything further about Dr. Goodwin.”

Soon they were once again listening to WMAL.  But a talk show was on, and as commercial breaks came and went, there was no further news about the fire.  Soon Jed turned the volume down.  “So much for that idea.”

There was the low whine of a servo as Jed lowered his seat back to stretch out his leg.  He sighed in satisfaction as he settled back.  The Remington 870 remained where he had put it, propped up between his legs, its presence dark and ominous.

The highway slowly rose as they approached a stop light, but before they reached it, Dave peeled off onto an exit ramp.  Jed lifted himself up and glanced out the window; after a few seconds, he grunted softly and relaxed back into his chair.  “Back on good old 66.”

“Yep.”  Dave merged onto the freeway, his eyes scanning ahead and behind them for patrol cars.  “What are we going to do if we get pulled over, Jed?  I think we ought to give some thought to that.”

Jed sighed again; he didn’t open his eyes.  “That depends on who it is, and what they want, I suppose.”

“Won’t we get arrested, just for having that shotgun up here?”

“Nope.  Only if we try to hide it.  That’s state law.”

“So what’re you saying?  It’ll depend on what?”

“Look, a cop stopping us for a speeding violation wouldn’t warrant anything from us.  It’s them guys in suits and unmarked cars that I’m worried about.”

“Well I’m not going to do any speeding, that’s for sure.”

“Good.  Drive this thing like your grandma, and we’ll be all right.”

They drove in silence for awhile.  The radio pushed out human voices that no one heard.  Dave set the cruise control and wished he had some coffee.  Eli sat quietly in the middle of the back seat; occasionally his eyes met Dave’s in the rear view mirror.  Soon, Jed began to snore softly.

“You all right back there?”

“Mmm hmm.”

“Need anything?”

Eli shifted slightly on the bench seat, and Dave realized he had pulled his stuffed bunny out at some point when they had been loading the truck, and was now holding it in the crook of one arm.  Then his head dropped out of sight in the mirror as he lay down.  “I’m all right.  I just wish we were there already.”  He paused briefly before speaking again.  “So what were you saying to Jed about Dr. Andrews?”

Dave related the story to Eli.

“So what do you think it means?”

“I don’t know.  Jed is obviously very worried about someone in our little group having talked to someone they shouldn’t have, but I hesitate to say that Dr. Andrews was the one.  I’ve known him for years, and I just can’t imagine him doing that.”

“You said the same thing about knowing Dr. Goodwin, too.”

Dave nodded reluctantly.  “This is true.”

Eli sat back up and began to peer out the rain-streaked windows at the traffic around them.  “I’m afraid, Dr. Cook.”

“Eli, you can call me Dave.   At this point we’re on a first-name basis, don’t you think?”

Eli looked at him and smiled.  “Yes—Dave.”

He caught Eli’s eye once again in the rear-view mirror and sensed something in his chest; a warmth that was not from the heater.  A shift in his attitude away from thinking of him simply as his patient, to something . . . deeper.  During the time spent with Eli, he had, in a way, viewed the child as a constellation of unusual facts and problems to be solved.  Not that he felt uncaring or cold; only that child’s humanity had not reached down into him, had not penetrated the professional barrier that he erected between himself and his patients.  But Eli’s eyes, and his smile . . . .

He smiled self-consciously.  Sometimes I am so blind.  Eli is a person first, a patient second.  He offered an uncertain smile and sought to say something that would reassure him, but found himself with very little to offer.  “Well, if it makes you feel any better, I’m afraid, too.”

“I told you that you should’ve gotten out while you could, but you didn’t listen to me.  Now if you get hurt, I’ll be the one to blame.  Because it was me who got you into all of this.”

He shook his head.  “No, that’s just not true.  Eli, listen.  Asking for a doctor’s help has never been blameworthy.  And I could have told you at any point along the way that I no longer wanted to be your doctor.  I’m here because I choose to be.”

“But this isn’t anything a doctor would be asked to do.”

He sighed.  “I know that.  But do you really want me to just stop the car and get out, Eli?  Is that what you want?  Because I thought you wanted to be cured.  And I think you stand a better chance of that if I’m with you, rather than not.”

“I do.  I don’t want to hurt anyone anymore.  Jed asked me to promise that I wouldn’t, and I want to make that promise, but I’m afraid that someone will try to come along and lock me away somewhere.  And I’d rather die than have that happen to me again.”

“All right.  Then stop trying to convince me that I shouldn’t help you.”

“Okay.  I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right, Eli.  I understand.”

Eli was quiet for a time; then he sat on the floor behind the center console and rested his head on it, watching Dave as he drove.  His voice was soft and introspective as a fresh spate of snow flurries began to melt on the windshield.  “Do you think this is going to work, Dave?”

He sighed.  “I don’t know.  I guess it will all depend on how your tissue regenerates.  The skin testing suggests that it’s dependent on your blood for that, so the strategy would be to remove the infected blood from your body at the same time that the controlling mass on your heart is taken out.”

“But won’t I die without blood?”

“Well, we would replenish your blood with normal donor blood.  That would be the idea, at least.  The big question would be, I suppose—”

“—whether I could live on regular blood once it’s gone.”

Dave nodded.  “Correct—whether you could revert to a normal metabolism.  That’s the big unknown.  And of course, the changes that have occurred in the organs that process food would also need to be surgically reversed.”

“Like my stomach.”

“Yes.”

“And they’d have to give me something to pee with.”

“Exactly.”

“Would they do that all in one, big operation?  Or . . .”

“I don’t know.  The surgeons would have to decide that.  But don’t worry—there are ways to feed people through their bloodstream, even if their digestive tract is shut down for some reason.  So they could do that for awhile, if they decided to deal with the biggest problem first and then tackle the others.”

Eli crossed her arms on the console and settled her head onto them.  “Mmm.” 

A Metro station appeared on the horizon and grew larger.  They passed a long, low-slung glass and concrete platform cover stretched out next to the tracks, parallel to their direction of travel; then went under a pedestrian bridge spanning the highway.  They drove in silence for awhile before Dave spoke again.  “Eli, have you given any thought to what you might want to do if all of this works out?”

Eli looked up at him with big eyes.  “Do?”

“Mmm hmm.  You know—with your life.”

Eli began to play absentmindedly with the air vents on the back of the console, moving them sideways and up and down.  “I don’t know.  I’ve never had to think about that before.”

“Well, maybe you should think about it a little.”

Eli was quiet for a time.  “I guess I’d like to do something to help other people.”

Dave nodded.  “That’s what motivated me to become a doctor.  But there’s alot of jobs that involve helping others.  Doctor, lawyer, psychiatrist, psychologist, accountant, nurse, social worker, teacher, firefighter, police officer, and many others that I’m sure I can’t think of right now.”

“I’d have to go to school.”

“That’s true, but you could do it.  You’re very bright, from what I’ve heard.”

“Once I’m cured, though, that might change.  I might just go back to normal.”

“Well, I don’t know.  But even if you did, there are plenty of people with normal intelligence who go to school and find a job that makes them happy.”

“It all just seems like a dream--not real.  Because I’ve been what I am for so long, the thought that I might become something else is scary.  You know what I mean?  That I might not be myself anymore.”

“To the contrary—I think you would become the person you were meant to be.”

“No, I wouldn’t.  I’ll never be that person.”

Dave turned the wipers up a notch and frowned.  “What do you mean?”

“The person I was meant to be should’ve died over a hundred years ago.  But I didn’t.  And now I’m stuck with all the bad memories of the life I’ve led.  Like tonight, with Dr. Goodwin.  Even if Dr. Mattias cures me, I’ll still have them.”

“I understand.  But there are people who can help you with that, too.”

“No one will want to hear about it.  It’s too horrible.”

“Eli, never underestimate the healing power of love.  It’s our greatest gift.  Look at how Jed feels about you.  I don’t know how much of your past you’ve told him, but whatever it is, it hasn’t stopped him from caring about you.  I suspect once your story gets out, many others will feel the same way.  And I can tell you, just from my own perspective over the last few days, that I’ve taken quite a liking to you.  I think you’re an amazing person—not because of all the things you’ve shown us, but because of your attitude toward what’s happened.  You know, not everyone with your disease would be so eager to find a cure.”

Eli murmured assent; some time passed.  “Dave, can you promise me something?”

“What’s that?”

“You know how awful it would be if someone wanted to start making new vampires with my blood, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.  So if some men do come and try to take me away while I’m asleep, and there aren’t any other choices, I want you to expose me to the sun, or shoot me through the chest.  Will you promise me you’ll do that?”

“Good heavens, Eli.  I . . . I don’t know if I can promise that.  In my whole life, I’ve never deliberately harmed another person.  And how will I know if that’s really their intention?”

His small hand was suddenly on Dave’s forearm.  “We can’t take any chances.  You have to promise.  Because it could be the end of the world—don’t you understand that?  The end of everything.”

“Eli, I just told you how much I’ve come to like you.  Now you’re asking me to kill you, under certain circumstances.  I don’t know.”

“Dr. Cook—I’ve killed enough people in my life.  I won’t be responsible for something like that.  I won’t.”

“If they did it against your will, you could hardly be held responsible.”

Eli’s voice was like iron.  “It.  Doesn’t.  Matter.  You have to promise.”

“I think we should talk this over with Jed.”

“Jed might love me too much to bring himself to do it, Dave.  You don’t feel the same way about me that he does.  I have to know there’s someone on my side who will do the right thing.  Who will do what I would do if I were awake.”

Dave was quiet for a long time.  Finally he spoke, his voice barely a whisper.  “Okay.  I promise.”

They had made it around the beltway and were heading north on I-95 toward Baltimore when Dave’s cell phone rang.  Jed stirred a little, but did not wake up.  Dave pulled it out of his jacket pocket and checked the screen.   It was Jennifer Simon.

“Hello?”

“Dave?  Is that you?” 

He heard the anxiety in her voice and a coldness settled over him.  “Yeah, I’m here.  Don’t tell me you’re still at the hospital--it’s after midnight.”

“I know, I know.  Hey, Dave--what’s going on?  A couple of FBI agents just left.  At least, I think they were FBI.  They told me that Tom Goodwin’s dead, and they’re looking for you.”

“I can’t talk right now, Jennifer.  Sorry.”  He punched off the call and glanced back at Eli, whose big eyes were full of concern.

“Jed was right.”  He reached over and nudged Jed until he awoke.  Jed yawned, looked around in a daze, and then fumbled for the seat controls.  He spoke after he was upright, his voice thick from sleep.  “What’s going on?  Where are we?”

Dave gave him a worried glance.  “We’re about eight miles from 695, and we’re gonna need gas soon.  But the big thing is, I just got a call from Jenny Simon at Culpeper Regional.  Some federal types were out there not too long ago, asking questions about me.   I think they told her about Tom, too.”

Jed glanced at his watch: 12:20.  “Did she say how long they’d been gone?”

“No.  I didn’t ask her.”

Jed nodded.  “How much gas ya got?”

“Little less than a quarter tank.”

“Good for about . . . .”

“Maybe 60, 70 miles.”

“Think we can make it to Wilmington on that?”

“Yeah, maybe.  Or at least, pretty close.”

“And if we fill up there, we won’t need to stop until we hit Boston.”

“Yeah, I would think so.  But if I need to keep driving, I’m going to need some coffee or something.”

“Why don’t you pull over and let me spell you for awhile, so you can catch a few Z’s.”

Eli spoke as Dave slowed and pulled onto the shoulder.  “I’m going to crawl to the back and keep an eye out.”  There were soft thumps as he made his way over the belongings they had brought along; then he took up a post at one side of the rear window, staring out through the tinted glass.

Jed and Dave had switched seats and they were only half a mile from the Fort McHenry Tunnel running under the Baltimore Harbor when Dave’s phone chimed softly.  He pulled it out.  There was a text message from his wife, Diane.

WHEN R U COMING HOME

He hesitated, wondering whether to reply.  He glanced at Jed, whose gaze was shifting between him and the road.

“Sorry.  My wife just texted me.”

Jed nodded slowly.

“Could they trace it?”

Jed shrugged.  “Dunno.  But you’d best respond.  It’s your wife ’n all.”

Dave typed back a reply:  NOT SURE PROB LATE

A few seconds later her response chimed in. 

ITS ALREADY LATE
CAN U TAKE PAT TO BSKTBAL TOMOROW

He sighed and frowned at the tiny screen; then typed some more.

U WILL NEED 2 SORRY

It did not take her long to respond.  NOT HAPPY ABT THIS HAVE XMAS SHOPING 2 DO

He hesitated, unsure of what to write.  He suddenly felt lost and terribly cut off from his world.  A world in which he would have seen a handful of clinic patients tomorrow morning, and then come home to take his eight-year-old son to his Saturday game with his little brother in tow while his wife went out to do some last-minute shopping for Christmas.  A comfortable world where he did normal things, and normal, predictable things happened around him. 

He could not tell her where he was, or where he was going.  Could not tell her that the next time they talked, he would probably be asking her to call an attorney.  Finally he just typed, WILL TALK TOMOROW AM.  GOTTA GO

The backlight went dim and the phone fell silent.  The Explorer gently shifted downward as they hit the ramp.  Then the dark sky disappeared, the windows grew bright, and the road noise outside the truck expanded as they passed into the tunnel.

Saturday, December 21, 2002 – 1:35 a.m.

They were ten miles west of the Maryland border when they approached an overpass for North East Road.  The snow flurries had stopped, and the night was now crisp and cold.  Dave was asleep in the passenger seat.

A Maryland State Police patrol car was parked on the overpass, directly over the eastbound lanes.

Jed swore softly and instinctively checked his speed; he had crept up to 63.  He eased up slightly on the gas and dropped down to 57; then they passed under the bridge.  There were only a handful of cars around them.

Jed glanced nervously in his rearview mirrors.  As they passed the ramp to his right for traffic on North East Road to enter I-95, a patrol car appeared on the ramp and smoothly pulled onto the freeway behind them.

“Shit.” 

He nudged Dave, who awoke with a startle.

“What?  We near Wilmington?”

Jed shook his head.  “No--cop car behind us.  Either he or his buddy were up on the overpass.”

Eli spoke up.  “There’s a policeman behind us.”

“I know, I know.  Just stay cool back there, Eli.”

“Okay.”  She turned to look up at them, then looked back to stare at the patrol car.

For the better part of a minute, they waited tensely for the patrolman to pull them over, but he didn’t.  Instead, he kept pace about a hundred yards behind.

Dave glanced back.  “Well?  What’s he gonna do?”

Jed checked his rear view again.  “Dunno.  Maybe he’s just goin’ in our direction.  But I doubt it.”

Dave let out a huge, nervous sigh and sunk into his seat.  “I don’t like this.”

“Hang onto your britches.   Let’s just see what he does.”

Several minutes passed, and the patrol car continued to follow them.  When Jed reduced his speed to less than 55 miles per hour, the cruiser slowed accordingly.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” Jed muttered.

Dave turned around in his seat to stare at the twin headlights. “I agree.  Why do you think he’s not pulling us over?”

“If they have Eli’s medical records, then they know all about his physical abilities at this point.  They know how dangerous he could be—while he’s awake.”

Eli’s voice drifted up to them.  “Did you just mention me?”

Jed looked toward the rear.  “Yeah I did.  Come up here, will you?”

When the three of them were together, he continued.  “Listen.  I’m guessing they want to capture Eli alive and unharmed.  They don’t care about you and me, Dave--it’s Eli they want.  That’s why they haven’t stopped us yet.  They’ll make their move when the sun rises—that’d be the safest time for them.”

Dave glanced at the digital clock on the radio.  “Hell, that’s probably, what—six hours from now?”

“Something like that, yeah.  And the longer we go, the more of them there’ll be.  There’ll probably be a whole flotilla of cop cars around us by then.”

Dave nodded.

Eli spoke.  “So what do you think we should do?”

Jed’s voice was grim.  “As much as I hate to say it, I think we’re better off forcing the issue right now.”

Dave stared at him.  “What do you mean?”

Jed  pointed at an exit sign that they were approaching.  “That’s Elkton—the last exit in Maryland.  We need to get off I-95 and onto some secondary roads if we’re ever going to lose them.  Try to keep moving northeast into Philly, where it’ll be harder to track us.  We’re sittin’ ducks on this highway.  And if we shake this guy, maybe we can make a quick stop and get some gas before they react.”

“So are you saying we’re just going to take that exit?  That’s it?  Won’t he just follow us?”

Jed shook his head.  “That’s not what I’m sayin’.  Eli, listen up.”

 

Continued next week

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