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By TERRENCE MURPHY
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Terrence Murphy
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDECEMBER 1994
It was weird to see the Mount of Olives parking lots so empty. Even on those rare days when he got there early, the only spaces left were in the second lot, behind Pius XII Auditorium. Tommy considered parking near the half-dozen cars in the first lot but settled on putting the old Volvo behind a couple of yellow school buses in back of the building.
He felt much better. Now that he had a plan, the panicky feeling was gone, and he was thinking clearly.
The wind kicked up some leaves that the grounds crew had missed. A dusting of snow overnight coated the ground, but coming as it did a couple of days after Christmas, it didn't much matter. He remembered one of those TV weather guys saying that Boston gets a white Christmas only once in seven years. Tough on the little kids who needed to believe in Santa and his sleigh. They could burn through a whole childhood without the reassurance of snow on the roof.
His father was sure to be at the hospital by now, screwing around with his petri dishes and incubators. Dr. Tom Rowley loved his little lab on weekends, when folks didn't mess with him. And last night, Tommy heard Ma talking to one of her friends on the phone about the after-Christmas sales. They'd be cruising the Charles River Mall by now.
The patch of woods between the parking lot and the ball fields was bare and lifeless except for a few scattered evergreens. Their history teacher called this area a "copse," and the kids all laughed.
"Did he say corpse?" one of the kids stage-whispered, and everybody laughed again.
He pulled the early admission letter from his parka and smoothed it carefully before unfolding it and studying it for the hundredth time. He loved the way the college seal was embossed on the top of the page. He closed his eyes and ran his finger over it like a blind man reading a message in Braille.
We are pleased to offer you ...
He folded the letter, slipped it snugly into its envelope, and placed it on the passenger seat, where it wouldn't get soiled.
He peered into the rearview mirror and realized that he hadn't really looked at himself for a long time. With his contacts in, he looked totally un-nerdy. Studying his deep-set eyes and strong chin, he decided he was good looking. He flashed a winning smile, as if on camera.
The all-American boy.
It was time to step out into the cold.
Clouds skittered across the sky, making the sun flicker and making it feel colder than it was. Father Guido would call this a "high-pressure day." On their walks, back when they talked about so many things, they decided that they both preferred low-pressure days when the air was calm.
Father Guido ... God knows this isn't his fault, Tommy thought.
He pulled up his collar against the wind and walked into the woods. On cue, the memory loop in his brain kicked in, just as it did at least once every waking hour.
It was the day before Thanksgiving break, and the whole school was in holiday spirits. Two jocks from the football team were walking past him outside the cafeteria, when one of them (he wasn't sure which) stuck his foot out and tripped him. By the time he retrieved his books and picked himself off the floor, they'd disappeared.
Meanwhile, the hallway was wall-to-wall with kids and a scattering of teachers, but no one seemed to notice.
He had to act quickly, before he changed his mind.
He eased the old man's .45 from his parka, rubbed it with his hands to get it warm, and leaned his forehead against the muzzle.
Then he closed his eyes and listened to the wind in the trees and the cars whizzing along Charles River Drive below the ball fields for a few seconds before tightening his finger on the trigger.
Chapter TwoAUGUST 2002
Dr. Edward Cronin was already half shaved when he heard his cell phone bleeping from the bedroom. As the president of Saint Katherine's Hospital (which just about everyone called Saint Kay's), his cell was on 24/7.
Kitty jumped out of bed and answered the phone.
Cronin feared it might be another call from Archbishop Quilty.
The archbishop of Boston loved to call early in the morning or late at night to talk about what was on his mind, never asking whether it was a bad time to call or whatever. Apparently, Cronin wasn't alone. The archbishop's secretary, Father Skerry, once confided that the Boss needed no more than four hours' sleep and was driving the chancery staff nuts.
Then he remembered that the archbishop was on retreat.
Kitty put her hand over the receiver. "Eddie, Pat Kaminski is calling from the hospital. He says it's an emergency."
"Sorry to trouble you so early, Dr. Cronin, but I need to tell you about what's happened here overnight. Actually, at 5:01 this morning."
"What is it, Pat?"
"The power went down all over the hospital."
"Did the emergency generators kick in?"
"Perfectly. As you know, the backup system was updated in '99, at the time of the millennium computer crisis."
How could he forget the two-hundred grand he threw away for the threatened computer shutdown that never happened? All he ended up doing was lining the pockets of those nerdy little computer wizards!
"Auxiliary power kicked right in for the emergency department, in-patient areas, and the operating room."
"Are we still on backup?"
"No, sir. Boston Edison got power back at 5:43. We were down for forty-two minutes and thirty-four seconds. Edison says that a transformer at the foot of the hill failed, and they were able to reroute the grid around the problem. They anticipate no further difficulties."
"Is everything back to normal?"
"Yes, sir, technically."
"Technically? What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"No more problems with the power, sir. All the computers have surge protectors, so no data was lost. The clocks all over the hospital stopped, of course, and need to be moved ahead manually the forty-two minutes and thirty-four seconds, but that's a minor headache."
"So what's the problem?"
"Well, sir, something really out of the ordinary is happening."
"A power outage is out of the ordinary enough. What else?"
"One of my men reported some unusual lighting on one of the windows at the medical office building."
"I'm not in the mood for riddles, Pat."
"Well then, what do you mean by 'unusual lighting'?"
"I guess you could say, a lighted image, one that looks like the Virgin Mary."
"The Virgin Mary? Like in Jesus, Mary, and Joseph?"
"Have you looked at this 'image' yourself?"
"I'm standing underneath the window now. I thought you'd want to know about it right away."
"So what is this? Somebody's idea of a joke?"
"I really don't know, sir. By the time I drove in from home, the power was back on. I was on the phone in my office with the Edison guys when Raymond, our night supervisor, burst into the office to tell me about the window. I was sure this was going to be some kind of a crock, and I figured someone would have to point the window out to me. But when I walked around the corner, the window was glowing. I'm not much for religion, you know, but the window really shook me up. Looks like the outline of the Virgin Mary just like I remember in my old missal when I was a kid. Dr. Cronin, I was over at the medical office building yesterday afternoon, and the windows looked normal then. Something must have happened overnight."
"Look, Pat, I'm ready to leave. Keep one of your guys over there to keep order. We don't need this to turn into a circus. Just make sure you're in my office at seven thirty sharp."
"No problem, sir."
Dr. Tom Rowley had finished reading about the Red Sox's dismal weekend and was working on his second cup of coffee, along with his eggs, when a nurse at the next table leaned back in her chair and asked him if he'd heard the big news.
"There's some kind of apparition on a window over at the MOB," she confided, using the familiar initials for the medical office building.
"The kids on nights say it's an image of the Virgin Mary, if you can believe it. We're headed over there before the shift begins. Want to come along?"
Tom smiled when he heard about the "kids on nights," since most of the third-shift nurses would never see fifty again. But if these old hands, who had seen just about everything, were impressed, he'd better take a look for himself.
Putting down the newspaper and mopping up the last of his fried egg with the remaining corner of toast, he thought of Helen. She was the one who taught him to eat his eggs like that.
God knows she was always practical. The evening he got home and found that she had taken off, he saw the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book and The Joy of Cooking on the kitchen table along with her note. On Post-it notes, Helen had designated the first book for "Every Day" and the second "For Special Occasions." And with little tabs she must have swiped from the library, she'd marked the recipes for his favorite dishes.
In the months before she finally walked out, she made a real campaign of getting him to do some cooking. "How about you doing the cooking one night a week?" Some nights, she'd give him little chores like mashing potatoes, warming leftovers in the microwave, anything to get him comfortable in the kitchen, but he resisted.
"It can't be that different from the work you do in the lab," she'd argue.
Once the house was sold, he had found a neat one-bedroom apartment on a leafy side street at the foot of Hospital Hill. It was an okay place, second floor with a sunny exposure, but he just couldn't get around to moving in completely. He was still living out of packing boxes, with Faneuil Movers printed on the side, even though he'd been in there for a year.
He let Helen have most of the furniture, including the stuff from Tommy's room, because he couldn't bear looking at it anymore.
Furniture can be cruelly evocative.
Walking over to the MOB now, he wondered if anybody noticed his limp. The weight he had gradually put on over the years was not helping matters, as his orthopedist pointed out. He'd need his hip replaced soon and worried about the convalescence now that he was all alone. He thought about his living room with the packing boxes and how he'd need to explain them to the visiting nurse and the cute physical therapist who'd come by post-op.
He and his nurse friends carried on with their usual banter as they passed the main entrance where the young Hispanic guys who ran the valet parking concession were greeting their first customers, mostly anxious old-timers with hovering spouses, overnight bags in hand, arriving for their same-day surgery.
He and Helen used to talk about growing old together, helping each other through the hard times.
A small group was clustered under the window, aglow in orange.
At its center stood the Virgin Mary dressed in blue, holding the baby Jesus in the crook of her left arm, gazing down on them. The chit-chat among Tom and the nurses ended abruptly as they took in the sight.
The world suddenly became quiet.
In the distance, he could just make out the low hum of cars turning into Hospital Drive at the bottom of the hill.
He closed his eyes, trying to compose himself, but in place of the window he saw Helen and Tommy sitting at the dining room table, laughing.
"If I had a rock, I'd smash the fuckin' window," he said under his breath.
He finally looked up again and found the Holy Mother gazing directly at him, comforting him, welcoming him, understanding him. She must have overheard him, but it didn't seem to matter. He could swear she was smiling.
And for the first time in years, Tom Rowley felt like smiling too.
Irene was standing in the upstairs hallway when Eddie Cronin exited the master suite. Not quite two and a half, she seemed older. Her little girl's gaze was both appealing and spooky while she took everything in. If she were prattling like a normal two-year-old, she wouldn't look like such a genius. The seven others had all been babbling away at this age, but the pediatrician said that, yes, Irene was a little late, but it was too soon to be worried. In his opinion, she simply chose not to speak; she would do so when she was good and ready.
Mindful of his surgical incisions, he bent down carefully. But before he could give her a hug, she made a head-fake to the left before darting right, directly through the open door to find her mother.
Eddie staggered a moment but righted himself before taking the main staircase and making his way outside.
Eddie had expected less pain from the vasectomy, especially on his third post-operative day.
He had snatched Gilchrist, the new urologist, from a teaching hospital in Baltimore. Cronin couldn't quite match Gilchrist's salary down there but sweetened the deal with a six-figure no-interest loan toward the purchase of a new house. The Saint Kay's board didn't know it, but they voted for the loan, which he inserted into the Psychiatry Department's operating budget, after slipping the chairman the exact amount, in cash, from the hospital pension fund.
Unlike some of the old guard on the hospital staff, like Leo Mulcahy and his pals who spent most of their energy gunning for the hospital president, Gilchrist knew who was running the show and acted with appropriate deference. He went so far as calling him Edward, a name Eddie hadn't heard since his mother died.
"Call me Eddie, Gilchrist. Everybody else does." But he rarely did.
Gilchrist had done the vasectomy off -site on Friday, at a house Eddie had the hospital buy through a straw and convert into a satellite office. If he'd opted for the minor surgical suite at Saint Kay's, it might as well have been broadcast on the hospital's in-house channel, preempting the usual selections from the Catholic Evangelical Network, reruns of the hospital chaplain's daily Mass, and Eddie's own twelve-part pep-talk series about the hospital's mission statement.
When they toured the satellite surgical suite on Gilchrist's first day on the job, Eddie had explained the arrangement.
"We can't risk doing vasectomies on hospital property."
"But isn't this still hospital property?"
"Legally it isn't, Gilchrist, and that's all that matters."
That wasn't the only hurdle Eddie had to clear with Gilchrist. The urologist urged him to discuss the vasectomy with Kitty first, but Eddie wasn't that crazy!
"In Kitty's world, contraception is a mortal sin. My problem is that we have eight kids already. You'd never know it from looking at her—she's still gorgeous. But any more visits from the stork, and I'll be building a frigging wing on the house and paying college tuitions with my Social Security checks. The only way we're going to solve this little problem is to keep my wife in the dark."
"What about the rhythm method?"
"Christ, Gilchrist, your resume says you graduated from medical school. You've gotta know more about human reproduction than simply writing out Viagra prescriptions. The rhythm method is about as effective as saying a dozen Hail Mary's before climbing in the sack."
It was good to see Gilchrist blush.
"As a matter of fact, we did try the rhythm method. Kitty has never been regular, but she insisted. She took her temperature every five minutes for weeks and kept track of it on a big chart taped to the refrigerator. And thanks to the Church's meddling in an area they don't know shit about, we have Irene!"
More kids would be bad enough, but if it got out that the president of Saint Katherine's Hospital had a vasectomy, it would take about five minutes for the archbishop to be on the horn demanding his resignation. And Kitty would be kicked off the Mount of Olives Board of Trustees five minutes after that.
But as long as Eddie Cronin remained discreet and Gilchrist kept his mouth shut, the archbishop would look the other way.
He glanced back at the house now as he made his way to the garage. A classic, white, center-entrance colonial, he and Kitty fell in love with it the first time they saw it only weeks after he became president of Saint Kay's.
He thought about taking the Harley when that cute weather girl on Channel Six, the blonde with the push-up bra, predicted a high of seventy-five, but tooling up Hospital Drive on a motorcycle wasn't going to happen. Not with the image he needed to convey—and his incisions.
Punching in the code on the garage's security pad, he decided on the Lincoln Town Car. Not too flashy but commanding. It didn't hurt that his favorite vanity plate was on it, too. "MD/CEO" would send the right message.
Cars were Eddie Cronin's passion and his stress-relievers. And he'd collected enough of them for every day of the week—and then some.
Excerpted from ASSUMPTION CITY by TERRENCE MURPHY Copyright © 2012 by Terrence Murphy. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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