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Dr. Evan Wallace ripped off his latex gloves and tossed them into the waste receptacle. He stepped back from the operating table while the anesthetized patient was lifted onto the gurney, its side rails were adjusted, and the patient was wheeled away to recovery.
He pulled down his surgical mask and raised his strong-featured, deeply tanned face up to the balcony of the fourth-floor operating room, where a group of surgical residents, medical students, and nurses had been observing the surgery. His keen blue eyes scanned the expressions of those leaning forward against the railing.
"Any questions?" he asked. He waited a full minute. When none were raised, Dr. Wallace spun on his heel and left.
After he disappeared through the swinging door, a murmur circulated through the assembled audience--awed comments, complimentary remarks. Watching Dr. Wallace was always an extraordinary experience. The fact that nobody seemed to have a question was due mainly to the fact that while his hands moved he explained each detail of the intricate procedure. When it was completed, there remained nothing but admiration and respect for the surgeon's skill.
In the corridor outside, the doctor walked toward the waiting room to speak to the relatives of the patient on whom he had just operated. As he passed the nurses' station with only a brief nod, Ginny Stratton exchanged a significant glance with another O.R. nurse.
Dr. Wallace was an enigma on the floor. He was considered cold, aloof, self-absorbed, detached. He was courteous enough, but he never indulged in small talk or kidding with the nurses at the desk when he stopped to pick up a patient's chart or write orders. No one disputed that he was a dedicated doctor, but in the nurses' opinion he lacked warmth and a sense of humor.
He did not seem to have any close friends among the other doctors on staff, nor did he attend any of the hospital-sponsored social events. If he had a private life--and there was much speculation about this--no one had a clue. All they knew was that Dr. Wallace was thirty-six, single, and drove a red Porsche.
Twenty minutes after Dr. Wallace walked out of the operating room, a yellow cab swerved into the hospital driveway. With a squeal of brakes it came to a jolting stop at the front entrance. Its rear door opened and a slender young brunette emerged, struggling with a large, black artist's portfolio.
Joy Montrose's budget rarely included a taxi. Her usual mode of transportation was her clunky, small economy car or her three-speed bike. However, this morning was special. Today, September 8, 1980, was important. She couldn't risk being late for this interview that might change her whole life.
The driver flipped the meter lever and turned to collect his fare. Joy counted out the bills carefully. So what, she thought, if it meant lunch would be a carton of yogurt for the next few weeks? If she got this job, it would be worth it.
After the cab roared off, she stood for a minute looking up at the U-shaped structure, its two wings projecting like giant arms. Good Samaritan Hospital stood on a hilltop overlooking the Ohio Valley and the city of Middleton. On its staff were some of the nation's best-known health professionals. It had become a symbol of hope to all the sick and suffering who thronged through its doors for help and healing. Patients from all over the United States as well as from other countries came seeking the most modern treatment, care, and possibly a cure. It had a reputation as being a place where miracles sometimes took place.
Joy's gaze moved over to the pentagon-shaped addition, where the morning sun glistened dazzlingly on the windows--the new visitors' solarium in the surgery wing. Her heart hammered. Today she was presenting her paintings to the committee that would make the final selection of the artist to paint a mural for its walls.
A citywide contest had been held and, much to Joy's astonishment, she had made the final cut. Although she knew she was presenting samples of her very best work, she also knew that the competition among the finalists would be keen. It was the chance of a lifetime--albeit a somewhat slim chance. Joy drew a long breath, shifted her portfolio more firmly under one arm, and went up the hospital steps.
Approaching the wall of plate glass leading into the lobby, she saw herself reflected. Today she had carefully "dressed for success." She wanted to give the impression of a serious professional, not a hippie artist. She hoped her simple blazer, skirt, and high-heeled boots projected that image. Her shiny brown hair, usually worn in a braid or ponytail, was swept into a French twist. Despite her efforts, she knew it was hard to look sophisticated at the age of twenty-three. She reminded herself again that the main thing was not her appearance but what was contained in her portfolio.
Joy pushed through one of the doors and walked into the huge lobby. The walls were painted in pastel shades, and vinyl armchairs were placed in conversational groupings around tables upon which current magazines were fanned out. Brass planters filled with lush, green philodendrons provided a backdrop.
Although her experience of hospitals was limited, it was not what she had expected. She had assumed that in a hospital with a reputation like Good Samaritan's there would be more frantic activity, such as she'd seen on TV dramas.
There was no sense of panic or urgency among those milling about. As Joy glanced around, she noted that the overall atmosphere was one of cheerful calm. There was no sense of unusual hurry. People wearing white-and-green jackets moved with brisk efficiency across the polished linoleum floor, going about their professional duties.
Across the lobby a bank of elevators was in constant use, with overhead lights flashing, doors soundlessly sliding open and shut, an ongoing parade of people flowing in and out. There were neon-lit arrows and signs: "Admittance," "Cafeteria," "Gift Shop," "X-Ray," "Radiology."
Joy stood uncertainly for a moment. Then, seeing a circular desk over which hung a sign that read, "Information," she headed in that direction.