Chapter Two Only God could cure him. And God wasn't so inclined.
Not that it mattered, for Lincoln Rhyme was a man of science rather than theology and so he'd traveled not to Lourdes or Turin or to some Baptist tent outfitted with a manic faith healer but here, to this hospital in North Carolina, in hopes of becoming if not a whole man at least less of a partial one.
Rhyme now steered his motorized Storm Arrow wheelchair, red as a Corvette, off the ramp of the van in which he, his aide and Amelia Sachs had just driven five hundred miles from Manhattan. His perfect lips around the controller straw, he turned the chair expertly and accelerated up the sidewalk toward the front door of the Neurologic Research Institute at the Medical Center of the University of North Carolina in Avery.
Thom retracted the ramp of the glossy black Chrysler Grand Rollx, a wheelchair-accessible van.
"Put it in a handicapped space," Rhyme called. He gave a chuckle.
Amelia Sachs lifted an eyebrow to Thom, who said, "Good mood. Take advantage. It won't last."
"I heard that," Rhyme shouted.
The aide drove off and Sachs caught up with Rhyme. She was on her cell phone, on hold with a local car rental company. Thom would be spending much of the next week in Rhyme's hospital room and Sachs wanted the freedom to keep her own hours, maybe do some exploring in the region. Besides, she was a sports-car person, not a van person, and on principle shunned vehicles whose top speed was two digits.
Sachs had been on hold for five minutes and finally she hung up in frustration. "I wouldn't mind waiting but the Muzak is terrible. I'll try later." She looked ather watch. "Only ten-thirty. But this heat is too much. I mean, way too much." Manhattan is not necessarily the most temperate of locales in August but it's much farther north than the Tar Heel State, and when they'd left the city yesterday, southbound via the Holland Tunnel, the temperature was in the low seventies and the air was dry as salt.
Rhyme wasn't paying any attention to the heat. His mind was solely on his mission here. Ahead of them the automated door swung open obediently (this would be, he assumed, the Tiffany's of handicapped-accessible facilities) and they moved into the cool corridor. While Sachs asked directions Rhyme looked around the main floor. He noticed a half-dozen unoccupied wheelchairs clustered together, dusty. He wondered what had become of the occupants. Maybe the treatment here had been so successful that they'd discarded the chairs and graduated to walkers and crutches. Maybe some had grown worse and were confined to beds or motorized chairs.
Maybe some had died.
"This way," Sachs said, nodding up the hall. Thom joined them at the elevator (double-wide door, handrails, buttons three feet off the floor) and a few minutes later they found the suite they sought. Rhyme wheeled up to the door, noticed the hands-free intercom. He said a boisterous "Open, sesame" and the door swung wide.
"We get that a lot," drawled the pert secretary when they'd entered. "You must be Mr. Rhyme. I'll tell the doctor you're here."
Dr. Cheryl Weaver was a trim, stylish woman in her mid-forties. Rhyme noticed immediately that her eyes were quick and her hands, as befitted a surgeon, seemed strong. Her nails were polish-free and short. She rose from her desk, smiled and shook Sachs's and Thom's hands, nodded to her patient. "Lincoln."
"Doctor." Rhyme's eyes took in the titles of the many books on her shelves. Then the myriad certificates and diplomas all from good schools and renowned institutions, though her credentials were no surprise to him. Months of research had convinced Rhyme that the University Medical Center in Avery was one of the best hospitals in the world. Its oncology and immunology departments were among the busiest in the country and Dr. Weaver's neuro institute set the standard for spinal cord injury research and treatment.
"It's good to meet you at last," the doctor said. Under her hand was a three-inch-thick manila folder. Rhyme's own, the criminalist assumed. (Wondering what the keeper of the file had entered under the prognosis heading: "Encouraging"? "Poor"? "Hopeless"?) "Lincoln, you and I've had some conversations on the phone. But I want to go through the preliminaries again. For both our sakes."
Rhyme nodded curtly. He was prepared to tolerate some formality though he had little patience for ass-covering. Which is what this was starting to sound like.
"You've read the literature about the Institute. And you know we're starting some trials of a new spinal cord regeneration and reconstruction technique. But I have to stress again that this is experimental."
"I understand that."
"Most of the quads I've treated know more neurology than a general practitioner. And I'll bet you're no exception."
"Know something about science," Rhyme said dismissively. "Know something about medicine." And he offered her an example of his trademark shrug, a gesture Dr. Weaver seemed to notice and file away.
She continued, "Well, forgive me if I repeat what you already know but it's important for you to understand what this technique can do and what it can't do."
"Please," Rhyme said. "Go on."
"Our approach at the Institute here is an all-out assault on the site of the injury. We use traditional decompression surgery to reconstruct the bony structure of the vertebrae themselves and to protect the site where your injury occurred. Then we graft two things into the site of the injury: One is some of the patient's own peripheral nervous system tissue. And the other substance we graft is some embryonic central nervous system cells, which "
"Ah, the shark," Rhyme said.
"That's right. Blue shark, yes."
"Lincoln was telling us that," Sachs said. "Why shark?"
"Immunologic reasons, compatibility with humans. Also," the doctor added, laughing, "it's a damn big fish so we can get a lot of embryo material from one."
"Why embryo?" Sachs asked.
"It's the adult central nervous system that doesn't naturally regenerate," Rhyme grumbled, impatient with the interruption. "Obviously, a baby's nervous system has to grow."
"Exactly. Then, in addition to the decompression surgery and micrografting, we do one more thing which is what we're so excited about: We've developed some new drugs that we think might have a significant effect on improving regeneration."
Sachs asked, "Are there risks?"
Rhyme glanced at her, hoping to catch her eye. He knew the risks. He'd made his decision. He didn't want her interrogating his doctor. But Sachs's attention was wholly on Dr. Weaver. Rhyme recognized her expression; it was how she examined a crime scene photo.
"Of course there are risks. The drugs themselves aren't particularly dangerous. But any C4 quad is going to have lung impairment. You're off a ventilator but with the anesthetic there's a chance of respiratory failure. Then the stress of the procedure could lead to autonomic dysreflexia and resulting severe blood pressure elevation I'm sure you're familiar with that which in turn could lead to a stroke or a cerebral event. There's also a risk of surgical trauma to the site of your initial injury you don't have any cysts now and no shunts but the operation and resulting fluid buildup could increase that pressure and cause additional damage."
"Meaning he could get worse," Sachs said.
Dr. Weaver nodded and looked down at the file, apparently to refresh her memory, though she didn't open the folder. She looked up. "You have movement of one lumbrical the ring finger of your left hand and good shoulder and neck muscle control. You could lose some or all of that. And lose your ability to breathe spontaneously."
Sachs remained perfectly still. "I see," she said finally, the words coming out as a taut sigh.
The doctor's eyes were locked on Rhyme's. "And you have to weigh these risks in light of what you hope to gain you aren't going to be able to walk again, if that's what you were hoping for. Procedures of this sort have had some limited success with spinal cord injuries at the lumbar and thoracic level much lower and much less severe than your injury. It's had only marginal success with cervical injuries and none at all with a C4-level trauma."
"I'm a gambling man," he said quickly. Sachs gave him a troubled glance. Because she'd know that Lincoln Rhyme wasn't a gambling man at all. He was a scientist who lived his life according to quantifiable, documented principles. He added simply, "I want the surgery."
Dr. Weaver nodded and seemed neither pleased nor displeased about his decision. "You'll need to have several tests that should take several hours. The procedure's scheduled for the day after tomorrow. I have about a thousand forms and questionnaires for you. I'll be right back with the paperwork."
Sachs rose and followed the doctor out of the room. Rhyme heard her asking, "Doctor, I have a..." The door clicked shut.
"Conspiracy," Rhyme muttered to Thom. "Mutiny in the ranks."
"She's worried about you."
"Worried? That woman drives a hundred fifty miles an hour and plays gunslinger in the South Bronx. I'm getting baby fish cells injected into me."
"You know what I'm saying."
Rhyme tossed his head impatiently. His eyes strayed to a corner of Dr. Weaver's office, where a spinal cord presumably real rested on a metal stand. It seemed far too fragile to support the complicated human life that had once hung upon it.
The door opened. Sachs stepped into the office. Someone entered behind her but it wasn't Dr. Weaver. The man was tall, trim except for a slight paunch, and wearing a county sheriff's tan uniform. Unsmiling, Sachs said, "You've got a visitor."
Seeing Rhyme, the man took off his Smokey the Bear hat and nodded. His eyes darted not to Rhyme's body, as did most people's upon meeting him, but went immediately to the spine on the stand behind the doctor's desk. Back to the criminalist. "Mr. Rhyme. I'm Jim Bell. Roland Bell's cousin? He told me you were going to be in town and I drove over from Tanner's Corner."
Roland was on the NYPD and had worked with Rhyme on several cases. He was currently a partner of Lon Sellitto, a detective Rhyme had known for years. Roland had given Rhyme the names of some of his relatives to call when he was down in North Carolina for the operation in case he wanted some visitors. Jim Bell was one of them, Rhyme recalled. Looking past the sheriff toward the doorway through which his angel of mercy, Dr. Weaver, had yet to return, the criminalist said absently, "Nice to meet you."
Bell gave a grim smile. He said, "Matter of fact, sir, I don't know you're going to be feeling that way for too long."
Copyright © 2000 by Jeffery Deaver