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By Ib Melchior
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1985 Ib Melchior
All rights reserved.
May 1985 and April 1945
His mind was filled with it.
He felt exhilarated. Triumphant. He hadn't felt like that for—how many years? Forty? Forty-five? He gloried in it. Even his steps on the hard New York sidewalk felt lighter than usual. Any day now, the message had read. Any day! He smiled with secret satisfaction, a thin, bitter smile, as he walked down the street. Any day.
And the world would tremble ...
At 3:17 P.M. on any given day, the traffic on Manhattan's Second Avenue near Forty-seventh Street is heavy and fast. It was no different on this, the ninth day of May, when Karl Johann Thompson stepped off the curb to cross the avenue as he'd done thousands of times before.
He was crossing against the light, for like many New Yorkers, Thompson paid little attention to such minor irritations as traffic lights. As was his wont, he crossed each lane of traffic in turn, waiting between them for a lull in the flow of cars and trucks that sped by on either side of him, neither slowing nor swerving and paying him no attention. He was almost across when for a moment his eyes left the oncoming traffic to look ahead. On the curb in front of him, two lanes away, stood a man. Average in every way, he appeared to be about Thompson's own age, somewhere in his sixties. The only unusual thing about him was a deep, jagged scar that ran from the middle of his forehead, across his right eye, to the heel of his jaw. It had obviously been there for a long time. For a brief moment the eyes of the two men met, and there was no mistaking the sudden glint of recognition with which the stranger stared at Thompson.
Startled, Thompson, as if pushed by an invisible hand, took a step backward.
The taxi that hit him struck his left thigh, instantly breaking it. The impact spun him around, and he fell to the ground directly in the path of a van from a Second Avenue cleaning establishment. Unable to stop or swerve in the heavy traffic, the van ran over him, one wheel crushing his pelvis. His scream was drowned out by the squeals of tires as the cars came to a stop around him.
The scarred stranger across the avenue stood frozen, but only for a moment. Then, abruptly, he turned and without looking back strode away.
Thompson lay motionless, sprawled on the pavement. He had heard the splintering, crunching sound when his pelvic bones were crushed, the vibration conducted up through his vertebrae and his cranial vault to his inner ear. He had not known it for what it was. He felt no pain—only the sensation of a heavy weight pressing down across his hips. It puzzled him. He looked. There was nothing to see. He tried to sit up—and sudden, blinding pain lanced through him. Again he screamed, but this time the searing agony would not leave him ...
Student nurse Rita Sandoval had to half-run to keep up with the gurney as the orderlies hurriedly pushed it down the hospital corridor toward the emergency room. She held the half-full plastic IV bag high, watching the clear, lactated ringer's solution slosh in time with her steps. The gurney, she noted, had one of its front wheels slightly out of alignment, and it rolled along the corridor floor with a decided bump. Like a beat-up market basket, she thought.
Her eyes were drawn to the patient's torn shirt-sleeve, which dangled over the edge of the gurney, swinging free. The paramedics at the site of the accident had ripped it open to administer the IV. The cloth, mangled and slashed, flapped below the gurney, and to Rita it became a visible symbol of the mangled body hidden from view.
The man lying on the wheeled stretcher was obviously seriously injured, but he was still conscious. Furtively Rita kept glancing at him as she hurried along. It was the first time she'd seen an accident victim come in, wrapped in the inflated military antishock trousers, the MAST suit, as she knew it was called, and she was startled at the man's appearance. He looked curiously alien, like someone from outer space, she thought, not at all like the bloody mess she'd expected when she first heard the paramedics radio in to the emergency department their report of the massive injuries the victim had sustained. The man was encased in bloated, brown vinyl trousers from just below the ribs all the way down to his ankles. Cocooned as in an inflated space suit from Star Wars, she thought. A thick cloth collar was fixed around his neck to immobilize it, and looking like some unearthly facial appendages, two nasal cannulae ran from his nostrils to the green oxygen bottle lying next to him on the gurney. The skin on his exposed chest looked waxen and drained of color. If it had been green, she thought, she would have sworn he was a man from Mars.
He stared up at Rita. His face was ashen, his eyes unblinking. His gaze made her feel uneasy. She tried to smile at him, but she knew her attempt was only moderately successful.
Suddenly the man spoke, looking directly at her.
"You!" he rasped in an intense whisper, a ghastly grimace of a grin contorting his pallid face. "You! One ... One thousand ... One thousand ..."
Rita stared at him. What did he mean? His eyes were hot with a strange intensity. Pain? Hate? Hunger? Involuntarily she shuddered. She looked away. But she could not avoid hearing the man hissing his meaningless words at her. Again. And again. It disturbed her.
Closely trailed by the two police officers who'd followed the ambulance from the scene of the accident, the orderlies wheeled the gurney into the trauma room. Dr. Mark Elliott and two nurses, Hawkins and that big redheaded one whose name Rita could never remember, were already waiting along with Adams, the physician's assistant, and Metcalf, the scribe. As the orderlies lifted the backboard with the patient on it and transferred it from the gurney to the trauma table, Rita hung the IV bag on the wall hook, and Adams, the PA, connected the nasal cannulae to the wall oxygen and removed the portable tank from the backboard.
Rita stepped back next to the X-ray view box, out of the way. She watched. After all, that's what she was there for. She knew she had to remain calm and cool, but she couldn't help feeling excited. A man's life was at stake. Right there in front of her.
Dr. Elliott quickly walked to the head of the table. He began to examine the patient. Without looking up, he said, "Nurse?"
"Blood pressure 90 over 50," Hawkins sang out. "Pulse 120."
Elliott nodded. "Male Caucasian," he said evenly. "Approximately sixty-five." The scribe quickly entered the information on the chart.
"Blunt abdominal and left extremity trauma," Elliott continued. "Start a second peripheral IV and set up for a central line." The trauma team moved automatically even as Elliott urgently called out his orders. "Get the phlebotomist in here. I want surgical labs. Type and cross him for six units." He glanced at the victim's abdomen. "He'll need a Foley catheter." He turned to the PA. "Have X-ray on standby. Call the surgical team, and tell OR we have a possible laparotomy."
Rita listened attentively, filing away every word, every action. She watched nurse Hawkins prepare the patient for the second IV. As she swabbed the man's arm, he suddenly looked up at her.
"Zero!" he cried clearly. "One. Zero. Zero. Zero. Any day now!"
"Sure," nurse Hawkins nodded. She put the catheter into his vein. He seemed not to notice.
Intently Rita watched the members of the trauma team go through their well-choreographed routine as the doctor continued his rapid physical examination of the patient, calling his findings to the scribe in a clipped voice. Was he a little more tense than she'd seen him before? Rita thought so.
Quickly and efficiently, the team members performed their jobs. They made it all look easy. Rita knew it was not. And she wondered if she'd ever be that good.
The lab technician drew the needed blood from the patient's arm; the PA placed the Foley catheter to drain the man's bladder; and the X-ray technician positioned the film cassette. He winked at Rita, as she watched him gravely.
"Bp is 130 over 80," Hawkins announced briskly. "Pulse 100."
Good, Rita thought. He's got a chance.
The man suddenly turned his head and fixed his eyes on Hawkins. "Find!" he rasped hoarsely. "Find!" Hatefully he glared up at the busy nurse. "Find!"
Rita looked at him in wonder. Find? What did he mean? Find—what? Who? The man who ran him down?
"Deflate the MAST abdominal compartment," Elliott ordered. "I think we've got him stable enough now. And prep him for a peritoneal lavage. We might as well see how much internal bleeding we're up against. The surgical team will need to know." He looked up at Hawkins. "When will the OR team get here?"
"Ten minutes," Hawkins answered as she deflated the antishock trousers. She ripped open the Velcro straps. The tearing sound made Rita start.
"Any day!" the man called out, his voice suddenly strong and vibrant.
"Any day now!"
Rita frowned at him. What did he mean? No one paid him any attention. Of course, there were other more pressing matters to be attended to than listening to the delirious cries and mutterings of an injured old man. But someone should pay attention, shouldn't they? Concerned, she looked at the scribe. Was she taking down anything the patient said? No. She had her hands full, entering on the record everything that was being done.
"All die!" the old man breathed, staring at nurse Hawkins. "Rache. Rache. Rache! Bald ..."
Resolutely Rita took a small notebook from a skirt pocket. It had a green cover with a red rose in one corner. She fished out a pencil. She began to write: Rahher. Rah-her. Bald ...
Hawkins had exposed the man's hips. The area looked curiously flattened, the matted clothing moist with blood. From the compound fracture, Rita thought. She could see the bone sticking through the skin and cloth. The MAST lay limp and soggy under the patient. Quickly yet carefully, the redhead and the PA began to cut the blood-soaked clothing away.
The old man glared at them, his eyes fiery. "Gift!" Venemously he spat out the word. He tried to sit up. "Gift!" Elliott gently restrained him. "Easy," he soothed. "Easy ..."
The injured man called out again. It sounded like gibberish to Rita. He cackled unpleasantly. He seemed to mutter, "Room. Bell. Karma." Dutifully Rita wrote it down: Room. Bell. Karma ... Karma? Was the man a Buddhist?
The man rambled on. His cries made no sense to her. Some of the words—if they were words at all—were incomprehensible. Maybe foreign? Hindu—or something? She wrote them down phonetically as best she could. Words like "fair-ghel-toong" and "fair-nick-toong." She looked at what she'd written. It made no sense. No sense at all.
The scribe was going through the contents of the pockets of the man's cutoff pants. She put the things she found—keys, a comb, a roll of Life Savers, some change (mostly pennies, it seemed), a blood-soaked handkerchief—into the patient's belongings bag. She wiped the blood from a worn black wallet and handed it to one of the police officers. Gingerly he took it. Even more gingerly he opened it, looking for any kind of ID.
Hawkins cleaned the patient's abdomen. "Looks distended," she said, troubled. She swabbed it with iodine, and the PA placed a sterile drape over the area. Elliott injected lidocaine and epinephrine. With a scalpel he made a small incision and inserted the peritoneal lavage trochar into the peritoneum. He attached a syringe to the catheter. Squinting, he examined the fluid he withdrew. He frowned. "Dammit," he said. "Grossly bloody."
The man's breathing began to sound labored. He started to toss with increasing agitation. Elliott at once turned back to him. With a worried frown he peered searchingly into his eyes.
Suddenly Hawkins called out. "Pressure dropping!" She sounded tense. "70 over 40."
"Get the MAST back on," Elliott snapped. "Move it! Get me an endotracheal tube. Quickly!"
Elliott glanced at the cardiac monitor.
"Pressure dropping!" Hawkins called.
"He's becoming bradycardias" Elliott cried out. "Atropine. One milligram. Now!"
The trauma crew galvanized into action.
Rita watched nurse Hawkins feverishly refasten the MAST around the injured man's pelvic area. "We're losing him," the woman muttered angrily. "Dammit! We're losing him ..."
Rita put away her little green notebook with the red rose.
She would have no further use for it.
Not now ...
The nicotine-stained finger that dialed the international access code, 011, linking metropolitan New York with the little town of Weiden in West Germany, twelve miles from the Iron Curtain as the ballistic missile flies, trembled slightly as it turned the disc on the old-fashioned telephone. The string of numbers was impressively long, and after the customary clicks and pauses, the ringing began. Several seconds went by; it was 3:14 A.M. in Weiden. Finally a man's sleepy voice answered.
The caller, his voice taut, simply said, "One. Zero. Zero. Zero."
There was only the slightest hesitation, and the man on the other side of the ocean, instantly alert, replied, "Four. Nine. One. Two."
The caller sighed. "Karl Johann is dead," he said.
"When?" The query was sharp.
"How do you know?"
"Felix told me."
The gasp was felt rather than heard. "Felix! He is in New York?"
"Verflucht! Dammit!" The exclamation seemed unconscious. "You saw him?"
"No. He called. He told me Karl Johann had been killed. Finally."
"No. It was an accident."
"He was crossing a street. Second Avenue. It is a busy thoroughfare. He saw Felix. He was hit."
"Did Felix ... plan it?"
"No. He had not found Karl Johann yet. It was ... it just happened."
"Scheissdreck!" There was a sudden urgency in the man's voice. "Did Karl Johann talk?"
"That is not known. Assume he has. Any orders?"
There was a pause, then, "No. None. It will make no difference. Now."
"Schon gut. I will arrange for—"
"You will do nothing!" The voice on the phone was sharp, a voice used to giving orders and being obeyed. "Keep yourself completely divorced from Karl Johann and any affairs that concern him. Understood?"
"Understood. What about Felix?"
"There is nothing we can do. He will no longer be a menace. He has had his revenge."
"As you wish."
"It will not be long, mein lieber Herr Doktor." The voice was chillingly silken. "Any day. Any day now ..."
"Birte! You got the double-stick tape?" Einar Munk's voice sounded slightly aggrieved. He pronounced her name the Danish way to rhyme with "beer-tea"—with emphasis on the "beer," of course.
Birte Munk dipped the last pair of panty hose into the suds in the bathroom sink. "Sorry!" she called. "I was using it at my desk. Wrapping that gift for the Galpers. I'll get it." She'd done it again, she thought. She knew Einar didn't like his things not to be in their proper places. She wiped her hands and headed for the kitchen. The tape was lying next to a roll of brightly colored paper on the little desk standing in a corner of the kitchen, where she kept her recipes and cookbooks, her household accounts, and the box with newspaper coupons. She picked it up.
Einar Munk was sitting at his desk in his little office, a pair of scissors in his hand. The desk top was strewn with newspaper clippings, snapshots, stickers, and party invitations. A clutter of mementos. At sixty-four Einar was eyeing senior citizenship and Medicare—but with no thought of retiring. As far as he was concerned, that was something to be eyed through the wrong end of a telescope.
"What're you doing?" Birte asked, although she knew the answer quite well. She handed her husband the tape.
"Finishing the US book," Einar answered—knowing that an answer wasn't really necessary. "It's half-past April already. About time we got out of 1984."
He took the tape. Birte watched him cut off a small piece and stick it on the back of a colorful matchbook cover, which he placed on an album page next to a snapshot of a smiling Birte standing in front of a picturesque country inn. She knew where it was: the Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck, upstate New York, which billed itself as "America's Oldest Inn." George Washington slept here, that sort of thing. They'd taken Amtrak up there, riding along the Hudson River, to celebrate New Year's Eve. Just the two of them. It had been lovely. Obviously the 1984 US book was nearly finished.
Excerpted from V3 by Ib Melchior. Copyright © 1985 Ib Melchior. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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