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TOSSA DEL MAR
The first day was difficult. He spent too long in the sun, got a bad sunburn, and he slept poorly that night. He kept awaking with a recurrent dream—he was being paged on the hospital loudspeaker. It was an acute emergency, and he was being paged, but he could not rouse himself to answer it. He woke five times during the night, each time reaching for the phone at his bedside. Once, he even lifted up the phone and said hurriedly, "This is Dr. Ross. What's the trouble?"
There was a long silence, and then a startled Spanish voice said, "Señor? Trouble?"
"Never mind. I'm sorry."
He hung up and lay in bed, thinking how difficult it was to relax. After four years of constant hospital routine, it was hard to come out and just lie in the sun. Hard to live without responsibility, night calls, sleepless evenings, and groggy mornings. He was a masochist, that was the trouble. He had carefully trained himself over four years to expect difficulty, tribulation, pain.
Now he was being deprived. Hell of a thing, to take a vacation and feel deprived. He found himself trying to worry about something. But there was nothing to worry about. He was in Spain, three thousand miles from his hospital, his work, his life. No one knew him here, and no one cared.
If he could just relax, he would be fine. He might, he thought, even learn to enjoy it.
On the morning of the second day, as he was leaving the hotel, the manager stopped him.
"Are you expecting a visitor?"
"A visitor? No."
"Because there was a man to see you last night. At least, I think he came to see you."
"What kind of a man?"
"An American. Very distinguished, with silver hair. Very cultured gentleman."
"What did he say?"
The manager looked confused. "Well, he came here, to the desk, and he said, 'Where is the doctor here?' I thought at first he might be hurt, but he was not. So I said, 'Which doctor?' because we have two; there is also a French surgeon from Aries. And he said, 'The American doctor.'"
"And I said he must mean Dr. Ross, and he said that was exactly who he meant."
"Then he did a curious thing. He thanked me, and he left. A very polite and cultured gentleman."
"Did he give his name?"
"No," the manager said. "He said that he would contact you."
Probably something about the paper he was to deliver at the conference next week, Ross thought. He nodded. "All right. If he comes again, ask him to leave a message. I'll be gone most of the day."
"You are going to the beach, sir?"
"That's right," Ross said. "I'm going to the beach."
The beach at Tossa del Mar would never win any prizes. The sand was dirty, coarse, and grating; there was trash everywhere, empty bottles, paper cups, unfinished food; the wind blew in hot and stifling from the sea.
But then, the beach at Tossa was barely visible for the girls. Jackson had been right: they were everywhere. Packed side by side, heavily oiled, bodies glistening in the sun. There were Swedish girls, French girls, Italian girls, and English girls; there were tall girls and short girls, slim girls and ample girls; there were girls in small bikinis, and girls in smaller bikinis, and girls in practically nothing at all; there were girls blonde and brunette, sexy and sweet, plain and pretty.
And hardly a man in sight.
It was, Ross thought, almost too good to be true. He walked along the water's edge, drinking beer from a bottle, feeling very good. Some of the girls were looking at him directly, and some were pretending not to look at him, but really were. Not that it mattered. Not that it mattered at all.
And then, he saw one girl who was truly spectacular, black-haired and long-legged, wearing a shocking pink bikini. Her eyes were closed to the hot sun; she seemed to be asleep. He walked over to her and bent over, admiring the view, and then his sunglasses, slippery with tanning lotion, fell with a soft plop onto her smooth abdomen.
She opened her eyes, which were clear blue, and looked at him. Then she picked up the sunglasses.
"Are these for me?"
"Well, uh ... no, not exactly."
She shrugged and gave them back to him. "You should be more careful."
"I'll remember that."
"The next girl might keep them. And then where would you be?"
"Out of a pair of sunglasses."
"And into a stifling hot romance with some travel agency secretary. You'd never escape alive."
"It sounds awful," he grinned.
She looked at him again, her eyes moving over his face. "You're a doctor," she said.
He was surprised. "How did you know?"
"Doctors always look clean." She pointed to the bottle of beer in his hand. "Is that cold?"
He nodded. She reached for it and took a swallow. He continued to stand, uncertain.
"As long as you're trying to pick me up," she said, "you might as well sit down and be comfortable."
He sat. She took another swallow and handed the bottle back to him. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
"Are they so fascinating?" she asked.
"My breasts. You're staring at them."
"They're very nice."
"Thank you," she said. She adjusted the bikini halter and lay back on the sand. "Is that a professional judgment?"
"Not exactly," he said.
"Are you on vacation?"
"Then we have something in common," the girl said. "Tell me about yourself."
He shrugged. "Nothing much to tell. My name is Peter Ross, I'm a radiologist from America, I have just passed my specialty boards, and I have not seen the outside of a hospital for four years. Now I am in sunny Spain for a month, where I intend to lie in the sun and do absolutely nothing."
"Except pick up girls."
"If possible," he nodded.
"Oh, it's possible. You may have noticed how possible it is." She looked at him. "You have a nice smile. I like American smiles. They're so wholesome. May I have some more of that beer?"
He gave her the bottle.
"I suppose you want to know about me," she said. "Angela Locke. English. Unhappy childhood. Stewardess. Also on vacation."
She passed the bottle back, empty. She reached into her purse for cigarettes, lit one, and looked at him. "How many pairs of sunglasses have you lost doing that little trick?"
"It wasn't a trick. It was an accident."
"I see." She smiled.
"But as long as I'm picking you up," he said, "shall we have lunch together?"
"Perhaps." She gave him a slow smile. "If you still want to."
"Oh, I'll want to."
"I'm very expensive," she said. "Sure you want to get involved?"
"I'll take my chances."
At that moment, an excited, dark-skinned little Spaniard came running up to Ross. He wore jeans and a cheap shirt; his feet were bare. His eyes moved furtively up and down the beach as he talked.
"Doctor!" he said breathlessly. "Thank the God I found you!"
Ross had never seen the man before. "Is something wrong?"
"Wrong? No. Nothing is wrong. Come with me, please. We must talk."
"Now?" He looked at the girl. "I'm busy now."
"No, no, it is urgency. I must talk with you. Now." He spoke hurriedly, with a thick Spanish accent. His eyes never stopped scanning the beach. He tugged at Ross's arm. "Please, come. Come!"
"Just down the beach. It will not be long."
Ross hesitated, then stood. He said to the girl, "Excuse me a minute."
The girl had watched everything with lazy eyes. She did not seem surprised, and merely shrugged.
"Will you be here when I get back?" Ross said.
"Probably," she said, lying back in the sun, closing her eyes.
The little man tugged at his arm, "Come, Doctor, come."
"All right," Ross said.
They began to walk down the beach to the edge of the water. It was the hottest part of the day; children played in the surf while nursemaids stood and watched; a pair of solemn girls in bikinis gravely tested the water with manicured toes. The little man walked alongside Ross, excited, hopping from one foot to the other.
"Doctor," he said in a low voice, "you do not know what you are getting in for."
"Doctor, you must not do it. You must not."
"What are you talking about?" He thought for a moment that he was talking about the girl, telling him to avoid the girl. But that was crazy. "How do you know I'm a doctor?"
"Doctor, it will be better if you left Spain immediately."
"Yes, you must," the Spaniard said gravely. "You must."
"But I just arrived."
"Yes, but you must," the Spaniard repeated.
"Because," the Spaniard said, lowering his voice, "you must not do the autopsy."
The man waved his hand irritably. "Please, Doctor, there is not the time. I come as a friend, to warn you. Do not do the autopsy."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Ross said. He was becoming annoyed. An agitated lunatic prancing down the beach, telling him to leave Spain, telling him about some goddamned autopsy. For Christ's sake: he hadn't seen an autopsy since his days as a medical student.
"This is concerning great seriousness," the man said. "Much is at stake. I wish you to swear you will not do the autopsy."
"What autopsy?" Ross said again.
"You will be the fool if you do it," the little man said. "No matter what they offered you."
"Nobody offered me anything."
"Listen," he hissed, his voice low and harsh. "If you do the autopsy, we will kill you. Do you understand? Kill you."
And with that, he walked off irritably, hurrying away from the water, back toward the town. Peter Ross stood astonished and watched him go.
"What was that all about?" Angela said.
"Damned if I know. He kept raving about an autopsy. I mustn't do an autopsy." Ross dropped down and stretched out on the sand, lying on his back in the sun.
"The Spaniards are all insane," she said. "You'll learn that sooner or later. It was probably a mistake."
"It must be," Ross said. "Because I'm not qualified to do autopsies. I'm a radiologist, not a pathologist."
"And I'm hungry," Angela said. She stood and brushed sand from her long legs. "When are you taking me to lunch?"
He grinned up at her. "You don't beat around the bush."
"People who beat around the bush," she said, "are afraid to get into the thick of things."
"You have a dirty mind."
"I have an empty stomach," she said. "When are we going to lunch?"
"Now," he said, getting up quickly. "Right now."CHAPTER 2
It was nearly four when he returned to his hotel room, relaxed from the sun, the good food at lunch, and the wine. He was meeting Angela again at six for drinks before dinner. He felt good as he stripped off his bathing trunks and took a hot shower to wash off the sand from the beach.
This was the way things ought to be, he thought. Hot sun, spicy food, and engaging women. And no work: that was very important, no work.
There was a knock at the door just as he climbed out of the shower. He wrapped the towel around his waist and answered it. Four men stood outside in the hall. They were grave, dressed in dark, somber suits, and each wearing a black armband. One of them, a tall man with graying hair, seemed to be the spokesman.
"Have we come at an inconvenient time?"
Ross looked down at the towel around his waist. "Well, actually ..."
"Please forgive us for doing so," the man said smoothly, entering the room. The other three followed. "But this is a matter of utmost urgency."
Ross shut the door, feeling strange. "Won't you sit down?"
"Thank you," the man said. "My name is Robert Carrini, Dr. Ross. These men are my cousins: George, Ernest, and Samuel."
The four men nodded toward Ross politely. Ross nodded back and tightened the towel around his waist. The leader, Robert Carrini, did not seem to notice the towel. He had an immaculate, cultured air; he might have been the curator of a museum or the president of a bank.
"What can I do for you?" Ross said.
"We come," Carrini said, "at a time of tragedy. Great, heartrending tragedy." He touched his armband absently. "It is difficult to find the words to explain. This has been a shock for all of us."
"I'm sorry," Ross said, not knowing what else to say.
"There has been a death," Carrini said. "My dear brother. In Barcelona. It was very sudden, a great shock."
"He died violently," Carrini said slowly. "My brother always led a violent life, and he died a violent death. We all knew it would happen one day. He was an unhappy, confused young man, and we knew how it would end. But that is not much help when the day finally arrives. So sudden." He shook his head. "So sudden."
Ross paused a moment, then said, "Why have you come to me?"
Carrini started to answer, but could not. He dropped his head and began to sob silently, his body shaking.
One of the others came forward, rested a hand on Carrini's shoulder, and said, "You must excuse Robert. He has still not accepted this, in his own mind. He was very close to his brother, you see. It was hard on him. Doctor, his brother was not a good man. There was trouble all his life."
"Now, with all the legal technicalities ..." The cousin shrugged.
Ross still did not understand. He waited. "The problem," the man said, "involves taking Stephano back to America, the country he loved."
"Why should that be a problem?"
"He was asked to leave America, five years ago. There are technicalities."
"Asked to leave? You mean deported?"
"It had to do," said the man carefully, "with an income tax dispute. The government wished to discredit him, so they accused him of not paying taxes. A lie, of course. But they sent him away. Stephano loved America, Doctor. He always said he wished to be buried there. Next to his mother, God rest her soul."
"I see," Ross said.
"We do not know who shot him yesterday in Barcelona," the man continued. "It does not matter. The police will not search for his killer. The Spanish also considered Stephano undesirable."
Stephano sounded like everyone's favorite, Ross thought. He said nothing.
"We have come to Spain to take his body back to America. This is permitted, but first, there are many technicalities. Many rules and regulations."
"First," the man said, "there must be an autopsy."
Ross suddenly felt cold. "An autopsy? Why?"
The man shrugged. "It is the law."
"Won't the Spanish authorities perform it?"
At this moment, Robert Carrini seemed to pull himself together. He wiped his eyes with a handkerchief and said, "No, that is not the problem. In order to return to America, the autopsy must be performed by an American doctor."
Ross frowned. It all sounded very peculiar. "Wouldn't you be better off working through the Embassy in Madrid?"
Robert sighed patiently. "We have tried. They will not help us. They will not lift a finger. They would like to forget that my brother ever existed. They do not want him to return to America—even dead."
There was a short pause. Robert Carrini shook his head again.
"I could not believe it," he said, "when I talked to them. They would have blocked his return to America if they could. Fortunately, they cannot. The law permits it. But they have raised every obstacle. For instance, an autopsy by the Spanish police would be valid if papers were authorized by the American consul in Barcelona. But he will not. Nor will he help find an American doctor. He will do nothing."
"So you came to me."
"Yes. We found a doctor in Madrid who works with the Embassy, but he refused. We searched everywhere for another. But it is so difficult ..."
"Couldn't you ship the body back and have the autopsy performed in America?"
"No. Not allowed. It must be performed here in Spain."
Ross shrugged. "I would like to help you," he said, "that goes without saying. But frankly, I am not qualified. I am a radiologist, not a pathologist. I have attended autopsies, but never performed one."
Robert waved his hand impatiently. "You possess a doctorate of medicine?"
"You are qualified to practice?"
"Then it does not matter. The law says that a duly certified American physician must perform the postmortem. It does not stipulate a pathologist."
"We need your help, Doctor Ross," said Ernest, very firmly. "You must help us. You must help us return Stephano to America."
"I would like to, of course, but—"
"This is a matter of great importance to me, to my family, to my poor father, who is eighty-seven and slowly dying of cancer. I appeal to you—as a doctor."
Ross shook his head. "I'm very sorry."
"We realize that this is an imposition on you, professionally," Carrini said. "But we hope you will make the sacrifice. As one human being to another. As one—"
Excerpted from Zero Cool by Michael Crichton. Copyright © 1969 Constant C Productions, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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He moans and cu<_>ms, coating the inside of her pus<_>sy. He shove in far a few more times, and then pulls out. Cu<_>m drips off his co<_>ck and lands on her legs and stomach. He puts his di<_>ck into her mouth, covered in his and her cu<_>m.
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