Authors: David Bajo
This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are either the
product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance
to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events,
or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright Â© 2014 by David Bajo
All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof,
may not be reproduced in any form
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bajo, David, author.
Mercy 6 / David Bajo.
ISBN 978-1-60953-109-6 (paperback)
1. Quarantine--Fiction. 2. Los Angeles (Calif.)--Fiction. 3.
Suspense fiction. 4. Medical novels. I. Title.
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Book Design by SH â¢ CV
FOR ESME AND HER MATH
Something brushed her cheek. She smelled cloves, something close. Both sensations passed in the night air. Mendenhall might have thought nothing of them, dismissed them as nerves, except that nonvisual hallucinations had come to interest her again, since a man had been brought into the ER last week exhibiting taste, touch, and olfactory alterations brought on by the DTs. He had died before she could finish questioning him. He wore a nice suit, was clean-shaven, the bristles along his nape tapered, pleasant against her fingers. He spokeâto someone who was not thereâof butterscotch, a hummingbird's throat against his thumb, and the coarse scent of a horse's mane.
Peopleânormal, healthy peopleâperhaps have more of these than they fully realize. They resist, filter out, reject, reconstruct, disown visual and auditory hallucinations because these indicate abnormality, threaten their sense of self, their standing. She had asked the clean-shaven man if he was describing memories or sensations. He told her they were sensations, clear and new.
She was testing his lucidity as the EMTs hurried the cart to the bed. She knew that this high level of lucidity amid the DTs indicated imminent demise. He died before the cart arrived.
Mendenhall directed everything; she held the man's nape. But it was all procedure. She felt him go flat, that unfailing surrender.
They injected, massaged, shocked, and recorded a lifeless body.
The nurse and the EMTs appeared befuddled. They had enough equipment and meds and knowledge to revive a mummy, at least into a coma. But Mendenhall knew before the cart arrived. She believed in life.
She caressed her cheek, where she had felt the brush in the night, breathed, trying to reclaim the clove scent. But the air was back to mineral. She twisted her heel against the roof surface, still expecting the crunch of gravel. The surface had changed a year ago, refloored with a light industrial tile, good for walking, impervious to the elements. Her heel made no sound, nothing above the traffic hum seven floors below.
She was being watched. The figure she thought of as the Dutchman was on the roof with her, taking a break, standing as usual beside the remains of a telescope fastened to the low wall. The city glow cast him as a bit more than a silhouette. She could see his demeanor, his feigned interest in the horizon, his vague interest in her. She liked vague. That was where science often lurked.
It felt hallucinatory, walking toward him. He was no longer seeking solitudeâthat was clear. But was she no longer seeking it?
Mendenhall walked into this question, its wonder palpable against the measure of her stride. She drew up next to him, shared his feigned interest in the horizon. He was tall; her eyes were level with his chin.
“You don't like the new roof ?” he asked.
“It's okay.” She looked at her shoe, twisted the heel against the tile. “I just keep remembering the old surface. Keep feeling and expecting it.”
“Building memory,” he replied. “My worst enemy.” The last word revealed an accent, the
sounds too much alike. Maybe the Netherlands, maybe eastern Europe.
“I hate metaphor,” she said. “Metaphors kill. Life is actual.
Death is metaphor.”
“I'm not speaking metaphorically. Buildings are memory. They are composed of and by memory. Buildings are the shape of memory.
If you removed memory from this building, it would collapse beneath us.” He remained in profile, watching the nightscape.
“That memory is the main conflict in my work. Literally my enemy, that which I must attack and overcome. Or accommodate.”
“Or surrender to.”
He finally looked at her, though he did not turn his shoulders. “I never surrender, Dr. Mendenhall.”
“You know me?”
“We met last year, though you won't recall. It was in the ER.
You were busy. There was blood.” He turned fully to her. “You are my enemy.”
She angled her look.
“It is my job to redesign this hospital. Without interrupting. I started with this roof. Last year.” His last two words smeared into one, sounding foreign, too short on the
, too deep on the
She motioned toward the telescope relic beside him. “Why'd you leave that?”
“I had to. By law. It was part of the original building. The doctor who founded the hospital was an amateur astronomer. In the 1930s you could see countless stars from this roof. Probably the Milky Way. Now you can count them.”
They both looked at the sky. There was a lot of black space between few stars.
“Why am I your enemy?” she asked, still looking at the sky.
“Because the ER is my biggest challenge. And you, Dr.
Mendenhall, are the ER. I told you this when we first met. I asked you for ideas. But you have no memory of that.”
“It's okay. I got ideas from you.”
“I follow you.”
She stopped looking at the sky, stopped measuring the distances between the few stars. She looked at him. He stared at the city.
“Only here at the hospital.” He smiled. “Though you always seem to be here.”
She waited for him to turn to her. She could tell he was about to turn, a waver in his shoulders. When he did, she asked, “What ideas? What ideas did you get?”
“None that I could use. None yet.” Again his last two words smeared into a single foreign sound.
“Because every time I see something, something I can maybe use, you do something that trumps it.”
“Sorry. I play cards.” He curled his hands around an imaginary shuffle. His fingers were long. “But for instance, my main idea. I see that the ER is marred by its very function and space, by the fact that it is a harborâcollecting, assigning, treating, sending all at once. Chaos forms, a sense of chaos. So I think if we somehow divide it into smaller areas, areas that are still connected, we eliminate that sense of chaos. Incoming patients feel more like individuals, people waiting don't see the turmoil and trauma.
Doctors and staff can focus. We reduce the sense of size, of overwhelm.”
She braced her shoulders, not knowing why. It was almost a shiver.
He held up his hand. “Don't worry. I rejected this.”
“Why?” she asked. “What was trump?”
“I saw you move from one stretcher to a bed across the bay.
I see you do this once or twice a shift. You start to attend to an incoming emergency, something frantic. Things begin to steady, gather around the stretcher as you make decisions.” He held his hand palm upward and curled his fingers. “Then you suddenly stand straight, freeze momentarily, and hurry to a bed across the bay, to an earlier patient. I see that you catch something, something in your periphery. Your peripheral vision. You figure something out about one case while taking on a new emergence.”
“I had a mentor,” she said. “He trained us to do that.”
He spun the tube of the telescope relic. “The doctor who put this hereâhe knew. In astronomy it's called averted vision. In our field of vision, we see farther and stronger on the peripheryâmore clearly but without center. We can see the Andromeda Galaxy only with averted vision, while gazing directly at Pegasus. Averted vision is a great asset, responsible for many discoveries. It would be very bad to take that asset away from you.”
She felt known. She felt cut. She needed to change the direction if not the subject.
“So it's back to the drawing board?”
“Yes. Literally. To save you from metaphor. That killer.” He made air circles with an imaginary pencil. “Literally I go back to my drawing board.”
“Are you the one who got rid of the geriatric ward and moved all the nurses' stations off center?”
She flexed her brow, considered him.
“You don't approve?” he asked.
“Oh, I approve. I highly approve. Most times half the hospital is a geriatric ward. And anything that puts nurses in their proper place thrills me. That was cold. That was brilliant. I approve.”
“Thank you.” He held out his hand and began to introduce himself, a dip in his right shoulder.
“No, no,” she said, waving him off. “I know who you are. I remember now. You're Mullich. Something Mullich.”
He drew his hand to his chest and performed a tiny bow. “Close enough.”
“Can you put the surgeons in the basement?” she asked.
A message buzzed against her hip. She kept her eyes on Mullich as she drew the cell to her ear. Her mentor had trained her to respond this way, to stay in the moment, to not let the buzz hurtle her forward. The added benefit of this response was courtesy.
Mullich's expression changed from friendly to objective. In that transition he was handsome. The city glow cast his face in planes and angles. A night breeze passed over the rooftop.
She held the emergency to her ear. Four traumas just in. The voice was Nurse Pao Pao, which meant
Come now, come ready
Mendenhall moved toward the elevator. Mullich broke with her.
“May I run with you?”
“Suit yourself. But you're on your own. You fall behind, you won't get through.”
The elevator stilled things. She slipped her express key into the slot.
Mullich pointed to the slot. He pointed with his entire hand.
“That was my idea. I had those put in.”
“You stole it,” she said. “From luxury hotels.”
“All good ideas are stolen,” he replied. “Yours especially.”
She felt the drop in the elevator taking her to where she wanted to be.
“What are we falling into?” he asked.
“Four traumas. All in at once. Which indicates an event.”
“You like it,” he said. “Most doctors are put out by it. But you like it.”
“I love it more than anything else in this world,” she told him as the doors swooshed open and she began to hurry. She felt the tails of her lab coat tugged by the vacuum of the doors, her contrail forming.
It was easy to spot the call in the bay. EMTs were beelining to it, nurses gathering, causing their usual clutter of concern. Pao Pao, her arms ending in fists, was guarding a space for Mendenhall.
Mendenhall heard Mullich stepping quickly behind her. He was wearing soft shoes, something athletic. For this, she thought. She slipped into the crease.
The four traumas were still together. This was not right, not this deep into the bay, not this close to the elevators. No attending was near. Mendenhall held back for a moment, not looking at any of the traumas specifically, just taking them in as four, as an event.
“Where are the other attendings?”
“You're it,” said Pao Pao.
Mendenhall went left to right. The first was a black man with gray in his beard. He wore the brown shirt of physical plant. His eyes were open and still. The second was a sixtyish woman in a patient gown. Her eyes were closed, mouth open and slack. The third, a young man, had a visitor's pass stuck to his t-shirt. His eyes were open and still. They were very pretty eyes. He's dreaming, she thought. He's dreaming he's dead. The fourth was a surgical nurse. Peterson. Her eyes were closed, but Mendenhall could tell that someone had closed them. One of the other nurses, someone from the clutter and concern. Pao Pao would never have done such a thing. No veteran nurse would. Peterson's lids were skewed, one pushed too far down, one sliding up and exposing a sliver of white.