Robert Chase did not appreciate the cold. He did not appreciate this “gopher” mission, and he did not appreciate
the fact that he’d had to park his car three blocks away and walk all the way back to the goddamn park. He stood in the middle of the exquisite hand-laid flagstone circle with one mittened hand leaning on the
marble-based water fountain and the other resting on his hip. If he remembered
correctly, this was a beautiful area in the summer. He’d only ever been
here once or twice before, but the weather had been balmy and none of the trees looked like denuded prisoner-of-war survivors. Today the temperature could not have been more than twenty degrees, and the sky overhead
looked like cotton balls dragged through a charcoal pit.
All around him in a large circle, dormant
azalea and rhododendrons waited out the harsh downtime of winter, reminding him of tumbleweeds jammed onto fence posts. Behind the landscaped central plaza, a ring of young maple trees gave way to that
which, in summer, would be a manicured lawn where senior citizens walked their dogs and small, laughing children played tag
and chased rubber balls. Now, however, it was brown and stomped down and faded
looking: a lonely, brittle lava field; the surface of the moon; a darkened flood
plain. Nothing moved except discarded cigarette packs and billowing pages of
newsprint, tossed by careless hands and left to gather in the gutters and wrap themselves around parking meters and lamp posts.
Chase pulled the collar of his coat tighter
about his throat and entertained dark thoughts of Gregory House. He’d been
here since eleven o’clock, and had seen seven people pass by during that time.
He knew, because he’d counted. Behind him, beyond the ring of the
dead-looking azalea bushes, on the trunk of an also-dead-looking maple tree, the red lumberjack’s handkerchief he’d
plucked from House’s outthrust hand an hour or so earlier, rested against the bark.
He’d used the points of four large safety pins to pin the corners to the tree, and the thing stood out like a
sore thumb from the dead browns and blacks of the winter scene.
In front of the bushes, placed strategically
around the flagstone circle, stood six park benches, painted dark green, all of them filthy dirty with winter’s grime. Right at the moment, they looked very inviting to Chase. It was a pain in the ass to stand around in the cold and just wait!
His eyes swept the park and the streets beyond it, but the people he saw moving around hardly looked homeless. All of them were well dressed and bundled up appropriately for the weather. From time to time he swung around to check behind him and glance at the stupid red square on the maple
tree. No one looked even vaguely like a person who might view it as a signal
of mysterious intent.
Gradually he wandered closer to one of
the benches and lowered himself gingerly onto the edge of it. The same way he’d
sat like a bird on a wire on the chair in House’s office.
Damn the man! Chase found himself wondering sometimes whether his boss was still coming down on him like stink-on-shit
for squealing to Vogler. God! It
had been a year ago. House hung onto slights like a Mastiff hung onto a bone. One would have thought he’d redeemed himself with House by now; had proved his
mettle and lived down his mistake of taking the easy road … the easier, softer way!
Christ! Now he was thinking in A. A. clichés!
and Let Live”, “One Day at a Time”, “There But For the Grace of God, Go I”, and on and on and
His mother had tried Alcoholics Anonymous
very briefly once, but after six weeks of daily meetings, nervous nail biting and paranoid quivering, she had crawled back
into her protective bottle and the oblivion which had eventually killed her. She’d
left him with ugly wall posters of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions and a dilapidated, heavily underlined copy of the
Big Book: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed
our path …” or some
such crap … and a whole stack of fucking clichés that made him want to tear his hair out. He’d burned all that shit in the biggest bonfire he could find the fuel for.
And now Gregory House was challenging him;
daring him to be better than he was. Giving him hell almost daily, and pulling
him in directions he did not know if he could go. Demanding that he become a
Dok-tah! And here he was, in the middle
public park at Gregory House’s insistence, freezing his ass off waiting for some crummy scumbag to show up and say: “Hey man, take me to your lea-dah! I’m looking for my Sugah Daddy! Like … you know …”
Chase sat on the bench shivering
his tail off and wishing he were anywhere else. The toes of his shoes were scuffed
and dirty from the street. He could not find a decent parking place anywhere
near the park, and had to walk endless city blocks (three!) to get here.
(House would have said: “Awww … poor baby!”)
His watch said he’d waited more than
the allotted amount of time. It was almost 12:10 now, and no one had turned up
who looked anything like the description House had given him of the faggot named “Jules”. He looked up and around once more. The place was deserted. Nobody in his right mind would want to piss around down here in this weather for any reason!
He got up and walked around to the
other side of the bench. The handkerchief was flat against the tree trunk, right
where he’d pinned it. It was time to take the damned thing down and go
back to work. Somebody else could try their luck tomorrow. He was damned if he would sit out here in the freezing cold again.
Let Foreman freeze his balls off next time!
Chase removed his mittens and lifted the
first pin from the bark, then the second and the third. When he pulled the last
one, the red length of cloth came away in his hand. He snapped the pins closed
one by one and put them in his pocket. Crumpled the handkerchief and shoved it
in there also. Pulled his mittens back on. He
turned to go back to where his car was parked, and nearly ran head-on into a thin, exotic looking black man standing almost
in his shadow.
Chase jumped an inch off the ground. “Jesus Christ!”
The handsome, almost beautiful, kid stood
and stared at him, green eyes burning into his own, making him feel like an ant under a magnifying glass. When the kid spoke, his voice was like velvet, lightly caressed with the lilt of Jamaica.
“Sorry to scare you, mon! But it is you who will take me to Rojah … correct? The red kerchief is the signal flag, no? Is
he well? I have been worried.”
Chase stared. The kid didn’t even realize that he’d just frightened two years of life out of his only means
“Jules? Are you Jules?” Chase stammered.
“Yah, mon, that would be me …”
James Wilson walked slowly through
the corridor on his way to the first of two major appointments he’d scheduled for the day. The first one entailed the delivery of good news to a long-time patient who had recently decided on a radical
mastectomy which had lost her a breast, but saved her life. Millie Keener was
only thirty two years old and she had two young children. She’d been frightened
when Wilson told her it was either the breast or her life. As a rule, doctors no longer bullied their patients into life-altering situations
such as this, but rather sat them down and gave them all the facts about their cases and then let them choose the course they
wanted to take in their treatments. Millie had been afraid she would no longer
be attractive to her husband of ten years if she no longer had two healthy breasts.
Wilson had sat with her in his office, his gentle hands
holding hers, and told her in a soft voice that she needed to put more faith in her husband.
If he was any kind of man, he would agree that he had not married her for her breasts for heaven’s sake, but
for the decent and loving woman he had seen within her mind and her heart when he’d first fallen in love with her. The consultation had resulted in Millie’s submission to the necessary surgery
the week before. Now, in the company of her husband, she awaited him in his office,
newly discharged and on the mend, the two drains in her breast cavity still in place, waiting to receive the final news …
good or bad … of the results of that surgery.
This was one of the rewards of being an
Oncologist, James thought, and with medicine what it was becoming these days, the odds were finally leaning toward the up
side, and good news was at last beginning to outweigh the bad. Millie’s surgery had gotten all the cancer, even though they’d had to go up under her arm to
remove some of the lymph nodes to do it. She would get better now. With light exercises to regain full use of her arm, Millie would gradually return to robust health, probably
for the rest of her life. With a modern prosthetic in place, no one would ever
guess that she was a “pink-ribbon” cancer survivor … unless she chose to tell.
entered his office and saw Millie Keener sitting in the patient’s chair with her husband Charles standing behind her,
both looking a little dour. He walked across to his desk and placed her file
in the middle of it. He turned to them with a huge grin splitting his handsome
face. “Young lady, I think you owe me a hug!”
stood up and wrapped her arms around Charles with a moan of relief. They embraced
happily, gratefully. Then she turned around and embraced James Wilson with her
eyes, then with her arms, which both worked fine, and embraced him also, tears of release soaking into the shoulder of his
It was one of his better moments, when
seconds later he shook the hand of her husband and ended up hugging him also.
Gregg House was in his office laying out
the bare bones of their next case to Foreman and Cameron when his pager went off. He
pulled it out and read: “OK. Coming
Chase had accomplished his mission. House speed dialed Chase’s cell number with his own cell phone. Chase answered at the first ring.
“Take him to Room 220. Wilson and I are on our way.” House turned back to the
two ducklings who looked at him curiously. “Chase is back,” he said
in a non-committal tone. “Stick to the new case until you’ve done
the preliminary workups. Gotta go. Page
me if you need me … but it better be a matter of life and death! Preferably
life. Death is another word for ennui!”
He grabbed his cane and made for the door to the corridor.
House stuck his head inside Wilson’s door. “Hey! They’re on their way back.”
was just finishing with a man and woman who had been his first appointment of the day.
He followed them out and bid them a good afternoon, and he would see them in two weeks for follow-up. Then he turned to House, all smiles. “He found Jules?”
“Uh huh. Did you think he wouldn’t? Hell, Wilson, this isn’t a crap shoot! Chase
is a pretty boy and Jules grabbed at the bait. Let’s go!”
Shoulder to shoulder they turned in the
direction of the elevator. Anyone watching them might have assumed they had an
appointment with destiny. Who knew?!
Two of the four beds in ward room 220 were
deserted as usual. The sheets on those beds were in normal disarray. Their occupants were arguably out prowling the halls and harassing the nurses. The fourth bed was empty and stiffly made up, ready for its next patient.
“Life-Support Guy” had likely taken his final journey to the Great Beyond.
When Gregg House and James Wilson arrived
in the doorway, the scene that greeted their eyes was a little mushy, a little uncomfortable not only for them, but for Robert
Chase who stood to one side watching the tearful reunion at Roger’s bedside. No
one spoke for a good five minutes, perhaps longer, while Jules and Roger clung to each other happily.
When finally the elegant Jules backed away
from his lover and turned to greet those who had been kind enough to locate him, Roger was smiling through his tears. Roger’s lighter-haired older brother also stood by with a silly smile on his
face. “I have met Doctor Chase,” Jules purred softly, “but
I believe I have not had the pleasure …”
He was a blend of several exotic races,
his skin a golden bronze, his eyes emerald green. Asian, African and Mid-European ancestry was obvious. He looked
to be about twenty-five years old with smooth skin and slender hands with tapered fingers.
He was soft-spoken and eloquent with a pronounced Jamaican accent. Jules
was about 5’ 9” tall, and wore his ratty fatigues and sneakers with old-world pride. His hair, however, looked like a thatch of sable crabgrass.
House and Wilson both stepped forward for
introductions. “I’m Gregory House,” Gregg said. He extended his hand and the two of them shook hands, looking one another over. The speculative attention the youngster paid to the instability of his bad leg and his dependent use of
the cane made cold shivers cascade down House’s spine. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. He was not sure why. He only knew with a detached certainty
that this youngster would bear watching. He intended to be the one to do it. James would be useless to him where this was concerned. He was already looking at the two more-than-friends with stars in his eyes.
“I’m James Wilson …
and now I guess you know Roger’s last name …”
“I do indeed, mon,” Jules said
with a grin that exposed a row of perfect white teeth. “The two of you
look very much alike. The resemblance is … uncanny.” He turned back to Roger, who sat on his bed looking at his friend with adoration. Jules touched Roger’s cheek with the backs of his hands and Roger leaned into the caress. “Thank you for all you have done for him. His legs are
not good, no?”
“He had polio when he was nine,”
Wilson explained. “It
came back. Now he must undergo extensive therapy to be able to walk again. It’s going to be a long, hard road. I
hope you’re both up for it.”
“I’m not going anywhere, mon,”
Jules said. “I will help.”
nodded, looking across at House who stood silent, taking in the conversation, but adding nothing of his own. Wilson frowned. It wasn’t like House to remain this quiet. He wondered
what his friend was thinking. “I have a big house not far from here,”
he continued conversationally, “and plenty of room for me and the two of you.
You can both stay with me as long as you need to … however long that may be.
At least until Roger’s back on his feet again.”
was not aware that beside him, House had taken a deep breath and held it when he’d made his offer of shelter. He did not see Gregg close his eyes in discomfort at the idea, or bite his lower lip to keep from screaming:
No! Put them up at a motel … not at your home!*
Gregg House looked at his watch. He could not stand to stay and listen to any more of this. He could almost feel James Wilson slipping away from him like a leaky rowboat slowly sinking; drifting
gradually away from their closeness and into another heart-breaking family burden which might prove too overwhelming to handle. Wilson was lonely
and vulnerable and was only beginning to recover from a third bad marriage. He
did not need another millstone around his neck at this juncture. Gregg had to
think, and this was not the place to do it. He turned on his heel, and placing
his cane hard beside his right foot, pivoted toward the doorway. “If you’ll
excuse me,” he said, “I need to go check on my staff.” He inclined
his head in Robert Chase’s direction.
“Chase? You coming?”
Chase was more than ready to get out of
there. Dutifully, he followed House out the door and down the corridor. Behind them, the conversation was animated and heating up. They would never realize House and Chase had gone. The last
thing House heard before he turned the corner on his way to the elevator, was Wilson’s
musical laughter floating behind him from Room 220.
have a bad feeling about this …*
Lisa Cuddy sat at her desk, a little day-dreamy
in lieu of finishing up gathering materials for a budget meeting she had to supervise in half an hour. Preliminary discussions were already underway as a prelude to final preparations for the end of the fiscal
year in June. Edward Vogler, bless his manipulative, power-hungry soul, had been
right about one thing: most hospitals were indeed at their best when run as businesses. Princeton-Plainsboro itself, fortunately, had always been the recipient of private
funding and inherited legacies bequeathed by wealthy benefactors and secret entrepreneurs.
Their constraints, therefore, were not quite so strict. The withdrawal
of Vogler’s $100,000,000 had indeed stung, but it had not endangered anything that hadn’t already been in the
works before he got there. They had retained Gregory House and James Wilson on
staff, and she also, had been reinstated, thanks to the board’s final vote giving Vogler the boot. Budgetary restraints, however, were always a top priority with any hospital which sought to serve
its patients rather than its staff. That meant discussions. Discussions ad nauseam! How to spend the money. When to spend the money. Where to spend the money. And why!
Cuddy did not look forward to these
meetings-cum-debates, but they were a necessary evil. She’d taken a late
lunch at her desk again, a once-in-awhile proposition which was fast becoming a habit.
She didn’t care for it much, but on days like this when there were so many irons in the fire she hardly knew
which one to address first, it was necessary. Earlier, she’d delved into
Dr. Wilson’s personnel records and pulled Mrs. Julia Keyser Wilson’s name off his insurance and substituted the
name of Philip Roger Wilson. Easy. Wilson’s records were now up to date and that worry was over with.
She’d also gone back 365 days in
the hospital’s operations records and studied every request for services and equipment over the past year in order to
be current with normal procedures and recent expenditures. The research had taken
her most of the week. She’d researched medical advances and state-of-the-art
diagnostic equipment in hopes of staying one step ahead of any probable high-tech systems proposals, and totaled all of PPTH’s
considerable monetary resources. She’d kept the accounting office busy
for two whole days. Her briefcase was bulging, but she was certain she was on
top of anything the board members could throw at her, and confident she would be able to meet and diffuse any procedural problems. She took a last bite from her soggy tuna salad sandwich and wrapped what remained
back in its wrapper. She drained her bottled water and wiped her hands on a paper
towel. Her digital clock clicked over another minute.
The weekend was fast approaching, and this
week she had a tennis date and plans for a leisurely dinner at a fashionable restaurant, and then a late movie. She needed downtime to get away for awhile and have a conversation with someone whose every thought was
not taken up with hospital protocol and band-aid counts!
Lisa finished straightening her desk and
sat back in her chair, staring across the expanse of the large office and through the big door at the entrance. The lobby and clinic area were busy as always. People milled
around looking for information, a sympathetic ear or just a friendly smile. One
by one, faces would change position, reappear in the waiting room, and then move again as their owners took their turns in
the exam rooms. These faces would then be replaced by an unending stream of newer
ones, and the process would continue like a tape on continuous loop.
As she watched absently, a familiar presence
detached itself from the rest of the nameless crowd like a pasture-grubby thoroughbred separating from a herd of mustangs. He limped ponderously out of one of the exam rooms to halt near the waiting area with
a clipboard in his free hand. Cuddy’s head came up, senses wailing a red
Even in his normal state of elegant scruff,
he stood out like the gaunt patriarch he was. Working the clinic without being
threatened? Or at the very least, prodded strenuously? Cuddy straightened in her chair, watching him hawk-like, making sure she wasn’t hallucinating. The statuesque man in question was indeed Dr. Gregory House, complete with painful
limp and strong wooden side-companion.
Cuddy continued to stare. *My God! Somebody must
be holding an Uzi on him from behind one of the potted plants!*
While she watched, House raised his clipboard-encumbered
hand over his head and pointed the clip end of it in the direction of a middle-aged man occupying one of the waiting room
chairs. A few words were spoken, and then House tipped the clipboard backward
in a beckoning gesture. He lowered his arm again, and using it and the clipboard
as a rudder, turned laboriously and walked back to the exam room he had just vacated.
The man from the waiting room followed quietly and the door closed behind them.
Cuddy blinked. If she’d had more time, she might have spied on him, checked to find out what the hell was going
on. She was certain he had not turned over some new leaf of martyred responsibility,
nor had he likely relented in any way to make up some of his previously ignored clinic hours.
Something smelled to high heaven. House never did anything without a reason. She picked up her phone and dialed the front desk.
“Nadine? This is Lisa Cuddy. What time did Dr. House sign in for clinic
“Hold on a sec, Dr. Cuddy …”
There was a clunk on the counter, and the line went quiet for a moment. “Dr. Cuddy? He came on at 2:45
Lisa sighed. “Thanks, Nadine.” She hung up, perplexed. He’d been there an hour. Why hadn’t
she noticed him before?
Reluctantly, Cuddy picked up her briefcase
and walked out of her office. That particular exam
room door was still closed, and it was almost time for the budget meeting. She
made a note in her head to ask Wilson what the hell was up
when she saw him upstairs in a few minutes …
“You heard me. He’s in the clinic. Did he lose a bet to you? Did you threaten to patronize one of his hookers?”
“What?” James Wilson was as puzzled as Lisa Cuddy. She knew him well
enough to see he was not in some idiotic conspiracy with House to keep her in the dark.
His beautiful eyes were wide as saucers, and his chin was nearly on his chest.
Wilson was just not that good an actor!
The third floor conference room was filling
up. Coffee cups being filled from the urn; a donut here, a Danish there. Good-natured joking. Quiet laughter. The clink of creamers and sugar bowls and hospital silverware. Lisa Cuddy walked to the head chair and sat down. The buzz
of conversation died slowly away. Board members took their seats, looked across
at her with respect. Wilson
was the only one with a furrowed brow.
“Shall we get this meeting started?”