House dropped his sports bag on the
floor beside his work station and pulled out the large chair. He shouldered out
of the beige sports jacket and flopped it haphazardly over the back. Angling
the cane across the surface of the desk, he eased into the chair and turned to check for phone messages and emails before
going next door for his first cup of coffee of the day.
“Suzy Homemaker” Cameron had obviously gotten there first. There
was nothing in the “in” box except a layer of dust and a single sheet of paper.
House plucked it out and held it distastefully between thumb and forefinger.
Now what? It was an inter-office communication with Norm Lyons’
letterhead, and a short, handwritten note just underneath it.
House frowned. A memo on his desk that had originated in the office of Norman Lyons, was not something he normally felt
good about if it landed anywhere within fifty feet of his own office! It usually
meant that pain would ensue. A frown deepened the creases between House’s
eyes as he quickly read it.
Upon the express order of Hospital Administrator, Lisa Cuddy, PPTH,
you are hereby expected to report to the Department of Orthopedics at
9:30 a.m., May 19, 2006.
That was, of course, today. With a muttered curse, Gregg crushed the piece of paper in his hand and flung it into the wastebasket beneath
In the DD Room next door, a sudden flurry
of activity told Gregg that his minions had been watching every move he’d made, and at this moment, money was changing
hands. The other two had been made aware of the presence of that memo by sweet
Allison Cameron! They had done what he’d so often accused them of doing: they’d made bets on his reaction to it.
He hadn’t let them down; his reaction had been predictable, and they’d seen many manifestations of it over
the past year or two. He’d taught them well. Cash had been laid down in
response. He glared across in their direction, but things over there were suddenly
grinding down into slow motion.
Cameron stood with her back turned, looking
out the front window, a cup of her strange-tasting tea in her hand, no doubt. Foreman
was nothing more than a shadow in the far corner, a folded newspaper obscuring his lower face and shoulders. Only Chase, sitting at the table with one of his damned crossword puzzles in front of him, looked guilty,
like the little kid caught with his fingers in the cookie jar.
House swiped his cane off the surface
of the desk and levered himself angrily to his feet. He knew Lyons’
note was the result of one person’s actions; it wasn’t something the kids had done. Wilson had squealed to Cuddy about his
recent problems with his leg, and Cuddy had gone straight to Norm with that information.
That was all he needed: further unwanted attention on top of the recent increase in leg pain. Now he could count on more poking,
prodding and probing at his tender, slowly healing knee and the incredibly sensitive infarction site. When the hell would people learn to mind their own damn business?
What the hell was Wilson thinking?
House walked toward the door leading to
the adjoining room, hot under the collar and at the same time, rattled by the sudden sense of frailty he could feel draining
his strength. If this shit kept up much longer, these people might succeed in
their ongoing efforts to make an invalid of him. He could feel the instability
of his right leg even as he lengthened his stride in defiance of the pain he tried constantly to ignore. One day he might even begin to believe it. And that would
be the day of his certain downfall.
He walked over to the little sink and hung
his cane over the edge. He shifted his entire body weight to the left and took
his red coffee cup down from the shelf above it. “Who won the bet?” He said it deliberately soft; they had to strain to catch it, but he had no doubt
that they had, indeed, heard the question.
There was a moment of shuffling of feet
as he poured himself a cup of coffee and rummaged in the drawer for a packet of sugar.
They all turned to stare at him as though he’d suddenly grown another nose in the middle of his face.
“What bet?” Chase, of course.
He chuffed a snort of disdain through clenched
teeth and put the coffee cup to his lips; took a noisy slurp of the hot coffee. “Don’t
insult my intelligence!”
There was a pregnant pause. Foreman lowered his newspaper and then slapped it down onto the surface of the table. “I did!” He said.
“Cameron thought you’d toss the note back on the desk and ignore it.
Chase said you’d rip it in half and drop it in the waste basket. I
said you’d crush it in your hand like an eggshell, have yourself a shit-fit and slam it in the waste can. I came closest to getting it right.”
“How much you win from everybody?”
“Twenty bucks each,” Foreman said with a defiant grin. “Doesn’t it bother you at all that you’re becoming so damned predictable?”
Pretty soon I’m going to start asking for kickbacks!”
“Why doesn’t that surprise
“Probably, because it’s one
more thing that’s getting predictable! Got any new cases?”
We’re all scheduled for clinic this morning … unless you can think of anything better?” They all looked hopeful.
House took another sip of coffee. “Nope … don’t let me hold you up!
It seems I have an appointment in Orthopedics in …” he
frowned at his watch … “an hour and twenty minutes! Wilson’s so gonna owe me … big time!”
It was going on noon at the pretty Cape Cod house on Ridge Road. Roger Wilson and Jules LeBeque had been up for hours, and were making plans.
Jules was dressed in a navy blue jogging
suit and white running shoes. There was a white terrycloth sweat band around
his head, and he resembled, Roger thought, a long-limbed desert antelope. Fastened
onto the waistband of the pants he wore was a perforated nylon laundry bag, intended for use in a washer to protect women’s
lingerie. Jules wore no identification, and all the manufacturing labels had
been cut out of the clothing. With
his small-boned body and slender build, he was almost androgynous and unidentifiable.
Jules had been psyching himself up all
morning about this business of carrying off one more “road scam” as he sometimes called them. He was certainly not in favor of it, but he knew Roger was twittering with excitement about falling back
into their old routine of getting something for nothing and once more proving that their combined intelligence and talent
for larceny would allow them to get away with anything. He had to admit that
their scheme had been, by this late date, honed to an art form, and they were very, very good at what they did.
However … and it was a big “however”
… they had not done a road scam for a long time, and the condition of Roger’s legs the last time, had nearly resulted
in their arrest. Roger swore up and down that he could pull it off even better,
now that he was “a real cripple”, and all he needed was the chance to prove it.
He intended to do a “Bambi’s Mother” act!
Jules had finally agreed to the plan. He had scoped out the territory and found the perfect place to pull off one last “caper”. A tiny grocery store located near one of the developments, and out of the way
of mainstream traffic, would let them do their final job. After this he was determined
to tell Roger that it was finished. No more!
Roger must expend all his effort into getting well. They must move off
the streets forever, and become members of society. They could no longer live on the fringes. They had been given
the opportunity to get it right this time, and now it was up to them. Jules hoped
he could stick to his guns and not let himself give in to Roger’s strong and determined personality. It was time for them both to grow up!
Roger Wilson sat on the edge of the bed
in his brother’s former den. He was wearing blue jeans, white socks and
white sneakers. His white tee-shirt was freshly laundered, and he wore a bright
yellow windbreaker with black and white knit cuffs, waistband and collar. His
long brown hair was shampooed to a shining brilliance that gave off a dark chestnut sheen when the light bounced off it, and
he was fresh-faced, doe-eyed and clean-shaven. He had new glasses, expensive
fine-framed things that Jimmy had ordered for him through the hospital, and which enhanced his beautiful eyes, making him
look like a gentle geek. He looked about nineteen, not thirty-five-ish. Across the room, Jules could not take his eyes off him, and Roger knew it.
Jules stood up and came forward. “Are we ready?”
“I sure am, if you are!” Roger’s grin showed off a mouthful of even, white teeth. The streets had not ruined his smile one little bit. He gathered
his crutches and stood slowly.
“Are you still sure you want to do
this?” Jules asked him.
Roger nodded. “You bet I am!”
It was almost noon now, and Jimmy had already
been at work for hours, depending on how early he’d been able to talk Gregg into getting out of bed. Neither of them had any inkling what had been going on in Jules’ and Roger’s heads, and they
The two young men went out the front door
of the Cape Cod. Two steps only. Roger handled them with concentrated deliberation, but with less effort than it would have taken Gregg.
Jimmy had offered to install a ramp in back, but they’d both told him it
was not necessary, and so it had never materialized. Now they walked together
with cautious resolution to the Dodge Shadow, got in, and Jules turned the key in the ignition, letting the little four-cylinder
warm up. It was a beautiful day. It
was sunny, a small breeze came from the South, and fleecy clouds rolled around in the sky.
It was Friday, and they would have the entire weekend to snicker and smile at each other about their swan-song caper. Gregg and Jimmy might be here on Ridge
Road together for the weekend also, or they might be at Gregg’s most of the time. But either way, they would never know what their street-wise guests had managed to pull off right under
Roger’s big brother and his
best friend (lover?) were reputed to be two of the most highly intelligent men
in New Jersey. But
were they really?
They were about to be totally outdistanced by two dumb little homeless guys with balls the size of Rhode Island and
ambitions overblown enough for a future President of the United States.
Ben Baker swirled the heavy mop in
soapy circles around the floor in front of the Johnny stove, and then moved outward along the circle of four old captain’s
chairs that surrounded it. Four old wooden TV trays that served as sandwich,
coffee, donut and goodie tables, rocked precariously on their spindly legs when the mop strings curled around them. Ben was relentless. He left no spot unslopped and no depression
in the worn wooden floor unpuddled.
Fridays were slow days at the Neighborhood
Store. It was the day when most local residents
got their weekly paychecks, and the day they did their weekly grocery shopping at the fancy-schmantzy supermarkets down on
the Strip. It was the day they paid their bills, went out to a restaurant to
eat, went to the Video Store to rent movies for the weekend, and found other ways to unwind from a whirlwind week. That always meant fewer customers who ran out of anything like milk or bread or eggs and had to pay the
“boys” a quick visit to pick up a few things. It was the day neighborhood
larders were generally replenished.
Fridays were also cleanup and shelf-stocking
days for the two men, and they kept themselves busy with pricing items and dusting shelves and working on the books and listening
to 1930’s-40’s-50’s music turned up high enough so Ben could hear it okay.
If a customer showed up, they would turn down the music, amble over to the counter to wait on him or her, ring up the
purchases on the vintage National Cash Register, and then re-up the volume and return to whatever they’d been doing
before they were interrupted.
Sometimes on a Friday, one of the neighborhood
kids would come in with a different glass bottle. They never muted the music
when the kids came in. The kids should be so lucky to hear some of the good stuff! Ben would fork over the prerequisite two bucks and the
kid would go away happy, or else blow the whole amount on candy or ice cream and sodas.
Ben was accommodating either way. Most kids were dancing to the beat by
the time they left, and that was a good thing!
This particular Friday was no different. They finished their chores around noon and went over to the circle of chairs to have
a sandwich, an apple and a glass of water. Today was especially humdrum, and
they decided to break out the Cuban cigars and kick back for a few minutes of absolute bliss at the end of the meal.
Neither Ben nor Chris saw the two young
men drive by in the old green 1987 Dodge Shadow as it cruised slowly past on the street outside their door.
But Ralph “Jingo” Prozetta,
age eleven, did.
It always made House nervous to have
to lie on a damn gurney with nothing but a flimsy gown clutched over his bare ass and a small sheet haphazardly thrown across
his thighs and private parts.
This gurney was flat and hard and
plastic and covered with nothing other than a crickly layer of throw-away synthetic sheeting.
His body hated being stretched out flat on a hard surface with nothing beneath his head and no way to ease the tension
in his bad leg.
This gurney was narrow with a slight upward
curve at the head end, and he had nowhere to place his arms. If he relaxed them,
they immediately slid off both sides and hung down without support, and went immediately to sleep as their blood vessels became
constricted. If he placed his arms across his abdomen, he still had to clasp
both hands together so they wouldn’t slide away again. It was not a comfortable
place to be in.
They’d brought him back from MRI
fifteen minutes ago in spite of protests that he’d undergone one of the damned things less than three months before. His complaints had fallen on deaf ears, however, when Lyons
looked at him in exaggerated patience over the rims of his glasses and announced that the last one had been done long before he’d tried to stretch his medial collateral ligament from here to Hoboken!
Lyons had left him lying there, pissed off at the world, and gone wandering
around somewhere in search of some kind of medication he had not even bothered to tell House about. Norm had done everything House had expected him to do: poked,
prodded, pressed and pummeled his leg until Gregg thought he would go through the roof.
He had then ordered House to disrobe and get into the gown, and instructed two orderlies to roll him over to Imaging. Now he’d been left aching and throbbing, and his Vicodin bottle was in
his tan sport jacket … wherever the hell that was … and his cane was
hanging on the doorknob all the way across the goddamn room!
Gregg had thought about turning onto his
left side and dragging the bad leg overtop the good one. That way he’d
at least have a place to rest his arms. But if he did that, the skimpy hospital
gown would bunch under him, gap open, and the little handkerchief-size sheet would slide off and land on the floor. He’d be mooning everyone who happened to walk by in the corridor and glance through the nine-inch
gap where Norm had left the door part way open.
This day was not going well, and he hurt! Cuddy was going to get a piece
of his mind for this, and Wilson too. Mainly Wilson! It was his big mouth that had gotten him here, and he did not like it.
He could feel his anger attaining critical mass. Unless someone arrived
to diffuse it very soon, when it finally exploded there would be detritus all over the room and everyone in it.
He was contemplating getting down from
the table and trying to make it to his cane, then find his clothes and get the hell out of there, when the door swung open. Norm Lyons came in with a syringe in one hand and a sterile paper bag of something
or other in his far hand. House eyed him suspiciously.
Norm was apologetic, somewhat out of character
for him. “Sorry it took so long, Gregg.
I’m a little short-handed today.” Lyons scrubbed at his forehead for a moment with the back of his wrist, then turned and placed
the sterile bag he had in his hand on the counter behind him. “I’m
assuming you’re experiencing some pain in your leg right now?”
House scowled. “Whatever gave you that idea?”
“Sorry,” Lyons repeated. “I’m going to give
you an injection … a mild painkiller … and put your knee in a brace that I don‘t
want you to remove except when you’re in the shower. Your MRI shows a transverse
tear beginning in your medial meniscus. Your knee has been weakened as the result
of the compromised muscle in your thigh. Another major factor against you is
your age. Your body is not as resilient as it once was, and the fact that the
remaining muscles in your right leg are severely weakened …” Lyons paused for a moment. “Well,
if you don’t begin to take the proper precautions with your disability, things could get much worse … if you’re
following what I’m saying. This is for your own good, Gregg, really.”
House said nothing, merely grunted
continued without acknowledging the mumbled response. “You can’t
sit with this leg extended the way you did and then go to sleep that way. I know
what happened was accidental, but you have to be more careful. Also, pissing
around and dancing in the rehab gym a couple weeks ago didn’t help. And
on top of that, you let the pain go until you couldn’t stand it anymore. If
Jim Wilson hadn’t told Lisa Cuddy and Cuddy hadn’t told me, God only knows what damage you might have ended up
with.” Norm shrugged slightly, and his shiny face settled into a pleasant
relaxing of his features. “I did hear though, that your little ballet in
the gym was really something to see. I wish I’d been there …”
“It wasn’t meant to be a ‘performance’
“Yeah, I know, and you didn’t
do yourself any favors. But I understand, thanks to you, Jim Wilson’s little
brother is now up and walking on the crutches and doing a lot better. But then,
I shouldn’t believe everything I hear. I know you don’t give a shit
about people, and don’t give a damn whether they get better or not. I understand
that stuff. Really, I do!”
Norm’s expression was unreadable.
Gregg glared up at his torturer, not altogether
certain whether or not he was being hornswoggled. He held back what he was thinking
only because he was feeling a sudden admiration for this man who, before this, had never dared rag at the famous Gregory House. What the hell had changed? Was Norm trying to credit him for doing something good?
In that moment, Lyons rounded on him with the syringe he had in his hand, jammed it down and emptied it into
the distended lateral muscle of Gregg’s knee.
Son of a bitch! What’d you do that for … ?” His voice trailed off as the misery in his leg abated like
turning off a water tap. “Ahhhh …”
“Just a couple cc’s of Demerol,
my friend. It should give you a few pain-free hours.” Lyons reached behind him and grasped the
sterile bag from the counter. He ripped off the paper and it revealed a soft,
navy blue elastic brace with foam rubber cuffs at both ends and a Velcro fastening for tightening or loosening. He pulled it gently over House’s foot and ankle and moved it up across the slightly atrophied calf,
then settled it about the injured knee. He fastened the Velcro tabs and the brace
conformed to the exact configurations of House’s sore knee.
House watched, quiet for a change. The absence of pain had him taking deep, relaxing breaths, and the tension had left
his body for the first time in what seemed like weeks.
Norm Lyons’ cool hands moved in concentric
circles back down his calf, kneading as they went, spreading across his ankle and dug in carefully at the pressure points
of his foot. “You’ve got to use the brace for now,” he explained. “And you must be careful! If you abuse it again, I may have to get in there to do arthroscopic surgery to repair it. You need to guard against injuring your ACL. I’m going
to give you anti-inflammatory meds for pain and to give them a chance to bring down the rest of the swelling. The brace will help as it heals, but you’ll defeat its purpose if you take it off. Wear it to bed too!
“So!” Lyons looked over the tops of his glasses
again and directly into the snappish blue eyes. “If you want to avoid surgery
and a cast and a wheelchair, I suggest you listen to me.”
House nodded, a quick downward thrust of
his chin. “Looks like I’ve got no choice.”
Norm grinned. “I thought I just said that!”
House sat up and threw his legs over the
side of the gurney. “Give me a hand down from here!” he said. “And where the hell did you hide my clothes?”
absence of pain in his leg was almost as cool as a vacation in Alaska!