A short chapter, perhaps change to a minor key?
Music? How ’bout something new?
Going abruptly into a starry night
It is ignorance we blink from, dark, unhoused;
There is a gaze of animal delight
Before the human vision. Then, aroused
To nebulous danger, we may look for easy stars,
Orion and the Dipper; but they are not ours…
William Meredith Starlight
Sherman listened to the lab tech as she read through the results, but the elevated white blood count and high lymphoblast count all but confirmed his initial impressions: the little girl clinging to William Taylor more than likely had ALL, or acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Confirming the diagnosis would be painful as hell – and costly – and Sherman almost questioned whether Taylor would want to get involved. But he’d seen the look in Taylor’s eyes, the almost suspiciously irrational commitment of one human being to another under particularly questionable circumstances, but there really wasn’t any doubt at all. Of the thousands of kids living out here on the beach this one little girl had piqued Taylor’s interest, caught his eye. She’d drawn the lucky number. And who knows, Sherman thought, maybe if he’d caught the diagnosis early enough, and with truly aggressive intervention, she might be one of the lucky kids that made it. Still, with a white count as off the charts as hers, he had his doubts.
He picked up the phone on his desk, hit intercom and waited for someone at the front desk to pick up, but when no-one did he looked up at the clock on the wall and sighed. “Of course no one is answering, you idiot! They went home two hours ago!”
Then he heard someone banging away on the front door, and he knew what that meant.
He walked out of the exam room to the front door and saw the boy from yesterday, the kid whose mother had been shot in the face. He was standing out there holding a towel to his gut, and blood was running down his pants onto the sidewalk.
Sherman unlocked the door and helped the kid into the first trauma room, if you could indeed call it that, but he helped the boy up onto the table then called 911 and asked for paramedics to come by for a pickup.
“LaShawn, isn’t it?” he said to the kid. “What happened?”
“I don’t know, man. They was waitin’ for me in the house. Two of ‘em, and one started cuttin’ on me soon as I was in the door.”
“You know them? Recognize them?”
“No, Father. Never seen ‘em.”
“You’ve lost a lot of blood, LaShawn,” Sherman said as he worked on getting a pressure dressing in place, “so I’m going to start an IV, but a surgeon will need to look at this wound,” he added, pointing at the kid’s right side.
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“I’m worried about this cut here, this one on your right side. Too much bleeding here, so I’d like for them to look over your kidney.”
“Can’t you just sew me up? I mean, I gotta…”
Sherman shook his head. “Not with a possible kidney laceration, LaShawn. You could be in real trouble if that’s not fixed just right, and I can’t do that kind of work here, not by myself.”
Ten minutes later LaShawn was on his way and Sherman went to the locker room to change out of his scrubs, and when he went to lock up he was surprised to find Taylor’s actress-friend waiting for him outside the clinic door.
“Angel, right? My, my, what are you doing out here this time of night?”
“Why? Is that a problem?”
Sherman shrugged. “Not if you know how to take care of yourself. Now, what can I do for you, Angel from Palo Alto?”
“Father Kerrigan told us that you’re looking for another physician to work here at the clinic.”
“I am. You interested?”
“Me? No, not really, but I have a close friend you might be interested in talking to.”
“Oh? Tell me more.”
“She went to Stanford, but before me. She’s been working with MSF in Sudan and Ethiopia for the last couple of years, but she’s back here in California now and she’s looking for something new.”
“Something new? What on earth does that mean?”
“Work. She’s looking for work.”
“I think I understand that, it’s just that they way you said that, well, it almost sounds as if this girl is out collecting experiences.”
“Collecting experiences? Really? I’m sorry,” the Angel said. “No, she’s just dedicated to helping the poor and the disenfranchised.”
“The disenfranchised? Really? How extraordinary,” Sherman sighed, trying not to sound too overtly sarcastic. “And does your altruistic friend have a name?”
“Dana. Dana Goodman. Could you meet with her soon, maybe let her see your clinic?”
“Is she here in Venice now?”
“She should be soon.”
“Well then, I’m working at the aid station tonight, then again over the weekend.”
“So, you’ll be working there on Halloween?”
“Yes. Lucky me.”
“Are you headed down there now?”
“As soon as I lock up a few things, yes.”
“Could I lend a hand?”
And Sherman could tell then…Father Kerrigan had told this Angel about his recent heart attacks. She was too…solicitous. Too…attentive. “Sure, if you have the time.”
It took them just a few minutes to walk through the clinic and secure all the pharmaceuticals and surgical equipment, then Sherman locked the main doors on their way out. And then he turned to face the flooding tide of humanity shuffling along the street bound for the boardwalk, and to the beach beyond.
She took his arm in hers and they stepped out into the current, and they were carried along in this human wave, gently but inexorably towards the beach. She helped him out of the flow and they walked over to the old life guard shack, then to the huge white canvas tents flying red cross flags.
And of course there were already a dozen or so people lined up and waiting for him.
“Need me to stick around?” the Angel said.
“Oh, only if you have the time. This is nothing unusual…”
“How long have you been working today?”
He turned and looked at her, then gently shook his head. “That’s not how it works, Angel, at least not in my world. I work until all the work is done.”
“Surely you know…”
“Know what? That I’m burning the candle at both ends?”
“Of course I do.”
“You’ll die if you keep this up.”
“I suppose I will, yes. Yet I think I’ll leave when I’m supposed to.”
“You mean – God…?”
“Call it whatever you like. I rather the like the idea of cosmic tumblers falling into place.”
“Prosaic. I didn’t take you for a poet.”
“Yes, and I’m a Leo who enjoys rock climbing and progressive rock…”
She laughed a little at his off key humor. “Instant karma, huh?”
“Something like that. Life’s what you make of it,” he said as he opened the aid station by flipping over a little placard that featured an image of Lucy from the Peanuts gang, along with her archetypal note: ‘The Doctor Is Real In’ emblazoned in a bold red comic book font.
The first two people had dry, crusting sores on their lips and around their chins and nostrils, but their eyes were clear so he gave them tubes of Bactroban to treat their impetigo and he let the Angel make new charts for both of them. “Remind me to let the clinic staff know we have an impetigo outbreak out here now,” he added – before he remembered this Angel was not working at the clinic.
Yet she was writing up a note in his notebook and he smiled as he addressed her: “Why don’t you take the next one?” he said, looking her over, gauging her interest and enthusiasm.
And she did, without hesitation. An older man walked into the tent and sat. He told her about a lump behind his knee and she looked it over before she turned to Sherman, unsure how to proceed down here on the beach with such limited resources.
So Sherman bent over and had a look. He palpated the margins of the suspected tumor and felt the increased distal vascularization and sighed. “You know the clinic up on Grand?” he asked the man.
“Yeah, I tried to go once. Lines were too long and nobody gives a shit.”
Sherman nodded. “You come here to the tent first thing in the morning, say around seven thirty, and you and I will walk over and get to the bottom of this.”
“You know what it is?”
“I’m not certain, no, but a blood test and some imaging will give me a better idea.”
“Is it a tumor?”
“It could be, yes.”
“A bad one?”
Sherman nodded. “Yup. Could be.”
“If I just let it go, will it be painful?”
Sherman looked the old man in the eye. “Very. You wouldn’t want to go out that way.”
The old man looked down. “I got no one. Got no reason to go on, ya know? What would you do, Doc?”
“Me? If I was in your shoes I’d go down to the church and have a talk with the Old Man. Maybe he has something to say about things, ya know?”
“Don’t you be blowin’ sunshine up my ass, Doc. I got no use for all that…”
“I’m not. You asked me what I’d do, but you asked me, a priest, didn’t you? What did you expect me to say?”
The old man shook his head, then he looked at the Angel. “You a doc, too?” he asked.
And she nodded. “Yup. And I am not a priest,” she added, smiling a little, trying to put the man at ease.
“What would you do?” he asked.
“Me? If I was you?”
“I’d come over here about seven and let me take you to breakfast, then you and I could walk over to the clinic and get some answers.”
“Answers. Then what?”
“If you’re not sure what to do, ask somebody who cares.”
“I told you…I got nobody.”
“But the Father told you who you could talk to, didn’t he? Because maybe there really is someone who cares, you know?”
“Do you believe, you know, in God?” the old man asked.
“Me?” the Angel replied, surprised at the question – yet she didn’t answer it, either. Instead, she placed her right hand on the man’s forehead and within a few seconds he went limp and fell to the tent’s floor.
Sherman had watched her, of course, yet he wasn’t sure what he’d just witnessed. He shook his head and went to the man and lifted him from the floor, and the Angel helped him get the old man on the cot they used as an exam table. “Mind of I ask what you just did?”
But when she looked at him he saw pure confusion in her eyes, and he knew then that she had absolutely no idea what had just gone down.
“Interesting,” Sherman whispered as he took her right hand in his. He palpated her fingers then the palm of her hand – and the tingling that started was at first quite subtle, yet within a second or so he felt the world slow and grow dim…before he too fell to the floor.
He was adrift in fog, a leaf drifting across a field covered in snow. Icy cold and shivering, he felt immense pressure in his chest and in an instant he knew what was happening. He was having his third heart attack, and this was going to be the big one, wasn’t it…?
He forced his eyes open and saw the Angel working on him, but someone else was here now too. Another woman, and she was hooking up EKG leads then slipping an oxygen cannula over his ears and into his nostrils.
“Your rhythm is good, Father,” the stranger said, her eyes smiling confidently, “so no worries right now.”
“Feel pressure,” Sherman said, “right here,” he added, placing his hand over his sternum.
“Do you take nitro?”
He nodded. “Pant pocket, right front.”
She got one and slipped it into his mouth; he manipulated the tiny tablet under his tongue and closed his eyes as the easing came on.
He nodded. “How’s the old guy?”
“Fine. He left a few minutes ago,” the Angel said. “I think we’ll see him in the morning.”
“Good,” Sherman sighed. “Now, who are you?” he asked the stranger.
“Oh, right. I’m Dana. Dana Goodman,” she said as she held out her right hand.
He took her hand and he marveled at the soft warmth, not to mention the delicate strength he sensed in her fingers. “You have a surgeons hands,” he said. “Angel tells me you’ve worked with MSF – in the Horn region?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Do you know Jean Paul Duvalier?”
“The thoracic surgeon? Yes. I spent a few months with him in Cameroon.”
“I know. He sends his regards,” she said. “He wanted me to ask how you feel about snakes these days.”
“He would ask that,” Sherman said, smiling. “That was a bad night.”
“He told me. You were very brave,” she said, smiling while she ran her fingers through his thinning hair – and yet he was stunned by the simple humanity of the gesture and his first impulse was to pull back.
Yet he couldn’t. Because in the next instant he felt an overwhelming attraction to this woman, a completely immersive feeling beyond anything he had ever known in his life. He understood a shift had just taken place, that something transcending the sexually mundane had occurred and that something he’d once considered metaphysical had found him out here on the beach – and that just didn’t make sense.
“So tell me, Dana…why are you here?”
She leaned close and whispered in his ear: “I’m just here to lend a hand, Father.”
The words were startling in their clarity, unnerving in their preconceived import, and yet he felt hollow, unsure of himself. “Lend a hand? But how…”
Yet now she placed her left hand on his chest, her right on his forehead, and when this circuit was complete he felt pulsing warmth flooding through his veins – before the echoes began again.
“To help you see,” she whispered again.
“See? See what?”
He was falling again, falling towards the sea – then he remembered – no, not remembering – he was feeling an echo of the morning when he had walked across the Boulder Field. When he had carried Betty and Beth to the summit of Long’s Peak. They had seen the same sea below when they fell, all of them, when they were inside that sphere, didn’t they? Then they were back on the boulders, drenched in sea water.
How cold they’d been. The sun had just been seeping over the horizon, the star’s warmth still far away, still becoming. Sitting there in a wet, ragged heap, shivering, going into shock…
Then the sphere had enveloped them again – even as people ran up to them – and they had disappeared – again.
Only to return seconds later, each of them completely confused.
Then the sphere was gone and they had no memory of what they’d experienced inside.
But the other people on the Boulder Field saw, and they remembered.
And now Sherman realized he was falling towards the same sea and he looked around, saw Hans and Jordan and Heather – just as they had been twenty years ago…
But why the sea – again? Why this sea – now?
He looked up, saw Boomer 505 – his A-6E Intruder – disappearing inside an expanding ball of flaming fragments, then he saw his ejection seat tumbling away, felt the searing pain in his left leg.
‘I’m falling – after I was shot down – that’s the Strait of Hormuz down there…’
Then he was in the sea, treading water.
Only Dana Goodman was by his side.
And the water was cold, too cold to be the sea off the Yemeni coast.
He turned and realized this was California, that they were a few hundred yards off Venice Beach, and it was still night. The thought filled him with dread, then a feeling close to outright panic followed.
“What’s wrong?” Dana Goodman said, smiling.
“Are you kidding me? These waters are a nursery for young male Great Whites this time of year. There are probably hundreds of them out here…”
“It’s okay,” she said. “They won’t let anything happen to us.”
“Who? What are you…” he started to say, but just then he saw four huge black dorsal fins slicing through the moonlit water and he swallowed hard, his mind filling with images of sharks feasting on him as he tried to swim to shore…
…then the first orca surfaced a few feet away…
…and the water around his shivering body grew warm…
…and when Gene Sherman looked into the orcas eye he saw a great globular cluster – with a faintly pulsing light in the center of the formation filling the womb of the night.
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