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M I C H A E L




Dr. Vijay Choudhary's office was filled with statues of Ganesha, the Hindu

deity with a potbellied human body and an elephant's head. I had to

move one in order to sit down, in fact. "Mr. Smythe was extremely lucky,"

the doctor said. "A quarter inch to the left, and he wouldn't have survived."

"About that..." I took a deep breath. "A doctor at the prison pronounced

him dead."

"Between you and me. Father, I wouldn't trust a psychiatrist to find

his own car in a parking lot, much less a hypotensive victim's pulse.

Reports of Mr. Smythe's death were, as they say, greatly exaggerated."

"There was a lot of blood—"

"Many structures in the neck can bleed a great deal. To a layman, a

pool of blood may look like a huge quantity, even when it's not." He

shrugged. "What I imagine happened was a vasovagal reaction. Mr.

Smythe saw blood and passed out. The body compensates for shock due

to blood loss. Blood pressure lowers, and vasoconstriction occurs, and both

tend to stop the bleeding. They also lead to a loss of palpable pulses in the

extremities—which is why the psychiatrist couldn't find one in his wrist."

"So," I said, pinkening. "You don't think it's possible that Mr. Smythe

was . . . well... resurrected?"

"No," he chuckled. "Now, in medical school, I saw patients who'd

frozen to death, in the vernacular, come back to life when they were

warmed up. I saw a heart stop beating, and then start up by itself

again. But in neither of those cases—or in Mr. Smythe's—did I consider

the patient clinically dead before his or her recovery."

 

My phone began to vibrate, as it had every ten minutes for the past

two hours. I'd turned the ringer off when I came into the hospital, as

per their policy. "Nothing miraculous, then," I said.

"Perhaps not by your standards . . . but I think that Mr. Smythe's

family might disagree."

I thanked him, set the statue of Ganesha back on my chair, and left

Dr. Choudhary's office. As soon as I exited the hospital building, I turned

on my cell phone to see fifty-two messages.

Call me right back, Maggie said on her message. Something's happened

to Shay. Beep.

Where are you?? Beep.

Okay, I know you probably don't have your phone on but you have

to call me back immediately. Beep.

Where the fuck are you? Beep.

I hung up and dialed her cell phone. "Maggie Bloom," she whispered,

answering.

"What happened to Shay?"

"He's in the hospital."

"What?! Which hospital?"

"Concord. Where are you?"

"Standing outside the ER."

"Then for God's sake, get up here. He's in room 514."

I ran up the stairs, pushing past doctors and nurses and lab technicians

and secretaries, as if my speed now could make up for the fact

that I had not been available for Shay when he needed me. The

armed officers at the door took one look at my collar—a free pass, especially

on a Sunday afternoon—and let me inside. Maggie was curled

up on the bed, her shoes off, her feet tucked underneath her. She was

holding Shay's hand, although I would have been hard-pressed to

recognize the patient as the man I'd talked to just yesterday. His skin

was the color of fine ash; his hair had been shaved in one patch to

accommodate stitches to close a gash. His nose—broken, from the

 

 

looks of it—was covered with gauze, and the nostrils were plugged

with cotton.

"Dear God," I breathed.

"From what I can understand, he came out on the short end of a

prison hit," Maggie said.

"That's not possible. I was there during the prison hit—"

"Apparently, you left before Act Two."

I glanced at the officer who stood like a sentry in the corner of the

hospital room. The man looked at me and nodded in confirmation.

"I already called Warden Coyne at home to give him hell," Maggie

said. "He's meeting me at the prison in a half hour to talk about additional

security measures that can be put in place to protect Shay until

his execution—when what he really means is 'What can I do to keep

you from suing?'" She turned to me. "Can you sit here with Shay?"

It was a Sunday, and I was utterly, absolutely lost. I was on an

unofficial leave of absence from St. Catherine's, and although I had

always known I'd feel adrift without God, I had underestimated how

aimless I would feel without my church. Usually at this time, I would

be hanging my robes after celebrating Mass. I would go with Father

Walter to have lunch with a parishioner. Then we'd head back to his

place and watch the preseason Sox game on TV, have a couple of

beers. What religion did for me went beyond belief—it made me part

of a community.

"I can stay," I answered.

"Then I'm out of here," Maggie said. "He hasn't woken up, not

really, anyway. And the nurse said he'll probably have to pee when he

does, and that we should use this torture device." She pointed at a

plastic jug with a long neck. "I don't know about you, but I'm not getting

paid enough for that." She paused in the doorway. Til call you

later. Turn on your damn phone."

When she left, I pulled a chair closer to Shay's bed. I read the plastic

placard about how to raise and lower the mattress, and the list of

 

which television channels were available. I said an entire rosary, and

still Shay didn't stir.

At the edge of the bed. Shay's medical chart hung on a metal clip. I

skimmed through the language that I didn't understand—the injury, the

medications, his vital statistics. Then I glanced at the patient name at

the top of the page:

 


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