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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
"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,
"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
"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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