Critical Judgment (1996)

Critical Judgment (1996) by Michael Palmer

Book: Critical Judgment (1996) by Michael Palmer Read Free Book Online
Authors: Michael Palmer
tough fourteen hours in the ER, he looked fresh.
    “You’re all caught up,” he said. “And I am ready to pour a glass of Chianti, turn my stereo on, put my feet up, and fall asleep to Villa-Lobos. I’ve decided paying my bills can wait for another day. I don’t know if you’ve looked at the schedule or not, but tomorrow morning I’m your relief.”
    “I hadn’t looked,” she said. “Come on. I’ll walk you out.”
    As they passed by the waiting room, a woman was just registering at the intake desk. Abby recognized her as one of the diagnostic problems she had seen—the redhead who, someone had told Abby, had once danced with the Rockettes. The woman caught Abby’s eye, waved sheepishly, embarrassed at being back, and immediately began scratching her arm.
    Abby motioned that she would see her shortly, then walked with Lew across the ambulance bay and into theparking lot. The night was the sort never seen in the city—a glimmering full moon low in the northeast, a velvet star-laden sky to the west. The Milky Way was easily visible.
    “Just beautiful,” Lew said.
    A car stopped at the patient drop-off space, and a man pulled himself up on crutches and hobbled in through the front ER entrance. Abby waited until the car had driven off and it was quiet once again.
    “Lew, I really appreciate your helping things go so smoothly tonight,” she said.
    “No problem. I really enjoyed our pacemaker adventure. Besides, I actually feel as if I owe you more than just a little help in the ER. I owe you an apology. When you first got here, I found you a bit intimidating and standoffish. You’re neither, and I’m sorry for thinking so.”
    “You know, that’s really funny, because I found you standoffish and intimidating, too.”
    “I heard from the nurses that you’ve been going up to Sam Ives’s hut to tend to his leg. That’s a very kind thing to do.”
    “He’s got a deep fungal infection, maybe osteomyelitis. The cultures grew out aspergillus. I’ve been going up there because there’s not much chance he’d come back here.”
    “Not after the way he was treated the other night by Martin Bartholomew, there isn’t.”
    “Bartholomew’s got big problems. But in general I’ve been really impressed with most of the staff. The town is growing on me, too. When I first moved here, I had serious doubts. I only left my job at St. John’s and came to Patience to be with my …”
    Her voice trailed off.
My what?
“Fiancé” seemed a more remote possibility than ever.
    “Yes, I know. The man in charge of new-product design at Colstar.”
    “My, this
is
a small town.”
    She found herself a bit peeved that personal information about her would be making the rounds. But the truth was, even in the big city everyone was curious about everyone else—especially new docs.
    “So how about you?” she asked. “Do you like it here?”
    “I do. Most things, anyhow.”
    “Most things? What do you have problems with?”
    She could tell immediately that he was having difficulty answering the question. He turned and looked away toward the east. When he spoke, it was in a harsh whisper.
    “I have problems with
them,”
he said with unexpected force.
    Abby followed his line of sight. There, silhouetted against the full moon, was the Colstar cliff. Perched atop it, illuminated by dozens of floodlights, looking somewhat like a penitentiary, was the company. The letters of its name, filling much of the west-facing wall, were done in red neon.
    “But why?” she asked.
    At that moment another car drove up to the entrance. An older woman hauled out a wheelchair from the trunk and spread it open. Lew and Abby helped her move her husband from the passenger seat.
    “It’s his chest pain,” the woman explained. “It’s all right now, but Dr. Robbins is on the way in to check him over.”
    She hurried through the sliding doors and into the ER.
    “I’d better get in there just to keep an eye on things,” Abby said to

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