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by M. N. Norton M N Norton
In me lies a memory that this human needs in order to survive. He cannot have an identity without me. Nor can he acquire a perception of space and time. I give him life as surely as the air and his god because were I to not exist, he would not exist either. There would be nothing to bridge one event in his life to another. He needs me to remember the passion of taking a woman he desires, of seeing the world from the top of a mountain or feeling the pain of death and loss. Yet I am nothing more than a cell that hides in the innermost workings of his mind. mind My memory of myself requires that he live and breathe. And yet, as I breathe yet ponder myself, I wonder – when he dies, will I?
A DEATH WITHOUT MALICE M.N. Norton
A Death Without Malice In me lies a memory that this human needs in order to survive. He cannot have an identity without me. Nor can he acquire a perception of space and time. I give him life as surely as the air and his god because were I to not exist, he would not exist either. There would be nothing to bridge one event in his life to another. He needs me to remember the passion of taking a woman he desires, of seeing the world from the top of a mountain or feeling the pain of death and loss. Yet I am nothing more than a cell that hides in the innermost workings of his mind. My memory of myself requires that he live and breathe. And yet, as I ponder myself, I wonder – when he dies, will I?
Marissa Sheldon wasn’t raised in a home that was capable of preparing her for tragedy. Nor did her family know how to help her once tragedy engulfed her life. She spent her formative years in the comfort of a Victorian mansion in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, going to private schools and staying emotionally protected by an adoring father and astute mother. Indeed, had anyone asked the shy, soft-spoken girl with dark wavy hair what scared her the most about growing up, she'd tell you she was simply afraid.
PART ONE The piercing ring of the house alarm jolted everyone out of a deep sleep. Marissa rolled out of bed while trying desperately to shake off her drowsiness and find the switch for the table lamp. As she got to her feet, she heard the sound of a door slamming in the hallway. The reverberating sound had been drilled into them repeatedly, creating a routine that was respected by everyone. After the fear, came the rush to the bedroom. When silence returned to the night, there was sleep for those who could find it. As Marissa ran across the carpet, she realized the fear was passing and it was now only a question of getting to the door. She reached for the doorknob just as the noise ceased. She went into the hallway and saw Katy coming out of the bedroom next to her own. Katy was a slight, raspy-voiced 'fiftyish' woman that had hired on full time the year before. She kept a short haircut that barely reached her shoulders, giving what some thought was a submissive posture. Those who knew her soon realized she was self-assured and highly capable, her pose merely allowed her to appear unassuming, making her extremely easy to get along with. "Everything's fine Mrs. Sheldon. You can go back to sleep." "Thank you Katy." Marissa walked back into her room and stared at the empty bed. "How many nights have I slept without you?" she asked, as a familiar pressure built up in the back of her eyes. "How many more nights like this will there be?" She lay back down under the covers, turned off the light and fell asleep with dreams of the past filling her mind. The next morning Marissa awoke to see a pale stream of sunlight making its way under the closed drapes. As the shaft of light danced off the carpet, she found herself wishing she too could fade away into nothingness with as much ease, that or be carried back on a sunbeam to someplace in the sky where she could escape the hardship, and the pain. "It won't be today." She threw off her comforter and stood up. "I'm coming George, I'll be there in a few minutes." George and Marissa Sheldon had embraced the peace and solitude of their eighteen-room Victorian on Knott's Island, built near the Outer Banks of North Carolina fifteen years earlier. They had found a sanctuary on the inland bay that sat just a few miles west of the Atlantic Ocean. Marissa chose to live there permanently after George's accident almost two years before. The sea had become a place where she could transcend her life; the power of the nor'easters as they smashed against the coast gave a voice to the torment she harbored deep inside. Marissa Sheldon, at forty-two, had matured into what any man would call a handsome woman. She had inherited her grandmother's heavy, coal black hair, which she tied back behind high, solid cheekbones. A graceful forehead overshadowed strong yet compassionate brown eyes. Her silk bathrobe rustled against the legs of her pajamas as she made her way toward the spare bedroom. She thought she probably should have gotten dressed for the day. She admitted that she seldom felt up to the task, moreover, she didn't really care. Friends didn't come over, nor did she go out and as the weeks had trickled into months, now ending in years, getting dressed in the morning was the last thought on her mind. She stopped in front of the white enameled door. Her hand froze on the brass knob as the battle inside her began between the conflicting emotions of her obligation to enter and the need to get the hell out of the house and as far away as money could take her. Pulling her hand back, she 7
A Death Without Malice stood and listened instead. The soft rhythmic pulses from the respirator inside the bedroom filled the upstairs with a sickening death knell. It wasn't a dirge for someone who had already found peace in this life and gone to another, but a passing bell reserved for the living dead. Marissa felt the urge to step into the room and rip the plug from the wall. She could imagine her feelings as the electricity failed in its desperate effort to reach the machine; being forced instead to pour into her own soul where she could scream, "I'm free!" But that wasn't an event that would happen anytime soon. So she stood and listened. Marissa leaned against the door and remembered the first time he had taken her to his bed almost twenty years before. She was still young, beautiful and very naïve. He was handsome enough, stood 5'10'' with thinning hair and though he was already in his forties, he had the body of a man many years younger. Re-living the memories of him lying on top of her, moving with her and through her to find an excitement she never believed was possible only intensified her sorrow and frustration. George had grown up in a company owned three-bedroom bungalow with a front porch and a tree house nestled in an old elm in the back yard. While the adults sat outside listening to the Grand Ole Opry in the evening, he went to his tree house and dreamed. George had been a happy little boy with blue-gray eyes and a cherubic face. He was the only son of Mildred and George Sr. His father had been a foreman in the textile mill. He grew up during the 1940's in Kannapolis, North Carolina, playing with kids whose parents also worked for the company. The turbulent years of WWII had very little effect on George; he had other things in mind. George spent four years at North Carolina State where he tried to learn as much as he could about the manufacture and development of textiles. Always quiet and a bit of a loner, he had a 'sorry, can't do it tonight,' ready when his friends asked him along to football games or pep rallies. His only desire in those years was to build on a dream. But that dream required hours of studying the texture of cotton, flax and jute fibers. George could hold a length of yarn in his hand and feel it come to life. Once woven into a fabric he then tried to imagine new and unique ways to cross these natural fabrics with the manufactured fibers from wood pulp, cotton linters and petrochemicals. Proficiency on the weaving looms, dying machines and roller printers came slowly over a two-year period between his graduation from State and his re-entry to work toward a Masters of Science degree in textiles. Never one to be content with a job left undone, he continued on to receive a Ph.D. in Fiber and Polymer science. From there his climb to the top had been legendary. He had proven himself a master at blending natural and synthetic fabrics. By the time he gave the lecture at Marissa's college, his future was secure. He was one of the highest paid CEO's in the textile industry. He had achieved his dream; he decided he could now take a wife. A seeming coincidence had brought them together. Marissa had been finishing her Bachelors degree in Finance at Philadelphia University. George had been invited to give an evening lecture on the global impact of the textile industry in the South. George had been the CEO for Warren Industries, a textile giant, which employed over 23,000 people worldwide. He was a soft-spoken man who had been a master at developing new fabrics for top of the line designers and had been on the verge of developing a large European market. Marissa sat near the front of the audience found herself awestruck by his knowledge of economics and charmed by his slow, easygoing manner. Marissa had joined several other students in a discussion afterward; and was mesmerized when he looked into her eyes and spoke to her with his gentle, southern accent. As the crowd departed, Marissa found she was standing only inches away from him. He watched her patiently as she stumbled through an off-handed comment about the lecture to break the silence. She could feel a subdued yet powerful self-assurance about him, which was slowly awakening a passionate desire in her. While she wondered whether she should run from the room, he spoke as though there were no tension between them at all. "Would you have coffee with me?" She nodded shyly toward the door. "There's a nice little restaurant called O'Shaunessy's just a few blocks off campus. If you're hungry you can eat there as well." 8
M. N. Norton Marissa had never traveled to O'Shaunessy's alone. In the company of her sorority sisters, she would venture out into the raucous world of campus life, but never alone. She knew she lacked the street smarts, as did her friends, who would bundle her up and take her along, always being watchful of the men who saw easy prey and protected her from them. As she walked along she knew George would protect her as well. George opened the door and as she walked out he reached for her arm as though it were perfectly natural. The warmth of his hand coming through her light jacket made her feel safe, in the same way she felt when her friends were nearby. Marissa was thin yet tall for a woman and stood only a few inches shorter than George. As they strolled toward the restaurant, she found herself gazing directly into his eyes; then timidly looking away. "Where are you from originally?" he asked suddenly. "Here in Philadelphia. My father is in banking." He slowed his pace and seemed to ponder his thoughts. "Philadelphia is fine as cities go." Marissa nodded and placed her hand over his as he continued. "What are your plans after graduation?" "I may apply to graduate school," she said awkwardly, "I'm so undecided right now. I assumed once the course work was over some great idea would present itself and I'd follow that dream. Yet I'm almost finished with school, I have no great ideas and it seems I didn't choose a very realistic way to plan for the future." George stared thoughtfully at her for a moment. He saw a very sophisticated, yet naïve and vulnerable young woman. "Don't worry too much about it. All things come in their own time." They walked in silence down the last block, hearing only a soft wind blow through the trees in the darkness. "There it is." Marissa said as they came close to a brightly lit window. O'Shaunessy's was a faddish college town affair with a large canoe, old football jerseys and an assortment of other sports paraphernalia hanging loosely from the walls and ceiling. Brass fans whirled over their heads; polished brass railings separated the room into four sections. The farthest being where diners tried to eat with some sense of privacy, the other three gradually degrading into a free for all where beer mugs covered the tables. As George opened the door he heard students from the university happily toasting to anything which came to mind and singing along to vintage music from the 60's. Marissa immediately doubted the appropriateness of bringing the CEO of a major corporation into what he must have thought was an insane asylum. "Mr. Sheldon, will this be all right? I didn't think about the noise when I asked you to come here." George smiled and held the door open for her. "Things were much the same when I was in school. This is fine." They found an empty table near the window where George instinctively helped her with her chair. Marissa took two card menus from the table stand, handed George one then quickly skimmed over the other. She decided on the chicken wings, set her menu down and quietly watched him as he read. In spite of the ongoing chaos, he seemed reserved, even graceful if that could be said of a man. She had been raised in upper-class society. Yet, seeing him sitting there, she realized that there was still an element of culture, or perhaps it was tradition, that was clearly a part of his world yet almost alien to her own. Something charming and old that she was rapidly growing strongly attracted to. He glanced up from the menu and caught her stare. She blushed and looked at the table. He smiled. "Have you tried the chicken wings?" he said, nothing out of the ordinary in his voice. Marissa gave an internal sigh of relief. She would be forever in his debt for catching her in a dream and being enough of a gentleman to pretend he hadn't. "They are good, yes. Even better when served with the mozzarella sticks." 9
A Death Without Malice He nodded. "That's what I'll have," he said as he returned the menu to the table stand. "And please order whatever you would like." The waitress came up to the table, a buxom gal in tight shorts and a polo shirt. "Good evening sir. Are you ready to order?" He smiled and nodded toward Marissa. "Marissa, what are you having?" The waitress looked surprised. "Ladies should always be asked first. At least where I come from," George said gently. The waitress turned to Marissa. "I'll have chicken wings and mozzarella sticks," she said quickly. "And an iced tea." George looked up at the waitress. "I'll have the same, but it's well after 5, bring me a bourbon and water." "Your drinks will be here in just a minute. It'll be about fifteen for the food." She put her pen in the order book and walked away. George unbuttoned his suit coat. "This is a pleasant way to end an evening. Thank you for joining me." "You're welcome," she said quietly, "I'm glad you asked." "Do you golf?" George asked as he placed his hands comfortably on the table. Marissa felt her cheeks blush. "Miserably. I've tried so hard. People flee the golf course as soon as I stand up on the tee box." George was undaunted. "Classical music?" Marissa nodded enthusiastically. "Oh, I love classical music. Though to be honest modern classical is my favorite. "How about grits and coffee?" He inquired with a slight chuckle. Marissa could only laugh and shake her head. "I'm sorry." "This is horrible," he commented as a laugh slipped from him. "We'll have to see what we can do about that." "You'll find I'm not a very good student." She replied. "As much as I try." George winked at her. "You'll do fine." Their courtship had been long and wonderful. Marissa would take weekend trips to Winston-Salem where she and George would play golf at North Pines, or tour old southern towns nestled on the Piedmont. As often as possible, George took her along on his business trips to Europe. On one of those trips they stayed in the Latin Quarter in Paris. George waited until the sun began to set over the city, walked her to the balcony of their hotel room then put a diamond ring on her finger. Marissa buried her head in his shoulder and cried. They had a small, fabulous wedding ceremony near his mother's hometown of Charlotte. North met South on an elegant park lawn where huge awnings shaded lace covered tables, crystal vases held beautiful bouquets of lilac, daffodils, and sprigs of forsythia. A single red tulip had been placed in the center of each arrangement. The vases were surrounded by silver serving trays and fine china. Marissa's belongings were moved to George's house in Winston-Salem on the night of their wedding. Only then could they could finally live together. George's mother Mildred would have had it no other way. Her boy had been 'raised right'; George had honored her wishes. Marissa's father, though only a few years older than her husband, had wished them all the best and over the years her 'two old men', one born into wealth, one who had earned it, had become the closest of friends. Mildred had left Kannapolis after her husband's death several years before. Though George would have bought her any house she wanted, she picked out a simple house in the outlying town of Concord. Their commitment had been tested almost from the very beginning. They had only been married a few years when she was given the diagnosis of uterine cancer. The hysterectomy had saved her life, but had ended any chance of having children. George never mentioned his own sense of loss, though she had seen it in his eyes. To Marissa, he acted as though his joy at her recovery had been absolute; perhaps in many ways that had been true but she knew there was still 10
M. N. Norton something missing. Without a child in the house to spend their passions they indulged on each other, walking on the white sandy beaches in Hawaii, driving through the Black Forest in Germany or feeling the mists of Niagara Falls spray their faces. Footfalls coming up from behind ended her reverie and brought her back to the present. She turned around to see Katy walking toward her with a tray. "I'll go in Mrs. Sheldon, why don't you go ahead and get ready for breakfast? Abby has it on the table downstairs." She thought for a moment then nodded. "Thank you Katy, I think I will." Marissa walked back to the master bedroom and went slowly to the bathroom. She didn't feel the cold tiles under her feet as she removed her slippers or the water from the shower pour down her arm as she adjusted the temperature. Marissa looked in the mirror and wondered how many lines had worked their way into her face over the past two years. Old age would indeed come, but did it have to come so hard? She showered, put on her robe and went to the bedroom windows where she opened the drapes, giving light to what was to her a beautifully furnished yet lifeless room. She looked around at the soft pastels, and remembered how she had begged him to let her use more colorful patterns instead of the traditional whites and tans. She had fallen to her knees in mock humility to plead her case. The man who had grown up with nothing had wanted to give her everything. "I will leave it in your hands" he'd smiled and said as he pulled her up from the floor. Marissa heard a knock on the door. "Come in." As was customary, Katy only came part way into the room, her petite frame barely filling the small gap in the door. "Abby wants to know if everything is all right?" "Everything's fine, I'll be down shortly." She said quietly. "Would you tell Abby I'll have breakfast on the patio?" Katy nodded and closed the door, leaving Marissa to finish her thoughts. "God, I've got to get away from here." Marissa wore her pajamas to her morning meal; they were comfortable and the chances anyone from the bridge club would interrupt her didn't exist. No one interrupted her anymore, which suited her fine. The rear deck of the house was built over a sand dune and overlooked the swimming pool below. The table, placed in the center of the patio, gave a magnificent view of Currituck Sound. Marissa inhaled deeply as she felt the sun beating down on her face and a warm gentle breeze blow in from the sea. She had barely sat down and uncovered her plate when the phone rang. Katy's voice came from the adjoining room. "Mrs. Sheldon is having breakfast, may I take a message?" After a pause, "One moment please." Katy walked out to the patio and handed Marissa a portable phone. "It's your mother. She insists on talking with you." Marissa dropped her fork on the plate and took the phone. "Mother?" "Hi honey. Forgive the interruption but I wanted to let you know that your sister and I will be in the neighborhood this afternoon and we want to take you to dinner." "You're coming down from Virginia?" "Yes. It's a lovely day for a drive." "Why here though mother? There are hundreds of places to go for a drive." "Because I haven't seen you in almost a year and want to see how my oldest girl is doing," her mother answered in an assertive tone. Marissa stared at the table and pondered her mother's words before she answered. 11
A Death Without Malice 'How am I doing? I doubt you really want to know. In case you do, I'll tell you: I want to scream until the back of my throat burns as though it were on fire. I want to cry. I want to know how in the hell I'm supposed to deal with this? But to tell you the truth, I don't want you to care at all because if you did, and then said you loved me, the last wall I have guarding my emotions would crumble. Were everything that I feel to come to the surface at once, I could not possibly survive ' "I'm fine." She said, and hoped she sounded believable. "Will you be there around four?" her mother asked. Marissa picked up her fork and poked around on her plate. She didn't want to see her or anyone else, yet she didn't dare tell her mother the real reason she wanted her to stay away – she wasn't certain she knew herself. She crossed her fingers and hoped a cryptic response would be enough to dissuade her mother from coming down. "I'm terribly busy Mother, I'll have to think about it." The voice on the other end belonged to a woman who seldom backed down. On this occasion she was determined to have her way. "Make certain you're dressed to go out by the time we get there and you'll have less to think about." Marissa stared at the surf crashing against the shoreline as she pondered her dilemma. A single hand could count the number of times she'd seen her mother over the past two years. Something deep inside of her was desperate to see her again. More importantly, she wasn't up to a fight. "All right mother, four will be fine," she said submissively. "Good. We'll pick you up and drive back up here for dinner, my treat." "I'll see you then." "Okay, I'll let you get back to your breakfast. Goodbye." "Goodbye." Marissa hung up the phone and set it down beside her plate. Marissa finished breakfast and decided she couldn't delay the good morning to her husband any longer. She slowly climbed the stairs, feeling as though each step added ten pounds of weight to her legs. She didn't allow herself to stop at the door as she had earlier; she took a firm grip of the brass knob and turned it silently until the door opened. The endless drone of the respirator whispered in her ears as she walked into the room and cast her eyes upon the man in the hospital bed; the man she once felt she would love forever. George Sheldon was completely unaware of his wife's presence. He had lost all consciousness two years before when a reaction to an anesthetic during a simple operation had left him in a coma. The body of this once vivacious, athletic man had gradually withered. The tendons in his arms and legs had permanently contracted from lack of use; had there been a miracle and he had revived, his body would now be worthless. He had never thought to rule out extraordinary measures to save his life, and his mother had insisted that Marissa not pull the plug. The senior Mrs. Sheldon was not able to carry the burden of taking care of her unconscious son, nor had she wanted the guilt associated with telling the doctor to "let him go." So Marissa, still hopeful of a miraculous recovery, brought him home. She had helped change his sheets and roll him every four hours to prevent bedsores. She massaged his deteriorating muscles hoping to slow the atrophy. Yet, as the months went by she came to terms with the fact that there would probably be no recovery. She and Katy turned him constantly, applying ointments and bandages to keep his skin clean. Yet the massive, oozing bedsores appeared regardless. But something else lay hidden away in the recesses of her mind, something she had so far not told to anyone. An involuntary tear fell from her eye as she looked down at his pallid face and sunken cheeks. Not for the marriage that had died in an operating room two years ago, but for the spirited man he had been who was trapped inside this ugly, contorted shell. She imagined his frustration, as he tried to fight the oncoming darkness. Did he scream inside, as he felt his existence slipping away? Was he aware of the fact that he now lay there completely helpless with 12
M. N. Norton only a respirator and a feeding tube to keep him alive? Could God be so cruel as to let something deep inside him realize what he had become? What Marissa didn't realize as she watched her husband on the bed was that she too was falling into a world with no way out. There were no friends around to give her support or guidance, only Katy, who kept a watchful eye, but never gave advice. She bent down and kissed his forehead. "Good morning George." No movement, no sound. Not even a slowing in the constant hum of the respirator. Marissa opened the blinds. "I think some light would make you feel better, don't you?" The air being pumped into his lungs from the respirator gave its cold answer for him. Marissa pulled open the drapes and began to find little things to do around the room. A towel that needed folding, or adjusting a chair that was out of place. "Mother called. She and Anne are coming over in a little while. We may go out to dinner this evening." As her words made their way across the room, a memory from another place and time brought a feeling of guilt and sorrow that almost overwhelmed her. She walked over to the bed. "Do you remember our last dinner at that horrible little restaurant by the sea?" God, don't let these tears begin to fall. "You ate everything on your plate because you didn't want to offend that sweet old couple who had bought it." I don't want to live with this pain anymore. "And when I tried to leave the vegetables on my plate you smiled and said, 'Marissa, that would be unkind,' so I choked them down." Marissa's tears fell freely; she could no longer hold them in. "Then, when we left, you said you'd had a wonderful time. I knew you were lying and I loved you even more for it." Marissa fell into a chair beside the bed. "My god George, I know this isn't your fault. I just don't know what to do. I need to finally say goodbye and put our life to rest." She took the folded towel and wiped her face. "I don't know how much longer I can watch you die." Anne Campbell placed a small pillow on the coffee table so she could rest her feet then sat back on the sofa. She looked around at the old Colonial furniture, antiques and paintings. Anne was a modernist, she enjoyed the strong works of twentieth-century painters but her husband had asked for more conservative I. They entertained several times a year and he felt the house should have a rounded feel to it. The character of the room was pleasant enough so she didn't argue. She gazed at an original oil hanging over the fireplace depicting a scene of an old stone cottage in the country. Staring at the serene landscape made her eyelids unbearably heavy. "I have got to wake the hell up." She said as she pulled a throw over her bare legs. "Just a short doze, then I will." Sleep had almost overcome her when the phone rang. "Perfect," she said as she reached over and grabbed it. "Hello?" "Hi honey. I talked to your sister, she'll be ready around four o'clock." Anne was Marissa's junior by three years. At thirty-nine she was still an attractive, energetic redhead who had found more ways to get into trouble as an adult than she ever had as a child. Marissa had saved her life a thousand times in school when Anne's mouth got the better of her. In return, Anne had become as loyal a friend as Marissa had ever known. Anne rubbed her eyes to shake off her tiredness. "Okay, I'll pick you up around three. It won't take long to get there." "Why do you sound so tired?" Her mother asked. "Didn't you sleep well?" Anne crossed her feet under the throw. "No, I really didn't. Mark got sick during the night. I think he has a stomach flu." 13
A Death Without Malice "The poor boy. Give him a hug from Grandma and I'll see you a little later." "I will Mother. Goodbye." Anne thought she heard a noise from upstairs. "Where has the time gone?" she asked. She tossed aside her cover and climbed the stairs to her eleven-year-old son's room. Mark was her recluse, the one who liked to stay by himself and dream. He covered his walls with pictures of planets, moons and stars and promised himself he'd discover the secret to light speed. He was bright enough to do it. Anne opened the door to his room. He was lying under the covers with his eyes closed. She enjoyed watching her children sleep. It seemed to be the only time she could be with them and simply be at total peace. "You look so much like your father," she said as she stared at him. A smile suddenly broke on the boy's face. "Oh mom, you always say that." Anne went into the room and sat on his bed. "You little faker!" she started to tickle him. "You heard me on the stairs and probably hit the off button on the remote before I could catch you. Didn't you?" "No," the boy called through his giggles. "I was reading my comic book. I hid it under the blanket." Anne found the comic book and put it on his dresser. "It's a good thing you talked fast or I'd have had you screaming for mercy." She looked into his blue gray eyes. He wasn't as tall as his brother or sister. He'd end up an average height but a very attractive man. "You are so damned cute I can't believe it. I think the tooth fairy must have left you instead of money when your big sister lost her baby teeth." Mark blushed, and then tried to assume a knowledgeable air. "Boys are not cute. I'll never be able to go to school again if you tell my friends I'm cute." Anne laughed. "I'll swallow hot coals before I'll say you're cute in front of company." Mark pulled the cover over his head. She looked thoughtfully at the lump under the blanket. "I wonder if you'll ever know what good fortune brought us together my little love." She again smiled at the boy. "Go back to sleep until you're feeling better. I have to get ready to go see grandma and Aunt Marissa." Mark flung the blanket off his head. "Oh Mom I want to go too. I never get to see Marissa anymore. She's fun." She ruffled his hair and looked closely again at his face. He felt something in her stare, but was too young to understand what it might be. She grabbed his hand. "No honey, you have to stay here today. Maybe later we can all go down there and have a picnic or something. Okay?" An exaggerated look of disappointment crossed his face. "Okay fine." She kissed him on the head. "Gotcha." "Gotcha back. Jeez Mom, stop kissing me." Anne smiled and pulled the door shut behind her. She guessed he'd have the comic book back before she hit the bottom step.
" He motioned to the EMT. "Respiration's weak. "Any idea how long he's been unconscious?" he asked with a heavy German accent. Respirations were rapid and shallow. pulse 90. He'd decided to forgo the long walk to the hospital cafeteria in favor of eating his lunch in a small lounge next to the ER." Sanders was finishing an abdominal exam when a middle-aged physician walked into the room. You have a fourteen-year-old male found unconscious at the base of a tree. get the lab up here for blood. Medical College of Virginia Dr. demanded he remain so. some of the more extraordinary situations he had encountered. He was found by a couple driving down the street. He looked at the attending physician. have everything ready in case we need to ventilate him before they take him to Intensive Care. His fears were confirmed." Strauss accepted the chart from the ER nurse and started reading. He nodded to get her attention while carefully shining a light inside the young man's ears to check for bleeding. N. "The smiley face is for the kids. He was also one of the finest neurologists alive. When they're happy I get my job done." The ER nurse hit the pager while Sanders attempted to stabilize the boy on the table. CAT scan and EEG?" 15 .M. and a handsome face. Good to see you. as a neurologist. They both looked at the ambulance driver. "Unresponsive to verbal or physical stimulation. The lab tech caught his glance. Norton Emergency room. Sanders had eyes like a hawk." Strauss replied then again turned to Sanders. his shoulders were broad and muscular. blood pressure 116 over 70. Though Strauss was only average height. "Have you scheduled for MRI. "Twenty minute response time on our end but that's all we know. Strauss. He had impeccably styled light brown hair with some gray at the edges. Parents said he'd been away from home for a little over an hour." "Yes doctor. "Dr. "What are we drawing for?" A complete blood work-up post-trauma. "Get someone from neurology up here. Fortunately for a young man coming in. "Janet. Administer glucose and thiamin as soon as he's hooked up to IV. type and cross-match." He moved to the table." A third nurse came into the room." "What was his condition when you found him?" Strauss asked as his eyes focused back on the chart. I suspect this one will go into the study group. No helmet. As soon as the young man had been transferred to a bed in an examination room Sanders opened his eyelids and glanced at his pupils. "Start giving this nurse the details. Before he'd reached the gurney he saw the scabs of dried blood on top of the boy's head and the base of his nostrils. Strauss looked curiously at the smiley face painted on the side of the pail. I think Strauss is on call. pupils dilated and reactive. His bicycle was under him and we suspect he hit the tree head on. Gerhard Strauss was a Viennese neurologist who had entered his mid forties as a gracious and well-read man." A male lab technician came in with a lab tray. Sanders glanced up briefly. that decision had allowed him to arrive outside the examination room simultaneously with the paramedics who were wheeling a critically injured boy through the entrance. Steven Sanders had just taken a bite of a day old ham and cheese sandwich when his pager went off.
As soon as he sat down the mother dried her eyes and looked at him. Though his face was lined with worry. if his parents agree. Start him on fifty-five grams of Mannitol IV. "No previous history of seizure or any other chronic medical condition. Total score is eight. Billy pushed his arm toward the doctor as his eyes opened for just a moment. I think his chances will be good." Sanders nodded then tightly pinched some skin just above the boy's elbow. Very soon. We stabilize and call neurology. A nurse had finished preparing him for his move to ICU. What's the boys name?" Sanders stepped to the other side of the bed. Strauss would have to direct his questions to the father and avoid upsetting the mother any further if possible. Billy." The man stood up and shook hands. the EMT answered. Then hopefully we will be able to start arousal therapy after he's stabilized. The mother is pretty shook up. If we can prevent or at least minimize a secondary injury to his brain." Sanders nodded. He held out his hand.A Death Without Malice "I was waiting for you to get here. the intracranial pressure will start to build." Strauss began his own examination. They call him Billy. Note bilateral decorticate posturing. "No response. A soft voice would do one of two things to the mother. "Excuse me Mr." "Please sit down. You are in a hospital but you will be all right. "My name is Gerhard Strauss. Thank you for notifying us so quickly." The couple looked up at him. "We'll start with the Glasgow Coma Scale." Strauss took a last look at the boy. he seemed to want to cry yet no sound came from his mouth. then have him moved to the Intensive Care Unit. Strauss took note of the heavy calluses. Strauss rubbed the boy's head." He moved closer to the boy's ear and shouted. "Billy. Eye Opening score will be E 2. "This is unfortunate." he said then held the boys head in his hands so he could look closely at his eyes. he was doing his best to stifle his own apprehension and comfort his wife. it will make a difference. "Is he going to be all right? They said he wasn't conscious when they brought him in. I have to explain what it is that we want to do. Details on what he was about to propose would have to be kept simple and in the most positive light. "That will be fine." He spoke gently to the unconscious boy. I'm the neurologist that was called in to examine your son. Strauss. "Will you be putting him in the study group?" "Yes. 16 . "It's vital we try to prevent a secondary injury." The nurse finished filling out the evaluation form. Strauss suspected he'd been called at work and told about the accident. "Please note that there is no ocular swelling to prevent eye opening. He seemed relieved at the outcome. this is Dr. He watched the father for just a moment. Either she wouldn't hear him and he could discuss Billy's prognoses with the father without interruption. wake up!" There was still no response." The doctor spoke very quietly. He found Billy's parents sitting a brightly lit corner of the waiting room. Localized response for Motor score is M 5." Strauss nodded and left the room. Strauss looked at the nurse. "William Humboldt. "Where are his parents?" "They're out in the waiting room. Let's try painful stimulation. I want you to open your eyes. "Billy." After a moment. He hoped for the latter as she could then be an active part of the boy's treatment. every decision after that is yours. Please get them scheduled. And Mrs. Has a history been done?" Again. The mother was indeed distraught. "Excellent." Strauss nodded. or she would want to hear what he had to say and have to calm herself down in order to listen. He pulled a chair away from the wall so he could address them directly. Humboldt. Best Verbal Response will be V 1. We can finish our work up on him there. The father was a small man with dusty work clothes." "Thank you. He walked up to them.
"Billy is in the Intensive Care Unit. I have worked with these patients for fifteen years. pneumonia. Humboldt. But there is a chance we can bring him out of his coma much sooner and with much less permanent damage to his system. It's very important that you keep a positive attitude and work with us to help your son. However." The father spoke for them both." The father nodded. We will use a number of stimulation techniques to try to wake him up. Once he is beyond that stage. so he put it straight on the table. "You said this would be painful. the mother was still uncertain. reading him stories. I'll have the nurse bring in the papers. He will have a lifetime of near agony instead of the few weeks of discomfort that I am proposing for him here. "Thank you. He continued to talk in a slow even tone." The doctor guessed the father was ready to begin. some of them painful others." She nodded then buried her head into her husband's shoulder. N. Gerhard didn't acknowledge her reaction. "It is possible that he will slowly regain some level of awareness on his own. I want to start arousal therapy. "Doctor. "If he stays in a comatose or vegetative state for an extended period of time his arms and legs will lock up permanently. not so. Then you should go home and rest until tomorrow. If we don't move forward. "Billy has received a fairly serious head injury. if he can hear you he needs to." the father said. many other things increase as well. I would suggest you come up and see him afterward so you will know that he's being given good care. The mother put her hand over her mouth and let out a cry." Mr. the next six to twelve hours are critical as your son is at risk of a secondary injury which will force him deeper and deeper into unconsciousness. This will include both you and your wife talking to him. organ failure. the chances for him to experience seizures. Norton "Please do not take what I have to say too seriously at this point. Let me emphasize that it is only a chance. And as sorry as I am to say it in this way. "How bad is it?" he asked. Humbolt. "We will have some information for you to read tonight that will help explain things.M. you have to understand that pain may be the only stimulus he will respond to. his wife only stared as he continued. "Billy is in a coma. To do so I need your permission to include him in a study that is currently underway at this university. He leaned toward her. I'll agree to anything if you think it will help my son." She seemed afraid to hear what he had to say." Strauss stood up to leave." Mr. My best advice is for you to take turns working with him here or you will both be exhausted. Strauss forged ahead." Strauss nodded. "Allow me to tell you how much pain he'll be in if we do not bring him out of this before his body starts to atrophy. I care for them a great deal and I would never ask if I weren't certain this would help him in the end. 17 . There was no easy way to tell any parent their child was critically ill. What do you mean?" "Mrs. We have to convince him that he needs to wake up. "He can hear us?" "That is almost impossible to say because we have not yet assessed how severe the damage to his brain is." He was certain she was going to have a hard time agreeing to the treatment. we can never be sure." "I'll sign them. He will never use them normally again. She was being asked to give her son over to something she did not understand. "Mrs." The father tried to ward off his confusion." He said with as little emotion as possible. Gerhard pursed his lips as he answered. The staff here will use other methods. "Let me explain before you agree too hastily. massaging his arms and legs. Humboldt turned his gaze toward the door of the waiting room. Even so. Humbolt stood up and shook hands. making certain to look into her eyes." The mother raised her head. this sort of thing.
" Gerhard again stared down the hallway. Wilfried was a serious looking man in his mid fifties who would be one of a contingent of foreign physicians attempting to arouse Billy." 18 ." Ah. dark haired researcher met him as he exited the elevator." Strauss left Billy's parents with an ER nurse and made his way to the elevator. we can begin stimulation therapy on this boy as soon as he's stabilized.A Death Without Malice "We'll be up there shortly doctor." Wilfried nodded. "English Wilfried." he continued." Gerhard paused as he stared at the floor." He looked at his watch." "You're very welcome." Gerhard patted him on the back. "Yes. I think we'll be ready. Strauss walked over to him "Wilfried. gut. English. Gerhard looked down the hall toward the unit where they would work on Billy Humbolt. "Put a cooling helmet on his head and induce hypothermia. No one will know what you're talking about. "An Intracranial pressure monitor needs to be inserted and he needs to be started on Mannitol and Methylprednisolone. "Schedule Evoked Potentials. "We will begin with median nerve stimulation once the risk of a secondary injury has passed. and thank you. Wir haben…" His colleague smiled and held a finger to his mouth. I wish you the best. A thin. "I estimate four hours thirty minutes before we see indications of a secondary injury." "Anti-seizure medication?" Wilfried asked. Carbamazepine. Once inside he pressed the button that would take him up to ICU. EEG and MRI. "Let's hope he can tolerate the treatment.
M. N. Norton
By four o'clock Marissa had dressed for company. She'd chosen a simple but attractive white silk blouse, black slacks and a light jacket. It would do for all of the decent restaurants and a few of the better ones. The front doorbell rang as she was finishing her hair. She hurriedly put in a comb and grabbed her purse. A combined feeling of remorse and elation surged through her as she passed the adjoining bedroom. She forced the thoughts out of her mind and stepped quickly down the winding staircase toward the entryway. Her mother and sister were coming inside. "Mother, Anne, it's wonderful to see you." Marissa hugged her mother a little tighter than she intended. She released her mother and looked into her eyes. "It's good to see you mother, I'm sorry I was so distant on the phone. How are you?" Though notorious for her sense of humor, Josie wore a solemn face as she stood back and looked at Marissa. "I'm fine honey. Your fathers as crabby as ever, says the whole country is going to hell, but you know him. How are you?" Marissa's first answer came from deep inside and remained unspoken. Please don't ask. Just give me a hug and let the rest be. She tried to stop the reaction before it mirrored on her face. "I'm looking forward to a nice long evening out on the town." Mrs. Elgin nodded, a glimpse of a smile on her face. "We'll have as long an evening as an old woman can handle. How's that?" "Better than you think." Marissa felt a laugh come from inside her, a short, yet wonderful laugh. "Anne and I will be angels, I promise." Mrs. Elgin took each daughter by the arm. "All right girls, where shall we go? " Anne took the lead. "Marissa, there's a fantastic new restaurant near the seashore in Virginia Beach. A Frenchman owns it and he has the most gorgeous eyes you've ever seen." Anne missed the quick stab of pain that shot across her older sister's face when she mentioned the restaurant by the sea. Marissa looked down as she answered. "That sounds like a good place Anne Belle." Anne nodded toward the doorway. "Madam, to my car." Marissa held the door while her mother and sister walked out into the late afternoon sun. With a final glance at the top of the stairs, she closed it behind them. The stark beauty of the barren coastal region that had captured Marissa's heart the first time she saw it. She and George had decided to take a scenic route back to Winston-Salem after a weekend visit with Anne and her family, which led them down the causeway, near the Outer Banks on the way home. George was born and raised in North Carolina and though he'd had a childhood affinity for the coast, he had no idea the profound affect its rustic beauty would have on his inland born wife. As they drove through the tiny community of Knott's Island she said with absolute conviction, 'George, we're building our summer house right here'. Marissa had a large parcel of property picked out and the plans for the house on the drawing board by the end of the next week. Of the many impulsive decisions she'd made over the years, this was one of the few she'd never regretted. Once it became clear that George would need a great deal of care, she 19
A Death Without Malice sold their large house in Winston-Salem and brought him home to the peace and serenity of the bay. As Marissa expected, Anne had parked directly in front of the door, which blocked the driveway but made it a short walk down the steps to the car. Marissa got in the back seat of her sister's dark blue Mercedes as her mother and sister climbed in the front. "How are the kids?" Marissa asked. Anne thought about the time that stepped between the two sisters and how much they had drifted apart. What they were then and how far they had gone. "You wouldn't know them Marissa." Anne said as she turned around. Marissa saw a sense of loss in Anne's eyes. She wasn't ready for the conversation behind them. "Have they invented back seat air bags yet?" "Hah! You won't need one. Let's go." Anne had never lost an intense passion for fast cars. She revved the engine and shot down the driveway. She barely slowed down before turning right onto the Marsh Causeway Road heading north toward Virginia Beach. For Anne there was nothing but wide-open space and only a few cars in front of her. They had only driven a short distance before Anne addressed her older sister. "Marissa, we are going to have a blast. There will be no middle aged, over the hill shit tonight." "Anne!" A commanding voice came from the passenger seat. "Sorry Mother." Marissa laughed. "How does Frank put up with you?" Anne held her hand to her mouth. "I'll bet you'll figure it out." Mrs. Elgin looked over the top of her glasses and turned toward Anne. "Don't think I don't know what you're talking about." As the laughter died down Anne pointed out toward the seashore. There, the one that's lit up like a Christmas tree." One half mile in the distance they could see an array of lights on the face of a small building. It looked almost like a beacon as it stood against the shore of the sea. "I've been there before. But it wasn't a French restaurant. George and I went there a long time ago. When did it change?" Marissa asked. "About six months ago," Anne said passively. Anne pulled into the parking lot and started looking for an empty space. She finally found a spot at the far end of the lot. The three got out of the car and started walking toward the restaurant. "Are you sure we'll find a table Anne? This parking lot is almost full." "Oh hell yes. I made reservations last week." Marissa stopped in her tracks. She stared in disbelief at her sister. "How did you know we'd be coming?" Anne looked pleadingly at her mother. Mrs. Elgin took a moment to compose her thoughts before she answered her daughter's question. "You have worked very hard to make certain we won't pry too deeply into your personal life and I respect that. And though I might be just this side of senile I think I understand why." Mrs. Elgin took Marissa's arm. "I'll leave you to deal with what God has handed you in your own way, but I'll be damned if I won't get you out of that tomb once in a while even if I have to use covert tactics to do it. Understood?" Marissa could only nod. "Good. Let's go inside and enjoy our dinner."
M. N. Norton The front of the restaurant was styled after a French chalet, dressed in festive colored blue, clear and red lights. Marissa looked at the design for a moment, then laughed and nudged Anne. "It's the French tri-color you budding genius. Christmas tree. Jeez." Anne stuck her tongue out and smiled. They walked single file through a heavy oak door and into the entryway where a young man clad in a tuxedo greeted them. His accented voice could barely be heard over the crowd. "Your name please?" Josie came forward. "Our reservation is under the name of Elgin. Mrs. Robert Elgin." The maitre d bowed took three menus from the stand. "Please follow me." Anne walked beside Marissa and smiled. They were seated at a round corner table covered with a white linen cloth. A strawberry scented candle burned brightly in the center. Marissa moved around the table to the corner so she could sit with her back to the wall. Marissa looked around the restaurant as her sister and mother adjusted their chairs. Though she had been inside this room before, there were few similarities to what it had been. She could see the care the owner had taken with the decor. Delicate crystal chandeliers illuminated copies of the best of the Impressionist painters. Renoir, Degas, and Van Gogh hung on the dark stained walls. Near her table, she saw one of her favorites, La Grenouillere by Monet. Under each painting and neatly spaced throughout the room were tables and chairs made of handcrafted wood. "This is beautiful Anne." "Frank invited some colleagues and their wives out for a business dinner and I fell in love with it. I've been here a dozen times since." Marissa felt the warmth of the atmosphere and settled into her chair. "I'm glad you brought me." Anne stared at her sister for a moment. The same strain her mother had seen in Marissa's eyes was painfully obvious. Yet Anne believed some things were best left unspoken. "Me too, now let's get some drinks." A tall waiter, also of French descent arrived with a wine list. Anne reached out to take it and held his glance. "I say we have a carafe of wine before dinner, and then we'll choose an appropriate wine to have with the meal." Ann had only gotten part way down the list when Marissa saw a man with dark hair and dark brown eyes approaching the table. He looked tired, yet gracious and though he wasn't an Adonis by any standard, he had a charismatic appeal that was unmistakable. He spoke with a heavy French accent. "Anne, it is good to see you." He turned to the others. "Mrs. Elgin, you look as beautiful as ever." "Thank you Armand." She smiled. "And tell me, this is your other daughter?" He held out his hand as Marissa looked into his eyes. From out of some hidden room deep inside her, an emotion poured forth that was almost overpowering. It was an emotion she hadn't felt for years. It was also an emotion she wasn't sure she could feel again. "This is my daughter Marissa." "I'm pleased to meet you," she said. "The pleasure is indeed mine. I'm glad you could join us this evening." Marissa quickly removed her hand from his. The man in the bed at home would never understand, nor should he be expected to. Armand smiled and tipped his head. "I have to go. If I don't see you again before you leave, please enjoy yourselves." Marissa felt a sense of relief as he went back toward the kitchen. "Was I telling you the truth or what? That man is to die for." "Yes he's very attractive. Now what's on the wine list?" 21
A Death Without Malice Anne handed her the sheet. While Marissa looked over the selection, Anne glanced at her mother and smiled. They ordered an excellent veal cordon bleu served with steamed rice, and onion soup. Toward the end of the meal, Marissa took her mother's hand as she started feeling the effects of the wine "I miss seeing you." She said softly. Her mother cupped Marissa's hand in between her own. "Is there something we can do about that?" Marissa looked down at the table, she could feel the tears coming to the back of her eyes. "I don't know how to let you in to my world anymore." "What's stopping you?" Marissa paused before she spoke, not quite certain how honest she wanted to be. "I guess I don't want to drag you down into my own misery." Anne shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Some conversations were better conducted without witnesses and this was one of them. There was no way she could get up from the table and not interrupt her mother and sister so she tried to make herself invisible. Mrs. Elgin looked compassionately at her daughter. "Marissa, why do you assume you can?" Marissa shrugged her shoulders. "Do you think I'm too old to handle the strain?" "I think I'm afraid to find out," she whispered. "If I reached out to another human being I'd be forced to admit to how unhappy I really am." "Have you talked to George's mother lately?" She asked gently. "Maybe it's time for her to come to grips with reality." Marissa shook her head. "She doesn't call anymore. Mother, I have got to talk about something else. Please." Mrs. Elgin looked into her daughter's eyes. She wanted desperately to probe deeper yet knew it could be disastrous to push too far. "All right." Anne decided this was an excellent opportunity to change the subject. "Listen, there's a concert at Town Point Park in Norfolk in three days. The show begins at ten in the morning with a variety of classical composers and ends at around two in the afternoon. Frank has to work and I need a babysitter. What do you say?" "I don't know Anne, I'm not very good company." "I didn't ask if you were. I said I needed a babysitter." Marissa thought for a moment then smiled. "Why not? We might have a good time." Anne tousled Marissa's hair, "we will." The waiter placed their bill on the table and walked away. Marissa took one last look at the dining room as her mother reached for her purse. Her eyes settled on the kitchen door. Marissa was about to turn away when Armand came from the kitchen. She tried to avert her stare, but he caught her eye and held her gaze. "Mother, I'm going out to the car." Mrs. Elgin looked curiously at Marissa. "We'll only be a minute. Are you sure you don't want to wait? Marissa shook her head. "No, I need some air. I'll see you outside." To Marissa, walking out the door and toward the car was an act of emotional suicide. To leave behind a sensation that again made her feel like a desirable woman was devastating. Yet it was an emotion she could not act on. She leaned against the car and let the cool sea breeze blow across her face. A few minutes later Anne and her mother joined her. "Where the hell did you go so fast?" Anne asked. Marissa smiled and stared at the pavement. "I'm tired Anne, I had to get some air. The wine must be getting to me." 22
M. N. Norton Anne shrugged her shoulders and unlocked the doors. "Climb in oh tired one. I'll take you home." The drive back was quiet. As the road signs on the dark highway passed by Marissa thought about what had happened in the restaurant. She could still feel the sensation of his touch on her hand. Feeling safe to re-live the memory in the backseat of Anne's car, she closed her eyes and dreamed of what it would be like to be taken by a man she barely knew, yet was so strongly drawn to. Marissa kissed Anne and her mother goodbye outside the house. She opened the front door and caught the scent of the sick room in the entryway. Katy came down to meet her. "Katy, have you noticed a smell in the house? Is that from George's room?" Katy's eyes said more than her words ever would. "It is Mrs. Sheldon. It's been here since I came over a year ago. I think you just haven't been outside long enough to notice the difference when you come back in." Marissa didn't have an answer. The thought that she been locked inside the house to the point that she couldn't even smell an odor stunned her. Katy clapped her hands together. "Perhaps we can open the windows tomorrow and air it out a bit. I'm sure that will help." Marissa nodded. "I think we should. I'm going to say good night to George. I'll see you at breakfast." She went upstairs and opened the door to George's room. Katy had left only one light on, a softly burning nightlight that barely illuminated George in his bed. He seemed less sick somehow under that light. The shadows hid his deformities and if she imagined hard enough, he almost looked normal. Being with George under the glow of the nightlight was the only time of the day she didn't mind being there. "How are you George?" She walked over to the chair near the bed. "We had a wonderful dinner. Mother and Anne took me that restaurant you and I used to eat at. But it's a French restaurant now." She found herself wanting to avoid any more detail about the restaurant and her reaction to its owner. "Mother is fine and Anne looks great. She still drives like a maniac." Marissa let out a giggle, "I don't know who she bribed in order to get a driver's license, but I'm certain it was somebody." She sat back in the chair and rested her feet on the bed frame. "Oh George," she laughed, "do you remember when Anne had to drive you to the airport? You calmly said 'Anne, I think this trip would be easier on us both if you tried to at least keep it down to the legal speed limit'. And she answered back 'If you hadn't gotten out the door late, I wouldn't be in such a hurry.'" She took off her shoes and put her stocking feet under the mattress. "I think that was the only time in eighteen years she managed to get the last word with you." Marissa put her head back and stared at the shadows on the ceiling. "Anne and I are going to a concert at the end of the week. She promises a fun filled day of open air and wonderful music." She wiggled her toes under the mattress, wondering if he would somehow know she was there. "I'll bring the program home with me and tell you what we listened to. Maybe I'll have Katy bring a portable stereo in here so you can listen to some music as well. You used to love classical music so much." Marissa closed her eyes. Either the wine or the excitement of the evening made her more tired than she'd imagined. She soon fell asleep in the chair beside his bed, which is where Katy found her early the next morning.
A Death Without Malice
Medical College of Virginia, ICU Gerhard Strauss walked unceremoniously into Billy Humbolt's room and looked around him. To the untrained eye, the young man in the bed looked more like someone in a horror movie than a patient in the Intensive Care Unit. He had been put on a respirator shortly after his arrival at the ICU. Mechanical ventilation would keep the Carbon dioxide levels low, allowing the distal vessels to expand and carry away excess fluid from his brain. If all went well they could remove the respirator after three days. If fate turned against the young man, they would have to do a tracheotomy; cut a hole at the base of his throat where an attachment for a more permanent respirator would be inserted. An IV catheter would remain in his arm until shortly before he left the hospital to keep him hydrated thus acting as the main pathway for the multiple medications he would receive. Monitors that kept track of his heart rate, breathing and cerebral perfusion pressure were critical in noting any sudden, and potentially life threatening, changes in his condition. The nasogastric tube leading from his nose to his stomach would be used for feeding. Sequential compression stockings were on his legs to help stop blood clots. His head was properly elevated to 30 degrees to allow gravity to assist in draining excess fluid from his brain. A large head bandage was barely visible under the cooling helmet. The small tube running under the bandage led to an intracranial pressure monitor. Any substantial increase in the amount of pressure from swelling in the boy's brain could lead to a secondary injury. Those injuries were by far the most dangerous for anyone in a coma and where exactly what Gerhard and his team were most anxious to prevent. Electrodes inside the tube had been placed into his brain through a small hole in his skull. Gerhard heard footsteps walking quietly up behind him. He turned to see Billy's mother come into the room. Maggie Humboldt's shoulders were slumped over from a lifetime of hard work and poverty. Her hair had long since turned gray; the deep creases in her skin had come years before they should have. Her simple cotton dress was spotless, but from the faded colors he could tell it had seen many seasons. She appeared to be at a loss for words. "All comatose patients look this way at first Mrs. Humboldt," Gerhard said quietly, "but very soon we will hopefully be able to remove most of this equipment." She stared at her son in disbelief; each beep of the monitors and movement of the respirator worked their way into her own nervous system until very slowly, she realized that her son was in the bed, and that he might die. What few hopes she held in life rested mainly with her children; one of them was now critically ill. 24
M. N. Norton "We have seven children at home," she said with a sense of pride and yet with a hint of sadness. "Billy's second to the youngest." "He looks like a wonderful young man." He took her by the arm and gently guided her over to the bed. "You can talk to him if you'd like to. I'm certain he can hear you." She moved toward her son, and then stopped and turned toward Strauss. He suspected she was frightened to move in a room full of equipment that was so completely alien to her. The suspicion was confirmed. "I don't want to touch anything Doctor, I'm afraid to get too close." Gerhard shook his head and smiled. "These machines are very stable. The nurses must come here all the time to check on him, don't worry." Maggie nodded then cautiously reached out for Billy's hand. "Do you know?" She stammered. "Do you know how long"? Gerhard was cautious in his reply. He was certain that though Billy was physically unable to respond, his heart rate had consistently fluctuated in reaction to the noises around him. Strauss wanted every word that was said within his hearing to be positive… regardless of the potential outcome. "I'm certain he will wake up soon Mrs. Humboldt." He said with enthusiasm. "He is stable and tomorrow we will begin treatments." Gerhard's words had a glowing affect on the boy's mother. Her voice in turn grew lighter. "Thank you doctor," she smiled. Strauss watched as the numbers on the heart monitor began to drop. Whatever thoughts that were playing themselves out in the boy's mind, be they fear, pain or a myriad of others, his mother's voice was having a calming affect. "Go ahead and visit," he said softly. "I'm sure he's anxious to hear your voice." She nodded timidly then turned toward her son. "Your mama's here Billy, I'm going to be with you for a while." Gerhard watched for a moment, silently grateful that Billy had her for a mother. Many others wouldn't even try. They were simply unable to watch their loved ones suffer. "Were you given the pamphlets that explain what's wrong with Billy and what we will be doing with him?" Gerhard asked. "I come from simple folk doctor. I tried to read it but I don't understand those things. I just pray he'll be all right." Gerhard nodded his head. "There's a young resident here from the city of Vicksburg. I'm going to send him down to visit with you." A slight smile came to Maggie's face. "Vicksburg's a fine town. I went there once when I was a little girl. That'd be nice doctor, thank you." "I'll be just down the hall if you need anything," he said gently, "stay as long as you'd like." "I will." Gerhard went into the physicians lounge and found a young resident reading a journal on neurology. He was just the man Gerhard had hoped to find. "William, may I speak with you for a moment?" he asked. The younger doctor stopped what he was doing. The man talking to him was not only one of the top physicians in the field; he was one of four neurologists in charge of the Traumatic Brian Injury study at the university. When Strauss talked, it behooved young residents to pay attention. "Yes sir, what can I do for you?" Strauss sat down at the table and folded his hands together. "Billy Humboldt's mother is with him now," he said casually. "She is going to need a great deal of explanation as to what is taking place with her son." William closed the journal and looked at the senior neurologist. "How is he doing?" he asked 25
A Death Without Malice "If we can avoid a secondary injury during the next twenty-four hours, I think he will be fine," Gerhard said without emotion. "But that's not what I want you to discuss with her. She needs to be told what she can expect over the next few weeks as well as a list of possible complications that may occur over Billy's lifetime." William pursed his lips, thinking he understood what was being asked of him. "I can gather the pamphlets and take them to her…" "No," Strauss said quickly. "She will never comprehend them." Confusion came to the resident's face. Gerhard continued. "She is from the South, as are you. I would like you to sit down with her and explain what is going to happen in a way she can understand." Gerhard finished his thought before the resident could take offense at what he may have considered an insult. "I would do so if I understood her culture William. That is something I have yet to learn. For her it is ingrained just as it would be for a woman in her circumstance in Austria." Gerhard paused for a moment then continued. "In that situation, it would be appropriate for you to make the same request of me." The young neurologist was beginning to see his point. "Part of our work here is to put this family at ease. That can only be done by reaching out to them," he paused "they do not know how to reach out to us." The younger doctor stood up. "I'll go down there right now." Gerhard gave him a nod of approval. "Good," he said as though hearing a correct response from a medical student. The resident had no sooner left the room than Wilfried entered and set a chart down on the table. "A patient in the study group is not doing well," he said with apprehension. Wilfried had the habit of taking on an air of absolute determination when faced with a problem. Gerhard saw that look on his face now. "Which one?" he asked as Wilfried sat down beside him. "Carol D'Behr," he answered. Carol D'Behr was a strawberry blond cocktail waitress who had been brought into the Emergency Room at 2:30 that morning. She'd had several drinks after closing a popular sailor's bar in downtown Norfolk. Her head had gone through the windshield of her red sedan after it plowed into a phone pole while doing over fifty miles an hour. She'd hit the windshield with such force surgery was required immediately after she was brought in to remove the shards of her skull from her brain tissue. She had no friends or family who could sign for her when she was admitted. She'd been placed in the study group through the attending physician. Wilfried had been the neurologist on call and had overseen the neurological end of her treatment. He had used every tool at his disposal to prevent brain swelling. Nothing was working. They were now preparing to remove part of her skull to allow for the expansion of her brain tissue. The doctors were fighting against a vicious cycle. As the brain swells inside the cranial cavity, it becomes its own worst enemy. Autoregulation forces dilation of the vessels needed to drain the excess fluid. Because there is not enough blood flow to remove the excess fluid, the brain merely enlarges its own tissue. This function, in turn, causes an even greater increase in the intracranial pressure. Carol D'Behr's brain had swollen to the point that it was now forcing itself down onto her brainstem. Wilfried had cause for his concern. He tapped the table as he spoke. "I want to try high dose Pentobarbital." Gerhard shook his head. "No, she's too critical. We need to increase her blood pressure, not lower it." Barbiturate therapy was under close scrutiny among the top neurosurgeons. It was, at best, considered a last ditch effort when all else had failed. Gerhard looked objectively at the man across from him. "To induce an even deeper coma at this stage may cause death." 26
M. N. Norton Wilfried considered options for treatment, he could think of no others. He pointed to her most recent monitor reading. "Her cerebral perfusion pressure is 45 mmHg, her intracranial pressure is 15. As this situation stands, she will die regardless." Gerhard sat back in his chair. The pressure being exerted on Carol D'Behr's skull was daunting. Irreparable and widespread damage to her brain tissue had undoubtedly already taken place. "When is her craniotomy scheduled?" He asked. Wilfried looked down at his watch. "She is being taken into surgery now," he replied. Gerhard gave a great deal of thought to the question now before him. "I think you should increase the dosage of Mannitol first," he said quietly. "Use temporary hyperventilation during and after surgery. As soon as possible, attempt drainage through the ventricular catheter. Wait six hours to see if that will be enough," he paused as he considered his last thought. "If the ICP has not fallen by that time, then use Pentobarbital." Wilfried nodded and stood up. "I'll talk to the anesthetist."
On the morning of the concert, Marissa found herself rummaging through her closet trying to find something she wanted to wear and wondering why she had agreed to go. She finally pulled a short-sleeve, dark-green silk blouse and pair of slacks from a hanger and decided that would have to be good enough. She started to dress and prayed the alarm wouldn't sound before Anne came and they could drive away. Anne rang the doorbell then let herself inside. "Marissa, where the hell are you? We have to go!" Marissa came to the head of the stairs. She was struggling to fasten the buttons on her blouse, which hugged her figure beautifully. "I have to say good morning to George then I'll be ready to go." Marissa turned to leave then stopped and looked back at her sister. "Do you want to say hi?" Anne heard an undertone that she was certain was more akin to pleading than asking. The answer was quick. "Of course I would." She didn't have the courage to watch him die or to tell Marissa how deeply her love for him had gone. She only went toward the stairs now because her sister needed her. Anne met Marissa at the top of the stairs. A feeling of relief seemed to come over Marissa, whether from not having to face George alone or knowing someone else would come into her world for a while, she couldn't tell. They walked to George's room arm in arm. "It's bad Anne, I need to let you know that." Anne stared at her and nodded, thinking that if a warning was necessary before she went in, she might not be ready for what was behind the bedroom door. The acrid smell of the sick room immediately entered Anne's nostrils as Marissa opened the door. Anne hadn't seen George in over a year; she had only to look inside to find that she was in no way prepared for what was lying in the bed. Her first instinct was to turn and leave. The image before her represented a memory she would rather live without. "God Marissa, how do you live with this?" She stood firm until Marissa gently guided her over to the bed. Anne was stunned at how tightly his arms had locked themselves into his chest. 27
A Death Without Malice Marissa tried to smile. "We visit. Talk about things. It helps." She gazed knowingly at Anne. She sees it. She feels the pain in the room and knows there's nothing she can do about it. She knows we are all trapped in this hell together until someone finds the courage to walk over to the respirator and turn it off. As hard as Anne wanted to start a conversation, she found the words continually locked up in her throat. 'How do I talk to the body of a man that happens to be a man I loved?' She thought to herself. She struggled to break the silence. "Hey Georgie, how you doing?" She could stand to look at his uncomprehending face for only a moment before she had to look away. "I'm kidnapping your wife for the day. We're going to a concert. Strauss, Mozart, Chopin, it'll be wonderful" Again, there was only the cold lifeless voice of the respirator. Her stomach wrenched at the endless movement of the billow and the feeding tube going into her brother-in-law's stomach. As soon as she looked into Marissa's eyes, she understood why Marissa needed her there. She went over to her and held her. As Anne hugged her sister, she could feel an underlying tension that caused a slight tremble. She suspected Marissa had a volcano waiting to explode inside of her. Anne had no idea how to give her comfort, or explore the reasons for Marissa's behavior. She doubted she had the strength to find out. Anne squeezed Marissa tightly. "Do you know how badly I wish George was coming too?" Marissa nodded. "Let's go." Anne took one final look at the man in the bed. They left the room and closed the door. As soon as they drove away from the house, Marissa felt life coming back to her. "Oh, Anne. I'm so glad you talked me into going." "All this for classical music?" Anne laughed. "This is going to feel like a trip to Carnegie Hall." Anne thought for a moment before replying. Her comment took Marissa by surprise. "What do you say we stop by Armand's for dinner? Just you and me." "Well…I don't know. The food there was great but I planned on being home for dinner." Anne shook her head. "No, I think I'm keeping you out tonight." Marissa was caught between a strong desire to see Armand again and the knowledge that she, of all people, should not go there. Anne took full advantage of her indecisiveness. "Yep, we're going." Marissa sat back in her seat and smiled. "Oh what the hell." "Good. Now, the concert starts at ten but breaks at noon for lunch." Anne saw the City Hall exit and turned on her signal. "Hey, let's go shopping at MacArther mall after the concert." Marissa felt the years fall away when she saw the marquee. If for only a little while, she wanted them to stay away. "I haven't been shopping in so long Anne," she reached over and rubbed her shoulder. "Thank you." Anne honked her horn at the car directly in front of her. "Get the hell out of the way buddy" "I'm hiding under the dash," Marissa laughed. "He'll move." Anne pointed to the parking garage on Waterside Drive. "It's perfect. That puts us right near the park and it's a straight shot back to the mall when we're done." Anne found a parking place on the second level of the garage then grabbed the lightweight blanket they would sit on. They got out of the car and made their way to Waterside Drive. As they walked toward the Elizabeth River Marissa took Anne's arm. "Look at the sun shining on the water, isn't it beautiful?" Anne held off on the clever remarks and allowed Marissa to enjoy the view. 28
M. N. Norton They passed the Waterside Mall, entered the pathway leading to the park and worked their way through the crowd until they managed to find a place that was commonly known as 'center, center' in an auditorium. The park itself was a large, flat, grassy area with a stage set against the water where several festivals and events took place year round in Norfolk. Anne spread the blanket on the cool grass as Marissa looked behind her toward the street. "I'm going to get a soda Anne, would you like one?" Anne sat on one side of the blanket. "I'll have a coffee instead." "I'll be right back," Marissa said as she turned and made her way toward the concession stands. Marissa could hear the violins warming up as she stood in line. As a high note resonated through the air, she remembered the last concert she and George had attended in Winston-Salem. The concert had begun during a beautiful sunset in Tanglewood Park. Though he would never hold her hand in public, she had grown to love the way he always held her arm. She leaned against him during the performance and lost herself in the music. The sounds of Rachmaninoff were again playing somewhere inside of her mind when a bump from behind drove her into the man in front of her. "I'm sorry," she blurted. He turned and though annoyed at first, smiled when he saw her apologetic face. "It's all right, really." He was a pleasant looking man with a heavy German accent. She was about to apologize again when a group of people came between them. Seeing an opening at a second stand nearby, Marissa decided to forgo the second apology and hurried over to it. She bought a soda for herself, a coffee for Anne and walked back to the blanket; sitting down only moments before the orchestra began. "Here you go, cream no sugar," she said as she handed Anne the cup. "Thank you much." Anne replied. For the next two hours barely a word passed between Anne and Marissa. The time was taken up enjoying an array of short works, from the stunning sounds of Smetana's Moldau, to Glinka's vivacious overture to Russlan and Ludmilla. When the orchestra closed the morning session with a Viennese Waltz Marissa again heard George's voice beside her. "I think the best of the classical era ended with the death of Johann Strauss in 1899." Marissa laughed at the hopeless romantic sitting next to her. "George, this concert is full of Debussy, Ravel, Bizet. If you don't like them why are we here?" "Because they are your favorites, and there is nothing I enjoy more than being out for the evening with you." Marissa moved closer so she could whisper in his ear. "Do you know how much I love you?" He smiled and stared at the ground. No other words had been necessary; they seldom were. Marissa was smiling and staring at something ahead of her that no one else could see when the applause from the audience brought her out of her reverie. Anne tugged at her arm. "Okay sis, we have to hurry up if we want a seat at the restaurant." Marissa jumped up while Anne folded the blanket and put it over her arm. "That works for me. I'm starving." Anne eyed Marissa. "Serves you right," she laughed, "I've had to fight my entire life to stay thin and you look like a bean pole." Marissa stared; absolute disbelief came over her. "You lived at the ice cream shop. Mother had to wash chocolate off your face ever day of the week and now you're whining about having to diet?" 29
A Death Without Malice "Well, yes. I am." Anne tried to look offended at the remark. But the dam broke and both sisters burst out in laughter. Anne finally tugged at Marissa's arm. "We have got to go." Marissa and Anne walked among the other concertgoers down the tree-lined pathway leading out of the park and into the downtown area. Marissa was soaking up a freedom she hadn't known since the accident. She was thinking back to when it was that she felt so at ease when she suddenly stopped. "Damn it Anne, I left my program in the park." Anne barely slowed her pace. "So get another one later." "I don't want to do that. There might not be another one. I don't want to lose it." Anne stopped and looked at her sister. "Believe me when I tell you that if we don't get a seat at Gregory's now we won't be getting one." Marissa looked back and forth between her sister and the park. She was troubled at how indecisive she was over whether or not she should get her program. She stood there like a child waiting for someone to tell her what to do. Anne thought for a moment. "Okay, tell you what. You go back for the program and I'll get a seat for us at the restaurant. It's right up there, near the parking garage." Marissa looked doubtful. "Are you sure?" Anne pointed at a two-story brick building a short distance in front of them. "Marissa, it's right there. See the sign that says 'Gregory's' on it?" She looked at the large white sign with blue writing hanging in front. "Of course I do." "Good. I have complete confidence that you can do this." Marissa gave Anne a smirk. "Yes I think I can. I'll see you over there." She watched Anne walk down the pathway for a moment before she turned and went back. The program was where she had left it on the grass and in a few minutes she was retracing her steps down the pathway toward Waterside Drive. She got to the street as the light turned red so she stood on the corner and read the performance schedule while she waited for it to change. Between the noise from the traffic and her concentrating on the second half of the program, she barely noticed a large crowd of people walking up behind her. Her mind was instantly lost in a colloquy of German flowing from the group so she ignored them and continued to read. She saw a car stop from the corner of her eye and stepped forward without taking her eyes off of the page. Before she realized what was happening she heard screeching brakes and felt an arm grab her around the waist. A man's voice yelled in her ear. "Frauline, bleiben Sie!" Marissa felt herself being jerked back onto the sidewalk and set on her feet. As soon as the arm released her she turned to see a visibly shaken man standing in front of her. He was the same man she had bumped into who spoke with the German accent. "You must look where you are going. You could have been killed." She could feel her cheeks blush. "I… I'm sorry," she stammered. The light changed at that moment. He took her arm. "Allow me to escort you please." Marissa tried to find something to say, she finally nodded and allowed him to take her arm. Part way across the street she spoke to him. "Thank you for pulling me back. I feel very stupid. I was reading my program and just didn't pay attention." She took a close look at his face for the first time. He was slightly taller than she and had a round face, thoughtful and sort of handsome. His shoulders were full and solid. She was amazed to see that despite the hot weather he was wearing a suit and tie. To her surprise he turned to her and smiled. There was a humorous sparkle in his eye. "It's fine. I'm glad that you are all right. You would not have done well as a top of the car." Marissa laughed. "No, I don't think I would." As they stepped onto the curb he let go of her arm. 30
M. N. Norton "Thank you for letting me bring you across." "You're welcome," she smiled. He bowed his head and walked toward his friends who were now standing on the sidewalk and talking among themselves. Marissa watched him rejoin the group then walked the short distance to the restaurant. She entered and saw Anne sitting in a booth just inside the front door with a glass of iced tea and two menus in front of her. Anne had been right about the need for haste. There was barely a free chair in the place. Marissa slid into the seat opposite her sister. Anne shoved the menu toward her. "Here, look quick. Did you get your program?" Marissa started scanning the menu. "Yes, and I was almost run over to boot". Anne stared. "What?" Marissa laughed. "I stepped in front of a car and some German man pulled me out of the way. You can't believe how embarrassed I was." "You're lucky you aren't dead!" Marissa was about to explain what had happened when the German group walked into the restaurant. Marissa heard the familiar sound and turned around to see her rescuer pointing around the room and talking. The group dispersed and started going to assorted tables with an empty chair and asking if they could join the diners. She caught his eye as he and a companion came to her and Anne's table. "There are very few empty seats here. May we join you?" Marissa moved over toward the wall and invited them to sit down. He held out his hand and introduced himself. "My name is Gerhard Strauss. This is Wilfried Hausser." Wilfried was the same height as Gerhard but was thin with strong cheeks bones, thick dark hair and looked to be somewhere in his fifties. He dressed in casual clothing and though there was strength in his eyes, his face was kind. Anne scooted over to allow Wilfried a seat. "I'm Marissa Sheldon and this is my sister Anne Campbell." Gerhard smiled at Anne. "Wie geht's Anne, I'm glad to meet you." "Guten tag Gerhard, es freut mich sehr." Marissa watched the wonderment come to Gerhard and Wilfried's faces as Anne spoke in perfect German. They looked as though they'd found a friendly port after weeks at sea. She decided she'd better torpedo the ship while she was still ahead. "Anne studied in Heidelberg for two years and speaks German very well. And though I've been to your country several times, I can't speak a word." Gerhard let out a quiet laugh. "We will struggle through with English. But I must let you know that we are not from Germany." He held up his finger as a schoolteacher would to his pupil. "We are from Vienna Austria." Marissa smiled. "I'm embarrassed for the third time today." She saw a trace of wit in his eyes. "It's an easy mistake, Strassa in Deustchland oder Grassa in Osterreich, very close. I would not know the difference myself." The waitress arrived at the table. Marissa quickly handed Gerhard her menu. "If you're in a hurry, just order the first thing you see," she whispered in his ear. She caught the light scent of his aftershave. Gerhard glanced at the sandwich menu. "Wilfried, mochten Sie das hamburger?" "Ja. Mit kasse bitte." Wilfried nodded. "Please order first." He said to Marissa. She looked up at the harried waitress. "My sister and I will have the Reuben sandwich." "Two Reuben's, and you sir?" "Two hamburgers with cheese will be fine thank you." He handed her the menus once she finished writing. She turned and walked to the counter. 31
A Death Without Malice Wilfried had found a friend in Anne and turned to talk with her in German leaving Marissa and Gerhard to visit with each other. "Thank you again for pulling me out of the street." A smile crossed his face. "You are welcome. And it has worked out well. We now have a table where we can eat our lunch." "I'm delighted you came to join us." She moved her water glass out of his way, "I have always wanted to see Vienna. It must be wonderful to live there." Gerhard raised an eyebrow and nodded. "Vienna still has much of the old-world charm that has made her famous, but there are also the modern amenities that ease us all through life," he smiled, "cars, busses, tourists. All very noisy, yet full of life, I can't complain at all. You should come visit. I think you'd remember it fondly for the rest of your life." Marissa tried to imagine having the freedom to go. "The first thing I would do is go to every concert I could." Gerhard waved his hand, "Oh, the music is wonderful. Berliners like to believe that their symphony is the finest in the world. We smile and let them think so but I can assure you the best is in Vienna." Marissa laughed. "I'm in no position to argue the point. Though I do hope I get the chance to find out on my own." He looked into her eyes and saw a woman he would deeply enjoy taking there. Marissa looked down as she felt the warmth of his stare. He could still see the smile in her eyes. "Some day Gerhard," she looked at him again, determined to feel the moment. "I will go there some day." "Do you live here in Norfolk?" he asked. "No, I live about 40 miles away. Anne brought me up for the concert." He tapped the table. "I'm very glad she did." Marissa felt her cheeks blush. "I am too. I really am." She looked into his eyes and found she enjoyed being next to him. He made her feel safe somehow, safer than she had felt in a very long time. Gerhard's eyes scanned the table. He saw the wedding ring on Marissa's finger. "You are married?" A look of distress came to her face. He was immediately sorry he asked. She looked over to see Anne was engrossed in the conversation with Wilfried. "Yes. He's ill. He…is ill at home," she whispered. Gerhard looked sympathetic. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked." Marissa waved off his concern. "No, it's fine. He's in a persistent vegetative state, similar to a coma. There was an accident a few years ago." Gerhard looked at her curiously. "What was the nature of his injury?" "Anoxic injury… brain damage from lack of oxygen. It happened during surgery." Gerhard became even more interested. "From cardiac arrest?" he asked. "Yes," Marissa said quietly. "It took more than twenty minutes to resuscitate him." "I see." He replied. "That's unfortunate. I have seen many cases like that. I am very sorry." Marissa was stunned. "But how? You've seen cases like this? I don't understand." "I am a neurologist. Believe it or not we are here to do research on stimulation therapy for patients who are in permanent vegetative state. Wilfried and I are doing research with other physicians on traumatic brain injury at the medical college here." He looked over at Wilfried and Anne who were deep in conversation. "Wilfried is fluent in English but has never felt comfortable with the language. He is one of our top researchers." "I see" Marissa said, almost too softly to hear. Gerhard watched her shoulders grow tense and her head bow. She turned away from his stare, looking instead at the table in front of her. He had hit a nerve. The sudden change in her behavior was striking. "How much do you know about these kinds of injuries?" she asked. "The families I mean." She seemed to add as an after thought. 32
M. N. Norton "You mean what happens to them after taking care of a PVS patient for a long period of time? That depends on the situation." He knew he was getting very close to something she was trying hard to conceal. The thoughts that had started to play out in her mind were making her extremely anxious. "No. I shouldn't have brought it up. Never mind." Gerhard moved forward carefully with his inquiry. "Who helps you with your husband?" he asked softly. "Katy." "No one else? "No." "How are you holding up under the strain Marissa?" He took her hand into his own and held on as though he new what was about to occur. "I'm fine." She cried softly. She desperately needed him to believe her. Marissa had given him exactly what he was waiting for. He was looking behind the mask and there was nothing she could do to stop him. "Do you ever see your friends or family? Do they call?" he continued in a gentle voice. Marissa could only shake her head. He was approaching a pain inside of her that she had not shared with another living human being. She knew if she said a word she would break. "Can we talk about something else?" she was almost pleading. "How many times have you been away from home since the accident?" "I know I have been, but I don't remember besides today." Her voice was falling below a whisper. Gerhard knew instinctively that he was near his mark. He probed further. "You are terrified you'll be alone in the room with your husband when he dies, yet you have to be there…is that true? And I suspect that what little sleep you get at night is filled with dreams of death…am I close?" Marissa was desperate to find a way to bring his questions to an end. "I…I don't know anymore. Please, I'm fine. Can we talk about something else?" "No. You are not," he said with great compassion in his voice, "and you haven't been for a very long time now. Your life is one torturous moment after another and we both know it." He paused before he spoke his final words; sorry for what he was going to do but knew he had to. "I also suspect that in spite of what you know to be true, that you know he will eventually die, in the deepest recesses of your mind you still hope he will finally wake up and say goodbye." She began to tremble as she realized what he had done. He had found out; there was no longer a safe place inside herself to hide. "And most sadly," Gerhard continued, "any moment of joy is followed with unbearable regret and sorrow. And you face it alone." Her reaction was immediate and beyond her ability to hold in any longer. Anne stopped talking immediately when she saw a look of anguish come to Marissa's face. When she saw Marissa begin to shake she found it hard to stay in control of her emotions. Marissa had suddenly become a frightened animal that had been trapped in a corner. She wanted to fly across the table and protect her sister from whatever in the hell had gone wrong. What Anne didn't realize, but Wilfried and Gerhard knew, was that Marissa had inadvertently come face to face with the deepest terror of her existence. The monster had been let out and the last wall around her emotions was falling. These men understood the truth. They knew what she saw every day and how she felt about it. No lie in the world could save her. Anne could only watch as Marissa buried her face in her hands. Gerhard spoke first to Wilfried. To make certain Marissa didn't misunderstand he spoke in English. "Wilfried, my medication bag is just in the car. Would you get it for me?" Wilfried nodded and left the restaurant. After he left Gerhard spoke very gently to Marissa. "Please listen Marissa. Everything is all right. I understand what is happening and I'm going to help you. Can you hear me?" Marissa nodded as she silently wept into her hands. "Good. Now, you are perfectly safe. Let your feelings come out." 33
A Death Without Malice Marissa moved toward Gerhard as a child would who needed comfort. He wrapped his arm around her and at the same time spoke to Anne in German. "She has stayed isolated this whole time?" Tears came to Anne's eyes as she realized what was happening. The obvious consequence of her own actions was ripping her apart. "Yes. She wouldn't call." She could barely get the next statement out. "We didn't go." "Do you understand what is taking place?" he asked. "She's falling apart." Anne said, not knowing if she could avoid doing the same. "Yes, it's like a boil that has finally burst." He gently rubbed Marissa's hair, "Once the poison is out, she will feel much better. Everything will be fine." Wilfried returned at that moment and handed Gerhard two pills. He softly held Marissa's chin. "Marissa, I want you to take these. They will calm you down." He placed them in her hand and held up a glass of water. She slowly put them in her mouth and swallowed. "Good, now we will sit here for a few minutes then I am going to take you to your car," he said. No sound came from Marissa as Gerhard held her, yet the tears poured from her eyes. Anne put her elbows on the table and cupped her chin. She watched the tenderness in Gerhard as he comforted her sister and remembered the times when George had done the same. Marissa would call and wearily describe how hard it was to learn the traditions of the old south. She had never heard of Southern Living magazine and didn't understand why he thought she should subscribe. There had been so many times when Marissa would stomp her foot in frustration. George would stop with his demands, walk over and hold her. To George it was important for her to become a southern lady; to Marissa it represented something he knew in his soul but she could not comprehend. Marissa, we'll go slowly," he would say to her. "We have time." And, until a few years ago, they did. Gerhard gently tugged at Marissa's arm, at the same time signaling Wilfried and Anne that it was time to go. Wilfried took twenty dollars from his wallet and set it on the table as Anne moved up beside him. They walked the short distance to Anne's car in silence. Gerhard put Marissa in the front seat then handed Anne a card. "This is the phone number where I can be reached. Please call me later and let me know how she's doing." Anne took the card. "Thank you, I will." Gerhard began to turn then stopped and looked at Anne. "Don't let her go home tonight. She'll not want to stay with you but it's important that you find a way to keep her." Anne nodded. "Okay."
M. N. Norton
Medical College of Virginia, ICU Gerhard and a well-seasoned ICU nurse named Erika entered Billy's room. Erika, though middle aged, had a pretty, oval face and soft blond hair. She had a melodic voice with almost as strong an accent as the doctor she now stood beside. Erika had been able to join the University study with Gerhard because she was, as every American doctor on the floor came to remark, 'the best damned nurse they'd ever worked with'. The two Austrians looked down at the young man in the bed. Billy had stabilized. He'd also survived the first and most critical few days without suffering through the ravages of severe brain swelling. They had been able to avoid a debilitating secondary injury. "Billy, I'm going to explain what is going to happen. All right?" Gerhard said. A quick flux on the cardiac monitor indicated the boy had heard. "First I'm going to remove this ventilation tube," he said casually. A top-notch respiratory therapist named Vickilynne had finished weaning Billy off the respirator while Gerhard and Wilfried attended the concert at Town Point Park. His oxygen levels had been normalized and rapid removal of the tube could be done at will. Gerhard quickly un-taped the mouthpiece and removed the respirator. "This is very good Billy. We are doing fine," he said as he shut off the respirator. "Now, we are going to do several things in an effort to help you wake up." He moved a chair away from 35
A Death Without Malice the bed. "Most will be pleasant and I'm hopeful that will be enough. But if you can't respond we will have to try harder." Gerhard handed Erika a lemon slice from a stainless steel tray. He nodded at her as he opened the Billy's mouth. She squeezed the lemon and let a few drops fall on the boys tongue. The result was immediate. Though no sound could be heard, and his slight movements were strained, the boy was obviously trying to wipe the juice off his tongue. "This is wonderful Billy!" Gerhard said enthusiastically. "Now we will see if you can smell." Losing the sense of smell was common among those whose injuries occurred on the top of their heads. Gerhard hoped that Billy's injury had not been that severe, that if he were able, he would respond to the ammonium carbonate he was taking off the tray. "What I'm putting under your nose smells horrible Billy," he said as he opened the packet and took out a small brown vial. "But you won't be alone. Erika and I will have to smell it with you." Gerhard removed the lid and held it a few inches from the boy's nose. Billy's head twisted slightly to the right as the pungent smell of the ammonium carbonate took affect. "Excellent Billy. You are doing fine," Gerhard said as he recapped the small glass container and placed it inside a foil disposal package. He then ran his fingers up the boy's arms to check for muscle stiffness. "Your mother says you are fond of puppies and cartoons Billy. Erika is going to let you listen to cartoons for an hour while a therapist massages your arms and legs." He pulled Billy's cover back over him. "I'll be back in an hour to work with you for a while more." Gerhard picked up Billy's chart and nodded at Erika. She followed him outside. They walked in silence down the sterile hallway until they were standing only feet away from the nurse's station. Gerhard's rule with regard to never discussing invasive medical procedures within hearing range of the patient was absolute. A third year resident had broken that rule once. By the time a moderately comatose woman had finished listening to him give a nurse the details of her upcoming exploratory surgery, her heart rate had gone so high she had to be medicated. Though given quietly and without fanfare, Gerhard's reprimand had been as absolute as his rule: 'This will happen one more time and you will be working somewhere else.' Gerhard handed the chart to Erika. "Make certain you note that a coloric test will only be scheduled if he does not arouse by the end of the week," he said quietly. "I don't believe there will be a need for one." Erika let out a small laugh. "I'll write it in red so all will know that this comes from God himself." Her laugh was contagious. Gerhard allowed a smile to cross his lips. "Why did I bring you with me?" Erika raised an eyebrow. "Because you would never have survived without my red pen." Wilfried had been in and out of room 303 for the past several hours. Carol D'Behr had survived the craniotomy, but nothing more positive could be said. The ICP monitor still registered severe swelling, the EEG had flat-lined. Wilfried was standing near the bed as he saw Gerhard come into the room; his air of determination was gone. "How is she doing?" Strauss asked. The two men walked silently out of the room, moving their conversation to the hallway. Wilfried stared at the door of the room. "No cortical activity over the past twenty-four hours." Are you going to do an apnea test?" He asked gently. Gerhard knew well how hard it was for Wilfried to finally give up. Wilfried nodded. "I'll perform one now." He walked back into the room. Gerhard followed. The Emergency Room staff had performed a tracheotomy and ventilated Carol D'Behr as soon as she hit the ER. An apnea test required that they temporarily remove the respirator, which 36
M. N. Norton was now her only means of staying alive. Wilfried pulled off the ventilation tube as Gerhard inserted a second, small oxygen tube into the opening in her throat. The two doctors checked the clock on the wall then watched the blood pressure and heart monitors. They were not surprised to find that Carol was unable to breathe on her own. As she slowly began to suffocate, her heart rate jumped dramatically. The two minutes passed just as the veins in her forehead were starting to bulge. Wilfried re-attached the ventilator then again followed Gerhard from the room. "It's time to halt treatment," Wilfried said as they walked down the hall. Gerhard nodded, then stopped and put his hand to his forehead. "Acht du liebe zeit, Wilfried, Ich muss das Telefon gefunden." Wilfried turned and stared without making a sound. Gerhard did not speak German while working at the hospital…ever. More exceptional was hearing the sense of urgency in Gerhard's voice. Gerhard caught himself. "Forgive me. Something just came to mind." Wilfried pointed down the hall. "The nurse's station is just over there." "No," Gerhard said quickly. "I'll use the phone in my office." Wilfried had worked beside Gerhard for many years. The only times he'd ever taken care with regard to a phone call was when it was personal. He hadn't found reason to make a private call since he'd come to the University six months before. "I have to call Dieter. I have a question." Gerhard said. Wilfried wondered what could have inspired Gerhard to call the Chief of Neurology in Vienna. The events of the afternoon came to mind. "The woman we met today?" Wilfried asked. "Yes," he replied. "I need him to forward my notes on patients who've been maintained in a PVS for over one year." "To discuss them with her? Wilfried inquired. Gerhard shook his head. "No. They are for my own reference. Later this evening I'm hoping to have an uninterrupted discussion with her sister Anne." Gerhard sounded confident with his next prognosis. "Unless she has a fantastic tolerance for sedatives, Marissa should sleep through the night." Wilfried looked curiously at his colleague. "Are you going to ask her to put her husband into the study group?" Again Gerhard shook his head. "No, she would never allow it." He seemed solemn as he spoke. "I'll have to find another way to reach her." Wilfried remembered the joy on Gerhard's face as he talked to Marissa in the restaurant. For a few moments, he had seen a part of his friend come out that had been locked away for many years. Gerhard had celebrated his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary two weeks before his wife left him to live with a womanizing socialite in Austria. Always gracious, he did nothing more than to wish her well. The University Hospital in Vienna inadvertently benefited from the event. A deep well of compassion had always compelled Gerhard to strive harder than any other physician Wilfried had known. After the divorce, their top researcher found his solace through burying himself in his work completely. The results of that work had impacted the entire field of neurology…and brought him an invitation to take part in a multi-university endeavor to study different treatment regimens on comatose patients in the US. Participation in that study had just brought him into contact with someone in an extraordinary situation. Marissa had singularly taken on a task that was seldom accomplished by whole families who could work together in an effort to take care of someone in a vegetative state. As a result, she had effectively locked out the rest of world in order to maintain her own survival. She'd gone without friendship or solace for over two years and she was fast approaching the limits on her ability to endure the strain. "I need to get some background information from Anne." Gerhard said as he started toward his office. "I will then see if it's possible to examine Marissa's husband." 37
A Death Without Malice Wilfried walked beside him, quietly at first as he pondered how difficult it would be to break down the door Marissa had cemented into place. As they approached Gerhard's office, he decided to share his views. "She won't want you to come near her for many reasons," he said objectively. Gerhard nodded and stared thoughtfully into space, not bothering to share whatever was taking place in his mind. What Wilfried suspected was beginning to consume his friend was that Gerhard cared about this woman more intently than he would willingly admit. He cared for her more than was typical of a physician giving comfort to the wife of a terminal patient. "I'll help if you need me too," he finally said. It was as much as he could offer. Gerhard stopped at the door. "You begin the process for halting treatment on Carol D'Behr. I'll be finished here shortly then will join you in the administration office." Wilfried nodded and walked back toward room 303.
Marissa had fallen asleep almost as soon as the car started moving. Anne had put her to bed and she stayed asleep until early the next morning. When she came down for breakfast, she resembled someone who had been grieving for years. "How in the hell could I have missed this Marissa? Why didn't you let me know?" Marissa waved her off. "It wasn't for you to know." She paused, "Anne, people don't mind an occasional complaint. They will not tolerate endless complaining. No one calls as it is. Why should I run you off as well?" Anne had no response. She knew what Marissa said was true. "Hey, I talked to Gerhard last night while you were sleeping. He's coming by later to take you home." Marissa was completely taken back by the revelation; she had to think for a moment before she answered. "That isn't necessary. You can take me home. Everything's all right now." "He wants to see George," was all Anne could say. Marissa didn't know if she had the courage to continue. "No." Gerhard had thoroughly coached Anne in anticipation of just such a reaction. "The time has come. You need to go with him." 38
M. N. Norton Marissa shook her head. "I really don't see the point. There's nothing he can do." Anne walked over and stared into Marissa's eyes. "He can make you let go." Marissa stood back from her sister, hurt and rage screamed from inside her. "God damn you Anne. What do you know about letting go? What does he? Can you do this and live with knowing that you killed George? Can you let go of the chance that he could still wake up?" Anne was stunned; Gerhard had been right. And she had argued the point the night before. She had never suspected Marissa held even the slightest hope for George's recovery. Marissa continued; another floodgate was opening. "I go up to his room every day praying he'll decide for me. That something inside him will wake up or that he'll have heart failure, god knows what, but that he'll finally be dead when I get there." Marissa clenched her fists. "But there's nothing but the sound of that god damned machine. Every day it blows in and out until the alarm goes off." Marissa sat down in a chair, staring at an empty spot on the wall. "And every time it goes off, once I'm past the initial shock, I hope it's finally over." Anne stood in front of the table without speaking a word. What is there to say when one is hit in the face with something this ugly? Should she tell Marissa she knew exactly what it felt like to think about letting George go? No. Words never spoken don't have to be taken back. "I'll get some coffee." She gave Marissa a hug and kissed her on the head as she walked by. "Have a seat. The kids are at school and Frank's at work, we'll have some time for coffee." Marissa had barely taken her first sip of coffee when the front door bell rang. Anne jumped up. "I'll be right back." Gerhard was standing on the stoop when Anne opened the door. He smiled gently as Anne let him in. "It went as I expected?" Anne nodded. "Jesus Christ, I'll never doubt you again." "May I trouble you for some coffee?" Anne pointed toward a door at the far end of the entryway. "Yes, please. Come this way." She led him to the kitchen where he found Marissa sitting at the table. "How are you this morning?" Marissa dropped her cup. "Fine." Gerhard sat at the table with ease. He acted as though he were an old friend asked over for tea. "It is a beautiful day, you should see it. Beautiful, truly." Anne stepped over to the counter and poured Gerhard some coffee. "I just told Marissa that you'd be taking her home." Marissa shot her a look but said nothing. Gerhard smiled. "This is a nice day for a drive." Anne set his coffee and some creamer on the table. "Anne tells me you live near the ocean. Vienna is a beautiful city, but is inland. We have to travel to the Mediterranean or the Adriatic to be near the sea." Marissa stared silently at the floor. Gerhard understood. "You don't have to talk to me at all on the way. I can talk your ear off if given the chance." Marissa finally looked up at him. Something between gratitude and an easing of her tension was in her eyes. "We can leave whenever you are ready," he said softly. Anne watched Gerhard talk to Marissa and felt an old wound slowly began to open. 39
God she hated him for being right. or himself to believe. as though both of them were about to realize a fulfillment in each other that neither had dreamed possible. to make the goddamned heartache go away. Please. But good men always come back. For a time the pain went away. She was about to sit back on the sofa when she felt him under her. To her surprise. Frank will come home. Frank's a fool if he doesn't come back to you. I don't care. She slid her arm around his waist and pulled herself onto his lap." Anne looked into his eyes and knew he was right. Sometimes the burden is too heavy and we flee. you are not a woman that I find it easy to walk away from. Everything would have been fine if Marissa hadn't needed to go back to Winston-Salem and left George to make sure she would be all right. It's too high a price to pay. His resolve wasn't as strong as he'd led her." 40 . The outcome was almost disastrous for them both. She was sorry when it was over. Though there would always be a special bond between them. "George. "This has been a very hard morning for me." George had said. Especially if she knew that Mark was George's son. "You're an incredible woman." She guided his hand to her breast. Marissa finished her coffee and stood up to leave. Yet to pull herself away from the comfort he gave her was more than she could do. Had he felt the attraction but thought he could control his emotions? Did he think this would be nothing more than helping the little sister work through a problem as they sat beside each other on the sofa? It was hard to say in retrospect. Anne had felt such relief. "I just find it humorous that Anne drives a Mercedes and you drive a Lincoln. George eventually told Marissa he'd been with another woman.A Death Without Malice George and Marissa had come to be with Anne for the weekend several years ago. As Gerhard and Marissa sat at her kitchen table and made small talk she wondered if Marissa could ever forgive her. so wonderful. as much to save them as to save herself." They went to their separate beds that night. "God himself can condemn me for this. He put his arm around her and wiped her tears away." she had said with tears in her eyes. "I don't know what I did that was so wrong. Though they started down the road in silence Gerhard was surprised to hear a chuckle coming from his passenger as they drove out of Virginia Beach. She had put the kids to bed and talked him into sharing a bottle of wine. he responded with tremendous passion. She kissed him hard." He saw the hurt. Their love for each other had always been strong and Marissa finally let it go. Anne pleaded with Marissa to reconsider. to shoulder the burdens without complaint. He had been so gentle. with only one exception they had never mentioned the incident again. But if we do this we will never be able to look at Marissa with a clear conscience again. "Men go through crisis in their lives just as women do." His words only exacerbated her sorrow. "This may seem very out of character for him Anne but Frank is a good man. Anne gave her a hug and watched as Gerhard opened the car door and helped her in. They were almost beyond the point where either could end it when he held her face in between his hands. She would have given anything for him to lay her on the floor and take her." she said with a lighter tone than he had expected. Frank had walked out on her and their children and it had destroyed her emotionally. "Anne. "We are expected to always be strong. He moved her to the floor and made love to her. I'm sorry. She could feel his hand reach under her blouse as she straddled him. it almost cost them their marriage. She looked over at him apologetically. he'll come to his senses before long. the desperation in her eyes. Though he never said it had been with her. She had leaned heavily on him while they were there. George had witnessed one of the few times in her life she would let herself cry in front of another human being." Anne had felt the draw between her and George and knew she should step back.
I don't mind at all. "I would like to go directly to your husband's room if you don't mind." Gerhard waited a moment before he answered. unwilling as yet to venture any further." Marissa nodded her head." "Can we discuss something else?" She was almost begging. "Please don't think I'm ungrateful." His words tore through her. The University is closely associated with the Vienna General Hospital which is also where I work. without explanation. there is a difference between genuine concern and pity. "Are you married?" He shook his head. she calmed down and turned toward him. They had driven out of Virginia and onto the Marsh Causeway before she found the courage to ask another question. My work schedule didn't agree with her social schedule." Marissa laughed. Then. in my driveway in Austria you'll not find a Mercedes either. she wasn't going to be alone and she laughed because she had found someone who would let her. "The University leased this car for me with no thought to cultural preferences. After a few minutes." After a moment he continued." Marissa let out a chuckle then held her laughter. She laughed knowing that at least for a while. he released her arm and opened his door. why are you bothering with me?" She began twisting her fingers." he said with noticeable humor in his voice. "There are two reasons specifically why I came today. Gerhard spoke first." She pointed up the stairway. and now you're taking the trouble to drive me home." she paused. However. But do not think you can continue with this indefinitely. "I live there. In Vienna during the opera season that can be a horrible thing. "I don't think it would be a surprise to tell you that at first I really didn't want you to come over this morning. The first is because as a physician. "You pulled me out of the street. maybe to clarify his reasons for being there. drove to the front door and shut off the car. and more important reason is that it has been a very long time since I have seen someone as in need of help as you." Marissa cringed. "She probably did me a favor. Marissa walked up to the front door and let him in. "His room is at the end of the hall. But I don't believe you said anything else. She looked out the window as he continued. not sure if she knew what she meant or if she wanted his answer. For a moment she thought he wanted to say something. "No. Norton Gerhard smiled. "the man she went to has to put up with her now. I could not leave you without aid. "I'm sorry. "I am with the Department of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care at the Vienna University Medical School." Gerhard only glanced toward her as he answered.M. The second. After pondering her thoughts for a few minutes more she decided to dive in. I own a BMW. to your right." Marissa was touched by his sincerity. But. Just as there is a difference between having the courage to face the problems at hand and only pretending to deal with something that is slowly killing you." 41 . He held Marissa's arm as she reached for the door handle." Marissa continued to look out the window and refused to talk until they approached the house. "Do you mind if I ask what you do? I remember you had said you were a neurologist and were doing work with the University of Virginia. You don't have to accompany me. You have been doing that for too long already. N. She laughed through every emotion that had longed to be cried." Gerhard turned into her driveway. Gerhard looked at her firmly but his eyes were gentle. I shouldn't pry. "I think the last thing you need to do is to discuss something else. She despised being the object of anyone's pity and was about to utter a reply she would have soon been sorry for. Then she merely pointed and said. my wife left me some years ago. "Marissa. "You have held up as long as you can. many would have fallen sooner." "It's quite all right.
"Are you ready?" He asked quietly. "Are you going to deal with this as an adult. Sheldon in a few minutes. she felt rage consuming her. I'm sure we'll meet again soon." Gerhard studied her for a moment. There was severe damage to the cerebral cortex and cerebellum. "Mrs. Wilkins? Gerhard Strauss. "I don't think you have the right to come into my home and say that to me. "Marissa. I didn't ask anyone to save me from anything. would you be able to help me?" Marissa looked up suddenly. I know what to do. "and it was wonderful to meet you Dr. He opened the door at the end of the hall and let her step inside. how are you?" Gerhard took her hand.A Death Without Malice Marissa looked at him. At the same time." He took her arm in the same gentle way that George had on their first night together. but there is a neurologist by that name who just wrote a fascinating article on Traumatic Brain Injuries. welcome back." Marissa stared in disbelief." Katy walked into the kitchen while Marissa gazed at the bottom stair and waited for Gerhard to move forward. "All right. "Thank you Mrs." He held her hand with an elegance that reflected his European traditions. Everything was fine here. Strauss. "I'll be in the kitchen if you need anything then." Gerhard directed a stream of light into George's open. he failed them both. Gerhard saw a small featured. "And the man pictured in the article looked remarkably like you. and the Rancho Los Amigos Scale as well. "Yes. yet well-organized woman come down the stairs. "Yes. He took a light out of his pocket and walked over beside the bed. Any reaction he may have had to the sight before him was locked behind a face of unquestionable professionalism. are you familiar with the Glasgow Coma Scale?" Marissa nodded. "No." She held out her hand. it really was. I'll help you with George. "I'm going to examine your husband and I will discuss what I find with you. Strauss. It seemed there would be no getting rid of this man. Again." Katy walked over to Gerhard and held out her hand. "You tend to Mr. After that." She was thrown off balance by his response. "I'm Katy Wilkins. Sheldon then?" Katy looked surprised. Sheldon. 42 . Wilkins. "Forgive me if this sounds presumptuous Mr. yet unseeing eyes. "How do you do Ms. or as a child?" Marissa felt her cheeks turning red." "Good." Katy gave them both an odd look. "What is it you think you can do?" Gerhard spoke frankly. She allowed the strength from his hands to help guide her forward. not sure why she had to interject her thoughts but something deep inside her knew she had to. The inner struggle would not let her be. equipment and even George to some degree before the door closed behind him. He had assessed the room. I do." She tried to stifle a giggle. searching for a way to get an answer that didn't tear her apart." Marissa stood back in disbelief. She could tell something was going unsaid but had no idea what it might be." Katy looked at him strangely for a moment. Torn again between wishing both life and death for George she found herself wanting to crawl under her blankets and go to bed. "Yes. I am going to examine Mr. There was only a limited response. I am going to ask that you make a decision as to what is best for him and yourself.
" He signaled for her to leave. she didn't care for it." He assumed as equally comfortable a pose as he had in Anne's kitchen that morning. "You've said you don't think anything can help him. Why would you try?" Abby came in at that moment and put a serving tray on the table. Is he on medication to prevent seizures?" "Yes." Gerhard glanced over at her as he caught the frustration in her voice." Marissa was being challenged. "Are you certain you know what it is that I have done?" Marissa tried to presume she knew.M. "You're going to tell me this is hopeless and to walk up there and pull the plug. but only for the first few days." Gerhard helped himself to a seat and waited for the coffee to arrive. I want your word that you will re-consider your position. When they reached the landing. "I see. The doctors said he had a very poor chance of surviving. Until you accept that. "A secondary injury?" "Yes. It didn't seem to make a difference. No other trauma can cause as much widespread damage to the brain nor is any other as hopeless with regard to recovery. Marissa stopped midway and turned to speak. to a five several hours later. "Just minimal cortical activity." she paused. would you bring some coffee into the living room please?" The head of a pleasant-looking elderly woman appeared from behind the door." Marissa joined him at George's bedside." "Let's go downstairs. "He went from a seven on the Glasgow Scale right after resuscitation." "Did the physician use Mannital or barbiturates?" Marissa nodded her head slowly. Though I suspect that is what will finally come of it. this situation will not change. 43 . it was basically a flat line." she said before disappearing into the kitchen." Marissa grew suspicious. An Early American sofa with matching chairs and some end tables decorated what was an elegant but understated room. "I'll only be a minute. With this severe an injury. "What are you going to ask me to do?" "I'm not going to ask that you do anything other than let me attempt to arouse him. there was none after that. "Barbiturates. N. Marissa spoke in the direction of an open door. "I didn't know such a thing could be done. feeling the texture of his muscles and the tightness of his limbs. "I appreciate your coming to see George. but I don't think there's anything more you can do. "No. as though she were trying to recall the events directly following George's injury." Gerhard spoke without looking up." "Was stimulation therapy tried?" She shook her head. "Abby. He didn't talk at all as they made their way down. Gerhard again opened the door for Marissa and followed her out of the room. "Do not chide yourself." She felt tears come to the back of her eyes. These only allow a physician to determine a patient's level of consciousness. Norton "To say he failed is too harsh Marissa. it is probable nothing would have made a difference." He finished his examination and pulled the light blanket back over George." She looked curiously at him as he continued "Of all the brain injuries a human being can receive the most dangerous is a Hypoxic injury. "if he'd had a chance before. Marissa led the way to a formal living room that had been beautifully framed in dark oak with a fireplace and wall-length hearth on the opposite end of the room. If I fail. "Not in an aggressive way. What did the EEG show?" His expert hands worked their way along George's arms and legs.
responding very quietly to her question." Abby smiled at them both and left the room. is in being forced to make a decision that would actually bring it to an end. as though he was unsure of whether he should let himself go this far. he cut her off. She moved her hand toward his belt buckle as her eyes pleaded with him to go on. He had hesitated. Though she refused to look into his eyes. rubbing his hand through her hair and giving comfort. knowing that all the thoughts that lay buried in an unmarked grave where now being brought forward. Before either of them realized what was happening he had covered her lips with his own. "What have I agreed to do?" she whispered as memories of the day before came back to her. Without any hesitation she craved him." He watched her muscles grow rigid as he continued. She had no idea how to answer. That's to begin with. please believe me. "For my own reasons I'm interested in the outcome of tests on a patient in this advanced state. A question came to his eyes when she reached down to touch him. "Are you trained to be an insufferable ass at every opportunity?" "No" was the only comment he would offer. or whether she would stop treatment and let him die. If you continue to hang on to false hope when this is over. "I'm going to say this and I'm sorry if it hurts you. he held her close to him. "Then just what in the hell is your point?' Gerhard returned to his chair. But you must see things clearly before I can. His timing was extraordinary. He gently took her hands into his own then held her. I can help you work through this. Gerhard had held her for a long time." She stared at him with the same look of terror he had seen the day before. 44 . "And I suspect the only thing more terrifying than continuing to live life in this way. "Do you do this on purpose?" she yelled." Marissa tried to talk. He waited until he saw the look shatter. Beyond these reasons. then gently rubbed her cheek. his eyes were steadfast yet full of compassion.A Death Without Malice "Is this all you'll need honey?" Marissa shuddered as Abby addressed her with such a familial expression. "Marissa. "You have committed your entire life to a hopeless situation. she could feel his stare bore through her. she had looked up into Gerhard's eyes." He had hit his mark. "That's fine Abby thank you. "My point is that there is more than you to consider. She moved her mouth close to his." Marissa awoke the next morning and was immediately overwhelmed with feelings of apprehension." Marissa felt as though she'd just been slapped in the face. Gerhard got up and quietly closed the living room door in anticipation of another explosion. Marissa was indignant. or waiting for an improbable recovery. "I will help you face this." he sat up and stared at her. as her tongue explored the inside of his mouth she knew she wanted every part of him. The last thing she wanted Gerhard to see was another vulnerable side. You have nothing to look forward to but the constant strain of needing to resolve this issue by either withdrawing life support and allowing him to die. Again. The time had come to call George's mother and let her know what was going to take place. when she'd gotten past the door Gerhard continued. As she calmed down. the look of a frightened animal returned to her eyes." He got up and walked over to where she was standing. I want you to have the opportunity to let this go. As her body began to shake he reached out for her. You must also think about the man upstairs in that bed. The force of his body pressing against her made everything in her come alive. Gerhard would do a series of experiments over the next two weeks and the results of those tests would probably decide whether George would be allowed to live as he was in a vegetative state. "you will have no one to blame but yourself for a miserable life.
"and for you that may be a very difficult. Sheldon. In its place came the memory of George standing in the shower beside her.." "Good morning Mrs. where would you like your breakfast today?" Marissa sat up and threw off her cover. She was imagining the warmth of feeling him inside of her when suddenly.. "I'll eat on the front deck. Gerhard was perceptive. Yet he'd made it clear that he would not come to her until she knew where her heart lay. after breakfast you and I have to talk about some things in regard to George. She heard Katy knock lightly on the door. everything she had held down came bursting out. The only thing she wanted to do was bring him to her bed where he could make everything in her find joy… at least for a time." With that Katy closed the door and left Marissa to shower and dress." "Okay." "I don't understand." "I know that but…" he held his finger to her mouth. She then slammed open her closet to find slacks and a blouse. He held her chin and stared deeply into her eyes. If not. If by some miracle he does arouse. I hate you! I hate mother and Anne." He drew her close and kissed her long and fervently. The conflicting emotions inside her again came to the surface. "Come in. the image of Gerhard blurred. She lathered her hair and quivered at the memory of Gerhard's hands caressing her body. "Please. "I'll stay with you for a little while longer." Katy nodded." "I'll make certain I'm free." Marissa held his face in her hands. Oh. I want you to have the evening to think about what I'm asking you to do. By the time we left the restaurant. She didn't try to resist." She outlined his mouth with her fingertip and kissed his neck just behind his ear. I was falling in love with you. I will not allow you to end his life. but very necessary thing to do." Marissa nodded and rested her head on his chest. "And if I ask you to let him die. how will I know that it isn't because I want to be with you?" "I will make certain you are ready. She had no desire at all to face the question.M. She almost went to breakfast without dressing then remembered Gerhard would be over sometime later that morning to work with her and Katy on George's schedule. Her toe caught on the zipper of her slacks and Marissa felt the full impact of an anger that had been building up for a long time. this isn't the time to make love to you Marissa. "I will do everything in my power to bring him back to consciousness. threw the towel on the floor and grabbed her robe." she stopped. "God damn you George! God damn you!" She ripped at her slacks. but then I have to go. "You have to know in your heart that one relationship is over before you can begin another. "Why did you do this to me? God damn you Mildred. After grabbing the first pieces of clothing she saw she went over and sat on the bed." he caressed her chin as he spoke. I will walk away until the time comes when you are truly free. Give me about twenty minutes then bring up the tray. and Katy. I hate the whole 45 . And why you must decide. "So you yourself begin to see why you have to know. She jerked open her dresser drawers and took out her underclothes." Marissa brushed her hands through her hair as the memory of being with Gerhard faded. Norton "As much as I desire you. She turned off the water and grabbed a towel. Marissa let the hot water pour over her. then let her go. "Jesus Christ. No I won't. "No. I'll eat with George this morning Katy. How am I supposed to decide this? Why did I ever let him come here?" She dried off. N. He rubbed her arm and shoulders. I'll have it here as soon as you're ready. Why wait for me?" "Because as soon as we had walked across the street I had become quite attracted to you." She held him tightly.
" She rocked back and forth to try to stifle the endless pain coming out of her." She tore and tore until her hands were raw. or when that happens I want you to survive. then read it over again" He pulled her onto his lap.A Death Without Malice fucking world!" She felt the material give." she said quietly. "I'll read you a poem every night until death or blindness stops me. Katy ushered him into the library and quietly closed the door. When Gerhard rang the bell. "This is wonderful. There was no one to tell me what to do. "Other than that. She yelled and screamed. George looked into her eyes and again saw the vulnerable young woman he'd married twelve years before. "I will probably leave you a widow long before you're ready." He paused for a moment and gently turned her head toward him. She finally fell asleep from sheer exhaustion a little while ago. I suspect she was trying to rip something apart too." Marissa cried herself to sleep with his final words in her ears." She saw sorrow come to his face instead of relief. It happened. "and I'll only ever ask you to promise me one thing. Katy had not been idle." "I don't think I'd know what to do. When the room became quiet and she heard the sound of the mattress as Marissa lay on the bed she went downstairs and waited for the doctor to arrive. "Would you like me to have Abby bring you some coffee?" 46 . she thought she understood why. "Anger this morning?" "Yes sir. "There was nothing I could do. I hope there's only one thing you'll ever deeply regret when it comes to having married me. I hate the god damn doctor that did this to you. Her slacks tore apart in her hands." she paused. "Marissa. George's face and the memory of a birthday party came clearly into her mind. She had heard the drawers slam in Marissa's room and listened at the door to make certain everything was all right. You ask for something I may not be able to give." Katy nodded." She held his face in her hands and kissed him on the cheek. After a long cry. She tore into her closet and slammed her drawers shut." "No. "And I hate me. "I won't care if you're old or blind. George. "I hate the hospital in Charlotte. If. "Then promise to stay with me for as long as you can?" "I'll stay until I can hold out no longer. "Please go tell her to get dressed and come down. she is entering a full blown grieving phase. Abby and I just let her be. as hard as I've tried." "Ask and it's yours. admiring a leather bound edition of poems by Robert Browning that Marissa had given to him. "There were never any guarantees in this life Marissa." She cuddled into a fetal position on the bed and cradled a pillow. Remembering the closed door and the tousled hair from the day before. "You can read me a poem every night until you've read through the entire book. she then buried her face into the frayed ends. I realize that there have been a number of regrets for you over the years. it would have been a mistake. He was sitting at the deck table. I don't care about that. thank you. She grabbed either side of another seam and jerked on it again. I expect you to grieve for a while then enjoy whatever time you have left." His response was slow and thoughtful." Gerhard's first instinct was to go up and comfort her." he said "Let me die before you do. I hate me." She wrapped his arms around her." She nuzzled her chin into his neck. it's over…" He held his finger to her lips. "You've done it Doctor Strauss.
" "I will. Norton "Yes.M. He'll be in the library." She winked and smiled on her way out the door. She pondered having Katy say she was too ill to have company. "Dr Strauss is here to see you. Thank you. "Tell him I'll only be a minute. She rubbed her swollen eyes." Marissa didn't want to see him or anyone else. Clouds and sailboats faded from Marissa's mind as she heard a knock on the door." 47 . "Come in. N. She then imagined Gerhard climbing the stairs and carrying her out in whatever clothes she had on." Katy came all the way into the room and walked over to the bed.
I couldn't help you do this if I wanted to. We laughed among ourselves for years over that." "That's good I suppose. "I want you to help me end this right now. I think she rolled herself in the covers as she began to calm down. "He did try Abby." He placed the magazine back on the table. "You said it was hopeless. That's not the same as knowing whether or not it is time to let your husband die. Wilkins and I should begin. "May I pour you some coffee Mrs. Abby had set a serving tray on the table and he had seated himself comfortably in front of it." "I want you to withdraw life support from George. And you gave it a marvelous effort as well." He set down his cup. he stood up and held her shoulders." "No. "Dr." She stared helplessly at the floor. He began to pull her toward him. I'm going to leave so you can visit with Mrs. when you came to your senses you would not only hate yourself for such a rash decision. Touch therapy and so on." Going against his better judgment. Just let me know when you're ready to begin." He felt the muscles in her arms relax. "What will you be doing to him?" she asked. "Marissa. sour-tasting foods for taste and smell. All of his senses will be stimulated in an attempt to coax. "Tell me what you mean by 'end this'." "No. "How big of a mess did she make of her room?" "It actually wasn't too bad. and then stepped away. I guess I was a poor student. it must be between you and his physician." For only a moment. we are going to put him through a program of intense sensory stimulation. I'd give my right arm to talk with you for about week on brain injuries but this isn't really the time. she let him look into her eyes and share her innermost thoughts. and/or force him back into consciousness. And if you don't there is nothing on earth that will change that. "George used to love grits and coffee. "Let's find you some breakfast then Mrs. "Have you eaten yet?" she shook her head. you would despise me. Wilkins?" Katy clasped her hands together and bowed her head." She turned toward Gerhard. Sheldon when she comes down. "Can you tell me exactly what that is?" "Yes. just let him go" "I'm an Austrian." Gerhard calmly sipped his coffee. Strauss." He said. There will be music and loud noises for his auditory stimulation." She followed him into the kitchen where she found a plate ready for her. "She'll be down shortly. He watched her silently as she poured a cup of coffee. When the time comes. "We will not only evaluate his level of consciousness. Not you and I. She's ripped a pair of her slacks to pieces and thrown some other clothes on the floor. 48 . A huge grin came to Abby's face as she stood at the sink. I can't deal with it any longer. I'll have everything written up for Mrs. Abby set a fresh cup of coffee in front of him. she left the room. "Consider the consequences of such an impulsive act. Gerhard was thumbing through a magazine when Marissa came into the room.A Death Without Malice Katy rejoined Gerhard in the library." Marissa smiled at the memory. "And try as he might he could never get you to eat them." she said to no one in particular." "I said it was probably hopeless. She just has to dress." Gerhard joined Marissa at the table. the only thing you want to end is the emotional pain that's tearing you apart. "you like them or you don't. "Please." she said gently." With a nod." "Why not?" She gulped her air as she spoke. If I were able to go upstairs right now and halt treatment. "His little Yankee girl just stuck her nose up at them doctor. closing the door behind her. The bed is a disaster.
Give me these two weeks then we can evaluate the situation more clearly. His final words stung. There will be times when your help is needed and times when I need you to stay away." He looked up briefly. down and medial movements of the right and left eye with doll's eye stimulation. He shook his head." She held her fork away from her plate. "things will go smoother that way." He then removed a penlight from his pocket and turned it on. who had watched intently. "Isn't that going to be too hard on him?" she asked. I believe this will help Mrs. Wilkins. wondering if anything lay behind his blank stare." He tried to force George to blink by moving his finger quickly toward his eye. Enjoy your breakfast. Sheldon be present when that test is done." She refused to look at him. "Ventilator readings show no spontaneous respirations. "And under no circumstances should Mrs. Believe me when I tell you that it is far harder on him to be left as he is." "Do you want me to go with you now?" she asked." He stood up to leave. "There is no corneal reflex using finger movement or cotton swab as a stimulus. "I'll have everything written out for you by tomorrow Mrs. They see this as torture. Wilkins and we'll begin. "Marissa. Sheldon as well." He looked over at Katy." Katy nodded. A second IV of saline/Dilantin is available in case of seizure." He moved the unusually bright light across George's periphery. A tape recorder had been placed on a table beside the bed. N. you've done a wonderful thing. He tapped the table. "Let me know what you want me to do. "Please rub a cotton swab over his cornea Mrs. He seemed sorry to have hurt her yet again. There was no response. "No. One with cotton swabs." Katy pulled the sheet off of George's body. A small metal tray held two bowls." Gerhard lifted George's head a few inches off the pillow. "That will be fine doctor." Gerhard picked up a small sheet of paper. "This patient has a Glasgow Outcome score of two." "Yes sir. Let's schedule for early next week. six days a week. Wilkins." Gerhard and Katy prepared for the first day of therapy. the other ice cubes. "There appears to be no spontaneous eye movement. "Pupillary size is between three and four millimeters. "Limited up." She nodded and gave him a tiny smile." Katy did as she was asked. It's to be done twelve hours a day. He has little or no chance of recovering from a Persistent Vegetative State. You and she will be doing most of this on your own." He looked carefully at George. "We have begun an IV drip of dextrose/Physostigmine salicylate to act as a cholinergic agonist in the hopes of stimulating neurological activity. right and left." 49 ." She said Gerhard turned on a tape recorder. "I will. "Good. "We will have to test his caloric responses. "Not for the brief amount of time these therapies will take place. but silently." Marissa looked startled. He tipped it forward and back. But not right now. Nothing more. Very few family members are capable of understanding what we are trying to do. "Pupils are slightly reactive to light. testing whether the eyes would stay focused in one direction or move with the head. He shook his head. Norton Wilkins.M." He paused. "Don't allow her to be here during the more intrusive procedures. patient is completely dependent. I'll go upstairs with Mrs." He said.
"I'm not certain we are not getting a reaction. The next day Marissa dialed Mildred Sheldon's number. There is a doctor here who is going to see if it's possible to wake him up. "Set these on his extremities please." She said." Again did as she was asked. The doctor says I have a little cold is all. Gerhard removed his tape from the player and inserted a different one." he said. "You're not a large woman Mrs. but you sound terrible. "Hello Mama Sheldon." Katy nodded in agreement. this is Marissa. Which is part of why I'm calling." He put his thumb under the bony roof of George's orbital cavity." She smiled. "This is a nice selection of classical music." "Yes doctor." Gerhard nodded. I think he'll enjoy it. no sound. Gerhard attempted to move George's limbs at the elbows and knees. "No reaction. Is everything all right?" Mildred cleared her throat before she answered. "When I first came to work for Mrs. Eye opening is one." Strauss looked curiously at her. I just grabbed hold and pulled on his arm until it gave. His extremities were all splinted and a wedge was put between his legs to keep his hips in their sockets. just old. "Hello" came a soft voice over the line. "Was he splinted when he first came home?" "Yes." "We shall see" he said then turned to leave. They waited three minutes." She took a small lump of skin between her nails and pinched hard. He took note of the fact that George's hands had turned inward. "He's the same Mama." She gently rubbed her patients arm. again pressing very hard. The phone ring several times before her mother-in-law finally answered. pulling stiffly into his torso while his legs where extended with his toes pointing downward. "Do you really think George can wake up?" 50 . there's more to you than it would seem. "Verbal response is one. "the anti-seizure medication could be responsible in part perhaps?" "He has grown more resistant to passive movements over the past year doctor. We can start the softer therapies tomorrow. abnormal flexion due to decorticate posturing and spacticity. "It then moved freely for a while but I can't get that much movement from him anymore. Wilkins." "Marissa do you mean it?" she was almost gasping. "I understand he was quite a lover of good music." "Well." she said." He took a pen and pressed down on a fingernail." Gerhard reached over and turned off the tape recorder. "That will be enough for today Mrs. I hope it brings him peace. Total Glasgow Coma Score is five and I have to conclude that the original Glasgow Outcome Score is still no better than two. "I'm old honey. How are you?" "I'm fine." She said as she pulled the cover back over her patient. "About nine months ago he became so rigid that the splints were doing nothing more than cutting into his skin. If he can still hear it. Wilkins. Jenkins. How is George?" 'She'll never accept this'. there was a tremendous effort to prevent joint deformity.A Death Without Malice "Understood doctor. "No response to ice." He noted." "Oh Marissa I'm so glad you called." He paused. "Please pinch him above the elbow Mrs. Sheldon I could still get a clasp-knife response." He said. Marissa thought to herself. handing two to Katy and keeping two for himself." He reached into a bowl and pulled out four small bags filled with ice cubes. "There is no observable facial movement. "Motor response score on the Glasgow Coma Scale is three. "I wonder if he is not so severely postured he's simply unable to show us the response. The risk of severe infection became a major concern so we removed them.
I love you too honey." "I will." she paused. Some who have recovered have said yes. "I'll pray for him Marissa. "This tape has an assortment of classical recordings with loud banging noises in between. Let's find out how this will go first. But if not." Marissa hung up the phone and went to George's room. Gerhard continued. Gerhard followed her into the hallway." Gerhard stared into her eyes. He took off a set of headphones as soon as he saw her come in." "Do you think I should come there? Just in case?" she asked. "All right sweetie. No one could give him solace. Can you survive that?" Gerhard put his hand to his chin. He has a lot of permanent damage to his brain." "So another week. He had endless nightmares. "And if she doesn't survive. look at me. then I will let him rest. "Can you come with me for a few minutes? Marissa asked. "It's an awful long trip for you to make if nothing happens. We are doing this so I can kill him without feeling bad about it." Marissa felt nauseous. turned up the volume and hit play." Mildred wouldn't be stayed. Imagine that you are him and allow part of your decision to come from that point of view." 51 . Gerhard and Katy were standing near the bed. "Marissa. What could it hurt to let him live until she dies? She can't last much longer." She pleaded. Are they in pain or not? There is no conclusive evidence either way. If given the same choice none of us would." Her voice filled with disappointment." She would only stare at the floor. It pauses from time to time so he won't automatically tune it out. Why did I ever think she would agree to bury him? "I'll let you know how things are going. I will ask you to go into his room and look at him. a month or a year longer. Look very hard. Norton How the hell do I say 'No I don't. Their suffering means a great deal to me. "All of my patients mean something to me as well. others no. Every fear he had ever known haunted him and no one knew Marissa. N. I love you. She had no desire at all to know what George might be feeling while trapped inside his prison. "Because he deserves the chance to live if he can. and she was so excited when I told her what you were going to do. I will leave it on him for thirty minutes or so.M. "oh do you know how badly I want to see him again?" He's her last living relative and her only child. you will have this guilt on your shoulders as well?" "I don't know what to do. A son she loves dearly and does not want to let go of.' "Please don't get your hopes up too far. her excitement was growing. "I don't think Mildred will survive this." Marissa searched for something to say. "Is it fair to ask George to survive that?" "He's her son for Christ's sake. Living functioning human beings have the necessary tools to survive grief. then I must ask you to put his needs first. "You have seen this situation from your perspective only. "Yes he is. These patients can survive nothing." "Then why try to save him?" she asked." "I'll call you every day Mama. you let me know." He put the headphones over George's ears. Now go lie down for a while so you'll get better. "One patient of mine called his time in a comatose state as nothing short of being in hell." Marissa slowly raised her head to meet his stare. She is old and frail Gerhard. Depending on what parts of the brain are still functional would determine whether or not he is aware of his surroundings at some level yet completely unable to communicate. She stopped just outside the door. Gerhard wouldn't let up.
look at me. Frank had been gone for two weeks then with hat in hand he came back. that's all." He paused. Frank waited a moment before he answered. Anne walked up behind Frank as he read the paper at the dinner table. This might sound cold and I don't mean it to. For everyone involved. He didn't enjoy the thought of adding to the pain she was already feeling. "No. he gave her the blatant truth. "Do you really think the last two years were better spent? She's locked herself away with a corpse Anne. He felt a mist on his neck." Though he knew his wife had cared a great deal for George. She was hurting and her temper was undoubtedly on a short fuse. "If nothing happens soon they are going to let him die. But somehow. I know you see it differently and I won't argue. "It's past time for him to go. Then I want you to ask him if he would want to live until his mother dies." "Keep talking about George that way and I'll put you out of your misery myself. George had been right. "George was a great guy honey." She stepped back." Frank pulled her onto his lap and let her cry. "I wasn't ready to see George the other day. George is dead. You seemed distracted during supper." "I suspect she needed time Frank." She wiped her eyes. but very few of his patients suffered this severe an injury." Anne wasn't ready to hear it. I never knew how painful actually saying goodbye was going to be. "There is obviously no decision I can make that's right. "I'll call Marissa in a few minutes and see if that's okay. George couldn't have had worse luck if he'd tried. Anne had fallen for him almost as soon as she'd seen him." He rubbed her arm. Tall and handsome. "Yes. "Would you like to drive down there on Saturday and see him? Your mother hasn't played with the kids for at least a week. He doesn't act as though they're dead." Frank suspected he was pushing the line.A Death Without Malice Marissa felt as though he were putting her in a vice. But as far as I'm concerned he died on the table." She nodded." he said gently. Frank continually hoped that Marissa would come to a point where she could let him die. His saucy little girl needed to let it go. Once she'd cried herself out he spoke again. I'll bet we can leave them with her and spend the day. I wish things could have worked out differently. but I wish Marissa had done this two years ago. not a thing." He held her chin and turned her face so he could see into her eyes. Without looking into his eyes again. What do you want from me?" "I want you to go look your husband in the eyes. tickling his ear with her hair. Frank decided to back off. he has. When he finally spoke. She would have lost it if he'd died on the table. "George was a good friend and I miss him a great deal. He set the paper on the table and covered her hands with his own. But his looks hadn't made him arrogant. "This neurologist has brought lots people out of unconsciousness. Most were car accidents or something like that. "Anything interesting?" Frank was a looker. "Anne." Frank brushed her hair away from her face. Things had been good ever since." "Has Marissa called to say how things are going?" "There's been no response so far. But I hope this is finally brought to an end. She ran her hands around his waist and placed her chin on his shoulder. "I know." "Didn't you ever think he might recover?" she asked." Anne's clutch tightened. "Christ if that ever happens to me you better make damn sure they put me out of my misery. she turned and walked away. It shook me up." "I'll be downstairs if you need me." She was only half kidding. "No. She probably won't mind the company." 52 .
'Will Mark be better off in the end'? Anne kissed Frank on the cheek then went into the kitchen." Anne fought the urge to be abrasive. I'm fine." Anne smiled as she put the receiver back in the cradle. "Good. is that you?" She asked. I hate to run but one of the kids sounds like they've just cut off a finger. Gerhard walked around Marissa's living room. really. Most had been taken in different parts of the world." Anne wasn't about to back down. She dialed Marissa's number and waited on the line until she heard a distant voice say 'hello' on the other end. "Anne.M. "Sis. "Gotcha. Frank and I are going to come down on Saturday to keep you company for awhile. See you Saturday and I love you. The fireplace mantle had become a memorial to her past. "Marissa. "I'm fine. We…" Marissa cut her short. "This is just really difficult. Anne was about to yell into the phone to get Marissa's attention when she finally spoke. How are you?" Anne listened with growing concern at the strained voice on the other end. Yes. N." She cleared her throat as she continued. hi." she said then went upstairs to play with her children for a few minutes before bedtime. 'Does that include a young man who is about to lose a father'? She wondered. Norton Anne stared past Frank at a lonely picture hanging on the wall. His eyes rested on several brass framed pictures of Marissa and George. 'For everyone involved' she thought to herself. I'll see you on Saturday. I've got to go. "Listen. She spoke in a softened voice. you'll be better company when we get there." Anne knew she had to get off the line before Marissa had time to argue. "What the hells wrong with you? Is everything all right?" There was no answer for what seemed a long time. He saw the smiles and hugs that gave life to 53 . "No.
when we look forward to the end of our labor here doctor. She should have never let this go on." He looked thoughtfully at the elderly woman beside him. We sit in a rocking chair and think about all we've done and what we didn't do in our life. I don't think there was ever a chance he could come out of this. We put our lives on top of the piano and act as though we're already dead. I hope you have many years to go. very few wished they had been allowed to die. however fleeting it may have been. "I think God did decide. Just getting what we've wished for I suppose. 54 . It's impossible to say. "Comes the time in life. "Then who does?" she asked as she turned back toward him. "He should have died a long time ago. You ask me about ethics Abby." Gerhard nodded. "Of all the coma patients I've seen revived. He saw a kindly woman of strong faith who had little use for science." She smiled and patted his forearm. "Sort of like us old ladies. Each holding the end of a swordfish on the bow of a yacht. or posing with their families during Christmas dinner. "I believe in God doctor." "God should decide." he said. "Always a question of time it seems. and I can tell you that it is just as dangerous to allow physicians to randomly decide who should live and die as it is to try and save someone beyond solid reason. Sheldon before he married her." Abby gazed out the window. He chose to leave that burden to us all. "For right or wrong. "If no one can say. With tremendous belief in my profession and myself that is what I try to do. Do you?" Gerhard stared again at the pictures." A soft light reflected in her ageing eyes." she said. human beings demand that we find a way to save them. "even among those who were severely deformed. "I was with Mr. then where does it end? Do you keep on going until all that's left of the man he was is a beep on a monitor? What are you going to do when you figure out how to take a man's brain out of his head? Are you going to keep that alive as well?" Gerhard looked again at Abby. then before you know it we are dead. "Doctor." Abby looked briefly at the man beside her. as I think you know. Feeling as though he were being asked to pass judgment on the life of a man he never knew. acknowledging the dichotomy in his own mind. "It's always a sad day when the wisest among us pass on Abby. "I would not have held out hope for him. "Can you blame her?" he asked." Abby wiped a speck of dust from the bottom of a picture frame. After that would come a tremendous sense of guilt followed by an unwillingness to accept something so horrible and out of her control. "He wouldn't have wanted this.A Death Without Malice their former relationship." Abby moved over to the pictures on the mantle. But is it right to keep him alive when God himself tried to take him home?" "These questions are not mine to answer. To find the right time to let go." She looked directly into his eyes." She turned toward him. and God says it isn't right to kill a man. "Isn't it something how a person can take the remnants of an entire lifetime and put it in one place?" Gerhard turned to see Abby standing beside him." he said softly. "I'm sure you've seen it. A time when we can lay down to rest and never have to get up again." Gerhard nodded. But you must understand that neither would I have demanded support be withdrawn until I was certain recovery was impossible. "In the beginning there was hope. uncertain whether she should have been so open with a stranger. So we move forward with our research: with scientists and ethicists constantly moving the boundary line between what is an acceptable definition of life and what is merely working to avoid a pronouncement of death." He saw a tear come to Abby's eye.
"No. N. his mother. No shortage of troubles. but happy anyway." Abby turned to go." Abby looked down at the floor. "But it didn't matter in the end. before the accident." Gerhard nodded slowly. Don't be so hard on yourself." Gerhard stared at a fragile. "Then once home it was easier for everyone to put their faith in a miracle than to believe you were doing nothing more than giving comfort to a dead man. Alone." She wrapped her small hand around his fingers. She finally called her sister Anne then fell completely apart. at least you tried. "Marissa was all alone in that waiting room when they told her." Gerhard took her hand into his own. without hope and uncertain. you'll know why we brought him home. "You've never seen two sisters give each other so much. but I don't think you understand who has to suffer the consequences. "I see. "You've never seen such suffering in your life." he asked She smiled and looked again at the pictures. they were so happy. "Where is Marissa? Up with her husband?" "I think she's on the deck. I'll find her myself." She smiled and nodded. This is something she must do herself. "She's a good girl. about ten years ago. she was as lost as a kitten in the woods. Norton "You say that doctor. And if you've ever seen a grieving woman beg for the life of her son. she'll do the right thing. It was Anne who told his mother what happened. you go rest for a while." Gerhard knew the pattern." He shook his head. I can go find her if you like." She nodded." Gerhard didn't want to leave her this way. "I do understand the grief Abby. They could keep his body alive and maybe she needed to take some comfort in that. "We all grieved over his death two years ago. Anne took care of everything from that point. Anne's husband Frank is a very good lawyer. "Thank you for that doctor. All of you tried." Gerhard rubbed her shoulder. "I do understand. Abby took a moment before she answered. "Yes. when their marriage was tested as severely as it ever could be. "Abby. She chartered a flight from Virginia Beach to Charlotte. no one in this house has had a moments peace since he came home. together. it should have ended then." Abby had to pause." She picked up the photograph of an elderly woman and handed it to him. The doctors tried to say they didn't think he could ever come out of it but Mildred begged her to wait. "That's his mother. It's so hard to find the answers. We were still in Winston-Salem then. That poor man upstairs. There was a time. she had to let the emotions settle before she could go on." She looked into Gerhard's eyes. But he was gone. a wonderful lady. Her own were hard yet pleading. 55 . Hopefully this can be brought to an end very soon. She was standing in her flower garden with a basket on her arm. "It was a pleasure to be here. He called her at the door. The best neurologist in the world could not have known for certain. They both needed to find something else to think about. as we all have. it really was. "Are you going to tell Marissa let him go?" "No." She seemed at peace as she spoke. Marissa didn't know what to do. gentle woman in a sundress and bonnet. alone again. "Then Mildred decided there could be a miracle." His words were brutally honest.M." he said quietly. They had gone to Charlotte for the operation and were staying at his mother's house in Concord for a few days before the surgery." Abby blinked her eyes many times as she spoke." He had pried enough for the time being. "what about the accident?" Abby drew back. It's just off the back of the house. she didn't care to re-live the memory." "Tell me how they were. "Oh doctor. But they worked through that. he made certain the hospital covered the expenses so there was nothing whatsoever to get in the way of the dream. You do not know the tears we all cried. sometimes even these cases wake up. To know.
He's been through enough. not only for you.A Death Without Malice "Thank you for telling me Abby. "There is one last test I want to do. He continued. Please don't rekindle the fire of false hope. She opened her eyes when he pulled out a chair and sat beside her. guilty for wanting to be with you more than I wanted life. We are very close to bringing him back to a conscious state. But I think I'm slowly finding the courage to let him go. I'd rather you stayed away." He gently brushed the hair from her face. "It was not the same type of injury Marissa. "If you want the truth. What are you thinking about?" She closed her eyes again and answered. in the fortune of that little boy. I always will. Were this to be done on a conscious man it would be excruciating. I think it's obvious that we are hoping he can. I have a young man back at the hospital that needs me a great deal. "Would you like me to help with the test? I'm not doing anything important. I don't want you to see it. her eye's closed and her face turned up to the sky. I think you should ask his mother to come here and your family too. 56 . the sense of never knowing who I am or what I want is passing. For right or wrong you made me come alive." The pain on her face was obvious." She couldn't stop her tears. trying to hide her disappointment… not only at his inability to stay and as much as she hated herself for the thought. "but critical. but I don't think you realize how very hard that will be. "Anne and Frank will be down day after tomorrow. Wilkins can assist with this one. "I wish I could say that I know for certain that a comatose/semi-comatose man can't feel pain." "It is brief. The anger. "I felt guilty." She looked into his eyes. What more do you want?" Gerhard took her other hand into his own. it will be one of agony. help her bury him." "You can't." he said. As ready as you may be." She tried to look away from him. "I know you are Marissa. "In less than a week." Marissa tried to hide her shock. She held her hand out to him. If nothing changes and you are ready at that time he will terminate life support. Mrs. Please." He saw the first doubts cross her face." Marissa nodded her head. "I'm supposed to hurt him even more in a few days. don't let them overwhelm you. "I'm fine. but also for his mother. Very few tests can induce a reaction as effectively. He again seemed to read her mind." She nodded and again held out her hand. the frustration. "Please make her do the right thing. "Can you stay for dinner?" she asked. he hurts too much now. He took it and held on." She sat forward and stared at him intently. In fact. He held it gently for a moment then let it go. He stroked her fingers. "Because I'm going to have to test his Caloric responses to try and stimulate eye movement." "When will you be through?" she asked." She squeezed his hand." He shook his head. for a while that first day you were here. this is going to devastate you. He will be here for the last day of testing." Marissa nodded. All the suffering from the last two years will come to the surface." "How come?" She asked. "I love George. "How are you?" she said. I was thinking of you. "You can't do that to him. That's almost gone. I'll ask everyone else to come as well. "No. Should there actually be a reaction. a very good man." "I've already talked to George's neurologist. After that. his gaze made her more determined to tell him. "Do nothing more than think about these things right now." Gerhard found Marissa sitting in a deck chair. I know it was hard. How she wished George could have been as lucky two years before.
" "Tell Frank that you two will be staying the weekend." "I see." 57 . The chauffer will pick you up at 9:30 Sunday morning and take you to the airport. "Hello Mama Sheldon. She wiped her tears and asked George for forgiveness. Strauss would like to talk with you for a minute. Gerhard spoke without looking at her. Marissa looked quickly at Abby then ran up the stairs." her voice was cracking. I'll give it some thought then let you know by the weekend. Gerhard came over to where she was standing. I don't look forward to hurting people without good reason." Marissa hung up then called a travel agent in Charlotte. "Mrs. Sheldon." I'll walk you out. She stood back and watched him drive away. I need you to do something for me. I'll see you tomorrow." "Let's go. "I would like you to come to the house this Sunday so we can talk about it." "No. "Oh. "Thank you. Norton "There is no other way. how are you?" she asked." He paused. She walked in to see Gerhard drying the side of George's head.M. She then dialed George's mother. "This will pass. she dialed her sister's phone number." Anne stifled her own reaction. Back in the house. "Okay. He can be at peace." She nodded. You're room will be ready as soon as you walk in the door." "I'll talk to you later. Dr. "I'll find a way there Marissa. When he opened the door. N. Abby came from the kitchen and sat beside her. Can they bring them along or would you rather I made other plans?" she asked. Marissa didn't answer right away." He said quietly. then call Mother and Father and ask them to come down on Sunday. "Marissa." Katy said. The despair in Mildred's old voice was heartbreaking. She finally spoke. My cold is much better. I've taken care of everything. My parents will pick you up in Virginia Beach and drive you down here." "Name it. you need to know." Marissa said and kissed him lightly on the cheek." he whispered He took her arm and opened the door. I won't leave this half done." "They will have the kids. "Hello" "Anne. I suspect you know why I'm asking you to come. she heard the door close upstairs. "Only a slight response. her anger was fading away. It was one of the most difficult call she'd ever made. Neither spoke a word. "I have to go now. I'm so glad you called. Marissa." She felt her anger flare but didn't want to say something she might regret. this is Marissa. "This is the last of anything painful we'll have to do. "What happened?" she asked. "I don't know what to do with it all. They simply found comfort in each other's company." Marissa could still hear a rasp in her voice. How much could she ask children to see? "You decide Anne. She went with him as far as his car in silence." He reached out and touched her arm. that's why I'm calling. "I wouldn't have done this if it hadn't been necessary." Marissa sat at the bottom of the stairs while Gerhard and Katy flushed George's ear canal with ice water. After several minutes." Marissa looked away." she said. "How is George honey? Is there any difference?" "Mama.
Yet was that true? Marissa would have a life of her own again very soon." She leaned over the bed and held his face in her hands. Mark had enough of her features to dispel any thoughts that there was a close resemblance to George. anyone could look at him and see his father's eyes. only six at the time. Uncle George's tree had come straight from Clara's living room. Marissa looked out the window and saw that the sun had set." her sobs were coming harder. I love you too Frank. His mother had taken him to see The Nutcracker only a few days before and to his young mind. "Good morning" she said between nudges. Anne woke the next morning and looked over to see Frank sleeping beside her. I always have. "George. Mark. then tried to remember the man she had known. She walked slowly to George's room. Fortunately the human psyche would rather assume it was incorrect than face an uncomfortable question directly. She snuggled under Franks chin. God. but before she comes… George I have to ask you something. And what about Mark? He'd be devastated to find out the man who had raised him wasn't his father after all. All but for one detail. She had always understood that there was a profound significance to George having fathered a son. "I'm so sorry for what they did to you today. He drew her face down to his own. Besides. 'How far can some secrets go my love?' she thought." was all Marissa heard before the line went dead." she said quietly. his imminent death made it appear even more so. please die. God knows I've never been sorry we had our moment in time. Then she crawled onto the bed and fell asleep beside him. If I could have screamed to the world I was carrying your son I would have. "God this is hard. Frank had never been one to talk while driving the car and Anne had too much one her mind to break the silence. 58 . If you are still alive by next week they are going to ask me to kill you.A Death Without Malice "I'll see you then. I need you to listen. if it's at all possible." Her tears were already starting. Sheldon. wrapping her arms around him. interwoven with golden-laced bulbs colored in hues of mauve and green. "George. Did Marissa ever ask if the woman you slept with loved you? She looked over again at her husband." Anne and Frank decided to take Mark with them on Saturday and have the two older children ride down the next day with their grandparents and the senior Mrs. Multi-flavored candy canes covered the limbs. George. George please. As before. We are running out of time." She said as she walked over to her chair by the bed. The only person she could think of that would take solace in the fact that her line would continue on was George's mother." She let her head fall onto his shoulder. "I think that sounds great. had never seen such a tree in his life. mostly remembering his Uncle George and Aunt Marissa. left to his own devices. He had a feeling that the only conversations he'd be privy to were the ones he played out in his own mind. Mark. he lay in the soft shadow of the nightlight. He then had Marissa's family and his mother over for Christmas Eve dinner. "I'm not certain I can. "Your mother is coming on Sunday to see you. not that way. But was that worth destroying so many other lives? It wasn't impossible to continue the lie. The test was necessary to see if you'd wake up. if you ever loved me at all…you won't make me do this. "Why don't I shut off the alarm and we can find a more congenial approach to starting the day?" she whispered. George had put up an enormous Christmas tree at the house on Knott's Island. Would she be better off knowing her nephew was her stepson? Frank sure as hell wouldn't jump for joy at the news. quietly watched the birds and other wildlife along the causeway. what precluded her or Frank from having an ancestor with those eyes? She remembered the man she saw in the hospital bed. Oh. "I'll see what happens tomorrow." She kissed his cheek and brushed her fingers through his hair until she couldn't cry anymore." He said as he pulled her on top of him. "Good morning to you. you don't have to hold on any longer.
"My son and husband are on their way in. "You're a young gentleman Mark. "Thank you. and what he suspected were the reasons for it. "They are so beautiful Uncle George. I guess I'm more tired than I thought. I want you to meet the doctor that's been taking care of George. I'll bet Santa left that candy cane there especially for you." Frank parked the car at the side of the house. He had never known why they stared at him that way. Mark was certain that Santa had indeed come to Uncle George's house early and left this magical tree. It's a pleasure to meet you as well." Anne looked all around her. may I have one please?" George sat beside him on the floor." She said. Anne stopped. Nice to meet you. N. "Good to meet you doctor. go ahead and set that down for a moment." He said. I'll see you in a minute." He had held him close. Norton George had found him kneeling on the floor." he said." "I think she's up with her husband. He walked over to George and sat on his lap. George gently held his arm to slow him down." Anne walked to the front door and as usual rang the bell then let herself in. "I'm fine sir. "I didn't realize you were here or I'd have entered with a little more finesse. Don't worry at all. Anne had turned toward the door as Mark and Frank walked in with the luggage. His smile was warm. "And who is this?" He looked at Mark." 59 ." Mark had jumped up too quickly. "Sounds good. That is something you'll need to always remember. "Let me find Marissa so we can get these bags put away. "You're staring pretty hard at those candy canes." he had said. "Frank. He had then said thank you to his uncle. "This is a wonderful candy cane Uncle George. Frank held out his hand. "Marissa! Where the hell are you?" She covered her mouth and tried to hide her surprise when she saw Gerhard come out of the library." "How do you do Mark?" Gerhard had barely finished when something made him look closely at the boy's eyes." With his uncle's advise firmly seeded in his ear. "Why don't you reach up and take that one.M. "I'll get her for you Anne." They put the bags on the floor. but it's before supper. He pointed to a branch just above him. He then studied Mark's physical features and bone structure. Gerhard sensed her hesitation. I want to check on something anyway. but their glances had always made him feel unique somehow. "he doesn't mind at all. Then maybe we can have coffee and visit somewhere other than an entryway. and saw the same look in his uncle's eyes that he had noticed in his mother's so many times before." he said as he shook hands. as though there had been something special between them. Why don't you go open the front door for us and tell Marissa we're here?" Anne opened her door. She looked uncertain as to what she should do. "I think we should write a thank you note to Santa Clause for giving them to us." "First names are so much better." George had spoken with such conviction. Anne says you're incredible. "This is our youngest son Mark. please call me Gerhard. let me introduce you. "Mark and I will get the suitcases." Gerhard said. he had walked over to the tree and carefully taken the candy cane down. He spoke to his uncle with a quiet voice. "You're a fine looking young man. it's good to see you again. He just turned eleven." She held out her hand." "It was a very enlivening hello. losing himself in the glow of the tree lights. Do I have to tell my daddy I have it?" George held him and laughed. "Hello Anne. "I don't think your daddy minds at all Mark." Her shoulders dropped in relief. Mark smiled and looked at the floor.
"Dad. hoping he'd find something to say. "No." "I'm heading to the kitchen to find some coffee. Then he smiled and talked with his uncle as though they were sitting at the table together. It would be very hard for him to answer you. "You're huge! You must have grown a foot. I miss him." She was trying to find a way to counter the argument when Gerhard came back over to where she was standing. "Don't argue with me Mark." "I'll be fine mom. Anne joined him. but if dealt with tactfully he will be able to appreciate all that's happened. "Hi Aunt Marissa. I don't think that's a good idea Mark." He bent closer to George's ear. "Okay." Gerhard smiled at the young man in front of him. I would please." he said. her voice rising ever so slightly." The boy turned toward his father. "Wait." he said. "Uncle George. But there is every chance he can. "Dad. but he won't be able to respond. "It's impossible to say for certain. "I only wanted him to talk to me. "Oh Mark. can I go up and see Uncle George?" Frank looked at the doctor then back at his son. You can talk to him." He looked at the bed. I'll do something nice for her to make up. Mark saw the hurt in her eyes. I also think it's important for him to go. tell him how you are and so on." Marissa looked up at Gerhard. "Let's all go. Please. The tension was building. How've you been?" he asked as she hugged him." The boy turned to his father. She was set back a little at how at ease he seemed to be. "Your uncle is extremely ill right now Mark. he ran over to her." "But…" Anne shook her head. "Hi Uncle George. Though I'll bet he's glad you're here. I understand your concerns." He smiled proudly. it's great to see you. Okay?" 60 .A Death Without Malice Gerhard had only taken a few steps toward the stair when he heard a voice behind him. "Is that Uncle George?" She nodded." She held him back. I want to see him. "Do you think you can wake up and talk to me?" he asked. did I do something wrong?" He stared again at the man in the bed. "I'm sorry Aunt Marissa. She then turned to Mark." Frank couldn't help but be moved by the urgency in his young voice. "Let's go upstairs and say hello to your aunt and uncle. Let Doctor Strauss help you with what you don't understand. "I will take him with me and explain everything he sees. now I'm almost as tall as my mom is. Mark stared at him in silence for a few minutes. "He isn't the same honey." Mark again bent down to George's ear. "Can he hear me?" Gerhard shrugged. "Don't you remember how easy it was to talk to Uncle George? I used to know he was coming before he walked into the room" He was desperate to make her see he hadn't meant to offend her." She said." Frank said as they walked away. "Would you like to come over and see him?" "Yes. I sure miss you. "Sure. Mark nodded his head. I'm sorry about what I said to hurt Aunt Marissa. "I think he's old enough to deal with this Anne. why not?" he said. He isn't how you remember him. Don't worry." she said to Gerhard. Mark had started to turn toward Gerhard when Anne reached out for him. "Children are far more able to deal with these issues than we give them credit for. "Yeah. I said no." She still looked doubtful. As soon as the boy saw Marissa. The innocence in his voice was heartrending Marissa had no idea what to say. That's all I mean. Gerhard opened the door and let Mark walk in.
"Oh. "How did she find out initially?" "He told her for Pete's sake. "Yes they do. "He finally offered to leave. He had at least a few days left to ponder the question." she smiled." She said with dismay. No one knows the how's or why's and he would never say who with. "She finally forgave him?" There was an air of sadness on her face. gathered the carrot peels in the sink then continued." Gerhard thought for a moment then continued with his questions." She seemed at peace as she thought back. "How did she handle the situation?" "She begged Marissa to think about what she was doing. so he let it go for the time being. But it devastated poor Marissa." He looked down at her gnarled fingers. "I think she loved him too much to let their marriage be destroyed by the betrayal. "I admire his sense of integrity. They didn't tell the rest of the family." She paused. "Is there anything I can do to help?" he asked. He was convinced he was staring at father and son. though I doubt it matters now. The theory is that a fair number of people who are in a comatose or semi-comatose state can be brought back to consciousness through what we call stimulation therapy. "I start early so I can finish on time. reading his favorite stories. May I ask what that problem was?" Abby stopped what she was doing. Gerhard found Abby peeling carrots over the kitchen sink." Gerhard smiled. "Abby.M. then mentioned almost offhandedly. I am curious about one thing." He answered. Marissa's sister Anne is the only other person in the world who knew." "Do they hurt?" Mark asked. Besides. "I'm not certain I should say. He had barely finished his thought when Mark looked up at him. Sheldon had an affair. please ask. In my day a man who was so inclined just kept his mouth shut about it. no. "Mr. I think everyone in the house was in tears. "It must have been difficult for the entire family. Gerhard looked at them both one more time. Abby shrugged her shoulders. N." "And no more was said about it?" he asked. "If I can help you at anytime. Have you ever heard of such a thing?" The boy shook his head. but in front of me they were even happier for having gone through it." She nodded her head and kept working. There was still some room for doubt. those kinds of things. Let me explain. "I'm leaving the three of you alone to get re-acquainted." She set down her peeler and spoke in a whisper. Marissa thought hard and fast about it and decided to let it go. "Well I can't vouch for what might have been said in the bedroom. There are also some methods that are a bit more invasive but very successful." Abby shook her head." 61 ." he said. yet he wasn't sure what might be out of place. He was growing to like her a great deal. Marissa turned away from them both. Without a doubt." Gerhard was paying close attention. some terribly so. "You'd have thought it had hurt Anne as deeply as it did Marissa. work keeps my old fingers from getting stiff on me. "No thank you doctor. "Said he wouldn't have that lie between them. Told her some one night stand wasn't worth dumping George for. he didn't want to hurt his aunt's feelings again so he stayed quiet." "I see. but I have to wonder about his common sense. "We are attempting to arouse your uncle by playing his favorite types of music. I'll see you downstairs for dinner. Norton Gerhard studied the faces of both Mark and George as the boy stood hunched over the bed. Mark wanted to ask more questions. You mentioned a difficult period between George and Marissa some years ago. "What is it you're trying to do?" "Ah. Gerhard walked out the door." She shook her head." Marissa nodded and walked over to where her nephew was standing.
"Why the hell hasn't it been shut off yet?" she wondered as she ran toward the room. Anne glanced passively then turned again to Marissa. not at all. then turned away." Anne turned toward her sister. He nodded then walked away." "Your welcome. I appreciate your help." She looked out over the bay. everyone at the table continued with their meal." Anne wondered if he had any idea how desperately she needed to hear those words. The woman George had slept with almost 12 years before was no stranger. "Have you decided whether or not you'll stay here?" Her voice began to falter." Something that sounded almost melancholy in her voice made Frank look at her closely. I found myself wishing the road would never end. Gerhard glanced quickly but closely at Mark's ear." "It was very peaceful. one resembling deep contemplation on the doctor's face as he stared at Anne. Marissa could only sit for a few minutes before she jumped up and followed him. "Stay here please. Gerhard enthusiastically agreed to sit next to Mark at the table when Marissa asked. He had made note of it while he was irrigating George Sheldon's ear with ice water. "Is anything wrong doctor?" Gerhard quickly changed his expression. Marissa nodded then began conversing back and forth between Frank and Anne. the blare of the alarm still ringing in her ears. She gave him slight nod. 62 . He wanted a chance to take a very close look at the boy's face. the road is easier." Anne replied. "I shouldn't have brought it up. She wished Marissa had let it be. If so. leaving Gerhard alone long enough to investigate the one thing that had held his attention since he first saw Mark come through the front door. In Gerhard's mind there was no longer room for doubt. The other woman he had taken to his bed was Anne. What he was thinking about he wouldn't say. that we often stumble on our way." she said Gerhard rested his fork on his plate. he turned to her. he wondered why she had. "We travel down many paths in our life. I'm sorry. I guess I'm not ready to make a decision one way or another yet." she said as she picked up the peeler. Never mind. "Thank you for the information Abby. Gerhard also looked curiously at Anne. what time are mother and father coming down?" Marissa asked." Gerhard said as he quickly rose and went toward the house. His attention was focused on a slight. "Anne. almost invisible deformity on the boy's left lobe.A Death Without Malice Gerhard stood beside her at the sink for a moment." he said gently. smiled. "after…I mean…shit Marissa I don't know what I mean. Her heart pounded as she reached the top of the stairs. "I haven't thought about it Anne. 'Did he even know that he had a son?' Gerhard wondered as he looked over at Anne. Anne had barely taken another bite when they heard the alarm go off. Finally. hoping to get past the awkward moment by losing herself in the sails of a small boat gliding on the water." He said. I think when we remember we are human. Frank saw an odd look. did they realize that only a few other humans in the world could have the same genetic malformation? The more astounding revelation was that he had seen the exact deformity only two days before. Having nothing more to say. She wasn't one to share her deeper feelings with strangers. "No. Yet she knew if she responded he would hear her voice break. speculating that her wish for a longer journey was only to forestall what she felt would be an inevitable confrontation with her past. "How was the drive down Anne? It is a lovely area. He wondered if anyone else knew it was there. She wasn't some weak moment that George would later regret. "some joyful and some not so. "I think she said they were leaving straight from the airport.
" Marissa found a towel and wiped her mouth." She said quietly. Please take Mrs. you're not making me leave. We are going to have to hold him until the Dilantin starts to work. it will only take a minute to put them on him. She quickly clamped off the IV holding the dextrose/Physostigmine salicylate." He said without taking his eyes off George." "He can hear me. George's body was writhing on the bed. you are not helping him. "As soon as your nausea has passed I would like you to leave the room please. "Forty five seconds doctor. I know it." "His seizures should lessen in about three minutes." "Marissa. Do you have straps?" Katy ran to the other side of the bed and pulled up the railing. "No. What is the time since you started the drip?" he asked. "One minute. "My god he's alive. injected the diazepam and started the saline/Dilantin mix. "God. Gerhard gave her a passing glance. "I want to know what's going on. The alarm had not been turned off because George was having a full-blown seizure and no one could take the time to flip the switch." She quickly reached under the mattress and pulled up several straps." Katy went back to the other side of the bed to the IV stand. Wilkins. Marissa watched Katy tie the straps on George's left arm and leg as though she were in a daze. "His seizures are strong enough to cause injury even with the straps Mrs. She staggered to her feet." Gerhard shook his head." Marissa looked into George's eyes and started crying. "George. "The severity should decrease very soon. I need you to leave the room." "How long since you started the drip?" he asked as he looked up at Katy. "Marissa. "We have to get this bedrail lifted Mrs. Wilkins. fifty-eight seconds. She barely made it. "Marissa." She started shaking George's head between her hands. Wilkins." Gerhard put all his weight on George's body to help keep him still." The only place she could throw up without disturbing anyone else was a small wastebasket near the window. "I can hold him while you tie him down on this side.M. She had never seen a grand mal seizure. The force of the seizures had caused them to bulge. clinging to the towel in just in case she needed it again." He didn't dare let go. stand at the foot of the bed and be still. Marissa saw him convulsing as Gerhard stood over him and tried to keep him from falling off the bed. "George. "Find the straps. She placed a large torso strap over George's chest then tied his right arm and foot with two smaller ones. add 15 mgs diazepam. All she could see was unbearable pain." she whispered. I'm fine here. She looked again into his eyes." he said. He knows we're here. She continued to stare at George's eyes. fifty mg's per minute." Gerhard said as he struggled to keep George in place. "Mrs. "They are tucked under the mattress doctor. Please stand away from the bed. "The drip has started doctor. I'm with you. We can strap him down once that has begun." he said calmly. She moved beside Gerhard and put her hands around George's face. start the Dilantin IV first. nor did she ever think it would actually occur." "There is nothing to gain by seeing this. wake up. Sheldon outside. "The medicine was supposed to make sure he didn't have seizures. I'm here. Please wake up. He knows I'm here. I don't think you should be here. Norton She opened the door and stopped cold." she said. "No. "They said the medicine would stop this from happening." Marissa backed away from her. N. can't you make it stop?" He knew that before long she would be out of control." 63 . "No." She acted as though he hadn't said a word.
"Pupils have become fixed and non-reactive. I hope somehow he knew the good care you took of him. grabbed Frank by the arm. The straps would now be enough to hold George in place until they ceased completely." She left the room without a response." "Probably best. "Would you quickly go down and ask Mr. "I'm terribly sorry. As soon as Katy opened the door he knew why. "You have to go into that room and drag her out of there." Marissa buried her head in Anne's shoulder. Maybe that's the best we can hope for. Without a word he walked over to the bed. "I'm not certain Mr. Gerhard was helpless as he stood over George and Marissa was crying hysterically. She stood silent as Gerhard openly expressed her own thoughts." Katy felt a lump in her throat as he gave his diagnosis. I'll give you the details later. The spasms were rapidly decreasing. He walked into the living room to find Anne holding Marissa on the sofa. can you hear me?" He asked. picked her up and carried her out." he said quietly. "He was pretty upset. George's eyes had closed. Sheldon will live another twenty-four hours. He then went downstairs." Katy stepped swiftly out of the room. I sent him into the kitchen to stay with Abby. "Marissa. He seemed peaceful as he lay there in the quiet of his room." Though Katy had seen many die before. Don't take any excuses. Gerhard continued to hold George down and waited for Katy to return. "Go downstairs Mrs. Wilkins. Carson's office and explain what has taken place. thirty seconds. Frank followed along and prepared himself to manhandle his sister-in-law. the end of his suffering is near. Wilkins. she had always felt a sense of loss when the end finally came. Frank was standing near the fireplace with Mrs. Without a functioning brainstem. I will speak to him myself if need be. Frank seemed startled by the question. The intensity of her emotions had blocked out everything in the room except for the man in front of her. Gerhard walked over to the respirator and turned off the alarm. Wilkins. "I'll be right back doctor. "Where is your son Mr. She slowly nodded and turned away. I'll make sure he's stable before I join you. and with little explanation had hauled him back up.A Death Without Malice "How long since the drip began Mrs. When he took out his penlight and checked for a pupillary response his guess was confirmed. George's chance for survival didn't exist. "Why?" 64 . Gerhard stood up and examined George. He then walked over to Katy. "Two minutes." He looked into Katy's eyes. Frank had barely left the room with Marissa in his arms when the seizure began to pass." She looked over at the bed. His first thought was that a vessel had ruptured. would you phone Dr. Gerhard counted down the last few seconds in his mind. checked his blood pressure and made certain the IV was continuing to administer the Dilantin at a fixed rate. Wilkins?" Though the seizure was lessening. "I suppose if he's been in pain. He barely heard her whisper. Katy ran down the stairs. Campbell to come here please. it was far from over." She said quietly. Campbell?" he asked." Not knowing what to say. Gerhard looked for any injuries he may have received due to the seizure." Gerhard nodded. She knew what he needed her to do. causing even greater damage to his already traumatized brain. There is irreversible damage to his brainstem. "Mrs. Please don't say anything until I get there.
"Now you'll have Dr. sorrow.M. "Jonathan. Perhaps you can arrive a few hours after." He paused for only a moment. Of all the emotional pain he had already put her through this would be the hardest to bear. he held on to her." He said gently. Probably caused by a bleed. "Dr. "Thank you for all you've done doctor. "I'm assuming twenty-four hours. Marissa had to hear this and face the truth with nothing more than the comfort her family could offer. Even with George now in a critical condition." She could do nothing else but follow. thank you for coming to the phone. "You wanted to sleep with me. George was in the way. My examination indicates permanent damage to his brain stem. The anguish on her face made it clear she had heard the conversation. The kid is clinically dead for all intents and purposes and he's on no heavier a regimen than George is." "Fire away. "I don't believe he will survive much beyond this night. "Marissa. say four o'clock. He would like to speak with you. I'm not certain we can count on organ failure and I do not want to see his family put through an agonizing period of waiting. where the rupture occurred will not change the outcome at this point. "Please listen to me carefully. "I'm truly sorry." he said. He picked the phone up off the oak table. Though a CAT scan or MRI would confirm it. "His mother and other family members will be here early Sunday afternoon. Sheldon has suffered from a ruptured vessel in or near his brain stem." he said then left the room. "I'll be back soon. The thoughts in her mind were slowly taking shape. Sheldon has had a seizure." "Katy rather insisted Gerhard." she cried. Hopefully he'll stay alive long enough for his mother to arrive which leads to a very important question." she said. there were issues that would undoubtedly have to be addressed." he said. If Mr. "You did this on purpose. N. You should do whatever you feel you need to before he dies. Carson come out here and make it easy?" "Marissa. "You know that's not true. "It is. Their tears fell in silence." She became rigid in his arms." The line was silent as Carson pondered what he knew the request was going to be. come here and sit down. 65 . he's dying. "This isn't something you will have to face alone." He spoke the words but knew they would have no affect." Anne and Marissa held each other as tightly as they could." "I'll be there. I wish it could have been more. "Mr. He saw the guilt. Sheldon has survived until that time. and on Frank's face the acceptance of what he was going to say. "Didn't you?" He held her shoulders and prepared himself for her rage." "That is my point Jonathan." "As you know this man should have died a long time ago." He barely finished when Katy came back into the room. Why can't you face that?" She tried to stand up. Is that your estimate?" Gerhard tapped his fingers on the table." "I see. "There was a boy written up by a neurologist at UCLA who has been alive for years with permanent brain stem damage. we can then do a final examination and suggest to the family they turn off his respirator." Gerhard hung up the phone and heard the door close behind him." She shook her head. He turned to see Marissa staring at him. They have truly been through enough." "When would you like me to come out?" he asked. Norton Gerhard looked slowly around the room. What's happened?" "Mr." Frank walked over to shake his hand. Gerhard walked slowly in to the library. Carson is on the phone in the library. "You're welcome.
"I almost told you once." "You are asking me to give up all that I am. George and Mark grew to become as close as a father and son regardless. "Uncle George. and smell the fresh coffee Abby had brought for them. Frank gave him the discipline of living in a hard-thinking business world. She nodded as he went from the room then stared back out the window. "I'll be here when you need me." Anne sat on the sofa and stared out the window. She turned slowly toward her husband. She broke down in his arms." He thought carefully before he answered. that's a good question." "No. "God George I'm so sorry. And if your mother was my mother I would call her ma'am too." She buried her face in her hands and cried. Please look at me. "Only in part. Everything in the room seemed so far removed. The happiness in George's eyes when he held him was almost too painful for her to see. The time has come for you to stand on your own. "I'll never mention this again Anne. "I call my mother ma'am. I will not. Then came the lie. You are going to come to terms with this situation before you leave the room. She hoped he believed her excuse." She looked back out the window." She fought her tears with everything she had in her. He found a moment alone with her in the kitchen while Frank and everyone else drank spiced wine around the tree." Her mind went back to Mark's first Christmas." She said softly. Is he mine?" She hadn't expected the question and he saw her falter. George taught him to be a gentleman. too distant from her own thoughts to matter. you're not a child. Gerhard stroked her hair while whispering quietly. why do I have to call mom ma'am?" Mark pursed his lips as he finished." "Marissa." he said. but I have to know." She tried again to get up. "I must insist. When Frank came home…shortly after we. To choose. "He has to know. "Why can't you understand? I don't know what to do. I promise. I told you Mark had come early." "Do you have to call her ma'am too?" George had tears in his eyes from trying to hide his laughter. You left your parents for your husband and even after he became ill you had the memory of him here to protect you. She had eavesdropped on one of their many conversations as they walked up the beach together. "Well. "He's not your son George." Frank looked at her thoughtfully and softly rubbed her shoulder. "Only that I'll miss him Frank. but I lied." He pulled her close to him and rubbed her shoulders.. Mark was hardly big enough to hold two of George's fingers with his tiny hand. "That I'm sorry." "No. "You will not die when he does." George nodded and walked away." 66 . you have never had to live entirely on your own. There are moments in time that most of us wish we'd never had to endure. Her heart was breaking in silence. She could hear Frank pacing the floor behind her. This is one for you. birthday or weekend when he and Marissa could drive north or Frank and Anne could make a trip south they were together." She rested her head in his lap and wept. You had asked. "Marissa." he said gently." "We are all forced to make difficult decisions. "She's just a mom. for her there would be no other way." "Because she will always be a lady. You have got to let him go. Every holiday.." "Know what?" Frank asked. "I'll go check on Mark. "I've got to tell him before he dies." She raised her head and met his eyes.A Death Without Malice "I demand that you finish this conversation. and that's how young men should address them.
"I always forget I'm kind of tall don't I?" he replied. I know you love him a great deal. He found it easier to enjoy the sea breeze than to remind Mark there was only so much room in his pant pockets and he may want to save some for the walk back. Frank stood up and patted him on the back. "Let's sit there and talk for a while." Mark hid his face between his knees. He understood what his father was trying to say. "Did you know?" she said in a low voice. But you'll have to be ready to tell Uncle George goodbye. When they sat side by side." He meant the words. Why are mom and Aunt Marissa crying?" At his words. pulled a cover over her and went to sleep. "Mark. He nestled himself in her hair. there had to be a way to keep Uncle George alive. "Might be fun to get outside for a while. "I love you too Aunt Marissa. "We talked about how the day would come when he might die?" Mark froze. He now knew why Marissa and his mother were crying. Frank pointed to a rock only a short distance from the house. They heard the library door close behind her. Norton As simple as his answer had been. it was good enough. Frank put his arm on Mark's shoulder and led him out the back door toward the beach. Without knowing what gave rise to the impulse. Mark was delighted at the thought of a walk on the beach. We'll eat when we get back. "Did you at least have a small measure of something you had wanted so badly?" She lay down on the sofa. Anne had to get up and leave. "Yes. She went to the table to find everyone seated quietly." Mark stood up and stared around the room. Mark nodded his head and smiled. I'm sorry. "That's why we came here?" he asked. Frank stopped and looked at his son. "Are you sure?" he asked." She gently brushed the hair from his face as he stood up to leave." Mark sat quietly for a moment then looked at his father. "Let's go ahead and have that walk. She squeezed his small body." At first. his confusion by then was profound. Mark smiled and said "Okay. He whispered to his father. Yet his smile slowly faded as he looked around the room. N. watching his young chest heave and wishing there were anything he could do to make it easier for him." Frank asked. what do you say we take a walk on the beach after supper. Frank and Gerhard were the only two people in the room who seemed able to talk. and tried to ward off her own tears. 67 . She didn't awaken until Frank came a few hours later to call her for supper." she said. it was so obvious he had fathered her son. yet still did not know what he'd said them for. Anne kissed Marissa on the cheek and sat down." Anne re-lived all the memories she had of them being together. "I'm sure. Frank put his arm around him. "Dad." Mark brushed off the sand and sat on the high end of the large boulder so he'd be closer to his dad in height. As hard as he wanted to look like a man in front of his father. "Everything will be okay.M. "I'll always love you honey. In his world of endless possibilities. "Do you remember when Uncle George got sick a few years ago?" Frank asked. please tell me what's wrong. he was fighting to keep the tears out of his eyes. "Will you walk slow dad?" he asked. Frank rubbed his back in silence. he walked over and threw his arms around Marissa. where traveling at light speed was something anyone could do if they thought about it. She remembered their eyes. Frank overlooked the intermittent halts to pick up a pebble or examine a unique piece of driftwood.
She'd not only given him that. He nodded and tried to return a smile. or opening his eyes." Abby rested her hands on the counter. "Grandma and Grandpa will be here tomorrow. "We'll talk more when you get up. Frank was still holding Mark as he made his way through the kitchen. slowly changing his expression from confusion to agony. She would catch herself midstream and back off. "Why don't you lie down for a little while?" he said as he laid him on the bed. down the hall from George's own room and almost out of hearing of the respirator." Mark nodded and cuddled up to his pillow without looking at his father. As Mark started to grow." Mark nodded and continued to look out over the bay. had a fast affair with another woman and came home to plead forgiveness. Frank put the time frame together and knew at once who his real father was. but he himself had let his mind wander. not even trying to lift it from his father's shoulder. "If Uncle George dies. "But dad." "You ready to go back?" Frank asked. both had lost track of the time. "Can I go home?" "No. She'll need someone to help her. Anne had been reluctant to let him get too close to the boy at first." Frank stopped. but the underlying sentiment was always there. "Would you like to have some supper?" he asked. Mark held him tightly around the neck." he said then walked out toward the stair." she said. He figured George knew anyway and Mark had turned out to be a great little boy. If you'll sit down at the table I'll get it. There were a number of his mother's traits in him. Mark didn't answer. So Frank kept it to himself and helped Anne raise him. "Thank you Abby. Yet what could he say to her? He'd walked out on his wife and family. She turned toward him when she heard the door. as close a friend. He slid off the boulder. When Mark saw the back door of the house. empty now except for Abby who was slowly putting away the pots and pans. "we have to stay with Aunt Marissa. "I'll be down in a few minutes Abby. Mark had no idea as to how he should act. he can never see any of my things again. "Maybe we can save Mark's for later. he wasn't hard to love at all. "I don't want him to die." Frank said. He'd made certain George had every opportunity to grow close to Mark." He tried to smile. They strolled slowly up the beach. he realized why. 68 . Frank looked down at his bewildered face. "Is there something I should say?" he asked. "I wish I could tell you there was something we could do. keeping a tight grip on his father's hand. Mark only shook his head. He was still deep in thought when he felt a hand reach over and take his own. Frank clutched his hand." he said quietly. It had faded back to when Mark was born. Mark's eyes had taken on an unmistakable familiarity. He knew they'd been sitting on the beach for a close to an hour. He took Mark to his bedroom on the second floor. Frank opened the door and took him over to his bed. "I'll put his plate in the refrigerator. "I saved a plate for you and your boy Mr.A Death Without Malice Frank glanced down to see Mark staring out at the water." Frank picked him up and carried him the rest of the way." Mark said softly. You can put it in the microwave when you're ready. as he could ever want. "Okay. "Why don't you let everyone see the treasures you found on the way?" Mark stood there for a moment then Frank watched as a sudden awareness came to his face. Campbell. Tears poured from his eyes as he let go of Frank's hand and turned away. But there isn't. don't you see?" he cried as he stumbled toward the water. How's that?" Mark found himself longing for a hug from his grandmother. she'd been as good a wife. his face buried in his shoulder. he stopped in the sand.
thought Marissa should have allowed George to die a long time ago. you don't want to see them suffer. "As hard as this will be Mark. He couldn't make that kind of choice. "And when you love someone. "As far as Uncle George goes they have tried everything they can in order to help him. I'm going to make you answer me. but she wouldn't let him. He didn't have long to ponder it. of holding on to an unattainable dream in order to sidestep being crushed by reality. "I called to see how things were going." Mark rolled over on his stomach once again and closed his eyes. He wrapped his arms around her waist and after what seemed to him forever buried his face in her stomach and nodded. like Frank. He didn't say Uncle George could live if we wanted him to. His first thought was that his uncle had died while he slept. "Dad said you wouldn't be here until tomorrow. "Don't you?" she finally asked. He has been for a long time." Mark opened his eyes. He crawled over and rested his head in her lap. Do you understand?" He nodded quietly. Josie Elgin. Josie had watched her daughter's reactions to this situation for two years. you know we all love George don't you?" she asked. Your father thought you might like some company so I drove down early." His hope was growing. "Is it true Uncle George is going to die?" he asked as tears again came to his eyes. N. "Honey. "I love you Grandma. but too late. Her earliest memories had been of him dressed in a dark blue suit and silk tie." Mark nodded then looked at the far wall. "How's my boy?" He glanced up at her as he answered. Everyone else will be here tomorrow. She quickly stepped outside to meet it. Norton Mark woke to find his grandmother sitting on the bed beside him. Did something happen?" he said. He wanted to hide from her words. "Honey. The question inside forced itself out. Uncle George is suffering terribly. in life. "Mark." Josie caught her mistake. She knew well the trademark indicators of avoidance and denial. we have to make very hard decisions. "I think he would be at peace with God. He seemed uncertain at first whether to bring the subject up with his grandmother. She could easily see the sorrow behind his reddened eyes." He rolled over on his back. but will hurt us terribly in the end. dad said he was going to die. waiting for him to assimilate her words. he wore the same today. yet another question had set itself before him. "Sometimes. keeping his head firmly in her lap. Not a hard decision for an old woman who has come to terms with death: not so simple for a little boy whose absolute belief in life was being torn apart. Was there anything harder in life than destroying the dreams of a child? Undoubtedly there was. We have to do things that will help the person we love. But that's not certain. The only honest answer meant he'd have to say he wanted his uncle to die. She tucked a wisp of hair behind his ear. "But Grandma. And now we have to decide whether we love him enough to let him go. Robert Elgin was a slender man with neatly cut gray hair and silver rimmed glasses." she said. She smiled back down at him. Marissa was standing alone at the living room window when she saw a car pull up late the next morning." Mark didn't know how to answer. 69 . knowing then what her answer was going to be." he said. He didn't reply.M. She could already see a shred of hope in his eyes. "I love you too Mark. Uncle George had a bad seizure this morning and he will probably die. He wouldn't do it. He nodded. she just couldn't think of what it might be at the moment." She paused for a moment. She gently stroked his forehead.
Is your mother in the house?" She nodded as he made his way toward the trunk of the car. self assured. Thank you so much for being here. "Thank you for coming Frank. yet extremely affable." she said as he leaned over to give her a peck on the cheek." "Why don't we go there in a little while? I'd like to see my boy right now. when she felt up to the trip. "Hello Mama Sheldon. wondering if there was a limit to how much history one human being would want to see. It's been a long trip." Marissa rubbed Mildred's arm." she said quietly. Marissa had loved her from the moment they met. They were so like their father. Marissa saw for the first time that she now used a cane. Josephine reached out first. She and George had humorously wondered which parent he would eventually take after more. Marissa squeezed her hand gently. "I'm glad you could come Jessie. "Let me know when you're ready and we'll just move you someplace else." Mama Sheldon shook her head. "We'll have a wonderful Sunday supper Marissa." Mildred turned to Marissa and smiled. Jessie. "Why don't you help Mrs." she said without pausing her step. Apparently Frank Sr. She desperately wished she could stop the sound from the respirator. Mildred didn't seem to notice. "Hello Aunt Marissa." "Frank." How many times had she and George welcomed his mother to their home in WinstonSalem." She gave a small chuckle as she spoke. She still had a sparkle in her eyes. though fifteen-year-old Josephine still towered over fourteenyear-old Frank Jr. Marissa opened the front door of the car. come help with the luggage. I can make it just fine on my own. The two children moved fast. "He doesn't look the same as he did when we brought him home Mama. here? "You would not believe how Charlotte is growing Marissa." They walked in the front door of the house." Marissa pointed down the hallway. The constant noise and sterile room removed every semblance of dignity." She glanced sideways at her daughter-in-law and winked. I couldn't wait to get here. and occasionally. I'm glad you're here. holding the banister with one hand and leaning on Marissa's arm with the other. "Come in the house and rest awhile." Her father only ever called once." Marissa looked down at her and nodded." Marissa smiled at the young man in front of her. One of these days they'll be right out my back door. I need you here with me for a while. "Hello honey. "Hello Aunt Marissa. Both were tall.A Death Without Malice "Hello Father." Marissa nodded. "I asked what he'd look like when I went to the doctor for my cold. They had lost touch over time. "Rest on my arm Mama. "He's upstairs." "I know sweetie. had won." The older woman slowly stepped out of the car. "Oh. perhaps because neither could stand having their wounds continually ripped open." Marissa opened the door. Sheldon while I get the bags?" As Marissa moved around to the other side of the car Anne's two older children emerged from the back seat. don't go yet. she let go of Marissa's arm and walked over to the bed. Thank you for having us. her face a living memory to all the years that had gone by. She held out her hand." Frank walked over and held out his hand. Marissa bent down. I have missed you so much. "I've put you on the main floor so you won't have to worry about the stairs. Mildred handed Marissa her cane then climbed the stairs one at a time. Tall. "And don't think I'll mind going. 70 . I'll help you inside. Can you climb them all right or would you like me to get someone to help you?" "If you don't mind going slowly. "The only place I'll be moving to is the graveyard honey. "Let me take you to your room. Inside was George's mother. A tiny woman with such beautiful eyes. reached inside and took her hand. his high-spirited mother or more austere father." Marissa hugged her." "I don't mind at all.
Mildred stared lovingly at the man in the bed." Marissa had waited for Mildred outside the door." He raised an eyebrow and took the filters. When she reached the moment in time when Anne called to say he'd gone into a coma. But she stayed with you.M. a smile coming to her face. "I think I'm going to take a little nap Marissa. When she emerged from the room Marissa held out her arm. then I'll leave you be for awhile. She wasn't ready to talk about his death. N. But you finally did and she was a sweetie. bent over her son and kissed him goodbye. "I would like to know where Abby has hidden the coffee filters. Mildred walked over to the bed and sat down. She's had a hard time these past few years." Marissa laughed. They entered the guest room on the main floor. 71 . "I knew then you were going to be a good man. Working night and day. engaged in what was apparently a futile search when Marissa walked into the kitchen." He smiled back. "Sit here. "I'll understand if you choose to let him die. Would you call me for supper?" "Of course I will Mama. Mildred pulled herself up from the chair. and who cried in his room when he thought no one knew. "You were such a sweet little boy. but at that moment she couldn't help herself." She ran her fingers along his arm." She sat back and let her thoughts run through her mind. "I could not have been more blessed than to have had you." She kissed her on the cheek and left. Seemed like you'd never settle down." Marissa hung the cane on the bedrail and quietly brought her a chair. she knew she lacked the strength to see any more. he laughed as well." "I can't imagine you ever being waited on by a woman. "Where is Abby?" she asked. It would be nice to have some time alone so I can think things over." She reached inside the cupboard he had just closed. "Can I help you find something?" she asked." She heard her words then held her thoughts." Her mind flooded with pictures of his life. to the man who stood at the alter waiting for the woman he loved to join him. "You couldn't have picked a better wife than Marissa. that's what counts. "I remember the time you stole that candy from the Pigly Wigly." Marissa kissed her on the cheek and left the room. But your lives were good in the end George. Abby keeps them behind the coffee. Mildred re-lived it all as she sat there. He was opening and closing cupboard doors. She had never made such a forward statement to her father before." Was all she could say. Robert Elgin had taken off his suit coat." "Thank you Marissa. not yet. "Oh George. and those eyes. Mildred took her arm and nodded. I worried about it too. I know it was hard on the two of you when you found out there wouldn't be any children. "I'm here George. "Let me help you downstairs. Norton She rubbed his cheek and smiled. They were so pretty and always looking out in the world. Sleep well. To her surprise." "I told her to get off her feet for a while. From the tiny little boy falling asleep in her arms. You couldn't have been spanked hard enough to make you feel as bad as you did on your own. I want you to know I was never disappointed." She looked at him with tremendous pride. "They're in here. "I'm certain she would have made the coffee for you. The young man who was too proud to let his mother see how deeply he felt joy. but his tie was still firmly in place. "I guess the day will never come when I'll be able to tolerate being waited on by a woman that's older than I am. a mama isn't supposed to bury her son." she said.
" She was again at a loss for words." "Some of us can't accept that." He's going to trap me into letting George die. This is none of my business. "It isn't a question of love. He'll say it's only a matter of time and lay the question out before me. Dr. "She taught me that as soon as I went into high school. George Sheldon had just moved into that category. At least until some event caused irreparable damage to the brain stems of his patients. "I decided before I drove down here today that I would keep my opinions to myself. If my views are contrary. you can advise me to live with it." He paused. "Hello Marissa." She nodded and walked away. then looked closely at his daughter. She was starting to feel as she had when she was a child. Yet there was only one issue under debate between them." he said." "She meant it too." Marissa stared down at the floor. "We can go up right now and let you know in less than a half hour. Maybe too much so. Certain she had done something wrong but not sure what. "We simply do not know how to live inside ourselves. No you weren't. What I have wondered over these past few years is whether or not I should have forced you to make more decisions for yourself when you were growing up." he replied. "I'm only trying to say that… hell I don't know what I'm trying to say. He'd given Marissa his prognosis two years before then left the decision making up to her. I love you both. "I wish more women had that attitude. Jonathan Carson had been George's physician since the accident. Where are the coffee cups?" She pulled a coffee mug out of a cupboard and handed it to him. With your permission. "You protected me." He poured in the water and turned on the drip." He stood directly in front of her. "No man is my superior and damned few are my equal" she said and smiled again. he said you would be coming over. "It's time you learned to. "You think I should have done things differently with George?" She prayed he wouldn't answer. What else could you do?" "Nothing at this point. Her father held her arm. knowing he was treading on very shaky ground. "We were very demanding. "What you don't understand Marissa is that it does. One of these days you're going to realize that the only opinion you have to give a damn about is your own." Her first instinct was to ask him to leave. He held a strong belief that questions of treatment with regard to patients in a Permanent Vegetative State belonged solely with the family." he said." she said. "Yes. "I wish I had it father. "Marissa I couldn't have asked for a better daughter. That impulse immediately went to war with her need to know how bad George was. He turned to Marissa as soon as he saw her. Marissa fought for something to say.A Death Without Malice "I'm too used to being with your mother I suppose." Marissa heard the doorbell and turned to leave. What he said caught her off guard." "That doesn't answer my question father. "Other than hope that somewhere inside you is a small piece of your mother." Marissa pointed a finger lightheartedly at her father." He looked firmly into her eyes. He felt those cases demanded intervention. Strauss has already told me what's happened. I think we need to ascertain how much damage was done. Finally. she shook her head "No. I'd like to give George an examination." "What do you mean?" she asked. From somewhere underneath it all was a small voice asking her to bring the nightmare to an end." she whispered. Gerhard had already opened the door and was talking to George's neurologist by the time she made it to the entryway. 72 .
"Nasal catheter is ready to insert as soon as you've removed the respirator Jonathan. "Let's hold this to four minutes. George Sheldon was about to run out of time. Carson ran 50 ml of ice water into his right ear canal then waited. "We ready to start the apnea test?" he asked." Carson slid his hand down the list. Without comment. "Cough reflex is negative. At the end of five minutes. The checklist he held in his hand would allow them to end George Sheldon's life. "I agree." He placed another mark on the sheet of paper." She nodded slowly. George was suffocating and would continue to do so until the respirator was re-connected. He saw no need to prolong the test." The two neurologists conducted the test without further conversation. will I? "I believe you both know the way. Apnea test shows no signs of respiratory movement. "How would you like to do the pain reflexes Jonathan? I believe that's all we have left. Carson looked up and nodded." Carson placed two more marks on the right side of the list. Be it through natural causes or by removing the respirator. he would assemble everything he needed to end that patient's life in less than fifteen minutes. she stepped quickly away. I suspect he's now critical. "Corneal reflexes and Doll's eyes test both negative. his voice was firm." Carson disconnected the respirator and placed a stethoscope on George's chest. And yet. "Test complete. As he and Gerhard made their examination.M. "Pupil's are fixed in mid-position and none reactive to light. Gerhard watched his colleague in silence. Carson picked up his briefcase and a large medical bag. Gerhard tipped George's head 30 degrees. there was no movement." Before he could respond. He then brought out a penlight and shined it into George's eyes. N. At the end of four minutes Carson nodded and reattached the respirator." 73 . as I ponder myself I wonder – when he dies. Yet due to present circumstances. Norton "Would you like a cup of coffee?" she asked. the sooner we examine him the better. Gerhard placed the catheter inside George's tracheal tube then began to monitor his blood pressure." he said Gerhard suctioned George's lungs through the endotracheal tube. he repeated the procedure on the other side. The battle was almost over. I highly doubt a full ten minutes will make any difference." Carson said without pause. he lost all doubt that death was inevitable. "Oropharyngeal reflex is next. he and Gerhard climbed the stairs and entered George's room. "No." Though his eyes were compassionate. Carson was an absolute professional who didn't debate his role as a physician at all. "I'm sure you must be tired. "Caloric is negative. The family will be in the living room when you've finished. George's head was lifted for the Doll's eyes response then laid back down to test for a corneal reflex." He put a small mark on the right side of the checklist. Was it a sense of freedom that had begun to well up inside her? Or was it her own downfall she felt was at hand? My memory of myself requires that he live and breathe." Gerhard looked down at George's bare chest. Gerhard continually checked George's blood pressure while Carson listened for cardiac arrhythmias. "Let's do the Caloric. Ventilating with 100% Oxygen. For two long years he'd cared for his patient." One more check mark was put on the page.
Carson took one final look at George then placed his cover over him. As she had done in the restaurant the day when Gerhard first met her. "You should go. Gerhard wrote his name and date on the second line at the bottom." He handed Gerhard the checklist. "Negative on both." Marissa said." The last two lines on the checklist were marked. Neither saw a response. "I'm sorry Marissa. and as her tears streamed down her face." Carson said quietly." he said and closed the lid. held her hands together and stared down at the table. "There was no response whatsoever in any of the tests we've conducted. A grief-stricken family waits to hear the prognosis. Frank and Robert were talking quietly near the fireplace. Marissa stayed in her mother's arms." "I can't." Carson continued. "The arterial rupture and. "All right. Josie had seated herself near her two daughters. "You may regret it later if you do not. have caused permanent damage to his brainstem. I need to emphasize this most strongly to Marissa. Your husband will not survive. George is. "You are asking more of me than I can give. He walked over and sat down beside her." She nodded slowly." Josie tugged at Marissa's arm. to ask them to end George's life. Robert fought a desire to finally intervene for his little girl. Will you also consider the fact that he may be grateful for this to be ending?" Marissa listened to his words and tried to find some comfort. Jonathan Carson began." she shook her head. knew it was time to let George go. or you can allow Dr. you will only postpone the day of the funeral." she said gently." he replied. Marissa brushed at her face and did as he asked. and from somewhere deep inside she knew they were true." Marissa heard his words." Anne turned away. to some degree the resulting seizure." He paused for a moment. by every standard I can go by. Sheldon's mother. "At this point you can wait for organ failure to occur. "Thank you for your help Gerhard. "Marissa." "It has been my pleasure. To the doctors it was a scene they had watched time and again in the hospital. Do you believe she would like to be present?" "No. Marissa nodded. clinically dead. "You have convinced yourself that what you have done is a terrible thing. Elgin reached out and pulled Marissa to her. everything except the final decision. Carson placed the sheet in his briefcase. "Sit up Marissa. wondering if it were possible to not give an answer. The adult members of the family were waiting for them." "We'll give you all some time to say your last good-byes. 74 . she couldn't bear to look at his face. Marissa's tears fell in silence. Each doctor applied pressure to George's fingers for fifteen seconds. "Though I'll address you all. In George's case." Mrs. that would mean the removal of his respirator and feeding tube. There was none. rose from the sofa and walked toward the stairs. "I don't see Mr." Gerhard paused for a moment then continued. "I'll talk with her later…she's very old. Everything else has been taken out of their hands. Carson then placed pressure inside the eyelids. Both men went down to the living room. Strauss and I to go upstairs and withdraw all life-sustaining measures. They have no other choice." He took her hand into his own. "I'll need you to sign as the non-attending physician. She reached for her mother's hand. It's not often I have a top-ranking neurologists as an assistant.A Death Without Malice "We'll do nail bed and supraorbital." he replied. "It's my opinion that if you refuse. look at me for a moment. Gerhard found Marissa still sitting in her room an hour later. "I'm glad this is coming to and end. Jonathan moved closer and lowered his voice." he said softly.
" Marissa covered her eyes as he spoke. Both doctors were waiting outside the door. He participated in it." She said as she continued to stare at the floor. she only shook her head and whispered. Josie was holding George's mother. "Is he still here?" Gerhard held out his hand to her. "I can't let that be the last memory I have of him. "Me. "Are you ready?" he asked quietly. Anne and Frank stood with their children at the foot of the bed. Jonathan went into the living room one half hour later to let them know that George Sheldon had died. "God bless you Mildred. His heart had stopped beating within seven minutes of the respirator being removed. Josie held Mildred's arm and could only imagine the feeling of loss. Josie nodded as she walked by. Gerhard glanced at Carson. 'The rest of you need to leave. She leaned down as far as she was able and spoke her final words. shivering as the blanket fell away." Her word broke his heart. The younger physician nodded. please see that. "We'll see you downstairs in a few minutes. "Do you think I should go?" She asked because she herself did not know. Gerhard reached over and pulled her to his lap. "His death was painless. The older woman was trying desperately to be strong as she searched for a way to say goodbye. Gerhard walked into Marissa's room and found her in the same way that he'd left her." She gently rubbed his face with her gnarled fingers then reached out for Josephine. Josie leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. "What could make him want to live like this Marissa?" She collapsed as he finished. offering what comfort she could. Mrs. Mildred grasped her hand then tried to get as close to the bed as she could. after a hard attempt to hold back her tears she was only able to whisper one word. Robert stood near his wife and straight across from Dr. "He is not leaving you. N. 75 . young Mark had hidden himself in his mother's jacket. Mildred used all her strength to make it down the hall. "I'll come for you when it's over. Carson. Gerhard entered George's room. The ambulance will not arrive for another few minutes. She stirred under the cover. She buried herself underneath and cried as he walked away. held her tightly and let her grieve." he said as he and the others left the room." Marissa wrapped her arms around his neck and wept. your husband was not a man who waited for life to go by. Marissa wiped her eyes then slowly pulled the cover back." He said as he tucked the blanket around her. Again. "I will ask you this. "How was it?" she whispered. real soon. Josie caught his eye." she whispered as tears of sympathy filled her eyes. Could she have ever made this choice easily had it been one of her daughters in the bed? As the thoughts filled her mind." he replied softly. Josie helped her stand back up then led her from the room. Norton "I'll never know. her thoughts were clear. He then addressed Marissa's father." She took his hand and nodded. This is out of his control.M." Gerhard said as he rested his hands on the small table that sat between them. "Yes. "Will you not come to his room?" Gerhard asked. "I'll be coming soon George. Every feeling beyond a numbing sorrow had vanished. You have got to let me keep something more. Sheldon must be allowed to do this alone'. "From the pictures I saw in the living room. "Will you come with me now?" he asked. Snuggled up in the blanket like a small child wanting comfort." Gerhard picked her up and carried her to the bed. Robert Elgin nodded and motioned the others to follow.
where he'd tried to make her understand. "I have to leave you now. "Yes. "You can let it be. "I understand Marissa.A Death Without Malice "It no longer matters." As she heard the sound of the latch freeing the door Marissa grabbed his hand. Carson answered the knock when it came." The words echoed from a woman's voice she didn't recognize. Marissa stopped suddenly outside the door. As she entered she looked again at the phone were Gerhard had called Dr. "No." She reached out for him. "That is a sound you will have to let fade from your mind. Waited for the ambulance. She tried to force it away as Gerhard held her. she found herself feeling ashamed for accepting it." he smiled." "Come downstairs and wait with your family. released her and stood back." He kissed her on the cheek and walked toward Josie and George's mother. "Why don't you pack a bag and come home with your mother and me?" he asked." She shook her head. "There's too much to do father. Worse for Marissa was seeing the pain in Mildred's eyes. the sofa where they'd sat. Gerhard went over to Marissa." he said Marissa let him lead her to the library where she waited." he said softly. he read the many conflicting emotions that permeated them." he nodded. "I think you'd feel a lot better." She quickly kissed him on the mouth then went to her room. Anne and Frank had taken Mark and the other children to the beach. Too much to think about. not in this place. You will not be able to change your mind." she said. She nodded." He took her arm and nudged her forward." He held her shoulders gently." She stood for a long time. He felt her grow tense. and what would follow. "I can't see him that way." "Then we'll stay here with you tonight. She was not yet free to be with him. wondering…staring at Gerhard's lapel and not seeing anything." she said and turned away." "Thank you. "Will you join me in the library for a moment?" he asked. don't open it. They walked the short distance to George's room in silence. 76 . "I can't hear the respirator." "I can't do it. Her father took her by the arm and led her inside the house before the question could hurt her anymore. "I should go. As the comfort of his embrace enveloped her. There was a sense of guilt inside her that demanded she save her bed for the man in her life that died. "I'll see you tomorrow. Was it out of obligation that she now offered to go? She still could not say. Dr. "Please." He let the latch re-enter the door jam. Searching her eyes for only a moment. most heartbreaking of all was telling Mark that his uncle was dead. "I'll be back in the morning. "Be certain about this. Gerhard's hand paused for a moment on the knob. Carson. "I will take you." Gerhard's words startled her. She felt as though years would pass before she understood anything. "Will you come back soon?" she asked. Marissa and Anne held each other near the front door as George's body was put in the back of the ambulance.
Billy was slowing raising a spoon to his mouth with his left hand as Gerhard walked over to the bed. Medical College of Virginia Gerhard stopped outside the door of Billy Humboldt's room and finished reading the nurses' notations from the night before. You are a very fortunate young man. "C…an I go home?" he asked in a soft voice. "I believe you are. Thank you sir. Time would be the only indicator of how much damage was permanent and how much would slowly fade away as a result of rehabilitation and natural healing. Gerhard did not mention that the puppy." Billy nodded." he stuttered.mmy mom bought mm…ee a pppuppy doctor. Though progress would come. If guesses were worth anything. "How are you?" he asked. had been removed. N. The speech impediment would pass with time. would take some of the burden off her shoulders.M. His nnn…ame is B…ill" Gerhard looked at the boy's slightly turned right hand. by giving Billy someone to play with. Gerhard smiled back and patted him on the shoulder." "Th….fine thank you. "Good. I think a puppy will be a wonderful a playmate" Gerhard remembered the curious look on Maggie Humboldt's face when he suggested buying Billy a rough and tumble puppy. The boy had gone through a great deal over the past several days. Let's not see you in here any more. Gerhard looked at his young patient with tremendous sympathy. 'It will encourage him to exercise his motor skills as well as give him some company' he'd told her. All of the medical equipment. there were still many months to go before Billy wouldn't need a great deal of care. then we will let you go. With a few months of outpatient therapy you'll be as good as new. The heavy bruise over his left eye was slowly receding.f. M…." "You're welcome Billy. with the exception of the IV tube. The boy gave a weak smile and lowered his hand to his tray. "Another week of observation and therapy. All right?" A large grin came to Billy's face "I will be ccc…areful from now on" 77 . Gerhard suspected Billy would probably recover most of his functions and have very little by way of lifelong disabilities. "I…I'm f. He gave a satisfactory nod then entered. Norton Intensive Care Unit.
She thought for a moment then remembered the small radio still sitting on the bed stand in George's room. the covers still cast aside from moving him onto the gurney. Neither words. after the walk down the empty hallway where he had once been. "I'll go in. nor thoughts came to her mind as she lay on the bed and pulled the covers over 78 . She ran through a mental list of the few people she still kept in contact with." She said out loud." Marissa stepped quickly into the darkened hallway and felt for the switch. grab it and leave. She contemplated living in what was now nothing but a lifeless house. Marissa paced around the room a while longer then stared at the door. Only then. Marissa stood there in the stillness for a few moments more. and of being alone. She heard a 'click' as the latch drew back. and then waived back. Without pausing her step she reached out her hand and grabbed the doorknob. She didn't dare disturb anyone in the house. "Don't worry about anything beyond getting the radio. The door opened to total blackness. She remained motionless for what seemed like hours before she threw off the cover and climbed out of bed. the oil paintings still hung on the walls. "Do I want one that badly?" she asked herself while watching the shadows fall across the floor of her room.A Death Without Malice "That's all I ask." she whispered as she walked toward the door to George's room. Marissa refused to give life to the thought that was forcing itself into her mind. I'll close the house and leave. The hand woven Oriental rug remained in place. She walked over to the bed and cried." she said then halted. As soon as the light came on she felt more at ease. certain she wasn't ready to deal with being in George's empty room. there was no longer a nightlight to help her find the way. She began to move forward. they'd think she was loosing her mind. she heard the floor creak under her. desperately searching for a way to accept the immensity of this truth." Billy lifted his right hand and tried to wave goodbye. For the first time in recent memory. Her hand went automatically to the switch on the wall. It stood against the far wall. She found herself desperate to hear the respirator filling the upstairs with sound. She wrung her fingers as she fought with indecision. "We must have a portable radio around here someplace. The hallway looked the same. a realization slowly came out of her own mental darkness … she was afraid of the silence. There wasn't so much as a soft breeze to blow the wind chimes and break the horrible silence. did she fully understand that he was gone. nodded. to the bed where he had died. "God damn it just go. None of them would be awake. As she strained to hear any kind of noise. everything was the same as it always had been …except for the silence. She lay in her bed and listened. I'll see you tomorrow. She jumped back when she saw George's empty bed. Gerhard glanced thoughtfully at the boy for a moment. where the emptiness of the house would join with her own and envelop her like a shroud. afraid to leave the safety of her own. Marissa woke in the middle of the night and turned on the table lamp. A wood and plaster monolith where her footsteps would echo in the silent hallways. . The noise brought on the realization that her husband would never walk down that hallway again.
and another that had begun a new life as soon as she had opened her eyes. and realized she felt nothing." She looked up and pondered whether she should debate the obvious. "At some point your mind will accept the fact that you are thankful this is over. "I honestly can't stand this game George. Norton her. smelling the scent of him once again. Marissa looked at him quietly for a moment. "Don't you have to work today?" "I decided to take some of my leave. nor even human contact held a place in her mind. she looked closely into his eyes. As soon as he said the words. and to understand. Marissa opened her eyes the next morning and saw the small radio still in place on the bed stand. "I'm not sure I know. She then heard Gerhard say "Good morning. daylight was pouring in from the windows. Not food. Marissa had sacrificed another of hers to the small lake that ran the length of the fairway. George had just hit from one hundred fifty yards and put his ball on the fourteenth green. and a golf course came to mind." A quiet chuckle slipped out. Marissa now looked out beyond the greenery of this lush. She would adjust her grip then adjust it again. He was casually dressed in khakis and a polo shirt. "Good morning. honey suckle and flowering dogwoods around her. Gerhard seemed to read her thoughts. followed by the deepest sorrow I've ever known." she replied as she looked up at him. The sun glimmered through the azaleas. A vision of George. Her parents had tried to teach her the game at her father's country club in Philadelphia. rubbed his chin then addressed her in a lighthearted voice. beyond it. "But I suspect we should focus instead on enjoying this lovely day. He had turned away to hide his smile. Gerhard held out his hand to her. dropped the ball on the soft grass." She sat up on the bed and rubbed her eyes. "Marissa. "You're parents have eaten and are taking a drive into town. Marissa ignored his comment." she said softly. I'll ask Abby to make your breakfast while you dress. maple and shortleaf pine seemed like an artist's canvas brought to life. Marissa looked at him strangely. tree-filled vision at a thirty-sixhole championship course plagued by sand traps and water. Marissa was still smiling at the memory of George and the golf course when she heard footsteps coming into room. She stared at the bright colors. taking the only comfort available in her vacuous world and let her thoughts drift freely. and got into her stance. "I should shower. "I thought you could use some company. you'll have to work through your sense of remorse for that part of you that wanted him to die." he said quietly. "When I feel anything at all it's only a brief sense of relief that this is finally over with. She was beginning to see him with more depth than she ever had 79 . "Before that can happen." She replied. There was no desire within her for anything at all. I must look terrible." she muttered as she took another ball from her lavender bag. She would have relished spending the day in the quiet. She was aware of nothing but her own unmitigated grief. yet in the end the endeavor had failed miserably." as he walked over to the bed. It was as though she had split into two people…someone older who could remember the world as it was before." She took his hand and let him pull her to her feet. she started laughing. work on her swing. As she stood up in front of him. She knew him and yet didn't.M. a shower. Hold her head still. park like surroundings … had it not been for having to play golf. She snuggled under the covers and again closed her eyes. I wish I could say I held hopes for a marked improvement in your game." "How are you?" he asked. As she saw the spark of humor in his eyes." he said. The deep green foliage interwoven with oak. N.
A Death Without Malice before. Somewhere inside him was a person she wanted to know; yet because of George's illness and death, she had never allowed herself to see. Marissa wondered how it was that she had never heard the sound of his voice so clearly before. The hard emphasis on his 's', his phrasing, expressions, everything that he was stood in front of her. A faint smile came to her lips. He ran his thumb over the top of her hand. "I have a surprise for you later as well," he said with an easy-going voice that so matched his manner. "I'll only be a few minutes." "The coffee will be ready when you come downstairs," he said. The warm water pouring over her face made Marissa feel less numb inside. Or was it the knowledge that Gerhard was now in her kitchen? She didn't know. The golf game had faded beyond reach, replaced again by the emotional nothingness. "Will this ever pass?" she whispered as she turned off the faucets and grabbed a towel. Marissa dried quickly, donned her robe then went into the bedroom to dress. Rather than open the right side of the large walk-in closet, she impulsively grabbed the left. The door opened to reveal George's hand tailored suits hanging in perfect order along the wall. She had only looked inside his closet one other time since the accident, to find a set of clothes for his funeral. All were dark, single-breasted, two button suits made of the finest worsted wool. Each one had a place in her memory. Her hand reached out and caressed the soft fabric, wanting his warmth to fill the inside once again. Giving in to a compelling desire, she wrapped her arms around a deep blue suit hanging in front and hid her face in the silk lining. "I'm so sorry," she whispered. Several minutes passed before Marissa stood back and took a last look inside. She then turned and closed the door. Marissa walked into the kitchen and saw Gerhard standing over the stove. "Where is Abby?" "I sent her to rest for a while. She's had a very hard time of this." "Thank you." She said, then paused to look at the empty sausage wrapper and cracked eggshells scattered over the counter top. "Breakfast smells wonderful," she said as she took a cup from the shelf and poured coffee. "How are you feeling?" he asked without turning around. He wanted to hear the sound of her voice without distraction. "May I be honest?" she replied. He turned off the stove and looked at her. "I would be disappointed if you were not," he said gently. "There's such a large hole inside of me. It seems as though nothing will be big enough to close it." He ran his fingers through her damp hair. "Time will close it Marissa. Only time." She stared into his eyes; both hope and doubt were in her own. "I try to find him here," she continued. "Somewhere…anywhere," she paused, "but he's gone." Gerhard knew there were no words to give her comfort. He could only stand there and listen. His unspoken support had an effect. The tears in the back of her eyes slowly subsided as she stared into his; a weak smile finally appeared. "Is there something I can help you do?" she asked. "Hand me a plate. Your breakfast is ready." "Aren't you eating as well?" she asked as she took a plate from the cupboard. "My breakfast came at 6:30 this morning," he said as he scraped the eggs from the pan. "I won't need to eat again until lunch." Marissa set her coffee and plate on the table. She waited for Gerhard to join her then sat down. "Thank you," she said as she cut the sausage. "This will probably sound like an odd 80
M. N. Norton question and I certainly don't ask to be offensive," she said as she glanced quickly at the counter. "But did you learn to cook after your divorce?" A twinkle came into his eyes. He folded his hands together and rested them on the table. "Though things are changing all across Europe there are still many customs we will not easily surrender." He paused. "For the most part men do not enter the kitchen unless they are bidden. It is the woman's place" He smiled and tried to hide his embarrassment. "How do I say this? As a rule men do not learn to cook in my country unless it is as a profession or circumstance dictates otherwise." Marissa held her hand to her mouth and fought hard to swallow before she burst out in laughter. She then reached out and put her hand over his, interlocking his fingers with her own. "Then the answer is yes?" He folded her hand between his own. "Yes." She looked at him fondly. "That tradition is the same here in many ways. George would not come into the kitchen except as a hobby. He would find some new recipe from Europe, Malaysia or somewhere and want to try it out." She waved her hand in the air as she laughed at the memory. "It was usually a disaster. I think Abby would have chased him out with a broom if she could have." She paused for a moment then continued in a softer voice. "Coffee in the library, meals at the table." Gerhard watched her for a moment before he continued. "These same traditions that have tended to limit us have also done a great deal to preserve something that is very important. That said; I am now beginning to question the wisdom of demanding that a woman live to serve me." He looked into her eyes. "For a man from Austria who is entrenched in his beliefs, that's a substantial leap in thinking." Marissa shook her head. "George never asked me to serve him. I suppose he saw me as someone that hadn't quite reached managerial status." She smiled. "I was always treated with respect and though we would discuss things as they came along, the final decision was his alone." Gerhard nodded. "But that was a lifestyle I enjoyed Gerhard," she paused, "I had no desire to be anything more." "How do you see that decision now?" he asked gently. She looked away from him. "When George became ill, I had nothing inside myself to fall back on," she looked down at her cup, "it almost destroyed me." Gerhard kissed her hand then let it go. "Will you stay with me?" she asked. "After the funeral, once everything has quieted down?" He looked closely into her eyes. "Please do not think it's because I don't want to stay," he said. "But at this time I must say no." "Why not?" she asked hardly above a whisper. "Because you want me to lead you to a place that only you can go." He said softly. She nodded her head, acting as though she understood his answer. How could she make him comprehend how desperately she wanted him to be with her once the house emptied, after her parents had gone? Katy was leaving before the funeral, Abby would be moving in with her grandchildren shortly after. Last night had been terrifying; a night in the house as it stood almost empty was more than she wanted to face. "I don't want to be alone. I don't want to hear the silence." He again took her hand before he replied. "Perhaps you can leave here for a while, stay with your parents or your sister." Marissa nodded then looked at him again. "Did you feel at all guilty about wanting to be with me while George was still alive?" "My feelings for you are very strong." He waited a few moments then continued. "But I needed to at least pretend to be virtuous." She stared around the room, trying to sift that one memory out from all the others. As she remembered the life that came back into her when he had reached for her, she knew she had never needed someone more. "Marissa, every day will bring new changes while you grieve." 81
A Death Without Malice She looked at his hand over her own, wondering if there was something more to his words. Was it her own guilt brought on by her wanting him that gave her doubts, or something in his voice she'd never heard before? "Did you decide that you don't want me in your life after all? Is that why you said no?" she asked. He stroked her hair and pulled her close to him. He kissed her passionately. Her response was complete. She felt as strong a desire for him now as when he first kissed her. He held her face a few inches from his own. "Marissa, I know that I love you and why," he said. "But you will need time to be certain." Every conceivable emotion ran through her, from her desire for him to her grief for George. She was unsure of how to face it all. "Why won't you stay with me?" He caressed her shoulders. "Because it will be too easy to run to me for solace when you have to find inner strength in yourself. Only then will you know." She heard sorrow in his voice, but didn't understand where the roots of that sadness lie. He continued. "Who would willingly work through such tremendous suffering? Can you tell me that at least part of your desire is not to block out everything else you now feel?" She knew he was right. Probably the strongest part of her desire was to make her forget. "No," she said. "But why can't we work through this together?" "In many ways we can," he said. "We have to go very slowly." She stared past him, wanting to look at anything but into his eyes. He brushed back her hair then held her face in his hand. "There are two ways to confront yourself. The first is to run away, taking only brief glimpses at those things in your life that bring you sorrow." He pulled her closer to him. His voice was wavering. "The second is to face these things directly. The pain is intensified but passes much more quickly." Marissa felt the tension drawing them together and could hold back no longer. "I don't really care." She said as she leaned toward him. He reached out for her as she sat astride him. As she caressed him, she felt a wonderful part of herself come alive; momentarily putting to sleep all the pain she felt inside. Gerhard held her around the waist, pulling her closer, "If we don't go for a walk or a drive, I may become lost in my own desire," he whispered. "For only right now," she said softly. "For this one moment in time, I want to feel nothing beyond having you inside of me."
M. N. Norton
The beauty of the music that reflected the joy I once felt inside is now a reminder of how empty I have become. Sounds, which brought a peace that could flow so freely, now bring forth tears. The words echo in my mind and are alive, asking if I have the strength to look back and remember, allowing the memory of that joy to become a true and good feeling once again. Mourners were filling the sanctuary of the United Methodist church in Winston-Salem to capacity. Behind Marissa were the pews where they had sat every Sunday, where George's casket now rested at the base of the alter, and where she would say her last goodbye. Rather than stay sequestered with her family until the service began, Marissa had chosen to stand by the door to greet George's friends and colleagues as they arrived. She wanted to remember. Seeing them now, so vibrant and full of life, helped her to recall him as he was before. They brought back the dinner parties, seminars, arts festivals, and music concerts that had gone into the forging of their lives. Marissa stood watching the sun shine in the morning sky and began to feel at peace. Her road had been traveled. Amidst the sorrow of his passing, a feeling of acceptance was coming out. "God how I loved you", she whispered. She no longer saw his friends slowly climb the stone steps to the front door of the church. She saw herself, younger and happy, holding George's arm as they came down the street, the joy of the day in front of them. He would have made a comment about the need for salvation being worth the sacrifice of having to sit for an hour on a hard bench; she holding her laughter as the minister shook their hand. "I hope I gave you a good life," she said as she remembered the afternoon drives to his mother's house for Sunday supper; George recounting yet again the history of his beloved South. Tears came to her eyes as she thought of laying him to rest in the ground he could never walk away from. "Thank you for giving him to me," she cried silently, "even if it was only for a while." "Marissa, it's time to come inside," she heard a soft voice say beside her. 83
A Death Without Malice The minister was holding out his hand. She took one last look at the street beyond the door, knowing she would never be able to see it in the same way again. She accepted the minister's hand and let him lead her to her seat. The rest of her family was already there. Anne, Frank and their children were at the far end, Mildred and her mother sat together and next to them, near the aisle sat her father. She was seated on the edge of the pew beside him; she reached for his hand. "I'm trying to learn father," she said quietly as she saw the casket in front of her. "I'm not sure I can." He squeezed her hand and kissed her on the temple. Marissa listened in silence through the eulogy and again tasted the salt from her tears as a brass quintet played George's favorite work from Bach. 'A last gift to him that my soul loveth,' she thought as the music came to an end. The drive to the cemetery in Charlotte was yet another time for reflection. George was going home. Though three plots had been purchased years before beside his father in a beautiful old graveyard near Concord, they would only use those for his mother and himself. There was now no need for the third. Marissa knew her life would eventually lead to something that would take her far away. Yet for the time being she wanted to stay in the comfort of what had become her home. She looked at Mildred sitting quietly beside her. She'd hardly said a word since his death. "I'm closing up the house on Knott's Island Mama, then I'm coming back to stay with you for a while." The elderly lady wrapped her gnarled fingers around Marissa's arm and nodded. Nothing more needed to be said. The limousine, with a procession over a mile long, turned into the cemetery, and after a short drive pulled off to the side of the narrow, well-kept road. Marissa looked out her window to see a large awning cast a shadow over the grave and the row of seats beside it. She stayed in the car while the pallbearers carried the coffin to the grave. Once in place the chauffer opened the door and helped Mildred out. Marissa looked down at Mildred's feet. As old and weak as she had become she would not dress in simple shoes, not for her son's funeral. Marissa got out behind her. "Give me your arm Mama. I'll help you to your chair." They walked slowly together, side by side. They were almost at the gravesite when Mark came up beside them. Mark took Mama Sheldon's other hand. "Can I help you ma'am?" he asked. Mildred looked down and smiled. "Thank you George, yes you may." Marissa barely heard what she'd said. She looked over and saw a warm light in Mildred's eyes. "This is Anne's son Mark, you remember." Mildred looked bewildered for a moment. "I'm sorry honey. I knew that. I had just never noticed before how much he looks like George." For the first time in his young life, Marissa looked at Mark, and saw George. Her first impulse was to do exactly as Anne thought; assume she was mistaken. "It's all the stress of the day Mama," she said. "Here's your seat." Marissa helped Mildred sit down then took the chair beside her. The rest of the family came behind. Marissa's thoughts wandered as the service began. Mostly to the good times she and George had shared and eventually to the bad. From somewhere in the back of her mind she remembered. "I saw Mark after he was born and wished he'd been mine," she said to herself. "When you held him for the first time, I wanted to cry."
M. N. Norton While the minister said the final prayers, she did cry for the children she could never have; for that one piece of life they had so longed for yet been denied. Her thoughts paused as one memory in particular came to mind. "Had he found a way?" she whispered. "No. For Christ's sake, think about what you're saying." She put the thought as far from her conscious mind as she could make it go. Marissa stared straight ahead as the minister finished and walked over toward the family. George was alone now, under the shade of the awning. She was about to stand when she saw a ray of sunlight make its way underneath and flicker brightly off the casket. Marissa recalled lying in bed only a few weeks before as a sunbeam shone under the drapes. She wished then she could ride it into the sky, away from everything that had been her life. A smile came to her face as she stood and prepared to leave. "God bless you George. The sunbeam came for you after all."
A Death Without Malice Part II TO FIND A LIFE OF JOY
The candle burned, it's light casting a soft glow across the golden floor. As words the shadows crept into my soul. A ray, a promise, a flickering which was hushed too soon as mornings own light shone through a window of life. And what of truth… Is it a false light that is lit by the hand of man? Or merely something to be surpassed from a light given by an almighty God. Show me your stars, your moon, your sunlight. From these shadows, show me the way.
Four months after the funeral Marissa found herself sitting at a table on the patio of a small café in the age-old city of Freiburg, Germany. She turned her face up to the sun and watched it shine brightly against the tall spire of an old gothic cathedral in the center of town. In the background, she could hear the chatter of German housewives as they sifted through a huge array of fruits and vegetables at a local Farmer's Market. Autumn had descended upon Europe. Though Marissa thought the days were still pleasant, a chill was beginning to take over the land. In another month's time, light jackets and sweaters would be traded for heavier down and wool coats. Marissa thought back to the day she had left the US. Gerhard had kissed her passionately at the airport in Norfolk. She then left him and everything she knew behind her. She thought it somehow ironic that her wanderings had slowly brought her toward the country he called home. In another week, she would be there. In all this time, she had never missed not being near the sea. Her inland travels had taken her past every castle, monument, and five star hotel that she had once shared with George. In each place she went she remembered, felt the life that they'd had, then said goodbye. The hotel in Paris where George had asked to marry her had been the hardest test of all. She had placed a rose on the balcony at sunset then walked away. Marissa looked down at a small cup of unbearably strong coffee, ran her fingers over a yellow German/English dictionary and smiled. The past few months had been hell. A journey of the self, in order to find the self, had been her goal. She rubbed the white linen tablecloth and felt as though she were close to the end. She picked up her fork and was about to take another bite of cake when a waiter clad in a server's jacket came up to her table with a coffee carafe. "Kaffee bitte?" he asked. Marissa looked up at him and grinned. In all honesty, she had no desire for any more, but he was a pleasant looking young man who seemed eager to do his job so she accepted his offer. "Ja, Danke,' she replied and moved her cup to the edge of the table. When she was again alone she pondered whether the time had come to call Anne. She felt a knot in her stomach as she imagined how the conversation would probably go. Marissa had been having a quiet dinner in her London hotel room one month after the funeral when Mildred's comment came rushing back to her. 'I had just never noticed before how much he looks like George…' she'd said as they walked arm in arm through the cemetery. Marissa had taken a cursory glance at Mark then put the idea aside. 'The musings of a grieving old woman' was what she had assumed back then. Having time to be alone and reconsider her words had led to a far different conclusion. As she sifted back through the years, she began to see many things in a different light. The bond between George and Anne after Mark was born, the closeness that developed between what was now so obviously father and son, and most telling of all, Mark's beautiful eyes. She had managed to miss every clue. 86
M. N. Norton Would it have destroyed us if I had known? Marissa stared down at her plate. I could have never forgiven either one of you for deceiving me, yet he is now the only link I have left to remember you by. How can I ask Anne why she lied when I already know? How can I ever look at her again and not see you; giving her a part of yourself that you could never give me? Her memories of Mark growing up with George by his side led to an intense desire to hold the boy and never let him go, yet the image of George making love to her sister would not extricate itself from her mind. When she had first realized why Anne had worked so hard to keep her and George together after he'd admitted to the affair Marissa wanted to kill her, or something short of it. Luckily, she was already in Europe and had been given the time to let her thoughts run through her mind. One of those renderings had been of her and Gerhard being almost consumed with their own desires while George lay dying upstairs in his bed. Should she be brutally honest with herself, she would have to admit that Gerhard could have taken her anytime he'd wanted. He was the one who abstained. She had been that lonely, as had Anne after Frank left her. Somewhere along the way, Marissa had also come to recognize the fact that Anne had loved him. As she considered what Anne must have lived through in her own world of absolute silence, Marissa found that feelings of sympathy had come to replace at least part of the anger. I don't think I can talk to you yet, but I will very soon. I hope it doesn't end our friendship, but I suspect it's going to. Marissa finished the last of her cake and took a sip of coffee. "There is one call that I have to make," she said quietly. After leaving a twenty-Euro note on the table, she walked the short distance back to her hotel. She closed the door to her room, collapsed on top of the heavy down comforter and took a small black address book from the bed stand. She thumbed through the pages until she found a phone number. A feeling of hope that she had not known in years welled up inside of her as she marked the number and picked up the phone; a sensation of rejoining herself with something that had been wonderful, yet that she had walked away from. Marissa dialed the number for an international operator. Fortunately, the operator spoke English and put her through to the hospital in Vienna. While she was waiting for the transfer to take place she pulled out a napkin and got ready. When she heard a voice answer on the other end of the line she read what she had written on it at the restaurant. "Hallo. Meine Name ist Marissa Sheldon. Ich muss Doktor Gerhard Strauss gefunden bitte," she said, and then prayed she'd be put through without having to engage in a conversation. She heard the receptionist say "Eine moment," then put her on hold. "Thank you, thank you, thank you." Marissa whispered to herself. After a few minutes, she heard him answer. "Marissa?" he said quickly. When Marissa heard his voice she found it hard to answer. What was she going to say? 'I've finally come to my senses, would you like to have dinner next week?' She coughed then decided she had to reply. "Hello." She said the word then hoped he would talk to her. Tell her he was glad she'd called and he wanted to see her. The seconds it took him to respond seemed to take forever. When he finally answered, it was not the voice she had hoped to hear. "Where are you?" He asked casually, with a detachment in his manner that, to Marissa, could only mean one thing. She had taken too long to let him know how she felt. He had changed his mind. Marissa wanted to hang up the phone and run. She knew she had to at least finish the conversation. "I'm in Freiburg." She choked as the words came out. She was trying desperately to bottle up all the dreams she'd had of him finally coming to her…making love to her. She tried to stop thinking of anything as he continued. "I'll be there tomorrow. Give me the address of your hotel." She read the address to him from a small pad by the phone. 87
A Death Without Malice "I can get a car if you need me to meet you at the airport." "No," he said quietly. "The nearest airport is sixty kilometers away. I'll take a morning flight and drive in." God just tell me what you're thinking. Tell me to go to hell, that you've gone back to your wife, or you've found someone else. Please don't come all this way to tell me it's over. She answered him in a quiet voice, hoping he wouldn't hear her frustration. "I'll wait for you here," she said. "I'll be there around two in the afternoon," he said with a mild affection. "I'm on my way to surgery, so I have to go. But I'll see you tomorrow." Marissa blinked her eyes several times. "I'm looking forward to it." "Goodbye Marissa." "Goodbye." She hung up the phone and closed her eyes. "Every inch of the road has to be walked down, regardless." She lay on her bed for a while, going over her reaction to the phone call and all she'd discovered about her life and longing for someone else as she spent the past several months on her own. She stood up and grabbed her purse. "I would love for you to be here, but I won't spend my life waiting to see if you'll come." With that, she went out the door and headed downstairs. She bought herself a small bouquet of flowers from a kindly old man who had a booth at the Farmer's Market. She then went through each shop on the Platz; and there were plenty of them. Stores to buy shoes, wine, trinkets, clothes; just about anything she could possibly want. She finally discovered, as she was making a purchase at a candy shop, that it was far easier to simply hold out a handful of the brightly colored Euros and change than to try to count it out for the cashiers. Overall she thought the endeavor was at least amusing, at times hilarious. A middle-aged woman in a boutique had waved her hands furiously saying 'nein, nein', until Marissa laughed and put some of her money back into her wallet. "I haven't had this much fun since I was a child." She mumbled as she left a lingerie store where she'd bought several silk nightgowns to replace her pajamas. At a luggage shop near her hotel she found a black leather suitcase. She stared at it for a moment then took it over to the clerk. After receiving her change, she merrily carried it back to her room and tossed it on the bed. "Now for something to fill it with," she said as she pulled the door shut and went back toward the Platz. Marissa hadn't gone shopping for herself since before George's accident. After being locked away for two years, she figured there was a great deal of catching up to do. By the time the shops closed at five, she was carrying bags of new clothes and accessories. She dumped out her new garments and started to sort through them. Blouses, skirts, several pairs of slacks and three new dresses covered the bed in varied shades of soft pastels. Marissa carefully removed all the tags and except for a few things she would wear while in Freiburg, folded them up and put them into the new suitcase. At six o'clock she figured the time had come to eat something. Marissa showered quickly, and got dressed. She stepped into her new shoes then stood in front of the mirror and admired the blue dress she had chosen to wear downstairs. "Slowly, so slowly. My life is coming back to me." She smiled faintly as she grabbed a small handbag. "All that's left is to believe that it's true." Dinner had been a joy. Marissa passed quiet jokes with the waiters, said hello to all who walked by and eaten her dinner as though she had never seen anything so glorious in her life. By the end of the evening exhaustion had replaced her exhilaration. She went back to her room and hung up her new blue dress, put on her nightgown then fell asleep as soon as she'd pulled the covers over her. Marissa walked into the breakfast room late the next morning and saw businessmen reading newspapers and talking quietly among themselves, as well as a few tourists sitting near the windows and watching the passersby. She sat at a small table and after a meal of fresh fruits, yogurt and coffee; went back to the small café where she'd eaten Black Forest cake the day 88
M. N. Norton before. The same waiter smiled as she approached. He pointed toward a chair at an empty outside table. "Kaffee, bitte?" he asked as she sat down. "Ja," she giggled. "Mit Kuchen." Marissa nibbled at her cake and tried to not feel every second between now and two in the afternoon when Gerhard was due to arrive. She had convinced herself she might be wrong. There could have been many reasons why he was so distant on the phone. Perhaps someone had been in the office and he had to speak in a subdued voice. She involuntarily clenched her teeth on the fork as she took another bite. There was also the chance that her first impression was the correct one. He may well be coming to tell her things had changed. "I'm going to die from anxiety before he gets here. Then it won't be a problem one way or the other." The waiter refilled her cup yet again as she watched the people come and go on the Platz. Marissa couldn't help but wonder where they lived, what their daily lives were like. The older ones had survived the hell of World War II. The younger would only have heard the remembrances of a Europe that had been devastated. Most of the old hatreds were gone, replaced with other problems in other lands. For them it was a new world. An hour later Marissa took a last sip of coffee then placed some money on the table. She was glad she'd decided to go ahead and indulge in the slice of cake. She was planning to wait in her room until Gerhard arrived so there would be no chance of missing him; which also meant she wouldn't be able to make it downstairs for lunch. "You'll need to burn off the cake anyway," she said as she walked toward the elevator. When she got back to the room she found a message waiting for her. As she read the note she felt as though a knife had gone through her. 'I have been delayed, I'm sorry. Please do not wait for me. I'll call as soon as I can. Gerhard.' She looked at the message light on the phone; it wasn't blinking. Had he even tried to talk to her directly? Or had he just called and left this at the front desk with instructions to bring it to the room? She crumpled it up and threw it on the bed. The empty message light on the phone said it all. "Why in the hell do you get your hopes up?" she said as tears came to her eyes. With less determination than she'd hoped for, but more than she'd ever had in her life, she wiped her eyes and accepted the note for what it meant. He was only coming to Freiburg in order to give her a gentleman's goodbye. For whatever reason, even that would no longer be possible. 'Stop waiting for someone else to make you happy; that is not something they can do.' I have said that to myself more times than I can remember over the past few months. But is it so wrong to want to share my life with someone I care for? She sat alone in her room watching a muted TV screen for hours. Around five in the afternoon she began to doze. Marissa napped far longer than she had planned. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and looked at the clock. It was nine-thirty. She hurriedly put on a pair of slacks and a blouse then went downstairs before the restaurant closed. The dining room was elegant. High chandeliers gently lit the dark floral wallpaper; beautiful paintings, antiques, and thickly padded chairs tucked up against heavy wooden tables adorned the room. Silver tableware was lined perfectly on the napkin. A single flower in a small vase sat in the center of the tablecloth. The maitre'd escorted her to a table sitting against the far wall, and then adjusted the chair as she sat down. She glanced around the room as he handed her a menu. She had always been captivated by the quiet inside of European restaurants. The number of patrons never seemed to matter; they all spoke almost in whispers to each other. The ice clinking in the water glasses seemed to make more noise. Did she wish the room were noisier? She wasn't certain. Noise would have helped distract her but, at the same time, would have also made her feel more alone. 89
A Death Without Malice Marissa made her dinner selection and set down the menu. She put her elbow on the table then rested her chin in the palm of her hand. To hell with the noise, or the lack of it, she was accepting the fact that solitude, at least for her, was here to stay. "I wonder if this is how the rest of my life will be?" she said to herself. The belief was slowly dawning on her that even that would be okay. An approaching waiter caught her eye. Marissa automatically picked the menu back up off the table, opened it and got ready to point. As soon as he stopped at the table she held it up to him. "Pfeffer steak bitte, mit suppe." She said in what she thought to be at least passable German. "Kaffee?" The waiter asked as he wrote down her order. Marissa shook her head. "Nein. Wasser." He gave a short bow and turned away. Marissa pulled a small handbook out of her black leather purse and began to read. The Germans of this region were known as the Allemannen. Their battles with the French over the centuries were legendary. Bombed flat in World War II, the city had recovered to become one of the loveliest, and most productive, in Southern Germany. The cathedral on the Munster Platz where Marissa had eaten her cake had been started in 1218. She was amazed to find that it hadn't been completed until 1513. A chuckle slipped out when she read that the Austrians had ruled this part of Germany until the early 1800's. "Strassa oder Gassa," Gerhard had said as they sat in a Virginia Beach restaurant so many months ago. "I wouldn't know the difference myself," she quipped. "I guess he had a point." She finished reading the brief history of Freiburg just as the waiter placed her dinner on the table. She returned the book to her purse and stared down at her meal; a pepper steak covered with a peppercorn sauce that begged to be savored before being wholly consumed. She took her fork in her left hand, the knife in her right, and ate. Halfway through her meal she remembered all the times George would attempt culinary creations in the kitchen back home. "I know why you wanted to try these recipes George," she said, looking back at the memory with affection. "You wanted to keep the feel of this place close by." Marissa took the last bite of food then stared down at her empty plate. She had slept far too long that afternoon and had no desire to go to bed, yet if she stayed up all night she'd be worthless the next day. The solution to her problem, as she saw it, would be to try to induce sleep with a bottle of wine. All she had to do was hope the waiter spoke English. As soon as he came with the bill she asked. "Sprechen Sie English bitte?" The uncertainty in her voice couldn't be missed. He smiled and nodded. "Yes, what may I help you with." Marissa smiled back, her shoulders dropped with relief. "Can you have a bottle of Auslasa sent to my room?" He placed the check on the table and made a note on his pad. "It will be sent up right away." Marissa added a tip and signed the bill. "Thank you." The slow whir of the elevator cables helped take her mind off the one thought that would give her no peace…why hadn't he called? She checked her watch as the polished aluminum doors pulled themselves open. It was almost ten thirty. Her keycard was still inside the small pocket of her jacket where she had placed it before dinner. She took it out then walked down the empty hallway hoping the wine would be there soon. She stopped outside her room and opened the door. The ambiance was inviting. The bed had been turned down in the dimly lit room; classical music was playing on the radio. Marissa dropped her purse on the floor and took off her shoes. "A good massage would be so wonderful." She said aloud as she sat on the bed and rubbed her feet. There was a pause in the music just as she heard a knock on the door. "The wine." She jumped up to answer it. A porter was indeed waiting with an ice bucket and her Auslase. He moved toward the room so he could set out the glass and open the wine for her. Marissa waved her hand and shook her head. 90
M. N. Norton "Thank you so much," she said as she took the bucket from him. "Hang on a second." He had no idea what she was saying. He smiled and began to walk away before she could get to her purse. "Nein. Eine moment bitte." She called as he walked down the hall. He stopped and turned. Marissa waved him back and searched through her wallet. The smallest bill she had was a twenty. When he saw the generous tip he smiled cheerfully and bowed. "Danke Shon Frau Sheldon." Marissa smiled back. "You're very welcome." After filling a tall wine glass, she set the bottle on the nightstand and held the glass in the air. "To life," she said quietly, then held the glass to her lips and tipped it back. The light, fruity wine went down with ease. "God, I love this stuff." She laughed to herself. Marissa set her glass down beside the bottle and picked up a beautiful silk nightgown. Thin spaghetti straps reached down to a French lace bodice that was embroidered into the silk itself. She had bought the eggshell white gown at a small shop on the Platz; she had hoped to wear it for Gerhard when he arrived. "Maybe another time," she said as she removed her street clothes and put on the gown. Marissa traded the soft music coming from the radio for the muted picture on the TV. She'd had the sound on earlier but turned it off in frustration. The German was too fluent for her to begin to understand so she watched the pictures instead. When all was ready, she crawled under her comforter and grabbed her wine. Over the next two hours, she managed to finish most of the bottle. When a knock on the door came again at twelve-thirty, she was finding it difficult to answer it. She opened it to see Gerhard standing in front of her. His tie was loose and he looked tired. A wisp of hair had fallen over his forehead. "I can't believe you're here." She flew into his arms and cried in his ear as he held her. "I didn't think you'd come." He pulled her tightly against him and kissed her deeply. "Of course I would come Marissa." He couldn't miss the alcohol on her breath. "You've been drinking?" he asked. Marissa stood back and giggled. "Just a little bit." For emphasis she held up her thumb and forefinger. She glanced quickly down the hallway then grabbed his hand. "Come in, come in." Gerhard picked up his overnight bag and came inside. Marissa closed the door behind him. "Do you have any idea how much I've missed you?" she asked as she ran her hands under his jacket, sliding his suit coat off his shoulders. "Yes, I do" he said as he let his jacket fall to the floor and embraced her. Hopefully as much as I've missed you." He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her toward him as his other hand hungrily cupped her breast. Marissa felt every passion in her come back to life once again. When his mouth covered hers, she pressed against him, using her body to beg him to take her. Her desire was overwhelming…until she felt the room start to spin. She leaned against him and ran her hands through his hair. "Shit…I'm drunk." She looked up at him and smiled. "I think you're going to have to sober me up." Gerhard picked her up and put her gently on the bed. "I'll see what I can do." She could sense the passions burning inside of him as he slowly lowered himself until his body covered her own. As she felt the weight of him on top of her, she pulled up her nightgown and opened herself to him, moving her body with his own, begging, pleading eagerly for him to have her. She put her legs around his waist, pulling him closer to her, desperately wanting to feel him inside of her. She closed her eyes and let the scent of him, the feel of him, surround her. The touch of his breath on her neck drove her wild with desire. 91
A Death Without Malice She unfastened his belt buckle and loosened his pants. "God, I want you," she whispered as she felt him against her. He held her shoulders and entered her, driving into her gently until he knew she could take all of him; letting each thrust take her to a new level of euphoria. When her entire body had begun to tremble, he slowed his rhythm. She grabbed his face and brought it toward her own. "Don't stop. Please." He kissed her hard and caressed her breasts, then pulled her to the center of the bed. "Try to hold on." Marissa closed her eyes and let his hands and mouth explore and arouse every part of her. All the while, his unhurried, subtle motions kept her lingering on the brink of rapture. When she could hold back no more he drove deeply inside her. She forced her hips into him as a tidal wave of ecstasy passed through her. Marissa awoke to see the late morning sun shining in through the window. Her chin rested lazily on Gerhard's shoulder, her arm draped softly over his chest. She bathed herself in the warmth of his body as he lay sleeping beside her. As tired as she was from the wine, and love making throughout the night, she felt at peace. She turned her head up slightly and began to nuzzle his ear. He smiled and pulled her on top him, tenderly resting his hands on her back. "Good morning." She kissed him long, yet gently, and then stared into his eyes. "It's a beautiful morning. Thank you." He brushed a strand of hair away from her face. "Would you like to get ready for breakfast?" he asked. She laid her head back down on his shoulder and thought for a while. "Not yet," she whispered then closed her eyes and relished the moment; enjoying the feel of his chest moving up and down as he breathed, the cadence of his heart beat as she lay on top of him. She looked up into his eyes after several minutes. "I didn't think you would come," she said. "You'll never know what it meant to see you in the doorway." Marissa thought she saw a hint of worry in his eyes, a passing glance that disappeared too quickly for her to identify. Gerhard lightly caressed her face with his fingertips. "Nothing could stop me from coming here," he said. "Why I was delayed I will tell you later." Marissa nodded, then delicately, but passionately, began suckling his neck, "There's a wonderful café," she slowly moved down to his chest, feeling his anticipation while her own excitement began to grow, "the cake is…absolutely," she worked her way to his abdomen as she finished her thought, "to die for." Marissa picked up one of the new dresses she had bought from the suitcase and put it on. A simple peach colored A line dress with a matching jacket. A new dress, the beginnings of a new life, the day was worth living. Gerhard came out of the bathroom fully dressed in a suit and tie; his hair still wet from his shower. She walked over and put her arms around him, feeling again the warmth of his embrace. "Would you like to eat here at the hotel?" he asked while gently stroking her hair. "Or at this delightful café you spoke of earlier?" Marissa giggled at the memory of how she had come to describe the outdoor café; she'd relive the experience in a minute. "It's such a sweet place," she said as she took his hand, "I would love for you to see it." He escorted her to the door. "That's where we will go." They strolled down the hallway in silence. Marissa glanced at him humorously as they waited for the elevator. "Now that you're along I can order something other than cake and coffee." 92
Marissa thought she would break down and cry. her mind was working feverishly as she tried to sort out what he was telling her. Marissa pointed to an assortment of tables several yards beyond the shops closest to the hotel." She said in disbelief." They walked arm in arm toward the café." Marissa could see the picture clearly in her mind." As she heard his final words. "Is he suing you personally?" she asked." He paused for a long time. already bustling with people. nothing more. "There is a problem with the work we did in the United States. When he looked into her eyes. "We advised a comatose patient be allowed to die. "No. "It will be a very long and complicated issue. letting both his frustration and acceptance ascend upward along the length of the spire as he made his last comment. "Apparently a signature is missing on the final test results given to her before support was removed. Her chances of picking up so much as a word of the conversation were slim. He took hers into his own. There was an agreement in place for all outside physicians who were involved with the study. He then motioned for her to sit down. Her favorite waiter saw her coming and waived." The young man returned with a water pitcher and coffee carafe. But there were plenty of others who'd gone the other way. The thought was distasteful to her then. "I realize he is only hoping to benefit financially from the death of his sister. soaked up the sunshine and simply…experienced. After he filled their cups. Her brother has since brought suit against the hospital. life support was removed. "He can't get away with this. thoughtfully as he recalled the event. "and in the end he will probably lose his case. She had lived it after George became ill: the opportunity to get rich even though what had happened was out of everyone's control. Marissa was amazed at how quickly they spoke." he said as he took the chair beside her. her hand involuntarily knocked into her coffee cup. She already had more money than she could spend so Marissa had asked for what she needed to live comfortably and take care of George. Norton They walked out the door of the hotel and onto the Platz. who nodded as though in agreement to their earlier conversation." he again paused. "Would this be a good time to ask why you were delayed yesterday?" she asked. At last she heard Gerhard say 'Gut' and nod his head. Marissa smiled and stared into his eyes." He bowed his head slightly then went back into the restaurant. N.M." He continued slowly. "I'd like to try it. it made her skin crawl as she saw the worry on Gerhard's face now. He seemed to take comfort in holding it." Though he tried to speak casually. "It's a lie." "But the hospital. As soon as they approached he and Gerhard conversed." Marissa's mind immediately went back to the last day of George's life." Gerhard took her hand once more. But the dishonor to our reputations will never be taken away. Frank had asked what she wanted to do. She took a napkin and quickly cleaned up the mess. "They stood behind you. How can they let this happen?" "They have gone over the records time and again…and agree that the decision was the right one to make. When he spoke again. "The hospital agreed. he turned to Gerhard. he felt confident he could go either way and win. She tried to stay the memory as Gerhard finished." she stammered. He clutched her hand and stared down at the table before he answered. "Any stain on the work we performed will fall to me and the others who supervised it" His gaze shifted toward the cathedral." Marissa sat up in her chair. she realized something indeed was troubling him. On the way Marissa smelled the air. claiming we acted with negligence." he went on. Gerhard shook his head. 93 . "It's right over there. The problem is that I was a senior physician for that study. "As it should Marissa. "The waiter says they have a fabulous potato dumpling today. "Zwei Kartoffelklosse bitte. Marissa ran her fingers over Gerhard's hand. the undertone in his voice spoke otherwise.
reliving my life. "This looks wonderful. "I've gone everywhere I could think of to go." He smiled. Marissa took his hand and held it tightly." They stopped talking briefly while the waiter set their plates in front of them. "I think it's fortunate the waiter was not here." She interlocked her fingers with his as she continued. The full breadth of what he was driving at was becoming more and more clear. When her eyes focused on one in particular. She started laughing. How can anyone ever doubt that?" Gerhard picked up his fork and jabbed half-heartedly at his food." he paused to give Marissa time to explore in the anomaly." she said. Yet he also saw a woman who had made peace with her past and with herself. Gerhard told Marissa to look up. but wanted him as a man. "Would you care to come with me?" She picked his hand up from the table and put it gently to her lips. she realized that she loved him completely." Gerhard responded warmly. After a few moments she turned to Gerhard. She no longer needed him as a savior." Marissa dropped her fork and felt her cheeks blush as she imagined the young waiter going from table to table calling the patrons a 'son of a bitch'. it's the perception. "He left this as a memento." he quipped. She followed the direction he was pointing to and cast her eyes upon a row of gargoyles that had been sculpted into the eave of the church." she chuckled. the amusement from the joke had faded away. Gerhard smiled then lowered his arm. He saw the shadow of the woman he'd met on the sidewalk in Norfolk…those scars would be with her for life. "I can't wait to try it. "Eat your lunch while it's still warm." She said in a hushed voice. Gerhard sipped his coffee then looked closely at Marissa. she knew that he had already envisioned the scene. "Not when you did nothing wrong. "I'll get a ticket when we go back to the room. I tried to find me. When a few minutes had passed. 94 . "Yes. "Where have you been these past few months?" he asked." she said enthusiastically.A Death Without Malice "No. As they approached the daunting shadow of the cathedral. examining everything I thought I believed. A slight smile came to her face as she glanced down at the table then returned his stare. "We'll finish our discussion in the hotel room." A humorous gleam came to Gerhard's eyes. "Have you found her?" he asked softly. Gerhard looked surprised at first. she started laughing. "I can only stay the weekend and must return to Vienna on Sunday." He began slowly. his features emanating an air of incredible understanding." Marissa put her hand to her chin and contemplated the matter. "It's not the facts that are at issue. "You need never doubt that again. gazing in windows and talking quietly." Gerhard looked thoughtfully into Marissa's eyes. They meandered from shop to shop. At that moment in her mind." Marissa bolted upright in her chair." Marissa felt the embarrassment in her cheeks slowly fade." she said firmly. How the hell do you destroy an image that's been firmly established in the minds of people who don't understand." he said. then laughed and shook his head. As soon as he left Marissa tried to delve deeper. "I've wanted to do that a few times myself. the radiance on her face an answer in itself. "Your one of the finest in your field. "Legend tells that the artist who was commissioned to carve the gargoyles was not paid for his services. even if it's wrong? "That son of a bitch. "Even when I thought you wouldn't come…that for some reason you had decided to live without me. "He may well have gone around proudly sharing the new English word he'd learned from the nice American lady." Marissa's spirit soared as his words played in her ears. "I think I have." She looked at Gerhard then quickly put her hand to her mouth. "I am here. I knew I would survive. "It's his butt. One who could come to him openly and without restraint." After lunch she and Gerhard went for a stroll around the Platz. When she saw the sparkle in Gerhard's eyes.
M. N. Norton Gerhard smiled then took her gently by the arm, "Let's go back to the hotel were we can discuss things." Gerhard and Marissa sat at a small wooden table near the window inside their room. Marissa had placed the fragrant bouquet she'd bought the day before inside a water glass and placed it in the center. Gerhard seemed eager to talk. She sat and listened. "When I was born, Austria was still trying to rebuild from the rubble left behind by the Second World War." He said. "We also carried the burden of still being under occupation." A faint smile appeared on his face as he held her hand and looked back. "My father was also a physician. After the Anschluss, he was forced to join the Nazi party, and remained a member until the end of the war." Marissa heard a subtle undertone come to his voice as he described his past. She could easily see that the wounds from that war were still deep. 'The older ones had survived the hell of World War II. The younger would only have heard the remembrances of a Europe that had been devastated'…and then there are those who grew up in the aftermath. She looked at him in earnest. "Do you honestly think that could affect how I feel about you?" she asked. Gerhard shook his head. "No. I only want you to know that these memories can give such strength Marissa, they leave tremendous insights into a world so seldom understood." Marissa gazed into his eyes and at last began to truly comprehend the man in front of her. She had so often wondered how he could be so perceptive. From where did this wellspring of empathy come? Her answer was being laid out before her eyes. Also," he continued slowly, "it is something they may well use against me." Marissa tried to keep her reaction in check. "There is a collective guilt that runs through all of us to some degree, as well as a sense of isolation." He sat back as his thoughts flowed through his mind. "It is still very hard to live in the shadow of that war and be of a Germanic race." He paused and looked deeply into her eyes, wondering if she understood what he was trying to tell her. "What was it like, after the war?" she asked caringly. Her brief glimpse of post-war Europe had given her little with regard to what those who lived there had endured. Like most of her generation, she had seen the photo galleries and movies depicting the era but none of that could give her the in-depth understanding she now felt she needed in order to comprehend all that Gerhard was going through. Gerhard held her chin softly then looked away from her. "This is one of the few parts of my life that I can not openly discuss Marissa. The wounds, for my family and those I know, are still too deep." The sympathy she felt for Gerhard bore into her soul. She could never have guessed he harbored such grief inside of him, nor did she know how to give him comfort. Gerhard looked again into her eyes, seeming to read her thoughts with clarity. "We have an excellent host of attorneys tending to this. We will see what happens." Gerhard seemed to want to leave the rest be so Marissa ventured into the question of Anne and Mark. Whether to voice her feelings, get his opinion, or just share what she knew she didn't really know. "I have to tell you something," she began. The seriousness in her voice caused him to sit upright. "I'm listening," he said. Marissa nodded, pursed her lips then tried to find the best way to say it. She grasped at the air, looked away, then toward him. Finally, she simply let it slip. "I think George and Anne had an affair. I think Mark is George's son." She paused, and then shook her head. "No, I don't think so. I'm almost certain of it." Gerhard raised an eyebrow. "You are correct." Marissa was baffled by his response. "How do you know?" "Because I could see the facial similarities as soon as I met him," he said quietly. 95
A Death Without Malice "How come you didn't tell me?" she asked not so much for the sorrow she was beginning to feel, but for the cause of it. Gerhard sat forward to make certain she heard his words clearly. "What good could it have possibly done to tell you such a thing while your husband was dying? Did you not have enough to go through?" "It's only that…" Gerhard held up his hand; she stopped mid sentence. "In your anger you would have turned away those whom you needed most. In the end this would have torn you all apart." Marissa only needed a moment to see the truth in his words. He was right and she knew it. He saw the reaction in her eyes. "I lived with a woman who'd had numerous affairs Marissa, do not think that I don't understand. But this was not the same." The inflection in his tone became more serious. "Imagine what would have happened to that little boy. Mark would have found out in the harshest way that he had just lost his father." Tears came to her eyes as she remembered. Gerhard reached over and pulled her to him. She buried her head in his shoulder, as she had done so many times before. "As much as we want to find out certain truths, we have to realize that not everything needs to be told," he said as he held her. "As adults, you and Anne can find a way to deal with this. That young man would have a very difficult time." Marissa nodded then wiped her eyes. She sat in his lap for a while, and then stared up at him. "Do you think anyone else knows?" she asked. "I wouldn't be surprised." As he spoke, she felt a sense of humiliation arise inside of her, something akin to being the only one in the room who didn't get the joke. "Your mother and Frank are both very perceptive," he continued. Marissa broke in before he could finish. "What about father?" she asked. Gerhard ran his hands through her hair. "Your father is one who takes people at their word. To him, if Frank said the child was his – there would have been no question." He wrapped his arms around her waist as she laid her head back down. "If it's any comfort, I don't think your family has discussed this among themselves, it has remained a guarded secret to each of them." Marissa fumbled with his necktie. "I'm not even sure I can talk to her about it." "Use your best judgment." Marissa reached up and tipped her face toward his. He bent down to meet it just at a knock came at the door. "The maid." She said as she got up. "Why don't we go for a walk and finish this later." Gerhard stood up and walked toward the door. "Let's do this instead." He cracked open the door and spoke quietly to the housekeeper. A few moments later he closed the door and came back to where she was standing. "I told her we were busy, she could clean the room tomorrow." Marissa sat at Gerhard's Biedermeyer table in the spacious dining room of his villa, tucked away in the historically elegant Hietzing district of Vienna. She looked at the antique furnishings around her then picked up the car keys. Earlier that morning she had lain quietly on top of the sheets and watched him sleep. To her, he looked beautiful as shadows from the early morning sun came in through the window. She had put her hand on his chest and felt a sense of oneness beyond anything she'd ever known. Gerhard stirred, without opening his eyes he reached up and rubbed her arm. "Good morning." He'd said. "Good morning to you," she answered. "I'll be at work until early this evening. I'll leave you the car so you can take a tour of the city." His eyes opened wider when he felt her tense up beside him. "I haven't driven in two years." She'd gone along with getting an International Driver's Permit when they'd first arrived on a 'just in case' basis only. Any actual desire to drive a car while in this foreign land was sorely lacking. "I'll probably wreck your car," she'd asserted. Gerhard laughed then pulled her on top of him. "I'm well insured." 96
M. N. Norton Marissa put her elbow on his shoulder and rested her chin in the palm of her hand. To drive or not to drive wasn't the only issue. The bigger question was whether she should try to take back one more piece of her life. After a moment she laid back down on his chest. "I sure hope so. You may be needing a new BMW very soon." "I have a map of the city downstairs. Drive around this area until you're comfortable. The Schonbrunner Schloss and Court Pavilion are very near here; I think you'll find them wonderful to see. I then suggest you go and enjoy the sights. Many people here speak English so you should be fine." Marissa opened the heavy front door and looked outside along the row of Oak and Chestnut trees shading the northern side of the house. The villa sat on a beautiful tree lined street that spoke of ages past. Stately homes with neatly trimmed yards that were now only remnants of an old world aristocracy, a glorious Empire that had faded away. Marissa glanced down at the little German/English dictionary poking out of her purse and wondered if she'd find a way to fit in. She loved Gerhard with every breath in her body, but this was his world, not her own. She walked down the inlayed stone path toward the driveway. She hoped his friends would accept her as she was, but it wouldn't bother her at all if they did not. To live a social life was not why she had come. She'd tried hard to learn the customs of the South when she married George because she felt she had to. That part of her life was over; she was no longer the same. Sitting in the driveway was Gerhard's four-door sedan, was a very stylish dark blue BMW 750LI. Marissa hit the button on the key chain to open the door locks and couldn't help smiling. This was going to be fun. She opened the door with anticipation, admiring the leather interior, the sporty console; then froze. To the right of the drivers seat was a five-speed stick shift. "I don't believe it." She slammed the door, locked it then walked back into the house. Forty-five minutes later, Marissa was driving through Hietzing in a brand new dark gray 7 Series BMW with an automatic transmission. When she'd told the leasing agent she would need it for at least a month they promised to have it delivered as soon as they could get it there. Finding the Shonbrunn palace wasn't difficult. The map was well marked and the size of the estate alone made it stand as a beacon for the lost and weary. She found a parking place close by and made a mental note of where the car was in relation to the hundreds of other cars in the area. Before walking away, she wiped a small speck of dust off the hood and took a last, affectionate glance at the car. "I might have to buy you." She laughed quietly then turned toward the palace. The elegance of the Habsburg palace was without question of the finest in the world. Though understated compared to the pomp of King Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein or the gilded rooms of Versailles; the sheer grandeur of Schonbrunn was beyond compare. As Marissa walked through the Imperial apartments she saw, and began to feel, the essence of the country and her people. They carried themselves with a grace and sophistication that was metropolitan, yet not arrogant or rude. The light and airy Viennese waltzes would have melded perfectly with majesty of the grand ballroom. Later in the day she walked through the old city, nestled inside of what was originally a walled ring. The wall had been taken down by order of Emperor Franz Joseph and replaced with a two hundred foot wide boulevard, which was now bordered with splendid feats of architecture. Greek revival, Florentine and Italian Renaissance, neo-Gothic and a host of other styles had been used to construct the late 19th century buildings surrounding the original city. That combined with the fantastic legacy Vienna had given to the arts had secured her position as the cultural center of Europe. Marissa decided to rest her feet inside an ornate coffee shop near the National Theater. The cup of mélange and Apple strudel was a perfect end to a glorious day. A stack of well-read newspapers was sitting on the table. She still couldn't read them; she didn't care. Vienna was a city she could live in regardless.
A Death Without Malice Gerhard came home shortly after seven to find the table had been set with cold cuts, breads, cheeses, wine and pastries. A single white candle set in a sterling silver holder was burning in the center. Marissa came from the kitchen with two glasses. She kissed him on the cheek and set them on the table. "What do you think of my new car?" she asked. He'd wondered where the second BMW had come from. The reason for its presence in his driveway was a welcome one. He grabbed her around the waist and brought her close to him. "Your choice was a very good one. But it wasn't necessary Marissa, you could have used mine." "I haven't driven a stick shift since I was sixteen years old and that was a catastrophe." She said as she wrapped her arms around his neck. "I'm afraid you wouldn't have had a clutch by this afternoon." He nodded, remembering his dark blue sedan sitting next to her gray one. "They fit together well." "Yes, they do." She kissed him passionately then tipped her head toward the table. "Are you ready for dinner?" Gerhard stared at the array of foods covering the table. Havarti, Gouda and Harzen cheeses, rye and pumpernickel breads, with several varieties of wursts and sausages. Tortes, Cherry and Linzer cakes embellished the setting. "This is fabulous. You went to the market?" "Yes," she nodded. "I read up on the standard fair for evening meals and put everything that looked good into a basket." "It will take a week to eat all of this." He smiled. "I wanted to feed you well," she said softly. Gerhard sat beside her and began to slice the sausages. "I have invited my sister Martha and her husband Helmut to join us on Saturday afternoon." Gerhard said passively. "She is a very gregarious and warm hearted woman whom I hope you will grow very fond of." Marissa found herself growing apprehensive. Living the rest of her life with Gerhard is a choice she found easy to make, yet would she fit with the other aspects of his life? The question startled her. "What if she doesn't like me?" she asked pensively. Gerhard set down the knife and looked at her with kindness. "She will love you Marissa. I think you'll find she'll take you in as she would a daughter." Marissa nodded and smiled. "I'll look forward to meeting her." "I'm wondering if you like it here," he asked thoughtfully. Her answer meant a great deal to him, but he would not coax her one way or the other. Marissa poured wine in two glasses then looked deeply into his eyes. "I don't like it here, I love it here. You'd have to call the state police to make me leave." She said as she set the bottle on the table. "I have a request for a six month visa. All I need is your invitation to stay before I fill it out." The joy on his face as he heard her words was something Marissa had never imagined possible. "The letter of invitation will be written tonight. You can request the visa tomorrow." They had cleared the table and settled on the sofa with their wine glasses. Marissa put her glass on a small table and laid her head in his lap. "Have you heard anything about the lawsuit?" she asked. Gerhard finished the wine in his glass and set it next to hers. "I have to go to the United States next week for an arbitration meeting at the hospital." He told her with a trace of apprehension in his voice. "The hospital may try to settle to avoid publicity. They feel that even though he has no case a jury may be sympathetic and decide in his favor." "How do you feel about that?" she asked the question, but already she knew the answer. He had too much dignity as a physician and as a man to find a settlement palatable. "This is not something I would do if the choice were mine. I would demand they search for the truth. That the hospital and doctors be vindicated from this slander." Marissa ran her hand up his arm and gave thought to the choices before her. "I'll go with you." She said. 98
M. N. Norton "You may wish you'd stayed here." He replied. "These things can get very unpleasant. I'm not sure you should be there." "I'll be fine." She ran her finger playfully down his nose. "Besides, if he hurts you I may have to kill the son of a bitch." He smiled and kissed her hand. "Please don't. I'm looking forward to having you here with me." She raised her head to meet him as his mouth searched for hers. "I'm going with you."
University of Virginia Medical Center Gerhard and Wilfried arrived together outside the meeting room near the Administration office. Without saying a word to each other, they opened the door and walked in. Seated around the oversized conference table were the three other neurologists who had supervised the study: Pierre LeRouge from Canada, Jonathan Riley from Britain and Carl Gerrard from the University. Joseph Stennel, the hospital administrator, stood up and held out his hand to them. "Please join us gentlemen." He motioned them to sit down with the other doctors. Gerhard noticed a man and woman sitting across from them. From the legal pads, he assumed they were the attorneys for the hospital. Stennel caught his glance. "Let me introduce Allen Sheppard and Barb Lindstrom. They'll be handling the case." Gerhard nodded and took his seat. Stennel held his hand out to the attorneys, prompting them to begin. Allen Sheppard sat forward and opened a file. He was the thin, middle-aged Harvard type who seemed quite capable conducting legal analysis. He also looked the sort who would avoid a controversy. Barb Lindstrom remained silent. She was medium height, with dark hair cut just below her shoulders. Gerhard had no idea what to make of her as yet. He watched with curiosity as she leaned back in her chair and stuck her pen in her mouth; looking as though she were peering inside the souls of everyone in the room. "Let me briefly outline the case thus far." Sheppard said as he pulled the test sheet out of his brief case. "A signature failed to make its way on this form before life support was removed from a patient named Carol D'Behr." He paused then tossed the sheet to the center of the table for added emphasis. "This University is now being sued for wrongful death and negligence." Stennel raised his hand. "I think we all know the preliminaries Allen. Tell us what you think we should do." Sheppard sat back in his chair. "As I see it gentlemen, it would be far easier to offer Mr. D'Behr a small sum, relatively speaking, than to risk a drawn out court case where we stand a chance of being found guilty." Gerhard stared sharply at the lawyer. The offer to settle wasn't news, the man's complete disregard for defending the integrity of the University was. He didn't care for this man, and he didn't realize Lindstrom was watching his reaction very carefully from the corner of her eye. "What do you consider a small sum Mr. Sheppard?" Stennel asked. All eyes went to the attorney. "Fifty thousand would probably get him off our backs." He wrote the number out in long form on his legal pad as he talked. "He only wants the money. Give him enough to make him go away." Gerhard set his elbow on the arm of his chair then put his hand to his chin. "What would litigation of this case cost?" His question brought a dead silence to the room. Stennel shook his head as though trying to forbid mention of such a thought. He raised his hand to speak. Sheppard waved him off. Allen Sheppard began writing numbers on his pad. "Around two hundred thousand in legal fees alone. That's if we win." He drew a line on his pad and wrote out another set of numbers. "If we lose and this goes through the appeal process legal fees can easily climb into several hundred thousands." He ran his pen the full width of his pad. "If the jury awards for the plaintiff and we lose the appeal we may well have to pay the maximum afforded by the state of Virginia as well as all legal fees." 99
A Death Without Malice Gerhard sat back in his chair and quietly tapped the table. "What price do you put on the reputations of the men in this room Mr. Sheppard?" Carl Gerrard looked amused as he stared across the table. He was stuck; whatever the University chose to do, he had to agree to. His foreign colleagues were not bound by any such convention. They could argue the point no end with absolute impunity. Stennel was desperate to intervene yet he didn't dare. His position was precarious at best. He had to have a unanimous agreement in place before they could move forward. Jonathan Riley, maintaining Britain's unfailing loyalty to the US, chimed in. "Surely we can be somewhat pragmatic about this Gerhard." He flicked his hand toward Stennel. "If everything is kept quiet there will be no stain on our stellar reputations." Sheppard jumped at the opportunity. "We would demand that nothing be leaked to the press. That won't be an issue." Pierre LaRouge was tired of being left out of the conversation. He twisted his mustache with his thumb and third finger, while pointing his index finger at the attorney. "And the staff? They will honor this request? You are saying the halls are not already full of speculation and innuendo?" Gerrard was an extraordinary neurosurgeon. A bit of a playboy, with sandy hair and deep blue eyes, he enjoyed watching the screws being put to the administration's yes man. He put his hand to his mouth as Sheppard started to squirm. "We can explain, very quietly," Sheppard said almost pleadingly, "that it was a decision to save a long and expensive court battle. You have to remember that they were also present. They knew this woman's condition." "They also know that we cover our own asses at every opportunity." Everyone in the room stared at Gerrard. The bluntness of his statement again brought on a noticeable silence. "Cover your asses?" Sheppard came back at him. "Do you know what your techniques do to people? Wait until you have to show a jury how a craniotomy is performed or up-close footage of cutting a hole in their throats to insert a ventilation tube." He moved closer to the table. "And that Coloric test, Jesus Christ, when they get the details on that one you are finished." Gerhard sat forward, ready to defend his work and that of the study. Sheppard held up his hand and continued. "I know what you're going to say. What you don't seem to understand is what twelve very squeamish jurists are going to say. They will figure poor Mr. D'Behr deserves at least something for having to watch his sister go through this suffering. He'll get on the stand with tears in his eyes and tell them all how he changed his sister's diapers when she was a baby. By the time he's done you'd think he had to endure watching the passing of a saint. The jury will figure what the hell; this University has money to burn." He pointed out the window. "Look at the place. They can afford to cough up a few bucks to help this man get over the shock." Stennel raised his hand again. The first noticeable movement Barbara Lindstrom made was to look at him dubiously. "I think you're making your points very well Allen," he said. Sheppard wasn't quite done. "That's only the beginning. The lawyers he's hired are as sleazy as they come. Bill Jacobs has been on the verge of being disbarred so many times I can't count them all. They will look for absolutely anything they can use to strengthen their case. They will question the staff at your hospitals, look for any mention in the news of any you gentlemen, question any former patients they can find and they will offer them money to talk to them." Gerhard had heard enough. "So what you are saying, Mr. Sheppard, is that you are not up for the fight?" Sheppard looked at him in disbelief. "What I'm saying is this will be one hell of a hard case to win." "I see." He replied casually, and then turned toward Barbara Lindstrom. "You have been very quiet Ms. Lindstrom, is that your opinion as well?" Barb Lindstrom was known in the courtroom as a first class bitch. She thrived on being told no. She raised an eyebrow. 100
M. N. Norton "For every hit we take, we can hit back. By the time I'm done ripping into the character of the plaintiff he'll have trouble saying his name with a strait face." She glanced briefly at everyone in the room, assessing who was thinking what as she spoke. "This case will rest on the merits of the study. Prove these methods are viable forms of treatment and you'll be fine." She looked at Carl Gerrard. "I assume you have patients that lived?" Gerrard gave her a sideways smile. He made a note to ask Stennel if she was single. "We have several who were fortunate enough to pass back through our front door." She was unaffected by his statement. "Can you prove that participating the study group saved their lives?" "In all honesty the results aren't in," he said contemplatively. "A comparative analysis is being done and looks promising but if you think you can say in absolute terms that some of them would not have lived regardless you're mistaken." "All right," she continued. "Can you prove absolutely that you didn't kill anyone?" Carl reconsidered asking her out for that date. She might be a little more than he was ready for. "I think I can say with some authority that no one died through any act of negligence on our part." "How many times was life support removed from a patient?" she asked with no emotion at all. The University doctor smiled as he prepared to respond. "You should know the answer to that Ms. Lindstrom. It's in your notes." "I have fourteen. Is that correct?" she replied. "Fourteen out of eighty seven over the course of one year." He added. "Were they similar to Carol D'Behr?" Carl thought her voice was softening a bit. He might have to ask her out after all. "Two were coronary with anoxic injuries, two were complications during surgery with anoxic injuries, six were severe head injury… which is similar to Ms. D'Behr and four were anoxic injuries due to drowning." She made a note on her pad. "So we need to concentrate on the six severe head injuries." Stennel rose from the table and began pacing behind his chair. "I'm not convinced this is the course we want to take Ms. Lindstrom." He was almost desperate. "In the current legal environment, we are almost guaranteed to lose. The appeals will drag on for years." He gripped the back of his chair until his fingers locked themselves against the black leather. "People aren't interested in facts; they want to be talked into doing the right thing." Lindstrom passed a glance toward Stennel. "Would the patient have ever come out of her coma?" Stennel waved toward Gerhard and Wilfried. "These are the men who can answer that." Lindstrom nailed him. "You're telling me you haven't studied the case thoroughly enough to know the answer yourself?" "Well….I…." "Could it be you don't want to take on the responsibility of a yes or no answer?" she asked pointedly. Gerrard sat back in his chair, a look of satisfaction reigning over him. He might like to marry this woman. Gerhard spoke for the Administrator. "Autopsy showed that the damage done to her brain as a result of the accident, as well as that caused by a secondary injury, would have prevented any chance of arousing above a comatose state. I doubt she would have survived." "'Doubt' is not a word we can mention on the stand Dr. Strauss. I need absolutes." Lindstrom then opened a file and set it on the desk. "This is a background on our distraught brother. I'll skip his substantial criminal record and get to the meat." She pulled a paper from the top of the file and handed it to Gerard. "One of his drinking buddies told me he was out for the money. I got him to sign a statement." Allen Sheppard couldn't get his jaw to close for a few moments, leaving him sitting there like a rest home patient who'd lost control of his facial functions. When he recovered his ability to speak, he wasn't sure how to approach the document. "How the hell did you get that?" he finally asked. 101
A Death Without Malice For the first time since the meeting began Barbara Lindstrom allowed a hint of emotion to cross her face. "I went to his favorite bar in Main and started buying rounds." "Well yeah but…" Sheppard was close to stuttering. "How do you know his credibility will stand up in court?" Barb dropped another fact sheet on the table. "He's a nice man who works hard and goes out for an occasional beer. There's nothing questionable on his record at all. He thinks D'Behr is an asshole and believe it or not, just wants to do the right thing." Gerhard picked up the document and, along side the other doctors, took heart with the new development. Though it still went unsaid that everything could hang on the piece of paper she'd just placed on the table. If Lindstrom were wrong, if she had missed anything at all, that same paper could sign their death warrant. Stennel took the paper from Gerhard." Are you certain he won't change his mind? You said D'Behr has a criminal record, what if he threatens him?" Barbara smiled. "D'Behr is not a large man by any standard. My witness stands six foot two and weighs in at around 285. I don't think a physical threat is an issue." She paused and glanced around the room. "To further put your mind at ease, I asked him that very question. He said he couldn't wait for the little bastard to throw the first punch." Stennel handed the paper back to her. He had to find a way to avoid a trial, but stopping the doctors now might be almost impossible. "Can we do this?" he asked. "Can we have a meeting with his attorneys and show them what we have. Make it clear that their case has been severely weakened. Then ask them to withdraw the suit?" Barbara's hand involuntarily hit the table. The noise startled everyone in the room. "Mr. Stennel, you don't ask the opposition for anything. You give them an option; withdraw or we will make this as painful as humanly possible." She waited a moment for that to sink in before she continued. "We can bury them in so much paperwork we'll win the war of attrition if all else fails. Jacobs is as greedy as they come, when it is no longer financially possible to recoup his losses he'll cut and run." Gerhard nodded. "For myself, I say we do not settle." Wilfried patted him on the back. "Ja." Stennel was getting nervous. Wilfried was only their as the attending physician, his vote didn't count. The others, however, had tremendous respect for Strauss. They could swing either way. "Gentlemen, I assure you, we can handle this quickly and quietly. I still don't see the need to put this institution at risk." "There is more than this institution that is at risk." Gerhard pointed down the row of physicians. "Any hint of scandal on our reputations and the next time a coalition is assembled for another study I can promise you none of our names will be on it." He pointed his finger at Stennel. "You have some of the finest neurologists in the world at this table. They deserve to be defended." Stennel grabbed onto the back of his hair. "Christ. What do the rest of you have to say?" Pierre LaRouge gracefully flicked his hand in the air. "It should go without saying that I would like to see the truth come out. We do not settle." Gerrard smiled. He'd always liked the eccentric French Canadian from Montreal. But the vote was still being counted. Everyone looked over at Jonathan Riley. Riley looked earnestly around the room, then toward Stennel. "These things can get ugly. I'm sorry gentlemen but I'm going to have to side with the administrator." Not an out and out surprise, Gerrard thought. The man was brilliant, but he wouldn't rock the boat to save the titanic. As he considered what would happen next, Stennel did something he should have thought twice about. Rather than force Gerrard to adhere to the hospital's decision, he asked him for his opinion. Gerrard rubbed his hands together. What the hell, he could always go to work at Johns Hopkins. "I have a number of productive years left in this profession. I would like to pursue them without hearing nurses whispering in the corridors, or future employers asking why we settled if we were right." He scooted his chair up to the table. "I also think it's important to add to Gerhard's remark on our names not being on any future studies." He paused. "Not only will 102
M. N. Norton ours be missing for lack of an invitation, you won't see any other high ranking physicians either. They won't put their careers on the line." Stennel placed his fingers tightly against his forehead. He'd nail Gerrard for this if it were his last action as an administrator. "Fine. I'll schedule a meeting with D'Behr's attorneys as soon as possible." He turned to Barbara Lindstrom. "I sure as hell hope you know what you're doing." She sat up and closed her briefcase. "I haven't lost one yet." She said self-assuredly. Sheppard leaned over to her as he gathered his papers. "You'd better pray this isn't the first." Stennel continued to rub his forehead. "All right. We will adjourn this meeting. I will be in touch as soon as I have more information." All but Riley and Sheppard let out a noticeable sigh of relief and stood up. Barbara Lindstrom walked toward Gerhard as the doctors in the room were shaking hands and saying their goodbyes. After agreeing to meet for lunch, they all filed out of the room…all except for Gerhard. She caught his eye and motioned for him to stay behind. Gerhard nodded in acknowledgement. Barbara moved up beside him. "Can I speak with you privately for a moment?" As she asked the question she saw an expression of sadness on his face, as though he'd already anticipated what the subject would be. "We can speak here." He said then closed the door to the meeting room and offered her a seat. She sat down and started to open her briefcase, then decided against it. He took the chair beside her. "Dr. Strauss, there is one issue that I would like to discuss with you before we proceed. More for informational purposes than anything." She paused. Gerhard put his hand on the table and briefly closed his eyes. "Please go ahead." "First, let me say that I think it's bullshit and I'm sorry to even have to bring it up." She set her briefcase on the table. She still wasn't ready to reveal the contents. "As Allen said, D'Behr's attorneys will stop at nothing to win points with a jury. They will say or do anything." "You are concerned with the fact that my father served with the Third Reich," he asked quietly. "Yes." She said softly. "We live in a paranoid society Dr. Strauss. People here can't handle sitting next to a smoker let alone the son of a Nazi. You saw what happened when the Austrian government formed a coalition with members of Haider's party?" "Yes, there was quite an upheaval throughout Europe." He remarked. I'm afraid Bill Jacobs will try to create the same reaction among the jurists." "So we must be ready in case they bring these things up." He said solemnly. "Yes." She replied. "Legally, we will try to prevent them from mentioning it at the trial, but I'm not waiting to find out the hard way the asshole will manage to bring it up." "And if he does?" Gerhard asked. "We tell the press time and again that anyone who wanted to work during the Nazi regime was forced to take the oath. That dreams of martyrdom are fine until someone is holding a Luger to the side of your head." She stopped and gathered her thoughts. "We'll say it in somewhat softer terms, but that will be the gist of it." "Even without the Luger Ms. Sheppard, Austrians, French, Western Europeans did many things to be ashamed of." He looked deeply into her eyes, then out the window as he spoke. The stories from his childhood were again burning painfully in his mind. "As have we all Dr. Strauss. That does not justify condemning your generation." She took the briefcase off the table. "Lets hope they decide to withdraw before trial." She smiled to herself. "There are ways to inspire them." She stood up. "I have to go for now. I have the number to your hotel, I'll call as soon as we know the results of the meeting." Gerhard stood up and held out his hand. "Thank you very much for your trouble. I have a suspicion you are very good at what you do." He then remembered he was not the only physician of Germanic descent that may have a problem with their past. "What about Wilfried, Ms. Lindstrom? Dr. Hausser."
A Death Without Malice "That won't be a concern Doctor. His parents were farmers in southern Germany during the rise of the Nazi party. Jacob's can't possible make an inference from that. Moreover, they were in Canada when the war broke out and were unable to return until afterward." "Very well," he said softly then held out his hand. She shook his hand. "I talked to a little boy you'd taken care of named Billy Humboldt. He says you're terrific." She looked into his eyes. "He said to tell you that he and his puppy are fine." Gerhard nodded his head appreciatively. "Thank you again."
Marissa had gone to her parent's house in Virginia Beach to visit her mother while Gerhard attended the meeting. She had asked Josie to not let Anne know she was coming, saying only that she wanted to rest a while before visiting with anyone. Marissa knew her mother must have wondered why she was being so elusive, yet Josie had no choice but to honor her request. There were two things Marissa had wanted to talk over with her mother. The first was giving up her American citizenship and moving to Austria with Gerhard. The second was whether Josie knew that Mark was George's son. Robert and Josie had retired to a capacious, waterfront home in the Munden Beach area of Virginia Beach. Their two-story, Plantation style residence sat graciously on eight acres of manicured lawn, which opened up over the beautiful intercoastal waterway. Replete with an outdoor pavilion, swimming pool and patio, the house had served to offer its tenants both the elegance they had left in Philadelphia and the peaceful reserve of an up-scale neighborhood in Virginia. Marissa had timed it to arrive at her parent's waterfront home just after lunch. She felt the shade of the tall trees lining the circular driveway through the window of the cab as it pulled up to the front of the house. As soon as she stepped onto the front lawn their old golden retriever ran up to greet her. "Hi Spider," she said then gave him a vigorous pet behind his ears. "Where's mama?" "Mama's right here Marissa." Josie replied as she came from the side of the house. Marissa walked over to her and gave her hug. "God it's good to see you mother." Josie stood back and looked at her daughter. "Honey, you look wonderful. What have you been doing all this time? I haven't gotten a post card since you left Freiburg." Marissa kissed her mother on the cheek. "Let's go in the house and I'll tell you about it. Is Father home?" she asked as they started toward the door. Josie took Marissa's arm as she came up beside her. "No. He's off golfing today. We'll have several hours to visit." "Good. I need to talk to you about something." She said quietly while avoiding her mother's eyes. They went into the kitchen where Josie poured two cups of lemonade. She handed one to Marissa. "Let's sit on the patio." They walked out to the back patio and walked toward a glass table with chairs. Josie raised the umbrella so they could sit without having the hot afternoon sun beat down on them. Marissa took a chair at the far end of the table and stared thoughtfully at her mother. All that had taken place as she had walked down her long road was again before her. The joys and sorrows of her marriage to George, her death as George died and her feeling of re-birth now that 104
M. N. Norton she had found Gerhard cumulated into an emotion she had yet to identify. Perhaps a sense of belonging to something real and good was as accurate a summation as she could give. Whatever word she would use to put a name to her mood was irrelevant; she knew she was happy. "I have something to tell you mother." She said with only a trace of excitement in her voice. Marissa then looked up to gauge her mother's reaction. Seeing none she decided to continue. "I'm in love with Gerhard Strauss and plan to marry him and move to Austria." Josie tilted her head forward slightly and let her daughter's revelation work its way in. She had suspected there was at least a slight attraction between the two while George was still alive but had decided it would be best to keep her thoughts to herself. Josie believed firmly that what Marissa did with regard to her personal life was none of her business. More important was the fact that Marissa was a woman who needed a man in her life. Josie doubted her oldest daughter would ever find happiness alone. That she had bridged the emptiness in her life so quickly gave Josie a sense of hope. "He seems to be a very good man Marissa," Josie said with calm reserve. Marissa smiled widely and allowed her deepest feelings to come forth as she realized that her mother had given a guarded yet positive response. "He is wonderful," she added as her enthusiasm grew. "I can't begin to tell you how happy I am." "I can see how happy you are," Josie replied. "I hope the best for you both." Marissa reached out and grabbed her mother's hand. For the first time since she'd been with Gerhard she was able to express how she felt openly and without fear. In her mind, there was no other person she would rather share her thoughts with than her mother. "I never thought I'd find someone I could love as much as I loved George." Marissa paused as the impact of her emotions welled up inside of her. "I still can't believe it's true." Josie stared affectionately at her daughter. "Apparently it is." Marissa nodded and glanced out toward the water. "We have one issue to solve here," she said with a forced air of confidence. "After that we'll be free to do whatever we want." "What issue has to be solved?" Josie asked curiously. "Someone is suing the doctors and the hospital." Marissa said as she released her mother's hand and sat back in her chair. "He's been accused of purposely letting a woman die." Josie had always been an astute observer and knew two things instinctively. The man her daughter loved was a top-notch physician and the suit was nothing more than an attempt to blackmail the hospital. "I'm certain this will work out Marissa. He's a fine man and a good doctor. Put your faith in the jury." Marissa pondered her mother's words reflectively. Her hopes for justice mingled with her fear that sometimes there was no justice. Occasionally, fate simply didn't care. "I'm trying mother." "Tell me about the wedding," Josie said in an effort to change the subject. "Have you made plans yet?" "I'm not sure where we'll be married or when," Marissa answered. "But I want you all to be there." Josie clasped Marissa's hand between her own. "Of course we'll be there. Have you told Anne yet?" As Marissa remembered the second reason for coming to her mother's home, she found she had to hurry and set her glass down to keep her shaking hands from spilling the contents. Josie stared at Marissa with a questioning look in her eyes. "You seem a little nervous. You want to tell me what's wrong?" Marissa looked away for a moment; her courage was beginning to fail. She knew if she didn't ask soon, she wouldn't be able to. "I have a very hard question to ask," she said while still looking away. Josie sat back in her chair and looked down. She wondered if the time for the truth had come. "Why not just say what's on your mind and see what happens," she said quietly. Marissa nodded and continued. "I think I know who George slept with…" she couldn't finish what she wanted to say. 105
A Death Without Malice Josie sat her glass on the table and folded her hands together. "How did you find out?" she asked softly. In the course of a moment, Marissa accepted what she had known was true, but still carried a shred of hope that she was wrong. "I put it together while I was in Germany." "I'm sorry Marissa," Josie said somberly. "I'd always prayed you'd never find out." Marissa looked away. Something else was making itself felt as she tried to absorb all that was being said. A new feeling was taking over her and it was overpowering. Until this moment she hadn't realized it even existed. "Why didn't you tell me?" she asked. "Eleven years mother. For eleven years you knew and never said a word." Josie looked away. "Marissa you have to understand." Marissa took her mother's hands into her own. "I'm trying to understand Mother, that's why I'm here. But you have to understand that this is not easy for me to do." Josie looked into her eyes as she spoke, looking for the deepest part of her daughter's senses. "You can believe this in your own time or not – you decide. But the only thing that could have been harder for me than lying to you would have been to have told you the truth." "What do you suppose would have been harder for me?" Marissa asked with more calm than she expected. "Maybe this is a very strange way for you to see this, but you and Anne destroyed any chance I had to either forgive George or to loathe him." "We also kept a little boy from being hurt very deeply." Josie softened her hold on Marissa's hands. "And you need to remember Marissa; you did forgive him, many years ago." Marissa released her mother's hands and stared at the water, moving slowly along its own path. As she was now doing in her own life. "I know." "Then let it be Marissa," Josie said as Marissa again looked toward her. "Maybe we can." She whispered. "Can you and Gerhard come for dinner?" she asked. Marissa shook her head. "I'll call later and say hi to Father." She paused for a moment, wondering if she was about to tread a bridge too far. "Do you think I should discuss this with Anne?" A light in Josie's eyes found a way to the surface. "No." "Why? she asked. Josie sat back and looked at Marissa over the top of her glasses. Always a sign the elderly woman was about to impart something that was best listened to. "Let me define the difference between your generation and mine. There was not always a need to bare one's soul in the quest of achieving absolute purity. You took people as they came, with flaws and if their heart was good enough, you let their occasional slips in life be." Marissa raised a finger in protest. Josie cut her off. "This doesn't justify what happened; please don't think I'm doing so. What I am saying is that what your generation does is look for something that simply does not exist. You want people to be more than they are Marissa, and if you continue, you'll forever be disappointed. We all make stupid mistakes, from them, hopefully we grow." Marissa had to reflect on her words for a while. In the middle of her reverie, Spider meandered over for a pet. She gladly complied. "I suppose you're right, in the end." Gerhard found Marissa deep in thought when he returned to the hotel room. She was sitting in a chair with her feet resting on top of the air conditioner. The sound of the door closing barely drew a stir. He walked over and gently took her hand. "Things did not go well with your mother?" Marissa wrapped her fingers around his hand and shook her head. "We had a good talk." She paused for a moment, glanced at the ceiling then back out the window. "I don't know what the future holds, but at least we were able to discuss it." Gerhard rubbed the top of her hand with his thumb, hoping the caring in his touch would bring her out of her withdrawal from the world. 106
M. N. Norton "I appreciate how you must feel." He replied as he moved a chair beside her. A shadow from the building across the street shaded the room as the sun hid behind the city skyline. The whirring fan from the air conditioner was the only noise in the room. Marissa heard weariness in his voice. As her own thoughts slowly subsided, she remembered where he had been, and why he'd had to go. "What happened at the meeting"? She asked. He patted her hand. From his gesture she knew the inevitable had happened. Marissa rose slightly in her chair. "They brought up your father?" Gerhard nodded. Marissa gently rubbed his arm. "I'm sorry." "Truth, or a perceived truth, can be hard to face." He said as he removed his suit coat and loosened his dark blue necktie. "Why don't we go to dinner, have some wine and try to cheer each other up a bit?" He allowed himself a smile. "Where would you like to go?" "Lets drive a little ways out of town and see if we can forget our troubles for awhile?" She paused for a moment while she thought through a host of possible destinations. "Maybe we can head toward Norfolk and find someplace to eat on the way." Gerhard stood up and adjusted his necktie then pulled his jacket from the back of the chair. "That will be fine." "I'm looking forward to the time when we can simply enjoy being with each other," she said as she slid on her shoes. "There will never be a point in time when there are not stresses, large or small. But I enjoy every moment with you now." Marissa again felt the in-born strength Gerhard had always shown. She looked at him affectionately and realized that this moment in time was what they had, it may be all they had. "You're right." The downtown streets of Virginia Beach were bustling with afternoon rush hour traffic. As Marissa surveyed the horde of automobiles clogging the streets she began to ponder the wisdom of trying to leave town on a highway. "I'm not certain we'll get out of town very easily. Why don't we see what kinds of restaurants are nearby instead?" Gerhard glanced out at the chaos then chuckled. "Can I trust you to wait for the light before you cross the street?" Marissa shook her head as she recalled their first meeting when he had saved her from being run over. She stopped and looked around. "The hotel has a nice restaurant right inside the door." "It does indeed." He agreed With the noise in the streets firmly behind them, they walked back inside the brass-framed door they'd exited only minutes before. "Does your mother know where you are staying?" Gerhard asked curiously. He knew Mrs. Elgin was wondering what to do with regard to the situation involving her two daughters and wanted to brace himself for what might happen before the end of the day. Marissa lead the way into the restaurant. "Yes, but I don't think she'll call." Josie's reaction to their conversation that afternoon had been on her mind as well, though she suspected her mother would simply choose to leave it be until some time had passed. A waiter had barely seated them at a table when Gerhard saw Barbara Lindstrom come into the room. She quickly scanned the tables, saw him and made her way over to them. "Dr. Strauss, forgive the interruption, thank God I saw you walk into the door of the hotel. May I speak with you for a moment?" Gerhard offered her an open chair at the table. "Please sit down." Barbara quickly sat down then placed her briefcase on the floor beside her. "Marissa, this is Barbara Lindstrom, one of the attorneys on the case. Ms. Lindstrom, Marissa Sheldon, my fiancée." Barbara stared closely at Marissa. "Sheldon, as in George Sheldon?" 107
Join us. which was a tenderloin steak and baked potato. Can you have our meal delivered to our room?" "Yes sir." she said in a startled voice. Sheldon's care Dr. Gerhard took the menus then motioned for the man to wait near the table. "I'm an attorney. Marissa escorted Barb over to the small table near the window while Gerhard made coffee. "I don't understand. I'd love some dinner. "what would you like to talk about?" Barbara let out a small laugh." A waiter came to the table with water and menus as she finished speaking." Marissa felt comfort at having a friend of George's remember him well. Sheldon's neurologist when he halted life support." Gerhard joined her at the table. "He was my husband. something we need to discuss privately. Marissa stared with curiosity at the attorney next to her. I wouldn't ask if it weren't very important. "You are quite an attorney. "When I first got out of law school I took a job as a corporate attorney for the competition. After the waiter added their room number to the ticket. "Thank you. Strauss. Strauss. we'll only be a few minutes before we are ready. "I realize this is a tremendous imposition. I couldn't believe it when I heard about his accident. I might add. He opened it then ushered a waiter into the room." "I imagine so. I don't think it the time to mention a very serious snag that has arisen." "I'll be right back.A Death Without Malice "Yes." "My condolences Mrs. "This won't take long Dr." he began." Barb said as they walked toward the elevator. he was a good man. "I suppose from the same place in the stomach that you do. Strauss?" "Yes. A patent issue came up shortly after I went to work for another company." They quickly scanned the menu and decided on the daily special." she replied. Sheldon. Lindstrom. they stood up and prepared to leave." "Did you know him?" Marissa asked curiously. Where do you get this fire?" Barb winked at Gerhard then sipped her coffee. "You can't have eaten yet." he said then left the table." Gerhard heard a knock on the door not long after they had drunk their coffee." "Thank you." "There is a reason why I had to track you down this afternoon." The attorney looked inquisitively at Gerhard for a moment. We believe in what we do and fight as hard as we can for it. He brought in a large tray and set it on the table. "We can have coffee while we wait for our dinner to arrive then discuss this new problem Ms. Gerhard opened one menu between he and Marissa then handed the second to Barbara. Gerhard hit the call button and turned toward the attorney." They went to the room without speaking any further. I think I terrified the poor man. "Only briefly. and I had to play the bad 108 ." Marissa watched them both." The attorney took the menu. I'm starving. I attempted arousal therapy. "It was hard. Our paths crossed from time to time. "Since we've decided to leave the business end of our meeting until after we eat. After the settings had been placed the three began their meal. "You said you crossed paths with George? Barb set down her fork and smiled. "Forgive me. "We'll be ordering momentarily. "Were you at all involved in Mr. When that failed I accompanied Mr. "We aren't so different Dr. I can talk about anything and make it sound interesting. But could I ask that you order room service so we can talk upstairs without being disturbed?" Gerhard couldn't hide his confusion as he heard the question." Barbara raised an eyebrow ever so slightly before she spoke again.
" Gerhard looked at her inquisitively for a moment then gave a nod. Austria is a foreign nation and is not under US jurisdiction in any way so they are not under any obligation to fill them out." Gerhard held up his hand. but sincere when he said it was in the past." Gerhard nodded then stared out the window again. He stared outside for a long time before turning around to face Marissa and Barb Lindstrom. authorized the practice of euthanasia?' And 'Has this facility. I do." "He was a good man. "Yes. I bought that night. be included as evidence. or any physician working there now or in the past. Need I say. "What was the time lapse between the death of Mr. or ever." she said with a giggle. "I've never forgotten. "No. But what I remember was how gracious he was." She paused for a moment before continuing. but if even one comes back with an answer he can take discovery one step further." Marissa considered the abrasive manner of the young woman and got it. Among them were: 'Has this institution. "Please understand I only do this now because I don't want any surprises from the opposition later." Barb nodded. I'm certain of it. "You don't have to apologize." "It never went to court then?" Gerhard asked. "A lot of people couldn't get past their ego after that. put it behind you. "Then what is wrong?" Lindstrom pulled a piece of paper out of her briefcase." Gerhard tried to understand what she was driving at." She caught Marissa's eyes. If that's what this man is after then he's looking in the wrong place. or any of its representatives. N." Marissa said fondly. there are days when I'm revolted by the actions of those in my profession. Once they finished eating and cleaned off the dishes." "Yes it is." She handed it to Gerhard. "Bill Jacobs has dropped a ton of interrogatories on the staff at your hospital in Vienna. "Dr. Marissa stood up and moved toward the attorney. We can outlast him. "Then your relationship evolved in Europe?" "Yes. "Then don't. The business end of the meeting was about to begin." Barb countered him." "I'm glad to hear that." she continued. Sheldon and when you became romantically involved?" Gerhard prepared to answer her question with honesty. "I went to Germany four months after my husband's death. I called Gerhard while I was there.M." She shuffled the papers in front of her before she continued. Strauss. "Which is good as I had no intention of falling prey to this sort of behavior. "They are trying to find a way to slip your father's past into the argument. "I have to ask you both in advance to forgive me for what I'm going to say. Under normal circumstances I would never bring such a thing up. as was appropriate. "This is despicable. "Please ask. "It actually ended quite well over drinks once we discovered our man had brought a false infringement charge against your husband's company." Marissa continued in a forthright tone. He can suggest that this information is relevant and ask that the hospital's history." Barb didn't allow hesitation to make the question harder to ask than it already was. He was not only cordial. There is nothing out of hand here." Barb jumped in. Now." 109 . I wanted to impress the boss and I don't think poor George was ready for the gal who walked in the door. authorized the transfer of patients to other facilities in Austria for the purpose of euthanization?' He handed her back the sheet. "I just got a copy of what they're sending. Before he could begin." Barb exhaled a sigh of relief then forged ahead with what had caused her to ask them upstairs in the first place. Norton guy. "I find it very difficult to succumb to this kind of blackmail. "I can see why. But let me promise you they will not find this law suit to be an easy battle. now. Barbara set her briefcase down on the table. which would include your father." Gerhard read through the list of questions written in German." Gerhard stood up and walked to the window.
they engaged in a murderous rampage across every nation they entered. It could get very ugly. "In the months time that the Russians were in control of the city tens of thousands of women were brutally raped. My mother had just given birth to my older sister and was convalescing in our home in Vienna." Gerhard took the sheet and scanned the contents. "There is a very important difference. the Soviet Army was the first occupying force in Austria. Sheldon. but I'll do everything within my power to see to it we win." Gerhard had to take a moment to compose himself before he could continue." Barb raised an eyebrow then answered. "I will not live under a shadow of suspicion for something that took place almost sixty years ago that I had no part of. it's his police record." "What are the chances the judge will agree?" Marissa asked doubtfully." "I have to ask you something Ms." Gerhard's voice faltered as he tried to continue. who couldn't care less what he does to you. "To be honest?" she continued as she pulled another sheet of paper from her briefcase. "You can't ask him that. "I've filed a motion to dismiss based on the statement from the man at the bar where De Behr lives." The two women could only watch and listen. your family or your career. and thousands of others. 110 . We decry his personal assassination of my character. "As you know. Gerhard didn't need anytime at all to decide. They systematically attacked every woman and young girl they could find." "I only have one more issue I need to discuss before I go. "With my sister screaming in her cradle a unit of Russian soldiers broke into our home and raped my mother. many mutilated. yet that is exactly what we are willing to do to him. Most people preferred the sanitized versions of war to seeing the true brutality of human nature. None so murderous as they approached the borders of Austria and Germany." Gerhard moved closer to the table so he could observe her response. "I'm sorry Mrs. Lindstrom. "If there were any other way to do this I would gladly have taken it but there isn't" Gerhard turned toward her with determination. Still she stayed silent while he spoke. He is willing to use innuendo in order to paint a picture of you that is basically a lie. He then handed it back. "That depends on how much more dirt I can dig up on him between now and when the motion is heard. "Then you have to decide if you truly want to take this on. "You are currently engaged in the same sort of activity as the man we are fighting against." Barb put the paper safely away. "My mother was among them. "My father." Marissa held her hand to her mouth as the nausea began to overcome her. "An interesting man." Barbara nodded her head." "If the judge fails to dismiss this case?" he asked solemnly. "A slime bag Dr. had been arrested and imprisoned by the Russians almost immediately. Read through this. I have a private investigator working on it as we speak.A Death Without Malice "What has been done so far?" Marissa asked as she poured a fresh cup of coffee and returned to her seat." "What happened to your family directly after the war?" Marissa heard the question and before she could stop herself stood up and faced the attorney. She had already made an assumption as to how the question would be received. she still had to ask." Gerhard pondered his thoughts very carefully before he answered." she stated with a hint of hesitancy. Strauss. "Please ask. as much as she detested having to. As they descended through Eastern Europe. The horrors of post war Europe were seldom shown in popular movie theaters or in best selling novels. "I don't have to lie. Through his words they found they had been locked into a world lived by those who were now little more than a memory in the history books. I would like to go forward." She handed Gerhard the paper she had taken from her briefcase." Barb said as she tapped the table with her well-manicured nail. I have to know.
Lindstrom. The image revolted her. "You forgot something?" he inquired." "God I'm so sorry. "As soon as I met that little Humboldt boy I knew you were worth defending. She tried to ignore the endless string of German coming from Gerhard as well as assimilate what she had just heard. Marissa and Gerhard sat at the table and pondered what they'd been told. But when I am told that we deserved this treatment. After my birth. "What you don't understand is that that's my point." Marissa took her hand then gave her a hug. My father was released from prison and allowed to go back to work as a physician. 111 ." As soon as Barb left the room. all those who had been conquered attacked those of German decent…whether or not they had played any part whatsoever in the Nazi empire. Poles." she said casually then turned and walked down the hall toward the elevator. "And not only the Russians Ms. He had never been a man who wanted acclaim for the work he'd accomplished. is that we are condemned for what we did and rightfully so." Gerhard shook her hand "I will prepare myself as best I can. Sheldon. in some cases more so. Gerhard was about to speak when he heard a knock on the door." He commented as he shook her hand. "They looted. He spent the rest of his life trying to help my mother recover. across Germany and Austria they raped every female they could find between the ages of eight and eighty.M. "I will. in some respects as much as she could listen to. Without effort she could imagine herself as the infant in the cradle while her mother was being brutalized inside their home. He was surprised to see his attorney standing there. The force of human bloodlust had taken over everyone." "He is one of many. "Thank you for your effort. for if the action is wrong then all who took part in it are to blame." Barb had heard all she needed to. "Once the Western forces arrived things calmed down dramatically for us as we lived in the Western occupation zone." She interjected then turned to Marissa and held out her hand again. We later found out that the Russians had been so desperate to avenge the assault on their nation that they had raped the half-dead women they had just liberated from the concentration camps. she couldn't bear the thought of having more children. "And what bothers me so about this Ms. "I have to let Dieter know what is taking place." Every attorney who had ever known her would attest to the fact that nothing could ruffle Barbara Lindstrom. "It was a pleasure meeting you Mrs. "I think you're remarkable. "I'll do everything in my power to win this case. She was terrified the Russians would find a way to come back again. I won't be long." She picked up her briefcase and prepared to leave." Barb whispered as he continued. She stood up and held out her hand. I truly wish you all the best. Thank you." Gerhard stopped short. As she listened to Gerhard speak all she could do was hang her head and stare at the floor. women and children deserved to be murdered because of this war I am dumbfounded. "We'll sure as hell find out. She nodded." Barb hugged her in return." Gerhard nodded silently then went on." Marissa nodded and grabbed a newspaper from a bed table." He again paused before he could finish his story. "Tell them to call me. pillaged and murdered with impunity." Gerhard took the card from her and placed it in his breast pocket. N. Gerhard walked over to the telephone and dialed for the hotel operator. He quietly went to answer. Many other women had committed suicide rather than live with the memory. Norton Age did not matter. Czechs. It also brought a realization that the issues surrounding her family paled in comparison to what Gerhard had dealt with regarding his own. that innocent men. He cupped his hand over the phone while it rang and turned toward Marissa. "If anyone from the press calls." She handed him her card. They were as barbaric in their behavior as we had been. He wasn't sure how to accept her praise. Lindstrom." "Have a good evening.
" Marissa said quizzically. "I'm pretty sure I could have done this alone. "I never knew I could love someone this deeply again." Barb cut her short. this will pass." she hesitated for only a moment before she continued. and I had to face the question: does the truth set you free?" Gerhard looked at her with compassion." "That son of a bitch." she whispered then wrapped her arms around his neck as he picked her up and walked toward the bed. yes." she said as she thought again about the lawsuit. This is completely illegal and if I can find out who did it I'll make certain the judge takes action. They awoke the next morning to the sound of the telephone ringing. Marissa stared at him. Gerhard gently caressed the skin under her blouse. If I were you. "Marissa. "That's why I'm calling. I made myself learn how. "I met another demon. He will explain the importance of not sending these back to this attorney." Marissa said calmly." 112 . Marissa brought his hand to her lips and kissed it gently. She found if nothing else. "We would like to know what happens." At her words." "Enough about me Marissa. We'll let you know where we are. "And what did this truth do for you?" Not knowing where the mood came from. her sleepiness had faded completely at Barbs final words." "Yes." he said lightly. "We can finish our discussion in a little while. Lindstrom. Gerhard felt a joy come to him that he had not felt since the night she opened the door for him in Freiburg. "I guess we all are under the 'thin vale of civilization. What happened at your mother's house today?" Marissa released his hand and glanced at every wall in the room before she answered. "I'm pretty sure the press will be calling you before lunchtime. All right. DeBehr." Marissa slid onto his lap. "Yes. "I'm fine. I'd check out of the hotel and go someplace where they won't think to look for you. that's exactly what he is. This will work well in our favor. "Yes. which amazingly is what I've been most of my life. "Do you have any idea how glad I am that you're here with me?" She said with more emotion than she'd realized. "I see. but there is nothing…" she paused as the depth of her feelings came to the surface." "Thank you." Marissa sat up in bed." Marissa felt the word slip out of her mouth before she could stop it. "It is something we all have to deal with. "I am looking forward to being with you for the rest of my life. She heard laughter on the other end of the line. "Dieter will talk to the staff." "Have a good morning and I'll be talking with you soon.A Death Without Malice After a few minutes Gerhard hung up the phone and joined her. Marissa held the phone to her ear and pondered Barb's words before she answered. she had to let him know she was sorry. but it's vital that you know." "And I know what we can do in the meantime. I'm sorry. "We need me to be strong for a different battle." He said quietly. Marissa chuckled as she reflected back. "What else?" "This isn't good news and I'm sorry to have to tell you first thing in the morning." "Okay. "What's wrong?" "His attorney has found someone to leak information to the press. this is Barb Lindstrom. "I don't know how to begin to…" He squeezed her hand then looked down." Marissa found it hard to not show her sadness for him. I just need to make you aware of two things. Marissa reached over and picked it up. or let it set me free." "A good little warrior you are I think. "I guess I had the temptation to be a whiney ass for the rest of my life. How are you?" She asked sleepily. Ms. The first is that I've uncovered a history of attempted scams by Mr." "Are you free?" he asked carefully. at this moment in time I am.
His insights as to the thoughts taking place in her mind were astonishing. After a while. "Can we talk about what happened yesterday?" she said quietly." "I didn't know…" she said as tears came to her eyes." Marissa shook her head. "Grief takes a very long time Marissa. Speaking out loud yesterday had a very calming effect on something that has been in my mind for years. But returning to your house will not be easy." He continued. "We have a lot to do today." "Why does this disturb you so much?" he inquired "Normally all I would have to do is call Mother or Anne and we could stay there without any questions." 113 ." "Getting old I suppose." he continued as his own laughter mixed with hers. Gerhard smiled sympathetically and pulled her close to him. "It's too nice a morning to start the day with such a look of despair. yet she wanted to come to terms with it. at this point in time. Barb wants us to leave the hotel and find someplace to stay where we can't easily be found. After debating with herself a while longer she decided to ask. This journey was so much different from the first time Gerhard had driven her to her house on the bay. as she watched the familiar landmarks fade into the distance." They showered then ordered breakfast through room service." Gerhard pulled her under him and kissed her deeply. she was at peace. she answered. "Are you truly ready for me to sleep in your husband's bed?" Marissa was floored by the question. "Hopefully mine has been traveled. Though she wasn't certain how she would react when she finally walked through the front door. What's the matter?" "The press has been given information. "Only the aged among us have acquired the wisdom necessary to be at peace. "I'm not old! How can you say I'm old?" "Beautiful but old. N. "We'll go right after breakfast. "We're going to the house. "As hard as that may be for me to come to terms with. I'm not willing to give you up for him. Norton Marissa barely heard herself say goodbye then hang up the phone. You don't have to cry for me. Gerhard pulled her on top of him and kissed her cheek. The phantoms of his past were lifting. "I am at peace with this Marissa.M. In spite of the confusion surrounding her situation with Anne. "That I've probably never been so at ease with myself in my life. If the topic was forbidden. "I guess it all depends on the length of the road you have to travel down before you find it." Marissa stared into his eyes and knew that what he said was true. "What are you thinking about?" she heard Gerhard ask softly. and his with regard to the hospital suit. and then erupted with laughter." Marissa felt serene as she stared out the window of their car on the drive back to Knott's Island. Being away from where your husband's death took place has made it very easy for you to work through it. "We can. he could easily let her know and she would drop it. "The only other place I can think of to go is the house on Knott's Island. He had said in Austria that the wounds were still too painful. The conversation had deeply disturbed him and she didn't want to make things worse. "We should finish our breakfast and go. she felt a desire to discuss what Gerhard had told them about his family the day before. Gerhard put down his knife and fork and looked up at her. she knew she had to face this." Gerhard rolled over on his side and put his arm around her." She paused then turned toward him. As Marissa picked over her eggs. at least for a while…and yours as well." She snuggled against him and gave more thought to the question before her. He put his fingers to her lips and caressed them." She laughed for a moment then pondered his words. She nodded and kissed his fingers. Marissa's jaw fell open." Marissa found herself coming face to face with a ghost she thought she had buried. But I don't want to drag them into this. She wasn't sure how to respond. It was as much as she could ask for." he quipped as a grin slowly etched its way across his lips.
" She smiled over at him." Gerhard put the suitcases on the front stoop then returned to the car to help Marissa. I don't have regular phone service here anymore. "I'd say we are at the point where we need a door key to continue. There is a difference. short distance to the house was traveled." She thought for a moment." Marissa commented as she walked toward the kitchen with their food. The window to the laundry room used to stick. The large Victorian came into view as the sun rose high into the sky." Marissa nodded as she continued to pull out an array of items and drop them on the ground." Marissa laughed again as the last. "I don't think the press will be bothering us. "Let me help you. Marissa was able to start a fresh pot of coffee and sit down at the table for a moment." She commented to herself as Gerhard signaled to turn into the driveway. "I can't believe you can say that and call me old. The blank look on her face was telling. After what seemed an eternity of stacking and sorting." "I'm glad you remembered to stop. "Is there an alternate way inside?" he asked as she dug through her bag. "Possibly. "At some point I put them in my overnight bag. "You have a door key?" Gerhard asked. as well as the many she had eaten alone. "just in case. She kissed him on the cheek as he relieved her of the bag. "I guess I'll be spending a good deal of time cleaning." He said as he quickly took the suitcase from her hand. after that I have plans for a very enriching life. "We are what we perceive ourselves to be Marissa." With that." Marissa stopped in her tracks. Gerhard had barely made it to the back corner of the house when he heard her yell for him." Gerhard held off a laugh as Marissa chewed on her finger." "I just thought of something." He walked back to find she had opened the door and was struggling to carry both a suitcase and several bags of groceries inside." "Why don't I try the window while you continue with your search for the door key?" "That's a good idea." They walked inside the darkened house and set the suitcase on the floor. "It's a gorgeous house. As she glanced around the quiet room. "I still have electricity but the only way we have to call out is on the cell phone. where she found the groceries safely stowed on the floor. "I have had a great deal of time to contemplate it. "If you'll take the groceries in I'll grab the suitcases." she said as she stepped outside and opened the back door of the car." Gerhard turned off the engine and opened the door. "I've found them. "Okay.A Death Without Malice "We will put this behind us. dusting and finding appliances. "And has been your home for a very long time. I think I had changed purses. "I'll bring everything else inside while you put the groceries away. A musty odor from the sea had crept inside and given a salty smell to the rooms. Her memories brought impressions of warmth as she saw the pots and pans and recollected her many dinners there with George." He tipped his head in a gesture of acceptance. they must still be in my overnight bag." She said as she carried the bags to the front door and set them down near the suitcases." Gerhard said as he made his way back to the car." she said apprehensively as he drove up to the front door. she ran back to the trunk and grabbed her travel bag. "I'm certain it's somewhere. You had to force the latch down to make certain it closed. She had a sense that 114 ." "Beautiful but old." Marissa stopped looking for a moment and thought about his question. They were at the very bottom. As long as I am content with the man I face in the mirror I can be happy." "Are you ready for what may happen?" she asked. "Thank you." She wrapped a wisp of hair around her finger as she concentrated. "The last time I saw them they were in my purse. she tried to come to terms with how she felt about being there. "I doubt there's a thing to eat in there. Let me think for a moment.
It's all right. "Only that she thinks she knows who was told to leak the information." she answered "Speak to Anne. "Come inside. "What in the world?" She whispered as Gerhard came up beside her." When Anne fell into her arms. 115 ." Marissa walked her into the living room then sat down beside her. "I had no idea you would ever find out. but almost gone. Norton the faded shadows of her past were still lingering." Marissa nodded and reached for the doorknob as Gerhard walked toward the back of the house. Lindstrom my cell number and told her where we were. Would you like a cup?" "I would. Anne stood in the doorway and though the mid-day sun shown brightly behind her. She rested her chin back in the palm of her hand and stared into his eyes. Marissa knew she had to let it be. He put his arm around her shoulder. "I wanted to give you some time alone." "That is not funny. She wrapped her arms around her little sister and kissed her forehead. "Ah! I see the last chapter in the book is about to be written. In a way it was as though a heavy burden had been taken off of her shoulders and placed in the grave with George." For Marissa. "I've made some coffee. letting go of her anger gave her a feeling of liberation. Marissa saw a darkness on her sister's face that almost brought her to tears. her tears pouring down her cheeks. Anne timidly held out her hand. So a new gag order has been put on the case?" "Hopefully so. As for Anne. Apparently this man is not terribly bright." he said with an uncommon tiredness in his voice." Marissa shook her head. He looked up toward the door." He answered as Marissa ran her fingers through his hair then went to the counter to get the coffee." Gerhard leaned over to kiss her just as the front doorbell rang. Once her tears subsided. "I'm glad you did." "Did she have any more news?" Marissa asked. "I don't know how to ask you to forgive me. "Who could that be?" Marissa asked as she stood up and made her way to the entryway. came to mind. "Mother called me as soon as you left. "We'll be fine." "Are you all right?" he asked perceptively. a memory of a hospital waiting room with Anne giving Marissa all the comfort she could. N. she could finally grieve her own loss in the open with the only other woman in the world who understood. "We never meant for it to happen. She had rested her chin on her hand and was staring at a washed out spot on the ceiling when she heard Gerhard enter the room." She began her confession by focusing her sight on anything in the room that would permit her to avoid looking into Marissa's eyes. I'll be in the kitchen." He said as he sat down beside her. She glanced out the front window and saw Anne's car parked behind Gerhard's. He had his secretary talk to a reporter. She took his hand." Gerhard took a sip of his coffee. Whatever phantoms I thought might be waiting for me never appeared." Anne gasped out between sobs. giving voice to everything she'd held inside from the time Mark was born." Marissa drew Anne's head into her shoulder and gently rubbed her face. "Anyone that stupid can't be that hard to beat in court. Anne cried on her sister's shoulder for a short while longer.M. She wished her mother had kept silent. "Where've you been?" she asked as a smile came to her face. "I've given Ms. "I'm fine. That Anne had been crying for a very long time was evident by her swollen eyes and reddened cheeks. "You don't need to cry anymore. she sat up and took Marissa's hand. I think I needed a few minutes to think about things. She placed two cups on the table then sat back down.
Father never guessed and I don't think George's mother did." "Did George know?" Marissa asked quietly. "If it's possible." She replied. 'Who the hell didn't know?' Was the thought that screamed through her mind. Would you like some?" Marissa asked as she stood up. Marissa sat and contemplated the situation as Anne recovered from this latest outpouring of tears. "For letting you find out. she hoped Marissa would eventually understand. "I knew you'd hate me." Anne reluctantly sat back down on the far end of the sofa. "Frank looked at him and knew. Anne nodded and held up her hand." "After all these years. "I don't know how you can forgive me." Anne was walking toward the door when Marissa called out to her. "Mark won't find out." she hesitated for a moment to regain her composure." Though Marissa had guessed as much in Germany she wasn't ready to hear the words spoken openly." she wiped the last trace of a tear from her eye. "Anne. preferably with a decent shot of whiskey in it. "He didn't find out from me but. Anne thought for a long time before she answered. how could you have?" She couldn't believe Anne would make such a stupid blunder. She knew there was no escaping the reaction." "Wait. "I think he knew Marissa. "No. Marissa found Gerhard sitting at the kitchen table thumbing through the evening paper. "How are you doing?" he asked quietly. Marissa didn't know whether to give her comfort or to simply scream. Anne stood up and walked over to the fireplace. "Mark doesn't need to know any of this." Marissa pulled her sister around to face her. He looked up at her when he heard her come into the room." Anne whispered. I talked to Frank. I didn't know how to handle it. Discussing the issue was not something she was certain she could do. A thought had come to Marissa's mind and she was certain her prophecy would come to pass. Frank already knew. We need to deal with this. "A double would work for me. "Does anyone else know. She wasn't sure she could continue with the conversation. 116 ." is what she quietly asked." Anne shook her head." As Anne's tears again began to fall Marissa put her arm around her shoulder and pulled her toward her. She couldn't have done so unless she had already come to terms with all that had happened. "What do you want to do?" she finally asked." "Anne." Marissa said then left the room. Anne turned and stared at her sister. "He made the assumption just after Mark was born. I'm sorry." Anne was again losing control of her emotions. I'm not sure we'll ever be able to talk to each other again. "All right. hate George. The truth was not pretty. "I'll be right back." The revelation left Marissa speechless. what do you want to forgive yourself for?" The question was one that had haunted Marissa since she discovered the truth in Germany. I don't want to do anything. Anne shook her head. I don't know how to forgive me. The forgiveness had been spontaneous and thus had come easily. Anne made the decision for her." "You're not sorry for sleeping with my husband? Or for lying to me for so long?" Marissa asked inquisitively.A Death Without Malice Marissa listened without giving a response." Anne said quietly." "I need to get some coffee." "Jesus Christ Anne. When Mark began to grow. I don't…" "After mother called. "I loved him. "If you leave now. "I was afraid you would hate Mark too. Anne had managed to deceive her for almost twelve years. "I suppose we can either work this out or face the fact that this will be the last time we'll ever get drunk together." Anne's words penetrated deeply. She stared at the pictures of George and Marissa that were still sitting on the mantle before she answered. "I'll go now. Anne continued.
" she commented as she poured a healthy dose of alcohol into each cup. "And you said 'we'." Marissa said as she set the cup on the table in front of her. "I didn't know that you had…" She wondered if she even wanted to pry." "I will in a little while. especially someone as caring as Gerhard." Anne had no idea what to say. He stared at her inquiringly for a minute then nodded and went back to his paper. Anne sat up and took a drink of her coffee. our lives all came together here. She then reached under the cabinet and pulled out a bottle of blended whiskey. She suspected her sister's current relationship was at least part of the reason Marissa had been so willing to put the affair with George aside." Anne finished her drink and held the cup out to Marissa. When I couldn't find you I assumed that you'd come home. Our memories. She couldn't say she was sorry that Marissa had someone new in her life." She wondered if Barb Lindstrom would be able to resolve the lawsuit that quickly." He said as he took her hand." she said and then wondered how it would be when the two of them made love in her and George's bed. She suspected everything would be fine. "I'll let you know in about a half hour." "Thank you." she said as she set her cup on the table. all right?" Marissa nodded." Marissa interjected. She kissed Gerhard on the cheek then carried the two cups into the living room so she could talk to Anne. she could justify it her own mind the same way Anne must have twelve years ago." "My sympathy toward my sister has its limits right now. "I couldn't call so I just drove out." A giggle slipped out as Marissa took a sip of her own coffee." Marissa sat down on the sofa. "I suppose this is the best place to talk it out if you think about it. "This has nothing to do with sympathy. Why don't you go upstairs and unpack. "Anne would be very self-conscious if she saw me idling around the house. Marissa found Anne snuggled against the overstuffed arm of the sofa." He then made an offer to put her at ease." Anne believed her." They both heard footsteps on the stairway. "A few weeks at most. "You both need to speak as freely as you can." Marissa stirred the coffee into the cups then turned toward him. I'm not certain. She forced them out of her mind before Gerhard could hear them in her voice. "Move his things so you have room. "You don't have to stay in here all day. don't worry. "I called him while I was in Germany. "Just empty George's dresser…" she felt a pangs of guilt. "How soon will you be going?" she asked. With the situation Gerhard now faced there could be no hint of a scandal with regard to George and their feelings for each other before he died. she hoped there would be no surprises. "I didn't know. She couldn't take the chance that something might slip out if she told the truth. I meant to ask how you knew we were here?" "I searched all over Norfolk and Virginia Beach." "Gerhard's here. "Here." He commented then said with some insight. "I'm moving to Austria to be with him. He came to see me in Freiburg and we just…got involved. "Are you ready?" 117 . Norton Marissa went to the cupboard and removed two cups." "We have about a half gallon if we need it. go out on the deck or something?" Gerhard again set down his paper." Marissa thought it ironic that she was about to commit the same sin she'd hated Anne for only a few weeks before. N. "Once I've read the paper I'll go upstairs and unpack. "I'm hoping anyway.M. and embarrassment run through her as she spoke. "I'll be here if you need me. Anne looked curiously at Marissa." Anne had another sip of her coffee before she finished. "Marissa. She had pulled a throw over the top of her and closed her eyes. "This could be an interesting night. Moreover. "You did a good job. "Who is that?" She then replayed Marissa's question in her mind.
"I'll be right back." Anne replied solemnly." She said with no small degree of introspection. She couldn't get out of her mind the thought that during all those times definitely Anne. As soon as she heard the living room door close Marissa stood up and walked over to the where the pictures stood on the fireplace. George's hand was placed firmly on Mark's shoulder. "I screamed it in the back of my mind every time I saw George and Mark together." Marissa inhaled to cool down the alcohol in her throat then motioned to her sister. He had a right to know he had a son." Anne answered sheepishly. "You should have told him Anne. "I'm almost certain he did. Marissa stared at it for a moment then held it to her chest and released the last of her emotions with regard to her past. sorrow and anger all welled up inside her. "Did you ever want to tell him? Did you ever think you 'should' tell him?" Anne shook her head." "I think he did know Marissa. she thought back on the many weekends the two families had shared together. "You knew. "I did finally tell him…just before you had Gerhard and Dr. The picture had George standing behind Mark as the others hovered beside them. "Dink up." Marissa had barely returned the picture to its dusty corner and sat down on the couch when she heard Anne come back into the room. "What good would that have done Marissa? Besides causing more pain?" she took a long drink of her coffee. the answer was important to her. and never talked about it." Marissa slowly sipped the coffee until it was gone then handed the cup back to Anne." Anne sat back on the sofa and looked contemplative. For some obscure reason she had yet to identify." Anne felt new tears come to her own eyes as she watched Marissa grieve a lost moment in time for a man who would never be given a chance to reconcile his past." Marissa smiled and helped herself to the brew. "You knew. "You're running low on coffee." She wavered for a moment then finished her thought. "I have to ask you a question. "Sit down beside me Anne. took Anne's cup and laughed. and probably George knew they'd had a child together." 118 ." Anne said as she rubbed Marissa's shoulder. I'll be right back. Marissa carried the cups back into the living room and sat down next to Anne. After watching Marissa for as long as she could bear. "Think back on what it was like just dealing with the fact that he'd had an affair then imagine what he would have done if I had told him Mark was his. the smile on his face as he held his son took away all doubt. She could do no more than bury her face in her hands and cry." She said softly as her tears began to subside. "I hope you're ready to stay the night. It's time to put this all to rest. she reached out her hand and touched her shoulder. "My turn. Anne wasn't sure what to do. Joy. she had no idea what Marissa's reaction might be. Marissa shook her head and continued crying. "I don't think we'll survive the night if we keep this pace. "Remember all the times we'd get together and put each other up for the night? Those were great times." She spoke passionately." As Marissa prepared the next round of drinks for her and Anne. is there any coffee in this?" she asked after she struggled to get the drink down. Tucked safely away was a picture of their last Christmas together." "They were." The wave of emotion that poured through Marissa as she heard Anne's words was overwhelming. "A bit. "No. I think we need this. "Jesus. Carlson let him die.A Death Without Malice Marissa emptied her own. Anne handed her a fresh cup of spiked coffee." Marissa said as she walked toward the door. "But I didn't dare say it out loud. We may not have to worry about tomorrow. After scanning through the myriad photos she'd collected on the mantle she glanced in the corner and found the one she was searching for. Anne looked into her eyes and waited." Anne took the cups and left the room while Marissa gave expression to everything that was left inside of her. relief. In what was probably nothing more than desperation she finished her second cup of coffee then picked Marissa's up and handed it to her." "But did you 'want' to tell him?" Marissa asked again.
" Marissa replied thoughtfully as Gerhard joined them. eggs. sausage. "Don't bring up the cheerleaders." she snickered as she rolled on top of him. "I'll see what I can do." "I'm not going home. "Why did I do this to me?" Marissa put the aspirin in her mouth and swallowed." She said reflectively. "I do too. "You should both sleep for a while longer until the aspirin has a chance to take affect. "God my head hurts. "It's been a long two and a half years. Frank's going to wonder what the hell happened to me. "I have to get home." Gerhard said jovially." Anne shook her head. With her choices limited." Marissa laughed aloud then set her cup on the table." He said humorously. N. She ran to the bed and jumped on it. After putting Anne to bed in a spare room Marissa went to her own. She opened the door and saw Gerhard sleeping peacefully on her side of the bed. "I think you're going to have to sober me up." "I didn't. "Is he going to talk to me when I get home?" Marissa giggled as she took another drink of coffee. "This is going to be the day from hell. "You really should get a phone installed. "You should be kinder. "The sensibility of your comment is doing nothing to help my headache." Marissa laughed." Anne set her cup down and threw her arms around her sister. "I don't think you want to know what you said to him. Gerhard had nothing more than aspirin to give to the sisters when they came down for breakfast late the next morning.M." "That's why I'm marrying a doctor." She muttered. Marissa stared at the food in front of her and found she was slightly repulsed at the sight of it. Anne dropped her head on the table." Anne mumbled as she rubbed her forehead. This one should do the trick." She looked at Marissa." Gerhard smiled as he watched her. and toast." She thought for a minute before she continued. Gerhard gently rubbed her back." Anne looked at her. He set them on the table along with a glass of water." Barbara Lindstrom rested comfortably in an easy chair in Allan Sheppard's office and went over her notes while Allan sat at his desk with the stoic demeanor of the pragmatic attorney. "You have to." "I know. "Though I suspect it will have been worth the effort." he replied then pulled her face toward his own. She silently worked through the presentation she had formulated in her mind shortly after her 119 . "It is a beautiful day. landing right beside him. "There is no better cure for over indulgence than a good hangover." Marissa almost spit out her coffee." Marissa played with her food for a moment before giving up on the idea all together." She said in a weak voice. Gerhard awoke to see Marissa grinning like a mischievous child who had just done something she knew she shouldn't but couldn't help herself. "I think I called him on my cell last night. Norton Anne joined her sister on the sofa then tried a drink of her own." Anne reached out and took Marissa's hand. "I think you're right about not telling Mark…and I think it's time to let it all go. I don't remember. "I'm swearing off alcohol for life. "We'll see how glad you are while dealing with your headache in the morning. "Everything's fine with Anne. He then poured his coffee as though he didn't have a care in the world." Marissa and Anne talked long into the night before deciding they were both too drunk and too tired to go on any further. She tried to close the door quietly but found the alcohol had made it almost impossible to do anything quietly. She kissed him deeply then stared at him for a moment." "You did. Anne was the first to break the silence. she decided to go with her impulse." She whispered then lost herself in his embrace. "Wow. I'm glad you made me talk to her.
Allan set his paperwork aside and stared directly at her. They'll be branded by the media as being negligently responsible for the death of an innocent woman. Gerhard Strauss. Fortunately for the hospital's legal team DeBehr had plead guilty in order to receive a reduced sentence. "You never draw a line in the sand Allan. The same group of doctors you've sworn to defend will eat this and it will not go down easy. "You don't need to be this aggressive. the doctors have decided to side with you and challenge DeBehr's claim…fine. Sheppard accepted the challenge without hesitation. Barb had written out a list of interrogatories that she planned to present to anyone who might be even remotely involved in the case on DeBehr's side. But don't expect me to be happy about it. "You've known from the beginning what my position is. I don't like to win. Now. if it's predominantly female then you should." "How very astute. You can disagree with my beliefs to your heart's content but I'll be damned if I'll allow you to question my motives. You defend nothing. The doctors." Barb got up and prepared to leave. A two-prong approach would be necessary in order to carry that off. I commend you. Barb put her thoughts on hiatus for a moment and looked up at Allen Sheppard." Sheppard glanced up briefly from his file. In the meantime. "Because winning a good case is the only thing that makes this damned job worth doing. the university. "Not a problem." 120 . We could have handled this neatly and without any fanfare at all. I'll also ask you who is going to pay the price if you lose? You? Not a chance. Part two of her plan would require a bit more by way of timing. Over the past ten years. I relish in it." "I hope you've given the matter a great deal of thought. you like to win and you don't give a damn who you walk over the top of while you do it. it puts the University at an unnecessary risk. drug peddling. Going to trial is not only a waste of time and money. As soon as the attempt was made. She'd already made a few assumptions but held off on coming to any firm conclusions. and everyone in their field will pay the price. "What exactly is your problem with me?" she asked firmly. Barb could then hit them with all she had. "I personally can't stand the sight of attorney's who sit on their ass and make life easy for themselves. He had been arrested for theft. I do have a line in the sand and DeBehr has crossed it. You're like a well-paid prostitute." Allen wasn't quite finished with his personal critique. from his landlady to everyone who'd ever worked with him." "Maybe so…" she began. You'll sleep with anyone after you've agreed on the price. Linking that charge with the statement signed by the man at the bar would be amazingly simple." she commented blithely before she gave her rebuttal. He cut her off. Her second approach would hinge on DeBehr's attorney bringing up the past of Dr. I also think that this has far more to do with your ego than in receiving justice. His character would definitely be made a relevant issue. "Defending your well defined principles is all well and good Barb. "You seem to assume I don't realize that.A Death Without Malice discussion with Gerhard. Barb held him off. "If we get a male jury I'll make the presentation." He said with a trace of ice in his voice. she needed to make certain she had the ace that would turn the jury's mind against DeBehr's. The paperwork alone would take months to fill out. change less and want a million dollar house to live in for your effort. "Just make certain you're ready to win the God damn case when the time comes. assault and the crème de la crème was the attempted extortion of a former co-worker. If the case actually went to court." Barb tilted her head defiantly. I'll make a good presentation. "I agree." "Do you have anything more substantive to say than that?" she quipped." Sheppard tried to comment." "If your background work is done well. My ego has something short of an orgasm every time I do and may I tell you why?" She didn't expect an answer and didn't wait for one." She sat forward as she continued. I think you like to go to court. "Let me clarify a few things for you. "I don't think your motives rest entirely with the defending the honor of these doctors. DeBehr had spent almost as much time in jail as he had between jobs." She said casually.
He knew his father's answer. "Can you not let it go?" Gerhard slowly shook his head as he answered." She left without another word. Euphemistically called the 'Euthanasia. and far too many did. Which is why we are going to win.M. He looked up to see Marissa come into the room. or T4." 121 . "Will I be able to find the answer before the ending of my life?" He continued to remember all who had died during that horrific war. Gerhard sat alone and silently reflected on his nation's past." He answered contemplatively. "Am I trying to mitigate the suffering of those who died or am I truly the physician I should be?" he asked himself quietly. Any in the medical profession who questioned the Nazi doctrine of Gleichschaltung." Marissa sat across the table from him. for either ideological reasons. Almost eight hundred of these children. Giving way to new wars and new generations. most of those working in the medical field felt it their duty to inform the State when these children were born. Gerhard heard the library door open. Many of the drugged children had been wheeled under open windows so the cold could take their lives more rapidly. "Lost in thought. which. He had also become part of an extremely small cadre of midwives and physicians throughout the Reich who had refused to submit the 'questionnaires' given to the parents of deformed children once they realized what the forms were being used for. but of the allied occupation as well. The university and hospital where he now worked indeed had links to the mercy killing program of the Third Reich. Norton "It's all I think about night and day. and helped justify the murders. When forced to fill out a questionnaire. Humanity had been left by the wayside while an Empire strived to construct the genetically superior race. Tragically. Contemplating so much death and destruction was beyond comprehension. Details on how these physicians had let the most helpless of their patients die had been revolting. were simply deemed as 'unfit' and were guilty of nothing more than disobedience toward the State. They also turned over the names of older children who were living peacefully with their families. had been used for medical experiments then either overdosed with luminal or simply starved to death in the children's clinic of Am Spiegelgrund. N. The first victims of the T4 program had been the most helpless of all. in practical terms meant bringing the whole of society under the policies of the Reich. Unlike many physicians his age. The stories his father had told him regarding the years of Nazi occupation were overwhelming. Lebensunwertes leben' 'Life Unworthy of Life' began with the effective utilization of both National Socialist propaganda and terror to secure the success of the program. "How are you?" she asked as she walked toward him. as we should. Thus. the medical workers endeavored to understate the degree of the disability. the handicapped children of the Reich who had been misfortunate enough to be born during Hitler's reign. the actions of the physicians there and across Austria had directly led to the deaths of thousands at the Hartheim nursing home near Linz. "I'm taking this time to reflect on the best. Mostly the worst. Those who believed in the Aryan cause. Not only had the physically and mentally disabled been transported there in order to receive either lethal injections or gassing. were dealt with quickly and efficiently. Dachau and Ravensbruck had lost their lives in Hartheim in order to reduce overcrowding in the concentration camps. or some internal need to conform to policy. thousands of prisoners from Mauthausen. and worst of mankind. mostly teenagers. "In the end all of history must be let go. once inside their doors very few would return. the number of children who had been saved by the deception was miniscule. Austria or Poland. But while we live we ponder those things which have taken place in recent lifetimes. from infants to juveniles. Others. Most met their fate in Am Spiegelgrund or one of the many other clinics in Germany. he hadn't been drafted into the wehrmacht to serve on the front lines. program'. his insights had been learned through not only the years of the Nazi regime. Because he'd been able to remain in Austria he was witness to the atrocities of the euthanasia program. readily supported.
she asked herself with all honesty what the most awful outcome could be. "Why don't we have the ceremony in your back yard? It's a lovely place." Gerhard stared out into the bay as Marissa had done so many times over the years when she needed to find solace. "But I'm going to try. "I told her I wasn't sure. or married in Austria and a reception with your friends and family here." Gerhard stood up beside her." She said gently as she wrapped her arm around his. Not with regard to future travel. "Would you mind terribly if we postponed until another time?" Marissa shook her head. as the cleanup afterward will be an enormous task. and flowers blooming all around us. Beyond the unimaginable hurt Gerhard 122 . but fine otherwise." They each sat down. feeling the warmth of the sun that had been absorbed by the stone. His profession had taught him well that this life would be gone soon enough. whomever you would choose." "Thank you. The Russians." Marissa continued. I don't believe you've encountered the gaiety of an Austrian wedding. "Lets go back to the house and call Ms." Gerhard heard the concern in her voice and realized he needed to concentrate on his current existence as well. but at the thought of finally being married to him. Marissa watched as he drifted further into his own isolation." He replied solemnly." Marissa said as they approached the rock. Then we can have the reception at the house. "Not at all. "Were would you like to go for our honeymoon?" His words stirred feelings of anticipation inside of her. "She's invited us to come to Virginia Beach for dinner tomorrow night. I'm curious to see if anything of interest has happened today. "A stroll on the beach would be a very soothing thing." "Would you like to be married here and have a reception in Austria. Chinese. She then discovered that she had no desire for it to be an elaborate affair. "Each must answer for themselves Marissa." Marissa said as she tried to decide which made more sense. he wouldn't now feel so much anguish over his past." Marissa stood up beside him." Gerhard and Marissa walked down the beach toward the same boulder that Frank had sat on when he told Mark that his uncle was dying. "Would you go with me for a walk on the beach before dinner? It's a beautiful afternoon. "I don't care where we go. Japanese. "I don't know how to bring you back to the present so you can be with me. She then recalled how easily she had hidden inside her own. Yet because he was not. I'd be content to lock ourselves inside your house for a week. She held out her hand to him." She stopped as a plan came to mind." "You certainly know how to complicate things. "How is she doing?" "She still has a hangover. Why don't we fly my family to Vienna and have both the wedding and reception there?" Gerhard nodded in agreement. no one else's" Marissa stared at him compassionately. "I think I would like to marry you in a park." She said considerately. "I have very few friends that I keep in touch with anymore. "I talked to Anne a while ago. Gerhard put his hand over hers and stood up. I'll call her back when we get home. But I highly recommend we rent a hall for the reception. One had to embrace their life or scorn it. Lindstrom. "I would be fine with the wedding taking place at our home as the number of guests will be few. They stared at the many houses along the bay's shoreline and let the tranquility surrounding them ease their minds. he carried the burden for those who were. After a few minutes she yielded to what she thought to be the most practical idea. "Would you like the ceremony to be large or small?" Marissa thought of the huge cathedrals in Vienna and the pageantry of an ornate wedding." He considered the logistics of her request then offered his opinion.A Death Without Malice "Do you also tell yourself that this century was full of monsters? That all of us need to look at what we've done?" she said barely above a whisper. Had he been a monster." "I will leave those details in your hands. As they walked on the warm sand. The question is inconsequential because this part of history is ours. a beautiful park with the sun shining through the trees.
"Jacobs is refusing to drop the suit so we have begun distributing the interrogatories. "I'll call her right now. the truth of this child's existence?" Marissa shook out of her trance when she heard him speak then allowed the impact of what he had said to creep into her soul.M. Anything that needs to be done can be dealt with over the fax or phone. The cell phone began to ring the moment they stepped into the back door. Strauss. Yet as we draw nearer to her home. Strauss." With his words echoing in her ears. can not be put back." "Could part of your fear reside with the fact that for this first time. She was curious as to how she would react. this revelation will present itself while they are standing in front of you." Gerhard sat down at the table while the attorney continued." He said. and I realize more and more that I will be staring into the eyes of my dead husband's son. "I'm 123 . Have a safe trip and all the best to you and Mrs. nothing could prevent them from finding a life of joy. Gerhard hurriedly grabbed it off the kitchen table. every adult present will have acknowledged among themselves. Lindstrom. We have also started petitioning the court for an assortment of rulings so we can drag this out as long as possible. Strauss. "Feel free to call Anne and accept her invitation. There is really nothing more you can do here until we know which way this is going to go. Marissa and I will plan to return to Austria at the end of the week. When I say drag this out." "That's a very long time. "Was my forgiveness toward Anne given with sincerity." Gerhard tapped the table while he contemplated her words." "Thank you for calling Ms. I'm talking about one to two years before our case is heard. "And if he does not go home?" "Then we will be prepared for trial. The theory behind that is that DeBehr will finally get tired." Marissa took the phone and kissed him behind the ear. "As a rule. once told. or was I taken away by the moment? When she left I felt certain I had put this behind me. I've just called to give you an update." "Which is another reason why I've called." "Hello Dr. N. But that is not a bad thing unless you choose to make it so. all right. "Always the worst possible moment." "Goodbye Ms. Norton would feel should they lose she knew. slightly less so for Gerhard. "This is going to be very strange for me." The drive to Anne's house was an extraordinary experience for Marissa. "I wish you had some advice to give. "A truth." "I will keep in touch Dr. "Hello. For the first time she would be seeing Mark as not only a nephew but a stepson." Gerhard had already anticipated her mood." she said to Gerhard as he drove back up the causeway. which will finally lead to depositions as well. I was about to call you myself. this is Barb Lindstrom. We will be able to go home sooner than I expected. that in the end. An air of peace had come to him." he said half jokingly. Sheldon. She would also see her sister as the mother of this child for the first time in those terms. You might as well enjoy the rest of your stay then return home whenever you want." "At what point in time do you suppose I will have made my choice?" she asked." "I see." she whispered. Marissa tried to anticipate any number of responses to being with all of them in Anne's house again." "Please don't be too disheartened by the news Dr." "Excellent." Gerhard hung up the phone and set it back on the table. take his ball and go home. "And to fight the desire to tell him. Lindstrom." "Yes. I know that I will see George in his eyes and I do not know what I will do. "I wanted to let you know that two things are taking place.
Gerhard glanced around the room and took note of how closely it resembled Marissa's library on Knott's Island. "What are you doing?" He asked. "I guess I'm terrified someone will slip and that Mark will somehow find out. "Maybe I'm hoping. "I'm going to the kitchen for a moment. as though she had expected the question." Allan Sheppard came inside. reading every sordid detail of the most hideous part of that war when she heard someone knock on her office door. "Let's go give Gerhard some company. The den had a large mahogany desk with Queen Ann chairs on each side and a comfortable sofa against a far wall. I'll be in the kitchen. "This came over me as soon as I knew you'd left the house and were on your way up. set the mugs on the table in front of the sofa then sat down beside them. Marissa saw the first hints of hesitation in Anne's eyes as soon as she opened the door." She said quickly then led them down the hall to the spacious office Frank used when his backlog required he work at home. I'll return shortly. "You've got to stop this. Anne finished pouring the coffee." "I guess all I can do is have some faith and see what happens. so too did Gerhard now feel that he should excuse himself and allow the sisters to talk openly and alone." She set her mug down and looked earnestly at her sister. From his demeanor she could tell he hadn't dropped in for a friendly visit." Marissa then wondered whether Mark would instinctively feel the change in those around him. "Come into the den for coffee. She'd grown certain that something was amiss." Marissa had very little to give her by way of reassurances. "What you are forgetting is that even if everyone knew we would still get through this. "Frank's taken the children to the video store. The kids are really looking forward to seeing you. The bookshelves were covered with several leather bound volumes pertaining to Frank's profession as well as many of great works of literature. She spoke without hesitation. "This wouldn't be easy for him at any age Anne. She marked her place and laid the book aside. Anne motioned them over to the sofa then stepped over to the desk where she had already placed a coffee carafe and mugs." Marissa said as she saw the doubt in her sister's eyes." Marissa said softly. "You don't have to. "Enter. He stood up and bowed his head slightly. Marissa shook her head. closed the door then sat down across from her. "Do you want us to leave?" Anne stared into her coffee cup as she answered. he'd be able to understand." "If he were older…"Anne broke off her thought." She began. "No one will find out. How are you doing with all of this?" Anne asked. It seems there's no way to avoid coming together and seeing what happens. There isn't a lot to keep you occupied in the kitchen. I thought it would be nice to relax in here for a while before they got back." Anne stood up. "What's the matter Anne?" She asked. Let me get over myself and let's have a good time." Barbara Lindstrom was poised over a fair sized history of World War II. at this moment I do." "I know that." Gerhard held up his hand." Anne looked up at him. "No. "Yes. Leaving now won't make it go away." When Marissa heard the door close she reached out for Anne. Anne gave her a quick peck on the cheek then ushered her and Gerhard inside." Anne said slowly." Just as Anne had felt as though she were intruding on a very private conversation between Marissa and their Mother at the French restaurant so many months ago. What happened is over. "This is my hang-up sis. "That if he were older and found out. 124 . "All I can say is I've tried to get ready." Marissa watched her sister for a moment." She said.A Death Without Malice beginning to understand what has been taking place in Anne's mind since the day Mark was born.
We're going for it. We can do that without bringing up the entire history of occupied Europe during World War II" The faint noise of a ticking clock resting on a bookshelf was the only noise in the room. "We need to show that Carol DeBehr had no chance to recover. "No. "Not only that. All but Mark." "If Jacobs wants to use what happened in Nazi Germany as part of his argument. getting ready to face the world on their own. In my youth and idiocy." Marissa embraced all of Anne's children as they poured into the living room with videos in hand. "Here Aunt Marissa. DeBehr's lawyer can easily point to the publicity as grounds for an appeal. "You know. "He laughed his ass off and said ' tell ya something boy. He was still so youthful and adventurous. That jury's mind is going to turn on whether or not they believe euthanasia was chosen over saving a woman's life. I'll stand idly by as the water boy who did what he was told. she decided she was under no obligation to care what Allen Sheppard thought about her tactics. When the shit hits the fan you'll be billed as lead attorney for the defense. "You knock yourself out Barb." Allen stood up and prepared to leave before he lost his temper. Norton She looked at him suspiciously.M." "Have you considered what that kind of presentation can do in a courtroom? You will be stepping on toes that are far better left in good working order." He said in a more formal tone than normal. "I thought a comedy would be nice." Jessie said as she happily handed Marissa her choice for the evening. They were young adults." Allen shook his head. I'm going to be there to call him on it. Her response was swift. "Spoken like a true chicken shit. but at this point I'd have to say that's just too damned bad." she answered without qualifying her reasons for thinking so. 125 . better to be a live chicken than a dead duck. "Like the fact that no Russian was ever charged with war crimes? In spite of the massacres. We are going to have to show them in explicit terms that it was not." Barbara said adamantly. she held him and hoped nothing would ever shake his life too deeply." "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. But if you think I'm going down on your ship you're crazy. Forever innocent and caring by nature. I'm sorry you don't agree." "I think a comedy would be great. "Let me lay it on the table so we can end this and move on." She instinctively pulled the history book toward her. He wondered if he could ever make clear. you are missing the entire crux of the defense here. everyone with a cause will jump on this band wagon if you start. the murders? Are those the toes you're referring to?" Allen tossed his file on the desk. but it allowed him to make his point and leave with his dignity. he told it to me the first time after I was chased out of the barnyard by a pissed off bull. "Exactly what I proposed I do at the meeting this afternoon." She had only one reply that fit the moment. "There is no end to the number of groups out there with an opinion and if you think that won't be reason for a mistrial when this is over you're mistaken." "Not if he brings it up first." "Barbara. "Among others. Nothing more. my grandfather had a saying back on the farm." Allen pulled open the door and leaned against it. After pondering her thoughts. I thought I should have proven myself as being brave instead of running away. they had grown even more. the rapes. He knew damned well what she was doing and why she was doing it. She only needed him to do his part. I've been given permission to pursue this defense in whatever fashion I deem appropriate. Though it had only been six months since she saw them last.' Think about it." He said with growing frustration. the risk involved with what she was going to do." He knew his response probably lacked eloquence. Barb was convinced the two attorneys would never find a middle ground when it came to the defense of Gerhard Strauss and the other doctors at the university. N.
"You'll behave or it's all over Bub. For the first time in over two years. which was segregated in a hierarchical manner with the senior members in the luxurious offices farthest from the elevators and the juniors being nearest the secretaries where they could do the busy work. It was after 10:00. Everyone else in the room watched and laughed as Marissa chased the young miscreant around the room. She was touched by their thoughtfulness.A Death Without Malice Frank Jr. she believed. and knew they had regained something they had lost a long time ago. Whatever fears she may have had were now at peace. Mark tilted his head and looked at Marissa. young Mark stood rocking back and forth with his hands behind his back and a playful smirk on his face. what she was a part of at this moment was as good as she could ask for. 126 . She'd found it difficult to find supporters of her brazen personality and desire to do the right thing from time to time. stood diligently behind his sister." Josie and Robert arrived shortly after Anne's call. "I'll behave. These gifts from Anne's children were something akin to a Christmas present. The last item for the day was to read over several motions to dismiss she was presenting to the court the next morning. Anne and Marissa put everything relating to their past into a time capsule and let it be. I promise." he said mischievously. and knew this was as good as it gets. "To hell with this. Mark misread the stopping distance between his socks on a slippery floor and a doorway and ended up on his backside. maybe they're free. but fruitful. she made it clear she wasn't a rollover. "I am too honey. Barb worked on the 18th floor of a Norfolk high-rise. "I'll go give them a call. she saw the smiles on the faces of the people she loved most in the world. "Oh really. then sprayed her and ran. Hiding in Frank's shadow. "You should have asked Mother and Father over too. She watched as they laughed and hugged. Barb Lindstrom looked at the darkness outside her office window and checked her watch." she said quietly. The legal department occupied most of the floor. She had done so. "Stop!" he yelled through his giggles. When Alfred Wenfrow offered her a position. Other than warm memories regarding Mark and his Uncle George. Wenfrow's decision had proven a beneficial one." Marissa sat beside him on the floor and pointed the water gun at his chest." Marissa put her arm around his shoulder and pulled him toward her." She closed the file then set it neatly on the left side of her oak desk where she'd return to it in the morning. but I thought I'd try. Anne went to her sister and held her arm. Let's go find everyone else." she said as she approached Anne. I wasn't sure everyone would like it." she said in anticipation. As soon as Frank Jr. moved aside. She had been allowed to follow that passion and had reaped the harvest. A few more years and she would take her place among the top brass. Barb had won cases many had said were a slam-dunk for the other side. As Marissa followed Mark back into the living room. There would be no reason to bring up the subject again. got it?" Mark grew serious as he reached over and took her hand. "You little dickens! she yelled as she wiped the water from her face and ran after him. He had merely nodded. agreed to send the more questionable cases to less scrupulous attorneys and welcomed her on board. the family found joy in each other's company. Marissa caught up and tickled him until he surrendered his weapon. "What did you get?" "A squirt gun!" he laughed. "I'm glad you came over tonight. when bidden he dutifully walked forward and held out a case. To hell with the past. For her the road had been long." She took the video and hugged the young man in front of her. "Time for bed. because of her passion for the truth. Barb's office was right of center. "This is about college life. "I didn't get a video Aunt Marissa.
saw less. Barb. and cocked the hammer on the gun. Barb walked the last few feet to her Buick Park Avenue. checked for the . Nothing was there. she finally had time to be afraid. with the doors locked and the ignition running. She slowly ran her fingers over the unscarred wood. She new without pause for thought what to do next. The crime rate in Norfolk was high. meticulously watching every shadow. Barb walked backward a few steps. to the most pressing case sitting in front of her now. The elevator door opened. Barb always walked to her car alone. On the right side were indents for the cases she had won. If not. Someone was in the garage when I went downstairs tonight." "Goodnight." he said with concern.38 revolver she kept in her purse and turned off the light. Barb looked out at the brightly lit cement edifice and saw there were only a few cars left in the garage." The garage remained silent. "Listen to me you sonofabitch. she kept a handgun. "Forsythe building. "Everything's fine. this is Barb Lindstrom. she heard the sound again. There was no security in the garage. She turned and stopped. the burgundy carpet that silenced everything in the room." Cameron was an easy going." "Okay. She picked up the phone and dialed the number to the security desk on the main floor of her office building." "Cameron. I don't know if you're behind a car or hiding behind a pillar but you had better understand this. and her desk. the unfortunate person being accosted was on their own. She had made slight nudges in the wood over time. N. what are you doing up this late at night?" Barb was anxious to cut the formalities and get to business. she stopped. She almost hit the car parked next to her as she screamed out of the garage and made her way home." He knew what to do before she asked. She then made her way to the elevator and from there to the parking garage in the basement of the building. Come near me and I will blow your ass to hell before you've figured out you're dead. the guard answered the phone. "I'll check the video and let you know in the morning. "I will. anything I find will be on your desk in the morning." "Thank you again. She had completed almost half her journey when she heard a footfall behind her. and began the walk past the white lines separating the empty spaces. Go to bed. Her history as an attorney with this firm had played out on this desk. She was far too careful to dismiss what her ear had picked up from the cement floor. In an instant." "Hey Barb. very large man who took his job seriously. so she stayed vigilant. "When did you leave?" "About twenty minutes ago." "You take care and get some sleep. and thus. listen. he could react. Hers was on the far end. I really appreciate it." "Thank you. only a camera that could record what happened during the late night egress of employees but it couldn't prevent an attack. under the fluorescent bulbs that fought off the darkness. went inside and immediately locked the door behind her. She had not yet carved a single mark." 127 . I'm sure of it. After a few rings. the desk had been her cornerstone. Should the guard stationed on the main floor happen to be watching the camera. From her first case involving a multi-million dollar lawsuit against a technology firm in Norfolk. She turned back toward her car and increased her pace. "Cameron. At that moment. at the dark bookshelves with volumes of state and federal codes. She heard nothing. This time she pulled the weapon out of her bag.M. okay?" Barb felt the adrenaline subside as she heard the calm in his voice. Inside the car. Barb rose from her desk. Barb opened the door to her up-scale apartment. Norton Barb looked around her office. turned. She kept her weapon poised as she opened the door and climbed in. The left was reserved for those she lost.
Barb felt a chill run up her spine as she watches the man without a name hide behind a vehicle only feet away from the elevator door." she asked in a whisper. "Barb. "What is he holding? Right there." "I'm thinking Cameron found something last night?" she asked. "Here you are coming out of the elevator and walking forward." he said pleasantly. and you coming out of the elevator. Barb watched the video in silence. I don't deal in 'if's'. "Here. The man dodging behind a car. She made a note to find out if someone in her office had a loose mouth and to be extremely cautious from this point on. What she saw was herself walking along the floor of the garage as the man slips from car to car behind her. "Here is where you decide forewarned is forearmed and pull your revolver. She went back downstairs. "I've already spoken with Mr. He had a deceptively slight build and humorous manner. my God. Wenfrow." 128 ." Barb dropped her face into her hand. Charlie continued his narration. I deal in being smart and taking things as they come. if for no other reason than to hear someone else's voice until she could calm down." she said in a shaken voice. probably a male hiding his features under a baseball cap. "We kind of need to find out if you might know who this man is?" Barb kept watching. She wished she had talked longer. and went to the video room." "Charlie. he did." "That's our concern Barb. "Pay attention to me." Charlie moved forward without further comment on the weapon." "Okay." Charlie hit play on a pre-loaded tape and moved his finger near the picture of the elevator door." Charlie said then turned her chair toward him. but it scarred him. He isn't seen again until after you leave. glad you got my note. "Come on in and have a look at this." "Listen. sit at the monitor and I'll show you. There was always the chance some two-bit purse snatcher had found their way into the garage hoping to make a score. Charlie put his hand on her shoulder for reassurance. Barb went straight to her office the next morning and checked her desk.A Death Without Malice Barb heard the click of the phone on the other end and hung up. "Well. 150-pound karate champion named Charlie met her at the door. Charlie stopped the tape. "Here we have someone. "What if I hadn't had my gun?" The security guard had been in the business a long time. I don't know what you're telling him there. The only thing out of the ordinary was a memo asking her to go to the security office as soon as possible. coming into the garage and looking around. "Jesus. he might try anything." Barb watched a few seconds more. A pretty long one. "We are going to find out who he is. "So talk to yourself. but her instincts told her this was a bit closer to home. A 5 foot 10. and what that answer would do to Barb's nervous system." Charlie said with reserve. She then put together what she could make of what had happened in the garage. D'Behr stood to make a great deal of money and if he knew she was the only person standing in his way. "Oh. "I think you can see he's holding a knife Barb." she commented. "Here you can see him looking toward the area where your car was parked. He knew the answer. "What's next. you'll see two things simultaneously." "If you wait a second. Now." Barb nodded." "Alright." Charlie said softly." she said as she turned on the lights to her apartment. Charlie had been the chief of security for ten years. We are taking a few extra measures to protect you until we have him.
"The money is feeding him. and when the chance presented itself. "It might." he said thoughtfully. it was the attorney sitting across from him." he lifted her chin and stared straight into her eyes. great care had to be taken to make no mistakes. No one had been able to put together anything more than a cursory description. There are no ghosts. All that was left was to make plans to fly to Austria with the man she loved and move on with her life. If she felt the time had come to sell her home so be it. "What are you thinking about. If he was in that garage. but I think that would be a nice gesture. it might not. "I don't think I'll miss the house once it's gone. It's funny. A white male." "Excellent." Marissa held Gerhard's hand as they strolled across down the beach near her house on Knott's Island. "D'Behr is getting the message that if anything happens to you. Sherman was a veteran homicide detective who preferred solving crimes before they happened. We can't put an officer at you're disposal as no threat has been made against your life." she asked "I should be. Twenty-six years on the force had taught him there was seldom a chance." The detective took his time before answering." "I'll call her as soon as we get back to the house. "Therein lies the rub detective." she said as they continued on their path. "But I'll be honest." She pocketed the sand dollar then took his hand back into her own. you're right. not the fear of making a mistake and spending the rest of his life in prison. Norfolk police detective Brian Sherman sat beside her. Sherman. "Look at this sand dollar!" she said as she bent over. That said." Gerhard didn't question her. The visit with her family had ended wonderfully." "A memento." he replied. "Then we do what?" 129 . A realtor would be able to tell you. Norton "This is important. nothing to tie me to this place." "So. Barb looked carefully at the blown up pictures of the man in the parking garage. around 5 foot 10 inches tall and 160 pounds wearing a Chicago Cubs ball cap and a white jacket with red stripes on the arms. If not. but as I look at it now. The incident was also one of those rare chances to keep someone alive." Gerhard asked when he saw the smile on her face. "Do you think it could be D'Behr?" he asked. "Will you be done in time. In this instance. we do what?" she asked. What had happened in the parking garage last night was a warning. he's going to deny it. no shadows. "We'll not have to come back and paint every so often." he said with a grin. "We can only protect you while you're here. Being home is another matter. When he did speak. "I've read his file Mr. "I think I want to take Barb Lindstrom to lunch before we leave. it's as though I have already walked away. I don't think he can think past his own idiocy." Barb shook her head." "I have to go to the hospital for a while later this morning. that man could be a small time thug looking to make a few bucks in the parking garage." Barb sat back and looked him in the eyes. "Keep it safe. He's doesn't have the cognitive capacity to imagine he'll ever be caught. "We take every available precaution. but I can't say anything more than that. we'll be knocking on his door." She paused for a moment before continuing. the two of you can have a nice lunch without me. "I've never seen one so big." Marissa laughed released his hand. Marissa stopped and stared at him. She is an amazing attorney. His physical appearance matches." "You know. But he'll know he's a suspect and that may be enough to make him leave you alone." he said quietly. "I have a man questioning D'Behr right now. "How much I should ask for the house once we're married and I'm living in Vienna. N. The man has the IQ of a turnip.M. As far as my boss goes." she said passively. Sherman gathered up the pictures and put them back in a file. he was candid. "I have no idea myself.
I’m afraid you are. Make certain you don't walk to your car alone. Getting a parking spot was hard enough on a good day. "Call if you suspect anything. "I'm not sure that you realize how far he's willing to go in order to persuade us. She would barely have time to confront Allen before she had to file her motions." he began. "Hello Barb." Gerhard made his way to a comfortable chair in front of Gerrard's desk while the other doctor closed the door and sat down across from him. Gerhard walked slowly down the quiet corridors of the Intensive Care Unit at the University hospital.A Death Without Malice "Increase the number of patrols around your home. As fit the personality of the man who occupied it." "We'll see you then. come in. Stennel would prefer we settle this." "I will. I'll be ready." he said warmly. Finding one then giving it up was tantamount to suicide. "Until he screws up." Barb rose from her seat and grabbed her bag. They had pioneered new ways to minimize the damage suffered through brain trauma." Marissa said quickly then hung up. and that of many other hospitals that were part of the project. She heard the ringing stop as she found the phone and looked at the number. Along a side wall were shelves of reference books and periodicals. Things like that. "Why not pick me up outside my office. "I just wanted to make sure we are all on the same page. "I suppose you're busy so I'll get right to the point. His desk sat in front of a large window with several file cabinets to one side. "Hello Carl. he was proud of his contribution. I am glad I could come." Gerhard asked. They were about to have a one on one conversation. please. After a moment. "Gerhard. the door opened." "What do you mean Carl?" Carl handed Gerhard an interdepartmental memo outlining the hospital's position." Carl said enthusiastically. Marissa answered the phone after the first ring. He saw his former colleague in front of him." He paused then pointed to her purse. He came to Carl Gerrard's door and knocked twice. 130 . Will that work?" Marissa took only a moment to answer. I need to get to work. Gerhard began to read it aloud. "Shall we meet you someplace or would you rather we picked you up?" Barb pondered her question for a moment. people would live who otherwise may have died. Gerrard's office was functional. there was nothing even remotely lavish in the room. But if she hurried she could pull a late lunch and get a bit more information while she was at it." she said quietly." "So what you are telling me is that I’m basically alone. Regardless the outcome of the lawsuit." Barb looked at her watch. Gerhard and I would like to take you to lunch if you're free." "In what way. "I could be free at 2:00. Because of their research. "It's no surprise Dr. "And I would advise you not find yourself too far away from your handbag at any time. Before she could get her key into the car ignition Barb fumbled for the cell phone buried at the bottom of her purse. "Marissa Sheldon?" she said to herself then hit redial. "Thank you for being honest." Sherman stood up and walked her to the door of his office. thank you for returning my call. The program he and many others had worked on was a medical success. The most mundane thing could be important. "This shouldn't take too long." Barb left the police station and headed for Allen's office. Please." she said gaily.
How are you feeling?" The boy could barely contain his excitement." "Has your position changed?" Gerhard asked. I'm pleased you learned it. "No. 'Bingo' was the thought penetrating his mind. "That's a very long word Billy. Carl grabbed a pencil from the top of his desk and tapped it on the sole of his shoe. "I would enjoy that very much. The two physicians made light conversation on their way toward the outpatient section of the neurology department. if you have time." Gerhard replied. should a majority of the physicians represented in this suit decide it would be more reasonable to settle. truly wonderful." "Let's head down the hall. "After that. Carl stood up. and a compliment you would name him after me. I’m starving." Gerhard replied. "My puppy is huge now. "If Billy's check up doesn't take too long. coordination." Carl just walked down the hall and smiled." Gerhard added. that's what I hoped to hear. I can move my arms and legs just fine.M. "Billy. He wondered if his friend and colleague might have an in." 131 . her view will prevail. and a myriad other skills to make certain he was continuing to heal." Gerhard lit up almost on cue." "Lunch. "I have. you look wonderful. "Now that you mention it." came out of his mouth. Carl had not yet lost his interest in dating Barb Lindstrom. the hospital is willing to enter into negotiations on their behalf. Strauss. Norton "With the exception of Barbara Lindstrom. You should see him." he said as he lifted the boy onto the examining table." "A fine name for your puppy. "They already did a brain scan. The look on his face was one of contentment. "Well. "You have made a wonderful recovery. "I'd love to." Billy Humboldt saw Gerhard walk into the examining room and flew from his chair. I wanted to make you aware of the effort some here are undertaking in order to avoid a courtroom. Billy held onto his hand as he continued." Gerhard threw the paper on the desk. "We are having lunch this afternoon. I think he'd love it if you were there." Gerhard knew who Carl was referring to and could think of no better way to spend the next little while. I'm sure Ms. he's only offering advice. I am very happy for you." he said casually. "Look Dr. Lindstrom has been given the position of lead attorney." He motioned for Gerhard to follow him. It holds no water with anyone. Gerhard bent down and received a warm hug." Gerhard scanned Billy's eyes. "You should join us Carl. "Have you seen Barb Lindstrom lately?" he asked dispassionately. there is a young man coming in for a follow up. we can go right after." Carl said as he reached for the door. ran his fingers up the muscles of his arms and smiled." Gerhard looked at the boy in amazement. hospital council would prefer to avoid litigation if possible." Billy offered as they felt for knee responses." "I have no problem here as long as we all stay together. and that mine was looking pretty good. the technician said an MRI is really called magnetic resonance imaging. nor had he found an opportunity to act on the thought. Lindstrom would be happy to see you. "This is absurd. but he seems to have a need to try. And I can talk fine too. "Suits me fine. How can he do this?" Carl put the memo inside a desk drawer. N. However. "Technically. "Let's have a good look at you then we can send you home to your puppy. and there is no chance it's going to." Carl stood in the background and let the two enjoy their reunion." Billy obediently sat in place and waited for the doctors to test his reflexes. I named him Gerhard. "And what did this scan show?" Gerhard asked. Since Ms. "Excellent.
"I think that would be fine." Gerhard said." She then entered Allen's office and hung up his phone. "Do you care to start at the beginning?" he asked. Humboldt rose and held out her hand. "I think we are finished with this part. He nodded and winked. Let's get you to your mother. Look who's here." she answered tersely. and summed up her best course of action. "I don't know if I can ever tell you what having you here has meant to me." "Dr. Strauss." she began. but overall I'm doing well. "And maybe this young man will work in a hospital some day too. "You almost got me killed you sonofabitch. A tall. Carl watched them leave then leaned toward his colleague. you'll be a doctor someday too. You and your big mouth have D'Behr on my tail and he isn't hanging around for engaging conversation. Barb stopped in her tracks." Gerhard glanced at Carl. "I wasn't sure I'd get a chance to see you again Doctor. adept secretary sitting outside Allen's office didn't have time to buzz her boss and inform him he had company or stop Barb Lindstrom on her way through the door. pointed a finger and said "sit down. When she attempted a protest. saw the secretary. All the secretary saw was brunette hair and a black Gucci handbag flying past her. They stopped when they saw his mother waiting patiently in a chair. Gerrard will let me know how things are going. then took Billy and walked toward the elevator. Mrs. and I thank you again." "And you think it was me?" he asked incredulously." Maggie nodded." Gerhard reflected as he watched the elevator door close. "We'll miss having you around here. "You keep learning. Gerhard and Carl walked toward the waiting room with Billy in tow." "I'll miss being here in many ways. Barb heard the door. he'd have it on easy street. and let me know. "What in the hell are you doing. In her own quiet way.A Death Without Malice Billy smiled proudly. He's a very good boy." added. Barb sat in a chair directly in front of him. "Get out and don't come back until you are asked to. "And if you keep learning these big words." "I would love to do that Dr." Billy said shyly." he asked as he put the phone on its hook. Someone told D'Behr that the hospital would settle if it weren't for me." he said as they approached." Gerhard held her hand and nodded. Allen needed a minute to sort out what the lunatic in front of him was talking about. who turned on a heel and left. Billy grabbed Gerhard's hand and pulled him toward her. The secretary felt it her duty to make certain all was well and used the poor judgment of walking in on the conversation. "He said he couldn't really explain all the big words. "That is more good news." Allen nodded at the startled woman. shall we?" Billy nodded in agreement as Gerhard helped him down. "Your son is very special to me Mrs." Billy beamed as he heard Gerhard's words. 132 . That if I were put aside. "Look mom." She took her son's hand and prepared to leave." Gerhard replied. I'll look forward to the news. who had read the chart during Billy's examination. she expressed her feelings toward the doctor that had saved her son's life. "Allow me to speculate councilor. Humboldt. "I can't think of anyone else.
Barb took her bag and prepared to leave. "My mistake. Marissa made a few turns to reach the office building." Barb needed a moment. A perfect solution if I say so myself. Good talking to you. Can you believe me when I say I'm sorry?" Allen walked over and gave her a nudge on the chin. Gerhard thought for moment then had his answer. 'They'. she heard Allen talking to him "Bill. I think we should call Barb and tell her we'll be late. I need to talk to Bill Jacobs about the D'Behr suit and I am not willing to hold." Allen answered with equal firmness. Savvy? Great. Listen. Allen listened quietly and thought. She pulled off the road when she heard Gerhard answer. "This wasn't common knowledge. "Why would they? They wouldn't!" "No Barb." Allen picked up the phone and dialed a number." Marissa grabbed her cell phone at a red light. "I had no idea you could be such a pain in the ass. I'll see you there. "I didn't know you had it in you. you're right. "How stupid can he be?" "Not a question I care to answer. "If anything happens to Barb Lindstrom. "Now understand this clearly. I have no idea what in the hell you're talking about. 'here's looking at you kid. I will do everything in my power to continue fighting this suit. After a moment. "We'll take care of this. And not a problem.'" Barb smiled and stared at the floor. Don't worry." she said as she watched traffic whiz by her. and I will make certain he is prosecuted to the full extent of the law." Allen looked at Barb as he continued." Marissa said as she reentered traffic and headed for the restaurant. and I'll ride to the restaurant with him." "Then who did Allen?" she said angrily." Marissa had no time to argue. like Bogie said to Bergman. and I don't care if he didn't do it. They were due to meet Barb Lindstrom in less than ten minutes and she wasn't sure they were going to make it. incorrectly. Where's Gerhard?" "He was delayed. "Thank you. I love you. You have a pen? Good. Now tell me what happened. "Hey." "There are a number of things you've assumed. "Carl Gerrard is having lunch with us.M. Norton "You need to turn down the thermostat a few degrees here. over time. you're mistaken." After pulling back onto the roadway." Barb let out a slight laugh as Allen hung up the phone." Slowly. dialed Gerhard's cell phone and waited. I need you to send a message to your client. "There's been no crime." Allen took a copy of the same letter Gerhard read at the hospital and handed it to Barb. "That works. "How is everything going? 133 . "You're right on time Marissa. You don't necessarily need to understand what I mean." he said sympathetically." Barb said quietly. "And the cops can't help?" he asked. thank you for picking me up." "I'd like to know how…? "Hang on a minute." Barb paced around the room while Jacobs secretary connected the call. I'm fine." Allen said as he rose from his chair and walked toward Barb. but it's imperative he does. pulled in front and found Barb waiting on the curb. this is Allen. Barb jumped in and fastened her seat belt. the words in the letter made their way into Barb's consciousness." He winked at Barb then spoke into the phone. You pick up Barb. didn't do anything." Barb took the next several minutes to outline what had occurred in the parking garage the night before. "You mean outside of the hospital? You're right." he said softly. "This is Allen Sheppard. "Listen. but the drive to the hospital would take her well out of the way. "Thank you. But if you think I told anyone you were the stick in the glue. he'll meet us at the restaurant. I'm glad you could make it. She was within easy reach of Barb's office building. "Stennel took it upon himself to play politics. N.
"Absolutely. Yet as she remembered her meeting with Allen." he continued.' he thought." She stared up at him. She turned to Marissa and spoke casually. It wasn't so much a question of preference." he continued. Her colleagues would ask her to happy hour from time to time. but other than that. I think he is. Barb nodded in Carl's direction. Most would buckle under her stare. but more a statement about weak men. "Shall we sit?" As soon as the four took their place at the table.A Death Without Malice "Things are moving on schedule. I've never been a betting man. you got a bet on the Derby this year?" he asked quizzically." "I guess I didn't realize…" she began. D'Behr is not a very nice man. Not that she cared much. at least." "Please Barb. "Well. "What do you do besides practice law?" Barb had to think about the question. Carl peeked at Barb over the top of his menu. She had often wondered what a professional career would have been like. As far as dating went. it works." Marissa's life had been on the other side of the coin. "Do you?" Carl placed his menu on the table and stared into her eyes." Gerhard pleasantly waived them to their seats." Barb stopped herself in mid-thought." Barb said thoughtfully. She couldn't help herself. and in the spirit of lively conversation." she commented. The inside was tastefully decorated with 19th century oil paintings hanging between pedestals containing hand painted pottery from Eastern Europe." "What about you?" Marissa asked. "Well. She was content with how things as they were. "But I can see where others might get a kick out of it." Barb said as she tucked her handbag on the floor. Barb kept looking at her menu as she considered his question. Surely he could come up with a better line than that. "Another thing I find to be popular is deep sea fishing. which put her off immediately." "That man is actually worse than you expected?" Marissa asked curiously. no. a waiter filled their water glasses and gave them menus." "You still think this will take one to two years before it goes to trial?" "Oh." 134 . But I've found there's a high proportion of people on the eastern seaboard who enjoy the sport immensely. Barb broke out in laughter. Gerrard." "All right. The room was illuminated with the soft glow of yellow candles and indirect lighting. but fate had never afforded her the opportunity to find out. "Maybe longer." she said between snickers. call me Carl. I really haven't given it much thought. I don't fish either. "Yes. she had no hobbies to occupy her time. Barb and Marissa walked inside the opulent dining room and found Gerhard and Carl were already at a table waiting for them. There was something about her eyes. "So Barb. she reflected on how she had misjudged him and questioned how many she had misjudged before. She hated them. The restaurant they had chosen for lunch served a delicious array of Romanian foods and catered to the business elite in downtown Norfolk. "Hello again Dr. She was in no position to judge if one had value over the other so declined an opinion. "If it works. he thought they were gorgeous. You shouldn't hesitate at all about going back to Vienna and living your life. 'No time like the present. Barb watched the buildings of downtown Norfolk go by and asked herself if it worked. "Mr. I thought I'd ask. "I'd have to say I do nothing besides practice law. There was no reason to bring anyone else in on what was happening with her personally." Marissa and Gerhard simply listened and read their menus. "Everyone inside of a four state radius has taken a tour of the Naval Station. She didn't shop unless she had to. That or they were so arrogant she had no use for them at all. it comes with the territory. I didn't know you'd be here. "Actually. Allen had a family to go home to and Barb had her law journals. she existed inside her job. "But don't worry.
" he replied." Marissa reached for Barb's arm." "It's simply not that difficult to find things in common. but I don't know if I can. Norton Barb glanced playfully into his eyes and smiled. Gerhard pointed to the menu." 135 . "Our vacation time doesn't accrue at our office." "I guess you're not a vascular surgeon?" Barb said quietly then looked up at the waiter." He checked his watch. A great doctor. "We would enjoy having you. "You have to come to the wedding. stroganoff for me." he said satisfactorily." "Have you taken one this year?" he enquired. She calculated the chances of having a serious conversation with him had a direct correlation with the chances of his committing to a serious relationship. I insist. the opera houses. "I suppose not. that's okay. "A Dacia would be nice. I thought it would be a conversation starter at the restaurant. but a game player." she asked. Carl saw his opportunity." "Anything to drink?" the waiter asked. "I think I'll start with the beef tripe soup and stuffed cabbage rolls. I could give you the outlay of an aircraft carrier by the time I was ten. After cordial goodbyes. "I changed my mind." The waiter closed his book and walked away. "Are you ready?" Marissa closed her menu. a real catch. You don't have to discuss work if you don't want to. but I…" "I can rent a car and drive you anywhere you want to go." "Please try. "My father was a navy man. Carl saw a women who used her substantive wit and undeniable intelligence to keep people where she wanted them. "But at 3:01 I'll be glad to fill you in." she said reflectively. Carl said he'd do his best to make it. "Gerhard. "Heart attack on a plate." Gerhard went with Marissa after lunch. If I drop dead at least two people at the table know CPR." The challenge was on. Let's talk about you. "I am anxious to be home and go back to work. The world was a courtroom where she always had control. compassionate. "No." The waiter came up to the table with pen and pad in hand. sorry. "Well. "Such a beautiful country. "Oh." Carl nodded in agreement. She would have to work on an excuse to decline the invitation." "I'll have the same." "Thank you Marissa. "Let's see what the future holds." she said. "I spent weeks touring the museums. we'll talk about you. Carl started the dialogue as they drove along river. "By the end of the week if nothing happens to keep us here. Barb took a moment to analyze the sandy haired neurologist sitting beside her." she replied." He smiled sweetly as he finished. when are you and Marissa going back to Vienna. which was a safe distance away. leaving Carl to drive Barb back to her office. everywhere." Barb stared at him oddly. "How's hospital life?" "I think it Neolithic to discuss work in good company. He was cute enough. no." Gerhard said. Barb promised to consider coming to Vienna for the wedding. Barb had to admit that he had just nailed her. He wondered how long he'd have to wait to test his theory. She was fascinated by the challenge. certain he had hit his mark." She looked up at Carl." "I'm a wonderful human being. N. Barb was damned if he was pulling another one on her." "I haven't been there in years. I'll fill you in on the hospital if you like." Gerhard added." Carl said with emphasis. "I'll bet you're a workaholic who has six months vacation coming because you never take one. "It’s after 3. "Stroganoff for me also.M." he said enthusiastically. "You should come too. "Great.
Gerhard and Marissa began the drive back to the house on Knott's Island. "I'll be working. confident." "I try to make them special. She closed her eyes and contemplated the evening. "Make this easy. "Take his advice." "I'll do that as soon as we get to the house." "Don't you think that's a little forward? I am the attorney handling your case. Listen. "But I think you should date me. That will give us the weekend to unpack and settle in. They close it down at 5:30." "Not to say I'm a cod or anything. strong willed. period. Try out the water as it were." He looked at her long enough to wink. Carl slowed and pulled into a no-parking zone. Let's go out tonight and get it over with. "Fine." Allen said lightly. So what was the deal? She thought long and hard as she tidied up at the end of the day." "I'll pick you up at six." Gerhard shook his head. Jacobs did something very rare." she said with reserve. I will. He said to tell you to keep your eyes open and your back to the wall. "You can always throw me back. No late nighters and be careful at home. no. "I believe I told you I wasn't into fishing expeditions. Gerhard smiled slightly as he answered. She had been thinking about." "That's my office. She opened it to see Carl standing there with a handful of daffodils. at least once. adding warmth to their journey. The sun was still high in the western sky. As a rule." She heard a knock at the door. "I think they'll make a nice couple. and a decent man. I can park anywhere. and thanks for the heads up. She liked him." Barb didn't know whether to tell him to go to hell or accept the dare. "That's not ethical. You're going to go out with me." He refused to be deterred." He turned off the car and stared at her. He was interesting. but he doesn't work at finding a relationship. "Good luck getting past security smart ass." she said as she got out of the car. "I'll be at your office at six." he continued. The effort he put into being invited to lunch is more telling than you know." She closed the door and waved goodbye. This was not going to do. looking forward to seeing Carl since he dropped her off outside. An extraordinary doctor. one date. "Hello?" "Barb. She didn't drool over the first cute guy who came on to her. A revelation about human existence and her place in the larger scheme of things was about to play out in her mind when she heard the phone ring. started his car and drove away. for him. "When shall we go home?" "Let's book our tickets for Friday. "Medical plates. over there.A Death Without Malice "I see. at least once." Barb grabbed the door handle. "I've known Carl for a very long time." Barb closed the file on her desk." she said quickly and pointed to an office building." she said as the miles added up behind them. "I've got to go." "Pick the date and we'll send the invitations." "I'll secretly wish them well. This would take some detailed analysis before he arrived in a few minutes. "You're moving pretty fast on that. this is Allen. "Do you think Carl has a thing for Barb?" she asked. She wasn't one to operate in Cinderella mode. "Let's get married next month." She found an in." Marissa returned the visor to its place and leaned back in her seat. He called and said D'Behr is guilty as hell of something but he can't figure out what. 136 ." "What a pleasant way to end the day. She was mad as hell." Barb hung up and went to the door. she cut them off at the knees. "Nope. Marissa grabbed her lipstick from her bag and lowered the mirror on the visor. Carl waved back." "I'll come get you.
M." "Very good. What do you hear?" "I hear cars and busses. saw the light come back on and decided all was well. What he found was a loose wire near the housing. who the hell would want to?" she asked then looked out again over the water." she said and headed toward the door. They had spent the rest of the evening sitting and talking over a few glasses of wine at a sidewalk restaurant and learned about each other." She poured some bottled water into a glass and placed the flowers inside. Cameron was more annoyed than worried when he saw thee video camera on the second floor of the parking garage go out. close your eyes and don't think of anything at all." He lifted her chin and kissed her gently. "What do you hear?" Barb remained silent and tried to concentrate. Close your eyes. It helps get things in perspective. "I come here a lot. "Trust me. "This was a great idea." Where would you like to go?" he asked as he played with a petal on a daffodil. N." "It is when you don't find ways to let things go. "I plucked them out of the garden in front of the building." he prompted. "God. and enjoy the day. and water. He jiggled it for a second. you just have to find them." "How am I going to see anything with closed eyes?" she quipped. He put some tape in place to keep the camera operational until a repair order could be filled out then went back upstairs. "I hear birds. pick up a snack from a kiosk. A stronger desire to move on with the day won over." Barb shook her head. "Listen to the breeze. I'll put them in some water. "I have yet to see anyone so abuse their status. 137 . Her mind raced endlessly." Barb thought about it for a minute and nodded. Join with it in your mind. She wasn't at the drool stage. Norton "For you." he said with confidence." she said as she threw some popcorn toward the birds." Barb took the bedraggled spray and laughed. "I have no idea." he said as he handed them to her. "Wow." Barb tried to do as she was told but discovered his request was difficult to fulfill. Barb opened her eyes and stared at him." she said as she grabbed her bag. Carl and Barb watched seagulls fly gracefully above the water in their endless search for food. Carl was patient." "I imagine working at a hospital is pretty stressful. put a roll of electrical tape in his pocket and went down to investigate." For a moment. He took her arm and turned her toward him. Let your ears be your eyes." "I flashed my medical identification card. I really don't know. I can get in about anywhere. Carl nodded approvingly. let that sound enter your nervous system. She could always have him wait in the garage when she got into her car later." "Perfect." He pointed her toward the horizon. "As crazy as this world is. "How did you get up here?" she asked. "I'm not much on restaurants or movies. We can go down by the water. We'll have a stroll in the park. "Let's hit it. "Okay." "Listen to the wind. I hear children playing in the park. "Okay. "Don't give up yet. she thought about her car in the garage downstairs. He secured his area." After a few moments." "Do that every day and you'll live to be one hundred." He took her hand and led her down the walkway on the water's edge. but he had potential. "I want to show you something. waves splashing against the shore. "There are many good reasons to. "They usually buzz me when someone comes in after hours." Barb sat on the passenger side of Allen's SUV and admitted she liked him. The serenity of the park was having a calming affect on the overworked attorney. Common sense suggested she have him follow her home where she could drop it off.
Lying on her desk was the file that had brought her back. The possibility was on her in a second. "I don't want to get into it right now.A Death Without Malice He had wanted to be a doctor since he was a little boy. in a moment it would be in front of her." was all she offered. she pressed the button and waited. As he pulled into the parking garage. She quickly grabbed it and turned to leave. maybe someone else forgot something. The day was turning out well. The elevator door opened as she made her way inside and locked the door behind her." "I did too. "Thank you." she said quickly. I forgot the Wilson file." she said aloud then hit the brakes." He leaned down and handed her a card. She opted for somewhere in the middle. "If anything happens. D'Behr wasn't going to wait in the garage." Barb had a very discomforting feeling as the elevator began to rise past the first floor. At the elevator." "I'll call you tomorrow." he said as he tried the handles. "Maybe D'Behr. but if she were careful. "This doesn't work for me. "Logic. "I'll park on a different floor. he put his car in gear and followed her. "I'll be right back. The elevator was bringing a killer to the 18th floor. Carl opened the door and waived her inside. "I'd have waited anyway." "Hard to say. "I'll wait until you're safely away. After scanning the garage. It was kind of spooky. Would you mind waiting until I'm in my car before you leave?" Allen looked at her curiously." Barb took the card. As soon as Barb pulled away. She failed to see the man in the baseball cap coming out of a side door as she maneuvered the turn to go inside." she said as he deeper into the garage. she searched for her revolver. "May I have your key?" "Right here. She had wanted to be a lawyer since she saw a friend of hers get screwed by the system. this has my home and cell numbers on it. If the elevator brought him here. "What happened?" Barb needed to stay strong." He opened the door. she remembered the events of the night before and her car. Barb joined him near the driver's door." She considered going back to the garage alone: Not a good idea." she said in a matter of fact voice. "Something odd happened last night. He closed the door and went back to his car. "I don't think he'd do anything to my car." She circled the block and re-entered the garage. "Shit. or you just want to chat for a while." she said and handed him her chain. yet wouldn't mind the shoulder to lean on. but never hurts to check. he would fly past security on the first floor and never be noticed. She looked in the mirror and watched Allen go right. Barb took a left turn at the garage exit and planned her evening. The doors opened to silence. No problem. When 'you' went to your car?" "Yes. Seconds before the elevator arrived she found her office key and ran down the hallway. "Do you have any idea who it was?" he asked. got out of his car then walked over and began inspecting hers." he said as he pecked her on the cheek." Carl pulled in beside her car and turned off the ignition. "How very strange. "What do I need to do. think!" The elevator was on the third floor and rising. not emotion." "Let me get this straight. get the file and have Cameron walk me down. She watched the number for the parking garage light up as the elevator came to a halt. Barb dug for her office key as the elevator ascended. As quickly as she could. "Someone with a knife was in the garage last night." "What?" she said incredulously. They are asking people not come to the garage alone until they figure it out. not a bad one. 138 . he sat inside and waited. Only dim lights in the hallway helped her find the way. "God damn it. but most definitely now. "I had a great time." He paused as he neared her parking space. "I wonder who that is. "I have an odd question to ask." She meant it." she said as she saw the elevator's light panel show downward movement.
"Hang on." he said then yelled down the hall. "Doc. okay. He must have just missed her. "No ifs. that this was what had to happen. "I killed him. we'll call. not stopping until she fell into Cameron's arms. she crouched in a corner and waited. The police arrived to find Barb on Carl's lap and refusing to move. but I'm going to give it to you now so it'll sink in. He also saw a knife in the man's belt. As Barb waited to see his silhouette in the darkness." he said gently. When silence returned to the office building. Norton She took her phone off the hook and speed dialed the front desk. I'll take care of him. 'Terror will kill you faster than your adversary. Detective Sherman had left a late dinner on the table and came to the office building as soon as he got the call. Had life been kinder." "I’m on my way. get here fast. hang on. she only knew she emptied the six shots of her revolver into whoever was standing at the door. The moment Barb saw Carl she reached out for him and hung on for dear life. She dropped her gun and ran. You got the bad guy. he's up here.M. you have got to get hold of yourself. She heard the ping of the elevator as it again stopped on her floor.' she repeated endlessly as she saw the crack in the door widen." was all he had to say. he's dead. right now. Barb had failed to see him move quickly past Cameron to where the injured man lay. if we need anything else. "This'll sound crazy as hell. no maybes. no head games." The phone went dead as a shadow walked slowly past her doorway. "That sonofabitch flat went down. all deadly. Through his rear view mirror." Sherman rose and patted her on the shoulder. you did what we do. He told him what was taking place on the 18th floor. His head was spinning." Cameron led her to a chair and tried to place her in it. Allen was on the elevator. He held her closely. While it rang. she knew she might die. After what she had told him about the man in the garage. and tried to chase her demons away. Barb wasn't certain whether she closed her eyes. "Cameron. A moment later. She cocked the hammer on her handgun and prepared to fire. "There could not have been a better outcome Barb. The security guard had happened to catch Carl's elevator on the way upstairs. that was not possible." "Barb.' her shooting instructor had said. D'Behr's blood was on his hands. A moment later. Barb had already parked and left for her office when he arrived. 'Stay calm. "Thank you. Cameron walked to Barb's office and saw the body of a man with six shots clean through him: all in the torso. Do you understand me?" Carl caressed her hair as the detective spoke. however. "This will take some time to work through. Carl knew he needed time to assimilate all that had taken place over the past hour. she heard the knob turn. Whoever came through that door was going to die." Barb closed her eyes. She now understood exactly what he meant. Barb heard Cameron's voice on the other end of the line. In her shock." he said firmly. Carl felt an eternity pass by before the elevator stopped." She nodded then waited for him to continue. this is Barb. he could have checked in at the hospital for the last time and gone home and to sleep. N. He worked his way around the block and went back inside the garage. get over here. but one thing he knew was he felt tremendous affection toward the woman he was holding. A few minutes later. the man was inside. 139 . Moments indeed turn to hours when adrenaline storms through the bloodstream. that's it. long sharp and just as lethal. After examining the body. making his way to Barb's office." she sobbed as he held her. so he took the spot beside it and went toward the elevator. Carl had watched Barb double back toward the garage and wondered what she had forgotten. Carl was at Barb's side. he came sat down and talked to Barb." In a moment. Barb refused to let go of him. but you need to start telling yourself. Barb stood up and listened. "God. "Don't lose it on me girl. "Head on home. he thought as he pressed the button and watched as it stopped on the 18th floor.
electronic. Finding him dead was almost a relief. alive or dead. and dialogues in this book are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.A Death Without Malice As the elevator neared the 18th floor. N. is entirely coincidental. He prayed Barb was all right. he felt a relief he couldn't yet explain. His training as a physician demanded he examine the man she had shot. without the prior written permission of the author. Copyright 2002. stored in a retrieval system. mechanical. 140 . "Let's go home. 2009 M. Norton This is a work of fiction. or transmitted in any form or by any means. incidents. All rights reserved. The characters. Any resemblance to actual events or persons. they were certain they could hear gunfire." he said softly. Barb rose and let him lead her away. When he saw her run into Cameron's arms. recording or otherwise. No part of this publication may be reproduced.
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