Contemporary Fiction



This book will launch on Feb 22, 2021. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒

Dr. Sam Hawkins’s mentor, Dr. Roberts, has died from a hideous virus. Sam reluctantly partners with Dr. Rainee Arienzo, an Italian infectious disease specialist, and together they uncover the terrifying truth about Factor-7, a bio-weapon with a 98 percent mortality rate.

A clandestine plot for using the virus is about to be unleashed by a secret society, the Keepers Collegium. The Collegium currently has possession of the pathogen, and that international group of rogue intelligence agents, ex-military, and government officials has its own demonic plans for it.

As Sam and Rainee work desperately to shut down the Collegium’s plan, they are kidnapped by the drug cartel. Having been double-crossed, the kingpin wants them to hand over the names of the Collegium, so he can carry out his own revenge. In order to survive, Sam and Rainee have no choice—they must play with one of two devils, or be burned by both.


JUNE 27, 1941 BIALYSTOK, POLAND The screams came from seemingly everywhere. The sounds were deafening. I could hear rapid gunfire and loud shouts from angry men in the street below. Mother grabbed me and pushed me into a space beneath the kitchen sink. A blue-and-yellow curtain sealed the opening, and I was a prisoner in the dark, wet cabinet. I could only see outlines of figures as the horror continued. Frightened and confused, I curled into a ball under the sink and pulled a big dish towel over my head. My tiny hands covered my ears. But the loud noises and the screams of terror could not be silenced. The vibration of heavy boots rattled my senses. Doors were slamming, and glass was breaking around me. But I stayed quiet as instructed, despite the trembling of my small body. I heard my mother scream and then a brief cry followed by a hideous gurgling sound. It burned an imprint into my ears that I shall never forget. Suddenly the sound of gunshots tore through the room. FACTOR-7 viii ix Prologue I heard Zena, my sister, begging for her life, but she had no answers for the men who shouted questions. They kept chanting, “Jew girl.” They would cut her throat if she did not tell them what they wanted to hear. But Zena was innocent of any crime, just a young girl caught up in a battle and part of a Jewish family who resisted the new order. Hitler’s Final Solution was happening around me. I heard her beg for mercy and then another gurgling sound and a large thump. There were stomping sounds from their boots, and a rumbling, rolling tremor engulfed the apartment. The men laughed and shouted something about Jews as they played out their kickball game with my sister’s head. It must have been hours as I waited. When all quieted, I crawled from my secret place. My mother lay dead on the kitchen floor. Her neck was cut, and her head lay in an unnatural position, almost detached from her body. My sister’s body lay next to her, but her head was on the other side of the room. The floor was flooded with human blood. The stench was unbearable, and I needed to vomit. I couldn’t scream from terror, and I couldn’t feel my legs because of the bitter cold. I somehow got to the corner of the kitchen where there was no blood and again crawled into a ball. It was dark now, and I was alone with my mother and sister in a blood-bathed room. My father was nowhere around. All I heard were distant voices and dogs barking. Rain came through the broken window and washed over me. It was cold, yet I was numb. My father was fighting the enemy. He had been unable to save his wife and daughter as he fought for others. He was a member of a group that now devoted their lives to preserving our freedom. Hell had broken loose in our homeland. The Nazis were in control, and their vicious hegemony seeds were generating death and torture to anyone they deemed inferior or who questioned them. My father was smart and cunning. He somehow got to me that night. As he carried me down the two flights of stairs, I hid my eyes from the stacks of bodies that had yet to be removed. But before he laid me on the back floorboard of an old car, I saw the wooden panel trucks with bodies piled on top of one another. I saw women, men, and children, all together and going to what I now know was a mass grave outside Bialystok. We drove for some time, and he said nothing but that he loved me. Then I felt the car slow and heard the breaks squeak to a stop. The engine rattled and then finally became silent. He said we had arrived where he would find help for me. We entered an old building. A rabbi was there with many other men. Each man touched me and swore to my care. My father cried as he hugged me. I didn’t understand what was happening. He then led me to an opening in the concrete floor. It was dark, and cold, stale air wafted from it. He held me in his arms and whispered that I would be cared for by this group of men. I remember him saying to me, “Remember this, my son: freedom and liberty are goals of righteous men. Learn from this group, and become a keeper of peace.” Suddenly the echo of automatic machine gun bullets penetrated the empty room where we all stood. “They are coming,” he said to the others. I begged him not to leave me. Then a bullet hit him. My father’s blood splattered my face. Another man fell on top of me and pushed me into the hole. I moaned as my body hit the damp ground. Then there was darkness as the man closed the hole with something heavy. Sounds were muffled, but I knew the familiar shouts of the men who wore brown shirts. I hated that sound. I hated them. That night would go down in history as Kristallnacht—the “Night of Broken Glass.” I was in hell, and I swore that if I ever got free of the terror, I would be strong like my father. 1 FACTOR-7 x The remaining men did keep me safe, and they nurtured me. As I grew, they educated me. The time came for the men to tell me the secrets of their mission. I took a lifetime oath. I would never break the codes that had saved my life that awful night. I taught the codes to my sons, and they will to theirs, and on through perpetuity. We are patriots of every nationality. We are not protecting any one country, religion, or political ideology, but the basic freedoms of mankind. We are the Keepers.

CHAPTER ONE PRESENT DAY, JULY 5, 3:45 A.M. “Emergency Department…Trauma Level Two…Dr. Samuel Hawkins to Emergency Department…Trauma Level Two…Emergency Department Trauma Level Two…Calling Dr. Samuel Hawkins to Trauma Two-B…Dr. Hawkins to Emergency Two-B.” The speaker echoed its three-code level-two emergency calls. The halls were now empty at St. Peter’s Memorial Medical Center, the area’s only level-one trauma center. It had been quite different only a few hours earlier, when every party-going celebrant or indigent drunk had shown for medical care. The law was to never turn away an emergency patient. St. Peter’s and Dr. Sam Hawkins also would never deny medical care, so that Independence Day holiday had been particularly busy and difficult. The Shock and Trauma Department saw injuries all that day and night. Sam had six gunshot victims and three horrific drunk-driving victims in the Trauma Unit at one time. There had been drug overdoses and one suicide. The Emergency Department had seen everything from FACTOR-7 2 3 C h ap ter O n e Roman candle burns to near drownings. It had been a gruesome eighteen hours, and it wasn’t over yet. Dr. Hawkins slid his fingers down the pale-green panels of his office door. His break from the Trauma Unit had been only fifteen minutes and was far too short. His nails made a scraping sound that matched his irritated mood. “Not again. Fuck this shit. Why can’t some trauma resident handle the rest of this night…anyone but me? Geez, enough already!” he angrily mumbled. But he knew it was his job, and when all was said and done, he would rather handle the cases himself than pass them off to someone less qualified. It was because of Dr. Sam Hawkins that St. Peter’s had such a high survival rate in the Shock and Trauma Unit. The nurses and the exhausted residents who had shuffled through the corridors earlier in the night had been gone for hours. Sam should also be home in bed with his wife, Lauren. But he wouldn’t be, not that morning of July 5. As head of the department, he was the first to arrive and the last to leave. So he answered his own question. Such it was that early morning. Sam bent over to tie the laces on his Sketcher sneakers. He slipped covers over his shoes, as he had done so many times. The speakers monotonously repeated their calls. His ears were tired of the sound, tired of the voice on the speaker. Nonetheless, he increased his speed as he turned the corner to the final few steps toward the Trauma/Emergency West Wing. Sam punched in the code to enter the Emergency Department. The metal doors parted just as he felt a firm hand grip his right shoulder. Startled from his exhaustion-induced trance, Sam turned to see Dr. John Albright. John was a good three inches taller than the almostsix-foot Sam Hawkins. His jet-black hair glistened in the brightly lit corridor. His slender body matched the long, thin fingers that still held firmly to Sam’s shoulder. It was no wonder that he could have any girl he wanted when the two were back in medical school. Sam glided through the open doors, Albright in tow. Gathering himself, Sam jerked away from his would-be hindrance with one swift pull and half-body spin. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, Albright? Let me go.” “Hey, man, sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you.” “Startle me…fuck, you nearly gave me a coronary! I hate when people sneak up behind me.” “Couldn’t be in a better place for that heart attack! I heard there was a great trauma surgeon who works here,” Albright said. Sam frowned. “Yeah anyway, what the fuck are you doing here at four a.m.?” Dr. Albright smiled and simply said, “Sitting with a sick friend.” His perfectly aligned, too-white-to-be-real teeth reminded Sam of some cartoon character, but he couldn’t remember who. He had a smile that was something between sincere and menacing. Sam didn’t want to chat, especially to him. He didn’t care the least bit why John Albright was at the hospital. “Can’t talk…got a warm body in there…gotta get to it.” Sam held up his squawking cell phone. “I have an emergency in there.” He walked away but glanced at Albright one last time. From the corner of Sam’s eye, he saw that Dr. Albright’s smile had turned into an unsettling frown. His blue contact-enhanced eyes narrowed a piercing last gaze at Sam. John Albright had an uncanny way of making Sam Hawkins feel unusually uncomfortable. He grimaced at the thought of their past. It had been problematic, to say the least. Sam had never thought of Albright as a friend, and lately he hadn’t thought about him at all. Sam had always considered him a fake and a user, out for himself at any cost. He had to admit that Albright had been a great student at University of Texas Medical School and then a superior resident at St Luke’s Medical Center in Houston. He could have picked any hospital to make his career had it not been for his incessant narcissism. He had skipped around for a while, according to the proverbial hospital grapevine. John Albright was beyond the conventional term of handsome and was always the charming ladies’ man. Sam’s spare time was spent on the golf course, at a fishing spot, or on the back of a cutting horse. Albright’s was on the tennis court, on a yacht, on the back of a polo pony, or on top of the wife of one of his best friends. They were as different as night and day. Humming the Carly Simon tune to himself, Sam comically mumbled, “Vain son of bitch!” He glanced at his own reflection in the glass panes of the door. Sam wasn’t bad looking. In fact, some people would definitely call him handsome. He laughed out loud that he felt the slightest bit jealous. But Sam was tired, and his forehead was accordingly furrowed. He had slumped shoulders from the weight of his personal and professional life and struggles. His jaws ached from gritting his teeth to get through the days and nights. And his temperament had become terse at best. Even so, his sandy-blond hair set off his tanned skin, and he felt somewhat pleased that he had not aged too badly. St. Peter’s Memorial Medical Center had been a not-for-profit hospital before being purchased by a large health care corporation and joining with the other part of the medical center. Catholic nuns and an occasional priest still frequented the Trauma Unit on long holidays when there were multiple causalities. That was the case that early morning of July 5. They were huddled around the patient as the trauma team prepared for Dr. Hawkins to arrive. The nuns had been around the head of the Trauma Department long enough to know when to make an exit, and so, upon seeing Sam, each made the sign of the cross and began to depart the area. One elderly nun laid her frail hand on the patient’s forehead and whispered something. Sam knew it was a prayer, and by the look on the faces of everyone, it must be a particularly critical case, so they were going to need it. Sam saw more nurses and technicians than the usual shock-trauma response team. A man wearing a black yarmulke and a long, dark coat stood at the side of the gurney. The EMS guys who had apparently brought the patient to the hospital were talking to Sandra, Sam’s lead trauma nurse. Others from the team were prepping the largest of the trauma rooms, which was usually reserved for the most critical of patients. A small-framed woman leaned down and whispered into the patient’s ear. Sam recognized her immediately. It was Ana Roberts, the wife of the hospital’s chief of staff, Dr. William Roberts. He felt as though his heart had fallen into his gut. Bill was the patient. “Ah fuck…” Sam mumbled under his breath. He didn’t try to apologize. “Everybody please move, please let me in. Ana, what happened?” Ana Roberts raised her head from her unconscious husband. Her voice was weak but definite. “He felt poorly at dinner and took a couple of aspirins, then went to bed. I heard him a few hours later go into the bathroom. I didn’t know…” She paused as the tears filled her eyes and the fear tightened in her chest. “He was on the floor. I found him on the floor! Maybe an hour…maybe more.” She held her head in her hands and started sobbing. “I didn’t know he was sick. Oh God, help him, Sam.” Sam raised his hand and showed the familiar two-finger gesture. His nurses knew from experience to clear the room of all nonmedical personnel. Seconds passed. He moved to the EMS team that was still standing near. Awe and fear were apparent on each face. “Why was Dr. Roberts brought here? Wasn’t he at his house? It’s closer to Methodist or the Medical Center. This is trauma, not”—he paused and glanced at his unconscious friend— “whatever this is.”

One of the emergency response team spoke in a low voice. “Yes, we picked him up at their residence. Mrs. Roberts insisted we come to you.” Sam nodded but didn’t answer. “Ana, let me take care of Bill.” Sam took a step from her. He squeezed her hand as he passed. The man in the yarmulke took Ana by the elbow and moved her from the narrow hallway. Her sobs were still audible when Sam started to examine his old friend. “OK, let’s do our stuff, people. BP?” “Seventy over forty, Doctor. Respiration shallow, eight; heartbeat thirty-five. Temperature one hundred and five degrees Fahrenheit, Doctor.” Sam quickly looked at the nurse with a questioning gaze. “One hundred five?” He shook his head and mumbled, “Let’s concentrate on the pyrexia—let’s get this fever down, now!” Cooling blankets appeared almost simultaneously as the orders left his lips. Sandra, the head nurse and an old friend of both Sam’s and the patient’s, nodded and held firmly to his stare. “He’s cyanotic and appears to be in shock, Doctor.” Sam frowned. “OK, one milligram atropine, stat. Sandra, let’s give him a milligram of epinephrine IV immediately. OK, team, I don’t have any idea what we’re dealing with. We’ve got to get this man’s core temp down! Start cold IV infusion, and I want fresh cooling blankets every ten minutes. Start a drip of vancomycin, and let’s get some fluids running. Get quinolones IV going stat. We don’t know what this is. Get blood off to the lab, and tell them to push it through immediately. We need answers!” Seconds seemed like hours in the organized chaos. Dr. Roberts presented with high fever, facial and neck edema, swollen tongue, extended abdomen, seizures, and internal hemorrhage. Whatever strange illness afflicted him; it was progressing quickly. Sam knew that nothing could be ruled out at that point. The emergency team had seen the recent epidemics of influenza and novel viruses, and it had even been through the Ebola scare and coronavirus pandemic, but this seemed different. The drill was always the same in that department when someone presented with unidentifiable symptoms, but Dr. Roberts was the exception. Everyone knew the renowned physician and everyone knew something horrid was happening to him. His appearance changed from moment to moment as the team struggled to stabilize him. That was Sam’s job. He was supposed to stabilize the patient and then turn the ill person over to another specialist. But what specialist would that be? He was lost except to treat each individual symptom. Sam ordered everyone to get into their level A personal protective ensemble and equipment. “Full face gear, folks; there might be particle contamination.” He also slid into a Bio 4 biohazard suit and bio boots. He threw the protective gloves to the side and slipped on another pair of nitrile gloves. “Heavier bioprotective gloves and full-face covers are protocol and should be worn, even by you, Doctor,” said the older surgical nurse. Sam ignored her. “Ana said he had been apparently fine until early evening, when he simply took aspirins. What do you make of this, Sandra?” Sandra moved close to Sam’s ear. “Too strange to call.” Whatever it was, Sam knew it was progressing far faster than he had answers. Suddenly, Dr. Roberts’s eyes opened wide and rolled in the sockets. His body arched with the seizure. He convulsed violently and nearly fell from the bed. Sam pushed the side rails up and forced his full body weight onto his friend. Holding him down, Sam shouted, “Constraints! I need constraints!” The IVs were running wide open with the largest gauge needles available for the fluids. He convulsed violently again, and this time the needles were ripped from his arms. Sam was thrown almost to the floor. The team had been splattered with both the medicine and the blood. But fortunately, they were all in personal protective suits by then. Sam looked around to check his team. They seemed to all be fine. He glanced at his glove. “A hole.” His voice became a low-pitched whisper. “Damn it, a hole!” Sam pulled back from the patient. “Draw more blood, and send to lab for HIV and protocol tests. My glove was compromised,” he stated calmly. It was not the first time Sam had been nicked while attending patients. Accidents like that came with the territory and happened all the time. But the combination of symptoms that Dr. Roberts was experiencing was completely foreign, and Sam was aware of the danger. Sandra was already ahead of him. She tied a large rubber tourniquet around the upper part of Dr. Roberts’s right arm and hunted for a vein that was still intact. “Got it,” she said. She handed the vial of blood to one of the attending technicians. “Rush this to the lab. Please keep this sample separate from Dr. Roberts’s other specimens.” She paused. “Dr. Hawkins, I can’t stop the bleeding. Bleeding profusely from IV too.” “Put more pressure and wrap it.” Sam looked at the amount of bleeding when Sandra removed the needle, but it was the least of his concerns at that moment. Sam knew the drills when there had been a compromised glove and when the patient presented with unknown symptoms. And Dr. Roberts certainly had unknown symptoms. But Sam Hawkins had a reputation of being something of a rebel in the ER, and Sandra knew from experience that he would do as he wanted. Coercing him into following rules to the finest degree was just a waste of her time. There were beeping monitors in every corner of the small room. From every angle, techs and nurses announced the patient’s vitals. Sam separated and processed each voice and each word the way a hunting dog deciphers the scent of a raccoon from a squirrel. “Pressure dropping, Doctor,” announced one male nurse. Sam kept his eyes on Dr. Roberts. Nothing they had done was helping the old man. He and Sandra had a special connection. Her angry eyes burned though Sam, but she would say nothing yet about his infraction and subsequent possible contamination. He glanced at her and bit his lip as a scolded child might do. She pulled the bio-antiseptic from a cart and quickly began to swab Sam’s hand and fingers. “It doesn’t appear to have broken the skin, Doctor,” Sandra whispered. “You stupid ass.” Only Sandra could get away with such insubordination. She was almost old enough to be his grandmother. “When will you ever learn? Biohazard gear is for a reason.” She frowned. “Sam, he’s not clotting at the injection site at all.” “Got it. I’ll try to follow the rules.” Sam forced a half smile and a wink. He knew she was the most competent trauma nurse in the hospital. She could probably do his job. He then glanced at Bill arm. “Try again to get that bleeding stopped. Stay at it.” A nurse took over for Sandra and began to wrap gauze around Dr. Roberts’s arms. Blood dripped onto the floor. Sandra prepared to take a baseline blood sample from Sam. “You’re next,” Sandra ordered. Sam held out his left arm while he listened to the older doctor’s heart. One of the male nurses tied another rubber tube to Sam’s extended arm. He drew a vial of blood. Sandra wasted no time. She assisted Sam into another set of heavy nitrile gloves. She knew, even then, he would not accept the bioprotective hand guards. They were too cumbersome, and he had always refused to wear them. Today was certainly not going to be the exception. Despite the commotion, half the team had continued to replace the IVs. The others sterilized the immediate area, which had been splattered with potentially highly biohazardous substances. The team worked together like a well-rehearsed ballet. Something was terribly wrong, and Sam knew that none of their efforts were changing any of Dr. Roberts’s vitals or chances of recovery. “Call for barricade tape,” he ordered. “We’ve gotta seal off this area. And George…” He glanced at the tall nurse closest to the door that led to the outside hallway. “Call it in—code four-five-one-zero, and code orange. We need to be sure the proper staffing is in place. People, I want you to be very careful now. I don’t know what this is. Watch yourself.” “The electrocardiogram is looking worse, Doctor.” Sandra paused for a moment. “Dr…ah…Sam, he’s going into ventricular fibrillation!” “OK…Sandra, let’s give him one hundred milligrams of lidocaine and have the defibrillator set at three hundred joules.” Sam grasped Dr. Roberts’s hand. “Hold on, Bill. Stay with me now.” Sam studied the peculiar rash and extensive bruises. Blood pooled in the tissues. Large volcanic-looking sores were popping up all over his frail body. Dr. Roberts was hemorrhaging inside and out. Anxiety was evident on all the faces of Sam and the team. Most of the ED team had seen terrible, horrific things. Trauma teams saw that regularly, but Sam sensed a special trepidation. This was, perhaps, a disease they knew nothing about or how to treat. In addition to all the obvious, each person of the team had potentially been exposed. Sam shook his head in confusion. He needed something that looked remotely familiar—anything that would give him a clue how to combat this thing, perhaps an unknown pathogen that was killing his friend. A voice came from behind the head of the bed. “Dr. Hawkins, his heart has stopped. We have no pressure here.” Another nurse chimed in, “And we still have not stopped the bleeding. He simply won’t clot.” He glanced at the multitude of monitors. Then Sam jabbed a long needle into Dr. Roberts’s chest and exhaled sharply through his clenched teeth. “Epinephrine first, then we’ll try CPR. He’s so frail. Hold off.” Sam threw back his head and sighed loudly. “Do we have a pulse with the Adrenalin?” “Nothing, Doctor. Does he have a DNR, or is he full code?” whispered Sandra. “I don’t know and don’t care.” Sam stared into Sandra’s eyes. “I’ve got to try everything. For God’s sake, it’s Bill.” He took a very deep breath. “All right, let’s prepare for full CPR and be ready to intubate the patient. Get the respiratory therapist here, stat. Paddles! Three hundred joules…clear!” Sam shouted. Dr. Roberts convulsed, and his body arched from the electrical shock. “Doctor, we have a pulse…at thirty-five. We have a rhythm back. It’s weak, but he does have a rhythm and a blood pressure of sixty over forty again.” Sandra gazed sympathetically into Sam’s eyes. She knew the slight improvement could only be temporary. Suddenly, Ana threw open the curtains. She gasped at the sight of her husband and the blood-splattered area. Dr. Roberts was gray with large bluish-red splotches over his face. He had tubes running from both arms; his chest was covered with electrodes, wires, and blood. His nose oozed bloody mucus that stained the oxygen tubes and rendered them almost useless. Blood-soaked gauze, cotton, and sheets littered the entire room. She stood deathly still; the color drained from her face. Shock and grief blanketed her demeanor. “He’s dying. Bill’s dying, Sam. What are you doing for him?” she cried. “Get her out of here. Now!” Sam tempered his tone. “Ana, I’m sorry, honey, you cannot be here. We don’t know what we’re dealing with, but I…we…are doing all we can. Please! Somebody get her out of here, now!” He glanced around. His eyes glazed over with anger. “Who allowed that?” he said. “Clear the entire area! Seal off this end of the ER with security personnel. Obviously, the damned barrier tape isn’t working! Come on, people, this isn’t your first rodeo with biohazards—or at the very least, you’ve been trained for this! Get your shit together.” Sam bowed his head and gathered his thoughts and tempered his anger. He raised his eyes and scanned his team. “I’m sorry, guys. I lost my temper. I am sorry. You guys are the best.” The trauma team had, in fact, been trained for almost anything. They had seen virtually decapitated car accident victims, gunshot patients, people who barely had limbs still attached to their bodies, and every hideous type of injury known to man, but none of them had ever witnessed anything like what lay in front of them. The old man’s entire body had begun to swell. His gut was so extended that Sam had to lie on top of him to get close enough to hear his heart and lungs. His hands were bluish black and clinched into hard fists that had turned under, almost touching the underside of his wrists. They had begun to resemble some grotesque, monstrous, wild animal’s hoof. His body had been peculiarly rigid but now had visually begun to curl. His back arched, while his feet and toes were curled under, giving them also a radically disfigured appearance. His neck was arched backward, and it had swelled to twice its normal size. Sam felt the joints around his feet, neck, and hands. “Looks like hemarthrosis, but he’s bleeding more profusely into his joints than I have ever seen.” He felt the congealed blood around Dr. Roberts’s ribs. “Hematomas,” he mumbled.” He shook his head and grimaced at the hideous sight and his lack of an answer. His eyelids and cheeks were now dark purple. His lips were swollen and almost black. Nothing the team did reversed the horrors that Dr. Roberts was experiencing. It only became worse as the moments ticked by. Sam was a trained surgeon, and his main discipline had been trauma care for the last twenty years. He had a good knowledge of transmittable diseases, but he was not an infectious-disease specialist. He had seen one case of hemorrhagic fever while in Africa and cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome while in the Philippines and South Korea during his stint on a navy medical ship. He had studied strange diseases such as Morgellons and Ebola. But although Dr. Roberts had all the indicators of those deadly diseases, there were so many symptoms that didn’t fit any single illness. He seemed to be riddled with infections, and his entire body was hemorrhaging. Sam knew that his friend and patient had something that was much different and deadlier than anything he had even read about, and it was hideous. As skilled a physician as was Dr. Sam Hawkins, he could only stand by and watch his friend morph into some repulsive creature. Dr. Roberts’s disease was progressing too rapidly. There was no time to call or consult a specialist. And anyway, who would he call? He was on his own, and he was scrambling for answers. Sandra had escorted Dr. Roberts’s objecting wife out of the trauma suites and into a private waiting room. “I’ll be back soon, Mrs. Roberts.” “Is he dying?” “We’re doing what we can. He’s in the best hands with Dr. Hawkins.” Ana Roberts reluctantly nodded. “Yes, I know.” “What’s the pressure now? What’s Dr. Roberts’s pressure?” Sam repeated loudly, his endurance wearing thinner as the hours passed. “Doctor! BP holding at sixty. Heart at forty-five.” “Blood results are in.” Sandra read the computer screen aloud. “Shows a viral infection, unidentified, but says a massive bacterial infection, unidentified, too. Liver enzymes, blood proteins are way off the chart, and kidneys going fast, Sam.” She paused. “Septicemia,” she whispered.

Sam held his hand up, indicating she should wait for further instructions. He shook his head. “No! Damn it…that answers little for me. Unidentified? Damn. How do we treat unidentified?” Suddenly, the elderly Dr. Roberts gasped. He reached out his swollen, disfigured hand. Two fingers grabbed the neck of Sam’s protective gear. The Adrenalin straight into his heart, or perhaps the CPR, had worked its magic. His heart was beating, and he had regained consciousness. He forcefully pulled Sam down to his face. His strength was anything but that of a dying man. His dark copper-colored eyes could barely open and were cloaked in blood. He stared hard into Sam’s eyes. His breath gurgled in his throat, but he opened his mouth in an attempt to speak. Sam took Dr. Roberts’s hand from his collar and gently held it in his own. The older doctor began to shake his head as if saying no. “Bill”—Sam’s words were staccato—“you’re a wonderful…scientist and…my friend. Your research has saved many lives. You’re a good husband.” He paused. His breath was as disjointed and quick as his speech. “Hey, buddy, I’m not done with you. We’re gonna get you through this. We still have courses to play and fish to catch.” Dr. Roberts shook his head. “Closer,” he murmured in desperation. “Brother…seven.” He strained out the garbled words. Sam bent down and put his ear almost on the elderly doctor’s mouth. “I don’t understand. Do you want your brother, Steven?” Sam moved from his patient and whispered to Sandra, “Rambling. His brother died years ago. Keep him out of pain.” Sam frowned and looked away momentarily. Seeing his friend in such distress hurt Sam to his core. Dr. Roberts groaned. He shook his head again, indicating another negative response. “Safe…safe…seven.” He took a shallow, belabored breath; his chest rose only slightly with the effort. He tried to take another breath. His chest heaved. Muffled, gurgled noises emanated from his mouth when he whispered what sounded like “Custos Collegium.” Sam recalled from his limited nonmedical Latin classes that the first word meant something like to keep or keeper. The second was vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t recall precisely its meaning—but then again, had he even heard it correctly? If he had heard what Dr. Roberts said, he thought it might mean something like club or society, but he was just guessing. None of it mattered anyway. It made no sense. He quickly dismissed it. Dr. Roberts was much too ill to think lucidly, much less speak anything clearly. The older doctor had simply demonstrated a dying man’s ramblings. Sam had witnessed the terminally ill attempt to say things that no one could understand. The lack of oxygen to the brain and the imminence of death often made for horrific exhibitions, and Sam was confident that was the case with Bill Roberts. Dr. Roberts tried to enunciate more words again, but he didn’t have adequate breath to expel the sound. Sam surveyed the monitors. He looked at Sandra. She frowned and turned away. The respiratory therapist had arrived. The shock of seeing Dr. Roberts’s condition caused the young woman to physically shake. She grabbed George’s arm to steady herself. “No intubation,” Sam whispered as he leaned again toward his friend. The therapist quietly gasped in horror while she moved closer and obtained a clear view of the patient. Clearly rattled, she tried to regain her professional composure. “But Dr. Hawkins,” argued the therapist, “he’s having extreme difficulty breathing. Are you sure of this?” “Yes. He wants to talk.” Sam shook his head resolutely. “We’re certainly not going to injure him with tubes down his throat at this point.” Sam glanced at the floor. A puddle of opaque pink liquid was dripping from the side of the bed and puddling at his feet. He paused and whispered, “It won’t do any good now, anyway.” Blood and fluids flowed from every orifice. Dr. William Roberts was on the brink of death. “Safe…” The older doctor barely produced breath to form the word, and red bubbles of blood drooled from the corners of his mouth. Sam was not sure what he heard, but he repeated back, “You are safe, Bill.” Dr. Roberts moved his head in opposition. Outwardly agitated, the old doctor attempted to speak again. As the word “seven” left the older doctor’s lips, he again wheezed out, “This…seven.” Sam was confused and moved closer as the older doctor struggled harder to tell Sam something. Dr. Roberts coughed. Thick red clots and black mucus hurled from his mouth. Red blood flowed from his nose. He gasped for oxygen. Then he mumbled a last indistinguishable word. It sounded as if he said, “All right,” but Sam could not be sure. He could not be sure of anything at that point. Dr. Roberts’s body jerked and trembled, then fell still. His dark eyes were ominously fixed and glazed in a death stare, directly at Sam. Sam tried to shake it off. Death was a normal occurrence in that part of the hospital, and Sam saw it almost daily. But there was something almost paranormal in Dr. Roberts’s gaze. It beckoned Sam, even in death. “OK, let’s get him back. Shock him—three hundred joules. Clear!” Sam shouted. “Again, clear. Do we have a pulse?” “No, Doctor. Nothing.” “Again. Clear!” Sam paused. “Dr. Hawkins, he’s gone,” whispered Sandra. “Please, Sam, let him go.” Sam shouted again, “Give me three hundred joules. Clear!” “Sam…Dr. Hawkins.” Sandra didn’t need to say more. Sam lifted his head from the patient and looked resolutely into Sandra’s eyes. He knew she was right. He stood back from the bed. The monitors beeped a sorrowful flat-line monotony. The team waited quietly. A familiar death stench filled the room. The body was wrapped tightly in blood-saturated sheets and cooling blankets. Sandra touched Sam’s arm. “Call it, Sam. You have to call it.” Sam bowed his head and gently pounded his fist against his own forehead. He was outwardly shaken and deeply saddened. Then he seemed to gather his emotions and recover some strength. He stood erect and took such a deep breath that his shoulders rose in the effort. He ran his hand softly over Dr. Roberts’s eyes and closed the swollen eyelids. Sam stared at his friend’s hideously ravaged and lifeless body, as if he were speaking to him without words. He pulled a sheet from under the bed and gently laid it over the dead man’s body and face. Then Sam took a step back. The team had never seen their boss do anything like that. His voice was soft yet resigned. “Time of death… six oh seven a.m.” There was an eerie silence in the entire Trauma Department. No one spoke, and there were no sounds of monitors anywhere. It was as if time stood still, in mourning. Sam held on to the moment longer than seemed in character. He stood over the body of his friend. His hand lay on the dead man’s chest. He took a long cleansing breath before he spoke. “Together, we did what we could. Thank you, Sandra and team. George, get hazmat. You people get out of here. Follow all decontamination procedures. You know the drill. Do what you have been trained to do. This is level-two code orange.”

About the author

J.D. May is a third generation Texan from far South, Texas. She is an animal activist, a painter, as well as a writer. J.D. May studied drama, art, creative writing and Spanish. She has travelled extensively. May is married to a former award-winning surfer and has one daughter. view profile

Published on January 05, 2021

140000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Contemporary Fiction