The Common Lawyer

By: Mark Gimenez

PROLOGUE


St. Aloysius Children's Research Hospital

Ithaca, New York

2:55 A.M.

He stared down at her; his expression was stern and unyielding. He disapproved, as she knew he would.

"Don't look at me like that, Luigi. I'm not crazy."

They stood alone in the vestibule just inside the front entrance where the warmth and disinfectant held their ground against the invading cold air and horde of germs. She brushed snow from her parka and removed her gloves then reached up and caressed his cold cheek. He was just a boy.

"You're not being fair. Of all people, you should understand. God didn't mean for us to live forever."

Over the last three months, they had developed a relationship of sorts. She had often come downstairs late at night and talked to him, Catholic to Catholic, about life and about death, and about life after death, all subjects he knew well. She would look into his eyes and wait for answers that never came. His eyes had always seemed able to see into her soul, but tonight they revealed only his sadness, as if he knew what she was about to do.

"It's the only way."

He did not respond—he never did—so she dropped her eyes like a repentant child from her father's glare. They fell onto the engraving at the base of the stone statue that told of his short life: Luigi Gonzaga had been born in 1568 in Italy, joined the Society of Jesus when he was seventeen, and studied to become a Jesuit; he had contracted the plague while working in a Catholic hospital in Rome. He had cared for the worst victims of the disease, those whom no one else would touch, and he had died at the age of twenty-three. The church awarded him sainthood because he had sacrificed his life to save others: St. Aloysius, the patron saint of children.

"And I'm the Virgin Mary."

Her eyes ran up the life-size figure of the boy saint for one final glance at his face—one final look into those haunting eyes. He could not understand. She turned away and continued into the hospital and past the reception desk and the elevators. She saw no one, and no one saw her. The hospital on the night shift was a lonely place; she had often paced the vacant corridors during those still hours, unable to sleep but unwilling to leave the child. The last few nights she had timed the exact route she was now taking: seven and a half minutes, in and out.

Bright murals stretched down the corridors, and elaborate mobiles hung from the ceiling. Oversized stuffed cartoon characters sat in play areas waiting for the children. The patients' own colorful paintings adorned the walls like pieces of art in a museum. The nurses wore scrubs that were bright splashes of color. The colors, the art, the sunlit atrium, the healing gardens—the hospital tried desperately to present an upbeat mood, but the scent of death permeated the place. It was inescapable.

But they would escape that night.

Her rubber-soled shoes fell silent as she climbed the stairs to the third floor and turned left. Third Floor West. The research wing. Only a handful of nurses would be on duty during the night shift, and those who were took their meal break at 3:00 A.M. She slowed as she approached the nurses' station and listened for voices; she heard none, so she hurried past. She was about to turn a corner when the sound of footsteps came close; she ducked inside a storage closet. The footsteps passed, and she peeked out and saw the uniformed backside of Kelly Fitzgerald, the charge nurse. Kelly was an Irish girl, too, and at thirty only five years older; they had become fast friends and had often shared late-night coffee and cigarettes on the back stairs.

She did not greet her friend that night.

She stepped out of the closet, shut the door quietly behind her, and continued around the corner and down the corridor. She stopped at Room 312, pushed the door open, and stuck her head inside.

The child was asleep.

She backed out and walked down to Room 320. She entered the room and went over to the bed where a sixteen-year-old boy lay sleeping in the dim light. Jimmy had been paralyzed from the neck down in a street racing accident in California when he had lost control and wrapped his car around a telephone pole. He had undergone experimental spinal cord treatment. He was a guinea pig. Everyone on Three West was a guinea pig.

Jimmy was her friend, too. They had talked often, and she had consoled him when he cried. He knew he would never walk again, never play ball again, never date again, never live a normal life again. One stupid teenage mistake and he was in a wheelchair for life. He said he wanted to die. She leaned over and kissed him on his forehead then unplugged his ventilator.

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