Arthur was being wheeled into to the Emergency Room once again. He thought back to how many times he had entered Mount Sinai Hope Hospital, and how many of those times he had been upright.
“Once, maybe.” Arthur mumbled under his breath.
“What’s that? Are you ok sir?” The EMT pushing the gurney asked.
“Nothing, nothing, I’m fine.” Arthur replied, not feeling like explaining the entire conversation he had just conducted in his head to the medical technician who had picked him up from the shoe store.
Of course, Arthur had been in the worst possible place when his prosthetic hip dislocated. It never happens during a checkup for his Rheumatoid Arthritis or when sitting at home, doing nothing. No, it always happens when he is alone somewhere or in a compromising situation. The last time it happened, he had just woken up from a particularly spicy with a very nice intern from the paper. It was their first time together, and of course, right after he got out of the shower, completely naked, his left hip popped out. Since he was unable to move at all, the ambulance had to be called, and he had to be carried out of his house, covered in a sheet.
This time Arthur was at the shoe store by himself, trying on shoes. He bent down to slip on one of the moccasins he was eyeing, and bam! The left prosthetic hip popped out of its socket once again. Arthur didn’t want to cause a ruckus inside the store, so he had the manager grab two stock boys and they lifted him on to a dolly and wheeled him out to the parking lot. Frankly, the store manager was just so worried about being sued, he would have fixed the hip himself if he could have.
Anyway, here I was again, heading into the ER for another seven-hour escapade. The procedure itself took less than twenty minutes — most of the time was spent waiting. First the x-rays took forever. Then getting the right amount of pain medicine was always a fight since Arthur required much more than the average. Finally, he had to sign consent forms to allow for sedation while someone from orthopedics popped the hip back into place while Arthur was out of it. It should take under an hour. Unfortunately, this was a real life ER, not television.
As Arthur was contemplating all the waiting he was going to have to do, the EMT’s wheeled him into ER bay #7 and transferred him to a hospital bed. By some miracle, by the time he was done saying goodbye and thank you to the ambulance technicians, an ER doctor had appeared.
“Hey doc, you are uncharacteristically early today.” Arthur said sardonically.
“I can always come back later, Mr. Wright, if you like?”
Arthur wasn’t sure if the doctor was kidding, so he decided to play nice from now on.
“No, I’m sorry doc, I’m just in a bit of pain here.” Arthur winced for effect.
“Yes, I can see that you’ve been here twice before for the same issue so I’m sure you know exactly what’s wrong and exactly what it feels like.” The doctor checked off something on his chart.
“Yes, you’re exactly right, doc. So, does that mean I don’t need an x-ray today? You can just reduce the hip and send me on my way?” Arthur said, knowing full well that legally there was no way they’d let him skip the x-ray.
“Very funny, Mr. Wright. You should have your own column! Oh wait… you do. How’s that going, by the way?” The doctor was obviously a fan of Arthur’s writing. Or maybe the opposite of a fan — whatever that was.
Arthur Wright had been a writer for several years now, and he worked for the New Guardian Reporter. The paper wasn’t in the same league as the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, but it did fairly well. They had a circulation of over 1 million, and one or two famous journalists had gotten their start at the Guardian. Arthur hoped to be among that number some day but it was hard to find award-winning scoops while constantly battling his wretched disease. Arthritis made late nights and early mornings almost impossible, and running away from cops and security guards after snooping was out of the question. So, for now, he filled his article space with local news and the occasional human interest story — enough to keep his readers reading, but not enough to put him on the map.
“The writing is doing just fine, doc, thanks for asking. Any way we can expedite the x-ray and hip reduction and get me out of here before midnight? Just for old times sake?” He begged the doctor.
“Sure, why not? I’ll put you ahead of the gaping head wound in bay #3, she’s probably not going to make it anyway. Oh, and, no need for the heart attack patient in bay #12 to be seen, we’ll just give him a few shots of nitro glycerin and send him on his way. I mean, he’s lived a full life, can he really complain?” The doctor didn’t even bother to look up from Arthur’s file as he walked away. Arthur settled in for the long haul, and flagged down a nurse for some morphine as soon as he could.
After two hours or so, someone finally came from x-ray to take Arthur for his pictures. Of course, when he got there, a patient was still getting their foot x-rayed — a bottleneck, as usual. The technician left Arthur down the hall from the x-ray room on his gurney and then disappeared.
As Arthur leaned forward to re-adjust the pillows his dislocated hip was resting on, he saw an interesting looking man in the room across the hall. The door was slightly ajar, so the fact that the man was very tall caught Arthur’s eye. Not only that, but the man had a pitch-black suit on, and walked with a cane. Not the type of cane that Charlie Chaplin used, but more of the walking-stick type cane that you’d associate with the Rockerfellers. He was talking to the chief doctor of some department, and the doctor looked nervous. Arthur grabbed the hall handrail and pulled his gurney a bit closer to the slightly open door, his journalistic instincts piqued.
“You wanted them alive but docile, I figured there was no harm in making sure that he was out of pain for the trip.” The chief doctor said to the man with the cane.
“We told you to get them ready for transport and then secure them in our ambulance, that was it. No more. What you think is irrelevant as is their level of pain.” The man with the cane said, showing no emotion.
“I’m a doctor, the chief of surgery for God sake, I have an oath to uphold. Maybe we should just close the operation down. Or better yet, may be I’ll have a talk with the local paper.” The doctor said, confident in himself.
“I see.” The man with the cane had on a face of stone. “I will have to speak with Mr. Smith about this.”
Suddenly and markedly the entire atmosphere of the conversation shifted. Without him saying a word, it was obvious that the mention of this person Smith’s name had completely unhinged the doctor.
“What? Smith? No, no. Heh.” The doctor was backpedaling fast. “No need to involve him, it’s fine. I’ll just pack them into the ambulance and send them along. No questions asked.” The doctor sounded scared. “I’ll even send one more a week, how’s that? No need to get Smith involved, right?”
The man with the cane just stared at the doctor for what seemed like hours. Eventually, he spoke.
“Make sure the next delivery is on schedule tonight and that there are no issues. See to it personally if you have to. We will be..”
Right then, the technician from x-ray appeared and began to push Arthur’s gurney into the x-ray room. As he was rolling by the doorway with the doctor and the man with the cane inside, he tried to hear what was being said. Unfortunately, the x-ray technician was babbling about something trivial so it was impossible for Arthur to hear the rest of the conversation.
As he was put onto the x-ray table all Arthur could think about was the conversation he had just overhead. It didn’t take an investigative reporter to realize that something illicit was going on between the two men.
All throughout the rest of his ER trip, Arthur could not stop wondering about the man with the cane and his possibly nefarious intentions. Even as he was put to sleep to allow for his hip to be reduced (re-located) without pain, the last thought he had was a list of the things he was going to do as soon as he was able to walk out of the ER. He needed to get on the phone with his assistant the minute he was able. About to itemize his tasks, the propofol took hold, and Arthur drifted away on a breeze of numbness, ready to sleep the deep sleep of anesthesia.
Two hours later, Arthur was ready to walk out of the ER, finally. This hospital trip had been a short one, just under five hours. It was the third time he’d dislocated his left prosthetic hip, and chances were that something was wrong internally. Or, at the very least, the hip was getting old. After all, fifteen years of wear and tear was nothing to scoff at. It might be time to get part of the joint replaced. He would have to go and see his long-time surgeon in Manhattan.
None of that mattered now, though. Arthur was on his cellular phone calling his assistant, Allison, as soon as he was able.
“Hello, Al? You there?” Arthur asked.
“Yes, it’s me. Hi Arthur. How is your hip? Did everything turn out okay?” Allison asked, genuinely concerned.
“Yeah I’m great, bionic, and everything. Who cares about that, though. I need you to go to the Mount Sinai Hope Hospital website, and look up the chief of surgery for the hospital. E-mail me the link to his page, please, asap.”
“What do you need that for, did something happen at the hospital? Did they mess up when you..” Allison was cut off when Arthur jumped in.
“I told you I’m fine. Don’t worry about that, just get me that link, ASAP!” Arthur looked around the ER parking lot. “Oh, yeah, and also, can you come and pick me up at the Mount Sinai Hope ER entrance?” Arthur said in his sweetest voice. “Please hurry!”
Before Allison could protest the fact that it was almost midnight, Arthur had hung up. She had dealt with him in this state before, and there was no getting around it. Whatever Arthur had caught the scent of, it was going to consume him until he got a handle on it. She grabbed her jacket and made her way down to the parking garage of the Guardian.
As he was standing there, Arthur’s cell phone chimed. He had received an e-mail and he knew it was the information he requested from Allison. He immediately opened up his mail app, and read over what she had sent.
The chief of surgery at Mount Sinai Hope was Doctor Robert J. Collins. He also happened to be the co-head of the emergency room. Interesting. Arthur looked at the picture Allison had sent and he was sure it was the man he saw in the room.
Arthur knew it was going to take at least thirty minutes for Allison to arrive, so instead of wasting time, he decided to go back into the hospital and see if he could discover anything about this doctor Collins. Arthur thought it best to try his luck in the emergency room, since he could play it off like he was waiting for someone to come pick him up if he was discovered snooping. Besides, he overheard the man with the cane telling Dr. Collins to make sure tonight’s delivery went off without a hitch, and to see to it personally. Collins also mentioned something about “packing them into the ambulance.” Arthur put on his investigative journalist hat and went back inside the hospital.
As Arthur stepped into the ER waiting room, he realized that he’d have to get into the actual treatment area if he was going to discover anything. So, he slipped in behind a family who was being taken inside to see their daughter who had broken her leg or face or something. As soon as he got the chance, he asked the janitor where the restroom was, and broke off from the girl’s family. Arthur immediately began to search for Dr. Collins. As luck would have it, he didn’t have to search for long.
As Arthur made his way back to the x-ray area where he first overheard the conversation, he rounded the corner leading to the family atrium and Dr. Collins literally walked right into him.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Excuse me.” Arthur said politely.
“Sorry.” Dr. Collins mumbled and kept walking. He obviously had more on his mind than an errant collision. Collins didn’t even bother to look up, he just kept walking somewhere, fast.
Arthur immediately began following the good doctor, not knowing what exactly his plan was. Arthur figured he’d make it up as he went along. He was good at that. Arthur had discovered in his years as a reporter that as long as you were confident enough about your lies, the majority of people just accepted the lie, rather than going through the rigmarole of checking your credentials just to find out you were supposed to be there any way.
He continued to follow Dr. Collins to the bed of an ER patient who was obviously homeless. Arthur stood behind the curtain of the adjacent bed so he could eavesdrop. The woman in the bed next to Arthur was passed out or possibly deceased so no one would bother either of them for a while. Suddenly, Dr. Collins called over the head nurse.
“Nurse, why is this patient still here? You know we can’t treat people who are indigent and have no health insurance. Once they are stabilized we have to send them to county right away.” He sounded upset.
“Yes, doctor, I was just about to out-process him.” The nurse responded.
“It’s fine, I’ll do it, just bring me the paperwork.” Dr. Collins said dismissively.
The nurse left and came back several minutes later with the required paperwork. They strapped the homeless man down and got him ready for transport.
“I’ll call a hospital porter.” The nurse offered.
“No!” Dr. Collins said, way too loudly. When he realized he had just yelled at the nurse for no reason, he attempted to smooth it over. “I mean, there’s no need to wait for them, they take forever. This man doesn’t deserve to be without care for any longer than he should be. I’ll take him down.” Dr. Collins could think on his feet, it seemed.
The nurse wasn’t going to argue with the head of the ER, so she didn’t even give it a second thought as Dr. Collins unlocked the wheels of the hospital bed and began to push the homeless man towards the ambulance bay. Arthur said a small prayer for the woman next to him and cautiously followed Dr. Collins.
Arthur had begun to put together what was happening, or at least, he had the beginnings of a theory. Dr. Collins was possibly shipping the people who couldn’t pay for treatment and wouldn’t be missed to some sort of private facility that the man with the cane represented. Maybe Mr. Cane’s facility was getting money from the government to take care of these people, Arthur wasn’t sure. Wherever this man was going, as others before him likely had, it most assuredly wasn’t in the patient’s best interests.
Arthur trailed Dr. Collins to the ambulance bay doors, and as he was about to step through, he felt a tug on his collar. He turned around, and was greeted by the smiling face of the head ER nurse.
“I’m sorry, aren’t you done being treated Mr. Wright? The exit is over there, at the front of the ER. It’s pretty busy tonight, so I’d appreciate it if you could go wait in the waiting room for your ride.” The head nurse wasn’t asking.
Arthur knew better than to refuse and cause suspicion, so he acquiesced and made his way out to the ER waiting room. He watched as the head nurse spoke to the security guard before she went back into the treatment area. Arthur was sure that she told the guard not to let him back into the treatment area. Knowing when he was beat, Arthur walked outside to wait for his ride.
After a few minutes, Allison pulled up in her beat-up Ford Fiesta. It was a small hatchback, it sounded like a lawn mower, and it was purple, but it was hers. She was just a paid intern, after all, and it was the best she could afford right now. Arthur got into her car and immediately she knew he was going to ask her for a ridiculous favor. He was wearing his “could you possibly” face.
“Hey Allison, thanks for coming to pick me up. I had to leave my car at the shoe store.” Arthur smiled that smile. “I also have to follow that private ambulance over there. If my hunch is right, there is a doctor here who is basically selling homeless people who come in to a private facility. So, I was wondering, can I borrow your car?” He looked at her with puppy dog eyes. “Also, do you think you’d be able to pick up my car for me?”
“I guess.” Allison agreed before she thought it through. “Wait, how am I supposed to get to the shoe store?”
Arthur just turned to her and smiled that “I love you” scoundrel smile.
“Wait, come on, are you serious?” Allison unhooked her seat belt. “You owe me for this, big time! Give me your keys and cab fare.”
Arthur took out his wallet and gave Allison a twenty as he took her place in the driver’s seat. He thanked his assistant once again, and watched as she went to hail a cab.
“Hey!” Arthur yelled to Allison as she left, “no joyriding!”
Allison gave her boss the one-finger salute as she got into a Taxi.
“Well, that was unnecessary.” Arthur said as he laughed to himself.
It was past midnight at this point, and Arthur had no idea when the private ambulance was going to leave, or where it was headed. So, he waited. An hour or so later, his effort paid off, and he watched as the private ambulance took off down a side street. He immediately started up Allison’s car and followed.
Eventually, the ambulance got onto the highway and headed up towards Westchester. Arthur kept his distance as he tailed the ambulance.
At about the forty-five minute mark, his mark got off the highway and proceeded down a dark road that looked unused. Just then, Arthur’s phone rang. It was Allison.
“I stopped back by the office to see if I could dig up any information on Dr. Collins, and lo and behold, something popped. When I ran his credit, it showed that up until six months ago, he was seriously in debt. With two daughters in college, an underwater mortgage, and a wife who likes to use her credit cards, he was drowning.”
“What happened six months ago?” Arthur asked.
“Well, it seems that the illustrious doctor is a whiz at investing, and a previously unreported investment began paying off handsomely. An investment house I’ve never heard of — Smith Funds, Inc., pays him monthly, it seems. If that’s not the name of a shell company, I don’t know what is.” Allison related the info, proud of herself.
“Great work Al. Only you could dig up that much info on someone inside of forty-five minutes, and also get my car washed and waxed. You’re great!” Arthur responded.
“I know I’m – wait, car washed and waxed? At 1am? Are you nuts?” Allison was sure she misheard her boss.
“Yeah, it would be great if you could find somewhere to clean the car, just sayin’.” Arthur was pushing her buttons on purpose, hopefully she knew how good she was at her job.
“Yeah, I’ll get right on it. Listen, if you find something wherever you are going, let me know. I can do research from here. In fact..”
Just then, Arthur lost the signal on his cell phone. Thankfully, because of the call drop, he saw that the ambulance had turned down an unmarked road. Arthur scrambled to follow without looking like he was following. He shut off his headlights, but eventually he parked the hatchback, deciding to continue on foot. Before he turned the car off, though, he noticed that the radio station he was listening to had turned to static. In fact, all the stations were static. “Static on the radio and a dropped cell phone call with no signal to be found suddenly?”
Why would a nursing home or something similar have a dead zone surrounding it? Was it man made? Arthur wondered.
Things had just taken a drastic left turn, and Arthur seriously considered getting back in the car and going home. With no way to communicate with the outside world, it might be better to wait until daylight. Then again, his curiosity would probably get the best of him and he’d be right back here in an hour. Next time, though, he might not have the element of surprise on his side. So, Arthur pressed on. He grabbed his jacket, closed the door on Allison’s Ford Fiesta, and proceeded down the dirt road on foot.
After a good mile or so, Arthur was beginning to think he had taken a wrong turn somewhere. There was nothing but trees and horse paddocks, and the darkness was seriously beginning to creep him out. Just about to give up, Arthur spotted a light in the distance. As he got closer, he realized the light was attached to a barn-sized building. With renewed vigor, Arthur hurried over to what seemed like the only entrance. He was surprised to find the door unlocked, and he slipped inside.
As soon as Arthur’s eyes adjusted to the brighter environment, he got his first good look at what was going on inside that barn in the middle of the woods. At first, he wasn’t exactly sure what he was seeing. It looked like ten men on hospital beds with virtual reality headset visors on. In addition, each of the men had a small metal box attached to a wire that looked like it was implanted through the skull, directly into their brains.
“What the hell is going on here?” Arthur said out loud. “This is way beyond Medicare fraud.” He didn’t want to say it out loud for fear of making it come true, but it definitely occurred to Arthur that he may be in way over his head.
“Yes, but it’s also the kind of thing that wins journalism awards.” Arthur reminded himself. He had to find out exactly what the hell was happening here. Arthur saw some binders lined up on a desk and grabbed one. He began reading out loud.
“Test subject Delta is responding well to the video of the military parade and the drill instructor reprimands. Subject seems much more docile and takes commands much more readily since last assessment. Increased dopamine dosage to 0.5mg.” Arthur kept reading.
“Test subject epsilon is still resistant to taking commands. Increased dopamine dosage to 0.7mg for pleasure-linked behavioral response. Increased corticotrophin dosage to 0.4mg for punitive fear response. Subject did respond to punishment with increased response to given commands but is still somewhat resistant. May have to increase punitive fear treatments again before subject epsilon fully succumbs to command structure. Both subjects will likely be viable for use against hostile power.”
It took Arthur a minute to put the pieces together on what he was reading. Once he did, though, he was horrified. These men were being conditioned to accept commands from some sort of military command structure. Arthur couldn’t believe his own eyes. This was the stuff of sci-fi, something you read about in a short story. He was beside himself with horror. Realizing he had a camera, Arthur immediately took out his phone and started snapping pictures. He couldn’t get a signal here, but he could damn sure document what was going on to be revealed as soon as he got clear of the dead zone. This was barbaric!
Arthur snapped as many pictures as he could of the men, the log books, the lab equipment, and anything else he could see until his phone was almost full. It was at that point that he heard something outside. He ran to the lab window and saw two guards coming towards the building. Without thinking about it, he grabbed his phone, ripped a page out of one of the log books, shoved it into his pocket, and slipped out the door. He hid around the backside of the barn until the guards had gone inside, and then used the opportunity to hobble his way back to the car, as fast as he could. Of all the damn times to dislocate his hip, this was the worst possible night for it. Then again, if he hadn’t been in that hospital at that time, he never would have found this little bit of hell.
Arthur was almost all the way back to his car when he heard the truck coming. He looked over his shoulder and saw a guard vehicle coming up the road towards him from the barn area. Arthur picked up the pace as best he could to the point of hopping two steps at a time on the side he hadn’t dislocated. He looked at the hatchback and then back at the guard vehicle and he knew it was going to be a photo finish. He got the keys out and ready to go, just to save an few extra seconds that might make the difference between getting away and, well, God knows. Anyone who would conduct experiments like the ones he just witnessed would have absolutely no problem making a measly local newspaper reporter disappear — or worse.
Arthur’s chest was on fire, and his leg muscles were strained to the point of pure exhaustion. He wanted to collapse onto the ground and gulp the oxygen down like so much bottled water after a stay in the Sahara. He knew, though, that if he gave up now, it could mean his life. So, he pushed himself beyond the breaking point, and when his hand grasped the door handle of the Ford Fiesta, he was so overcome with emotion that he felt tears running down his face.
“No time for crying,” Arthur thought, “I have to get the hell out of here!”
Arthur fumbled with the keys, cursing Allison’s ridiculous keychain crap.
“God dammnit! Why is all this garbage on a keychain! What the hell do you need a picture of yourself for? Doesn’t she know what she looks like?” Arthur continued swearing until he found the ignition key. With the guard vehicle headlights mere seconds away, he turned the key and hit the gas at the same time. The hatchback was surprisingly nimble, and with a small turning radius, he was able to swing the vehicle 180 degrees and take off towards the main road and the end of the dead zone.
The guard vehicle gave chase, though, and Arthur knew it was only a matter of time before they caught up to him. He only hoped that he would be able to send the pictures he took to Allison before they captured and probably killed him. This had become more than a story now, Arthur had to make sure that no more men were taken and subjected to a horrible existence the depths of which were unfathomable.
Arthur had his cell phone out and was waiting for those bars to show up like a child waiting for Santa on Christmas. The guard vehicle was almost upon him; its headlights completely consumed his rearview mirror. Just then, three bars of signal popped up on his cell phone. Without even realizing it, the adrenaline pumping through his system made Arthur give a yell.
“Yeaahhh!” He shouted. “Call Allison!” He told his cell phone. The phone asked “would you like to call Valley Sun Restaurant?”
“No you freakin’ piece of junk. Call Allison!” Arthur hated his cell phone voice assistant. It was about as useful as a bald man’s comb. He gave up and just dialed manually.
“Hello? Arthur is that you? What’s going on?” Allison’s voice came through the speakerphone. It was like the beautiful song of a nightingale, and Arthur knew that if he got caught now, it wouldn’t be in vain.
“Allison, get my tape recorder from my desk and record everything I say. Put me on speaker and go. Now!”
put the phone on speaker and hit record. Arthur began to recount all of the events of the past hour to Allison and the tape recorder. It took almost fifteen minutes, all the while the guard vehicle still following him. When Arthur finally finished, he was out of breath, and Allison was speechless. He was about to speak again, when he saw the guard vehicle behind him slow down and break off their pursuit. Eventually he saw red taillights in the distance disappear, and with that, they were gone.
Arthur felt like he was going to burst! He had successfully infiltrated and escaped an illicit laboratory conducting experiments on people that society at large tended not to notice. Why the guards had broken off pursuit he wasn’t sure. Maybe they realized that Arthur had probably called someone and told them the entire story by that point, or maybe they took down his license plate and were going to have the owner of the vehicle killed at a later time. (He’d have to remember to warn Allison about that.) Either way, it didn’t matter, Arthur was going to have time to write and release his story, and hopefully rescue the men trapped in that horrible place. Before he hung up, he told Allison to call Jeff Lundforth at the FBI, and old friend of his, and have him come to the New Guardian office as soon as possible. He told Allison he’d meet them there in an hour, and that’s exactly what he did.
“It’s been several months since the Westchester facility was liquidated. Are we are certain that Mr. Wright believes the cover story we laid out?” Mr. Smith asked.
“Yes. The guards followed him long enough to suggest they intended to do him harm. In addition, when the FBI arrived at the location, the subjects had all been retired and the proper evidence was found to suggest a government cover-up. We also arranged for Mr. Wright to be compensated. It served as an adequate distraction.” The man with the cane said without remorse.
“Has there been any impact on the overall recruitment effort?” Mr. Smith asked.
“No. We increased the intake in the other facilities.” The man with the cane reported.
“Very good. We cannot afford to lose ground. We must keep it at bay until we can finish our research. If this effort fails, we could lose the entire North American Continent.” Mr. Smith said, matter-of-factly.
“That won’t happen, the research will be completed on time.” The man with the cane promised his boss.
“We should retire Mr. Wright after the fervor dies down.” Mr. Smith said to his subordinate.
“He may be of some use to us yet,” the man with the cane countered. “I will watch him closely.”
“He is your responsibility then.” Mr. Smith ordered.
“Understood.” The man with the cane said.
“There will be no second chances if this initiative fails.” Mr. Smith said.
“God help us all.” The man with the cane had the last word.
“Hey Arthur! Congratulations on the Pulitzer! You really deserve it.” Allison, now an official part of the New Guardian staff, congratulated her boss on the award now sitting on his desk. “The story was one of the best I’ve ever read, and hopefully you saved the lives of their future victims.”
“Yeah, I truly hope so Al.” Arthur responded. “It’s just a shame we couldn’t get to the men in time, and that Collins got stabbed before he could give up any of the players involved. The others are ghosts.” Arthur said dejectedly.
“It’s fine Arthur, you’ve done enough.” Allison assured her boss. “Now go home, and get some sleep! You look horrible after all those award parties!”
Arthur smiled and touched the Pulitzer on his desk. He always wanted to be one of “those writers” who won the Pulitzer, and now he was. Unfortunately, he knew deep down that the man with the cane was still out there.
Arthur was packing up and was about to leave when the phone on his desk rang.
“Hello?” Arthur answered.
“Hi, is this Mr. Wright?” It was a woman’s voice.
“Yes, this is Arthur Wright. What can I do for you?”
“Hi Mr. Wright, my name is Evelyn Shields. I read your article about the men in Westchester. It was truly a great piece.”
“Thank you so much, without readers like you I’d be nothing.” Arthur paused. “I’m on my way out, but if you like you can e-mail me. I always try to respond as soon as I can. My address is on the New Guardian’s website.”
“Oh, well, I actually have something you might be interested in.” The woman hesitated. “ Actually my father was a homeless man who lived on the streets here in Philly.” Evelyn said.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Arthur realized she said, “was.” “You said your dad ‘was’ a homeless man?”
“Yes. Last week I went to see him and his friend, you know, to bring them food and some money like I do every week.” Evelyn sounded like she was close to tears. “Both my father and his friend didn’t show up.”
There was a pause on the other end of the phone, and Arthur knew what the woman wanted to hear. He had to play Devil’s advocate, though.
“Evelyn, I’m sorry about your father, but is it possible that he and his friend simply moved on to someplace else?”
“I don’t think so. No one has seen them and they haven’t shown up anywhere since.” Evelyn said. “I thought you might be able to help me. The last place I tracked him to was the local hospital ER.”
Arthur felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
A phone somewhere was picked up after the third ring.
“Yes?” Mr. Smith said.
“We may have a problem.”