Dr. Suzan Dwyer’s assistant, Vanda Portillo, had come into the lab and addressed her boss, hoping to snag the doctor’s attention. As usual, Suzan Dwyer was bent over her electron microscope, peering at whatever slide she had beneath the powerful lens.
“Suzan?” Vanda tried once more, a little louder this time. “Oh, Dr. Dwyer! Calling Dr. Suzan!” She finally elicited a response when her boss glanced up from the microscope and blinked.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Van,” Suzan offered and rubbed her eyes, both rimmed red from her close work. “I guess I got a little intense here.” She had been studying the effect of a new proton fusion that would stimulate good blood cell production and eliminate diseased cells.
“I don’t mean to disturb you,” her assistant continued, “but there is a man in the waiting room who has been here for almost three hours. I tried to tell him that you had no time today to see anyone, let alone patients, but he’s insisting that he needs to see you.” Vanda referred to her wrist watch. “And it’s now a quarter to seven, time to call it a day.”
Suzan glanced out the window and confirmed that time, indeed, had grown late with the softer blue of twilight making way for a cool indigo night. Sitting back in her chair, she weighed her decision as she absently bit at her lower lip. “You say this visitor insists on seeing me, and no one else?”
“I tried to refer him to another doctor but he wants to see you specifically. He says you are the foremost expert on blood disorders.”
Suzan smiled. “Well, I wouldn’t say foremost. He’s not a reporter, is he?”
Vanda shook her head. “Oh, no. He’s just well...if you want, you can see for yourself, just take a peak out the door. He says his name is Charles Lambert. That’s all the information he gave me.”
Scooting back her chair, Suzan got to her feet. “I suppose I better see him, at least for a few minutes, if that’s the only way we can get rid of him.”
“Thank you, boss lady! The man gives me the jitters. He just sits there like a statue, his face set in cement. And his eyes...well, they just stare ahead at the wall.”
Vanda shivered. “It’s creepy, like Halloween, even if Halloween is months away. But this guy’s good-looking, probably in his early thirties. If not for his zombie act, I’d say he’s rather attractive and certainly has some money by the looks of his clothes. Definitely designer.” Divorced for several years now and with no children, Vanda always appreciated a seemingly unattached man who showed promise.
“I’ll try to find out more about this Mr. Lambert,” the doctor promised, “besides why he’s here to see me.”
“In the meantime,” Vanda added, “I’m going to hover in back until the coast is clear.”
“I’ll get rid of him as fast as possible,” Suzan promised. “After all, we’re closing up shop and he certainly can’t stay here overnight.”
“Well, you never know. This guy might not have a home, but he certainly doesn’t look homeless. Homeless guys don’t wear Armani slacks and jackets, or Italian leather boots.”
Suzan smiled at her assistant’s insightful observations. In fact, Vanda’s excellent observation skills and her knack for picking out subtle details often made the job easier for both assistant and boss, especially when Suzan engaged in comprehensive forensic work. One expected Vanda herself to be precise and petite, but she possessed a tall, big-boned and curvaceous figure, large toffee eyes and full features in a round face. Only the fine gray feathering along the temples of her thick, dark hair hinted at her age, older than thirty but less than seventy, as Vanda put it. Suzan knew her assistant had just celebrated her fortieth birthday, a natal event the doctor herself would be seeing in just four short years.
“See you real soon...hopefully,” Vanda speculated as she headed for the storage area to wait out the ensuing confrontation. But, pausing in mid-stride, she turned back to her boss and added, “Tell you what, if I don’t hear from you in ten minutes, I’ll send in the National Guard.”
Suzan chuckled. “Yikes! Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Go on, I’ll see you in a few.”
“Well, good luck.” Vanda turned and jogged away.
Before she left the lab, the doctor took off her white coat and traded it for her herringbone jacket that hung on the metal coat rack by the door. Then, taking her shoulder bag that also hung there, she retrieved her cosmetic bag and rummaged inside for her makeup supplies. Glancing in the small wall mirror, she applied a touch of blusher to her cheeks and a slash of dark wine gloss along her lips. A natural curly redhead, Suzan possessed the pearlescent skin and bridge of freckles that went along with her genetic makeup, and without some cosmetic help she always appeared pale. Every morning she applied dark mascara to give some color to her fair lashes and bring out the highlights in her slate-blue eyes.
She wasn’t vain or overly occupied with her appearance, but she always felt self-conscious if she didn’t take some pains to make herself look presentable, especially when giving lectures to a large audience or speaking with a group of medical colleagues. Just last week she had been interviewed by a local TV reporter on her recent receipt of a large research grant to continue her study of blood cell manipulation in order to forestall and even conquer a rare but deadly form of blood cancer called Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia. Before the interview began, she had applied makeup to look her best. Suzan knew that people, particularly patients, felt more confident with a put-together doctor than one who looked pale, tired and harried—even though sometimes she felt just that.
Now, for a finishing touch, she fluffed out her mass of carotene curls with her fingers. Suzan felt ready to tackle her persistent visitor. Armed with her shoulder bag, she walked into the outer office area where Vanda had her desk and files. Along one wall ran padded chairs for the occasional patient or pharmaceutical vendor that Suzan dealt with. Since she devoted most of her time to research now, her patient load had dropped considerably to only one or two serious cases a year. She certainly didn’t want to take on another, and would gladly refer this man to another competent hematologist.
Suzan peered into the shadows. Vanda had turned off the overhead fluorescents but had left on her desk lamp, perhaps as an act of efficiency or to give the unwanted visitor a subtle hint.
“Mr. Lambert?” Her query stirred movement at the end of the line of chairs. The man had been sitting in the shadows.
Now he rose and approached the doctor. “Yes, I’m Charles Lambert.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Dr. Suzan Dwyer.” She held out her hand in greeting but Charles Lambert ignored her courteous gesture. When he finally emerged from the shadows, Suzan saw a man in his mid to late sixties, certainly not a man in his thirties as Vanda indicated. And if he had been attractive in his younger days, age and circumstances had altered his appearance. Beside the sagging flesh of his chin and throat, he possessed definite lines around his mouth and deeper tracks along his eyes. Beneath his pale, almost translucent skin, ran a network of blue veins. His hair leaned toward gray with the untouched areas matted a dull brown, and his shoulders rolled in to give him a stooped posture.
But Vanda had been correct when she noted his attire—the man wore neat and expensive clothes, a lightweight cream leisure coat, a pastel blue shirt, and form-fitting tan slacks. A platinum Rolex watch hung loosely on his thin wrist.
“Dr. Dwyer,” the man stated in a surprisingly strong voice, “I have come to you out of desperation. Not more than two hours ago, I was thirty-one years old and now I have aged considerably. I know it will be only a matter of hours, not even days, before I become feeble and infirm. Then I will die.”
Suzan frowned. “I don’t understand, Mr. Lambert.”
“I know you think my statement sounds fantastic, but if you hear my story you will understand. My blood was fused with another’s and it has kept me youthful all these many, many years...actually for two centuries. But now my blood no longer sustains me and I come to you to seek help. You see, I am experiencing the reversal of the immortality given me. I need you to diagnose this blood disorder and perhaps find a solution, or even an antidote.”
Suzan tried to be as diplomatic as possible, knowing this had to be a practical joke, although she couldn’t think of a friend or colleague who would go to this length to pull a trick on her. Either that or this man was truly in need of mental health care. “I’m sorry, Mr. Lambert, but I can’t help you unless you have a referral from another doctor. Now I can direct you to a qualified specialist if you believe your problem is blood related. Dr. Brian Goetz is an excellent hematologist—”
“No!” Lambert cut in abruptly. “No one else can help me! I have very little time left. I need you to take a sample of my blood and find out if you can reverse the degenerative process.”
Having had enough of this joke, Suzan took a firm stand. “No, I cannot, Mr. Lambert. You come to me with this farfetched story and you expect me to drop everything so I can examine you. What you suggest takes time and a multitude of testing. But if you say you don’t have much time left, then these tests will be pointless. Surely you can see that.” As she spoke, Suzan reached into the side pocket of her purse and fingered her can of mace just in case Mr. Lambert decided on a physical confrontation. Despite the stooped shoulders and sagging skin, he still possessed a tall frame and some muscle mass left.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to close down the office.” She side stepped toward the desk, ready to pick up the receiver of the phone console and dial 911.
Lambert took a step forward and then paused. With a wistful sigh, he glanced down at his polished ankle boots. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you, Dr. Dwyer. I just thought...well, it doesn’t matter any more.” When he lifted his head, tears rolled down his wrinkled cheeks, his eyes misted an opaque blue.
Although Suzan felt a pang of guilt and remorse, she still had no idea how to help the man. Could he be for real or was he just a good actor? Reaching over, she opened the middle drawer of the desk and took out one of the medical referral cards kept there. This one contained the information for Dr. Brian Goetz. She held out the card. “Here is the phone number for Dr. Goetz. You can call his service and explain your situation. I’m sure the doctor will be willing to return your call and try to help you.”
When Lambert didn’t take the card from her hand, Suzan set it down on the edge of the desk. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to close down the lab and lock up for the evening. The building security guard should be downstairs and will let you out the front door.” She stressed the words security guard so that he understood her ability to call for immediate help.
“So, sorry,” Lambert murmured as he pulled out a monogrammed handkerchief and wiped his eyes and cheeks, “to have troubled you, doctor.” With remarkable dexterity, he spun around and walked quickly toward the door that led to the outer hall.
But just before he left the office, Suzan called out, “Wait, Mr. Lambert! May I have your phone number and your address? I may be able to help...if you give me a little time to look into things and perhaps consult with Dr. Goetz.”
“I live at 654 P Street NW, in Georgetown,” Lambert told her, his back to the door.” But I have very little time left.” With that, he opened the door and disappeared into the darkened hallway.
For a moment, Suzan simply stared at the door that had automatically closed behind him. She gave a start when Vanda came to her side and touched her elbow. “Oh, sorry to startle you, Suze,” the assistant said. “But I couldn’t help listening.” Despite her plan to the contrary, Vanda had huddled by the lab door, opening it a crack to catch every word of the conversation between the determined visitor and her boss.
Now she speculated, “So what do you think? Is the guy shamming or the real deal? Of course, he has an obvious problem besides a blood disorder. The guy looks and sounds certifiably nuts.”
“I just don’t know,” Suzan offered with a slow shake of her head.
“And what about that costume he wore? He must have changed into his old man outfit when I left the office. That wasn’t the Mr. Lambert I talked to earlier. Someone probably hired him to pull a practical joke on you.”
Although she had been thinking along those very lines, Suzan harbored a twinge of doubt. The man’s tears had seemed real enough when she told him she couldn’t help him. But his story! It was too fantastic to believe. Of course, Charles Lambert believed he was immortal, believed his blood had become tainted and now caused him to degenerate rapidly. But immortals belonged in science fiction movies, not in real life. Perhaps she should have referred him to a psychologist friend she knew who could help the poor man with his delusional thoughts. Then again, if this had been a trick... Yet, Suzan couldn’t think of one possible culprit among her friends, acquaintances and colleagues—even her own family—who would concoct something this strange. She certainly didn’t suspect Davis Breen, her live-in lover. Davis had many admirable qualities as well as a sense of humor, but he never acted on impulse or possessed a creative imagination. After all, he was a noted orthopedic surgeon. He studied and repaired bones, even funny bones, not tickled them with off-the-wall jokes and pranks.
But Suzan would tell him of this encounter when she met him for dinner in just thirty minutes. She glanced at the wall clock. Make that five minutes... Retrieving her android phone, she called Davis to let him know she was running just a bit late.
He answered on the second ring. “Hello, darling, I’m here at the bar, waiting for you.” This morning he had proposed dinner at Cavetto’s, a nice Italian restaurant in Rockville and not too far from where they lived. But Suzan worked at the Institute of Allied Health Services in Arlington which was south of the Potomac and across town from the restaurant. She would have to hustle if she wanted to join her mate within a respectable time frame.
“I’m sorry, Davis, but I just had an encounter with a strange man who came in the office this afternoon and waited for me. Well, I’ll tell you all about it at dinner. I’m running a bit behind but I should be with you in about twenty to thirty minutes. Can you wait that long?”
He chuckled. “Darling, I’ve been waiting for you for the last two years. A few more minutes won’t hurt.” Suzan could take his statement two ways: either he had to wait for her since she always seemed to be running late whenever they made plans, or Davis had been waiting for her to make a commitment, as in marriage. She opted for the latter and hoped that was what he meant.