In a city of grandiose buildings, St. Mercy Hospital stands in its own class. As a general rule, no building is supposed to stand taller than the highest church spire in any given city. While that rule no longer completely applies, as businesses are developing so quickly, it is still generally favored by the public. The people who built St. Mercy, however, were very traditional. And that meant that they had a problem. In order to build the hospital as large as they needed to, they would need to build up. But if they built up, they would pass the tallest church spire. So they reached a compromise.
In addition to being a hospital, St. Mercy is first and foremost, a cathedral. High gothic architecture predominates the entire outside perimeter of the building, covering the sides in stained glass windows and rain guzzling stone gargoyles. Religious icons blaze their way across the entirety of the building, which reaches, at its highest points, about a hundred feet tall.
The cab dropped me off at the front doors, which were made of gold plated squares depicting various symbols and icons of nearly every religious text known to man. Despite the massive weight, the doors open at the slightest push. Once inside I found myself in a large waiting room. Directly across from me were the doors that led down into the nave where the Sunday services were held. To my left were large swinging doors that led to the hospital portion of the building, which took up a great deal of space, including the floors above the nave. To the right was a single door that led to the employees only section of the hospital, as well as a glassed off reception desk where nurses checked people in and out.
Even though it was now after curfew, if only by a few minutes, the waiting room was fairly full. Injury and sickness rarely pays attention to the rules of man. I made my way to the counter and waited for a nurse to have time to speak to me. The woman was old, her tightly curled hair so gray it was almost blue, and she wore a bright pink uniform. “Name?” She asked in a crisp, professional voice.
“Jake Malone.” I responded easily.
“Symptoms?” She asked, not looking up.
“Actually I’m here to see someone.” I told her.
She put her pencil down and looked up at me. “Visiting hours are over. You’re welcome to come back tomorrow.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible.” I said politely.
“Then come back the day after that.” She replied curtly. “Next!”
A young man holding his arm tightly to his chest began to step forward, but I didn’t move. “It’s very important I get to see her.” I told the woman.
“Then you should have come earlier.” The old lady replied bluntly. “Next!”
I took a deep breath and gave the kid with a broken arm a look that stopped him in his tracks. Looking back at the old nurse I did my best to contain myself. “I am relatively certain that by tomorrow I won’t be around to see her, and this is important. All I need to know, is the room she’s in, and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Come back tomorrow.” The nurse replied, emphasizing each word, “Or I’ll call security, and see to it you don’t come back at all.”
My eyes blazed in anger, and I debated ripping the collar of my jacket down so that she could see the marks on my neck, but I didn’t get the chance. A voice from the past suddenly asked from behind the window, “Jake?”
I snapped my eyes up to look at the woman who had spoken and felt my anger washed away as if someone had dumped a bucket full of ice cold guilt down my back. “Claire?” I asked, dumbfounded. Claire was five and a half feet tall, with a medium frame. Her brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and her glasses were too large for her face. The once bright pink of her nurse’s uniform had dulled with time to the point where it was nearly the same color as her skin, making it appear as if she were walking naked through the hospital if you only took a quick glance at her. She was also the sister of my dead wife, Mary.
“Stay right there!” She ordered with a smile, “I’ll be right out!”
Claire dropped off the files she was carrying, then hurried back out the door that led into the glassed off enclosure. I noticed that the old nurse was glaring at me as she called out, “Next!” again, in an exasperated tone. I quickly moved out of the way so that the next few people in line could be told to hurry up and wait for a doctor.
Claire came out of the employee doors a few moments later and, before I could stop her, ran up to me and caught me in a big hug, pinning my arms to my side. “I haven’t seen you in ages!” She exclaimed. “How are you?”
“Fine?” I replied uncertain. “I guess. A lot’s happened the last day or so.”
She dropped the hug slowly and took a good look at me. “What happened to your face?” She demanded, holding a hand up just a hair away from touching me.
“Knife fight with John Rider.”
“Not that.” She chastised. “Everyone knows about that. I meant the bruises.”
“Bruises?” I asked, rubbing a hand across my face. It hurt. “Oh. Forehead is from a wooden fence, and jaw is from a sucker punch right before the wooden fence.”
She made a tsking sound through her teeth. “Come with me.” She said, taking my hand. “I’ll get some ointment on it or something.”
“I don’t really need anything.” I protested as she pulled me through the hospital doors. “Really, they’re just bruises, they’ll fade.”
“Of course they will.” She informed me as the doors to the waiting room closed behind us. “But you’re here to see someone, and that was the fastest way to get you away from Deloris.”
“Oh!” I replied lamely. “Good thinking. And how did you know why I was here?”
“Are you hurt?” She asked with a smile.
“Well, no, not really.”
“Did you come to see me?” She continued, hardly waiting for me to respond, arching an eyebrow at me.
“Uh, no. No offense, of course.”
“Then you’re here to see a patient.” She smiled, letting me know I hadn’t hurt her feelings in any way. “After visiting hours, of course.” She continued. “And after curfew. If Chief Rider hears about this he’ll hang you out to dry.”
“Bah.” I grunted. “If he wants to do that, he’ll have plenty of opportunity later.”
She gave me a look as if waiting for me to explain, but when I didn’t she simply shrugged and asked, “So who are you here to see?”
“A girl named June Hammond.” I told her.
Claire stopped walking so suddenly that I’d gone a few steps before I even noticed. When I looked back she caught up with me quickly and continued on as if nothing had happened, leading me to an elevator. “Why her?” Claire asked curiously.
“A lot of reasons.” I replied, rubbing my hand through my hair. “None of which I can really explain right now.”
Claire tilted her head to her side and studied me. “Her mom is your client?” She asked.
“She was. And how did you figure that out?”
“I know you.” She shrugged. “You don’t talk about your cases, and when you’re on them, you’ll go to any lengths to…” She stopped talking for a second and gave me a horrified look. “Did you say that her mother was your client? As in past tense?”
I cursed myself lightly for the slip of the tongue before sighing and nodding. She put both hands over her heart, as if my nod had hurt her terribly, “Oh my. That’s just awful.”
I nodded glumly and put my arm around her. “I know.” I said quietly.
“But that’s not all.” She said, resting her head lightly against my shoulder for a second before stepping away to look at me more closely. “What aren’t you saying?”
“Since when did you get to be so perceptive?” I asked, squinting at her.
“Occupational hazard.” She replied dryly. “People have died before, and you’ve never gone to see their family members.”
Okay, ouch. She had a point. When Mary had been killed I shut myself away from everyone, including Mary’s family. In the last few years I don’t think I’ve seen any of them since Mary and Ben’s funeral. I wasn’t avoiding them, exactly, but I didn’t go out of my way to visit either. “I can’t really explain it right now.” I said, holding up a hand when she started to protest. “It’s complicated. I just… need to see her.”
“Is she yours?” Claire asked jealously. “Did you sleep with some other woman while with my sister, and now you’re visiting your secret daughter?”
I couldn’t stop myself. I laughed. “No!” I choked out a moment later. “I never cheated on Mary. And June isn’t mine. Though she’s still family. Sort of. Okay not technically.”
She stared at me as I made less and less sense. “Okay…” She replied, dragging out the word as the elevator doors opened on the fifth floor. “That certainly cleared everything up.”
“Like I said, complicated.” I told her.
She nodded thoughtfully and led me through the maze of well-marked hallways. After nearly ten minutes she finally stopped outside a large viewing window and pointed. “She’s in there.” She informed me. “You can’t go in though.”
“Why not?” I asked, looking into the window. A small girl, only six or so, as I knew she’d be, was lying on a small hospital bed. Her hair, the same black as her mother’s, was long and straight, placed to the side of her head to keep it out of the way. Tubes ran into her nose and arms, helping keep her alive and breathing. Her limbs were thin and gaunt, as if she were half starved, and her skin was a deep golden color. Not the color of a tan, exactly, but as if her skin itself were dark gold. Her chest rose and fell slowly, and out of rhythm, as she breathed, and her eyes fluttered under her closed lids, as if she were dreaming.
“Because the doctors don’t know what’s wrong with her.” Claire replied sadly. “They have her on every antibiotic they can think of, but nothing is working. At this rate the medicine will destroy her kidneys and liver before they can help her.”
“They have no clue?” I demanded, my eyes wide.
“None at all.” She told me, her voice still sad. “They originally thought the golden color of her skin was some kind of jaundice, but the tests were negative, and the light treatment didn’t do anything to help. As for the rest of her, her symptoms don’t match up with any known disease. She isn’t in a coma, but she won’t wake up, her systems are failing one by one, and her blood type has a strange marker to it that doesn’t match up with any known blood type. The doctors are trying to kill whatever parasite is attacking her blood, but so far…”
“But so far, nothing.” I finished for her. “How long has she been here?”
“A couple of weeks. But if her conditions don’t improve in the next couple of days, there won’t be anything modern medicine can do for her.”
I felt a piece of me break inside, and I leaned hard against the window. “There has to be something…” I muttered.
“If you can find it,” Claire told me seriously, “Then there’s still time. But with no cure working…”
Susan Hammond’s voice suddenly came into my head: ’It is so black, in fact, that they say light cannot escape it, which creates a small black aura around it. It is said to have special healing properties that my…’ She hesitated for a second, ‘friend, needs very badly.’
It wasn’t much to go on, but if the Moonstone had the power to heal this little girl, then that meant I was back on the case. I turned and walked away, back towards the elevators. “Where are you going?” Claire called out as she hurried to catch up with me.
“To finish my case.” I told her quietly. ‘And to find the thing that will hopefully cure my niece.’ I thought glumly.