Chapter Twenty-Six: Henrietta Goes To Work
Richard led Christine and Lydia to the mezzanine level, as he said he would. But he had no intention of taking them to his assessment area. Instead they walked a little further down the hallway until they came to another department.
The doctor spoke to the assistant who met them at the door.
“Tell Mr. Healey I’m here. There are some people who wish to have a chat with him.”
Naturally, anyone wanting to speak with the hospital’s administrator would have to book an appointment. But as it was Dr. Lawson, the assistant quickly went off to check on Mr. Healey’s availability.
She tapped on the door before entering. “Excuse me Mr. Healey. Dr. Lawson is here with two women. I don’t know if you know anything about this?”
Paul Healey’s head emerged from the side of his computer. “Oh - yes. Thank you,” he replied. “Please let them in. There’s no need to be surprised, Hazel, I was expecting them.”
Indeed, Dr. Lawson had contacted him earlier about some hoaxers who were bothering the Daleys and their sick baby. And as Richard had quite rightly pointed out, it was up to his department and not the medical staff to sort out matters of this kind. If there were going to be any media stunts or shenanigans at this hospital, it wasn’t going to happen under his watch - that much was for certain!
Paul Healey cleared his throat. Oh yes! He was more than ready for them...
Christine and Lydia were led into an ornate-looking reception area. The suite had the feel of an old drawing room, with stately portraits of the hospital’s preceding patrons peering down on them from both sides of the walls.
Richard motioned for them to sit down.
Paul Healey suddenly appeared from around the corner. Lydia made to stand up. She was about to introduce Christine and herself but Richard suddenly cut in. “Ladies. I have bought you to the attention of Paul Healey, a very important person. He is the hospital’s administrator.” He paused, “If any of you have any pressing grievances or concerns you would like to bring to the fore, they will need to be taken up with him, and him alone.”
On hearing this Lydia tried to intervene but the doctor continued. “For various reasons I am not required to be present for this meeting - as I’m sure you can understand. Being, myself, a senior medic at this extremely busy hospital, I am currently on call and juggling - what could only be described - as an exceedingly demanding work schedule. So, if you will excuse me…”
“But wait!” Lydia shot out. Her request fell on deaf ears.
Richard continued. “And, if there is indeed anything to investigate,” he threw Paul a look of mock exhaustion. “Then, I believe this will be taken up through the right channels. I’m sure you both can respect the hospital’s policy in regards to this matter. Have a good day all. Paul?” He nodded to the administrator who nodded right back. Then without further ado, Richard left the room.
“He needs to be here!” Lydia demanded turning around to face the administrator. “Why did you let him go? Listen. We are not going to be fobbed off! I know how this must look to you, Mr. Healey, but this is not a hoax I can assure you.” Her hazel-green eyes shone fiercely like an angry tiger.
The administrator let out a long sigh and looked at his watch. “I’m glad you’re both seated. I’ve asked for baby Tobey’s parents to join us. They should be along any minute now. I understand it was them who sought out…Christine Shore?” he said, looking from Christine to Lydia. He didn’t know who was who, making it quite clear to the women that he had no intention of taking anything they had to say seriously. It didn’t matter to him. He shrugged “Let me tell you ladies.” He adjusted his cufflinks, “right now, you’re in one of the oldest hospitals in the capital. Its stellar reputation precedes itself, as I’m sure you are well aware of. The services we have provided span over a 100 years and is rival to none. But I make no bones about it; it is everyone’s continuous hard work and commitment that has got us to this level thus far.” He stopped to look from Lydia to Christine.
“We set extremely high standards here at St Margaret’s Hospital Trust. So you can imagine the immense pressure our members of staff are under, the medics more so,” he said breathing in heavily. “As the hospital’s chief administrator my job is to cultivate an environment where all of them are able to meet with these exceedingly high standards,” he briefly paused. “This means providing a space where they can conduct their work, free from any hassle, violence or harassment of any kind.”
“Oh please Mr. Healey!” Lydia groaned. “Spare us the corporate spiel! Babies are mysteriously dying at this hospital. Or have these colossal incidences somehow escaped your notice?” she leaned forward.
“If, once in a while, you stuck your head out from under the parapet and actually did some research of your own, you might find that something rather suspicious has been going on here.” She let out a derisive chuckle. “Please, Mr. Healey. Do tell me. Just what exactly are you telling the parents who’ve lost their babies? Are you saying these deaths are natural?”
Her eyes flashed. “You think this is a hoax? I strongly suggest you start making some major enquiries, or it is you - and not those who you claim to look after - who might find himself under immense pressure.”
“What? Are you going to take this to the papers or something?” He jeered. “I hate to remind you ladies but people are extremely busy. I’m sure journalists hear stories like the one you’re fabricating, every day, and to no avail.”
“Oh, but you see Mr. Healey, being the younger sister of Stephanie Downes - yes. The movie actress garnering the right kind of press attention will not be a problem for me. I’m not talking about a side column on a local newspaper, here. Think more like the top bulletin on the Six O’clock news.”
Lydia was of course bluffing. She had never used her sister’s celebrity status to obtain anything. She found she never needed to. But maybe this occasion might prove to be the exception.
“I see.” Mr. Healey said. He had his uncaring eyes fixed on her. “And tell me Stephanie Downes little sister. Where is your evidence?”
“Like I said, why don’t you do some research of your own? Some of these babies did not die from natural causes. Dr. Lawson is conducting some kind of experiment - right here under your noses - and you don’t seem to care!”
He straightened up. “Look. Let me just correct you there!” He began to drum his index finger on top of the finely chiselled oak desk. “I care about everything that happens in this hospital – you understand, that’s my job!”
“Then please do it!”
“I am,” he replied. He was calm again. “And just as formalities dictate, if you have any serious grievances I’ll be more than willing to give them their due consideration, if you could kindly put it all down…in writing.” His rigid smile said it all. Lydia had never wanted to swipe the grin off anyone’s face as much as she wanted to do so now.
Just then there was a light knock at the door. Kelly and Robert were escorted into the room.
“Good afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. Daley. Glad you could make it.”
He quickly ushered them into their seats. “I’m really sorry to have to call you in today. But, this has only just been brought to my attention. You see, I understand you have given these women visitation rights to your baby?”
“Yes. We have,” Kelly answered. “Is there something the matter?”
“It appears they have a grievance with one of our senior medics on staff. And going by formalities, we have to suspend any further visitations to baby Tobey by Ms. Shore and Ms. Downes.”
Lydia gave the administrator a simmering look, duly noting the mis-referencing of her surname. Paul continued. “Well, at least until this matter has been cleared up. And as we all know this won’t be too long since concurrently…” He mumbled, “Baby Tobey will be taken off medication at the end of this week.”
Christine turned to Kelly. “Kelly! Didn’t you say anything? Can’t you delay?”
It was Robert who answered her. “Christine. Our son is on his last legs, I know you can see that.” She tried to interrupt him but he continued. “We can’t do this anymore. He can’t do this anymore. It’s been hard for us to face this but we have to let him go.”
“It’s not what he wants,” Christine pleaded.
“Even if it isn’t, although he’s in here, we haven’t stopped being his parents. We have to do what’s best for him.”
There was silence. It seemed to go on forever. It also seemed like a moment for conceding. Christine looked up at the administrator. “Mr. Healey. Believe me. My friend Lydia really does have the clout to take this to a whole new level. But…I don’t want this to be the case.” She sighed. “Since Tobey will not be with us for much longer, I don’t want to waste precious time dealing with this. So I say, right now, no more will be said in regards to Dr. Lawson.” Christine’s hand shot up to fend Lydia’s protests. “Please,” she continued. “Overlook everything that has just been said.”
Paul Healey began to object, “I’m not sure that…”
“Look. If you can overlook, we can overlook.” She said without wavering.
This wasn’t his idea of a truce but at least he didn’t lose face. They hadn’t called his bluff, dare he rock the boat now? God knows the last thing he needed was more media attention being directed at the hospital, especially, when a resolution for the baby Tobey saga was now in sight. And besides, he reasoned, before he could make a decision he needed to have a word with Susan Graham. She was the eyes and ears of that ward. He couldn’t make any concrete decisions. Not until he had conferred with her first.
Paul Healey didn’t quite say yes, to Christine’s request, and he didn’t quite say no, either. Therefore, as no official line of action had been drawn up, the women were still free to keep on seeing the baby as the parents so wished.
Instead, Paul made sure to collect Christine and Lydia’s contact details before allowing them to leave. He also personally assured them that he would be in touch, just as soon as he had convened with the other officiating members of the ward.
And that was the end of that murky episode! Paul thought with relief. But as for himself, his meeting with the Matron couldn’t come soon enough.
It was Tuesday and Dr. Lawson was not down for the late shift. As soon as his duty had ended, he zoomed out of the hospital grounds in the same frenzy as the causalities that piled into A&E on a Saturday night.
Richard had originally planned to make a brief stop at Paul Healey’s office. He wanted to ask the annoying administrator how his meeting with the hoaxers went. But Richard didn’t do that. Neither did he make his scheduled call to his contact at Diligence. For the moment, all Richard was concerned about was being sat within the four walls of his home - preferably in his lab - so he could think long and hard about his next move…
There was only one more specimen he needed to collect and it was due this Thursday.
I need to be there to collect that specimen!
He clenched his jaw. With sweat creeping down his temples Richard recalled a conversation from the past.
‘Now, tell us doctor. Just how much time do you need?’
Richard gave a rough estimation. ‘You do understand,’ he further explained to the voice down the line, ‘to avoid suspicion, these mortalities need to appear few and far between. Everything has to be done to assure my culpability.’
‘Yes. I see what you mean,’ replied the voice on the other end. ‘We’ll go along with the best time frame for you. Just let us know when you’re ready to begin so that we can start making the necessary arrangements.’
On that particular occasion, Richard did not speak to his usual contact - Bernard.
The voice on the other end claimed to be a bio-technician also assigned to the project. There was no reason for Richard to doubt this for the person did, indeed, impart some vital knowledge on the subject area. But there was an air to his voice...Richard quietly suspected he was talking to the brains of this entire operation…
Nevertheless the order was simple: Diligence had requested the stem cells of twenty live fetuses. No more. No less. And no further explanation was given - and who was he to argue? The study they were all involved in was bigger than them all. The results found in the testing of these stem cells could very well lead to the discovery of the century.
Richard had invested so much time and effort into this project. Likewise, the same could be said of Diligence. He’d be a fool to walk away from it now. There was no way he could do that. He had a job to do. It was within his reach - he could do it!
And the money?
Richard wiped his mouth as he went over the figures in his head.
Ever since he was assigned to the project, every month, a steady flow of cash had been deposited into his bank account - just as Diligence had promised. And of course, he had hungrily dove into it; quickly filtering the money into the stock markets and financing his costly laboratory.
But now two years on - and here he was, two days away from finalizing his side of the bargain.
And now this accusation…
The spotlight would, no doubt, be turned on him. Under these circumstances, it would be reckless of him to continue with this project. Actually - it would be pure folly! For if investigated he could stand to lose everything; not only his medical license but his freedom too.
Richard shook his head. As fickle as the public could be, he was certain they wouldn’t take too kindly to a baby-killer. Not even if everything that had been carried out, had been done purely in the name of progress.
Why won’t they see this? Are people that clueless about the process of experimentation? For God’s sake! What do people really believe? That we fully share the genetic make-up of a rabbit? - Give me strength! Can they not see? At some point, a guinea pig will not be enough. Eventually human beings will need to be tested on, and the industry has always found stealthy ways to do this...It’s not ideal - but that’s life! And life is not fair. It never has been. Because not all human beings are equal – as nature clearly dictates. The very fingers on our hands are testament to this. Not everything is equal! When it comes to the matter of ability, some people will be useful to the world, and some will be – well…useful to others. Call it exploitation, as you will, but it’s a fixed chain of command, and one which was certainly not invented by the present age. The strong dominate, and the wise - win. Why should the most progressive of us be blamed for this?
Richard was sick to death of hearing from the moralist brigade. Scientists should not be dragged over the coals for doing their duty, no more than a manager, for following the whims of the director, or the director for obeying the CEO’s protocol. If things were put in order, everything else had to work for the good of that order. Experimentation was for the good of that order!
There will always be big fishes that eat little fishes, and yet, the ocean will always have fish of every size…
That was the way of the world and that was okay by Richard, he could live with that.
Yet the young doctor remained flustered. He looked down at his hands which were now folded together like an old-fashioned steeple.
Why was he sat here trying to justify his actions, anyway? This was ludicrous! Of course he was not going to abort the mission. This was his goal – his dream! And he was just too close to walk away from it now.
And even if he wanted to, he couldn’t just stop what he was doing. Diligence didn’t look like the kind of operation that would accept an apology and let bygones be bygones. There would be serious repercussions if he did not hold up to his end of the bargain. Serious repercussions...
But this situation with the baby-whisperer? He mused. This woman was bound to draw more attention. If not now, then after he made his final collection, when another mortality was announced…
‘Come on Richard!’ He spurred himself on. The sweat began to cool on his forehead but he was still nowhere near to sorting out his quandary. He had to think.
‘What do I do?’
Henrietta briefly scanned her reflection in her car window. She was wearing her favourite black body wrap dress and the highest heels in her shoe collection.
Henrietta was feeling particularly confident today. Not because she looked better - than her usual best. But because she knew something. And Richard did not know that she knew…
‘Oh. How sad am I?’ Henrietta smiled to herself feeling a little ridiculous on realizing that she was being empowered by something as minute as gossip.
She teetered towards Richard’s front door as quickly as her heels would allow.
On one of her rare visits, Richard had taken Henrietta to a large clearance space in the attic. From the arrangement of the room, it looked like a self-made laboratory complete with florescent lighting and futuristic scientific appliances, which was stationed in every part of the room.
Seeing this had made Henrietta smile. She was finally getting a glimpse of the man behind his reticent façade. Henrietta could see his work, his research, meant a great deal to him even though he did his best not to let it show.
During these rare trips to his lab/office Richard would talk about aspects of their job and ask her questions on the latest research papers. Much to Henrietta’s annoyance she found it was always work with Richard. Whether he was bitching about decisions by the board of trustees, or the ordering of new office appliances. His focus was solely on the work.
But this was not his only passion, Henrietta soon discovered. This self-made laboratory of his, conveyed much more of his persona. Henrietta perceived that Richard saw himself as a pioneer - an expert of sorts. It was a characteristic which Henrietta didn’t quite mind so much. She liked ambitious men.
However, right now Henrietta could see Richard was not himself this evening. No quick trips to his lab, no discussions about work and no bottle of wine chilling in the fridge. Instead they ate dinner in relative silence.
“I’m going to have a bath tonight,” Richard announced as they were getting ready for bed.
“Would you like me to join you?”
“No. Not tonight. And no need to wait up for me either, I’ll be gone awhile.”
“More like an hour,” she said jokingly, “you take ages when you have a bath, what do you do in there?”
He smiled briefly, “I catch up on my reading,” he said without looking at her, “You know, zone out for a bit.”
“I bet you do,” she replied recalling the bottle of pills she had once seen in the medicine cabinet. However the next time she had a snoop around she saw they had been removed.
“You can join me next time Etta, I promise,” he said tossing the towel over his shoulder before leaving the room.
After ten minutes had passed, Henrietta crept out of the bed and tiptoed towards the doorway. She caught a glimpse of herself in the long mirrored wardrobe. She was wearing her soft, peach negligee. It was a recent purchase. Since being invited to stay over at Richard’s she had never repeated her night clothes. It was another aching reminder that she was still only his guest, and not his girlfriend. She wondered if this would ever change.
The door was partly opened, wide enough for Henrietta to slip her thin frame through.
The bathroom was situated next to the flight of stairs leading to the attic. She had to be very careful. She hoped to God there were no creaking steps. She couldn’t imagine what she would do if the bathroom door suddenly swung open and Richard was there, catching her in the act of sneaking up towards his special lab. She would do more than die of embarrassment that was for sure...
The tightly winding stairways lead straight into the only room at the top - Richard’s pristinely-maintained laboratory.
As soon as she stepped into the space beams of light suddenly flooded the room. It appeared the lab was installed with a sensor light switch. Henrietta hadn’t noticed that before. She looked behind her. All was quiet.
All around her lay petri dishes, thermometers and microscopes, of various sizes. And there were also bits of paper spewed across all three of his expansive work counters. Henrietta suddenly felt like a kid in a petting zoo, she didn’t know which exhibit to inspect first. But then her wandering eyes suddenly fell on his computer. It was positioned at the far side of the room and judging from the slight humming sound, it was still on.
She stood still and listened. There was nothing. All was quiet.
Henrietta allowed herself to breathe again.
Richard would still be in the bath she hadn’t been gone that long.
With great ease Henrietta gently pulled up the seat and sat herself down in front of Richard’s computer. She scanned the keyboard. As soon as she struck a key, the swirling screensaver gave way to Richard’s jam-packed desktop.
‘Aaahhh,’ she jumped, she didn’t mean to sigh out loud. She double-clicked on the email icon. Instantly, rows and rows of emails filed across the screen. They all appeared to be from the same company.
Diligence. Who are they? She frowned. Well there’s no point in gawping at it girl! Henrietta immediately began reading from the top. Luckily for her she was a very adept skim reader, and that evening she used it to her fullest ability.
Henrietta jumped from one correspondent to the next. There was too much for her to take in; each one giving more engrossing details about what Richard had been up to over the last two years.
This was explosive! She gasped. And it explained everything!
She needed evidence of this…
It was a silly idea, or so she thought, but she decided to head back down to the bedroom. She needed to get to her handbag. Inside it there was a floppy disc. It didn’t hold much data on it except a copy of her CV and some research articles. But as a graduate, and ever since, she had never left home without it.
What am I doing? She briefly agonized…
What if he cuts his bath short?
What if he comes to his lab?
What if he catches me downloading from his computer?
What if? Never gets you anywhere! She chided. She knew she just had to do it!
Henrietta slipped out of the chair and slowly made her way back down the winding stairwell. A few moments ago - when she had curiously tiptoed up them - she was only intrigued with Richard’s preoccupation with this so called baby-whisperer. But things were very different now. What she had just read had absolutely nothing to do with another woman – this was much worse! Her heart was thumping so hard it shook the flimsy garment she was wearing.
Richard was not the aspiring scientist/medical pioneer she had previously believed him to be. Richard had, quite, simply, lost his mind!
He couldn’t be all there, she realized with horror.
How could he be? What he was doing - or being asked to do - was beyond horrifying! Let alone to think about the criminal and moral ramifications involved in this entire project!
Before this revelation she thought she had some understanding of who Richard was. But now she just felt queasy.
What kind of a person would do this?
Someone without a heart Henrietta, and you should know…
As soon as she entered the bedroom, she quickly seized her bag and rummaged through each compartment until her hand fell upon the floppy disc.
With the jagged four corners placed firmly in her grasp she ventured back out onto the landing, and there she waited for a while...
Did she have enough time to bolt back upstairs and copy everything onto her disc?
Or should she just climb back into bed and wait for another opportunity to present itself?
Again, she wasn’t sure what to do. But she knew she wouldn’t be able to confront Richard about this, not until she had the evidence in her possession.
Yet if she waited who’s to say when the next opportunity will arise? It could be two or three weeks before he’d extend an invitation for her to spend the night. She couldn’t wait that long. She needed to talk to him about this - now!
Her underarms were slippery with perspiration and her negligee clung to her like a second skin. Henrietta breathed out and ventured back up the winding staircase. But this time she did everything with haste.
As soon as she sat down in front of the computer she knew she had made the right decision.
With her ears cocked, and eyes darting from the entrance back to the screen, Henrietta quickly began to copy and paste as much as she was able…
Five minutes after she had climbed back into bed Richard sauntered into the bedroom.
She could hear the chaffing sound the towel made as it rubbed against his athletic build. The enticing scent of lavender and burnt wood gradually pervaded the air. She deeply breathed him in. She couldn’t help it, her body betrayed her. Although pleasing to her senses, her stomach churned with everything she had recently discovered about the man.
But in spite of her better judgement, she planned to reason with him.
Maybe she could help him, somehow. Help him stop this madness! This was not who he was. Well, at least, she didn’t think he was.
Oh my God Henrietta you’re sleeping with a mass murderer!
She continued to listen to him readying himself for bed.
To Richard it would seem like Henrietta was sound asleep, but that was the last thing Henrietta could do right now. She didn’t move. Not even when he leaned in to take a long look at her. She laid still but kept up with her timely breathing. Her eyes were sealed but her mind was far from asleep. And Henrietta would stay that way until the sun came up.
Once he had put on his night clothes Richard didn’t immediately climb into bed with her, but quietly slipped out of the room and went up to his lab.
Henrietta held her breath...