It was a sunny Thursday morning and Steve, with Jaime matching strides, ran along the track at 75% full speed, flashing an occasional smile at one another. Jaime was in Washington for her annual testing and Rudy had recently added an upgrade to Steve’s legs.
The former astronaut was excited that Jaime had come to Washington, seeing more and more of her over the recent months. He was still in disbelief that they were getting as romantically involved as they were. Almost a year ago when he said goodbye and watched her leave with Michael Marchetti in his red MG to travel to the Colorado facility Steve thought he had lost her forever. He was well aware of Michael’s romantic interest in her and her memory loss was not in Steve’s favor, but because he loved her so deeply he let her go, not holding out much hope for her return.
Jaime had said, at the time of their goodbye, she wasn’t any good for anyone until she found out who she was. With Rudy and Michael’s later surgery she was able to regain some of her memories. It was only after spending some time with Steve in Ojai that she really began to have feelings for him again. The revelation elated him. Any downtime in his work schedule he could be found in Ojai, usually with Jaime.
Rudy checked the readouts as his subjects circled around, everything was normal with both of them. He stepped out of the mobile unit and watched the pair slowing to a stop. He smiled as the couple laughed and teased one another, destiny seemingly pulling the two longtime friends together again. Rudy couldn’t have been happier for them.
During a break the trio entered the lab to find Dr. Marchetti working on his own project. Steve and Jaime greeted him and he responded in kind, giving Jaime a warm hug and shaking Steve’s hand.
Steve watched the physical exchange between Michael and Jaime and his body tensed knowing how close he came to losing Jaime to the suave doctor. Now he wondered how Michael felt about Jaime leaving Colorado and returning to Ojai. He also wondered if Michael knew his and Jaime’s relationship was almost back to where it was before her skydiving accident.
Jaime pulled back from the hug with some unease. She knew Michael wanted her with him but she wasn’t romantically attracted to him. She glanced at Steve but was unable to read his face. Stepping back she stood close to Steve wanting to give the impression it was him she wanted to be with. Michael just smiled politely.
“I heard you two have been catching up with each other. That’s great.” He said happily.
Steve and Jaime glanced at one another not sure how to respond. Jaime replied for them both. “Ah….we have been getting better acquainted. Haven’t we Steve?”
“Yes, yes we have.”
“Well I’m happy for you both.” Michael smiled and turned back to his desk. As if it was a second thought he turn back around and pulled an envelope from his pocket. “Oh Jaime…. I wanted to give this to you as a belated birthday gift. I hope its not too late notice.”
Jaime took the offering and opened the card. It spoke of friendship and wished her a happy birthday. Inside the card were three tickets to US Open Tennis Tournament at Forest Hills. Jaime’s eyes grew wide with excitement.
“You got three tickets to the Open? How? It’s been sold out for months.” The former world class tennis player beamed with enthusiasm.
“Well I do have connections in high places. So can you still make it this weekend?” He asked knowing the tickets were for Friday evening through Sunday and it was already Thursday morning.
“Sure! I mean how can I not go?” She looked at Steve then back to Michael. “You will come with us won’t you?”
Michael smiled. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
Steve watched Michael, getting an unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach. The OSI agent suspected Michael was up to something but he couldn’t be sure. Maybe the doctor had changed his feeling for Jaime. Not being one to judge too quickly Steve decided to wait out the situation.
Steve put on the most genuine smile he could muster. “How about I fly us up tomorrow, say about noon?”
Jaime smiled. “That would be great.”
”Sure Steve. That would save us a lot of driving time.” Steve nodded in agreement.
Rudy stepped up to the group. “Well if this little party is over I need you two back to work”.
Jaime winked at Steve. “Always the slave driver isn’t he?”
“Always.” Steve concurred with a wink and Rudy frowned, feigning his hurt.
Michael sat back at his desk and watched out the window as the trio headed back to the track infield. He couldn’t wait to get Jaime alone. Coming to a stand he grabbed his coat and exited the lab. It was time to make the necessary preparations for his weekend.
Steve was home alone relaxing after dinner with Jaime. He grabbed the file Oscar had given him on International Cooperation for Space Exploration and a glass of milk before settling on the couch. He wanted to catch up on the latest plans on a project Oscar wanted him involved in. It wasn’t long after he opened the file that he started to get drowsy, the papers dropping onto his chest. When his head dropped he snapped awake not realizing how tired he was.
Placing the file on the coffee table he ambled to the kitchen and placed his empty glass in the sink. Rubbing his face he yawned and moved off to the bedroom. Within minutes he was undressed and slipping under the soft blankets. Clicking off the light he was instantly asleep.
Before the sun rose above the blackness Steve, in a groggy state, thought he sensed another presence in the room. He tried opening his eyes but wasn’t able to. The feeling both angered and terrified him. He was lying on his back, his limp body feeling like lead, when he thought the bed dropped with added weight.
The most he could do was roll his head slightly towards that side. He couldn’t figure out why his body ignored his commands to move but was familiar with this type of dream, needing to run and the legs don’t move or wanting to scream but no sound comes out. He was surprised when he felt the blankets being pushed aside and a sharp pinch on his skin along his left side.
He felt his life was in danger but was held immobile by an unknown force. Quickly the darkness descended and he was lost in it once again. A low voice broke the silence but only Steve’s unconscious mind registered the message. “She’s mine Steve. You should have just stayed away.”
Steve barely made it to Rudy’s lab on time Friday morning, looking like he hadn’t slept all night. The physician immediately saw the haggard look. “Are you alright Steve?”
“Yeah Rudy.” He replied while pouring himself some coffee. “I just didn’t sleep very well last night….had a really strange dream.”
”Want to talk about it?” He asked pouring a cup for himself.
Steve replied with a smile. “No. Thanks anyway.” The two stood in companionable silence, enjoying their morning dose of caffeine.
Rudy finally set himself on the corner of his desk and touched on what concerned him.
“Steve, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go to New York.” The brown head snapped up along with an eyebrow.
“Why not Rudy?” He asked moving towards the window. His body felt tired and fatigued. “It’s only for a few days.”
“It’s only been 36 hours since your upgrade. I’d like to keep a close eye on you over the next few days.”
Steve turned to face his friend careful not to show his discomfort of not feeling like himself. The OSI agent knew Rudy would quickly force his hand and keep him in Washington if he knew, leaving Michael to take Jaime to New York. “Rudy, Jaime’s is very excited to be going to the Open. It’s all she could talk about at dinner last night.”
“I didn’t say Jaime shouldn’t go. I’m saying that you shouldn’t be going.” The response caused Steve to turn swiftly back to the window, not wanting to show his emotions. The doctor immediately noticed the stiff posture as Steve remained at the window. “Steve I’m sure Michael will take good care of her.”
Steve felt a gnawing in his gut as the words drifted across the small room. He had angry words floating in his head, some making it to his mouth before he knew he said them out loud. “I’m sure he will.”
Rudy carefully observed his patient. When he heard the words spoken he realized Steve’s concern. He let a smile grow on his face. “I don’t believe it.”
The statement caused the former astronaut to turn around. “What?”
“I’ve known you for well over a decade and this is the first time I’ve ever seen this side of you.” The smile under the mustache was barely hidden, enjoying Steve’s confusion.
“What you talking about?”
“You’re jealous aren’t you? You don’t want Jaime and Michael alone…in New York.”
Initially Steve nodded once in negation then spun back towards the window. He thought a moment, a little surprised he could be read so easily. Finally he responded with a voice low and controlled. “Wouldn’t you be if you were me?”
Rudy considered the question. “Maybe, considering their relationship after Jaime’s coma but she’s different now, Steve. She’s emotionally stable and very much in love with you. Are you saying you don’t trust her?”
Steve spun and took a faltering step towards Rudy. “It’s not Jaime I don’t trust.” His hand dropped down to unconsciously rub his thigh, the odd sensations were increasing. He wanted to tell Rudy but held back. The doctor was not that distracted.
”Steve is there something wrong?” The colonel hesitated in answering which was an immediate affirmation to the scientist. He smoothly slid off the desktop and moved to his friend. “Steve what is it?”
Letting a small smile grace his lips he replied, “It’s nothing really Rudy…a little in-coordination is all. Just adjusting to the changes you made. It takes awhile for me to get used to, ya know.”
“This is exactly why I don’t want you in New York.” His voice soft and sincere, not wanting to put Steve on the defensive. He knew it would have to be Steve decision to stay. The man would never be forced into anything. “I’m still concerned of the effects such a change has on your system and it’s not like this has ever been done before.”
Steve considered the heartfelt words offered from his longtime friend as he came to sit on a chair, his left arm draping over the back. He knew Rudy was 100% right but still the thought of Jaime and Michael unnerved him. The physician saw the uncertainty and tried his best to convince him to stay.
With a friendly hand on his shoulder he spoke confidently. “Steve it’s only a few days and you know Jaime is trustworthy.”
“Michael has not shown any attraction to Jaime for months. I honestly don’t think anything would happen that wouldn’t happen if you were there.”
Steve’s right hand continued to absently rub his thigh as the fingers of his left hand trace his lower lip in contemplation. He finally looked up at the brown eyes staring at him. “I know they’ll have separate hotel rooms.” Rudy smiled and Steve added, “But do you think they’d mind getting them in separate hotels?”
“I think that would be a bit much to ask don’t you?”
“Yeah I guess you’re right.” Steve let out a sigh on concession. The private conversation ended when Jaime entered the room looking bright and refreshed.
“Good morning!” She greeted and received a hug from both. “So Steve, are we still on for a noon departure?” Her eyes sparkled with excitement and Steve couldn’t help but smile.
He glanced at Rudy as if to tell him he would handle the explanation. Jaime saw the non-verbal exchange. “What’s going on?” She asked.
Steve offered a lopsided smile. “I’m not going to New York.” The simple stated caused her mouth to drop into a slight frown.
“Well, Rudy thinks it wouldn’t be prudent so soon after my upgrade.”
“But you’re okay right?” She asked knowing bionic rejection was foremost in the doctor’s mind.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Alright. I guess we’ll just go next year.” She suggested and Steve quickly interjected.
“No Jaime, you and Michael are still going. I’m gong to call a friend of mine and ask him to fly you both up there in my plane.”
The blue eyes stared at the handsome face, disappointed he would not be with her to enjoy the weekend. “Are you sure? I mean it just doesn’t feel right to go without you.”
“I’m positive.” Her eyes moved from Steve’s to Rudy’s trying to decide if they were withholding any information.
“Are you sure you aren’t having any side effects?”
Steve sidestepped the issue with a hand on each of Jaime’s arms. “You and Michael go and have a good time. Rudy and I will continue testing and when you return I will take you out for a romantic dinner at your favorite French restaurant.”
Jaime paused not wanting to go without Steve and he immediately saw it. “Please go…for me… and promise me you will have a good time.”
”Alright.” She responded, seeing the tired eyes.
“I’ll go call Jerry and have him ready at the airport at noon. Okay?”
“Okay. I’ll let Michael know.” She watched Steve move off to the corner of the room to use the phone before stepping closer to Rudy. “Is he okay?”
“He’s fine. I just want to do some more testing.” He answered knowing Steve did not want her to worry about him while she was gone.
Michael entered the lab with a genuine smile at seeing Jaime but faded as Steve stepped around the corner. The two men eyed one another with unreadable faces.
“Well everything’s set. Jerry will be flying you to New York at noon.”
“Jerry?” The tall dark haired scientist asked with curiosity.
Jaime updated him on their arrangements. Michael listen and added his disappointed to Steve’s future absence in New York. He looked at the shorter man. “You can be sure I will take good care of her in your absence.”
Steve perceived the comment, though expressed with sincerity, as belittling.
Rudy took control of the conversation. “Jaime I need you on the treadmill now if you want to be out of here by noon.”
“Sure Rudy.” The slender woman ambled gracefully to the other room.
Steve and Michael stood together in awkward silence until Rudy rescued Steve. “Steve I’ll need you on the table for a short diagnostic.”
Without a word to Dr. Marchetti Steve moved to the treatment table as instructed. As soon as Jaime was into her run, Rudy was working on Steve.
Michael returned to his office and began his work, his mind on other things.
After lunch while Rudy was viewing the normal readouts on Steve’s bionics Michael was assisting Jaime into Steve’s twin-engine Bonanza. Due to weight distribution requirements the tall man took the right seat and Jaime sat in the back.
The flight would not be very long and Michael took the time to anticipate what Rudy was doing with his patient. There was no doubt in Michael’s mind that with Steve’s upgrade being so recent Rudy would suspect the in-coordination in Steve’s legs to be a result of the changes, possibly even a flaw in the circuitry. The experienced physician would run every test he could think of to try and identify the problem, a time consuming process.
Unfortunately the in-coordination would progress until Steve became incapacitated, within the next 10 hours according to Michael’s calculations. Staring out the side window a small smile tilted the thin lips as the dark eyes grew even darker. By that time, seeing the signs and symptoms, Rudy would no doubt suspect Steve was rejecting his bionic system when in fact it was something more sinister, something more deadly. By then it would be too late. It warmed Michael’s heart to know he would be available to comfort Jaime in her grief.
It was Friday afternoon when Jaime and Michael checked into their hotel rooms and headed to the tournament, deciding to grab something to eat there. Jaime felt a little strange being there alone with Michael and wishing Steve was with them. She was uncomfortable during the breaks in play when the scientist gently prodded for information about her relationship with Steve. Jaime, keeping a smile on her face, only provided a minimum of information, enough to let him know she was committed to Steve.
Back in Washington, after hours of diagnostic testing, Rudy had reassured Steve that the readouts showed his legs were functioning normally except for some slow responses between the electrical and human systems which could be attributed to several things including the circuitry. He told Steve to report back in the morning and they would continue trying to solve the problem.
Steve was tired and he still had a late meeting with Oscar regarding with International Space Station project they were trying to get off the ground. The meeting was originally scheduled for the afternoon but Oscar had other top priorities to attend to. Steve assured him he didn’t mind if the meeting was later in the evening knowing it had to be done before the budget meeting scheduled for Monday morning.
By 8:00 pm the OSI operative was taking the stairs to the second floor of the OSI building when he noticed more in-coordination in his legs, almost sending him face first onto the stairs. He shrugged it off with the intention of informing Rudy first thing in the morning that his condition was not improving.
The meeting with Oscar went on for over two hours. Steve fought the exhaustion as his body wanted to fall into a deep sleep. His attention waned, as he seemed to zone in and out of the conversation. He attributed it to his lack of sleep and tried walking around the office, file in hand, to keep his mind alert. As the discussion wore on his legs would not follow his commands consistently and, not wanting Oscar to notice he was struggling just to walk a straight line without falling, he returned to his chair.
Finally both were in agreement that they had covered all the questions that might be raised at the meeting. Steve rose to leave and felt his legs wanting to collapse underneath him. His mind was becoming increasingly fuzzy making walking difficult. Oscar immediately noticed his friend walking clumsily to the door and moved closer to him.
“Steve, are you alright?” He asked as he grabbed the closest arm.
Steve’s mind was suddenly focused on the fact his body was no longer under his control. He took a breath, wanting to tell Oscar that he wasn’t alright but he couldn’t. In the next breath his world went completely dark and his body dropped heavily onto the carpeted floor.
Oscar, with his back to the door, stood with hands in his pockets staring out the blackened window. It had been over an hour since he brought Steve to the medical center by ambulance. There were three people trying to locate Rudy. The OSI Director wondered where Dr. Wells was and if he had been notified yet.
He turned and gazed at his friend who was lying still, eyes closed, in the only bed in the room. With a heavy sigh the worried man turned back to the window. At the sound of the door being pushed open rather forcefully he turned to see the physician rushing to the left side of Steve’s bed.
Rudy, dressed in a business suit and his face tight with concern, rolled Steve face towards him and spoke to Oscar, “Sorry Oscar I made last minute plans with a friend for dinner. What happened?”
Oscar stepped to the bed and removed his hands from his pockets to shrug his befuddlement. “I don’t know. We were talking in my office. He got up to walk out and just collapsed.”
Rudy’s attention remained on his unmoving patient. “How long has he been like this?” He began checking Steve’s pulse in his left wrist.
“He’s been unconscious since it happened.”
Rudy hoped to bring Steve around enough to get some useful information to help him diagnose the problem swiftly. “Steve, can you hear me?” He asked in a firm tone, having to admit his patient didn’t look good.
Steve eyes fluttered but the effort to keep them open was too exhausting so he let the heavy lids close. Slowly he was able to speak, although softly with some slurring.
Rudy was encouraged. “Steve what’s happening? Can you tell me what’s going on?”
Steve took in a breath and replied weakly. “Legs…..legs feel strange….”
There was a pause before Steve spoke. “Feedback….isn’t normal.”
“How long has it been this bad?”
Again a pause left the men waiting. “Since… this afternoon.” Steve knew Rudy would be perturbed by the news so he added, “Didn’t think it was a big deal….wasn’t that bad…in the beginning.”
Rudy, justifiably annoyed at not being informed when it had gotten worse, moved down the bed and lifted the coverings away from Steve’s bare legs which extended out from the hospital gown he wore. He moved them gently and got no reaction of pain from Steve. Moving to the end of the bed the physician applied firm pressure to both feet individually. “Is there any pain?”
Steve nodded slightly. “No.”
Rudy quickly placed the coverings back and looked at Oscar. Stay with him I’ll be back in a minute.
Returning promptly Rudy skillfully tied rubber tubing to Steve’s left arm and began extracting a vile of blood.
“What do you think is wrong?” The tall man asked quietly. “Do you think it’s a reaction to the upgrade you did?”
“I can’t say yet. I’m going to check to see if his white blood cell count is high. I should know within the hour.” He pulled out the needle and removed the band hoping the upgrade did not trigger some type of rejection. From the steady breathing he knew Steve was no longer aware of his surroundings. Rudy’s brown eyes met Oscar’s. “I’m sorry Oscar I wish I knew right now but I don’t.” With that he exited the room to take the blood sample to the lab.
While awaiting the blood test results Rudy went to his office, removed his coat, donned his lab coat and began wheeling diagnostic equipment to Steve’s private room. Oscar sat at Steve’s bedside and watched the scientist with interest.
“What’s that for?” Oscar asked as Rudy began attaching wires to both of Steve’s lower extremities.
“From what Steve said whatever is happening must be caused by his legs or his bionic system in general. I did some testing earlier in the day but nothing showed up. Maybe now the anomaly will show on the readout.” He turned to begin his testing when the phone on the side table rang. Rudy, grateful the sound did not disturb the patient, grabbed the receiver.
“Dr. Wells.” He stated professionally and Oscar listened to the one-sided conversation which wasn’t much. “Thanks for getting it done so quickly.” Rudy’s eyes moved to the still form in the bed. “Yes I realize that. Thanks.” Rudy replaced the receiver on its cradle and touched his hand to Steve’s forehead.
“What?” Oscar asked nervously.
“His white cells are elevated. He seems to have a low grade fever also.”
“So he’s starting to reject his bionics?”
“Possibly.” The one word answer was enough to send Oscar back to his feet, nervously pacing at the side of the bed.
“Rudy, that doesn’t make any sense. He’s been bionic, with no signs of rejection, for two years. Doesn’t that sound strange?”
“I admit it’s not consistent with his history but I can’t exclude the possibility. Let’s face it. This was the first time we attempted to make significant changes in his bionic system.” The doctor leaned over and turned on the machine that checked over the electronic impulses and circuitry of both legs. Within minutes he was printing out the results on the two-inch wide, white paper strip. Oscar stood still waiting to hear.
“Whatever is causing this cannot be coming from his legs…or the upgrade.” The two pairs of eyes looked down as Steve became restless. “It doesn’t make sense. His vitals signs are stable, at least for now, and aside from the fever and altered consciousness….I’ll keep testing and see if anything shows up.”
Oscar looked at his watch. It was almost 1:00 am. “I need to take care of a few things before my morning appointments. I’ll check in later but call me if anything changes.”
Only 3 hours after leaving Oscar was re-entering the medical center, not having heard for Rudy since leaving. He was ambling purposefully down the hall when he saw Rudy exiting his lab and moving swiftly down the hall. The director, with his long legs, caught up quickly.
“Rudy, what’s going on?”
“I just got called to Steve’s room.”
The two men entered to a very restless patient, beads of perspiration forming on his face. He was mumbling but neither man took the time to listen closely. The nurse filled Rudy in on the patient’s temperature reaching 103 degrees, as well as the increasing heart rate and respirations.
“Let’s take another blood sample and get a complete workup.” He stated curtly to the nurse. “Then let’s get him cooled down with some towels and some ice.”
Oscar leaned in as the physician looked down at his patient. “What are you thinking?”
“It could be a virus, an infection or……” Rudy ticked off.
“Poison?” Oscar finished for him.
“Oscar, that’s a long shot. He hasn’t been on assignment in recent weeks and he has spent most of his time here at the lab or at his home.”
“What if someone got into his house?” Oscar prodded and caused the doctor to consider weak possibility. “I’ll get some agents together. As soon as you verify anything let me know. If it is a foreign substance I’ll have them clear out anything in Steve’s apartment that might be the source.” He took one last look at the distressed patient before moving swiftly to the door. He had a lot of calls to make to see if anyone from Steve’s past had recently arrived in Washington.
Rudy sighed out loud knowing if Steve was poisoned, with the rate he was declining, he wouldn’t have much longer to find an antidote.
In New York Jaime was greeted in the Hotel restaurant by a smiling Michael. “Good morning.” She greeted and he stood to pull her chair out for her, feeling quite proud of himself for the way he prevented Steve from coming along. Like a row of upright dominoes, everything was falling out just the way he had planned.
“Good morning. Did you sleep well?” He asked pleasantly.
“Yes, as a matter of fact I did. And you?”
Michael smirked, “I slept like a baby.” Pulling out their menus the pair began deciding what was for breakfast. Michael sipped his coffee, absently thinking of what might be going on in Washington. Soon Rudy would be realizing Steve’s serious illness was not related to his legs….maybe even figure out his patient had been poisoned. Michael knew he would have to make some adjustments here at the hotel to prevent Jaime from finding out Steve was ill.
While they ate their meal Michael devised a plan. Exiting the restaurant the tall man suggested Jaime retrieve a sweater from her room as the weather was expected to turn cloudy and he would check for any messages that may have been left for them. Jaime, agreeing it was a good idea, moved to the elevator.
Michael headed to the lobby. “Any messages for rooms 324 and 325?”
The young blonde man checked behind the counter. “No sir.”
“Thank you.” Michael replied and stood waiting for the woman he loved. He needed a reason to get into her room….but he would have all day to figure that problem out.
The blood results were rushed to Rudy’s office and he was shocked at the findings. His initial reaction was that there had been a mistake but a mental review of Steve’s symptoms he knew there was no error in the report. He quickly snatched up the phone and contacted Oscar in his office.
“Oscar, I’m afraid you were right. The lab confirmed Steve has a poison in his system….looks like one from the organic chloride group. It attacks the central nervous system and progresses quickly.”
Oscar’s heart plummeted into his stomach. “Can you create an antidote?”
“Not unless I can determine the chemical make up. I need the exact solution.”
“I’ll have my men clear out Steve’s house. I’m still waiting to hear if any of Steve’s enemies are in the area. I should know soon.”
“Oscar…I think we should contact Jaime.” The doctor suggested in a solemn tone.
Oscar paused on the other end, knowing time may be short for Steve. “I’ll take care of it Rudy. You do whatever you can for Steve and I’ll be by a little later.”
“Alright.” The phone connection was broken and Rudy headed back to Steve’s room.
Oscar dialed the number he read off the paper on his desk only to be told Jaime and Michael had already left the hotel. Oscar left a short message for them to call him immediately and tried to relate the importance of Jaime Sommers or Michael Marchetti getting the message the moment they arrived. In frustration over missing them by just a few moments Oscar slammed the receiver into its cradle and thought, ‘What if Jaime doesn’t get back here in time?’
Michael opened the hotel door for Jaime as the two ran in from the late Saturday afternoon rainstorm that caused a halt to the tennis tournament for the rest of the day. Michael asked Jaime to grab an elevator while he checked for messages. He watched her move around a corner before approaching the desk, knowing a message would be arriving soon.
The single note handed to him was read quickly before being deposited in the trash can as Michael ambled swiftly to the elevator which Jaime was holding. Entering their side-by-side rooms they each went to dry off and change their clothes.
Ten minutes later, knowing Jaime would still be getting ready for dinner, Michael knocked on her door. She called for him to enter and his heart jumped into his throat seeing her with the phone to her ear. He held his breath until, a few seconds later; she hung up with a saddened face.
”Something wrong?” He asked not sure if he was ready to act saddened by the news of Steve’s fatal illness.
“No…I was just hoping to talk to Steve before we headed to dinner. We haven’t talked since I left Washington.”
“Didn’t you two talk by phone last night?”
”No, he had a meeting with Oscar. I tried calling him late but there was no answer.” She stared off into the distance and Michael didn’t like the feeling he was getting.
“Maybe the meeting ran late.” He offered.
Jaime shook her head as she came to her feet. “It just seems weird that he hasn’t tried to contact me. Were there any messages?” Michael nodded negatively. “Oh well, I’ll try to call him again after dinner.”
Michael saw she was still wearing her wet clothes. Apparently calling Steve Austin was her first priority when she got back. “I hope you aren’t going like that.” He teased and she glanced down. Realizing how she looked, she smiled at her oversight.
“Just give me a minute.” She grabbed an outfit from the closet and closed the bathroom door behind her.
Michael instantly went to the phone. He had memorized the simple directions on his room phone so he didn’t need to stop and think. Picking up the receiver he pushed the * button then his room number 325. Silently he returned the phone and walked back to the door where he had been standing when Jaime left the room. He smiled with relief that any calls to Jaime’s room would now be forwarded to his room.
Jaime swung open the door, her smile not reaching her eyes. “I’m ready.”
Michael opened the door and the two went to dinner, during which Jaime would be too distracted by Steve’s lack of contact to be of much company. Michael knew his job would be to provide reasonable explanations for Steve’s unavailability so she would not be contacting Oscar or Rudy.
Rudy stepped into Steve’s room with the hope of discussing the situation. He stood just inside the room and waited until the nurse had finished replacing the IV bottle.
With the head of the bed inclined Steve was lying with his eyes closed, his short hair matted to his forehead. The medication Rudy had prescribed was preventing Steve’s body temperature from spiking higher but it still hovered around 102 degrees, causing the body to expend precious amounts of energy. He noticed the supplemental oxygen he had ordered was already being given through the nasal cannula under his patient’s nose. The doctor hoped the extra oxygen would give Steve some increased energy and alertness for the discussion they had to have.
The nurse excused herself and left Rudy alone with his severely ill patient. He stepped closer to the bed and was surprised to see two glassy blue eyes looking at him.
“So,” Steve started in a weak voice. “Have you solved the mystery?” He was trying to stay awake as much as he could but his body rebelled. He felt like he had a severe case of the flu and every human muscle and joint in his body ached.
“Yes, Steve we have. Unfortunately it isn’t good news.”
Steve closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths hoping to escape the wave of exhaustion that was chasing him. “Go ahead…shoot.”
“Well, the lab report shows you have a poison in your system.” Wanting his patient to conserve his energy Rudy went on not waiting for the obvious questions. “Right now I can’t produce an antidote without the actual chemical makeup. We are trying to find out how it was done and by whom. I was hoping you could help us out.”
“By my calculations the poison would have to have been introduced into your body in the last 48 hrs. I need you to tell me everything you did from Thursday morning on.”
Steve closed his eyes again, trying to remember everything he did 48 hours ago, a time that felt like so long ago. He took a few deep breaths to try and clear his head. “I was with you in the lab until dinner time. Then Jaime and I went out to Mazzio’s for dinner. Could it have happened there? Something in the food?”
“No. This type of poison, as fast as it is working, would have had to been injected into your system, not consumed orally. What did you do after dinner?”
“I took Jaime home and went to my place.”
“Anything out of the ordinary happen there?”
“No. I read over a file Oscar gave me until I got tired.”
“You drank milk didn’t you?”
“Because Oscar’s men cleared out your house trying to find anything that would tell us what the substance is. Unfortunately we only found the milk was laced with a strong sedative.”
Steve thought back for a moment. “That’s right I fell asleep on the couch while reading. Then I went to bed.”
“Do you remember anything after you went to bed?”
“No… except I had a very strange dream that night.”
“What kind of dream?”
“You know the kind that you feel like your life’s in danger but you can’t move.” The statement brought Rudy closer to the bed. He saw Steve was fading but needed more information that only he could give.
“Steve I need you to remember the details of that dream.”
“I felt like there was someone in my bedroom…the blankets moved….then I felt something stick in my left side.” His eyes opened wider as he realized the implications.
“Did you see who it was?” He asked in a hopeful tone.
“I tried to open my eyes but I couldn’t move other then to turn my head a little.” His eyelids dropping once again.
“Dammit.” Rudy swore softly. “I don’t think that was a dream Steve. I think it was someone injecting you with poison and it was all too real.”
Steve opened his eyes and looked at Rudy. “There was a voice.”
”Do you remember it? Male or female? Was it a familiar voice?”
“It was male…I think….It sounded a little familiar but I can’t place it.”
“Try Steve…please.” Rudy asked in an urgent tone just short of letting his panic show.
“Rudy I was out of it at the time. All I remember was it was a male voice saying something like ‘stay away’”
“Away from what? From whom?”
“I have no idea.” With those slurred words Steve dozed off into painless oblivion disappointing Rudy. The doctor went to fill Oscar in and to find some way to save Steve in the next 24 hours, which was what Rudy suspected he had left. Offhandedly he wondered if Jaime was on her way back to the capitol yet.
Rudy went to Steve room at the urgent request of Nancy, the morning shift nurse. He wasn’t sure what to expect since Steve’s condition seemed to be holding steady. As he walked he reviewed the call he just concluded with Dr. John Geary, one of the top chemist in the country. He had worked exclusively for the US military for the past three years and Rudy was grateful to have him as a resource, seeing as how he was out of his league with this fast-progressing, fatal poison.
Entering the room he saw the nurse trying to quiet the patient who was moving restlessly on the bed. His mumblings could be heard across the room.
“What’s going on?” The physician asked while looking at the heart monitor that had been attached to the patient’s bare chest in the late evening. The heart rate was too fast and by the look of the patient he was no doubt anxious about something.
“He became agitated about 15 minutes ago. I can’t seem to calm him down.”
The words Steve uttered over and over caught Rudy’s attention immediately. “I won’t stay away……won’t……stay….away.”
The doctor moved close to the bed, suspecting Steve’s semi-conscious mind had somehow tapped into his unconscious mind and was reliving the ‘dream’ when he had been injected with the poison. Attempting to get more information then Steve was able to provide when conscious Rudy prodded his patient.
”Stay away Steve.” He said firmly and waited. He had no idea what the person who did this to Steve was referring to so he kept it in general terms. “Stay away.”
Steve’s head rolled to the sound of the low male voice, his brow furrowed in frustration and anger. “No…..won’t…..stay away…”
A quick glance at the heart monitor told Rudy this couldn’t go on much longer. He looked at Steve’s pale face, his hair no longer just matted to his forehead but soaked completely with perspiration. “Stay away.” He said more firmly.
Steve exhaled, “She’s not yours.” Rudy’s expression was one of hopefulness and confusion as he tried to decipher the anxious man’s words. Words he wasn’t even sure were based on reality.
Steve’s head rolled back and forth, his breath coming fast. The pain in his body caused by the foreign substance in his blood was becoming unbearable. “God…it hurts….”
The nurse looked up. “His temperature is rising again; 102.4 degrees and he started complaining of the pain getting worse when I paged you.”
Rudy knew it was coming. The poison was attacking the nervous system, lighting every nerve on fire. He knew there would come a time he would have to prescribe pain medication but he didn’t want Steve completely out of it. The patient began his rambling again.
“I won’t…..stay away… from her… Michael.”
Rudy took a step back in shock. Did he really hear Michael’s name? Slowly Steve’s restlessness slowed to stillness from sheer exhaustion. Rudy’s mind was moving fast but was interrupted by the nurse.
Rudy knew she was waiting for his orders. He instructed her to add some mild pain medication to Steve’s IV and moved towards his office.
Rudy initially thought of contacting Oscar with the news but hesitated. Were Steve’s utterances just a subconscious expression of his jealousy or insecurity? Is that why Michael’s name was mentioned? Steve knew Jaime was with Michael, could that have planted the idea in his head? Was Steve was just wanting to let Michael know? But the words he used were the same as the ones Steve thought he heard in his dream Thursday night. It might mean something but Oscar would need more.
Picking up the phone he called the OSI Director only to be told Oscar was on his way to the lab. Rudy moved about preparing a chemical cocktail following the recipe provided by Dr. Geary. He would soon administer it to Steve. He stood at the glass front cabinet looking through his vials for the needed items. As he did this his began to wonder if Steve would survive this. Not knowing Oscar had entered the room Rudy slammed the drug cabinet closed forcefully while cursing aloud when he noticed he was one drug short of what he needed. Over-reacting was not something commonly seen in the doctor.
“Something wrong Rudy?” He asked rarely seeing Rudy this angry.
“What? No, I was just….” He stood with his back to Oscar, his arms braced against the cabinet shelf.
“I’m mixing some medications that will put Steve into a drug induced coma. Dr. Geary said it might give us some more time to find an antidote, maybe as much as six hours.”
“That’s brilliant Rudy!”
Rudy cut him off quickly. “Don’t be so excited it was his idea, not mine. In fact it’s because of my negligence and blatant oversight that Steve is in the condition he’s in.”
”What are you talking about?” He asked while turning the doctor around to face him.
“I was stupid. I jumped at the first obvious diagnosis when he started having symptoms. I should have been more thorough and caught this earlier.”
“Don’t beat yourself up Rudy. You chose the logical answer. Even if you did diagnose him as being poisoned right away we would still be no closer to finding out who did this and what the poison is.”
Rudy took a deep breath to calm himself. He mentally agreed with Oscar although reluctantly. “I was just calling you. Steve may have given us a lead?”
“But I’m not sure how valid the information is. In fact I’m not sure I believe it.” Rudy turned back to the cabinet to check one last time for the needed drug. “I don’t have the last drug on the list and I don’t want to wait for the pharmacy to get it. Maybe Michael has some in his cabinet. Come with me and I’ll fill you in on the way.” The two men ambled out of the lab and down the hall to Michael’s office.
Oscar was surprised by Rudy’s information but knew from experience not to overlook anything. “I’ll have some men go through his office and his home immediately.”
Rudy stopped with his hand on the office doorknob. “Have you talked to Jaime?”
Oscar replied with frustration. “I called yesterday and just missed them at the hotel. I left a message at the desk for them to contact me and told the clerk to give it to either of them immediately when they returned.”
”They didn’t call?”
“No and I tried calling Jaime’s room twice last night but there was no answer. I didn’t get any answer when I called Michael’s room either.” Oscar looked at Rudy who seemed deep in thought.
Rudy finally spoke, “You don’t think…..I mean if Steve’s information is right and Michael did do this…would he really keep Jaime away?”
“There’s one way to find out.” Oscar glanced at his watch then grabbed the phone on the desk. “Hello, I’d like to speak with the young man who was at the desk yesterday. Yes, thank you.” He waited for another voice to come on the line. “Yes, this is Oscar Goldman speaking. I left a message with you yesterday for Miss Sommers or Dr. Marchetti. Can you tell me if they got that message?”
Rudy waited; still dumbfounded that Michael may have done such a heinous act.
Oscar listened carefully then responded as he looked at Rudy. “So, Dr. Marchetti did pick up the message. I appreciate your help. What? No, there is no need to give him another message and I’d appreciate it if you don’t tell him I called. Yes, thank you.”
The two men stood in silence knowing the pieces were coming together.
Michael had ignored the three calls that came to his room the previous night. He thought all night on what his next move should be. He couldn’t avoid Oscar and Rudy if they called again. He remembered the message from yesterday and feared it might implicate him in the crime if he didn’t respond. Rolling over he picked up the phone and contacted Oscar. He was quickly forwarded to the medical center.
Michael did his best to sound shocked and concerned at the news, easily side stepping Oscar’s inquiry as to why it had taken him so long to call Washington. But Oscar was an intelligent man and knew Michael was lying through his teeth. “Just get Jaime back here immediately. I’ll have Russ pick you up at the airport at 4:00 o’clock.
As Oscar made the call Rudy was rummaging through all of the vials in Michael’s drug cabinet. He found the one he needed and as he pulled it out his eye caught the one behind it. He grabbed at a paper towel at the sink next to the cabinet. Slowly he lifted the odd item from the cabinet, careful not to ruin any fingerprints, and heard Oscar once again on the phone.
”Russ I want you to take two men and head over to Michael Marchetti’s house. Search it thoroughly, roof to basement. And send…….” He was interrupted by Rudy who turned from the cabinet.
“Don’t bother Oscar…this may be it.”
”Russ I’ll call you back.” He hung up and went to Rudy.
“What is it?”
“According to the label it’s just dopamine.”
“Why is that ‘it’?”
Rudy carefully pulled back the fake label that had originally caught his eye. “Because it’s actually something else.” He showed Oscar the label that had been made to look almost exactly like the original place there by the manufacturer.
“Come on.” He said and took the vials to his lab. A quick analysis showed it was an organic chloride compound.
“How long until you have an antidote?”
“I’m not sure. The ratios have to be perfect and we’ll only get one shot at this. I’d say maybe four to five hours.”
“Does Steve have that long?”
“He might if he’s comatose.”
It was Sunday evening and Jaime was struggling to hold back tears as she and Michael caught a cab to the airport. Luckily Jerry, Steve’s friend and their pilot, was available to fly them back a half a day earlier then expected.
Once airborne Michael put a comforting arm around Jaime, attempting to console her but she would have none of it and politely shrugged him off. Just having Michael so close made her feel disloyal to Steve and she wondered why she hadn’t been notified of the situation earlier. Praying all the way to Washington, she hoped she wouldn’t be too late.
Michael, on the other hand, checked his watch as they descended into Dulles. He mentally calculated Steve would be down to his last hours. Soon the only thing left would be the investigation and funeral. Neither of which he was concerned about. The investigation would surely encompass all of Steve’s enemies he had dealt with in his years with the OSI. And there would be no reason to suspect the young, respected doctor and scientist who had saved Jaime’s life almost two years ago.
Oscar followed Rudy to Steve’s room. He hardened himself to what condition he might find his friend in. His heart was heavy and he had always considered himself a brave man but he wasn’t sure he could handle what Rudy had to say to their friend.
When Oscar considered the facts the doctor had more courage then he did. The OSI Director knew he didn’t have it in him to actually inform Steve that he was about to be put to sleep, a sleep he may not even wake up from. Shoving his hands into his pockets the tall man walked softly and silently behind Rudy into Steve’s room.
The nurse was just checking on the patient and provided an abbreviated update on her way out the door. “He’s resting Dr. Wells. The pain medication seems to have been enough.”
”How are his vitals?”
“Thank you.” She nodded and made her exit.
Oscar stood frozen, the face in the bed looked less like his friend then he could have imagined. Steve’s coloring, which was usually tan, had turned a pasty white and he had large, dark grey circles under each eye. It was obvious death was already hovering close by.
Rudy, after taking a deep breath, moved to the bed with an IV bottle in one hand and a syringe in the other. Two bleary eyes looked up at the two as they approached.
Oscar wanted to say something, actually a lot of things but the hard, unmoving lump in his throat prevented him from choking out more then ‘hi Steve’. Rudy was a little more prepared as he had mentally rehearsed what he was going to say before leaving his office.
“Hey Rudy. Anything new?” With just those few soft spoken words the energy seemed to drain from him.
“Yeah, Steve. We found the compound. I’m working on an antidote but we need to buy some time.” Rudy hoped Steve did not have the energy or clear thinking to ask questions about who had done this. The physician didn’t want him in a panic that their only suspect was alone with Jaime.
“How?” He asked hoping Rudy would make this a very short conversation as he was having trouble staying alert.
The doctor glanced at Oscar then quickly back to Steve. “If I put you in a drug induced coma there’s a chance I’ll have the antidote done before too much damage is done to you internal organs and nervous system.”
“Are the odds in my favor on this one Rudy?” He struggled to think clearly.
Oscar watched Rudy swallow hard but his brown eyes never left those of his patient. “Not really….about 10 to 1 that you’ll survive but if we don’t do it we are throwing in the towel before the last round.”
Steve closed his eyes and thought for a moment. When they opened he locked eyes with Rudy. “Where’s Jaime?”
“She’s on her way from New York.”
“Can I wait to talk to her?”
Rudy’s chest tightened that he couldn’t honor Steve’s request. “I’m afraid there isn’t any more time Steve. She won’t be here for a couple more hours and the expert in this field said I needed to administer the drugs before you were in respiratory distress and showing heart arrhythmias.” He glanced at the monitor. “You’re almost at that point now. In less then an hour it will be too late.”
After taking a shaky breath Steve finally nodded his permission for Rudy to go ahead with his treatment. At least it would finally take the relentless pain away. The doctor explained what would happen as he replaced the almost empty IV bottle with the one he had brought with him that contained the drug cocktail.
“First I’m going to give you a sedative. Once you are out I’ll put you on a ventilator then start the intravenous medications.”
Rudy uncapped the syringe and felt Steve’s hand weakly clasp his forearm. “If….if this doesn’t work….tell Jaime I love her.”
“I will Steve. I promise.” Steve nodded that the doctor could proceed. Within minutes his head sank deeper into the pillow and he was unconscious.
Only moments later Rudy’s medical team had Steve connected to a ventilator that breathed for him. The doctor wanted to stay with his patient for a short while to be sure he was okay but he wasn’t afforded the luxury. There was an antidote that needed to be created.
While Rudy toiled away Oscar was barking orders over the phone to his men. He was going to meet Jaime at the airport but he couldn’t trust what he would do to Michael Marchetti when they met face to face. The former California prosecutor knew they would need more hard evidence to convict Marchetti and he wasn’t going to stop until he had it.
Moments after Russ stopped the sedan in front of the medical center Jaime was jogging to Rudy’s office. She met him in the hall outside Steve’s room just as Michael caught up.
“Rudy!” she cried and hugged him tight. “How’s Steve?”
“He’s in here. Come with me.” He turned the doorknob and everyone entered.
Jaime stood a few feet from the bed in disbelief that the still form in the bed was that of the athletic, handsome man she loved. She stared transfixed at all the apparatus’ that were connected to the unmoving body.
She looked closely at the ghostly face that was almost the same shade of white as the tape securing the ventilator tubing to his mouth. The dark shading under both eyes made them look sunken in. His bare chest, covered with four electrodes for the EKG, rose and fell in a regular rhythm with the hiss of the ventilator.
‘This couldn’t be happening,’ she told herself but it was and she felt helpless. As Rudy watched her eyes tear up he glanced beyond her to Michael’s emotionless face, small part of him still hoping they were wrong.
The slender woman took tentative steps to the bedside and touched the still form, Michael took a position behind her, and a supportive hand on her shoulder she didn’t even feel.
Seeing her look at him across the bed with questioning eyes, Rudy took a deep breath and filled her in on the situation.
“Right now he’s in a coma.” He kept his voice as soft as the filtered light the showered the unconscious patient.
Jaime thought she was prepared for a worse case scenario but she suddenly felt shaken. “A coma?” She gushed out in disbelief.
“Its okay…I deliberately used drugs to put him in that state about four hours ago.
“We were trying to buy some time. The poison was working too fast and…..”
“And what?” She asked with a confused look.
Rudy shook his head ruefully. “And I misdiagnosed him in the beginning.” His brown eyes begged her for forgiveness. “I’m sorry Jaime.”
Michael, though standing still with a stone face, was inwardly smiling. “So there’s nothing we can do?”
“Not now.” He said. “I was able to decipher what compound was used and after inducing the coma I started giving the antidote through the IV.” He glanced at the monitors. “Its only been a little over an hour but his vital signs are getting stronger.”
Michael was staring at Rudy in disbelief. “How did you find out the make up of the poison?” He thought the only way to know that was to find the poison itself. If that was the case he needed to make a hasty exit.
Rudy looked at him and replied simply, “You’ve heard of Dr. Cummings?”
Michael nodded at the familiar name he had heard around the OSI labs.
“He designed a new machine that could breakdown blood products, separating out the biological substances from the foreign and with a new analyzer he designed we were able to find out the exact make up of the poison from just a sample of Steve’s blood.” Rudy watched as the lie was digested by the other scientist. It was true Dr. Cummings was working on such a device but was far from having a working prototype. Fortunately Michael would not have access to the project’s status.
Jaime let out a heavy sigh of relief. “So he’ll be okay?”
“We’ll know in a few hours but it’s looking good so far.”
“What about the investigation? I mean do we know who did this to him?”
Rudy struggled to keep his eyes from moving directly to Michael. Instead he stared at Steve’s relaxed features. “Oscar’s been on the phone most of the day, not to mention most of last night. He and Russ have been reviewing all Steve’s assignments and enemies. They hope to have a lead soon.”
Michael was disappointed at the news that Steve had a good chance of recovering but would find what else Rudy had to say even more disturbing.
Jaime nodded and asked, “What if they don’t find anything?”
“Don’t worry. Even if they come up empty we’ll just wait for Steve’s to wake up.”
Michael nervously jumped in. “Will he really be in any condition to help the investigation?”
Rudy hid his smile well. “Before Steve became feverish and disoriented he said he knew who did this. Unfortunately he lost consciousness before he could tell us. I’m hoping as soon as the poison is out of his system and we bring him out of the coma he’ll be able to tell Oscar who tried to kill him.”
Jaime reached down and tenderly brushed the brown hair from Steve’s forehead. “But he will wake up right Rudy?”
“I’m confident he will, Jaime.”
Behind Rudy the door swung open and Oscar took one step into the room. “Oh Jaime, Michael I heard you were back. I was hoping Jaime could come to Rudy’s office and answer some questions for us.”
“Me?” She replied in surprise. “How could I help?”
“Well you’ve spent a lot of time with Steve the past few months. I was hoping you might be able to add something to our investigation, you know, where you’ve been, who he might have come in contact with. We really don’t have much to go on and…”
“No Oscar I’d be glad to help any way I can.” She said as she moved to the door.
Rudy spoke up. “Jaime I’ll grab you some coffee and something to eat. You look like you could use it.” He turned to the tall dark haired man to his right. “Michael, can I get you anything?”
Dr. Marchetti broke his gaze which rested upon Steve inert form. “No Rudy. I think I’ll just head down to my office and check on a few things.”
The young scientist followed Rudy into the hallway and saw Jaime disappear into Rudy’s office. He slid his hands into his pants pockets and ambled to the door that held his nameplate. Glancing back he saw the hallway was empty….and so was Steve’s room.
Jaime sat before Oscar waiting for him to ask his questions about the time she had spent with Steve the past few months. Her blue eyes, still reddened from crying, followed him as he paced in front of Rudy’s desk. He was deep in thought so she gave him time to concentrate.
Seeing the man who was always so commanding, so professional, never a hair out of place looking weary and distracted caused her to wonder if the situation with Steve was worse then she had been told. Unable to hold her tongue any longer she spoke up.