IF ANGELS BURN
Alex was staring into Cyprien‟s eyes. When she was operating on him, she could have sworn they were blue. But now they had darkened, as if the pupils had expanded to crowd out the pretty irises. A delayed reaction to the trauma of the surgery, or maybe something else…
She stopped smelling roses, and started smelling him.
His scent was like his eyes, deep and dark and filled with secrets. Secrets that tugged at her like unseen clamps left in her chest and pelvis. His eyes seemed to be bottomless, stretching straight back through his skull into eternity, like those two strange abscesses she‟d seen, endless and enigmatic and swallowing up the light…
His hands were still shaking when he cradled Alex‟s face between them. “Pardonnez-moi, chérie.” He was lisping a little, but maybe it was because he had grown two enormous fangs.
Funny. She frowned a little as strands of his white hair tickled her cheek. I don‟t remember giving him those…
A NOVEL OF THE DARKYN
A SIGNET ECLIPSE BOOK
Published by New American Library, a division of
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First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, April 2005
Copyright ? Sheila Kelly, 2005
All rights reserved
SIGNET ECLIPSE and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Printed in the United States of America
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author‟s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Anne Rice, architect of dreams
I would like to thank Judy Hahn, Brian Stark, and Jordan Hahn of Metro DMA (www.metrodma.com) for their efforts and artistry in creating the official Web site for the Darkyn series. To see their incredible work and find out more about the Darkyn novels, please visit www.darkyn.com.
Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee, And love thee after.
Got another letter from that Cyprien guy,” Grace Cho said as she placed the office mail on Dr. Alexandra Keller‟s desk. She tapped the top envelope with one long fingernail. “The M. must stand for Moneybags. He doubled his offer.”
“Again?” Alex set aside the weighty nightmare that was Luisa Lopez‟s medical file. “You‟re kidding.”
“I never kid about four million bucks, boss.” Grace looked over the flat rims of her reading glasses, mild annoyance in her exotic black
eyes. “Why don‟t you just go down there and fix this guy‟s face already?”
It wasn‟t the money. Under different circumstances, Alex would have
performed plastic surgery on M. Cyprien for one-tenth of his original offer. But anyone willing to part with that much money for a house call was not someone she wanted as a patient.
It hurt—four million would make a nice deposit in the pro bono account—but Alex pushed the letter to the edge of the desk. “Send him another no-thanks and our referral sheet.”
“Been there, faxed that, six times,” her office manager reminded her. “Plus I left a dozen messages on his answering machine. I‟m starting to get a complex.” She slid the letter back. “Want to give it a shot? The number‟s at the bottom there.”
Alex mentally reviewed her schedule for the day. She had two car accident survivors and a toddler with a cleft palate to see before she left to make rounds at the hospital. One very tricky surgery to perform that afternoon. She also wanted to check on what progress, if any, Luisa was making. She didn‟t have time to waste on M. Cyprien and whatever portion of his anatomy he thought needed tucking or tightening.
Grace was right; the mysterious M. probably wouldn‟t take the hint until he got it from Alex personally. But she was busy, and not in the mood to stroke some silver-spoon sucker.
“We‟ll do another fax.” Alex pulled out M. Cyprien‟s latest letter. Like the others, it had been typed on beautiful buff linen paper with an important-looking crest embossed in gold at the top. The crest, shaped like a shield, bore two distinct symbols: a stylized bird‟s talon and drifting clouds.
“Faxes don‟t work,” Grace said. “I‟ll show you all the ones I sent.”
What does that crest mean? Caution, daydreamers, hawk zone ahead? The paper had a faint, sweet smell, as if he‟d sprayed it with perfume. Maybe he‟s a tranny. She‟d done plenty of gender corrections, and Hopkins had her at the top of their rec sheet. If M. Cyprien was dealing with the wrong body and a rich, homophobic family… “All right, I‟ll call him.”
Grace removed two charts and a crumpled deli bag to unearth Alex‟s desk
phone. “Before the Reillys get here.”
Alex scowled at her. “Bully.”
“Hassle dodger.” Unmoved, the petite Korean woman picked up the lab reports Alexandra had finished reviewing before she headed back out to reception.
Alex studied the letter again. Beneath the ominous cloud-and-claw crest was printed M. Cyprien, La Fontaine, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A. No house number or street address, no zip code, no e-mail address. The only contact point listed was a phone number at the very bottom of the page, the one Grace had repeatedly called.
Four million bucks for one op, Alex thought as she dialed the number. What could he want done that badly? Burns, maybe? That reminded her of other work yet to be accomplished, and she parked the receiver between her cheek and shoulder before she reopened Luisa‟s file to check some dates. She‟s gone two months without an infection, so I should be able to start grafts next week. The main problem with operating on Luisa had little to do with her physical condition. The pain management therapist won‟t see her, not after what happened the last time—
A friendly, lightly accented voice answered the other end of the line. “La Fontaine, Éliane Selvais.”
“This is Dr. Alexandra Keller.” Hopefully Éliane understood English;
the only French Alex knew involved other, less socially acceptable uses of the tongue. “Is Mr. Cyprien available?”
“I‟m sorry, docteur. He is not. May I take a message for him?”
“Sure.” Maybe he‟d even get it through his thick skull this time. “Please
tell Mr. Cyprien that I have received his latest letter—and offer—but
my answer is still the same. I can‟t fly to New Orleans, and I can‟t perform his surgery.”
“Indeed.” Ms. Selvais didn‟t sound quite so friendly now. “Are you quite certain there is no exception you can make? Mr. Cyprien is in great need.”
What a weird way to put it. “As I‟ve indicated before, I don‟t travel to treat patients. I‟ll be happy to perform a preliminary consultation here in Chicago.”
“Mr. Cyprien is unable to leave New Orleans.”
“I can sympathize, because I‟m unable to leave Chicago.” Why couldn‟t he come to her? Was he afraid of flying? Under house arrest? On parole? “Please pass along my regrets, and have a nice—”
“Money is no object, you understand.”
“Yeah, I gathered that much.” The smell of the rosy perfume from the stationery was starting to get to her, so Alex balled it up. She shoots. With a practiced flick of her wrist, she tossed it at the trash can across the room. It rolled along the rim before dropping inside. And she scores! “Money isn‟t the issue here.”
“What is?” Ms. Selvais didn‟t wait for an answer. “Doctor, it would only require a few days of your time, and of course only the finest facilities and equipment will be provided.”
Oh, of course. Guys like Cyprien could well afford the best stuff. Alex thought of Luisa, who couldn‟t have paid for the box of Kleenex out in her waiting room, and her temper began to rattle the bars of its cage.
Her adopted mother‟s ghost popped into her head. Oh, no, you don‟t,
young lady. You‟re a doctor now, Alexandra, and telling her to piss off is rude.
Yeah, but it would be a lot more fun than this. “I‟m sorry. It‟s just not possible. There are several very qualified plastic surgeons in New Orleans, and I‟ve had my office manager fax Mr. Cyprien a referral list.” She could still smell the perfume; the flowery scent must have been transferred from the letter to her hands. What did he do, soak the frigging paper in it? “That‟s really all I can do, Miss Selvais.”
“I will give Mr. Cyprien your message. Merci beaucoup, Dr. Keller.” She hung up with an abrupt click.
Amazing, how the French always make Thank you sound like Fuck you. Alex went into the adjoining exam room and scrubbed the smell off her hands. Bye-bye, four mil.
Although Alex had often received outrageous requests from the spoiled and wealthy, Cyprien‟s offer bothered her in other ways, and not just because he was waving around a stupendous amount of money.
Who had referred him to her?
It wasn‟t as if she were the only reconstructive surgeon in the world. She had established a solid reputation for clean, ethical work, and her practice was very healthy, but there were a thousand other doctors just like her out there.
She‟d run into people before who had wanted very specific, private work done, particularly when they were trying to switch identities and/or elude prosecution. If the price was right, some surgeons wouldn‟t bat an eyelash. Alex wasn‟t one of them, and anyone going through medical
channels to find her would have been warned of that.
Whoever sent M. Cyprien to Alexandra Keller must not have been a colleague or a former patient.
The intercom on her desk buzzed, reminding Alex that she had better things to do than to brood over a man who would never be her patient. She returned to her desk and hit the com button. “Yes, Grace.”
“Guess who‟s here fifteen minutes early?” the office manager asked over the sound of a man and woman arguing.
Alex sighed. “Send in the happy couple.”
Drew Reilly and his wife, Patricia, were still yelling at each other as they came through the door.
“—look like this, thanks to you.”
“Come on, Patti.” Drew ran a hand over his shaved scalp, under which Alexandra had implanted a steel plate to replace part of the skull the crushed roof of his car had pulverized. His entire head glowed bright red, as if he‟d been badly sunburned—which was new—but she saw no
blisters. “I told you a million times, the freaking accident wasn‟t my fault.”
A new, candy-sweet smell made Alex frown. Cherry perfume?
“If you‟d bought the new tires like I told you, cheapskate, it never would have happened.” Patricia gave her young husband a shove. She hadn‟t been wearing her seat belt when the car crashed, and Alex was still rebuilding what flying headfirst through the windshield had done to
her face. She glared at Alex from under her pressure mask. “You tell him, Dr. Keller.”
“We didn‟t have the money,” Drew fumed.
“Because you blew it drinking with your dumb-ass friends.”
“Hey. Hey.” They went on shouting until Alexandra put two fingers in her mouth and produced an earsplitting whistle. When they shut up, she pointed to the chairs in front of her desk. “Quit bickering and sit down, or I send you both back to see the therapist.”
“She needs the shrink, Doc, not me,” Drew said as he dropped into the chair. “See what she did to me last night?” He gestured at his reddened skin. “She dumped five packages of cherry Kool-Aid mix in the showerhead.
Real cute, huh?”
Patricia jerked her chair a foot away from Drew‟s. “That‟s only because I couldn‟t find the rat poison.”
Alexandra got the Reillys settled down and checked out, told Patricia to lay off the Kool-Aid, and arranged for them to see their family therapist. The therapist thanked her by calling and suggesting that Alex wanted to make him run down the Reillys with his 4x4.
“You can try, George,” she told him over the phone, “but they‟ve got a lot of metal in their heads now. Watch your tires.”
Her next patient was Bryan Hickson, a silent four-year-old boy who moved and acted like a small, polite robot. The Department of Children and Families had referred him, and after three years of red tape and multiple foster care placements, Alex now had permission to repair the disfiguring birth defect that had divided his upper lip, palate, and nostrils in two. The state had not approved removal of the other facial scars he‟d gotten from beatings as an infant, but she was throwing them in for free.
Bryan‟s foster mother, who took in foster children so she wouldn‟t have to work, needed assurance only that his Medicaid would cover the cost of the surgery.
“I don‟t have to stay with him at the hospital, do I?” The heavyset
black woman finished buttoning Bryan‟s shirt before she set him down in her ancient umbrella stroller.
“No, but does his biological mom want to talk to me? I can explain the procedures to her over the phone.” Alexandra didn‟t want to meet Bryan‟s mother in person.
“She don‟t care.” The foster mother clipped the frayed lap belt around Bryan‟s waist. The boy, who should have been bouncing with energy, huddled to one side and parked his thumb in the distorted sneer that was his mouth. “She pregnant again.”
Bryan‟s mother had already had five other kids taken away from her. Like him, all of his siblings were born addicted to heroin. The last two were born HIV positive.
Alex watched the boy‟s cleft dilate as he closed his eyes and held his thumb loosely in his mouth; his damaged palate wouldn‟t even allow him the comfort of suckling. “Someone needs to sterilize that woman.”
“Only fix she want is the kind she can stick in her arm.” The foster mother pushed Bryan out of the exam room.
After Alex picked up her messages and told Grace to call HRS about Bryan‟s mother, she headed over to the hospital.
Construction that never seemed to end had worked traffic into a nasty knot, so she used the delay to return some calls.
“Dr. Charles Haggerty, please. This is Dr. Keller.” While she was on hold, she inched her Jeep to the far left side of her lane to see beyond the furniture delivery truck in front of her. Road construction and a fender bender blocked off three of the four eastbound lanes. A good mile of bumper-to-bumper traffic stretched out ahead.
“Al? Where are you?”
“On the road between my office and surgery.” The sun came out from behind some clouds, so she slipped on her shades. “What‟s up?”
“I‟ve got a six-year-old boy, Down‟s kid, and I‟d like you to look at
him for a partial glossectomy. Hang on.” To someone else he said, “Get me a throat swab and a CBC on four, thanks, Amanda.” There was noise: a child‟s angry screech and a woman‟s startled yelp. “Oh, shit. My