Patient Zero

by Andrea Doria

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction written by a non-doctor and non-lawyer even by a non-English speaker. Any glaring language, medical or judicial mistakes are mine. The story involves a physical relationship between two women. But you knew that, that's why you are here ;) Feel free to send me your thougts:

Chapter 2

Miami, Florida, March 2006
In her head Ann had been going over the strange meeting with Fran Ferdinand and judge Ortiz all the way back from the beach. She did not know what to make of it, and she hated when she couldn’t figure peoples motives out.

She turned left off Brickell Avenue and into the parking garage under the high rise she lived in. She was not in any way attached to her condominium, it was just a place to live, and she expected a nice return on her investment when she found her dream home.

A small gray fur ball greeted her in the hallway. Ghost purred and rubbed his body against her ankles. She headed for the kitchen and gave him some fresh water and a handful of kibble.

She walked into her living room and immediately went to open the door to her balcony. It offered a wonderful view back on Biscayne Bay and she and Ghost spend most evenings out there in her comfortable lounger letting the evening air cool them. In spite of being a native Floridian she had never gotten used to air conditioning.

She quickly changed into an old college t-shirt and a pair of soft shorts. She put her hair in a ponytail and got a cold beer from the fridge. The sun had already set behind her building but there was still light in the sky.

She settled herself and picked up the folder the Ferdinand woman had given her. Ghost took his usual position at her feet and curled himself up in a little ball.

She would worry about dinner a little later. Drinking beer always took away her appetite and she might just grab a plate of scrambled eggs before bed.

An hour later she was staring into the darkness that started just beyond the railing on her balcony. She could see the light on the Rickenbacker Causeway and on a couple of boats still out on the bay.

But she wasn’t really seeing anything. Her mind was trying to process the information on doctor Mo Bancroft.

The doctor had what looked like an impressive career right up until she went to Africa. She had studied at an important school, interned at a reputable hospital. She had written a couple of impressive sounding papers.

And then she had left everything behind and gone to Africa. With her credentials one would perhaps have expected her to join Doctors Without Borders or an equally well known organization.

Instead she had signed on with a Ugandan health project financed by three Scandinavian organizations. She had started her work in Kampala and then after 8 months made her way to the northwest accompanied by a local doctor.

Two months later the two had surfaced at an African health care conference in Kenya. She had been scheduled to talk about an outbreak of Ebola, but her speech ended when apparently she had a nervous breakdown on the podium.

Ann had read a short notice in the East African Standard. There was a picture of the doctor being helped off the podium by a tall African man in a shirt with a very loud pattern.

It was impossible to see Mo Bancroft’s face in the picture, she was leaning into the black mans shoulder. Ann assumed he was the local doctor all though the tenderness in his gesture frozen in the grainy newspaper picture indicated he could be more than that.

That was all the information she had. And it pissed her off – nothing about the experimental drug.

She briefly considered calling judge Ortiz and demand some answers: That or turn his request for help down, but she was intrigued by the doctor.

She had a whole list of things she wanted to know about her, the work she did in Uganda and what happened that day at the conference.

She also had a list of things she needed to find out about Fran Ferdinand and PharmaMenta. She was going to ask her clerk to find some information on Ferdinand and she would ask her broker about PharmaMenta.

Judge Ortiz called her twice the following week, the Ferdinand woman was obviously putting pressure on him, and Ann could only wonder what kind of clout she, her company or PharmaMenta carried with Hector.

Her clerk had run into a stonewall trying to find information on Fran Ferdinand. Yes she was a juris doctor from the University of Texas in 1999 and she had been a member of the Florida Bar Association since 2003, but none of the usual tools online for getting information about lawyers turned up anything. Nothing. The woman was a fata morgana. She couldn’t even find the exact date Fran Ferdinand had joined Velasquez, Pena and Alonzo.

Come to think of it, it was strange that she hadn’t given Ann her card, and that it was judge Ortiz who kept calling to hear if she had decided to help.

It was the unanswered questions about Fran Ferdinand that kept her from offering her help. She had realized that first evening on her balcony that she wanted to meet Mo Bancroft and hear her story. But until she knew a little more about Ferdinand’s background and Ortiz’ involvement she wasn’t about to go to Colorado on a wild goose chase.

It was time to call in a few favors around town, perhaps even to call her dad.

Tabernash, Colorado, March 2006
She had always prided herself on being able to deal with any practical problem in a sane and sensible manner but her snowmobile was driving her insane.

In frustration Mo threw a wrench at her woodpile. It made a loud clank when it hit the concrete floor of her engine shed.

The snowmobile was her one link to civilization four month a year. Her Toyota Landcruiser might get her down the mountain but never back up again.

Not that she had much use for civilization, but she did take guilty pleasure in running an errand into town about once a month and then stopping for a double shot café latte at The Mocca Mecca.

The coffee was an attraction but so was the owner Dawn.

Now if she didn’t figure out why the mobile wouldn’t start she would have to either ask the general store to send up Wayne the mechanic and that would be humiliating or live without coffee for another 6 weeks at least.

She decided to take a break and was immediately joined by her big cat Panda as she walked out of the garage. Panda and the smaller female Snowball had wisely stayed away as her frustration level rose.

When she moved to the cabin in the mountains high above Tabernash Wayne the mechanic had offered her an update on maintaining a two-stroke engine when he delivered the snowmobile.

She had laughed him off and claimed that there was nothing she didn’t know about engines that he did.

It was partly true. As the daughter of an engineer who worked on old cars in his spare time she had seen her share of carburetors and cylinders. It had proven invaluable in Uganda.

But now the damn sled was getting the best of her.

She looked across the mountainscape and drew a deep breath of cold clean air, mentally calculating when she had last talked to another human being.

It was at least three weeks. For the first time in years the thought bothered her.

XMiami, Florida, March 2006
Ann looked up as her clerk showed the tall almost pear shaped man in. His sweet face split in a wonderful smile as he greeted her.

Ronald Allingham was Florida’s most unusual PI. There was nothing tough or aggressive about him. No cheap suite, beer breath or cigar stub. He was neatly dressed in lightly faded jeans and a Tommy Bahama shirt.

He was the kind of gay man who was in complete contact with his feminine side without waving it in front of him.

His true gift was his ability to get anybody to talk about themselves in a matter of minutes. He would have made a wonderful psychologist, but his dyslexia kept him from even graduating high school.

- How are you my friend?
Her clerk placed a cup of coffee and a cookie in front of him only a select few got that kind of service from Kate.
- I’ve been busy it’s not an easy job you’ve asked me to do.
- I know!

Since both Ann and her clerk had exhausted all online sources without finding anything substantial about Fran Ferdinand she had figured it was time to use the human approach.

Before she was appointed judge she had worked with Allingham on several cases. He seemed a natural choice for the job.

Ronald quickly updated her. He had befriended the receptionist at Velasquez, Pena and Alonzo who had told him that the Ferdinand woman had just popped up out of the blue one day less than a year ago. Nobody knew about any job openings before she was introduced as a new associate.

And unlike everybody else who always liked to talk about the previous successes right down to papers accepted at their school’s law reviews she had never talked about her past.

Her paralegal was just as baffled and it was a point of much gossip around the office that she seemed to be born on the day she stepped through the doors of the company.

The receptionist had even allowed Ronald to tag along for an afternoon of girl talk where he had met the paralegal and gotten no wiser.

- Who the hell is this woman, is she an agent – double agent?
Ronald laughed,
- I’m getting the con artist vibe more than anything.
- Why would an upstanding law firm hire a con artist?
He shook his head,
- Why don’t you ask Ortiz?

The thought had occurred to her. But as far as she’d gotten was to ask her broker for a list of major stockholders in PharmaMenta and a list of all the board members, Ortiz wasn’t on any of them.

Her broker had however heard a couple of rumors that the stock was badly overinflated.

Tabernash, Colorado, March 2006
After having split a nice pile of wood and bringing her frustration level down in the green area again Mo made a decision. She would crank up her generator and go online and find an online forum for snowmobile buffs.

There she would humiliate herself and ask for help. She just hoped Wayne didn’t read stuff like that. She knew she would never live it down in town if he got wind of her problems.

An hour later she had a profile at and she had posed her question with a detailed description of things she had already tried.

Judging from some of the other threads on the forum, she might not get an answer right away, so she decided to log off and save petrol, but not before she checked her mail.

Another batch of annoying mails from that woman at a law firm in Miami was piling up. Two keystrokes later they were all in the trash.

If there was one thing she didn’t need it was to be reminded of that day in Nairobi.

Miami, Florida, March 2006
He had been adamant the only place he would meet her for dinner was at Smith & Wollensky at South Pointe on the beach.

She hated that place.

It was every thing she despised about the corporate world: Full of guys working shady deals while overeating red meat and puffing on Cuban cigars. They treated the waiters with contempt and their women as hood ornaments, something to be shined and displayed for other men’s envy.

But she did not have a choice.

She turned into the parking area in front of the restaurant and immediately a young man jumped in front of her car and opened her door. His enthusiasm dropped 20 degrees when he saw she was a woman. He had misread the black Audi TT.

With a final deep breath she steeled herself before entering.

- Good evening ma’am, can I get you a table?
- I’m meeting George Bancroft
The woman almost genuflected
- This way, Mr. Bancroft has already arrived.

And indeed he had – she spotted him at his favorite table on the elevated deck of the outdoor café. A lazy mahogany ceiling fan was rotating above his head making strange shapes out of his cigar smoke. He was working on a martini – the stainless cocktail shaker next to his glass promising more.

She knew he knew she was approaching but he didn’t stand until she was level with the table.
- Ann, how are you?
He kissed both her cheeks and she was lost in his smell of expensive aftershave, clean linen and fresh cigar smoke.
- I’m well father, and how are you?
He gestured for her to sit, and a waiter glided to a stop moments after the hostess had left.
- May I get you something to start with, ma’am?
- A gin martini please on Portsmouth if you have it.

She knew it was silly, trying to impress her father with her knowledge of fancy liquor, but her always brought that side out in her.

Her drink arrived promptly and the waiter guided them through the menu. It was quite a laughable scene when you thought about if, patrons of steakhouses needing a guide to steak but she endured it and quickly ordered 6 oysters on the shell and a small sirloin with garlic mashed potatoes.

Since asking her how she was her father had not said a word, but she knew he was observing her.
- What can I help you with?
She drew in a deep breath and explained to him what Ortiz had asked her to do.
- Isn’t it an odd thing to ask a fellow judge to do?
She nodded
- Yes, and at every turn it smells more fishy.
- But you are intrigued by the doctor
Damn was she that easy to see through?
- I would like to hear her side of the story, yes.
Her father laughed took a sip of his drink and followed a huge cruise liner being towed through the narrow approach to Miami harbour.
- So your question is, do I have any dirt on Ortiz?
She shook her head,
- No, on PharmaMenta.

Their starters arrived hers on a gigantic plate of crushed ice. There where two different dipping sauces and half a lemon in a little net to hold back the pips when squeezed over the oysters.

A waiter opened a bottle of champagne and poured her a glass.

She dripped a few drops of sherry shallot vinaigrette on an oyster and brought the shell to her lips. Oysters had always been a magical and wonderful food for her.

When she was a little girl she had watched her father and his business partners doing almost ritualistic things with the mollusks and then she had read about the gigantic piles of oyster shells found at Stone age settlements in Europe.

The contrast boggled an eight year olds mind. Something extravagant in her present seemed to have been a staple many thousand years ago.

She pictured an eight year old Stone age girl complain to a friend that they were having oysters again. She had only ever been allowed a taste of the liquid.

Her dad was probably afraid the texture would gross her out.

- Remember how you always pestered me to let you try an oyster, when you were a little girl?
He could still read her mind.
- You ordered 6 for me for my 14th birthday at the Roc.
- I figured you were finally old enough to really appreciate them.
She smile, couldn’t help her self.
- They were the most wonderful things I had ever tasted, better than ice cream even. And much better than stone crab.
For the first time he met her eyes directly
- I know.

An hour later she walked out the front door and waited impatiently for the valet to bring her car round, she desperately wanted to go home and snuggle up with Ghost. She had put things in motion, and she’d get her answers soon enough.

Tabernash, Colorado, March 2006
Mo had to laugh out loud at some of the replies she had gotten to her question at the snowmobile forum.

She was pretty sure they were from 14 year old boys, who knew stuff from magazines and manuals but had never actually been closer to a two stroke engine than they had to a girlfriend.

She could just picture some surfer know-it-all kid in shorts in front of his computer in sunny California.

But a profile named engine-guy had a few interesting points. She was willing to try them. Before logging off she spotted the usual two mails from the lawyer lady – her subjects were getting increasingly threatening.

She could do the math too. Statute of limitation was racing to meet her.

Panda and Snowball were dozing on the couch in front of the roaring fire but they jumped up ready for action when she started pulling her boots on. She pulled a pair of thin wool gloves on and her thick down west over her heavy sweater.

Panda was out the door as soon as he could squeeze through, Snowball was much more cautious.

It was a day pregnant with snow. Gray skies were closing in all around her and the air had an almost sulfuric smell and taste to it. A storm was brewing.

Which meant even if engine-guys advice worked she wouldn’t be getting off the mountain for a few days anyway.

Lauren from the general store had called her the day before, just to check in, she had noticed it had been three weeks since she was in town. Mo had been really touched.

She shifted a couple of inches of snow to open the double doors of her engine shed. The snowmobile was just as she left it with the engine cover opened and her tools all over the floor.

Panda and Snowball wisely stayed clear and went to explore around the cabin. Panda was clearly frustrated that all rodents were hibernating. Snowball seemed to take it more in stride and just explored her surroundings.

Mo checked the carburetor magnets and found that one was missing. After a bit of fiddling she could shake it out and remount it.

Her snowmobile started with a satisfying roar. She brought it outside and saw the cats running for cover under the front porch.

It was tempting – if she pushed it, she could make the round trip in three hours. Yes the sky was gray, but it had been gray the day before and it had only amounted to a dusting.

She left the sled idling and went inside – the cat’s followed her.

The decision was made in an instant – she poured kibble in the cats bowls, refreshed their water and suited up.

15 minutes later she felt exhilarated zooming down the mountain with the wind in her face.Coffee was waiting at the end of the drive. Coffee and Dawn.

To be continued in chapter 3

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