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 3

Chapter 3 Tabernash, Colorado, March 2006
The snow was absolutely perfect. The sound of the sleds engine and its skies skimming the snow sounded like music. Moís body was in that state of adrenalin rush where it has complete control and still had an extra gear if the need arose.

At first she didnít take particular notice of the snow flakes, possibly even thought they were from the spray she was making, but the first time she had to wipe her goggles she realized that the storm was right behind her and catching up.

The winding path down the mountain was sporadically marked with red-topped sticks. Little by little it became more of an effort to locate them and she knew she was approaching the hard part of the route where one mistake would send her down a deep ravine.

For a moment she considered turning around, but knew that would be even harder, then she would have to fight gravity as well as the storm.

By now the adrenalin buzz had turned from sweet to nasty. Her throat was dry, her stomach clenched and all her muscles already reacting to the lactic acid. Her arms and shoulders were burning from keeping the sled under control. She could feel her t-shirt sticking to her back ≠ she was sweating partly from the effort, partly from fear and it had none of the nice feeling of a good workout.

She knew she had crossed the point of no return and felt foolish for getting herself in such a dangerous situation. Snow was definitely not her true element. It was pretty but completely uncompromising.

She tried to calculate the distance she had left ≠ in good weather it would take her about 45 minutes but in this, who knew?

Miami, Florida, March 2006
Kate buzzed Ann in her office: A thick envelope had been delivered by messenger. No need to sign for it. Ann immediately knew it was from her Dad he always went out of the way to protect her.

It still hurt when she looked back at the time when she had failed to protect him.

She would look at the contents of the envelope when she got home. It felt so very important to her to keep the two things apart, her job and this strange business Ortiz had talked her into.

The more she thought about it the angrier she got. He was really yanking her chain. All that talk about how he would never treat her any different from any of the other judges just because they had a past had proven false. She could only hope someone was yanking his chain even harder.

If not sheíd have to reconsider her position and think long and hard about her relationship with Ortiz. He would always be her mentor, but whether or not she would still call him friend would be another matter.

Tabernash, Colorado, March 2006
Sweating on a cold mountain in a snowstorm is not a good thing. Especially not when itís fear that slowly trickles down your back.

Mo was locked into a defensive standing position, her upper back almost spasming with the effort of controlling the sled. She had slowed down as far as she dared but knew she needed momentum to be able to control the machine.

She could physically feel her heart beat hammering in her ears.

Suddenly the left ski hit something hidden under the snow and the sled flipped violently to the right. She shifted her weight and managed to get both skies in contact with the track, but she was gliding out of control almost sideways down the mountain. The sudden flip and her counter maneuver made her loose her balance and she fell back hard on the seat. That might be what saved her from going into the deep ravine to her left. Instead the sled glided up a slight embankment to her right the engine stuttered once then died.

All she could hear around her was the wind and her own hoarse breath.

An engine stop in a snowstorm two-thirds down a mountain is something you need like salt on a cake or dirt in your coffee.

Even before she tried restarting the engine, she knew it was in vain. It wasnít a premonition just a result of her finely tuned ear for engine sounds. That final stutter before it died had told her everything. She also knew that there was no way she could fix it.

Itís possible to stand on a dusty road in Uganda under a burning sun, at least for a while, and fiddle with an engine. But crouching in the snow in a storm, when you are soaked by your own sweat, is suicide.

She was actually at the steepest point of the route and she figured she could use it to her advantage. She looked at the sled ≠ she could tear off the windscreen or use the longer, but bulkier seat. She planned to toboggan down the rest of the way. It would be hard work, but it would keep her body temperature up and gravity would help.

Miami, Florida, March 2006
Ghost greeted Ann when she got home. He was not a very vocal cat, he just purred and rubbed himself against her ankles.

She had read somewhere that the rubbing was the cat marking her as his territory. She liked that.

Half an hour later she had change, gotten a beer from the fridge and positioned herself in her lounger on the balcony.

A moment later Ghost joined her, but she didnít notice she was already engrossed in the documents her Dad had send. So she didnít notice that Ghost at some point threw his paw across her ankles and disappeared into a deep cat-dream where the mice were plentiful, easy to catch and fun to kill.

She was completely enthralled.

Part of her brain processed and digested what she read, another part admired the person or persons who had put the material together, it even included personal e-mails.

PharmaMenta had patented an asthma product in the spring of 1999, it was approved by the FDA two years later. That was in itself interesting, the unknown author of the document commented, usually the whole process takes 7 years. Thats an industry mantra.

The drug seemed to be a sort of an asthma wonder drug relieving patients from the social stigma of carrying inhalators and epinephrine syringes in case they got a huge attack.

When Astbegone was marketed the stock in PharmaMenta suddenly became as sought after as toilets at an October Fest.

For a while the company thrived on the success and build a new fancy HQ in Miramar ≠ the actual production was handled at a plant in Wisconsin.

Then in 2003 the company started hinting about a new wonder drug under production. In the local media it was hyped, supposedly PharmaMenta had developed a super clotting agent, medicine that would vastly improve the quality of life for hemophiliacs all over the world.

But in other parts of the country where PharmaMenta wasnít an almost sacred company analytics noted that it was doubtful the company could keep up steam until a final approval from FDA was achieved. Also, as someone dryly mentioned in an article, how many hemophiliacs are there even on the total global market?

It wasnít as if PharmaMenta had cured Malaria.

Ann finally stopped her reading, the mentioning of Malaria made her pause.

Wasnít Malaria rife in Africa? And hadnít Mo Bancroft been in Africa when she supposedly misused PharmaMentas experimental drug?

That couldn't be a coincidence.

Ghost was sprawled on his back letting the night breeze cool his belly. She scratched him distractedly and he started to purr gently.

Tabernash, Colorado, March 2006
Her choice of a toboggan vessel came down to which was easier to dislodge, the windscreen or the seat.

The clear plastic windscreen came off the moment she bend it backwards. It had a nice rounded curve and was a perfect fit for her ass.

A moment later she was on her way. It wasnít easy ≠ the snow was already too deep - but she made headway with a bit of work.

After about 35 minutes she was at a point where she could wade the rest of the way in snow getting deeper by the moment.

It was dusk by the time she stumbled into the general store.

Lauren was at the register doing a crossword puzzle and drinking tea, when the store bell chimed.

She looked at Mo over the top of her half glasses and jumped up:

- Jez, where did you come from, thereís a storm raging!

Mo pointed up the mountain

- Tell me about it
- Whereís your sled?
- About a third up
- You walked???
- Tobogganed

Lauren laughed

- Only you.

She motioned for Mo to follow her out back and a moment later she started getting out of her suite. Lauren brought her some sweats that she started pulling over her thermal underwear

- No, go to the bathroom and strip, your t-shirt is drenched.

She obeyed like a child.

When she got out Lauren handed her a plaid and cup of steaming hot tea.

- You better stay here until itís over. Anyway Wayne is down in Fraser.

That settled it, until he got back there was no way sheíd get back up the mountain. She wasnít too worried about Panda and Snowball, she always had propane heaters on to keep her cabin above freezing and there were plenty of warm blankets and animal pelts they could curl up in to keep warm. Sheíd given them a generous helping of kibble and they always had a huge bowl of fresh water.

- Let me give Dawn a call.

Mo didnít look up, she always felt her cheeks burn at the mention of Dawn

- Maybe sheís free for dinner ≠ then Iíll have two hungry women to cook for.

Mo could hear Laurens laughter as the other woman walked into the store to use the phone. A moment later she was back

- Yup she was free ≠ I suppose thereís not much to do in Tabernash when a lovely young woman want to spend the evening with two old bats like us.

Mo was send out to mind the store while Lauren started cooking.

In the two hours that Mo sat on a stool by the register and thumbed through one magazine after an other only two customers stopped by, nobody she knew very well.

Everybody in Tabernash knew of Mo, but she was mostly on a nod-of-the-head base with most people apart from Wayne, Lauren and Dawn.

A little after 6.30 Lauren yelled for her to lock the front door and turn the open/close sign and wash up.

Dawn had already arrived by way of the front door in the private part of the building and she was sitting in the kitchen with a cold beer in front of her.

She looked like she had just showered her hair was a bit damp at the collar of her shirt and her cheeks glowed pink and healthy. She jumped up and came towards Mo and gave her a big hug.

- Lauren told me, what happened, Iím just so glad you are all right.

Mo shrugged

- Wasnít really a big deal
- So you wasnít scared at all?

Lauren turned from the stove where she had been stirring a pot of chili, she looked at Mo with a hint of laughter in her eyes.

- Well perhaps a bit, right when I was thrown off the sled, but when I realized I wasnít hurt I just decided to take action and get off the mountain.

As Lauren turn back to her pot Mo saw that the hint had grown to a smile and wondered why.

Laurens chili was famous in four counties and she served it with corn bread and a sharp guacamole. Beer was a perfect companion and soon they were seated and tugging in.

It was a lovely evening. There was a sweet banter between Lauren and Dawn. They sounded like an aunt and a favorite niece.

Mo guessed that Lauren was in her mid fifties. She was a tiny woman with steel gray hair and eyes that seemed to always smile. Mo didnít know anything about her other than she was born and raised in Tabernash and had never been outside of Colorado.

Dawn was of medium height with bright red hair, freckles and amazing blue eyes.

When women complain about being 10 pounds overweight they either under- or grossly overestimate their bodies. But in Dawns case it was just about exactly right, not that Mo had ever heard her utter that ridiculous statement.

As Mo leaned back and watched the two women she was suddenly struck by what she had been missing for the last two years up on that mountain.

The company of nice women.

Miami, Florida, March 2006
At a little after 3 a.m. Ann woke with a start in her lounger on her balcony still clutching some of the papers she had been reading.

She had no idea what woke her, but she could feel her heart hammering and her throat was dry.

As she stirred Ghost lifted his head and looked at her.

- Letís get to bed, shall we, she said to the cat.

As if he understood her, he stretched and jumped off the lounger and went into the living room ahead of her. She stacked the papers and picked them up carrying them in with her. A moment later they were in bed, Ghost on the vacant side of the double bed. Soon after they were both asleep again.

The phone woke her at 5.20 a.m.

- Ann Hunter

Her voice was thick and low.

- Mi hija
- Hector, do you know what time it is?
- Yes, Iím sorry but I have to tell you your father is dead.

Her mind went blank ≠ just a completely flat line.

- when?
- a little after 3 he was shot leaving a nightclub in South Beach.

Everything was wrong with that sentence, her father couldnít be shot, he also could not have been at a nightclub in South Beach at 3 a.m.

- Why?
- I donít know Ana, the police called me because he was still on probation.

She gently put her phone down. And just sat there in the darkness of her bedroom. Just for a moment.

Then she jumped out of bed and into her bathroom, she stood under the shower for a long time, eventually turning the cold water on.

Then she dressed, in a conservative dark charcoal gray skirt and jacket suite, with a pale blue silk shirt under. The peals her father had given her when she graduated law school was hidden under the sever collar of the shirt. The feel of the pearls against her bare skin a small comfort.

A little after 6 a.m. she gunned her BMW out of the underground parking garage and unto Brickell Avenue, she headed downtown towards the city morgue.

Tabernash, Colorado, March 2006
Dawn left just before midnight ≠ Lauren had gone to bed around 10 p.m. because she had to open the store at 6.30 a.m.

Mo and Dawn did the dishes and found a bottle of bourbon in one of Laurens kitchen cupboards.

Sitting in front of the fire in Laurens huge fireplace in the living room they had a nightcap and talked about mainly nothing.

It felt comfortable ≠ as if talking to other people was like riding a bicycle, once learned never forgotten.

Mo offered to walk Dawn home, but she laughed.

- Itís only 200 yards and your suite is still damp.

She touched the black and red jacket laid over the back of a chair in Laurenís front hall.

In a whirl of wollen scarves, mittens and a sweet pointed hat Dawn was gone.

- Come see me for coffee, when you wake up!

Slowly Mo made up the couch for the night and sat for a while starring into the fire.

Dawn was such a sweetheart ≠ but somewhere in the back of her eyes there was a shadow. As if something bad had happened to her a long time ago. Something that time could not heal and never would.

Just before her mind drifted into sleep she realized that she must have hurt herself on the mountain, she was getting stiff on the right side of her body just under her ribs.

A gentle touch made her grimace and then she was asleep.

Pale, gray light filtered into the room ≠ she woke disoriented because there was no wood ceiling and no timber walls and no cats yelling for kibble.

Just quiet and the far of sound of a powerful V8 engine.

Then she remembered, she was on Laurens couch.

When she got up to go to the bathroom she saw black spots before her eyes for a moment. She realized she had a few sprained ribs and moved very slowly.

Lauren had left coffee on in the kitchen.

She didnít share Dawnís and Moís appreciation of espresso brews, it was flat, black and bitter but hot.

Mo limped to the bathroom and took a hot shower.

Her thermal underwear had been washed and hung on a string across an old fashioned tub to dry, she tested it as she came out of the shower stall, it was almost dry and she put it on.

As she rolled up her beddings and put the couch back together again and straightened up the living room she briefly wondered why Lauren didnít have any animals.

A dog would make sense for a shop owner. Not that the crime rate in Tabernash was high, but just to be on the safe side.

She stuck her head into the shop and said good morning.

- Wayneís back, Lauren said.

Mo nodded and said sheíd look in on him.

- He went to Dawns for breakfast, why donít you head on over?

Again Mo nodded and went into the hallway to put on her suite.

The pants with the suspenders were dry, but the jacket still a bit damp. She grabbed the sweatshirt Lauren had lend her the day before.

It was a beautiful day outside. Clear blue skies and the shimmering of blinding white snow on the mountains surrounding Tabernash.

The windows of Mocca Mecca was steamed up, judging from the amount of trucks and sleds in front of the tiny store this was Dawns prime time.

She could smell the freshly roasted coffee beans as she got closer.

Every seat was taken in the tiny shop. Lots of men in heavy clothing were eating huge platefuls of eggs with freshly baked bagels and drinking huge cups of steaming cappuccino. Wayne was sitting at the counter where Dawn was busy working the espresso machine.

Through a small opening into the kitchen Mo could see Gwen a huge, fiercely looking woman with lots of tattoos on her strong arms cooking up the orders.

Mo had been introduced to her before but never managed to figure out where she came from or what she was doing in Tabernash.

The town just seemed to draw people with difficult pasts.

- Hey Mo, heard you had a bit of a accident,

Mo greeted Wayne and Dawn handed her a huge latte with a double shot in a big ceramic mug.

- Yeah, my sled is about a third up the mountain
- No problem my big Cat will get us both up there and if your sled still has glide weíll just tow it up or down.

Mo nodded ≠ just engine troubles

≠ probably flooded from the violent bashing it took.

Wayne told her to be ready around 11 a.m. paid Dawn and left.

Dawn motioned for Mo to take the seat Wayne had vacated.

- You up for some breakfast ≠ you move kind of stiff.

Mo didnít think anybody had noticed ≠ especially not Dawn behind the espresso monster.

- Iíve bruised a couple of ribs
- Itíll hurt like dickens riding up behind Wayne.

Mo briefly wondered how Dawn knew but lost all sensible thought when a huge plate of delicate white fluffy scrambled eggs, a curl of perfectly fried bacon, a slice of smoked salmon, two dollar-pancakes and a basket of fresh bagels were placed in front of her. She picked up her fork and dug in.

Miami, Florida, March 2006
Miamiís morgue was a huge, grey formidable building right downtown.

Ann knew of the building of course but had never been inside.

The "Visitors Parking" sign gave her a start. At least it was comfortable to know that some people actually left the building again.

A guard checked her name and credentials and asked her to step through the metal detectors.

Another puzzling detail: Who would try to rob a morgue? Well, she guessed that somebody might be desperate enough to try to influence the outcome of an autopsy but still the security seemed a bit excessive.

She was asked to wait in a standard public waiting room with dull green walls, non-descript furniture and the ever-present slightly whining cold and hot drinking machine.

For a brief moment she thought about getting a coffee ≠ now was the time where itís acid, dull, industrial taste might be a comfort.

But she knew it would make no difference on how unpleasant the task awaiting her was.

A police officer stepped into the waiting room and asked her to follow him.

Every door they passed down the long hallway gave her the creeps behind them she imagined stacks of dead bodies.

He finally motioned her into a tiny cubicle. A table two chairs and a tv monitor was all the four walls encompassed.

He punched a button on the base of the monitor ≠ a gray flickering light turned on the screen, and then he spoke into a microphone she had missed during her first inventory.

- We are ready Jack
- Go a head.

He read of a seven digit number with a dash between the first four and last tree digits. So thatís what her fatherís life had come to ≠ seven digits and a dash.

Suddenly the monitor changed from just the solid gray to a weak black and white rendition of a room. Her fathers face came into focus.

He looked peaceful, pale and drawn, but peaceful.

- Can I see him?
- You are seeing him, assuming itís Leopold Hunter, Jr.

She nodded.

- You have to answer yes or no, maím.
- Yes, itís Leopold Hunter, Jr. when can I see him?

The police officer looked very uncomfortable

- When heís released to a funeral home you can ask them.
- Why, heís just here somewhere
- Itís procedure maímÖthe autopsy and his pretty badly shot up

She met his eyes

- How badly?
- A gang of four angry Cubans with automatic weapons badly.

Something click in place in her mind. She knew without a doubt that she had gotten him killed. What the case, prison and the years after hadnít achieved, she had managed with just one demand: Get me the dirt on PharmaMenta.

She also knew that she had to go to Colorado and meet the doctor, as soon as she had buried her Dad.

To be continued in chapter 4

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