Author: P Hana

Page 160


“I’ve a daughter,” he said. “And two grandsons; bonny lads. But I’m forgetting; you’ll have seen them last week, aye?”

I had. They came at least twice a week to see him, bringing scribbled school papers and autographed baseballs to show their grandpa.

“And there’s my mother, living up to the rest home on Canterbury,” he said thoughtfully. “It costs dearly, that place, but it’s clean, and the food’s good enough she enjoys complainin’ about it while she eats.”

He glanced dispassionately at the flat bedsheet, and lifted his stump.

“A month, d’ye think? Four? Three?”

“Maybe three,” I said. “With luck,” I added idiotically.

He snorted at me, and jerked his head at the IV drip above him.

“Tcha! And worse luck I wouldna wish on a beggar.” He looked around at all the paraphernalia; the automatic respirator, the blinking cardiac monitor, the litter of medical technology. “Nearly a hundred dollars a day it’s costing, to keep me here,” he said. “Three months, that would be—great heavens, ten thousand dollars!” He shook his head, frowning.

“A bad bargain, I call that. Not worth it.” His pale gray eyes twinkled suddenly up at me. “I’m Scots, ye know. Born thrifty, and not likely to get over it now.”

“So I did it for him,” I said, still staring upward. “Or rather, we did it together. He was prescribed morphia for the pain—that’s like laudanum, only much stronger. I drew off half of each ampule and replaced the missing bit with water. It meant he didn’t get the relief of a full dose for nearly twenty-four hours, but that was the safest way to get a big dose with no risk of being found out.

“We talked about using one of the botanical medicines I was studying; I knew enough to make up something fatal, but I wasn’t sure of it being painless, and he didn’t want to risk me being accused, if anyone got suspicious and did a forensic examination.” I saw Jamie’s eyebrow lift, and flapped a hand. “It doesn’t matter; it’s a way of finding out how someone died.”

“Ah. Like a coroner’s court?”

“A bit. Anyway, he’d be supposed to have morphia in his blood; that wouldn’t prove anything. So that’s what we did.”

I drew a deep breath.

“There would have been no trouble, if I’d given him the injection, and left. That’s what he’d asked me to do.”

Jamie was quiet, eyes fixed intently on me.

“I couldn’t do it, though.” I looked at my left hand, seeing not my own smooth flesh, but the big, swollen knuckles of a commercial fisherman, and the fat green veins that crossed his wrist.

“I got the needle in,” I said. I rubbed a finger over the spot on the wrist, where a large vein crosses the distal head of the radius. “But I couldn’t press down the plunger.”

In memory, I saw Graham Menzies’s other hand rise from his side, trailing tubes, and close over my own. He hadn’t much strength, then, but enough.

“I sat there until he was gone, holding his hand.” I felt it still, the steady beat of the wrist-pulse under my thumb, growing slower, and slower still, as I held his hand, and then waiting for a beat that did not come.

I looked up at Jamie, shaking off the memory.

“And then a nurse came in.” It had been one of the younger nurses—an excitable girl, with no discretion. She wasn’t very experienced, but knew enough to tell a dead man when she saw one. And me just sitting there, doing nothing—most undoctorlike conduct. And the empty morphia syringe, lying on the table beside me.

“She talked, of course,” I said.

“I expect she would.”

“I had the presence of mind to drop the syringe into the incinerator chute after she left, though. It was her word against mine, and the whole matter was just dismissed.”

My mouth twisted wryly. “Except that the next week, they offered me a job as head of the whole department. Very important. A lovely office on the sixth floor of the hospital—safely away from the patients, where I couldn’t murder anyone else.”

My finger was still rubbing absently across my wrist. Jamie reached out and stopped it by laying his own hand over mine.

“When was this, Sassenach?” he asked, his voice very gentle.

“Just before I took Bree and went to Scotland. That’s why I went, in fact; they gave me an extended leave—said I’d been working too hard, and deserved a nice vacation.” I didn’t try to keep the irony out of my voice.

“I see.” His hand was warm on mine, despite the heat of my fever. “If it hadna been for that, for losing your work—would ye have come, Sassenach? Not just to Scotland. To me?”

I looked up at him and squeezed his hand, taking a deep breath.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I really don’t. If I hadn’t come to Scotland, met Roger Wakefield, found out that you—” I stopped and swallowed, overwhelmed. “It was Graham who sent me to Scotland,” I said at last, feeling slightly choked. “He asked me to go someday—and say hello to Aberdeen for him.” I glanced up at Jamie suddenly.

“I didn’t! I never did go to Aberdeen.”

“Dinna trouble yourself, Sassenach.” Jamie squeezed my hand. “I’ll take ye there myself—when we go back. Not,” he added practically, “that there’s anything to see there.”

It was growing stuffy in the cabin. He rose and went to open one of the stern windows.

“Jamie,” I said, watching his back, “what do you want?”

He glanced around, frowning slightly in thought.

“Oh—an orange would be good,” he said. “There’s some in the desk, aye?” Without waiting for a reply, he rolled back the lid of the desk, revealing a small bowl of oranges, bright among the litter of quills and papers. “D’ye want one, too?”

“All right,” I said, smiling. “That wasn’t really what I meant, though. I meant—what do you want to do, once we’ve found Ian?”

“Oh.” He sat down by the berth, an orange in his hands, and stared at it for a moment.

“D’ye know,” he said at last, “I dinna think anyone has ever asked me that—what it was I wanted to do.” He sounded mildly surprised.

“Not as though you very often had a choice about it, is it?” I said dryly. “Now you do, though.”

“Aye, that’s true.” He rolled the orange between his palms, head bent over the dimpled sphere. “I suppose it’s come to ye that we likely canna go back to Scotland—at least for a time?” he said. I had told him of Tompkins’s revelations about Sir Percival and his machinations, of course, but we had had little time to discuss the matter—or its implications.

“It has,” I said. “That’s why I asked.”

I was quiet then, letting him come to terms with it. He had lived as an outlaw for a good many years, hiding first physically, and then by means of secrecy and aliases, eluding the law by slipping from one identity to another. But now all these were known; there was no way for him to resume any of his former activities—or even to appear in public in Scotland.

His final refuge had always been Lallybroch. But even that avenue of retreat was lost to him now. Lallybroch would always be his home, but it was no longer his; there was a new laird now. I knew he would not begrudge the fact that Jenny’s family possessed the estate—but he must, if he were human, regret the loss of his heritage.

I could hear his faint snort, and thought he had probably reached the same point in his thinking that I had in mine.

“Not Jamaica or the English-owned islands, either,” he observed ruefully. “Tom Leonard and the Royal Navy may think us both dead for the moment, but they’ll be quick enough to notice otherwise if we stay for any length of time.”

“Have you thought of America?” I asked this delicately. “The Colonies, I mean.”

He rubbed his nose doubtfully.

“Well, no. I hadna really thought of it. It’s true we’d likely be safe from the Crown there, but…” He trailed off, frowning. He picked up his dirk and scored the orange, quickly and neatly, then began to peel it.

“No one would be hunting you there,” I pointed out. “Sir Percival hasn’t got any interest in you, unless you’re in Scotland, where arresting you would do him some good. The British Navy can’t very well follow you ashore, and the West Indian governors haven’t anything to say about what goes on in the Colonies, either.”

“That’s true,” he said slowly. “But the Colonies…” He took the peeled orange in one hand, and began to toss it lightly, a few inches in the air. “It’s verra primitive, Sassenach,” he said. “A wilderness, aye? I shouldna like to take ye into danger.”

That made me laugh, and he glanced sharply at me, then, catching my thought, relaxed into a half-rueful smile.

“Aye, well, I suppose draggin’ ye off to sea and letting ye be kidnapped and locked up in a plague ship is dangerous enough. But at least I havena let ye be eaten by cannibals, yet.”

I wanted to laugh again, but there was a bitter note to his voice that made me bite my lip instead.

“There aren’t any cannibals in America,” I said.

“There are!” he said heatedly. “I printed a book for a society of Catholic missionaries, that told all about the heathen Iroquois in the north. They tie up their captives and chop bits off of them, and then rip out their hearts and eat them before their eyes!”

“Eat the hearts first and then the eyes, do they?” I said, laughing in spite of myself. “All right,” I said, seeing his scowl, “I’m sorry. But for one thing, you can’t believe everything you read, and for another—”

I didn’t get to finish. He leaned forward and grasped my good arm, tight enough to make me squeak with surprise.

“Damn you, listen to me!” he said. “It’s no light matter!”

“Well…no, I suppose not,” I said, tentatively. “I didn’t mean to make fun of you—but, Jamie, I did live in Boston for nearly twenty years. You’ve never set foot in America!”

“That’s true,” he said evenly. “And d’ye think the place ye lived in is anything like what it’s like now, Sassenach?”

“Well—” I began, then paused. While I had seen any number of historic buildings near Boston Common, sporting little brass plaques attesting to their antiquity, the majority of them had been built later than 1770; many a lot later. And beyond a few buildings…

“Well, no,” I admitted. “It’s not; I know it’s not. But I don’t think it’s a complete wilderness. There are cities and towns now; I know that much.”

He let go of my arm and sat back. He still held the orange in his other hand.

“I suppose that’s so,” he said slowly. “Ye dinna hear so much of the towns—only that it’s such a wild savage place, though verra beautiful. But I’m no a fool, Sassenach.” His voice sharpened slightly, and he dug his thumb savagely into the orange, splitting it in half.