The Istanbul Decision
Dr. Harry Beachamp made his way down the empty corridor toward the end door where two Marine sentries stood, their rifles in hand.
"Morning, sir," returned one of the sentries.
"How's the patient?"
"The same," said the young man, motioning for Beachamp to raise his arms. The doctor complied with a sigh.
"You'd think some of us might be exempt from this constant frisking."
"You know the orders, sir. No one gets through this door without a thorough search. No one." He ran his hands over the doctor's clothes, finishing at the cuffs of his trousers. Then, taking out a small portable metal detector, he repeated the process all the way up.
"It's just that it's all getting a little bit tedious. How's Bernice holding up?"
"Lieutenant Green seems to be all right, sir," the young man said, folding the detector and slipping it back into his pocket. "Although it hasn't been easy with a spitfire like this one." He reached over and opened the door.
The room was sparsely furnished; a hospital bed, a night-stand, a dresser for clothes — all in white. White blanket on the bed, white curtains, the only dab of color anywhere seemed to be the blue-black hair of the young woman who sat in a wheelchair facing the window, her back to the door.
Beside her sat a Marine nurse, also in white, her face drawn, drained of emotion. When Beachamp entered, she stood up and came forward. "May I speak with you a moment, Doctor?" she asked. "Alone?" This last word was added with a note of urgency.
"Of course, Lieutenant, but I'd like to see my patient first, if you don't mind."
"Oh, yes," said the nurse, backing off. "Excuse me, Doctor." She stepped in the direction of the far wall, working her hands anxiously in front of her.
Beachamp came around to the front of the wheelchair and placed himself on the window ledge so that he could look directly at the young woman. He felt his breath catch slightly in his throat. Her amazing beauty always took him by surprise. "How are you feeling today?" he asked gently.
Her dark eyes glared at him.
She didn't answer.
"I would imagine," he went on.
Again, silence. She glared at him, her eyes as vicious and alien as the stare of a snake.
He opened his clipboard as though printed there somewhere was the secret of how to make her talk to him. The words TATIANA KOBELEV appeared at the top of the sheet. Nationality: RUSSIAN; Referred from: CLASSIFIED; Duration of stay: CLASSIFIED; Personal history: CLASSIFIED; Medical history: Good health except for the spinal injury.
He closed the cover and tapped it absently with his pencil, still staring at her. Scuttlebutt had it this was the girl who had taken a potshot at the President and killed a Secret Service agent, then had been wounded herself in the scuffle. The press had been thrown off the track. They were told she had been killed. Another girl had been buried in her place; a diary had been «discovered» that showed a mental history of instability. Then, once the public had been satisfied, Kobelev was rushed here to the military hospital at Camp Peary under the strictest security.
But all this was speculation, grist for the rumor mill. No self-respecting officer would be caught dead repeating such tripe. Still, he couldn't help but wonder if maybe the girl's hard attitude didn't stem from fear of being shot by a firing squad at any moment.
"I'm not here to judge," he said to her, softly touching her arm. "I'm a doctor. You're my patient. It doesn't matter to me what you've done."
She turned and stared sullenly out the window.
He leaned closer to her. He had taken several years of Russian in college, thinking someday to be able to read Tolstoy in the original, but he'd given it up when it drew too much time from his premedical studies. He could remember only a little of it now. "
Her eyes flashed back to his, hate radiating from behind dark pupils.
He bent still closer, close enough now to feel her breath. "Believe me, Tatiana, I don't care what you've done," he said in English. "I'm a Christian man. I believe we are all equal in the sight of God."
Her lips puckered and she spat.
Immediately the nurse, who had been standing on the other side of the room, dashed forward. "Oh. Dr. Beachamp! I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed, pulling a crumpled tissue from the pocket of her uniform and dabbing the saliva from his face. "She is a wicked girl. Absolutely wicked."
"It's all right," the doctor mumbled absently. "Please." He took the tissue and wiped his eyes and the sides of his nose. "It's my own fault. They told me what to expect. I just refused to believe them, that's all. I won't make that mistake again, I can assure you," he added, straightening himself.
The nurse drew him into the comer by the bathroom. "Is it possible," she whispered, "that this girl's faking not being able to walk?"
The doctor drew himself up. "Absolutely absurd! Of course not. You've seen her charts, Lieutenant. You know the extent of the nerve damage she sustained. How can you possibly entertain…"
"The other day she indicated she wanted to urinate. I went to get a clean bedpan when I was called down the hall by an orderly who had an emergency on another ward. Ensign Poulsen. I believe you know who I mean."
"The accidental grenade detonation. Blind, isn't he? I understand he's taking it rather hard."
"He was hysterical, sir. He'd gotten hold of a scalpel from somewhere and had one of the nurses by the throat. It took all of us the better part of an hour to calm him down. At any rate, I completely forgot about this one. When I remembered, I figured she'd either be in agony or wet the bed by the time I got back. But she wasn't, sir! She never said anything about it. The bedpan was dry and the toilet had been recently flushed!"
"Lieutenant, I'm sure you're imagining…"
"No! I know that toilet had been flushed because I'd left cigarette ashes in it and they were gone when I came back."
"Smoking in these rooms is strictly against regulations!"
"I'm willing to take whatever punishment you think is proper. But I'm telling you that girl is lying. She can walk. I'd bet my pension on it."
Beachamp smiled. "Before you end up poverty-stricken in your old age, Lieutenant, I think I should tell you that medically speaking, there is no way that girl could walk. It's absolutely impossible."
The doctor hedged. "There might be a very remote chance that the nerve endings were not severed. We may have missed it in our tests. But the possibility is so small it's not even worth discussing. And as for your toilet, I 'm sure one of the men outside came in and flushed it and didn't tell you. Did you ask?"
"There you are. I'm sure if we went outside right now and…"
The woman clutched at his arm. This girl is playing possum! I can feel it!"
Beachamp scrutinized her closely. "Is this duty beginning to wear on you, Lieutenant? Perhaps you could use some relief for a day or two. I'll speak to Colonel Forbes about a temporary replacement."
"Maybe you're right," she said, self-consciously withdrawing her hand from the doctor's arm. "Maybe I
"Yes, well…"the doctor muttered uncertainly, his eyes following the nurse's to the angular, unyielding back of the girl who seemed oblivious to their presence. "I'm afraid none of us is too fond of her. I'll speak to the Colonel."
Tatiana heard the stupid American doctor leaving, but she did not turn around. He and his asinine attempt at Russian! As though his vile tongue could do justice to the expressiveness of that language!
But she had to contain her anger. She had to keep her silence, build a wall around herself. And wait until the time was right.
And when that lime finally arrived, she'd have to depend on instinct. Instinct her father had taught her to depend upon and use. Attack, he said. Attack and keep on attacking until the enemy can no longer raise his head. And then keep on — keep on until you've utterly crushed him!
She thought about her enemy — his face a pulpy mass of blood — and it made her smile. It was the face of Nick Carter, the man who had put the bullet in her back, the man she hated more than anyone in the world. Revenge upon him would be sweet when it came. And it
She twitched her toes inside the cloth hospital slippers. Her secret. She had to keep it from these stupid doctors at all costs. No one could know, no matter how they tried to take her unawares, no matter how many pins they stuck in her legs. Nothing could spoil the surprise she had in store for them, all of them. She would exercise at night. She would do isometrics in bed to work off the weakness that had crept into her body from the weeks of lying and sitting in this disgusting room. Then, when th ...