Foole's Ambition (Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground)
Chapter 1

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of {ci}wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..." - Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870)

'A Tale of Two Cities'

I knew something was out of place somehow the moment I entered the house. Everything just felt wrong somehow; out of synch, as if the house, walls, floors and ceilings were just collectively holding their breath ... waiting. Houses do have a feel to them; they live and breathe, inhale and exhale, and putter along with a life all their own. Think of them as part of our shadow, our lives, for good or bad, touching them and influencing them in a myriad of subtle ways. Much like an old favorite raincoat or hat that just feels right when you put it on.

You can always tell the feel of a happy house the moment you walk in the door. It feels bright and cheerful; the air seems sweeter and the walls purr back at you, smiling, happy to greet you and add the glow of your cheer to their radiant feedback. This house didn't. It didn't quite radiate doom and gloom either, with the floorboards glumly exuding malice or the reproduction 19th century crystal chandeliers gently pulsating a baleful chimed chorus of woeful despair. This house, a relatively new and modern one, was still fairly 'neutral', but with its collective baited breath held, as if expecting some imminent unpleasantness. Like a bad coat of spiritual paint.

This is an important reason why one should always buy proper antiques for your house, rather than the modern fiberboard plywood crap that comes from the discount furniture stores, or worse, IKEA. Antiques have character, and properly displayed and loved they help ground a house, and keep the more modern features of your home in-line and better behaved. Think of them as a voltage regulator, or circuit breaker for the psychic health of your household.

Certainly, antiques can go 'bad'. I've seen it dozens of times, and under extreme circumstances it is possible for your house to become a conduit for nasty unpleasant energies more properly belonging in some demonic under-hell. Still, this is rare, and like woodworm eating the legs of your colonial chairs, easily fixed by a good antiques man who knows what they're doing. Unfortunately, there are far too few of us — even the ones without that special sort of knack.

As a rule, in at least ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, a few fine well-loved antiques will keep your house in proper order, much like a stern British Sergeant Major, or Marine Corps Gunny, keeping the rest of the rank and file in line.

This house had none, the furnishings and decorations having an average circa date of last June. The décor was expensively modern and showed there are no limits to what one can spend with a fat wallet, and no sense of taste. Their decorator should be taken out and horse-whipped. The furniture wasn't quite IKEA, but it was equally soulless. The construction of the house, if anything, was worse; modern crappy Chinese made drywall, with insufficient insulation, indifferent electrical wiring installed by the lowest bidding sub-sub contractor, and unfortunate plumbing fung shui that was certain to lead to major problems in the not too distant future. Black mold was already starting to spread from a small water leak behind a wall in the kitchen.

The door locks were plain ordinary ones found in any hardware store and child's play for me to coax open. The electronic security system was so basic that it hadn't even slowed my entry longer than a few seconds. $940,000, according to the most recent county property tax appraisal, just doesn't build the kind of house it used to. It's disappointing, because sometimes I do appreciate a reasonable challenge.

It didn't take me long to find just exactly what I had come for. The painting was hanging right in the dining room, overlooking a monstrosity of modern cast iron and glass that pretended to be the formal dining table. I couldn't have missed it blindfolded. The painting, an early Jackson Pollock, beckoned to me like an absent lover. The only thing in the room that had any soul and it was pathetically eager, like a lost puppy, to be rescued. I gently caressed it and muttered a few soothing thoughts to it while I unfastened it from the wall and set it by the front door, ready for a hasty retreat, if necessary.

My mission was done, completed in just moments from my entry into the house, but I still had a very strong sense of uneasiness and wanted to take an extra careful look around before I left. Since this was technically a burglary, I also had to make quite certain that I'd neutralized any other significant security defenses. I'd easily disabled the house alarm outside before I'd entered the house, but there was always the chance of an internal video camera or a secondary Internet controlled wireless anti-intrusion system. I didn't sense any, but I'd take an extra close look around to be sure. I'm very big on taking my time to do a job right and I tend to move slowly when working.

I've got a very bad habit of touching nearly everything as I pass through; trying to find the rare misplaced pearls lost in an ocean of oyster shells, winnowing the few grains of wheat from an ocean of chaff. I try to wear the thinnest possible surgical gloves, but sometimes just the feel of a bare finger or two on an object will do. I've tried different tricks, such as putting fingernail polish over my tips, to leave my hands bare but avoid leaving prints, but it just doesn't feel right to me. I much prefer the touch of a bare hand. Every item, either ancient or brand new, has a story to tell. With gloves or any other covering, my senses are muted and I can only hear the louder voices, and sometimes it's the quiet whispered tales that are the important ones.

Sadly, I'm one of the very rare people that can hear their muted secret voices. It's my knack, my secret gift— and also my curse.

Technically, I'm what you would call a psychometric. When I touch or hold an object, I learn of its history; where it has been, who made it, who bought or sold it, and if they loved and treasured it or else threw it into some box in a garage, basement or attic, unwanted for generations. British antique folks would call me a 'divvie', because I can divine out the secrets of an item, especially if the item is a fake reproduction of an antique or an outright forgery. One touch and I would know the truth.

You would think that this would be an excellent means to a fortune, and perhaps so, but it hasn't quite happened that way so far for me. My knack has been quite useful in making an adequate living for me, but I'm by no means rich. I have a sterling reputation at most of the major auction houses and antique galleries, and I do get occasionally brought in to consult on some questioned item of dubious provenance, to offer an opinion on a possibly forged painting or reproduction piece of rare porcelain, but the fees are not generous. It doesn't help that my own tastes and interests will not let me pass by important or interesting items from the stock of my employers. Invariably, I spend my consultation fee in trade nearly immediately. My personal nest egg collection of antiques grows, it's true, but some months I spend more than I earn.

My bread and butter occupation is burglary, and has been since I discovered my gift as a teenager. I used to burgle houses for a living, taking whatever I wished or considered valuable, and I was extremely good, maybe one of the very best. No one ever saw me and I was never once caught, although I had a few close calls in my early inexperienced days. Now that I am older, but not particularly wiser, I've turned my talents to a slightly more socially useful purpose.

As the saying goes, "It takes a thief to catch a thief". I now steal from other thieves, or rather stolen art collectors.

Via my endless list of professional contacts, I accept contracts to 'recover' missing, borrowed or flat out stolen works of art. A dealer or a private collector will contact me to recover an item — quietly, without confrontation or involvement of law enforcement or insurance companies. Often these 'misplaced' objects are of controversial provenance for their owners and legal methods of recovery are complicated at best. Ok, replace 'often' with 'usually' ... I'm a thief, stealing from thieves, on behalf of bigger, nastier thieves. Or, as I usually call the lot of them 'collectors'.

Frankly, most of my clients are swine, little better than thieves and brigands themselves. You would be astonished to know of the hundreds of otherwise solid and respectable families of wealth and position, leaders of their civic communities that possess secret 'black galleries' of looted or stolen art. They maintain these illicit collections at great expense privately hidden away out of sight for their private enjoyment. Those thieves prey upon their criminal brethren and there is a constant flow as the stronger seize treasures from the weaker, or more easily blackmailed.

I try to never, ever deal directly with a client. Usually I'm contacted by one of their agents, usually from one of innumerable shady law firms that handle the darker affairs of their vastly rich and unprincipled clients. They make the arrangements for the payment of my fees and delivery of the item or items to be recovered, and generally providing me with the "mark's" name and residence to be searched for the desired object. The client and the mark are both 'collectors', as far as I'm concerned and with little if any moral superiority between them.

Usually the process works, like in this particular recovery case, a 'client' contracted an intermediary at a dodgy law firm with superb connections to the illegal art underground offering a 'recovery fee' for a certain art object, in this case the Jackson Pollock painting. Since they wanted the best, they contacted me directly through my own dodgy lawyer who has his ears on the collector grapevine, and they promptly paid half of my established fee upfront.

I don't know my client's name that is paying me — I never do. Often I don't even get a real name for my mark, the collector that I will be stealing (recovering) from. Sometimes, I would only receive an address where the item to be recovered is allegedly being kept. The less information I receive the more dangerous I assume the recovery will be and my fees increase accordingly.

It's a hard way to make a living, even with my gifts, and the outrageous fees that I charge. I'm considered the best and charge accordingly; twenty percent of my estimated value of the object, half payment upfront, non-refundable. All contacts between the client and myself via phone or Internet instructions only. No meetings. Non-negotiable, take it leave it. This allows me be very selective of the contracts I will accept. I'm no longer a poor starving teenager living on the streets, but I plan very carefully and take an unusual level of precautions executing a contract. Plus, my expenses (and tastes) are high.

Although I no longer break into the houses of complete strangers and steal their treasures, my job is still very morally dubious. Lately it has been gnawing at me with each new commission I accept. Sometimes I think I'd like to quit the recovery business entirely and just open an honest antique shop of my own, but I'm shy in public and ill-suited to a daily life of bantering with strangers, even potential customers. Plus, even though I have several storage places filled with antiques I've acquired - some legally purchased but most were not - I would find it hard to part with my treasures.

Alternatively, I could move out of the shadows and curtail my efforts to only working for slightly more savory employers, but I admit that the darker side of my business still enthralls me too much at present to think about quitting the game just yet.

I still enjoy the thrill of burglary too much to quit. My fingers still love to rove about and caress the treasures of others, divvying their secrets. They sometimes linger too long over especially rare, desirable or fascinating objects that then tend to stick to my fingers. Often they're added to an available pocket or into a loot bag, to join my own personal collection at home, to be enjoyed and savored later in private. Just a little act of personal revenge and justice, to steal from someone that I consider a worse thief than myself. At least now I only victimize other criminals from an elite collector society that I am coming to utterly despise instead of innocent families.

Touching ones bare hands to household objects does have the unfortunate side effect of leaving potentially useable fingerprints. It's not likely that the police would ever be called in to investigate my 'crime', the owner being unable to admit to possessing illegally the item(s) I have taken. However, the more powerful and influential collectors often have crooked cops or PI's on their payroll that could perform an adequate private investigation that could then determine my identity.

Accordingly, I keep a package of disinfectant wipes in my pocket and have instilled in myself the firm habit of wiping down every object I touch immediately afterwards. One bare hand fondling objects, the other hand, gloved, with a sanitizing cloth removing away my prints and any trace of DNA.

My appearance is equally protected with a generic pair of bulky work coveralls bearing a common moving company name on the back. Discretely altering my facial features and hair is a superb custom made Hollywood grade latex mask that is good enough to pass casual close scrutiny. Even if an Internet security camera were running inside the house, few real clues about my true appearance would be discernable. Even my height and general build would be misleading. Cheap boots a few sizes too big with heel lifts giving me the appearance of being several inches taller. Shoulder pad inserts and other padding add to my body frame adding significantly to the estimation of my weight and build. My natural build is slight, nearly of scarecrow proportions, but my altered image is that of a larger and robust individual, giving me little to fear from having my picture taken, at least indirectly or from a distance. No one seeing me in my 'work' outfit would ever pick out of any police lineup.

As I've admitted earlier, my morals are rather flexible and I see no dishonor or difficulty in stealing from another thief. Sometimes I think of this as my own personal chastisement to the millionaire plunderers of the art world. Criminals in the pay of these innumerable unscrupulous collectors took many of these rescued items of trophy art originally from museums, public collections, or even looted directly from ancient archeological sites. These looted art treasures are then sold to collectors via the stolen art network, and I 'liberate' these items whenever I can. For now, it is my turn to appreciate them. And I do, but I know in my heart that these treasures need, and want, to be returned to their true legal homes. Someday I'd find a way to do this without exposing myself to legal complications or retaliation from the collector community.

My treasures are patient with me and don't overly sulk at my caressing touches, but I hear their quiet discomfort, their yearning to return 'home'. Someday they shall. One day maybe we will all be free and where we belong.

Today the pickings for personal pilfering were slim to near none. The china and crystal was all modern and virtually soulless. The lamps, vases and the few bronze and iron figurines were also equally recent and of trivial esthetic value. Even the remainder of the hanging wall art was of little importance or interest. Either this collector, my mark, kept his real treasures well-hidden elsewhere, in another location or in an unusually well concealed secret room, or else he was a new player in this game.

Either option signified danger. An experienced and extremely cautious collector would have numerous, and subtle defenses against thieves like me, and would be unlikely to be overconfident. Similarly, the new starting trophy art collector would be much more likely to be suspicious, even paranoid about protecting his new illegal treasures. He would greatly fear discovery and would react in an uncertain way upon finding his most prized possession missing.

My unease with the household grew and I decided to forego my usual comprehensive search for this collector's private museum or secret storage room. The walls and floors would tell me quickly enough where such a hidden cache existed, but it would still take time. I decided that I would take only a quick cursory look around upstairs and make a hasty departure well ahead of schedule. My total fee for this recovery, nearly $450,000, would more than adequately compensate me for my other, more incidental, losses of being unable to add to my own private collection. This was the highest fee I had ever earned, and I didn't want anything to interfere.

I liked the atmosphere of the upstairs even less, and my feeling of apprehension grew. The house should be empty, the owner gone for the day in accordance with his routine daily schedule. Still, something was not quite right and I didn't feel alone.

My knack allows me significant powers over inanimate objects, but I cannot sense people or other things that are alive, nor have I any abilities that affect living objects in any way. This reinforces my general tendency to distrust people, especially strangers. As I also admitted earlier, my skills with people are very limited. I'd much rather talk to my furniture and other treasures than to a visitor.

My parents, if I still had any, would have long despaired over my inability to find a nice understanding girlfriend, let alone a wife.

There were still no signs of any cameras, and the house motion detectors remained dark and silent, still ignoring my presence. My knack with inanimate objects and even basic electronics is extremely well suited to the burglary trade. It's usually simplicity itself to shut off most alarm circuits into a slumbering state with a gentle caress of my bare hand and a strong suggestion to either shut-off or reset an electronic circuit. A gentle touch opens and reveals all: mechanical or electrical locks, security codes, safe combinations, rare gold coins hidden inside hollowed out books in a library. No secrets will be hidden from me for long.

The main bedroom was of little immediate interest and I bypassed it after just a cursory examination. No secrets hidden here. Even the Tiffany style lamp by the bedside was a modern reproduction and of negligible interest to anyone. This reinforced my conjecture that this was not the collector's primary residence, merely a remote place of temporary use.

A good reason for this became evident when I opened the last locked door upstairs to a smaller guest bedroom and found the girl in the bed.

I thought at first that she was dead and I was looking upon an angel that had returned to heaven. Her face was far too pale and pallid, showing no signs of life at all and her eyes were closed, as if in eternal slumber. Still, some sort of sense of her ethereal beauty captivated me at once, drawing me in closer to her. Taking her hand, I found it to be cold with no discernable pulse, but this was deceiving as she was in fact still breathing, albeit terribly slowly and far too shallow to be healthy or natural. She still seemed to be some sort of angel, but this one had flown too close to the ground and had crashed.

Checking her body under the covers briefly I saw that she was naked and her features were skeletal. The reasons for this were readily apparent and obvious: acute, near terminal starvation and lengthy heroin abuse. A small packet of heroin and other drug preparation apparatus were on a small table. Needles and other drug paraphernalia covered her bedside table and more drug related debris in a nearby trashcan showed that she had been a lengthy resident of this bed. She had an IV going into one emaciated arm but it appeared to give her nothing except a very slow saline drip — or her next heroin dose. No IV feeding bags filled the trash, only saline solution bags. Dozens of them, suggesting a very lengthy stay.

No wonder I had not known she was in the house when I had surveyed it during the previous week. She had been a prisoner in this bed for several weeks, maybe even months.

There wasn't a bone in her body that wasn't pushing against her starving and emaciated flesh. She was clearly at least fifty pounds under what most people considered 'thin'. There were several long rows of old, but unhealed needle marks on her arms and without the IV fluids it is likely that her veins would have completely collapsed by now. Her bony thighs and her buttocks, covered with bedsores, also indicated a lengthy somnambulence, and of being too weak even to roll over for a lengthy period of time.

Oddly, there were no signs of any recent restraints, and no noticeable binding marks on either the arms or legs keeping her in place. Apparently, her sojourn into lengthy self-destruction was either willing or else so incremental that she lost the ability or strength to leave her prison.

Most disturbing of all, there were recent signs of sexual activity. There was some quite recent dried semen upon her shrunken breasts and the stained sheets showed numerous signs of regular vaginal and anal intercourse. One fresh deposit seeping from her anus suggested that the collector had 'used' his unconscious and unresponsive victim, even as late as this morning before he left the house, about ten minutes before my entry.

This was far beyond reprehensible!

This frail fragile angelic creature in the bed, breathing out her last labored gasps, was in fact a young woman in a final desperate race between starvation and a fatal drug overdose. Her condition was so deteriorated that it seemed unlikely that the mark would be able to enjoy her near comatose form much longer.

In fact, if I left the woman and the house now and did nothing, it was far from certain that she would even still be alive later this evening upon the mark's return. I had to do something. Even with her last breaths of life, there was something about her that drew me to her, capturing my soul.

My first instinct was to call 911. That was the smart move. Don't give a name, just the raw details and beat feet out of there with the Pollock. There would be a police investigation and lots of questions. The girl would get critically needed help and maybe the mark would face some unpleasant questions that he couldn't answer. He'd maybe get an anal raping of his own by his new cellmate Bubba. This was the smart decision, but being a fool, I made other plans.

I decided to rescue this broken winged angel myself.

Why? I don't know, but broken and damaged people tend to find each other and sometimes there is symmetry. Most of the time, I listen to what my head tells me to do, but sometimes it's my heart instead giving the marching orders. They're not always pleasant to obey, or easy, but I've learned through long years of experience to listen and try to do what my heart says. I've found that the alternative, if I don't listen, is much, much worse. I'm a fool, but I try not to be any more foolish than I can help.

Something told me that even if EMS arrived and took this poor girl to the hospital, she still would not be safe. Collectors are all rich and powerful individuals with fat rolodexes of minions and toadies in useful places. With a few phone calls made, a favor offered or redeemed, undoubtedly an accidental overdose would swiftly occur. Or perhaps the night police officer on guard would smother her with a pillow. The end result would be the same, within hours my fallen angel would be dead, and no one would care a fig about her or getting her justice.

I was her only hope.

I wasn't sure that her body could survive the stress of being moved down to my waiting small van outside, and I was equally unsure that I even wanted to try and disturb her at all without getting some sort of nutrition into her. Even with the slow saline drip, she was still severely dehydrated as well as being starved. I was severely tempted to just leave the IV drip in, except I was sure that this one was heroin tainted. I saw a couple of unused and probably clean saline packets but I didn't know how to change them out. With great reluctance, I pulled the IV needle from her arm.

Eating was obviously way out of the question. Her stomach was visibly shrunken and I knew enough not to try to force her to take any solid foods. I got her a small glass of water and forced a little at a time into her mouth, slowly making her drink. She never woke up, but seemed to handle taking the water down without distress. Encouraged, I refilled the glass with some milk from the kitchen downstairs and slowly and carefully fed it to her, a tablespoon at a time, and waited for as long afterwards as I dared, sitting next to her holding her hand the entire time, willing her to live.

It was then that I suddenly realized that there was an Internet video camera in this room, focused upon the bed. I had been so distracted by my discovering of the helpless young woman that I had skipped my normal careful scan of the room. Obviously, the only reason that police weren't already here was that either the live camera feed was either not being currently watched, or the viewer knew they had too much to risk by exposure. Possibly, they were on their way to deal with me in person, or via a bunch of their minions. I leaped up and touched the camera to deactivate it. Better late than never I suppose.

I knew that I couldn't delay much longer, but I risked another return trip downstairs for a little more milk to feed her. Impatient, I waited a few minutes to allow it to settle in her shrunken stomach before I attempted to move her from the bed.

Her weight was inconsequential and she was like a small sack of bones in my arms, mere skin and bones with nothing of any substance left inside her. My stepfather would have called her a 'bag of antlers' and he wouldn't have been very far wrong. I found a bathrobe to cover her with but I was in constant fear that I would break one of her fragile arms getting them into the sleeves, though somehow I managed it.

She groaned ever so slightly as I lifted her up into my arms and carried her into the front passenger seat of my van, where I fastened her into place, still unconscious. The Pollock went into the van next. I risked one final trip into the house to wash the milk glass and spoon and hastily wipe off any surfaces I might have touched since I found the young woman and began tending to her care. I had to work in a panicked rush, and I couldn't be anywhere near as thorough as I would have liked. I was pretty sure that I'd left no traces downstairs, but once I'd found the girl upstairs my routine had been severely disrupted. I think I'd wiped down everything I touched in her room, but I wasn't certain and now I had almost no time to waste or dither worrying about it.

The way the bedroom camera was configured, for most of my time in the room I had been filmed only from my rear left side. My hood and latex mask had stayed on, so there had been virtually nothing exposed to identify me by. I had been inexcusably careless, but I hoped that this critical mistake would not come back to haunt me later.

I was taking another very dangerous risk, moving in and out of a residential house in early afternoon carrying an unconscious woman, let alone a valuable painting. Someone was very likely to notice, and possibly even call the police to investigate. In fact by the time I was finally ready to leave, I'm fairly sure I heard approaching sirens when I drove off as quickly as I dared to. This was as close of an encounter with the police as I'd ever had and I mentally kicked myself repeatedly for becoming involved with a stranger and violating nearly all of my standard safety precautions. Still, one does not rescue a fallen angel everyday.

I wasn't too concerned about the license plates on the van being observed and recorded. They were an old set taken from a junked car that I clipped over my regular legal ones, which were registered in one of my false working names. The company name on the side was also spurious, and printed on a large but thin magnetic sign sheet that was easily removable. It revealed only a plain non-descript white van, one of many thousands on the road in any major city. Usually on recovery business I would rent a van, but this job was close enough to home that I drove my own.

Once I was safely away, I retreated to a handy alleyway to remove my bogus license plates and business signage from the van. I also changed out of my fat suit, mask and the rest of my working costume. Once done I had time to check over my unconscious passenger, and was relieved to find that she was at least not any worse off. Her breathing remained slow and shallow with her skin still angelically pale, nearly translucent.

Now I had to consider my limited options. I thought about just dropping her off at a local emergency room as a Jane Doe, but this was far too risky, and maybe the first place the mark would go looking for her. There would also be cameras there, concerned and inquisitive nurses and far too many questions that I couldn't answer. Many ER's also have armed security guards and police nearby, and I would certainly attract their attention bringing in this poor victim.

The only remaining reasonable alternative was to take her to a hotel room and tend to her there for at least a little while, until she was more stable and other options became available. I already had one; in fact, I was just minutes away from it. However, I couldn't think of a way to carry my poor unfortunate charge up to my room without attracting a good deal of unwanted attention.

An alternative solution occurred to me and after double-checking that she was still stable, I drove to my original hotel and parked in a remote corner of their lot. I then promptly claimed my few bags from my room and checked out. I had already been in town for almost a full week to stake out the mark's residence for my burglary today, and to get a good feel for his schedule so I would know when best to infiltrate his house. It was probably time to move somewhere else anyway, to avoid any further attention of myself.

"Break in" or burgle are such indelicate words. I like to think that I'm now a sort of artist, serving a greater good somehow. Yeah right. Soothing words, but probably not quite accurate. Stealing from other thieves still made me feel like a thief, regardless of the moral sugar coating.

I didn't live in this large northeastern city, or visit it enough on business to warrant having a regular place to stay here, or anywhere else I travelled to. Usually, I would drive from my main home in rural Pennsylvania, but if the recovered item was small and easily portable, I might sometimes fly to the mark's city and obtain a rental car or van. I dislike doing this as a rule. I have credit cards and ID in numerous false names, and a couple of safe houses scattered around the country for bolt holes as well. This does still risk getting my photo added into several databases and creates a trail they could follow. Security is much tighter everywhere since 9/11 and someday some super government computer at some overly curious agency might figure out that my photo appears on about a dozen different driver's licenses from several States.

The collectors I steal from have indefinite resources for finding and punishing thieves like me, and it is too dangerous as it is to give them any clues or a helping hand in tracking me if things go badly. Once, early in my art theft career, I had the misfortune to work for an especially cheap client from the fringe of the collector community. He attempted the rather severe cost-cutting measure of attempting to murder me to avoid paying my delivery fee. He was stupid and careless and I avoided the trap (barely) but I learned several lessons in the process as a result. The most important lesson being to keep myself as carefully insulated away from both the client and the mark as possible, letting the feral legal middlemen handle all the payment and delivery details.

Another thing I learned early in the burglary business is that audacity is often much more useful than a carefully prepared complicated plan, especially in an emergency situation. Often it is much safer to make a forced entry in broad daylight than late at night. This is also true about making a getaway or finding a secure hole to crawl in to for a few days, if necessary. My plan required audacity in spades.

This city had a large local medical center and it was easy to find one of the smaller non-chain hotels just a bit down the street that catered primarily to the families of medical patients. Strictly one-star grade lodging, if even that, but perfect for my needs. Boldly pulling up right to the front entrance, I requested a wheelchair, placed my charge into it and pushed her right straight up to the check-in counter. No one thought twice about us, as several other patients in wheelchairs with family members were visible in the lobby.

Hiding right in plain sight works every time. Usually.

Getting a room was a breeze. They even took cash when I pre-paid for a week and they didn't even ask for a credit card or make any photocopies of my driver's license. Telling the pimply desk clerk that my fragile wife needed extreme peace and quiet before her surgery, he happily palmed my extra hundred-dollar bill bribe and gave us an upstairs room in remote corner away from virtually everyone else. He promised that we wouldn't be bothered by anyone. To all appearances, we were just another couple waiting for a match on some organ donor list for critically needed surgery. I got her safely up to our room, with separate beds, and laid her down onto the fresh clean sheets.

The next order of business was finding some more milk. The mini-bar in the room had everything else but. Eventually I risked a quick trip downstairs to the less than stellar hotel cafeteria to get a couple of not very fresh sandwiches for me and several pint cartons of whole milk, including a small bottle of chocolate milk. Probably too rich for her right now, but heavily mixed with plain white milk it might give her a bit of extra nutrition if her health was improved later tomorrow.

I put up the 'Do Not Disturb' sign and began in earnest my new career as a bedside nurse.

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