On a Sunday evening in early March the Healey family was en route to
New York City after a country weekend. A persistent drizzle fell
on heavy traffic
gave up and ceased to move altogether. James Healey drummed the
steering wheel with short straight fingernails and thought about the time people
wasted in cars.
"I told you we should have started earlier,"
said Ruth, inevitably.
had to go on a hike."
"I saw a deer. I was tracking it,"
he said, as he had before.
never understand you. You don't even own a gun."
"Tracking was enough." He had followed the deer for almost an hour,
moving noiselessly in tennis shoes, keeping upwind, fascinated. The animal
would not have spotted him at all if he hadn't deliberately made himself known.
Watching it leap over a hill,
against the sky, vanish, he had felt a
rush of pure pleasure at being able to outwit the beast without the slightest
desire to harm it.
"The radio said nothing about rain."
"Now you believe what they don't tell
you?" Ruth said tartly.
As though the four-lane highway had a reason for being, the traffic
lurched forward, but not for long. "I have to pee," Jennie said from the back
be home soon, honey," Ruth said. "Let's play a game to distract
ourselves. How about geography, Jen?"
"That's no fun. Jennie knows all the places that end in 'x'.
we've played it a hundred times," Paul rumbled in the deep voice that still
surprised his father. "How about only military geography? I just made it up.
You use only the names of places where battles have been fought -- plains,
blockades, naval engagements..."
"You'd win that one hands down." Jim Healey disapproved of his
sixteen-year-old son's incessant war gaming. "Let's see who can name the
capitals of the fifty
"That wouldn't be much of a contest, either," said Paul, his face
appearing in the rearview mirror. He had his mother's oval face and brown hair.
"You remember all of them."
"I might forget some," Healey teased. "Try me."
Ruth said, "What about anagrams?"
"Funny how everybody picks the game he or she is best at," Healey
observed. "Okay, what's the word?"
Ruth put her hand to her cheek and finally said, "'Charade'. What
words can you make of 'charade',
Jennie, who was ten, thought a moment and said excitedly,
'race' and 'car'."
"Good again! Jim?"
"Good again! Jim?"
he said. "What about you, Ruth?"
"'Char' and 'aha'."
said her husband.
"That's three words for all of us except Daddy, who's only got two!"
"You're too smart for me. I'm sure there are more."
"I know one!" Jennie bubbled. "'Raid'."
"There's no 'i'
honey," Ruth told her.
"I meant 'read'!"
"Watch out, folks! I'm about to catch up," Healey announced. "'Dare'
That's four for each of us. It's a dead heat. What a bunch of brains
this family has."
Jennie said at once.
Paul said casually.
Ruth said Jubilantly.
"I have six words now."
responded her husband after a pause.
Paul put in.
Jennie squealed at last.
"Tied again!" Ruth cried. "That won't do. 'Ache'."
said his mother.
The children were silent.
Ruth took a while to answer. "'Carder',"
Healey pondered. "'Era'.
a standoff for once."
Ruth proclaimed. "Jim?"
When the car behind brushed theirs, Healey assumed it was a
mistake, and said nothing, but the second and third taps in quick succession,
had to have been intentional.
"What's going on?" He shifted to "park" and undid his seat belt.
Ruth's face looked frightened in the half-light from the dashboard.
"Jim! Be careful!
That person must be crazy!"
come too," called Paul.
"I'd better handle it alone."
The station wagon appeared unscathed, but abrasions covered the old
car in back. It stood motionless, its bumper a few feet from theirs. Healey
approached warily, wondering what to expect -- maybe a crowd of teenagers,
hopped up on dope, dangerous -- but the car contained only the driver. Staring
straight ahead, he did not seem to notice Healey. As he bent to the open
window, Healey could hear him rant, "fucking cars, fucking cars..."
bottle lay on the seat beside him.
Healey said brusquely, "Hey! What is this? What are you trying to
"Huh? What?" The head jerked, and Healey, with a practiced glance,
took in the physiognomy. Triangular face with a broad forehead and narrow
chin. Tight blond curls, blotched complexion, short nose, oddly hung upper lip
that might be the result of a cleft palate operation but probably wasn't. The
expression was remote except for the dull cunning that crept into the wide-set
eyes. "Oh! Hah! You're the bastard just backed into me!"
Healey won a struggle for self-
"I struck you! Lord, that's a
laugh. Listen, I'll
let it pass this time, but do it again and you're in for real
"I'm warning you."
Confident the episode had ended, Healey moved away, but the man
jumped from the car, gesticulating and shouting. "You dent my bumper. You
pay for that."
"Pay," Healey said with contempt. He pointed to the vehicular ruin
dripping with rain and said, "I suppose I put a hole in your grille,
The young man was taller than Healey by several inches but slender;
from shoulders to hips he seemed almost columnar. Healey stared at him
glumly. A fist fight would have been pointless, humiliating, risky. People
watched from their cars; Ruth and Paul had their heads out of the side windows,
while Jennie looked from the rear. Healey said carefully,
"You don't have any
business driving in the first
place. You're drunk. go sleep it off."
The two cars occupied the outside lane. When the man advanced
Healey retreated to the shoulder. He'd hardly ever used his
fists and wondered distractedly if he'd need them now, at forty-one. Should he
summon Paul? That prospect displeased too. Paul had become vaguely
truculent ever since he'd started war gaming; his son might end any chance of
avoiding violence. "Listen...,"
the man with the odd mouth tried to articulate,
call the police!"
The man's eyes rolled and healey stepped farther away. The man
turned to his car, reached through the window across from the steering wheel,
groped and brought out the whiskey bottle, which he held waist high. His back
was to the road. Good God! Am I about to be bludgeoned by a crazy drunken
fool in the middle of a traffic
jam on a superhighway? No one seemed aware of
Keep talking, he told himself,
eyes on the bottle the man held by the
neck, concealing it from onlookers with his body. "Put that down. You don't
know what you're doing. You've lost your senses."
The man was horribly angry. Veins bulged in his throat. "You ran into
me!" The bottle rose swiftly.
He really believes that. He's stupid, unbelievably stupid. What
impresses stupid people? Credentials! Authority!
Use yours. He made his
voice as cold and hard as he could. "Do you know who I am? I'm a physician.
A doctor. Look at my license plate if you don't believe me! Make trouble and
ock you up and throw away the key."
"They will, will they?" said the man, but the head turned and
confidence drained from the triangular face. "Doctor, big-shot doctor smacks
into my car, but who'll
take my word for it? I got all the luck, don't I? You could
get my car fixed if you wanted. You got the insurance. They'd listen to you.
People like me don't got no chance..."
Pressing his advantage, Healey commanded, "Pull off the road. Let
me see your driver's license."
"I wanna see yours!" The bottle sank.
Horns brayed around them as though the altercation had caused the
tie-up. The man muttered to himself, shuffled, scowled. He retreated to his
automobile as Healey started for his, still
on the shoulder. Suddenly the
battered machine lurched and came toward him. Healey jumped, but his foot
slipped on the wet pavement and his head lightly struck the edge of the metal
luggage rack on top of the station wagon.
get you!" he heard a voice cry.
Healey stood still
for a moment, breathing in gasps as he watched the
old vehicle roar down the shoulder and disappear at a nearby exit.
been time to get the license number, but that was just as well -- good riddance.
Are you okay? He asked himself deciding that he was despite a ringing in his
ears, a little
dizziness and some pain. He climbed into his car. The incident
have lasted more than a minute or two.
"Are you all right?" Ruth asked.
"I guess so." He patted his face with a tissue from a packet on the
"What happened exactly?"
Healey decided not to mention the blow on his head. Ruth would try
to make him see a doctor. Like most doctors, Healey stayed away from doctors
as much as he could. Anyway, the headache was already subsiding. He said,
"Some idiot trying to work off his traffic
frustration on us. There ought to be an
IQ test for drivers."
"Any damage to our car?" Paul asked.
"I don't think so."
Ruth laughed, as though to ease the tension. "In heavy traffic,
to admit, I've had the urge to bump into cars in front of me and knock them out of
"Probably lots of people have, but they don't act on it,"
"Anyway, the man was drunk." He gripped the steering wheel angrily.
be lying dead on the asphalt now. He was terrified by senseless acts -- there
seemed so many of them, as though anarchy lurked everywhere. State of fools.
Rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem to be born. He said, "I hate jerks,
"Daddy" remonstrated his daughter, who had blond hair and clear blue
not good English to say 'jerk'."
do. Listen, no matter what they tell you about letting go,
inhibitions are important. Take away self-
restraint and what do you have?
Stupid violence. Barbarism." He stared moodily at the monotonous windshield
wipers. For Healey, it sometimes seemed miraculous that society ran at all.
"Want me to drive?" Ruth asked as the car before them began to
"I can do it,
"Shall we talk about something else? Let's finish the game," Ruth
Okay. Whose turn is it?"
Healey forced himself to concentrate and said finally,
"'Rad'. That's a
"I'm not sure that's fair,"
Ruth muttered. Soon she smiled and said,
"Why, it's so obvious. We all missed it. Meet the champion, darlings, 'Ace',
which is me!"
On Monday, Healey rose early, leaving Ruth asleep. He dressed
quietly and ate a stand-up breakfast in the kitchen. Around him morning noises
began to sound in the roomy apartment, but Healey, mind on the day ahead, left
without seeing his family.
In the back hallway stood a nondescript bicycle, and Healey brought it
down in the service elevate. It was &:15, and Phillip,
wearing a visored cap, a
bow tie and a neat blue uniform, had just come on duty. Other doormen --
dozens it seemed -- had come and gone, but Phillip,
an Indian from Bombay with
dark skin and prematurely white hair, had served the old co-op on the East Side
even before the Healeys bought an apartment there five years before. The
morning dialogue between Jim and Phillip
often sounded the same.
"What's it like out?"
"Mmmm m m. Not a nice day, no. It might rain."
"Well, I've got a raincoat, and I need the exercise." Healey, aware
that he worried unreasonably about gaining weight, patted a nonexistent roll on
"You are a man of action, and men of action change the world," the
doorman said, gravely regarding him. Phillip claimed clairvoyance and tried to
collar those who passed his way to predict their destinies. He touched Healey's
arm with a clean white glove, murmuring, "This will be an important day for you.
Mm m m m m."
"Maybe so," Healey said pleasantly as he pushed the bike past the
held for him. "Family Okay?"
Healey suspected that Phillips family was too large to keep track of,
but the doorman nodded and said, "Mmmm m m." Phillip always said,
"Mmmm m m."
Philip was right for once. Today would be important one way or
For almost a year Healey -- a doctor and research scientist who
specialized in inherited disease and whose only patients were children -- had
been pursuing the National Institutes of Health in Washington for permission
and a grant to conduct an importance experiment. The government body had
been slow, and not simply because it was a bureaucracy; Healey's landmark
research required the combination -- recombination, scientists called it, for
obscure reasons -- of various types of DNA, including human.
The DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) molecule, a virtually weightless film
fully a yard long coiled in every normal cell, was the stuff of genes. DNA
determined both the inheritance and the functioning of plants and animals. In
the early 1970s researchers learned how to cut, splice and rearrange DNA in a
laboratory. For the first time science had the ability to piece together genetic
from separate and different living organisms.
Controversy had raged ever since, with scientists,
called bioethicists (students of biological ethics), legislators and journalists
joining the fray. Critics of gene splicing worried what such experiments as these
might create -- Armageddon virus, for instance, a Doomsday organism for which
humanity lacked resistance or cure. Some feared that genetic transplants
would lead to the terrifying day when humans would be cloned in test tubes and
males would become superfluous. Some argued that man had no right to
meddle with evolutionary processes nature had taken billions of years to
Healey was sympathetic to such concerns but believed that guidelines
established by scientists from within and without the government to regulate
DNA research were sufficient. The long list centered on the use of high-
designated P-4, the highest, down to P-1 ("P" for physical).
It was true that the facility
at the Kellogg-Bryant Institute,
where Healey worked,
was classified only P-3, but that was because the P-4 designation involved
certain (and in Healey's view unnecessary) constructional niceties. Even so, it
should have been good enough, especially since no pathogenic organisms were
to be employed there. Still,
NIHG had stalled because of the human DNA
questions, as if human DNA was too complex, mysterious and therefore too
worrisome to be tampered with.
How many times had Healey opened another brown envelope with
government franking, only to say to Coral Blanchard, his secretary, "Lord, they
want more information now. We'll need a truck to get all this to Washington."
He continued to argue that the human DNA was no more dangerous than any
other, that safety checks would be made at every step of the way.
If Healey tried to be patient,
his colleague, Ad Wallon, wasn't.
ninnies at NIH!" he exclaimed. " Everything involves risks, from
crossing the street to getting married -- I should know! But to claim something
could happen is another world from saying that it will
. They're letting them clone
bacteria to produce insulin, give wheat and corn the power to nitrogenize
themselves, eat garbage or clean oil spills,
but when it comes to our work, the
most important of all,
they drag their feet. Sometimes I think to myself...."
"Guess what! We got the green light,"
Healey said to Wallon a couple
of days later.
"And what did it? My impassioned arguments? New proof that the
work is safe? Nope, it's
the Russians. The Russians plan a similar experiment.
Now NIH wants to know why we've been slow in starting! Can you beat it?"
"What are we waiting for?" cried Wallon excitedly.
"We ought to hurry
before they change their minds again."
The team, long since selected, had been assembled at once.
Virologist Adelein Wallon, who had changed fields from surgery, and
electronmicroscopist Walter Benson, were both old-timers on the Kellogg-Bryant
staff. Bacteriologist Linda Summer, from Cornell, had just joined it. Robin
Frazer, M.D., biochemist and enzymologist, took a short leave from Johns
Hopkins for the experiment. Healey himself wore a number of hats -- medical
doctor, Ph.D., immunologist,
How much had been done in a week! Healey reflected as he pedaled
along. work had begun the Monday before. Cultures had been prepared of
, a bacterium that inhabits the human gut, though this K-12 E.
was not able to live outside a laboratory. In it had been grown an organism
called the lambda virus, also attenuated, or weakened, for safety's sake. DNA
from the lambda virus and from a normal human placenta had been extracted
with detergent and a high-speed centrifuge and placed together with a so-called
restriction enzyme that cut the DNAs at specific
sequences, leaving "sticky ends"
that attached to each other in random order. (This was the "shotgun" technique dreaded by critics of such experiments because the nature of the new DNA
combinations was unknown.)
So far, so good. The reason for combining vital and human, DNA was
to provide the latter with a home. On Wednesday evening the lambda virus, with
the human DNA inside it, was grown in ten thousand petri dishes, with still
another substance added to the mixture, an assay, or test, reagent brilliantly
devised by Robin Frazer. the problem was to identify which, if any, of the DNA
pieces contained the enzyme they sought. With a special dye, Frazer tricked
the enzyme into announcing itself
by turning the culture blue.
By Thursday morning, the petri dishes were covered with plaques,
pinholes on the culture showing the locations of the lambda virus. Visible to the
naked eye, about five hundred plaques dotted the surface of each dish, or five
million plaques in all. The five team members spent the day eye-scanning the
dishes. Finally, in the late afternoon, Wallon cried, "I've got one!" Linda
Summer soon found a second, and Healey the third.
"Three blue plaques!" Frazer said proudly. "That ought to do it."
Excitement mounted. The critical
pieces had been trapped in the viral
net. The three plaques, in turn, were propagated and placed in test tubes to be
cleaned in a centrifuge. On Friday morning Walter Benson, who had been
monitoring the experiment with the electronmicroscope, examined DNA samples
from each test tube at high magnification. What he saw was a microorganism
sandwich -- a lambda piece on each side of the human piece. But the human
section had to be as short as possible to rule out extra, unwanted DNA beyond
the desired enzyme. Benson emerged from his lair,
the EM room, and in a
sharp, high voice objected, "Two of them are completely unsatisfactory. The
DNA's too long." He showed them the results,
and even Wallon, a skeptic about
safeguards, agreed. Benson went on, "The third's no good either, in my view."
"Come on!" Wallon shouted. "Are you trying to shoot us down,
Benson? You work for the Russians or something?"
Benson said coldly, "I am merely presenting my professional opinion.
respected is another matter."
Wallon insisted that the minuscule additional portion of DAN in the
third sample represented no problem whatever. He wanted to press on and
finish that evening. The dispute went to Healey, the Responsible Investigator,
who said, "Run more checks, Walter. Then we'll see." When the fussy little
electronmicroscopist failed to prove his point,
Healey concluded, "Let's go on."
"The Nobels are ringing," Wallon laughed, but Healey, always
cautious, refused to cheer until
This was where matters stood as the front wheel of Healey's bicycle
grazed a pothole, almost making him fall.
He found himself contrasting the
brilliant achievements in biology, which had progress further in the past ten
years than in the previous two hundred, with the dismal performance of society.
Why the streets of New York looked as if they'd contracted smallpox. Surely the
wear and tear on cars must be more expensive than the cost of filling the holes.
Any fool could see that.
A medium-sized man with sandy hair, gray eyes, light,
skin and small dimples in his cheeks that seemed at odds with his keen face,
Healey locked his bike to the rack near the ambulance entrance. As he turned
toward the hospital
he squared his shoulders unconsciously.
Named for its industrialist
founders, Kellogg-Bryant was both a two-
and a research facility,
hence the word Institute in the title.
It occupied a newly renovated eight-story building on Manhattan's East River.
Highly automated, with an auditorium, a heliport and the latest in scientific
hardware, the eighty-five-million-dollar establishment was foremost in work in
Squares of recessed concrete, the building front offered little in
warmth, but inside, the reception area opened abruptly into a large
atrium courtyard, where small trees -- Ficus berjumentis, or figless figs -- grew in boxes around a fountain. High above, the courtyard was topped by an elaborate
Between, the stories presented a complex design: windows of various
shapes -- square, oblong, circular, diamond; sections of floors that protruded;
railed walkways; aerial gardens. Drawings could be seen in the ward windows --
flowers, hearts, faces, moons, suns, scrawled words like "hello" and "love" --
drawn by the patients,
Healey rose in a white elevator to the eighth floor, emerging in an
immaculate hallway with no-smoking signs, smoke sensors in the ceiling and
protruding shower heads to wash off acid in case of a spill.
hummed softly in the background. He passed a maze of labs bristling with
equipment and reached a door marked JAMES E. HEALEY -- CHIEF OF
PEDIATRIC RESEARCH. The long, narrow office had an enclosed place for his
secretary, not yet in. Beyond lay a sort of reception room with a blackboard,
chairs, leather couch and coffee table on which were journals like Cell, Nature and Gene, along with a brochure for Scandinavia which the Healeys hoped to
next summer. A case housed medical books and pieces of Mayan statuary.
There was a photo of Healey and his family, all smiles, taken at the country
house in Connecticut. Plants crowded the windowsills. Healey's secretary
insisted that she be the only one to water them.
Behind a glass door at the rear was Healey's private office -- steel
desk, chairs, filing cabinets with drawers for cards which recorded information on
patients seen at the hospital during the seventy-odd years of its existence. The
cards bore inscriptions like "Down's syndrome -- mongolism", "galactosemia",
"Tay-Sachs disease", "Friedreich's ataxia". Some cards were yellow with age, 22
others freshly white, like that for isovaleric acidemia, a strange condition that
caused the skin to smell as though it were rotten, or for the bizarre Lesch-Nyhan
syndrome, whose youthful victims would, if unrestrained, literally eat their own
flesh, nibbling and swallowing fingers, arms, shoulders, lips, with no indication of
pain. New inborn errors of metabolism were being identified all the time; the
writer of a textbook on the subject had complained that at the present rate of
discovery, future editions of his already expensive tome would be so large as to
price it out of the market.
Healey hung up his raincoat, scanned the weekend hospital report
and saw nothing new. The routine blood tests for himself and his team of four
showed nothing unusual either -- had they, he would have heard immediately.
He turned his daily calendar to Monday, March 3, and, in an old sports jacket
with patches on the elbows, went back into the hall.
It was just past 8 A.M.
Healey's destination was a metabolic ward and a little
girl who suffered from a
Occurring in one out of ten thousand births, phenylketonuria (PKU)
had formerly accounted for 1 percent of mental defectives, but no longer. the
condition arose from a superabundance of the amino acid phenylalanine in body
tissues, leading to brain starvation. The disease could be identified at birth with
a blood test, required in most states, and a special diet free of phenylalanine,
which existed in most foods, kept the content of the substance normal and
prevented damage, so that PKU retardation was increasingly rare. But the diet
-- a gray liquid served from bottles -- was troublesome. Nobody was sure at
what age, if ever, it could be safely discontinued, and it was hard to enforce,
since it meant little
or no ordinary food. If parents were lax and let a PKU child
eat normally, the child might begin a dreadful descent down the IQ percentiles.
Cathy, who was six, had been such a case.
As Healey had learned the story, Cathy's mother, twice divorced, had
two normal children from her first marriage. (Cathy's father must have carried
the PKU strain, since the disease was inherited.) A new man entered her life
and the mother began to neglect the child, failing to enforce the diet and omitting
clinical visits for metabolic maintenance. In kindergarten in upstate New York
where they lived, Cathy started to change from a willful,
spirited child into a
withdrawn one. Several times in the previous months she'd run a high
temperature and refused to eat, so that her body fed off its own phenylalanine-
filled tissues, literally
Cathy had been identified as slow in the
first grade. Fortunately, the damage hadn't been permanent. The school
authorities had been responsible for bringing Cathy to the hospital, where
dietary treatment and mental stimulation had worked wonders. Mel Orenstein,
calculated that the girl's IQ had risen fifteen to twenty points
since admission, and it was still
going up. Even with the diet, PKU children were
seldom smart, but Cathy showed exceptional promise, and though the girl
charity case and expensive for the hospital,
Healey wanted her in a controlled
environment as long as possible.
Healey had another reason for keeping Cathy on hand. PKU had
been selected as the first inherited disease on which to try genetic surgery,
because the abnormality was so well understood. The problem was a failure to
convert phenylalanine into substances vital to brain operations because the
genetic instructions to do so were lacking. If human DNA containing those
instructions could be introduced into the chromosomes of a PKU victim, the
condition would be cured. Many other inherited diseases could be treated in the
same fashion, hence the importance of what Healey hoped to accomplish in the
Quite by accident, Cathy had been at K-B when the work got under
way, and among the cultures employed was one from her white blood cells. If
the experiment succeeded, PKU victims like her would be safe from the terrible
symptoms even without a special diet; if for some reason, the team failed today,
Healey would need more of Cathy's leukocytes and fibroplasts to try one more.
People made a pet of Cathy Gobrin. The little
could have paid for
her stay at the hospital by selling kisses. Nobody could resist her, not even
Herman Herrmann, the austere director of the Institute.
Healey, proud of her progress, looked in on her whenever he could.
Arriving on the fifth floor, he stopped dutifully for a red light that meant a
procession of tots was about to charge down the hall to the playroom. The light
changed and Healey stepped into the convergence of various halls. The
morning shift had just come on duty and the floor seethed with activity --
orderlies bearing medicines, nursing assistants moving young patients, nurses
colored uniforms scurrying everywhere, doctors and interns in loose
white coats conversing in animated clusters. Healey smiled around and stepped
behind a semicircular enclosure.
Olga, the head nurse, stood there, white uniform beaded with gold
insignia. To Healey she always looked like a general,
and he jokingly referred to
her as such. Almost as tall
as he, with a square jaw and gray hair under a cap
pointed like a weapon, Olga ran the floor with furious efficiency. A nurse or
orderly who got instructions wrong, mixed up people's X-rays or forgot to take a
temperature soon learned of the head nurse's intolerance of error. If the hospital
had an esprit
de corps, a powerful desire to avoid sloppy standards, as could all
too easily be found in medical institutions, those with a strong sense of
like Olga, were responsible.
"Good morning, general," Healey said as he reached for Cathy's
folder. "How's my patient?"
"Couldn't be better, doctor. the little cold she had on Friday is
completely gone." She listened intently as a cylinder plopped from a pneumatic
tube and opened it while she talked. "Dr. Wallon's already been to see her. He
"So early?" Healey said in surprise. Wallon usually came in later.
scanned Cathy's file as Olga watched, seemingly casual but really reading the
doctor's face for possible complaints, of which he had none. Weekend care
with Cathy's behavior faithfully
recorded. There was no sign of
the symptom Healey watched for most carefully,
a return of the shy, withdrawn
behavior the girl had displayed a month before, when she entered Kellogg-
Bryant. "Okay," he said.
Olga hesitated. "Don't you think Cathy could have a little
real food? She's driving us crazy."
"Has she had any?" he asked quickly.
"What kind of floor do you think I run? No. But since she's coming
along so well....the synthetic diet doesn't have everything. Sooner or later..."
"Not quite yet. Let's see what happens."
A motorized cart bore down on him as he started across the hall. It
stopped, tiny antenna waving. A recent innovation at the hospital,
the carts were
equipped with a simple device that took them unerringly to any in-house
destination ordered; they halted abruptly if an obstacle appeared. Healey was
skeptical as to how much time and money the vehicles saved, but the kids
The room Cathy shared with three other children was painted in bold
colors. Puzzles, books, art supplies, games and music boxes covered the
tables. A wall poster showed a cat on a chinning bar with the legend "Hang in
there, baby!" Tropical fish swam in a bubbly tank. Recorded sounds played
discreetly in the background -- dogs barking, pans rattling, grown-ups talking
Hospital life was meant to seem as normal as possible, to ease the
transition home; and with classes, the playroom and the sunroof, most children
daytime in bed.
In a pinafore, Cathy, azure-eyed, rosy-checked, sat on the edge of the
bed, legs dangling. "Hi, doctor! Kiss!"
He kissed her. "How's my little
"Fine." she frowned suddenly. "Can I go home soon? I miss my
brother and sifter."
he corrected lightly.
"Not your mother?"
"Oh, her too. But she comes to see me sometimes and they can't.
Why can't they?"
Her mother visited damn seldom, he thought, and wished there were
some other place for Cathy when she quit the hospital.
He said, "Too young.
Kids under twelve can't visit.
It's a crazy rule, if you ask me. Anyway, you'll
leaving here soon. What are you reading, dear?"
Cathy glanced at the picture book in her lap. "It's
about King Arthur.
He had a table with knights. One was called Lanfalot."
He was in love with King Arthur's wife, whose name I can't
"Guinevere," said Healey.
"Do you think Lancelot slept over?"
"Slept over?" he asked.
"With King Arthur's wife," she said slyly.
"Sure he did," another kid said.
You could certainly pick up things at hospitals,
Healey thought. "Well,
I don't know," he said. He hoisted Cathy and patted her behind. "Gaining
pouted. "I wish I could have i-scream."
"Ice cream. I want some. I want some now."
"Will you settle for anything else but ice cream?" Milk products were
loaded with phenylalanine.
"Meat," said she.
"Okay. Be patient,
dear. You can have a little
Mel Orenstein hurried into the room. In his early sixties, gray-haired,
faced, intense, the psychiatrist
was always in a rush.
"Hello, Mel. What's on the agenda today?" Healey put Cathy down.
"WISC. The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children. Let's see how
smart our girl
is this morning," Orenstein said rapidly.
He had a stentorian voice
that sounded almost mechanical.
" Real smart,"
"I don't like tefts.
They're too hard," Cathy protested.
"Tests. Come on, Cathy, cooperate. You gave me a tough time last
week." To Healey, Orenstein muttered, "She's hell on wheels, this one. Willful as all get out. Got the makings of a first-class bitch. Sexy one at that."
"I don't want to be dumb, do I, doctor?" Cathy asked, a little
"No. And you're not, either," Healey said. He watched with surprise
as Orentsein opened his attaché case. "You're testing her here?"
"Why not? It won't take ten minutes. Kids don't need absolute privacy
for accurate testing, the newest literature shows." He took out a form and a
glanced around the room and ordered, "You children be quiet, okay?" He
pressed a button on his stopwatch and began, "Tell me, Cathy..."
Cathy bribed him. Orenstein pecked her on the forehead,
seeming embarrassed. "Evening is to dinner as morning is to...what?"
Cathy shouted. "I want some!"
"Of all the questions," Healey said, laughing.
Out in the hall he saw the director advancing with a small retinue,
among them Tish Wyler, a tiny excitable young woman with a face upturned like
a buttercup, who ran the Institute's publicity staff.
Herman Herrmann towered
over her. A bacteriologist
the director was a powerhouse
in the medical world and famous because of his (to Healey) rather farfetched
book, Genes and the Year 2000, which argued that human evolution would soon
be controlled by man himself, marking his final mastery over nature and the
beginning of his freedom from natural forces. Herrmann, tall,
bald, gaunt, beak-
nosed and wrinkled beyond his forty-eight years, was intensely busy but took the
time to make personal inspection tours. No detail
of the Institute's life escaped
Healey watched the cortège -- two assistants with notebooks and
pencils who recorded the director's
every utterance as he strode along, bending,
peering, poking, examining everything, while little
Tish Wyler scampered to keep
up. In a bass voice Herrmann was saying to her as he came within earshot,
"Hospital food shouldn't be bad, but it shouldn't be good, either. Eating is an
ego issue, maybe a superego issue. Ego must be discouraged in patients. It
interferes with care. Eating is sui generis, but the menu is not..."
Herrmann's eyes, protruding like searchlights had found Healey and
stayed on him. "Ah, Dr. James Healey,"
"Good morning, Dr. Herman Herrmann," said Healey, who was
amused by the director's
"This is der Tag downstairs,
"Yes, I guess we'll know something today, Herman," Healey said
"We're all terribly excited," exclaimed Tish Wyler. "The press release
is written, and it'll
"I believe Dr. Healey's work will make headlines, not the press
release," Herrmann rebuked Tish Wyler, who glanced at her note pad
"Better keep the release in the drawer for a while, Tish. You never
know about these things until
the returns are in," Healey said.
Cathy appeared in her doorway, saying to Herrmann, "Hi, doctor.
Herrmann muttered, as he bent to her, "The little
While Healey was above, Dr. Adelein Wallon entered the sub-
basement holding a plastic coffee cup he was forbidden to bring into the
Upstairs, Olein had tried to be his ordinarily ebullient self,
but he did not feel well and stared morosely at the flaming-orange symbol by the
door. Words beneath it said:
ADMITTANCE TO AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY
IDENTITY: RECO MBINANT DNA RESEARCH
RESPONSIBLE INVESTIGATOR: JAMES E. HEALEY, M.D.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY CALL:
DAYTIME PHONE 555-1042 HOME PHONE 555-7966
AUTHORIZATION FOR ENTRANCE MUST BE OBTAINED
FROM THE RESPONSIBLE INVESTIGATOR NAMED ABOVE.
They overdid the biohazard stuff,
Wallon thought, lighting a cigarette.
They, to him, meant the Americans, even though the virologist had been in the
United States twenty-five years, was a naturalized citizen and spoke perfect
English, so that he was more American than Belgian now. The DNA
experiments seemed to arouse an unconscious, almost tribal fear of biological
intermixing. Was that in some fashion related to how they still
about the race
question, to their deep fright that assimilation of the black gene pool by the white
would destroy Caucasian capability? What nonsense! So was their constant
concern about health. Never had there been a people so health conscious as
they, a nation of hypochondriacs. Look at the safety features required for the
sub-basement, like mechanical pipettes and glove boxes. The micro-organisms
used in the experiment were not even remotely pathogenic -- even if they could
escape their double-walled laboratory prison, which they could not. The
precautions were far too elaborate; with less stringent ones the work could have
been completed last week, as he had urged. That damned Healey!
Wallon fumbled for his lab key. Where was it? Had he left it home?
remember. He to stop drinking, he warned himself stormily,
his pockets. Look what booze had cost him already: three wives, then a
succession of girlfriends, not that any could carry on a decent conversation.
Wallon's problem, he knew, was a tendency to become morose,
despite his outward bonhomie, and so he drank, which didn't help his sinuses
any more than did cigarettes. Recently, because of headaches, Wallon had
prescribed cortisone for himself to rescue inflammation. A fool of a patient had
himself for a physician, Wallon thought; he wasn't at all sure how well steroids
and whiskey mixed. Badly, to judge by last night's performance. He had been in
a poker game with fellow doctors and was so far ahead -- You could cheat a little
with your quick fingers, don't you, Ad? he asked himself,
ashamed, and nodded
-- that he'd permitted himself a drink and then another and another. Toward the
end he played stupidly, and in the last hand, knowing (0h God!) that he should
have folded, he tried to bluff and lost everything. At home, as solace, he drank
more, slept, woke before dawn and took a pill
against nausea which kept him
awake for the rest of the night. And now the missing key, minor in itself
worrisome, like a signal.
He found it at last, cuddled in his watch pocket, opened the door and
entered the facility through the air lock. The quarters were cramped even
though the lab had been built to accommodate only a small team -- how the
Americans loved to save money! As he'd hoped, five clean uniforms lay folded
on the bench in the changing room, for Wallon -- childishly,
he knew -- felt that
to work might somehow restore his fallen virtue.
Undressing, Wallon wondered how he would comport himself if Linda
Summer burst in. The girl...woman -- he could never decide what to call her; she
was a first-
rate woman bacteriologist,
but she was also young, mid-twenties, he
supposed, so "girl"
seemed right -- was extremely pretty,
and perhaps displaying
his lust would affect her. But he doubted it.
None of his other blandishments
had received the slightest encouragement. In any case, shy Summer always
knocked. How ironic, Wallon's mind went on, that for all its expensive
safeguards, the facility
had only one changing room. Nobody seemed to have
considered that female scientists might work there too. when Linda put on or
took off her uniform, she hid behind the shower curtain.
Wallon pulled white trousers over thick legs and thrust heavy arms
into a jacket that button in back. They even worried about the contamination of
buttons! Covers went over his sizable shoes and a white cap on his large head.
He was about to leave when he remembered that he still
wore his contact
lenses, forbidden in the containment area because micro-organisms might lodge
behind them. Crap! Wallon retrieved eyeglasses from his locker and left the
The atmospheric pressure in the changing room, and in the animal
chamber next door, read -- -0.1″ W.G., -0.2″ in the corridor past the second lock
and -0.3″ in the central lab area, so that all air flowed inwardly until it was
exhausted through a series of extremely fine filters and an incineration system.
When Wallon entered the third air lock the slightest breath of air went with him.
The forty-four-foot square lab was a world of its own. Walls coated with layers
of plastic presented a completely smooth white surface, as did the ceramic-tile
floor covered with invisible plastic. Equipment crowded the oppressively low-
ceilinged chamber -- stainless-steel cabinets and worktables loaded with
paraphernalia, glove boxes, sinks (liquids leaving the lab were boiled),
centrifuges. Surrounding rooms could be seen through windows: one contained
the Phillips electronmicroscope, others had racks where cultures were grown. A
steel door opened to a conveyor belt on which glass and metal containers were
sent to the outside "kitchen" to be cleaned, having passed through an autoclave, or sterilizer.
Over the weekend Wallon had propagated a quantity of Simian Virus
another DNA combination. The lambda virus had provided shelter for
the normal DNA, from the placenta, but to deliver it to human tissues a stronger,
bolder virus was needed, meaning a cancer virus, as Simian Virus 40 was.
Years before, through a gross error, the early Salk polio vaccine, which had
been prepared in monkey cells, was found to contain SV 40, one of almost fifty
monkey viruses. SV 40 could cause cancer in monkeys and there was fear of
what it could do in people. The vaccine was recalled, but 30 percent of the
population had already gotten polio shots and had SV 40 antibodies in their
systems. Although they harbored the virus, none had contracted cancer as a
according to extensive follow-ups. Alarmed scientists had also given SV
40 in massive doses to convict volunteers, who developed nothing more serious
than benign tumors at the injection sites. Even so, Wallon's SV 40 had been
purposely attenuated as a further safeguard. In itself,
the monkey virus could
cause no harm.
Wallon had spliced the lambda-human DNA from the blue-plaque test
tube to the SV40, producing a new virus, and wanted to see how well it had
grown. Wearing elbow-length rubber gloves, he removed sealed petri dishes
from the incubator. As he carried the dishes, Wallon experienced a shudder of
nausea and stood still
for a moment until the spasm passed. He placed the
dishes inside a laminar-flow hood and pressed a switch. The hum meant that an
air screen had been created; it would prevent organisms from escaping the
cabinet through the long, narrow aperture intended for human hands.
next step was a clear infraction of the regulations for a
containment facility, which decreed that manipulation of
certain classes of micro-organism, within which the new virus clearly fell,
be conducted in a glove box, a sealed container with rubber gloves attached
inside. Instead, Wallon removed the lids from the petri dishes in the laminar-
flow hood, where he added a dye, careful,
however, not to touch the culture with
his gloved hands. He replaced the lids and brought the dishes across the room
to a Zeiss high-resolution light microscope.
Again, he was breaking the rules. Wallon should have sealed the
dishes with clear plastic before using the microscope. But the plastic slips made
microscopy less effective, because the objective, or lower end of the instrument,
would be farther away from the culture. A meticulous scientist in his own
fashion, Wallon put an uncovered petri
dish beneath the objective.
He could not see the virus -- the far more powerful Phillips EM would
be required for that -- but he could extrapolate its presence from the condition of
the monkey cells it grew in. Most cells looked healthy, but some had died,
meaning the virus lived. As he turned delicate dials of the scope for still
resolution, the image blurred; he had permitted the objective to touch the culture.
Even then he was in no danger of contamination; the lens could be
wiped with a tissue, as Wallon did, the tissue disposed of in a bag for
autoclaving. But nausea chose that moment to attack again. His stomach
contracted and his clammy brow exuded sweat. Unthinkingly, he patted his
forehead with the tissue, a corner of which passed before his nose.
Though Wallon was oblivious to the contact, his psyche must have
pressed a button like the one on the wall for signaling an accident. This time, in
a glove box, he carefully covered the next batch of dishes with clear plastic
covers before bringing them to the microscope.
Walter Benson was first
to arrive after Ad Wallon. Short and spare, a
lifelong bachelor of fifty-
one, with a perpetually startled expression. Benson had
quit medicine, having correctly decided that his grumpy disposition antagonized
patients. Benson took a Ph.D. in cell biology, branching into histology, the study
of organismic organization, and then into electronmicroscopy, where his
seeming arrogance protected him from eager researchers who always panted for
pictures of the micro-organisms they worked with. Benson was one of the best
EM men in the business.
Grumbling "Good morning", Benson approached Wallon's table. A
appointed sergeant-at-arms in the lab, Benson peeked into the disposal
bag, saw the tissue and, with a reproachful look that Wallon, preoccupied, failed
to notice, dropped the bag into a sterilizer,
using tweezers, which he autoclaved
as well. He continued to his domain, the EM room. Benson's job today was the
same as it had been throughout the experiment -- to run controls. He would
make grids of the new virus culture over the weekend. the EM's capacity was
mag 160,000. If necessary, pictures could be blown up much larger.
Robin Frazer came next. A muscular thirty-
four-year-old black man
with a clipped mustache, a radiant smile and carefully
articulated speech, Frazer
had demonstrated his talent for innovation with the elegant blue assay. He had
left his family in Baltimore, expecting to stay a week or two at most. A superb
athlete, he had a national rating in squash, which he played whenever he could.
Linda Summer followed. The job of the Ph.D. bacteriologist
to make most of the cultures and that done, she would work today with Frazer to
test the new virus for protein production. Summer was twenty-nine, though her
seamless skin made her look younger. Red-haired, blue-eyed, tall, slim,
exquisitely constructed Summer was a little awkward, withdrawn, even stiff,
perhaps because of her beauty. Now and then her gaze drifted surreptitiously to
the air lock through which only Healey had yet to pass.
Healey changed into a uniform but did not enter the lab immediately.
He walked instead to the animal chamber down the corridor. He felt oddly
apprehensive. He had no reason to distrust the experiment so that couldn't
The suspense that had been building the whole week must be responsible. The
suspense that had been building the whole week must be responsible. He
sought momentary diversion. The end cage contained an African green monkey
named lucky with which Healey had developed a routine. He stood before the
cage, his gray eyes peering deeply into Lucky's brown ones. Playfully, the
monkey rattled the bars, whirled, grabbed wooden blocks from the back of its
cage and constructed shapes with them -- a square, a triangle, a crude star.
Healey patted Lucky through the bars and handed the animal an apple from a
Healey had already made a culture from Cathy Gobrin's cells: the
ultimate test was at hand. He added the new virus prepared by Wallon. If it
took, growing rapidly and revealing its presence by the blue assay, the genetic
splice had worked; DNA from the normal placenta, carrying information which
caused the proper conversion of phenylalanine into other needed substances,
had combined with Cathy's substance. A cure for PKU had been developed.
Unless Benson and Frazer turned up something new, the experiment could
safely be called a success.
As noon approached, with no alarm having been sounded, Healey
suggested that they skip the lunch break, which would mean a shower and a
change and rechange of clothes, and finish. He felt he was close. At 12:32
Healey looked up from the Zeiss and said, "Okay, I guess that's it."
Linda Summer ran over, bent as though to kiss him but extended her
hand instead. Frazer's smile lifted his mustache. Wallon shouted, "Ever
cautious Healey! We had it last week, Jim, and you know it!"
Healey murmured: "I like to be sure." But he smiled too.
"Well, we've done it,"
Wallon said beaming. "We might as well start
testing the animals with it.
Have to, sooner or later."
"What's the hurry?"
"I want to get some sleep."
"Any objections, Robin?"
"Not from here. Nothing's shown up, and I don't see why it should,"
Robin said easily.
Wallon went to inoculate monkeys and mice with the new virus, and
then he went home. A lack of symptomatology in the animals would be further
confirmation that the virus was safe, not that anyone thought otherwise. More
elaborate testing would follow, then the publication of papers and finally the new
virus would be tested on a PKU victim, perhaps Cathy herself. There were
dreams to dream now that they had proved that an inborn error of metabolism
could be genetically corrected. Some day, Healey thought as he bent over the
microscope, babies or embryos would be analyzed with a computer for their
propensity to disease. If trouble lay in their genes, genetic surgery could be
used to correct it.
A new field of defect medicine might be at hand.
Benson strode from the EM room, looking grim. Still
disliking the DNA
section, he had been making ever greater enlargements of it. From what he
he reported, the new virus might have mutated over the weekend,
which probably meant nothing, but still....Healey, expressionless, turned to
Frazer. With Summer's help, the biochemist had been synthesizing and testing
the viral protein products with low voltage applied across a gel to separate small
molecules from large ones. The results appeared as bands on a photo plate.
Frazer had found only a single band, indicating only one foreign protein, the
enzyme which, in a human body, would counteract the overproduction of
phenylalanine. That was exactly as expected.
Upon Benson's caveat, however, Frazer performed the test again, on
the chance, unlikely as it seemed, that another, slower-appearing protein, might
emerge, given the extra time. Examining the plate, the biochemist saw two
bands instead of one, meaning that the virus had made two proteins. "Oh boy,"
The new protein was either the result of a mutation or the extra snip of
DNA Benson had complained about on Friday, but nothing more could be
explained at that point. It was one of the tens of thousands of unknown
substances in the mazelike, largely uncharted subworld. Frazer said, "Well?"
Healey's long silence had to do with disappointment, not indecision.
Uncertainty had appeared and his job as Responsible Investigator was to avoid
risks, no matter how small, with recombinant DNA. "Let's scrub it,"
he said in a
low voice. "We'll have to start over. Herrmann won't like it, but it can't be
The others nodded reluctantly.
A sample of the new virus would be
frozen, the rest autoclaved as a further safety measure. The animals would be
closely watched for symptoms. That the scientists might not know what to look
for, not recognize symptoms if they appeared, was simply not considered. There
was no reason why it should have been.
On Wednesday Healey came home to find Phillip standing door,
looking glum. The man's moods wandered like a pilgrim. He could be open and
friendly or austerely remote, as now.
Healey thought back quickly; it seemed to him Phillip had been on
duty every day for at least a week. "Don't you ever take time off?"
"This was supposed to be. Other man got sick."
"Well, take my advice and don't over do it." Healey gazed at the
gloomy countenance, the color of cocoa, draped in long white hair. "All work
and no play makes..."
"Phillip a dull doorman. I know." He seemed to brighten at the
prospect of a conversation. "But I like my work. It gives me a chance to observe
people closely, understand their inner concerns, see what drives them on.
People are miraculous, all people, no matter how humble. Don't you agree,
Healey had limited tolerance for generalizations such as Phillip often
offered. He pushed his bike across the lobby and said, "Sure."
Phillip followed implacably. "People believe man's greatest gift is
intelligence, but compassion is far greater. It separates man from animals in a
way that intelligence does not, because animals have intelligence too. Modern
man is too smart for his own good. Look at the weapons he has invented.
Consider the dangerous experiments he undertakes. Mm m m m m. And his
intelligence interferes with his compassion, prevents him from achieving his full
for happiness. Man cannot live by brains alone."
"By brains alone. That's not bad," Healey complimented from inside
would unhand the door.
"In terms of evolution..."
Healey had head Phillip on this subject before. When the doorman
paused for breath he put in. "How's the family?"
"How many kids do you have, Phillip? I forget."
Some say that's too many but..."
From the shaft above knocking sounded. "Somebody wants the
Healey said gratefully.
The morning mail lay on a chest by the front door and Healey riffled it.
Postcards from friends. Announcement of a summer music festival,
Healeys wouldn't be able to attend because they'd be abroad this year.
Solicitation from the public broadcasting channel. Bulletin from Common Cause.
A small check from the government for a few days' consultation in Washington:
"Please Do Not Bend, Fold, Spindle or Mutilate". A bill from the utility.
months the bill
had been wrong in the utility's
favor, even after countless phone
calls and letters from Healey. At last it seemed to be right.
A rattle of pans reminded him of Flo. Flo Robbins, a rotund widow in
her forties, really ran the capacious old apartment. She arrive din the early
afternoon to clean, shop and cook dinner before going back to Harlem, where
she went to church most evenings. Healey held Flo in high regard: she was
competent, pleasant, perceptive, quick.
"What's for dinner?" he asked her.
"Roast beef," Flo said in her fluty voice. "Pink as you like it. Has
browns. Not much in the way of vegetables around. You'll
have to settle for
"Okay," he said with a small sigh. The ribs stood in a roasting pan
and he prodded the meat with his finger. "That's a lot of beef," he observed.
"You folks have company, remember?"
"That nice big doctor and a girl.
Is she his girlfriend?"
Yes, it was Wednesday, when the Healeys often entertained, because
on that day he taught at the university and could be depended on to get home
on time. He'd forgotten all about Wallon, who was bringing Linda Summer. He
said a little
"She's not his girlfriend. At least,
I don't think she is."
Flo's eyes widened. "You like that girl
yourself?" she asked cagily.
"Now, Flo, don't get the wrong idea." Too perceptive. "What about the kids?"
feed Jennie first.
Paul's eating at his friend's."
"Again! More war games?"
"Guess so. Dinner won't be late, will
it? I got church."
be out on time, Flo. We don't want to keep God waiting."
get well-done roast beef if you do."
"The Lord's revenge."
Healey backed out of the kitchen thinking of Ruth's revenge if she
knew about his peckish urge for Linda Summer. Nothing had happened except
in the sternest sense of the commandment on lust. He had not so much as
stared at the young woman, at least when she had been looking. He had
observed the proprieties to the point of formality.
Linda must think him a cold
fish! On the other hand, she would probably have been shocked were she
aware that the Responsible Investigator would like to investigate her. She was
so timid, he so married. Yes, better that nothing showed.
Healey went to the bedroom, putting the exquisite redhead with the
unlined face out of his mind. Ruth sprawled on the chaise in a dressing gown
working on the crossword puzzle to classical music on the FM radio. "Hello,
dear," she said, without moving her dark ryes. "What does something
"Spell it." She did. "I should know? You're the wordsmith in the
"At least you're the better speller," Ruth said with a touch of
condescension. "How many 'I's'
"One," he said. He crossed the room, bent past the folded newspaper
to kiss her. Their lips met perfunctorily.
Sex, though Healey. Good Lord, it
been two weeks! Soon I'll
"I have it! Something organoleptic affects the senses. I'm too smart
for the Times."
In his walk-in closet he took off his clothes. Ruth was smart all right.
A tax lawyer, she was employed by a firm that permitted her to work part time at
almost full pay. Equipped with a dazzling memory, she could recall legal
precedents and locate relevant decisions with ease. Ruth could have earned
big money if she chose, but preferred to paid her detailed miniatures and be
available for the kids. His own income as a researcher and teacher was hardly
princely. The family got by, barely, the only contention being over the small
stipend he gave his mother, to which Ruth objected, sometimes strenuously.
Ruth lowered the paper as he emerged, wearing his undershorts, and
said, "Speaking of female smarts, I was right."
"right about what?" She had an arrogant way of expecting him to
understand her references.
"Jennie's IQ. I told you she was going to take a test. I called the
school today. She scored one fifty-
He whistled. "Well, I'm not surprised -- look at her parents. But we
to go overboard. People make too much of IQ. It's got predictive value
for school, but that's about all.
It's really a middle-class measurement."
"So we're middle class! The whole country is, mostly, so IQ does
mean something, no matter what they say. I bet you Jennie goes ahead a
becomes a mathematician."
"Come on, she's only ten. She'll
change her mind dozen times."
"I wonder. She's very determined, and she's very smart. Admit you're
proud of her."
"I am! But smarts aren't everything. You're forgetting Jen's maturity.
Look at Paul. I bet he's got the highest IQ in the house, and what's he doing
with it? Playing games."
Ruth's eyes rolled up. "It's
all he ever does any more. Other kids his
age have interests, but Paul has only one. He's obsessed. He's been in his
room talking ever since he got home from school. I'm almost sorry we got him
his own phone."
use ours if we didn't.
Ask him about his homework?"
"I tried. He says he does it and maybe it's
true -- the kid's so fast! But
how much can he accomplish when all he does is study war?"
"Sometimes I hardly feel I know him," Healey said.
either. this morning he told me he may not go to college. You
can't pay the rent playing war games, I said, but he never listens to me any
more. You'd better talk to him." He nodded. She peeked at him. "Maybe you
ought to get dressed, Jim. You want to be ready for that girl,
don't you? The
one with the gorgeous bod?"
Ruth's smile was more than vaguely taunting. How did women know
what went on in a man's dream loins? Somehow they did. Sensuous sentinels,
always on the alert.
"When they passed out bodies, you didn't
get a bad shake,
"Is that supposed to be a compliment?" said Ruth, running a finger
down her cheek. "Some men appreciate me."
"Like Wallon," she went on saucily.
"He finds me attractive,
I know he
he? You are. But don't take it too seriously.
to be liked. He always comes on strong, especially with women."
"Please! Don't spoil my fun. I like to be flirted with. It makes me feel
"Good Lord, Ruth! You're hardly an old lady. I only meant that Wallon
tries a little
too hard, it seems to me."
"Oh? You'd do better,
"When it comes to women I'm a little
out of practice -- eighteen years'
worth," Healey replied, slightly exasperated.
"I'm not a woman now?"
"You know what I meant." As he started for the bathroom his wife
that too long?"
what too long?"
"To be faithful."
"Not for me. What about you?" he demanded.
"Not for me, either," Ruth said, he thought a bit sadly. "I was just
talking. Anyway, I feel sorry for Ad. He's just a kid under the surface -- he
brings out the mother in me. As for that china doll,
you wouldn't kick her out of
The Healeys ate at seven to accommodate Flo, and guests who
wanted cocktails were urged to come well before, especially Ad Wallon, a
It was almost seven when Phillip called on the house phone to
announce him. Jim grumbled, "Here we go again. Ad's late, and he'll
"You could refuse," Ruth said. The Healeys rarely took more than a
glass or two of wine.
"Try holding back the sea." At the front door he wondered what took
so long. Phillip
of course. He could visualize the scene: rarely silent Ad Wallon
standing openmouthed as Phillip
harangued him on his destiny.
Ruth came to the door as the guests entered. Wallon bowed in a
courtly manner and kissed her on the lips. "You remember Linda?"
"Of course! We met at the hospital.
Hello, dear. How stunning you
"Thank you. Hi, Jim."
Healey had never encountered Linda Summer socially before. In a
sleek black-velvet pants suit, blouseless and cut surprisingly low in front, with
her long red hair and pretty pink mouth that needed no lipstick, she looked
sensational. Almost despite himself he began to compare the two women.
Linda: youthful, tall, big-breasted, hesitant, graceful. Ruth: short, thin,
vivacious, maturely lovely under a bell of brown hair, yet a little
now, feeling uneasy, maybe, because she had a decade or so on the other.
Yes, Ruth would react that way. Wallon was saying expansively, "That's some character, your doorman. He told me I'd figure in history, but not for anything I
accomplished, like I might be remembered for something terrible.
How do you
calls them as he sees them." Healey laughed. Wallon had a
European, Jim supposed, of speaking with his face close to his listener's.
There was liquor on his breath. Healey took a step back and examined him --
Wallon's broad, usually ruddy face seemed pale. "You don't look so hot."
"Me? I'm fine. All I need is a drink. time for a quick one?"
"Flo's the boss. Ask her," Ruth said.
"Not for me, thanks."
Wallon went to the kitchen, seized Flo in his burly arms, hugged her
and betted, "Miz Flo, I'm dying for an itty-
bitty drink. Do I have your generous
"Drink's bad for you," Flo reproved. "But we don't want you to die.
You have ten minutes before dinner -- not a second longer, hear, doctor?"
"Yes ma'am," Wallon said.
Wallon emerged with a tumbler of amber liquid garnished by a single
ice cube. He plopped himself between the two women on the low-slung couch.
"I don't mean to be unfriendly, but you I see all the time, Jim. Ruth's a different matter. She's my best girl,
or would be if you weren't in the picture."
Healey disliked foolish banter of this sort, especially from a forty-five-
year-old man he liked and respected but with Ruth grinning idiotically
he had to
go along. "She likes you too, I hear," he observed.
"Is it true" Wallon said to her.
"I refuse to answer on the grounds of possible self-
"Ah, the bitches," said Wallon, lighting a cigarette. "You never know
where you stand with them. You have to guess, because they won't tell you.
And if you're wrong, watch out. They never change their minds. The bitches
have been a problem for me my whole life and I'm afraid they always will be."
He picked his glass from a coaster, set it down hastily
"Catching cold?" Ruth asked.
"Doctors catch things like plague or Lassa fever, but not colds. I have
a little sinus trouble, that's all. I'm trying to clear it up by the weekend. I'm
taking medicine," Wallon grumbled.
"What are you taking?" said Healey.
"What's happening this weekend?" Ruth wondered.
"I'm going to Boston to visit
my kids." He glanced at Linda. "They live
there with their mother. The kids and I always have a great time."
"Is Linda going with you?" Ruth said.
"I hadn't asked her, but it's a terrific
idea," Wallon said with hearty
"Want to, Linda?"
"Sorry, I can't."
"She can't." Wallon nodded, apparently to himself. He drank and
placed his arms on the couch back, framing the two women, turned his round
visage to each and said, as if determined to be charming, "If only I could be
positioned between you two forever. We'd be as stars in a constellation."
"Sounds cold," Ruth said archly. What would you call us?"
"Well, let's see. My kids tell
me I look like a bear." Healey was sorry
Wallon had said that. It was one of those things you never forgot. Wallon did
resemble a bear, with his big head, shaggy hair, large nose, wide mouth, heavy
body. "Ursus. Ursus and his nurses. Want to be part of a new constellation,
"Not me, thanks."
Neither woman appeared to notice, but anger slashed Wallon's face.
Linda must have said not to him a lot, Healey thought; he feels rejected Even
so, the reaction seemed extreme, especially for Ad, usually so jocular. Healey
stared in surprise and, puzzling Healey further, Wallon stared back, as if asking
Healey to forget what he'd seen. Then Wallon replied lightly,
"Is that all you
ever answer, Linda?"
"How are things at the hospital?" Healey put in to break the silence.
"Okay, I guess," Wallon said. "I gave a big kiss for you to...the little
"Cathy" said Healey.