Angel Falling Softly

Chapter 47

A guilty conscience needs no accuser

Milada sat behind her desk in her Midtown Manhattan office and stared out the window at the wet, gray day. Fog rolled in off the river. The same as the day Garrick and his men had come for Rakosi. She and her sisters were sent to Cheapside. Their previous lives were summarily thrown away.

Why should the memory of such a fortuitous day wear so heavily on her soul?

The cold rain weighed down her spirits, yet her body burned with a low, pleasant fever. She’d come to the office directly from the hotel. She kept a change of clothes on hand just for these occasions. She couldn’t even remember the man’s name. He’d volunteered no more information than she had. He’d claimed he was single.

Perhaps he was. She never looked for that telling white shadow on the ring finger. But if not, did taking away a memory also take away the guilt? For that matter, did taking away the guilt take away the memory? Was that what she was afraid of losing? Some small, perverse part of herself that missed what they’d had together, just the three—the four—of them, once upon a time in London?

Jane poked her head into the office, breaking her out of her reverie. “Garrick says to turn on your cell phone.”

When she answered her phone, that was Garrick’s first question. “When did you start turning off your phone?”

“Sorry. A bad habit I acquired in Utah.”

“About the proffer—do you want your first offer to appear tough but generous or just tough?”

“Generous enough to make them bite, but not so generous that they’ll settle on the first offer. Give Wylde some push-back room. It’ll strengthen his bargaining position and improve his standing among the shareholders. He’s still got to deliver the unregistered shares.”

“Right now Kim’s looking at fourteen and change.”

“Sounds good to me.”

Ciao.

“See you, Garrick.”

After hanging up, she checked to see if she had missed any other calls. A voice message from Garrick: “Milly, turn on your phone!” Before that, a text message from Kammy received at 11:55 the night before, which meant 9:55 Mountain Daylight Time: 7 yr old fem. CCR5D32x2!!! DCH invoice. WTF???

Milada decoded the message: Seven-year-old girl with two CCR5 Delta 32 alleles. Test invoiced to Deseret Children’s Hospital.

A cold chill ran down her spine. She felt the actual shiver. The message must have been sent from Wylde. How could Kammy have found the record so quickly? Why would she be asking her about it? Milada set the phone down on her desk and stared at the display, her forehead resting against her hands.

“Stupid,” she said to herself. “Stupid.” All she’d ordered was the CCR5 test. No normal person did that. It would stand out like a sore thumb. But with nobody to trace it back to—

Milada leaned back and closed her eyes and concocted her excuse: she was putting Wylde’s B2B operations to a real-world test. There wasn’t anybody to trace it back to. The child was dead. One more notch in her belt.

There wasn’t anybody to trace it back to. The child had died. She was certain. But she’d never checked. She was certain. But she didn’t want to know. She straightened her chair and picked up the phone and scrolled through the address book.

The nurse’s station on the DCH bone marrow transplant unit. For some reason she’d saved the number.

Her thumb rested against the button. She hesitated. Perhaps her instincts had been right all along. Except that if she was right then it would be a relief to know. And if she was wrong—let some sleeping dogs lie, and they’d bite her leg off.

She pressed the button. Two thousand miles away, the phone rang at the nurse’s station on the third floor of Deseret Children’s Hospital. “DCH BMT,” a woman’s voice said.

Milada softened her accent to sound more like her sister. “Hello, this is Dr. Daranyi. I was wondering if I could get the current status on Jennifer Forsythe.”

A pause, and the nurse’s voice raised half an octave. She said, positive cheer in her voice, “She’s on outpatient status. She was discharged last week. I could transfer you to Dr. Ingebretsen—”

“No, that’s fine.” Milada forced calm into her voice. “I’ll be seeing him later. Thank you anyway.”

She set down the phone. Her hand was shaking. She pushed the chair back and walked to the window. She folded her arms across her chest, pressed her forehead against the tinted glass. Deep breaths. She felt something strange on her cheek and brushed her fingers against the skin. A tear like a small bead of glass. She stared at it with a sense of wonder that only brought the foreign emotions closer to the surface.

Milada hurried to her private bathroom and washed her face. “Jesus, God, what have you done?” she asked her reflection. The white-faced woman in the mirror had no answer.

She collected her wits, returned to the office, and dialed Jane’s extension. “Something just came up. How early can you get me into Salt Lake?”

“Today?”

“Today.”

Jane called back five minutes later. “The earliest seat available is on the 3:15 from JFK. Gets into Salt Lake City at 6:35.”

Milada pressed her fist hard against her temple and clenched her teeth. Almost twelve bloody hours, and she had no idea what Kammy would be doing. “Yes. That’s fine. Have the limo pick me up at my place. Oh, and reserve a rental. It’ll be late enough by the time I arrive.”

“Will do.” A touch of concern crept into Jane’s voice. “Anything wrong?”

“Oh, no,” Milada said, with all the nonchalance she could muster. “Odds and ends.” She added, “But as far as anybody else is concerned, I’m out of the office for the rest of the day. Incommunicado or whatever.”

“Got it.” Jane didn’t sound terribly convinced but let the matter drop.

Milada packed only a carry-on and her laptop. Her mind couldn’t focus on work. She ignored the solicitations of the flight attendants and closed her eyes and tried to figure out what she had done wrong. This was so unlike her. Running the numbers. Playing out the scenarios. Looking at the big picture. Taking the long view. That’s what she did for a living. Why not in her personal life?

She’d acted like a shortsighted, impulsive child. Like Zoë. She’d acted the same way she had acted four hundred years ago. She hadn’t learned a thing in all the time since.

No. Her instincts hadn’t been proven wrong. She didn’t actually know what had happened to the child. She didn’t actually know what Kammy had figured out. Perhaps Kammy was simply curious. Perhaps the hospital had released Jennifer so she could die at home.

Wishing another child dead.

And if she was alive? Milada wracked her brains. For as often as Kammy had accused her of living in the past, she’d forgotten too much. What happens next? Jennifer would lose her incisors. She’d shed her palate. Her fangs and new incisors would erupt. Her hair and skin would change. How long did each step take? In what order?

Kammy would know.

Milada pressed her hands against her face. This was the same mistake she’d made as a child. She’d let her fears take hold and her imagination run loose.

Facts, facts, facts. Profit and loss. Earning per share. Return on investment. She didn’t wonder and worry while calculating worst-case scenarios. She acted on objective knowledge.

She reached for the phone on the seatback in front of her, rehearsing the script she would follow: Don’t react. Feign ignorance. It was only a test.

The phone rang three times. Then her sister’s voice.

“Who is she, Milada?”

So loudly that Milada cast a nervous glance at the forty-something businessman in the aisle seat. She switched the phone to her other ear and scrunched over next to the window.

“Kammy—”

“Who is she?”

“How did—”

Entirely the wrong question. She had indicted herself.

“Whenever I get my hands on a database like this, I always check the CCR5 data for additional markers.”

“Checking on me?” Guilty as charged, but still she felt offended.

“No, you idiot. Checking to see if there are any more of us out there. That time you weren’t asking hypotheticals. It was a real case! Dammit, Milly!”

“It was only a test.” Like that excuse was going to work now.

“Give me a break. It’s not your genome. What’s going on?”

Milada felt her own temper rising. “It’s not important, Kammy. I can handle it.”

“It’s not important? The invoice says the report was sent directly to Loveridge! So not important you had a courier deliver it? Yeah, don’t worry, I deleted the record. Damned lucky it wasn’t archived.”

Milada closed her eyes. What a mistake. “Kammy, leave it alone.” The tension gathered in her voice. “Leave it alone.”

“You’re always pulling crap like this, Milly. Same as in London.”

The line went dead. An arrow went through her heart. Milada had to exercise every ounce of self-control to keep from slamming the phone against the seatback in front of her. When she’d calmed down sufficiently, she snapped it back into its cradle.

The businessman glanced at her. “Family, huh?”

Inexplicably, Milada felt a small smile come to her face. “Yes. Worse, it’s my fault.” She somehow felt better confessing the truth.

The man shook his head in a gesture of empathy. “Don’t I know it. Been there, done that.”

She tried calling again. Kammy had turned off her phone, which meant she wasn’t talking to her or she was at the hospital. Or both. Milada cracked open the window shade and glanced down at the flat expanse of the northern Great Plains crawling by seven miles below.

For the next two hours, the entirety of the world was out of her control. That awful feeling swept through her again. Helplessness. She was helpless to do anything for those who depended on her without making their lives so much worse in the process.

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