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Authors: Tanya Huff

1 Blood Price (8 page)

BOOK: 1 Blood Price
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And they would, too. Over and over again if necessary. Holding back a sharp comment behind the thin line of her lips, Vicki attempted to cooperate.
“Well?” she prodded at last as Dr. Anderson flicked off the perimeter light and motioned for her to raise her head.
“It hasn’t gotten any worse. . . .”
Vicki leaned back, watching the doctor’s face. “Has it gotten any better?” she asked pointedly.
This time, Dr. Anderson didn’t bother to hide the sigh. “Vicki, as I’ve told you before, retinitis pigmentosa doesn’t get better. Ever. It only gets worse. Or,” she rolled the perimeter back against the wall, “if you’re very lucky, the degeneration reaches a point and goes no further.”
“Have I reached that point?”
“Only time will tell. You’ve been pretty lucky already,” she continued, raising a hand to forestall Vicki’s next comment, “in many cases, this disease is accompanied by other types of neurodegenerative conditions.”
“Deafness, mild retardation, premature senility, and truncal obesity.” Vicki snorted. “We went through all this in the beginning, and none of it changes the fact that I have effectively no night vision, the outside edge of my peripheral vision has moved in twenty-five degrees, and I’ve suddenly become myopic.”
“That
might have happened anyway.”
Vicki shoved her glasses up her nose. “Very comforting. When can I expect to go blind?”
The nails of Dr. Anderson’s right hand beat a tattoo against her prescription pad. “You may
never
go blind and, in spite of your condition, at the moment you have perfectly functional vision. You mustn’t let this make you bitter. ”
“My condition,” Vicki snarled, standing and reaching for her coat, “as you call it, caused me to leave a job I loved that made a difference for the better in the slimepit this city is becoming and if it’s all the same to you, I think I’d rather be bitter.” She didn’t quite slam the door on the way out.
“What’s the matter, darling, you don’t look happy?”
“It hasn’t been a great day, Mrs. Kopolous.”
The older woman clicked her tongue and shook her head at the family size bag of cheese balls Vicki had laid on the counter. “So I see, so I see. You should eat real food, darling, if you want to feel better. This stuff is no good for you. And it makes your fingers orange.”
Vicki scooped up her change and dropped it into the depths of her purse. Soon she’d have to deal with the small fortune jangling around down there. “Some moods, Mrs. Kopolous, only junk food can handle.”
The phone was ringing when she reached her apartment.
“Yeah, what?”
“There’s something about the sound of your dulcet tones that makes this whole wretched day worthwhile.”
“Stuff a sock in it, Celluci.” Phone balanced under her chin, Vicki struggled out of her coat. “Whadda you want?”
“My, my, sounds like someone’s wearing the bishop’s shoes.”
Against every inclination, Vicki grinned. His use of that particular punch line in conversation always did it to her. He knew it, too. “No, I did not get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning,” she told him, hooking her office chair over and throwing herself down into it. “As you very well know. But I did just get back from a visit to the ophthalmologist.”
“Ah.” She could picture him leaning back, his feet up on the desk. Every superior he’d ever had had tried to break him of the habit with no noticeable success. “The eye doctor of doom. Is it any better?”
If he’d sounded sympathetic, she’d have thrown the phone across the room but he only sounded interested. “It doesn’t get any better, Celluci.”
“Oh, I don’t know; I read this article that said large doses of vitamin A and E can improve the visual field and enhance dark adaptation.” He was obviously quoting.
Vicki couldn’t decide whether to be touched or furious that he’d been reading up. Given her mood. . . . “Do something more useful with your time, Celluci, only abetalipoproteninaemia RP includes biochemical defects,” he hadn’t been the only one reading up, “and that isn’t what I’ve got.”
“Abetalipo
protein
aemia,” he corrected her pronunciation, “and excuse me for caring. I also found out that a number of people lead completely normal lives with what you’ve got.” He paused and she heard him take a drink of what was undoubtedly cold coffee. “Not,” he continued, his voice picking up an edge, “that you ever lived what could be called a normal life.”
She ignored the last comment, picked up a black marker and began venting frustrations with it on the back of her credit card bill. “I’m living a completely normal life,” she snapped.
“Running away and hiding?” The tone missed sarcasm but not by very much. “You could’ve stayed on the force. . . . ”
“I
knew
you’d start again.” She spat the words from between clenched teeth, but Mike Celluci’s angry voice overrode the diatribe she was about to begin and the bitterness in it shut her up.
“. . . but oh no, you couldn’t stand the thought that you wouldn’t be the hot-shit investigator anymore, the fair-haired girl with all the answers, that you’d just be a part of the team. You quit because you couldn’t stand not being on the top of the pile and if you weren’t on top, if you couldn’t be on top, you weren’t going to play! So you ran away. You took your pail and your shovel and you fucking quit! You walked out on me, Nelson, not just the job!”
Through all the fights—after the diagnosis and after her resignation—
that
was what he’d wanted to say. It summed up the hours of arguing, the screaming matches, the slammed doors. Vicki knew it, knew it the way she knew when she found the key, the little seemingly insignificant thing that solved the case. Everything about that last sentence said,
this is it.
“You’d have done the same thing, Celluci,” she said quietly and although her knuckles were white around the receiver, she set it gently back on the phone. Then she threw the marker in her other hand across the room.
Her anger went with it.
He really cares about you, Vicki. Why is that such a problem?
Because lovers are easy to get and friends good enough to scream at are a lot rarer.
Running both hands through her hair, she sighed. He was right and she’d admitted as much by her response. As soon as he realized she was right as well, they could go on building the new parameters of their relationship. Unless, it suddenly occurred to her, last night had been the farewell performance that enabled him to finally come clean.
If it was
, she pushed her glasses up her nose,
at least I had the last word
. As such things went, it wasn’t much of a comfort.
“Well, if it isn’t old Norman. How you doing, Norman? Mind if we sit down?” Without waiting for an answer the young man hooked a chair out from under the table and sat. The four other members of his party noisily followed his lead.
When the scramble for space ended, Norman found himself crammed between the broad shoulders of two jocks he knew only as Roger and Bill, the three of them staring across the round table at three young ladies. He recognized the blonde—he usually saw her hanging on Roger’s arm—and as the girl next to Bill was being awfully friendly he supposed she was with him. That left one extra. He grinned wolfishly at her. He’d been practicing the grin in his bathroom mirror.
She looked puzzled, then snorted and turned away.
“It was real nice of old Norman to keep this table for us, wasn’t it, Bill?”
“It sure was.” Bill leaned a little closer and Norman gasped for breath as his available space narrowed drastically. “If it wasn’t for old Norman, we’d be sitting on the floor.”
Norman looked around. The Friday night crowd at the Cock and Bull had filled the basement pub. “Well, I, uh. . . .” He shrugged. “I. uh, knew you were coming.”
“Of course you did.” Bill grinned at him, a little disconcerted to find that the Birdwell-nerd was at least as tall as he was. “I was saying to Roger here before we came in, it wouldn’t be Friday night if we didn’t spend part of it with old Norman.”
Roger laughed and all three of the girls grinned. Norman didn’t get the joke, but he preened at the attention.
He bought the first round of beer. “After all, it’s my table.”
“And the only empty one in the place,” the blonde muttered.
He bought the second round as well. “Because I’ve got lots and lots of money.” The wad of twenties he pulled out of the pocket of his windbreaker—five thousand dollars in small unmarked bills had been the third thing he’d asked for—caused a simultaneous dropping of jaws around the table.
“Jesus Christ, Norman, what did you do, rob a bank?”
“I didn’t have to,” Norman said airily. “And there’s plenty more where that came from.”
He insisted on buying the third and fourth rounds and on switching to imported beer. “Imported beer is classier,” he confided to the shoulder of Roger’s leather jacket, Roger having moved his ear out of range. “It really gets the chicks.”
“Chicks?” The echo had a dangerous edge to it.
“Consider the source, Helen.” Bill deftly removed the glass from her hand—both hand and glass having been threateningly raised—and drained it. “You’d just be wasting the beer.”
The five burst out laughing again and again, not understanding, Norman joined in. No one would think he wasn’t with it.
When they started getting up, he rose with them. The room swayed. He’d never had four beers in quick succession before. In fact, he wasn’t entirely certain he’d ever had four beers before. “Where we going?”

We
are going to a private party,” Bill told him, a beefy hand pushing him back into his seat.
“You just stay here, Norman,” Roger patted him on the other shoulder.
Confused, Norman looked from one to the other. They were leaving without him?
“Jesus, it’s like kicking a puppy,” Bill muttered.
Roger nodded in agreement. “Uh, look, Norman, it’s invitation only. We’d bring you if we could. . . .”
They
were
leaving without him. He pointed across the table, his voice an accusatory whine, “But she’s supposed to be for me.”
Expressions of guilty sympathy changed to disgust and Norman quickly found himself alone, Helen’s voice drifting back from the door, somehow audible in spite of the noise level in the pub. “I’d give him back his beer if I didn’t hate vomiting so much.”
Trying unsuccessfully to flag the waitress, Norman scowled into the beer rings on the table. She was supposed to be for him. He knew she was. They were cheating him. With the tip of a shaking finger, he drew a five pointed star in the spilled liquid on the tabletop, his vows of the day before forgotten. He’d show them.
His stomach protested suddenly and he lurched toward the bathrooms, hand clutched over his mouth.
I’ll show them,
he thought, his head dangling over the toilet.
But maybe . . . not tonight.
BOOK: 1 Blood Price
5.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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