Dr. Steven Faraday hurried down the hallway, his eyes watchful and his ears attuned for peril. At each tap of his Italian loafers against the glazed Moroccan tiles, he drew one step closer to a place of security.
He remained focused on his vigil as he passed several empty rooms, each of which offered various leisure activities. Such distractions appealed to the scores of international personnel who made the Institute their home, but not to Dr. Faraday. He didn’t have time for such things.
As he reached the next door, he paused long enough to read the nameplate then glanced behind him.
No one had followed.
The welcome silence brought him around with a satisfied sigh. He ventured inside, closing the door behind him with a soft click. Rarely did one find this room unoccupied, but lunchtime drew all the personnel to the bottom floor. He relaxed his clenched fists.
Where should he begin?
A tableau devoid of human life stretched around him, several deep armchairs in the Institute’s usual shade of maroon, artfully arranged beside tables and tall tropical plants to provide an idyllic ambiance. Against one side of the room, a long table offered room for work or study. But the greatest attraction to visitors, wall upon wall of books and magazines in almost every language and topic, offered little to draw Dr. Faraday away from his lab and technical manuals.
He took a step and reached out a faltering hand. Far too many choices lined the shelves of the pristine library. Which would be suitable?
On the third shelf, a row of gilded books, still glossy and unused, beckoned for attention. He reached for a likely candidate, something pink and garish. As he lifted the cover, the binding creaked. Brand, spanking new.
With one finger, he traced the list of contents. Love sonnets. A grimace twisted his even features. Never in a million years would he consider reading such drivel. It seemed ideal.
He pulled a sheaf of papers from inside his white lab coat and slid them under the dust jacket of the book. With bated breath, he folded the edges of the book together and considered the results. No sign remained of the precious stowaways.
He breathed freely, glancing about the room again, though he knew no one had witnessed his deed. This was one of the few rooms in the Institute that didn’t utilize security cameras.
He replaced the slender volume and stepped back to study the shelf. It appeared as untouched as before.
Now to get back before anyone caught him away from his work. He slipped out of the library and walked briskly to the room where he spent many twenty-hour days.
Peering through double-thick, bullet-proof glass walls, he noted the gloomy interior lit only by small desk lamps, the stainless steel countertops littered with chemicals and beakers, the state-of the-art computers and imaging machines, but no humans. He’d arrived before the others.
After performing a sequence of security measures known only to himself, the Institute director, and four other scientists, he stepped inside and flipped on the lights. The fluorescent gleam brightened the room, reflecting off the many glass and chrome surfaces at each work station.
He took slow steps forward, scrutinizing each counter and crevice for anything unusual. Nothing appeared out of place.
Was he wrong? His eyes blinked rapidly as he reviewed the events which precipitated his unorthodox behavior.
He shook his head. Most certainly, someone had moved his notes after he’d gone to great lengths to hide them. He took a deep breath but couldn’t escape that gnawing feeling of eminent disaster. He dropped to the chair and leaned over his desk, staring at the blank wall where he’d kept his earliest designs.
It didn’t matter now. He’d hidden them all. His solutions were safe until he could get in touch with…
A heavy thud barely registered in his ears as his eyes shuttered. His body slumped over the chair then fell to the floor quite suddenly, increasing the size of the knot already forming on the back of his head.
The urgent peal of the smoke alarm went unnoticed by the scientist. Thirty seconds later, the sprinkler system activated.
Dr. Steven Faraday lay oblivious to the water spraying over his lab and to the acrid smell of sulphur as flames ran down the counter.
A test tube shattered. Then another. Flames licked the station dividers.
The outer doors flew open. “Steven! Are you in here? I can’t see a thing. Do you see him?”
“Not yet. Dr. Faraday, where are you?”
A fit of coughing attacked the would-be heroes as they pushed through billows of smoke.
“Over there…on the floor.”
“Get his feet.”
The two men dragged the limp figure of the fallen scientist down the hallway until frenzied footsteps interrupted their progress.
A fireman peered down at them, ascertained the uneven breathing of the prone man in their grasp, and gestured toward the smoke-filled room. “Is anyone else inside?”
“We don’t know. There shouldn’t be.”
Paramedics rushed toward the unconscious man as the fireman hefted a fire extinguisher and stepped gingerly into the smoky haze.
Dr. Faraday coughed then choked as the medic shoved an oxygen mask over his face. Under the watchful eyes of his two rescuers, his breathing steadied.
The fireman dashed out of the lab. “The flames are under control. I didn’t see anyone else, but we’ll need a count of everyone in the building right away.”
Another fireman ran forward, but the first officer shook his head. “Fire’s extinguished. Open the outer windows and let the fumes out. Break one if you have to. Those burnt chemicals are extremely toxic.”
“That won’t be possible,” said one of the men. “That room is secure. There is, however, a fan system created for just this purpose.”
The fireman nodded. “Turn it on.”
The paramedics lifted Dr. Faraday on a gurney before wheeling him toward the elevator.
The fireman gazed after them, his brow creased. He took a step toward the two men still watching the retreating gurney. Each wore the same white coat as the victim, each equally ruined by dampened black soot.
“How did you discover the fire?”
They turned blank faces to stare at him.
Several seconds passed before the taller man shook off his stupor. “We were headed this way when we heard the alarm. We meet Dr. Faraday each day after the noon meal.”
The fireman looked up sharply. “Always? Does everyone in the building know this?”
“Well…not everyone. We have a large staff. What are you saying? Someone deliberately set that fire?”
“Did you see the bump on his head? He wasn’t meant to wake up.”
Madeleine opened her eyes and tried to concentrate until pain ricocheted through her skull. The bright lights overhead bored into her brain, and strange voices mumbled around her. She closed her eyes. It required too much effort to think.
Hours later, her eyes popped open again. The bright lights and the voices were gone. She attempted to lift her head. The throbbing pain remained.
What’s more, she smelled detergent or soap or…
“Oww,” she mumbled, reaching for the source of her discomfort.
Her eyes darted toward the sound, and she tried to raise her head again. Plain white walls, rails on her bed, and an I.V. in her arm. Add that to the antiseptic smell, and she had to be in a hospital.
A tall, bulky man in a plain dark suit loomed over the side of the bed. “English? American?”
“What is your name?”
“Madeleine…Price. Yours?” Her voice slipped out in a choked whisper.
“Inspector Banderas, Madrid Policia.” He handed her a bottle of water. “You are in hospital. Could you tell me, por favor…please, what happened?”
She took a long drink, staring at the bubbles in the sloshing water. What had happened?
“I was on tour. I mean…” She rubbed her head. “My head hurts. Can I have something? There’s some Tylenol in my purse.”
He shook his head and reached for a button behind her head. “I’m sorry, Senorita Price. You had no purse when you were found. I have sent for the nurse. Do you remember what happened?”
“I was on my way back to the tour. It was time to go to the airport.” Her stomach lurched. “What time is it? I can’t miss that flight.”
“Again, I’m sorry, Senorita. You have been here for several hours. It is most probable you missed your flight.”
He didn’t sound sorry. Moisture filled Madeleine’s eyes.
The inspector shifted on the vinyl chair, his eyes widening. Probably the last thing he wanted was a hysterical young woman on his hands, but Madeleine couldn’t help the tears coursing down her cheeks.
“Senorita, please. Try to focus. What happened?”
“I…I went down this little street…to look. To take a picture of a cathedral. I thought it was a short-cut, but it came to a dead-end. Someone grabbed for my purse. I yanked back and ran. I guess he hit me on the head.”
The inspector’s eyes glinted. “You saw the person who hit you? Was he young or old?”
“About my age…roughly.”
The door swung wide, and a diminutive dark-haired woman in white walked briskly into the room. She rattled off a spate of Spanish.
Madeleine’s gaze darted to the Inspector. He answered the nurse before turning to Madeleine. “She is going to give you something for the pain. At what hotel is your tour group stopping?”
Madeleine went to shake her head then thought better of it. “We checked out early this morning. My belongings were sent to the airport.”
“What did you have in your purse? Do you need to cancel credit cards?”
“No plastic…only traveler’s checks. And all my identification was in that purse. I have no way to prove my identity and no way to get home if I missed my flight. It was a non-refundable, non-transferable ticket.”
The inspector’s frown deepened. “Perhaps a relative-”
“My parents don’t have that kind of money. You’re stuck with me.” She rubbed her temple with both hands. “Who found me?”
“A boy. He probably saw the whole thing, though he denies it. What is the name of your tour agency and on what flight were you scheduled?”
“You want me to write it down?”
The inspector almost smiled as he handed her a small notepad and a black pen. “You might include the name of anyone who will notice your absence…your employment, friends.
Madeleine scribbled the information. Would her boss think it strange when a police officer from Spain called? She didn’t want to lose her job, but the circumstances left her little choices. She added her parents’ home address and phone number. “That’s everyone. You’ll need to call my roommate first. She’ll be worried when I don’t get off the plane.”
“I will tell her to call you here. Will that ease your mind?”
Madeleine nodded, but her head felt like a heavy punching bag.
“Here is my card, Senorita. I will get in touch with the American Embassy after I verify your information. And I will make sure the proper persons in the United States are contacted. Is there anything else?”
Anything else. She was alone, trapped halfway around the world without a dime or a stitch of clothing, and her head felt as if it wanted to be free of her body. “I’m all right?”
The corners of his mouth tilted in a semblance of a smile. “You have a slight concussion and find yourself in a predicament, but I’ve encountered worse.” He rose. “Stay here for two days. The doctor says this is advisable. I will keep in touch. When you are released, I will take you to the consulate. I’m sure by that time, they will find a solution to your problem.”
He left the room as the young nurse came back with two pills. Madeleine accepted a cup of water and swallowed the pills, smiled politely, and laid back. The nurse offered an encouraging smile and left the room without a word.
Not that it would help if she did speak. Madeleine’s Spanish skills had proven unreliable throughout her trip. She closed her eyes and began to pray.
I need you, Lord.
Two days later, true to his word, Inspector Banderas, in another dark suit, arrived at the hospital to escort her to the American Embassy. He smiled when he stepped into her room. “You look much improved, Senorita.”
Madeleine swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood. “Thank you. They washed my clothes and gave them back. I don’t suppose you located my purse?”
He shook his head, and thick strands of silver-streaked dark hair fell over his forehead. “Most unfortunate, but not exactly a surprise. It was probably discarded as soon as it was taken. Are you ready to leave? The consulate assures me they have a solution for you.”
“I can’t wait.”
When they stepped out of the hospital, waves of heat accompanied by the unpleasant odor of exhaust hit Madeleine in the face. The late morning sun burned into her back, and beads of sweat popped up on her forehead, but it was a glorious improvement to the anodyne smells and fluorescent lights of the hospital.
As she stepped off the curb, the inspector gripped her arm against his side, propelling her toward a dark vehicle idling in a no parking zone.
Was he afraid she would make a run for it or that she would pass out?
He had nothing to fear. Where would she go? With no clothes, no money, no passport, and no way to speak to ninety percent of a foreign population, she hardly posed a flight risk.
She reflected once again on the gangly man who’d grabbed for her purse. If not for him…Ok, Lord, so I’d like to shove my fist up his nose, but I’d probably only succeed in breaking my knuckles. And I really am trying to forgive him.
The inspector dropped her arm to open the car door, and they soon joined the flow of downtown traffic.
Not one topic of conversation came to mind as Madeleine held her breath while the inspector zig-zagged between cars. Her silence didn’t seem to bother him. He kept up a constant stream of comments about the inability of Spaniards to drive.
Madeleine stared out the window, trying not to think about what the Embassy would do with her. I know I shouldn’t worry about it, Lord. I mean, I’m not dead or anything. I’m not even starving or hungry, but I feel so alone. I need you.
Inspector Banderas pulled into a long driveway lined with American flags. The bright red, white, and blue brought a lump to Madeleine’s throat. Finally, a chance to speak with someone who understood English.
At the entrance, like brightly-colored toy soldiers, stood two stiff Marines. Neither met her eyes as she ambled by, but she didn’t care. She felt safer already.
Inside, hovering like a hummingbird, waited a stocky, dark-haired woman with a clipboard. “Good morning, Inspector. Miss Price.” The woman smiled, revealing a mouth full of teeth more suited to a horse. “I’m Miss Phipps. If you’ll follow me, please.”
“Of course.” Inspector Banderas settled his hand in the small of Madeleine’s back to urge her forward.
Miss Phipps led them up a long, curving staircase. The gleaming wood of the banister begged Madeleine to run her hand along the edge. It felt just as smooth and satiny as it looked. Nice, for a consulate. Certainly not your run-of-the-mill government office.
A large portrait of the current President loomed on her right.
Miss Phipps stopped and knocked at a door. A deep voice beckoned them in.
From behind the desk rose a bespectacled, middle-aged gentleman. He held out his hand and flashed an even smile at Madeleine. “Miss Price, how are you? Inspector Banderas, thank you for bringing our errant citizen to us. I’m Ward Jamieson. Won’t you have a seat?”
He dropped onto a burgundy leather chair, his expression open and unhurried. “Would you care for a drink? Water? Café?”
The Inspector shook his head. “Nothing, thank you.”
Madeleine crossed her hands in her lap and waited.
Mr. Jamieson settled a fatherly smile on her. “Now, Miss Price, we’ve arrived at a solution I hope you’ll find satisfactory. Believe it or not, there’s another family in similar circumstances. A bump on the head. Unfortunately, there’s been a loss of memory, speech really. They aren’t sure how much he can remember because he can’t speak. Work…or something, prevents them from flying home.”
He glanced back and forth as if gauging their reactions then settled his gaze on Madeleine. “Your employer in Houston said you’re an accomplished therapist with just the skills required by this patient.”
Inspector Banderas nodded his head and stood. “Bueno. This is most fortunate.” He tipped his head to Mr. Jamieson then bowed over Madeleine’s hand. “Now…if you’ll excuse me, there are other matters which require my attention.”
“Wait!” Madeline bolted from her chair.
The inspector paused just inside the door with a polite expression of resignation on his face. “Senorita?”
Madeleine gaped. Why had she jumped out of her chair to lunge at a stranger?
The inspector appeared trustworthy, more than that, he’d proven himself trustworthy, like a security blanket, and Mr. Jamieson…She turned back to examine the smiling diplomat. He just seemed to want to be rid of her.
“Senorita, you have my number should you require anything else, but I trust that will not be necessary.”
“Uh, right. Thank you…for all you’ve done.”
“My pleasure. We are sorry your stay has ended in such a manner. I hope it improves.”
He inclined his head and left.
Madeleine fell back in her chair. The Inspector might be satisfied, but Madeleine’s mind whirled with questions. “Mr. Jamieson, you’re aware that my luggage has flown to Texas, and I don’t have even one change of clothing?”
“Don’t give it another thought. I believe you’ll have all the surgical wear…er, scrubs, that you’ll need. You’ll be staying in somewhat of a hospital, I take it. But there are recreation grounds…a pool. You might get in a little more sight-seeing.” He gave her a glare. “As long as you stay to the main thoroughfares.” His eyes softened, and he smiled. “Well, if that’s it…”
“Just a moment. How long is it going to take to earn my passage home? I’ll lose my job if I’m away too long.”
“I believe your employer was paid a stipend for your services. If the patient responds to treatment immediately, your flight home will be assured, otherwise, you will receive your usual salary, plus a bonus until you can return home. But…it’s hoped you’ll remain until the patient has fully recovered. Now…”
He stood up. Clearly, he considered their interview at an end. “A car is waiting out front to take you to your new residence.” He held out a small white card. “Do not hesitate to call upon me if you have further questions.”
Madeleine smiled to herself. She may not have two pennies to rub together, but now she had two business cards. Whoopee.
She climbed down the stairs, instead of sliding down the banister as she was tempted, to find Miss Phipps and her wide, toothy smile.
“The limousine is just outside. Have a wonderful stay at The Institute. I here it’s a fascinating place.”
Fascinating. That could mean anything to quite a number of people.
Madeleine raised her hand to wave and stepped out the door past the armed presence on either side. Once again, the Marines stared forward, unblinking. Quite an impression of strength and safety. If anything went wrong, she’d be back.
A long, black Embassy car, flags waving on either side, eased up to the curb. Madeleine climbed in, and they whisked away to points unknown.
Did the patient live in Madrid? She hadn’t thought to ask.
She knocked on the window that separated her from the driver, another young Marine. The glass lowered.
“Where are we going?”
A grin lifted the corner of his mouth, but he showed no surprise. “To The Institute. On the outskirts of Madrid.”
The Institute. Sounded like a loony bin. Were they sending her to an asylum?
She shrugged and sat back to enjoy her first ride in a limo. Lord, I know there’s a point to this. All things work together for the good of them that love the Lord, and you know I love you…right?
More than half an hour later, they pulled up to a guard shack nestled beside tall wrought iron gates. The driver announced her name, and the gate opened.
Madeleine leaned forward to peer around the broad Marine, but tall hedges blocked any view save the long winding drive.
After passing what seemed an eternity of perfectly-shaped hedges and a never-ending lawn, they reached an imposing colonial edifice, red brick and white pillars.
In large gold letters on a black sign, Madeleine read, ‘The Institute of Resource and Technology.’
“Do tell,” she muttered. “At least it’s not a loony bin.”
Her Marine hopped out to open her door and stand at attention.
Madeleine climbed out and walked toward the large double doors then looked back at him.
She caught a glimpse of his back-side as he marched back to the driver’s side. So much for Semper Fi.
Madeleine raised the heavy brass knocker on the front door.
A voice boomed at her from a speaker on the side of the wall, and she jumped.
“Excuse me, Miss. Would you look at the camera over your head, please?”
“Now…what is your name and purpose at the Institute? Have you an appointment?”
This was ridiculous. Did they want her or not?
She rose to her full five and a half feet and glared at the camera. “Of course, I’m Madeleine Price from the American Embassy. I believe you required a speech therapist.”
A click sounded as the door opened automatically. She walked through.
It took several seconds for her eyes to adjust to the change in light. A wide lobby lay before her, clean and austere, sterile even. White and chrome gleamed from the chairs and a sofa along the window. Never in all her days had she seen a sofa so white. How in the world did they keep it that way? Maybe no one ever sat on it.
Madeleine pulled at her last reserves of courage and strode to the reception desk, her sandaled heels clicking on the tiled floor. “Madeleine Price.”
The receptionist beamed and ran slender fingers through her long black hair. “Good morning, Miss Price. Dr. Hanover will be with you shortly, if you’d like to take a seat.”
Madeleine retreated to the white couch and stared. It certainly did appear as if no one had ever used it. Well, she was going to sit on it.
She plopped down like she owned the place and picked up a magazine. It was in French. She dropped it and picked up another. German.
At last, she found an English tabloid and began to read. The President of the United States urged Americans to take care overseas. They were primary targets for terrorists and other unsavory characters.
“You’re a little late.” Madeleine told his picture. She still had the bump on her head to prove it.
“I beg your pardon.”
Madeleine dropped the magazine. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t hear you come up.” She stood and held out her hand. She felt as if she’d been doing it all day. “Madeleine Price.”
At first glance, the man appeared elderly, due in part to his long, white clinical jacket and the thick beard covering the lower half of his face.
Madeleine peered at him. His unlined complexion and lack of gray hair told a different story.
“I’m Dr. Hanover,” said the red-bristled caterpillar covering his upper lip. “Pleased to meet you. Would you come this way?”
Madeleine followed him down the long hallway to an elevator. He punched a button, and the elevator lurched upward. Dr. Hanover stood stiffly against the paneled wall, staring ahead.
“So…Dr. Hanover. Has the patient fully recovered from concussion? Have you done a Cat-Scan? Do you have any idea why he hasn’t spoken?”
The doctor remained curiously quiet.
Madeleine pressed on. “How long ago was his accident? And what, specifically, happened to him?”
He gave her a blank look. “I’m sorry, Miss Price, but I’m not a physician. I’m a scientist. I really couldn’t say what goes on his mind. He just stares into space. We’ve tried everything, or rather, the other therapists did.”
Madeleine felt her stomach churn. “Other therapists? How many have there been? Couldn’t they help him? How long has he been suffering from this…malady?”
“Please.” He held out a hand. “I’ll tell you what I can, but it’s not much. There were two men, but their English was poor. They left. The accident occurred almost a month ago. He got a bump on the head, and there was a small fire…lots of smoke. When he woke up, he couldn’t say a thing.”
The elevator opened, and Dr. Hanover waited for her to exit before leading the way. He stopped at a door and opened it.
Madeleine looked up and down the corridor. Lined with doors, like a dormitory.
“Here you are.”
She followed him, and he pointed at the hotel-sized closet just inside the door. “There are some scrubs in there, various sizes. We weren’t sure…” He looked her up and down and coughed. “You have a private bath and…” He walked to a door and knocked. Then he opened it. “Steven?” He glanced at Madeleine. “A connecting door to Dr. Faraday’s suite.”
Why would she need a connecting door to the doctor’s room?
“Steven.” His voice grew louder as he stepped into the other room.
Madeleine trailed behind him, twisting her head to look behind her as they left her room. Double bed, same maroon and charcoal grey accents as the rest of the building.
In the next suite, a tall man sat in a long, low windowsill, staring out at the grounds. With his tight black T-shirt and jeans, he resembled no doctor Madeleine had ever seen. More like an athlete. His arms fairly bulged with muscular strength.
A dark tan accentuated the blond wiry curls trimmed close to his scalp. His profile could have been that of a statue, unmoved and unaffected as Madeleine ventured forward. Long lashes, a straight nose, lips parted in a slight smile. What did he see outside that window that brought such an absorbed expression?
Madeleine found herself wanting the poster-boy of perfect manhood to look her way. He had to be the most attractive doctor in Spain.
Dr. Hanover walked closer and pulled at his arm. “Steven, look at me. I’ve brought someone to meet you.”
The ideal specimen turned his head, revealing vacant eyes that never quite met Madeleine’s.
Her hand flew to her mouth. Oh no.
This grown man, Dr. Faraday, was her patient.
Dr. Hanover beckoned for Madeleine to join them.
She moved forward, almost in shock.
“Steven…this is Madeleine, pretty little Madeleine. Say hello to Madeleine.”
The vacuous eyes turned on Madeleine, and the face smiled. The beautiful, angelic smile of a little boy.
Madeleine forced a smile and held out her hand. “How do you do…Dr. Faraday.”
He stared, ignoring her hand as if it didn’t exist then he knelt and pulled the laces on her tennis shoe.
She gaped at Dr. Hanover while Dr. Faraday attacked her other shoe.
Dr. Hanover shrugged. “He’s rather like a small boy. A precocious boy with an IQ off the charts. Really, he’s harmless, but he does like to play pranks. And you’d better call him Steven. He might ignore you if you call him Doctor.” He took a step toward the door. “Oh, call me Mike. I’m Steven’s assistant.”
Madeleine looked back at Steven, once again seated at the window, staring out into space.
“Just a minute!” she called after Mike and took a step, but her foot slipped out of her shoe. She shoved it back in and bent to tie her shoelaces. “What’s been tried with Dr. Faraday? I mean…what therapies?”
“I couldn’t say. But the physician will doubtless make an appearance when he learns Steven has a new therapist. Just try to keep his attention. Lunch is at twelve-thirty. Would you like to eat up here with Steven or come down to the dining hall?”
Madeleine studied Steven’s uncooperative expression. It might be better to watch him eat. She might discover something about his abilities. “Send a tray up if you don’t mind.”
“If you have any trouble with him, ring that buzzer by the door. He wanders off, so you better keep an eye on him.” The door closed.
“Well, really.” Madeleine put her hands on her hips. “I’ll just have to make the best of it.” She stepped closer to the window. “Why am I talking to myself?”
She sat beside Steven and looked out the window. Two people lazed beside a pool, but no one swam. Was that what absorbed his attention?
If she could watch him perform activities, she could ascertain the extent of his loss.
He didn’t answer or turn his head.
“Steven.” She gently grasped his clean-shaven jaw and turned his face toward her. His eyes were bottomless pits of dark blue, but he smelled amazing. Whatever his shortcomings, Steven Faraday knew how to look and smell like a man. “I’d like to help you, Doctor… I mean Steven. Can you hear me?” Nothing at all. “Do you know someone is sitting beside you, holding your chin?”
He gave her that brilliant, childlike smile and cupped her chin in his hand. His fingers were strong, but his grip remained gentle. Did he always mimic movements, or could he think for himself?
Madeleine dropped her hand from his chin and smiled at him. “Madeleine. I’m Madeleine. You’re Dr. Faraday…Steven.”
He dropped her chin, and the blank look took over his expression before he turned his face to the window.
Madeleine put her hand against his cheek. “Excuse me, Doctor, may I look in your mouth?”
She once again pulled his face around then opened his mouth. “Teeth…healthy and very white. At some point, you’ve been bleaching, dear doctor. Throat and gum tissue…undamaged.”
She sighed, closing his mouth. “You look fine.” She managed a small laugh. “Better than fine, actually. I’d watch you on a movie screen any day.”
He rose and walked to the door.
“Where are you going? Are we allowed to go out?”
He disappeared down the hall. “Steven, wait.”
She hurried after him, but he stepped on the elevator. It closed in her face. Her last sight of him showed him staring at the buttons on the panel. What if he pushed every one?
“Ooh.” She banged her hand on the wall.
Down the hall, she sighted an emergency exit and ran. The stairs provided the only avenue of pursuit.
Would he head for the ground level? She certainly hoped so.
How embarrassing. There less than an hour, and she’d already managed to lose her patient.
Madeleine’s breath came in gasps by the time she reached the bottom floor. She busted through the door and rounded on the elevator. Empty.
She peeped out the back window and saw Steven Faraday’s tall figure walking toward the pool. What if he fell in?
She rushed outside and strode to the side of the pool where she reached for his arm. He jerked then whirled around, knocking Madeleine into the deep end. She floated for several seconds before she realized what he’d done.
Precocious boy? I don’t think so.
She kicked to the surface and shook the hair from her eyes, spitting out pool water. “Steven,” she coughed. “Don’t…you…move.”
His lifeless eyes stared past her then he turned away.
As Madeleine struggled to pull herself over the side of the pool, someone reached down and hauled her from the water. “Allow me.”
She saw nothing but a wide expanse of ordinary green scrubs as she shoved long strands of hair out of her eyes. This guy must be huge. She raised her eyes to thank the strong man, and her gaze became transfixed by a pair of intense black eyes in a hawkish face.
“Mademoiselle? Are you well?”
French. Very French.
“I’m fine. Did you notice where Dr. Faraday went?”
He smiled, shaking his head. “Wandered off again, has he?”
“Yes. I’m going to get fired before I even get to work on him.” Water dripped in her eyes, and she blinked.
“You won’t get fired. Dr. Faraday’s therapists always quit. I’m Dr. Frank Geliteau.”
“Let me guess. You aren’t a physician, either. You’re a scientist.”
“Guilty. I’m an associate of Dr. Faraday’s. At least, I was before the accident. And who might you be?”
“Madeleine. Lovely to meet you. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to find my charge and change clothes.”
“You might try the water fountain on the east side of the building. He sits there often.”
She stalked around the side of the building.
Sure enough. There sat Steven Faraday on the rim of a round fountain, staring into the gurgling water.
Her first inclination…to yank him up by the arm and give him a good spanking…dissipated as she got closer.
He smiled at her with wide-eyed innocence, and she melted, reaching for his hand.
“Come along, Steven. I can’t leave you sitting here all alone, and I’m soaking wet. And now I reek of chlorine.”
She pulled him up then held tightly to his hand. He wasn’t getting away again.
They reached the elevator, and she pushed the button, still holding his hand. “That was very naughty, Steven. Why did you push Madeleine in the pool? And don’t say it was an accident, because I won’t believe you.”
She turned his face to look at her, but his eyes never met hers. They were once again dull and unseeing.
She felt his forehead. “Have you got a fever? You don’t look so good. Maybe you need a nap.” The elevator opened. “Why don’t you lie down while Madeleine gets cleaned up?”
She unlocked her room and pulled him through the connecting door to the bed. He sat, and she pulled off his shoes.
He leaned backward, and she ran her hand across his forehead again. Cool to the touch.
“Stay here while I change, and when I come back, I’ll read you a story.” She shook her head. “What does one read to a scientist?”
She walked back through to her closet and yanked at hangers until she found a pair of scrubs her size. Pink with purple flowers and little yellow polka dots. She pulled on the shirt and pants then wandered into the bathroom.
A new hairbrush waited on the counter. She grabbed it and went back into Steven’s room. He was lying where she left him, eyes closed. Perhaps, he was truly resting.
Madeleine sat in the window and brushed at her hair. The reddish gold color looked ridiculous against the pink and purple but it was the best she could do. Later, she’d send down for some more clothes her size.
Her gaze traveled the grounds. A few people wandered to and fro. Where was everyone? Ah, lunch hour, and they were in Spain. Most everyone would eat then have siesta. Maybe she should have waited to make Steven lie down. But he looked so fragile.
She glanced at him again. He was like a big, beautiful male model. A shame his eyes were so empty of life.
They popped open as if he knew she watched him. For an instant, intelligence blazed then awareness faded, and he looked right through her.
A knock at the door brought Madeleine to her feet. “Come in.”
The door opened, and Dr. Hanover entered with a tray in each hand. He gaped at her hair. “Did Steven push you in the pool?”
“He makes a habit of it?”
“Every therapist so far. I guess it’s an initiation with him.”
Madeleine looked quickly at Steven as Dr. Hanover set the trays on a table. “Then he can’t have lost all his mind,” she said. “I’ll just have to find a way to open the rest of it.”
“Madeleine, if you want to eat in your room, I’ll stay with him.”
Dr. Hanover sat at the roll top desk.
“Thank you, but I have to watch him. It helps to see if he’s having any trouble with hand-eye coordination.” She turned to her patient, still lying on the bed. “Steven, it’s time to eat. Sit up, please.”
She leaned over and pulled at his hand.
He reached out and touched a purple flower on her shirt.
“I know. Hideous, isn’t it? I’ll find some other color that goes better with my hair, but it’s all I’ve got for now.”
Steven caught a handful of wet hair in his hand and looked at it.
Madeleine sat beside him. “You did that, you know. When you pushed me into the pool.”
He rubbed the silky tresses between his fingers and looked up at her.
“I’m glad you like it, but it’s time to eat.”
She rose and took him by the hand. They sat together at the small table, and she waited. Would he remove the lids to eat his food or expect her to do it?
He sat there. She opened her own food and added sugar to her tea. Then she grasped his hand and said a blessing. “Thank you, Father, for this food and a place to stay. Bless Steven and heal his mind. Give him the answers he needs. Amen.”
She dropped his hand and picked up her fork. She wanted to see how long it took him to get the idea that he should eat. “Dr. Hanover, why don’t you come over here and talk to us while we eat?”
The chair squeaked as he rolled away from the desk.
“I asked you to call me Mike.”
“Sorry…Mike. Does someone feed Steven, or will he eventually get tired of cold food and open the serving dishes for himself?”
He sat in the chair next to her. “He can feed himself.” He picked up Steven’s right hand and laid it on top of his tray.
Steven retrieved his napkin and placed it in his lap then began to open his serving dishes.
“Wow. That’s amazing. He has such a variety of symptoms. I’ve never seen quite this combination. But that doesn’t mean anything. Mental illness is not an exact science.”
Mike looked at her in alarm. “Mental illness?”
He didn’t know?
“Well, yes. If the doctor ruled out any physiological problems, then he’s had some type of trauma that made him forget normal, everyday things.”
“Oh, dear. How long might this take? We’re in sort of a hurry.”
“Really? No one told me. But it’s not rocket science, you know.”
Steven choked on his tea, and Madeleine reached over and took it from his hand.
“Are you all right? Take a deep breath for me.” He breathed in and out. “That’s good. Eat your food.”
She set the tea down and picked up her fork.
“Miss Price…Madeleine. You don’t seem to understand. Dr. Faraday is a rocket scientist.”
Madeleine dropped her fork and whirled to look at Steven. Did he perceive more than they thought?
But the rocket scientist merely stared into space.
“Are you telling me Dr. Faraday is a real rocket scientist?”
“Absolutely. He’s brilliant. There’s no one like him, and he was on the verge of a break-through when he had his little accident.”
Madeleine chewed her food thoughtfully. “Tell me more about this accident. I heard it was a bump…some smoke and fire. I thought a child had been playing with matches or some such nonsense. How in the world did Dr. Faraday…”
“No one knows. The fire alarm went off in his lab. He was found on the floor. He had a big bump on his head, and there was a fire on the experiment counters.”
“So he fell and hit his head, but you don’t know how the fire started?”
“No. Someone hit him and left him to die in the smoke.”
She gasped and put her fork down, studying the silent man with such empty eyes. “You poor thing. Why would someone want to kill a nice-looking man like that? Is he hateful?”
“Not at all. I think he knows too much about our project. Several countries would give incredible sums of money to find out what’s stored in his brain.”
“Not anymore. But we’ll work on it.”
Steven finished his food and left the table to sit in the window.
“Mike, do you think he’s safe here? I mean, his lab is here, I take it.”
“Yes. His lab is here. I don’t know if he’s safe or not. He’s probably safer now than he was before he lost his speech. And he’s never left alone. Unless he manages to wander off.”
Great. She hadn’t realized he was so important. “I’ll be more careful. Thank you for the lunch…and the conversation. It helped a lot.”
Madeleine glanced around the room as she stood. There were no visible personal items. “Could you come back tonight? I’ve got some questions, but first, I’ve got to think.”
“Not a problem. I’ll come after dinner. I suppose you want to eat in your room again?”
“For a while, yet. Until I get used to him…or rather, until we get used to each other.”
“Fine. Leave the trays outside. Someone will come and get them.”