Night and Day - Page Four

By JuneBug <fastenyourseatbelts@yahoo.com>    
Please see Page One for disclaimers.

Language alert:    Nothing excessive. Just a warning for the ultra-sensitive.
Jargon alert:    There is a mildly detailed overview of a patient's medical status in chapter eight, for those who are interested. If it flies right above your head, don't worry - just substitute the paragraph with "This guy is doing well, but he is still in a coma and we don't know why".

I want to send a big thank you to Dahl for helping so much with the technical side of all this doctoring business.


 

Seven - 5:30 AM

Kai remembered that she was dreaming as she woke, her eyes fluttering open into the faint light of sunrise. She always woke cleanly just as grey skies began to colour, sleep sliding off her as effortlessly as the crisp, freshly-laundered sheets she now pushed away, rising to her feet. That was the first dream I've had in months. She stretched, dormant joints popping awake from her shoulders right down to her toes. Pity I don't remember what it was about. Still - it felt good.

She padded to her ensuite, splashing water on her face and tying up her loose hair in a tight knot. Looking around for her workout clothes, quickly changed out of her briefs and singlet top, humming a long forgotten tune.

What's gotten into you, Kai? You haven't sung in ages.

She glanced at her reflection, briefing herself on the morning's activities. Right. To work. Grabbing a towel, she made her way downstairs to the basement, warming up her arms and shoulders as she walked. Exercise was a pleasure she had only just begun to regularly indulge in again, one of many things she had to abandon just after her promotion nearly a year ago, when her precarious position required almost constant maintenance.

And now... She smiled somewhat deprecatingly. God, look at me. When was the last time you went bounding downstairs like this? Bemused, she ignored the remaining steps and leapt off the landing, her feet finding the hardwood of the basement with controlled force as her blood thrilled to the rush of adrenalin that came with the impossibly frivolous, but throughly enjoyable motion.

She made for her workout room, the happiness of the moment sweeping her away in laughter. Whatever it is I've done that's making me feel this way, I really should do it more often.

The light from the rising sun filtered steadily through the expanse of windows, reflecting off the glass-like surface of the narrow pool which rippled as Kai opened the double doors to the gym. Throwing her towel on a nearby bench, she walked into her stretches, feeling her flexible body arch and twist on itself even as she eyed the solid punching bag hanging in the centre of the room. A considerable time had passed since the last time she attempted to pick up her kickboxing, her pride knowing that with lack of practice came the sluggishness that would be frustratingly foreign to her. Face it, Kai. You weren't as good as you used to be. You'll probably just end up tearing your stitches and a ligament or two.

The wound in her side tug painfully at her skin in silent affirmation.

Nonetheless, her gaze remained rivetted to the hulking mass suspended from the ceiling; something inside her refusing to walk away. Setting her jaw, she popped the sleep out from her shoulders, feeling everything in her body feeling pleasantly pliant from the activity, and made a command decision to ignored better judgement and give into pure hedonism.

Just this once...

Picking up the remote control for her sound system, she turned it on and selected one of Bach's cello sonatas, the mellow tones echoing in the sparse, lofty space. She briskly jogged on the spot, shaking the knots out of her hands and headed to the punching bag.

Kai snorted as she quickly bound her hands with brisk familiarity. After a year behind a desk, getting this body around a punching bag will take more than a morning's workout, you know.

She exhaled, quietly eyeing her target, and suddenly erupted in a series of terse, explosive jabs and a sweeping high-kick.

Surprising herself at the relative ease, she stopped a moment to test her tendons and joints. Hm. She flexed her fingers within the thin bandages. Good. Didn't pull anything. Maybe this body can pick itself up after all. Smiling with obvious satisfaction, she stilled the swinging bag and prepared to resume once more.

Her body whirled in perfect counterpoint to the intricate music, her movements matching the fluid melody in its meticulous complexity, its unrelenting pace and sheer brilliance. Leaps and roundhouse kicks were interspersed by dance-like steps, her arms were a blur as she feigned, jabbed and blocked at unseen opponents. Her brown-black hair escaped the tight thong holding it together and flew wildly about her face.

The sun was rising, the pink-grey mist colouring the light sheen on her skin. Kai continued to dance, her dynamic movements coming together faster and faster as her body rang with the pounding of blood, with pure pleasure.



Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

"Ungh..." A hand reached out blindly, groping about on the bedside table before connecting sharply with the source of the sound. The clock toppled off the nightstand with a thud.

"Mmm." Snuggling into soft covers, Piersen went back to sleep.


Hair still slightly damp from her swim and shower, Kai stepped out of her bedroom, her navy suit hugging her body as she buttoned up her tailored jacket. She was somewhat dismayed to feel the sharp stinging in her side - having been aggravated while performing an over-ambitious manoeuvre, and further disrupted by the brief round of laps she made in the pool.

Oh well - she touched the newly-dressed wound lightly - I deserved it, I suppose.

The kitchen was darkened save the single light illuminating the dark granite benchtop, and the morning sun streaming through the window. Ducking her head into her fridge, she grabbed a carton of orange juice and took a long drink. Mm. Okay. What's the schedule for today? Mentally, she reviewed her workload as she placed the carton on the counter and opened the breadmaker, which she had programmed the night before. Fresh bread for breakfast - whoever it was that invented this, I thank you once again.

"Mmm..." Kai inhaled dreamily, the nutty smells of linseed, sunflower seeds and fresh dough filling her nostrils. She extracted the warm loaf, her internal organiser still running. Actually, not a bad day. She dug her thumbs into the rich crust, breaking apart and revealing the steaming softness. No theatre today. Resident rounds. A few appointments. Department meeting.

She took a lingering bite, the pleasure of the taste taking the sting away from that last thought. Department meetings invariably meant an hour of badgering and hounding, locking antlers with some of the senior specialists, tying people to their budget while they hackled her for more money to work with. Discussion of actual patient cases and their management were almost secondary to the pragmatics of running the department.

Ironic, really. We're health care professionals, and we care more about how we spend the budget than the people we spend it on.

She sighed and took another bite, this time with a big dollop of blueberry jam. Kai knew that it was impossible to hope for better relations between her and some of her staff, but damn, I'd like it if I could get through one day without having to fight my way through it for once.

"Not that they'd know how hard it was. Not that I'd let them know how hard it was." She said aloud, chuckling at herself. But you love your job. God knows why, but you love it.

Still munching on the grainy bread, she walked to the living room, where she had dumped her leather case the night before. Unclasping the worn buckles, she fished around for the research papers she had intended to leave at home to review when something fell to the floor.

Bending at her knees, she retrieved the object, holding it up into the light.

Ah. Kai smiled, her face lighting up in recognition. She twirled the stem of the paper flower in her hand, fingers running over the delicate white petals. I didn't think I brought it home with me. Kai was surprised to see that the petals were almost translucent, save the designs that swirled over and around the flower. Beautiful.

"Yes. Beautiful." Bottle-green eyes danced as the woman smiled, smug.

"Hm. 'Beautiful' isn't a word I'd use to describe wine." Kai leaned forward in her chair, hands fidgeting idly under the table as she rested her elbows on her knees.

Piersen caught the change in stance, and the doctor's doubtful expression. "This sounds like a contentious issue, Doctor. Would you like to present your case?" She lowered her voice, setting up the mock debate and assuming the role of chairperson.

Kai considered her thoughts for a moment, then spoke quietly. "Wine is too complex to be described as beautiful. For beauty to exist there must be a simplicity - a simple elegance, mechanism, form or logic. To simply say a wine is 'beautiful' would be disregarding the changes in texture, body, fragrance..."

The artist grinned. Now here's a subject near and dear to my heart. "Are you saying that something that is complex is not beautiful?"

"No - what I mean is that beauty is a pure, distilled form. So it has to be very simple... like this flower here." Kai's hands appeared from under the table, and held up a perfectly folded, pure white origami rose.

"Oh - " Piersen felt her breath catch, her arguments forgotten as awe lit up her eyes. "Where...?"

Kai gave a soft smile, and a hand gestured the motion of disappearing smoke, like a magician to a spellbound child. "Just an illustration to my point."

She handed the flower to the curator sitting across the table, who cupped it in her hands, her face breaking into a genuine smile of wonder. "It's -" She took a short breath, at a loss for words. "Wow."

The smile spread tingling points across the doctor's skin. "Yes - Beautiful. Simple, logical, elegant."

Piersen's eyes never left the paper rose, thoughts and words returning to her with clarity. "Yes... but -" She absently reached into her case for a pen. "While it is beautiful, it is a lonely beauty..."

She laid the flower on the table, and uncapped her pen. "A canvas can be beautiful in its simplicity, but a painted canvas is also beautiful - the multitudes of colours, the complexities of form... it achieves a beauty on its own, and it also enhances the qualities of the once-empty medium..." Graceful hands gently manipulated the pen over the rose petals.

Now it was Kai's turn to be spellbound. Gradually, like a camouflaged snake from its hiding place, a series of tiny, intricately swirling designs grew on the blank petals. Vague forms evoking birds, flowers, and amazingly - Kai thought with wonder, fragrances; of rosewater and sharp aniseed.... It was then she realised that the artist took her experience of the evening and expressed it in one winding, unravelling arabesque.

Kai watched the woman work, entranced. Piersen's skin was fine porcelain in the soft light, framed by a wealth of gold that cascaded down to touch her shoulders, partially obscuring her face. Eyes lit with a green fire, and her lightly coloured lips were slightly parted as if she was breathing life into her creation - 

Kai - c'mon, snap out of it. She mentally shook herself free from the hypnotic haze. Get a hold of yourself.

Piersen worked her way around the flower, until the design covered the paper like finely etched engravings. Finishing her strokes, she looked up for the first time in minutes, and returned the rose to the doctor. "What do you think?"

"It's..." She smiled deprecatingly. Amazing. Startling. Beautiful... "Perfect."

Piersen laughed, not recognising the true extent of the doctor's wonder. "You don't want to lose this argument, do you? Anything to avoid the 'B-word'." Her smile faded, and her face took on a serious expression. "I know a thing or two about beauty, Dr. Jamieson. Sometimes it's better to suffer the complexities and delight in the unexpected, rather than remain in cold, logical simplicity."

Kai nodded, feeling the words touch her beyond simple origami roses. She lifted her glass and tilted it slightly to the blonde woman, smiling. "Score one for you, Ms. Evans."

The doctor pushed her memories back into a corner of her cranial vault as she laid the rose on the bench. Damn - what is it about her that makes you feel so...

"Alive." A familiar spark welled up inside her again, the sense of deja vu almost taunting her. I felt this - yesterday. Walking out of the cubicle.

Yeah. Her mind drawled wryly. After getting shot, spending 5 hours in theatre and having to deal with a woman who was ready to crucify you with her tongue, given half the chance.

She smiled without thinking. A headstrong, eloquent, beautiful-as-hell woman, mind you.

"Hey - watch it." Kai's firm voice interrupted her own thoughts. Married, remember? Your job here, Kai, is to treat the husband, get him back on his feet, and they will both be out of your life. End of story.

But.

The surgeon took a deep breath, and let it out with an exasperated grin. I bet you'd love to get another excuse to get her out to dinner again, don't you?

A moment's hesitation.

Unwilling to complicate matters by providing an answer, she picked up her loaf and tore out another chunk of bread, chewing quietly as her eyes looking far beyond the windows. Feeling the need to clear her train of thought, she headed to the balcony door and slid the heavy glass panel aside.

The slight tang of salt air wafted to her nose as her solidly-heeled shoes tapped across the sandstone. She stepped at the railing overlooking the expanse of blue harbour and glittering city, unable to keep the smile of wonder from her face as she filled her lungs with the crisp morning breeze.

Wow. I've lived here for so long, and my breath still catches everytime I see this.

She allowed a quiet moment, feeling the tumultuous thoughts dissipate and the wind gently toss eucalyptus into her loose hair. It was moments like this that effectively silenced any lingering questions that pointed to her purchase of her waterfront house as a frivolous extravagance, every cent of the astronomical price made worthwhile as she made her quiet communion with the cityscape.  And so she remained, leaning easily over the the wrought iron fencing until blue eyes spotted the seven-thirty ferry service crossing the harbour.

Okay - She sighed, straightening from her position and smoothing out her suit. Better get to work.

She laid the remains of her breakfast on the railing and returned inside, half-smiling at the lorikeets already perched in the nearby trees, waiting.


Piersen walked by the quayside, her strong legs pacing briskly. God, I can't believe I slept in... she chastised herself, clear green eyes narrowing with mild self-disgust. She looked for the clock over at the Circular Quay Ferry terminal in minor agitation.

Eight-thirty. I should be there by now.

Not that the museum director was truly running late - her day didn't officially begin until nine o'clock, but Piersen had made a habit of arriving half an hour early to ease herself into the morning, and put in a few extra moments to grasp the ins and outs of the museum organisation. Her first month was almost exclusively dedicated to looking at finances - ledgers, endless balance sheets and transaction records dating back to at least two years. The museum had been progressively losing money for some time, and no matter how much she tried to play with the figures, there was still a large deficit that was a constant thorn in her side. This, along with many other tiny problems, made her lateness all the more unpalatable to what the director sincerely hoped was a more disciplined character.

Even if last night was the best night's sleep I've had in weeks, dreaming an impossibly wonderful dream, no less - the details of which lay frustratingly just out of memory's reach. Piersen was sinking slowly into her thoughts when a voice entered the periphery of her consciousness.

"Piersen!"

Turning around, she saw a tall, black-suited man jog up to her. She waved, her smile flashing white in the sun. "James! Good morning."

The man caught up to her, puffing slightly, and ran a hand through close-cropped hair. "What a lovely surprise! And how are you this fine morning?"

"Good, thank you." She nodded, then frowned slightly in question. "Do you normally walk along here to get to work? I don't quite remember seeing you here before."

"Well, nice to know I make such a lasting impression!" His handsomely rugged face broke into a dazzling grin as he laughed. As a curator under Piersen's supervision and the museum's publicity officer, James McAllister was one of the more flamboyant characters amongst the museum staff, who seemed to have befriended the blonde woman almost immediately upon her installment at the MCA.

Recovering slightly, he raked his fingers thorugh sandy, close-cropped hair and continued to speak. "To answer your question - I do have my fiteen minute walk to work along the foreshore every morning." He checked his watch as the two began walking once again. "Unfortunately I appear to be running behind schedule."

Piersen smiled, sharing in his disgruntled expression. "Golly, that makes the two of us." She gave her companion a sidelong glare. "What's your excuse, hm? Big night out last night?"

"Oh no! Busted by the director!" He chortled uproariously. "No, I had to stay in to finish preparing for a morning meeting, consequence of the said 'night out'." He rubbed the stubble on his cheeks, the laughter fading. "Actually, it wasn't 'big' at all. It was that new gallery opening in Surry Hills, and I was picked to be the museum rep. It was atrocious - the most boring bunch of people I had ever been stuck in a room with. I think you were quite smart to turn it down, you know. I was obliged to stay till the wee small hours languishing under a social nightmare - luckily there was a decent bar down the road to ensure that my night wasn't a total loss." He sighed dramatically. "The works themselves were good, though. Mostly unknowns, but very, very good. Might have to keep an eye out for them - I've jotted their names down for you."

Piersen was convinced he hadn't taken more than two breaths amidst all that.

"So, Ms. Evans, what was your excuse?" He grinned, good humour almost bursting from his tailored, well-built frame.

My excuse? She smiled in remembrance. "I was taken out to dinner in Darlinghurst. A Morroccan restaurant."

"Oh - I know that place. 'The Fez', right?" Piersen nodded. "Yeah, the food is simply incredible, isn't it? Was it for business, or pleasure?" He quirked an eyebrow at her, grinning wickedly at her.

Unable to stop the smile that appeared without volition, Piersen was about to retort to the hidden intent of James' words when he started laughing. "Oh m'dear, you don't have to say anything. Just from your expression and the fact that you're running late tells me it was all fun."

Piersen's mouth remained agape, having not yet recovered from his last interjection. "James - you really don't need me around for a conversation, do you?" She jabbed him lightly in a well-muscled arm.

He put on an exaggerated accent, teasing her a little more for good measure. "But you're so much prettier than my reflection, dahling." He reverted back to his normal voice, laughing at his own silliness. "Oh forgive me, Piersen. Please, do go on." His turned interested hazel eyes to her.

"Hm. Well, it was -" Caught on the spot, Piersen now found herself tongue-tied. "Lovely." Her face warmed with a tiny smile, remembering. "I had a wonderful time - learnt about everything from wine appreciation to... spitting."

James' expression turned to smiling disbelief. "Really -!"

She nodded, biting her lower lip as she laughed. "Really. Well, it was all a part of wine tasting, you know... it was fun. A real icebreaker, if nothing else."

A knowing smile. Icebreaker, huh? Was this a blind date I should have known about? "Ah, I see. So who was the lucky gentleman?"

Piersen blinked, surprised at the non sequitur. What...?

Then it dawned on her.

"Oh - no! No - no. No." She laughed helplessly. "It wasn't like that at all - I was having dinner with a doctor. She was treating a - a family member. We met to discuss a few things, that's all."

They quickly ascended the steps leading to the museum entrance. "Ah - just business, then. But look how much fun you ended up having." There was a twinkle in James' eye as he stepped ahead, opening the door for her.

Piersen glided through, bestowing a decorous smile on him while musing aloud, her voice pensive. "Well... it was my first proper night out in Sydney, so I guess I wanted to have a good time, even if it was a business meeting."

"Your first night out in Sydney?? Oh Piersen, I know you haven't been here long, but really!" He looked at her, truly amazed. "I have to take you out some time. Have we been working you that hard?"

She shook her head, her lips pursed thoughtfully "No, not really - it's been time-consuming just catching up on the paperwork and getting up to date. But aside from that, we've got some interesting projects on the cards."

"Oh, yes. You had that lunch yesterday about the Warhols, right?" He pressed for the lift. "I'll bet it's in the bag."

She smiled shyly. "Yeah. We managed to work something out. They should be here for about 12 weeks at the end of the year."

"Wonderful! That was so well done, Piersen. You have no idea how long we'd been trying to get those ones in with our last director."

Oh? "What was the problem?"

"Who was the problem, you mean." He frowned, the expression looking strangely foreign on his face. "I'm sorry, that was snide - I meant no disrespect to the poor man. He was a wonderful artist, knew his work and many other things besides, but he had no idea about management. It was very difficult to negotiate with him - he would fork out hundreds of thousands of dollars for things he considered art, with no consideration to the museum or the public as a whole." He sniffed, tossing his hand in the air helplessly. "He was terribly narrow-minded; ran this place like it was his own private gallery. And letting the museum run down the drain. Tragic, really." He ushered her through the elevator doors.

Piersen sighed slightly. Ah. I guess that's why I'm hired - for the economics degree, never for artistic ability. No illusions there, I suppose.

She took a breath, forcing herself out from her thoughts. "Well, your last director did leave some positive legacies - he's had this project in the works with St. Vincent's hospital..."

"Yes, I remember - it was scrapped along with most of his initiatives when the Trustees fired him. A special exhibition of some of patient and hospital art, or something like that."

"Right. Mostly neurology patients with perceptual and movement difficulties, and those involved in art as remedial therapy. I've contact the hospital's liasions officer a week ago and told him it was back on track."

A hesitant silence. "You're going to put it on?"

"Yes - " Piersen looked up to see her friend's disconcerted expression. "Why, is there a problem?"

"Well, I'm not familiar with the true financial state of things, but everyone knows the museum isn't doing too well. I thought we'd be keeping our ventures low-risk - you know, Warhol and stuff like that. "

"Actually, I think this is an amazing opportunity, and not as risky as you might think. Whoever worked on it beforehand had already made most of the sponsorship arrangements, and they're still happy to contribute. All I really need to do is talk to the hospital and negotiate the extent of their cooperation." A hopeful sigh. "With any luck, I think this exhibition has lots of potential. Might give us a kickstart out of the red."

He nodded vaguely for a moment, mentally extrapolating her comments. "Little to no cost to get the artwork together, local amateur artists with enough 'human experience' in their background to give public appeal to their work... with the correct marketing, we have a guaranteed audience. Hm." He looked up with a cheshire grin. "Very clever, Ms. Evans. This could very well make a packet."

"And a portion of the profits go back to the hospital programs, James. That's their incentive to be involved." She smirked at his somewhat misdirected enthusiasm.

"Oh. Yes, of course." He laughed, embarrassed, and ran his fingers through his hair again. "Charity is good too."

The museum director paused, her voice slightly less business-like than before. "It's not just the financial advantages, you know - this could be a very good thing for the museum in the long run. Working together with a non-traditional sector might help broaden our role, and it's the kind of exhibition that will stir public interest, and really put us on the map." She smiled wryly. "You might be able to tell that I'm pretty keen to see this work out."

"Your baby, right?"

The look Piersen gave him was nothing short of puzzled astonishment. "I'm sorry?"

"You know - the first major project in a new job. It's like looking after a baby - you work like hell over it, and it could be the most recalcitrant, difficult little bugger, but when it comes to fruition, and fulfills all your dreams... there's nothing like it in all the world."

She laughed, feeling the metaphor click solidly within her mind. A thought quickly occurred to her. "Do you have children, James?"

He guffawed as if it was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard, but his eyes watched her carefully. "Nope. I prefer babies of the non-biological variety. They're definitely not an option for me, Piersen."

"Okay." The museum director smiled reassuringly at him, slightly startled his reaction. He laughs at the strangest things...

There was an uncharacteristically lengthy pause before James looked up at the lights slowly migrating on the overhead panel. "This is my floor coming up. Will I have the pleasure of your company for lunch again?" He looked expecantly at her.

Hm. Do I have enough time to get to the hospital before then...? "Probably, yes. I might have a few things to do, though. I'll try and make it." The lift slowed to a stop. "Have a good day, James. Thanks for the company."

"Oh, my pleasure, boss. Hope to see you at lunch." He snapped his heels together and bowed slightly, a good-natured grin on his face. "Catch you later, alligator."

Piersen laughed silently to herself, shaking her head as his parting proposition replayed itself in her mind. I might just have lunch with him after all - the hospital can wait till tonight.

She checked the time again, suddenly aware that the lift was very quiet in her friend's absence. Quarter to nine. Not so bad after all. The lift slowed again as it approached top floor, and Piersen smoothed out the imaginary wrinkles in her blue-grey suit before stepping purposefully out of the lift.


Eight - Adverse Interactions

Deftly manoeuvring the deep blue Range Rover into her parking spot, Kai engaged the hand brake and turned off the purring engine. She was grateful for the light traffic this morning, despite leaving her home a little later than usual - and in a city where five minutes in rush hour makes all the difference, I should be doubly grateful. Grabbing her glasses from the dashboard, she rounded up the collection of loose papers into her briefcase before stepping out of her car.

A male voice echoed in the car park. "Fancy seeing you here."

She locked her door, the indicator lights on her car illuminating the dim surrounds briefly. "Hi, David. How are you?"

"Pretty good, pretty good. Yourself?" It was surprising how easily they slipped back into the familiar morning routine, even though they had not run into each other in the car park for months now. They both headed for the elevators.

"Surprisingly refreshed." She flexed her shoulders several times, and bared a wolfish smile at him. "Strange, huh? Considering the last 48 hours."

David's brown eyes searched her face, scrutinising her features. You're right. Better than yesterday, anyway. And that smile is a dead giveaway, Kai. "Yeah, to say the least. Had an early night?"

A sheepish, lop-sided grin lit up her eyes, and she drawled lazily. "Nope. I stayed back and did a bit of work, got home at about... one-thirty or so."

Tease. His voice was dry, unamused. "Yeah, Jamieson. Work is something that'd leave me in a good mood the morning after. What did you really get up to last night?"

A bewildered look flickered across her face, then she laughed. "No, you big oaf. I just went out to dinner, then I went back up to the office."

"Out to dinner?" David raised his eyebrows. "With company?"

"Yeah." Her response had come out a lot softer than she intended. "But for business only, old man, before you start to get any funny ideas."

David raised his hands. "Hey, no funny ideas from me, Jamieson." He gave her a surrepticious glance with a glint in his eye, not daring to smile as they stepped into the lift. "Talk about dinner... you still owe me a meal. Or are you backing out, thinking you had the chance?"

"Oh no, David. Not on your life. I haven't had a chance to catch up properly in ages. When are you free?"

"I should ask you that, hotshot. You're the one with the schedule here."

"Well... I'm booked up till next Thursday, so how about Friday week? At the 'Wockpool'?"

"Sounds good. I've always meant to eat there."

"It's a pretty good place. You'll never look at Chinese food the same way again." She pressed for top floor. "Oh, and bring that Psychiatrist of yours. It's about time I met her." She smirked at the grey-haired doctor.

David grunted, and tried to suppress an embarrassed smile. "Yeah. I'll check with her." The lift announced Ground floor, and he turned to look at the tall woman beside him. "Take it easy, right?"

She nodded. "Sure. See you later, David." She watched the lean man walk away as the lift doors slid to a close.


Kai took long strides down the corridor to her suite, most of the offices quiet as she walked by. Opening the heavy door with her name clearly marked on a plaque, she stepped inside her secretary's office.

"Morning, Adrian. How are you?"

The man sitting at the computer looked up and smiled. "Good morning, Doc - I'm doing fine, thanks. Yourself?"

She crossed the room to his desk. "Not too bad. Anything come in so far?"

"Just a few things, aside from the new set of figures from your research people that should be waiting on your desk. There's a reminder from the clinical school that you're up for Grand Rounds next week, and they wanted to see if you can guest lecture for the surgery students in two weeks, just to fill in for Dr. Heffernan." He flashed her a grin as she sighed, and began to rifle through a pile of papers as he continued the litany of her schedule. "Three appointments in the morning, then resident rounds at noon. You have the follow-up patients from 1:30 to 3:30, then you have the department meeting at 4. Actually, there are a few notes the Board wanted you to pass on during your department meeting today. I've got the information you wanted to hand out at the meeting on your table, along with the figures you wanted me to look up - Ah ha." He retrived a small stack of envelopes and deposited them in front of her, on the desk. "And some mail - stragglers from the last mail run yesterday, I think." He looked at the clock on his desk. "The day hasn't really started yet. I'm sure more will come along over the next few hours."

Her wry drawl was tinged with sarcasm. "Oh, thank goodness for that. I was half afraid I wouldn't have anything to do today." Kai threw Adrian a tiny smirk, then laughed. Her secretary was quiet, unassuming, and one of the most dependable people she has ever had working for her. I'd hate to think where I'd be without you around. "Send a note out to the clinical school, confirming Grand Rounds, and turn down the lecture - I've got that conference in Boston, and I've committed to a lecture series with the people at Harvard the week before that." She made to leave, but stopped after a few steps. "Thanks for turning up early for the past few weeks, Adrian. I really appreciate that."

He laughed as he ran a hand bashfully through his curly brown hair. Things had been busy at Professor Jamieson's office lately, with people from her research team running in and out of her office in an almost constant stream delivering sheaves of notes and data. And while he wasn't privy to the particulars, he knew that things around here was preparing to gear up to something of great interest. "No problem, Doc. I need the overtime anyway."

Chuckling slightly, she headed for the double doors leading to her office. Adrian's eyes followed her from behind neat glasses, the secretary sighing a little smile as he returned to his typing.


Conference room 12A in St. Vincent's Clinic was unremarkable in many ways save the windows that overlooked the bustle of Oxford Street, and the large mahogany table in the centre of the room. There were several such rooms scattered throughout St. Vincent's Clinic, which housed the offices of the specialists attached to the adjoining hospital complex. Many of the various organisational processes played themselves out in these rooms, the decor of tastefully muted colours playing silent witness to the often fiery exchanges that took place within their walls.

Particularly at four o'clock, on Thursday afternoons.

The neurology staff were clustered around the edge, an assortment of men in varying ages, sizes and demeanours. Despite their presence being an odd-dozen in number, the room was strangely silent, each perusing their stacks of memos or lounging in their chairs with grim expressions.

Everyone had their place on this huge table - specialist treatment and research divisions, nursing staff, administration and public relations, This was the way the new head of the department ran things - with strict order, in a small hierarchy that reported to one another at the end of the month. Each unit was represented like knights of the round table, except for one important difference.

There was most definately a head of the table. And that chair was conspicuously empty.

"Where is she, damn it?" A balding, ascetic-looking doctor glared at the door, irritation evident in his voice.

"Calm down, Taylor. She's not late yet." The solidly-built neurosurgeon sitting opposite him toyed with his pen, humour in his tired eyes.

Laurence Taylor, the head of Neuroendocrinology, turned his baleful stare at the clock, which ticked loudly in the sullen silence. "I have better things to do than waste my time here, waiting for her. This is ridiculous, having meetings like this." His eyes flickered over to the nursing and paramedical staff with barely disguised disdain.

"Oh, I don't know. I actually quite enjoy our new style of meetings." The neurosurgeon chuckled as he gestured expansively. "When else do we have a chance to get together as a full department?"

Several disgusted looks were directed at that remark, and others smiled into their memos.

"Ah, you just love everything this department's become, don't you? Everything's been wonderful since the Iron Lady took the helm, hasn't it?" Dr. Taylor muttered as he tried to pin the neurosurgeon down with his eyes, his voice caustic.

Walter Thompson stared right into those sunken eyes, then smiled an unaffected grin. "Why, Laurence, I believe you're absolutely right. I'm glad you feel that way too."

"I'm getting a bit tired of your boot-licking, Thompson." The rumbling voice came from Graham Rickson, the head of the clinical teaching program, his voice resonating through his massive frame. "Has it only taken a year for you to forget that you and Geoff were lined up for her job before she showed up on the scene?"

Geoffrey Sanders looked up from his reading. "I'm not going to be drawn into your arguments, Rickson." As the head of General Neurology and the Vice Chairman of Neurology, he was always reserved, gently spoken but unapologetically blunt, extremely capable as a doctor and utterly dependable as an administrator. He knew the politics that boiled beneath the surface in the department, but had always refused to involve himself in it. "Just leave it be, alright?"

Ignoring his friend's comment, Walter Thompson laughed raucously a moment, goaded on ahead by Rickson's veiled challenge. "I can't believe we're still having this discussion after all the time she's been here! She's been the best thing that's happened to this department in decades, and you think I'm going to be bitter about being passed over? Trust me, I wouldn't have wanted the job anyhow - not looking at the way some of us make life so hard for her."

"Really?" Rickson almost whispered. "Well, I know I haven't forgotten. How long have you been at this department for, Thompson? Thirty odd years? This woman wasn't even born when you were in medical school, and suddenly she blows in with some quack discovery and somehow gets propelled to the head of the class - "

The humour quickly left Walter's eyes as he spoke, his incredulous voice raised a step in response to the fraying of his patience. "Quack discovery? Graham, have you had your head in the sand for the past year or something? There's five people with cord transections who are walking because of her. Half the funding this department gets is from the research grants that she's raked in, some way or another." He glared at the large man opposite him, all pretense at civility disappearing. "I don't know what you have against her, and frankly, I don't care what you think about her. But that kind of talk is going to get you into trouble one day, Graham. I'd watch it if I were you."

Dr. Rickson was about to make a sharp retort, but was cut off by a loud interjection.

"Gentlemen!" The long-suffering tone of his voice held a subtle note of condescension. "Please. Save this for a place where the rest of us don't have to hear this, alright?" Julian Quinn, the PR officer, folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. "Let's just calm down a bit, okay?"

A forbidding silence hung over the table, death glances being shot across the polished hardwood surface.

Walter looked across the table, his glasses reflecting the somewhat-amused expression on Julian's face. "That was a much-needed time-out. Must be the budget changes that's getting everyone nervous."

"I think so." He nodded, smiling a little as a light patter of chuckles from various other members of the table allievated the oppressive pressure in the room.

His face still locked in a scowl, Laurence looked stubbornly at the clock again. "She's got 15 seconds. I swear, if she's late I'm going to ..."

The loud latching sound of the door being opened got the attention of the men seated around the table. Pushing the door open in a wide arc, Kai glided into the room, her steps sharp and precise.

"Alright, let's start." She walked around to the head of the table and dumped her load onto the table. "I apologise for keeping you all waiting, gentlemen, but I had lot to get through this afternoon."

The neuroendocrinologist muttered under his breath. "Yeah, didn't we all?"

Kai heard the comment, but chose to ignore it. "Everyone should have received a copy of the agenda, so preambles should be unnecessary. Let's start with patient cases, please." She turned to the head nurse. "Robert?"

"We've had six discharges and five admissions during the week. That's..." He slapped the patient files on the table as he read out the patient's names, and their respective doctors. "And I think we're expecting one more later today."

"Okay, let's start from the top. The first one was yours, I think." She directed her glance at Taylor.

And so each of the doctors concerned took out his files and spoke, relating his patient's presenting symptoms and brief medical history. In outlining their proposed treatment regime and diagnostic processes, each one was subjected with opening up their work to scrutiny and debate amongst their colleagues. Kai listened intently, but her mind was concurrently calculating risk-benefit ratios, costs and outcome probabilities as each doctor presented his case.

She didn't have to interrupt often, but whenever she felt a jarring error in therapeutics or financial expenditure, she would not hesitate to let it be known. Good thing I haven't had to do any yelling. She shifted in her chair. Yet.

"So, who had the sixth patient?"

Kai spoke for the first time in half an hour, her hands steepled in front of her. "That's mine - Richard Stamford. He presented to Cas early yesterday morning with a head injury and bullet wounds to his epigastric region. Preliminary CT scans showed direct trauma to the right parieto-temporal region of his skull, causing a mild epidural haemorrhage with collapse, and subsequent loss of consciousness within a few minutes. He appeared to regain some consciousness when he was being prepared for theatre, but that occurred only transiently. Both sites of injury were stabilised, but subject consequently elapsed into a coma. Post-op MRI showed diffuse coup cortical damage around right somatosensory and prefrontal areas, but manifestations will be unclear until he recovers - GCS was 6 as of yesterday. At the moment I've put him under close surveillance for changes, and basic post-op antibiotic prophylaxis. I've got his scans here, if anyone's interested." She looked around the table. "Any questions?"

"Shouldn't we have transferred him into critical care? This is long term, high maintenance treatment. Judging from his injuries, we might be better off taking him aboard when he's woken up. Our department doesn't need extra burdens like that." Dr. Sanders spoke quietly as a worried frown creased his weathered face.

"True - it's very likely that he may find himself with some motor and psychological deficits when he wakes up. And while it's going to be expensive keeping him here, I've got a few concerns and interests in this patient that I want to investigate. I'd like to be personally in charge of him, Geoff."

She paused, sweeping her eyes over the table. "This is a very strange case, gentlemen - the onset of his coma is quite intriguing. There is no explanation as to why he's still under, despite all his upper neural signs remaining intact. There wasn't a chance to get a medical history, and even though most of the routine tests we've done on him came out negative, I have a feeling that his condition is due to an underlying condition - I'd like to run some tests on him as soon as I can, and I want to be able to keep an eye on him in case he spontaneously wakes up."

She returned her calm gaze to Dr. Sanders. "He needs specialised care. And since we have all the facilities here - I don't see why we shouldn't use them."

Seeing her VC nod sans frown, she waited a reasonable moment to field questions from the other members of her staff, then took a pile of bound notes and crisply passed them around to the seated staff. Her voice radiated efficiency, speaking with a clipped, brisk rhythm. "Alright, to the admin side of things. Kevin, would you like to start?"

The scholarly-looking director of general adminstration nodded, and began to speak in his unchanging, quiet voice as the others began leafing through their bound volumes. "Well, to start on a bright note, here are the operating figures for the past quarter, superimposed on the performance over the past 2 years. I think we can all be pretty pleased that we've managed to steer the boat around."

Kai exchanged a long warning glance with her administrator before settling her glasses on her nose, opening her notes and sorting through them briefly.

Kevin went on. "But there are a few anomalies in the distribution across the different sectors that have concerned both Kai and myself. We've looked a several options, and Section Four should contain a list of the proposed figures that we have come up with, so take the time to have a look through it, and you can discuss any problems with the both of us at the end of the meeting."

Kai removed her glasses as she searched the faces of the people gathered around the table. "That's the good news to start with. Let's get some unit reports in -" She turned to the Head Nurse. "Robert, let's start with you."
 
Going around the table, each unit head reported on the status of their group. It's all the same... they always want more money. The crap is going to fly when they get a look at the figures... She maintained a stoic exterior while her insides churned - it was true that their department had been going well financially; mostly because of the grants and sponsorships she had introduced with the pharmaceutical and biotech companies. The changes she made had been unpopular with many, but with the present political climate such moves were necessary to maintain a department as technology-intensive as hers. Nevertheless, much of the funding still came from the government, and the cuts the health minister instituted were hitting hard -

The distinctive tenor of the PR officer drew her attention. "Just an update on the Patient Art project which, you may remember, was proposed a few months ago and was put on hold due to some internal difficulties involving the museum. Good news is that we've just received word from them that it's back on track, so it appears that the exhibition is going ahead after all."

This art exhibition thing again. Kai sighed inwardly, knowing that there were more pressing matters to discuss. The idea was pitched by a few of the staff at Occupational Therapy few months ago, and while she was indifferent to the idea she did not wish for such things to encroach on their departmental meetings. We've got bigger things to talk about - like this damn budget. That aside, Kai was still a little wary of the arrangements despite all the preliminary assurances from Julian. Knowing that with the health budget the way it was, the funding for the arts sector would not be much better off by way of generosity - the thought of galleries and museums starved for revenue, clamouring at the chance to exploit her patients was a concern that featured prominently in her mind.

Well, I certainly hope Julian does his job... In a seeming act of generosity, she loaned him to OT to make all the necessary arrangements and liase with the prospective galleries, hoping that his presence would allow her to retain an element of control over the project. And while she could see that he was in public liaisons mode right now, trying to create interest in the undertaking, she was expecting a full report from him after the meeting and prudently reserved her judgement until then.

"I think it's got a good chance of happening, provided we manage to negotiate decent fees and percentages and so forth. The costs have a good chance of being cushioned by our sponsors. 3M seem happy to contribute, Roche have signed on provided they get the right billing, and I think we might even get some from the Arts Ministry on this one."

Kai nodded, heartened by the fact that the department would not be too much out of pocket. But we'll see how it looks when you're not trying to PR your way through this, Julian.

"They've even given us some tentative dates, all of them from about a month onwards. I'll send a copy of the confirmed details when I get them out. I'll have them out in time for the meeting in two weeks time; which, incidentally, is when I've booked the museum honcho to come out and discuss a few things with us."

The 'museum honcho'? Kai frowned, knowing she missed something. "Which museum was this, Julian?"

He smiled at her good-humouredly, knowing that it wasn't like the Professor to drift off in the middle of a meeting. "The MCA. And their director's coming to answer a few questions in a few weeks."

Hm. Kai gnawed on the inside of her cheek as she nodded, mulling over this piece of information. And that would be Piersen Evans, I believe. Shifting in her chair, she forced her attention to the research co-ordinator, mentally priming herself for the feedback session on the reallocations that would inevitably come.
 


Nine - Slips of the Tongue

David Foster perused his notes as he paced down the corridor with two wardens following close behind, some innate sixth sense navigating his body clear from the trolleys, sphygomanometers and other staff strewn along the way. Kai had been caught in a protracted department meeting, and she had paged him a few moments ago, letting him know that one of her patients were being transferred from ICU to her ward, and asking him if he could oversee the transfer to make sure it went ahead smoothly.

"... if you weren't too busy, that is."

His voice was amused. "Not that I'm busy, or that I mind doing this for you, but don't you normally have your own registrars to order around for this kind of thing?"

The surgeon was silent a moment, realising she had never even considered asking anyone else to do this. "I had planned to do this myself if it wasn't for this meeting... but since I can't make it, I'd much rather have you look after it for me, David."

There was a curious timber to his voice as he spoke. "Special treatment, Jamieson? Do you provide personal escort to all your patients when they're being transferred?"

Kai's brows knitted, her patience burning on a short fuse as a result of the past half an hour of budget wrangling. "His wife would probably be visiting now, and I don't want -" Don't want her to wander up, and have strangers come in and take her husband away. "At least you were there when he was shot..." She stopped itself with an impatient sigh. "Look, I'll explain later, alright? Just make sure you're there."

"Okay. But you owe me an explanation, remember." Brown eyes winced slightly from the abrupt 'click' in his ear. David knew not to mess with the neurologist when she spoke like that.

David scanned the cubicles as he walked by. Twelve, twelve, twelve... Ah. Twelve. Grasping the curtain, he pulled it apart slightly and peeked his head in.

The blonde woman looked up, a bright, expectant smile falling rapidly as she noticed the stranger. "Uh - Hi."

Hm. Kai mentioned something about the wife... "Mrs. Stamford? I'm David Foster. I'm here to transfer your husband to 18th floor."

"Oh - yes, Dr. Jamieson mentioned something about transferring him out of Intensive Care." Expecting a more familiar presence, a slightly flustered Piersen spoke deliberately, willing discipline from her confused thoughts and words. "18th floor?"

"Yes. 18th floor - that's our neurology department. Would you mind if we got started?"

She smiled reflexively, mindful she had let her manners slip. "No - sure. Please, go ahead." She looked at the two wardens, preparing the bed and the assortment of accompanying machines for the move. "So... will Dr. Jamieson still be looking after him?"

David could hear the slight hesitation in her voice. "Of course. She's just held up in a meeting" Hm. Did Kai tell her she's a neuro? Obviously not. "Would you like to come with us?" 

"Yes - I'd like that, thank you." Inwardly, Piersen breathed a sigh of relief. Oh come on, Piers. Surely you can handle a change in doctors. And you're not even the patient. Watching the two men about to ease the bed out of the room, she stood aside and followed the entourage outside.

They walked on in silence, the wardens talking amongst themselves as they paced along the corridor, the grey-bearded man buried in his notes. From the edge of his vision, David noted the slightly drawn features of the woman walking quietly beside him. Hm. He struggled to turn his attention back to his files, rustling them violently even as something inside wanted to say something to make her smile, or at least... less unhappy. That pretty young face doesn't wear sadness well.

Well, her husband did get shot, and Kai did say something about wanting me to do this because I was there...  He pursed his lips, and a frown creased his forehead when his conclusion arose. Sheesh, Kai - if you want me to do a sensitive chat with her, you've definitely picked the wrong guy.

Despite his best efforts to re-engage in his notes, his eyes nonetheless found the woman's solemn profile, which seemed too young yet wearily mature all at once. Hell, if Kai is willing to give you personal attention, the least I could do is try. Knowing he had never been adept at the more subtle social graces, David nonetheless swallowed his awkwardness and took a halting breath.

"So. Your husband was the one who was shot, right?" Hmpf. Turning his own words in his mind, the doctor decided that they were perhaps not the most appropriate choice. Not the best way to cheer her up, maybe, but it's a start.

A little surprised to have the forbidding silence broken, startled green eyes looked up at him. "Yes. So I heard."

"I saw him, you know. Getting shot, I mean. It was brave of him."

Piersen nodded absently. Brave...? Not the first word that comes to mind. Her thoughts turned to the other half of his sentence. "You were there?"

"Yeah - I work at Casualty."

"Oh. With Dr. Jamieson, right?"

Hm.  David had to think long and hard about that - remembering the doctor's intense guarding of any information concerning her. How much to tell her? "Uh, not really - we used to work together quite a bit, though." Good. That's right. Move the topic somewhere else.

"Ah. You must be good friends, then."

David guffawed internally, barely containing his reaction. Half of the people who've worked with her hate her more than hell, and the other half are bloody scared of her. Lost in his own mirth, he spoke without thinking, smiling to himself. "Yep, we've been friends for a long time." Alarms bells went off even as the words left his lips, and he resisted the urge to smack himself in the forehead. Oh hell. I've put my foot in it now.

Friends... Curiosity won over the little voice telling her to mind her own business, and Piersen found herself asking what David had been dreading moments before. "Really? So... what's she really like?" She forced a casual, joking tone to her voice, a nervous chuckle smoothing over her awkwardness at allowing the question to surface. Was it what I saw last night?

Hm. I don't know if I like this question. He laughed uneasily with her, and took a slow breath. "What do you mean?"

"You know. Doctors have to get some down time as well, and she's always so... " She drummed her fingers on her arm, her face frowning faintly as she searched for the right word.

"Professional?"

"Yeah, you can say that." She laughed, relaxing slightly. "She's very professional."

"And shouldn't she be?"

"Well, yes, but not after hours, not over dinner." She replied, a sceptical chuckle accompanying a disbeliving quirk of her lips.

Ah ha... Several pieces clicked neatly in place inside David's furiously working mind. "Oh. Well." He chose his words carefully, fumbling for a reasonable excuse. "I think she likes keeping to herself... doctor-types, you know." He smiled at her uneasily. "There are things about her I will never know, and I've known her for years." He looked away, clamping his teeth on his tongue before anything more escaped.

Okay. I'll bet you're pleased as punch to have ferretted out a snippet about Kai like that, now wipe that grin off your face and go back to reading your notes, hotshot. They had reached the lifts now, and he had no way of walking away from the woman who had so unintentionally caused him so much trouble. Mentally kicking himself again, he set a gruff expression on his face and turned back to rustling his papers.

Piersen mulled over the information in silence, trying this new piece in the patchy jigsaw puzzle that was forming in her mind. Looking up, she noticed the distinctly uncomfortable stance of the bearded doctor. "I'm sorry, Dr. Foster. I didn't mean to put you on the spot like that..." She trailed off as the lift arrived, and the entourage filed in.

Settling in the cramped lift, a grateful smile spread over David's grim expression. "It's alright, Mrs Stamford. I get myself into trouble much too often when it comes to Kai, and she really knows how to make a man regret his mistakes."

One of the wardens snickered derisively as he spoke, a sarcastic curl on his lips. There was no mistakening the sentiment behind that sound, and David felt the familiar heat of annoyance and anger rise up his neck, flickering in his brown eyes. The other uniformed man elbowed the offender sharply in the ribs just as the doctor's eyes levelled daggers in his direction.

David's muted voice was deceptively quiet, a world away from his bumbling banter. "Something funny, nurse? Care to share?"

The smile melted from the warden's face as the doctor forced steady eye contact. He averted his eyes, finding patterns in the creases of his shoes. "No, doc." His muttered response was barely audible, and the lift became conspiciously silent. But the museum director was oblivious to the exchange, her thoughts focused on a word.

Kai.

When the doctor's name came from David's lips, Piersen could hear nothing else beyond its jagged sound. What an unusual name... it's - She ran it around again in her mind, playing the hard syllable in her ears like a phonograph as she struggled for the appropriate adjective. It's so... her.

I wonder if it's short for anything, or if there's a story behind it. She mulled it over, finding something in the timbre that was almost as compelling as the doctor herself. So familiar but unlike anyone I've ever come across before - softly spoken, yet hard at the same time...

Golly - it's exactly like her. Who said you can't judge a book by its cover -

Lost in her thoughts, it was only a moment later when she smiled ruefully to herself. What would I know... here's a man whose known her for years, and you think you can sum her up in a word...

Recovering slightly, David caught the smile on her face and felt a small surge of success. Well, mission accomplished. I think. He resumed studying his notes with a little more ease, the prickly heat at the back of his neck dissipating slightly with his growing satisfaction.

The elevator announced 18th floor, and the doctor stepped out, motioning for his entourage to wait outside the lifts while he spoke to the head nurse at the front desk.

Piersen dutifully waited at the foot of the bed, taking in her new surroundings. The ward was conspicuously new and spotlessly clean, unlike Casualty and parts of Intensive Care which showed their age and frequency of use. Computer monitors lined the Nurses' Station, and reports were neatly filed at the far wall. While the ward was busy, there was a lack of the restrained chaos she had seen in the other parts of the hospital. Like clockwork. Whoever runs this place, must run it like a military base. Casting her gaze idly down the corridors, she couldn't help but overhear the low conversation held between the two wardens.

"What was that for? It bloody well hurt, you bastard."

"Hey, watch who you call bastard, alright? I'm saving your ass here. The doc's good friends with the Iron Lady, and he doesn't like any kind of disrespect shown to her. You're lucky he didn't bite your head off."

"What - she actually has friends?" An incredulous voice was tinged with sarcasm.

"Well, she has one in David Foster. And if you want to save your hide, you don't want to piss him off. He probably went soft on you because of that lady there, but he's got a temper like nothing else you've ever seen when it comes to Kai Jamieson."

A grunt. "Yeah, because she's fucking him, that's why."
 
"Oh, I don't know - that one's been around for a while now, and I'm not too inclined to believe it myself. But you think whatever you like, mate. Just don't  have Foster find out." A pause. "What do you have against her, anyway? You've never worked under her before."

A leering, suggestive laugh. "Yeah, but don't tell me you wouldn't want to."

Piersen tore herself from the conversation, her mind ticking feverishly as she chewed her lip, calling her thoughts to order. She was confronted by all sorts of strange images sweeping before her mind's eye, cavorting for her attention - The cold, soulless doctor in front of the X-Ray panel melded into the gentle features she saw hovering over a bloodied arm. The faint smiles and low chuckles in a dimly lit restaurant flashed briefly into a pained expression before blending seamlessly into a sneering, cruel face, which was then arched over a prone, naked form  -

Shivering from an unpleasant feeling that crept down her spine, Piersen shook herself free from that last image, startling herself by the violence of her reaction. Any of those could be her.

Wrestling back the control over her thoughts, she pursued a more logical tack. And why should you care, Piersen? What is this stupid compulsion to deconstruct everything that you can't figure out in a minute?

The voice in her mind snorted before she even realised that her train of thought had somehow automatically switched to Richard, quickly followed by the events and revelations she had unwillingly catalysed not three months ago.

Oh yeah. Look at what a little deconstruction of his activities would get you...

Fast on the heels of her recollections came the familiar flash of pain - a sensation that she thought she had buried much deeper than to resurface so easily. Damn you, Richard. It's a wonder I actually bother coming in to see you at all.

"Mrs. Stamford? Come this way, please." David's voice broke through her reverie, and she noted that the bed had already been wheeled halfway down the hallway. She nodded, and followed the doctor down the sterile vinyl corridor.
 


A fist thumped against the reddish, unyielding wood of the table, accompanied by an outraged voice that boomed slightly in the nearly-empty room.

"This is UNACCEPTABLE, Kai. I've been saving up for this new analyser for months, and I REFUSE to have someone dictate to me how I should or should not spend my money!"

To his disappointment, the focus of his displeasure did not flinch or show any outward sign that she was affected by his untoward behaviour. There was a slight pause before the woman spoke, her voice calm to the point of being chillingly unemotional.

"I'm not telling you how to spend your money, Laurence. I'm simply letting you know you that we've had to cut fifteen thousand from your budget this year."

The voice rose in volume, a hint of desperation showing through evident anger in his voice. "And that is tantamount to holding a knife to my neck! How am I supposed to operate with any kind of efficiency if you cut the ground from under me like this?"

"You find a way, Laurence. That's why I gave you your job." The barest edge threaded itself into her liquidly rich voice, and she clamped down on the  rising annoyance. "Everyone in the department has to cope with this. It's not just you, or your unit. I suggest you think in terms of the greater picture."

"This isn't over, Kai -"

The sound of an inhaled breath cut him off as the imposingly tall neurosurgeon pushed her chair from the table, standing to full height with fluid grace.

"Thank you, Dr. Taylor." Her voice was even, firm and commanding, her body towering over the somewhat vertically-challenged doctor, indicating with its coiled tension that there was no more to discuss.

Ignoring the death look and ungraceful language muttered under indignant breath, her flame-blue eyes burned cold fire at the doctor's retreating form, not relenting until his stomping faded down the unseen corridor. She turned to the expanse of windows behind her and cast her gaze over the rushing lights of Oxford Street, counting to three slowly, calmly, feeling the tightness in her neck grudgingly unravel.

One.

Two.

Three.

Finally, when no more sound was heard, she closed her fatigued eyes. Oh Kevin, you had to leave me to deal with all of them by myself, didn't you? She took in another breath and released it soundlessly even as she kept her rigid poise, reminding herself that she wasn't alone in the room.

"Poor Professor Jamieson - besieged on all sides by a herd of resource-hungry doctors. They always want more, don't they?" She could hear Julian's voice clearly in the quiet, complete with the ever-present hint of a solicitous smile.

"I don't care about what they want. They have to be able to do their job." Her words were a lot harsher than she intended, but in her current frame of mind the finer points in verbal expression did not seem to matter as it normally did. "They don't know half of what Kevin proposed - I could have easily closed down an entire unit - that way we'd have enough funds to buy out a new wing if we wanted one."

Julian gave her a lengthy, surprised look that spoke volumes.

Kai agreed with an exasperated nod.  "It was a weak, short-sighted solution, and it's bad for St. Vincent's in the long run. So we're forced to bite the bullet. All of us."  It's always like this - I pound things out with Kevin, and when that round of arguing is over I have to ram it down the throats of eight stubborn unit directors who seem damn well better at complaining than doing something about the problem that we all have to bear.

"You could have given Laurence a piece of advice or two. I'm sure you could have solved his allocation problems without quite so much drama."

"Even if I told him the meaning of life, he wouldn't have listened." She sighed quietly, knowing she had probably stepped on too many toes this evening. "I'll send a few ideas to Kevin and ask him to forward it to Neuroendocrinology in the morning."

"That might be the best way, Professor." A breath - Kai could hear the moment of his hesitating indecision, wondering whether or not to speak. "He doesn't hold you in high regard, you know."

"I know. But he doesn't have to like me. That's not what I hired him for."

Kai could feel the PR's eyes on her back and she tolerated it, knowing that it was more a look of concern than an intrusion. The presence of a Public Relations coordinator was commonplace in any major hospital, but the fact that he was officially a member of the Neurology department was highly unusual. His services were acquired in response to the enormous upsurge in the Department's prominence following Kai's appointment to her current position, her arrival attracting the overwhelming attentions of journalists and media in her wake. Even now, with much of the commotion having settled as the surgeon firmly entrenched in her role, Julian Quinn's role in the department was an integral one.

Kai had a peculiar, stark relationship with Julian; his attitude towards her mainly being a tentative, almost mocking respect, yet it was tempered by a professional honesty and competent straight-forwardness that he did not make available to the other members of her staff. It was a strange gesture of loyalty, one that Kai found amusing and somewhat intriguing. Because of this strange dynamic, they seemed to work with a wary familiarity, the doctor implicitly trusting him to keep his knowledge of her less-than-diplomatic dissertations to himself.

Kai addressed the PR wearily, a hint of fading irritation stilll taut in her voice. "Let's get started, Julian."

He knew the Professor was in no mood for niceties, and began without preamble. "They need a hundred thousand dollars in total. With major sponsor involvement this figure goes down to about fifty thousand, which makes twenty-five thousand for us. If we divide that between Neurology, Oncology and OT it should end up about eight thousand dollars."

There was a silence as Julian's voice hung suspended in the air, before it was broken by the doctor rearing around to turn baleful eyes on him, her voice snapping like a whiplash. "Damn it, Julian! After hearing all that, you have the gall to ask me for eight thousand dollars?"

"I know, I know. I realise that it's a substantial sum to ask for -" His voice was in the perfect register to placate, but the coldly furious doctor was not swayed.

"So what the hell were you talking about before?" Her voice was hushed to a dangerously whispered growl.

"There's a catch. A good one." He allowed a thin smile. "They're offering us a percentage of the profits."

An agonisingly patient pause. The doctor's steel-like gaze was unwavering. "I'm not impressed yet."

"You should be. This exhibition has great potential, Professor Jamieson." He chuckled lightly, sitting slightly forward in his chair. "Surely the fact that I'm still trying to sell it to you now says something, doesn't it?"

True... you really know how to pick the best times, don't you, Julian? Kai grudgingly admitted to herself, feeling the brief flare of anger die down within her. Regaining her calm composure, she spoke again with her normal, silky voice. "How much of the profits, exactly?"

"Fifty percent of the net profit will go to the hospital. I suspect that will be divided between the departments proportional to the amount contributed."

A potential third of fifty percent... The doctor paused, considering Julian's words carefully before speaking. "Even if I found this an attractive offer, there is still a significant gamble attached to this venture."

"I understand. Which is why I wanted to speak with you about this privately, before I make a general announcement about the extent of our involvement."

Kai sat down in her chair, her body unwittingly resting her chin on her hand as she turned the thoughts and figures over in her head, the familiar, logical part of her brain quickly weighed up the relative risks.  We're talking about eight thousand dollars for an art exhibition, a venture we've never embarked on before. We don't know how these things are run, who is doing the running, how capable they are. Putting the department's funds on this kind of uncertainty...

Well. She faltered slightly. You do know the person doing the running. The museum director - Piersen Evans of the MCA.

Oh, so you know her, do you? Her voice drawled with lazy sarcasm, taunting her naive faith in someone she had only met yesterday. Take one look at her, spend one evening over dinner and you are assured of her reliability? Didn't know you had such a talent for reading people on short acquaintances, Kai.

An echo of thoughts from earlier in the day. Bet you want an excuse to see her again...

Kai sighed inwardly. This was not the time or place for her thoughts to foray in this manner. You know nothing about her. This is not how you run things, Kai. Not in your department.   

She looked up from her thoughts with troubled eyes, her business-like tone somewhat subdued with pensive consideration. "If I said yes to you, Julian - I would lose credibility with Laurence, and everyone who had put their case before me in the past hour."

"I know. But only if this doesn't pay off. And I really don't see that happening - especially not when we start doing our part in the marketing process. If it works out, the hospital can benefit greatly from this, from a financial and social perspective."

"I understand your point of view. But I need more than just your conviction, Julian."

He nodded, the somewhat smug expression on his face telling her that he was already a step ahead of her. "One of the resons why I'm so positive about this is that there seems to have been a reshuffle in the museum ranks. The directorship has just been handed to a woman only recently acquired from Europe."

His voice hinted at more, and Kai feigned ignorance in a shielded effort to encourage him to continue. "Oh?"

"Her name is Piersen Evans, graduate of Economics, Art History and Fine Arts from Cambridge. I've reviewed her track record from her previous engagements - She has excellent references from well-respected curators, and has worked with some rather eminent contemporary galleries. I've spoken with her, and she seemed very capable, organised, supremely confident." He steepled his fingers in front of him, his voice speaking with quiet certainty. "I have a good feeling about her."
 
I know. So do I. Kai pursed her lips, placing her demand before she could think over it twice. "I want a copy of her information on my desk tomorrow."

The dark-haired man nodded, waiting expectantly for further instructions from the surgeon who brooded pensively, feeling the hints of a plan begin to form in her mind.

"Since you already have some good background on the players, this is what I want you to do." Kai worked her ideas through her mind once more before beginning to tick off a list in her crisp voice. "Work with the director, and be as fully involved in their processes as you are able. Find out everything you can about how this will be organised, the sponsors involved, and their level of interest, their projections regarding net profit, and exactly where our money will be going. I want you to keep a finger on the pulse, and report to me when you have anything concrete. I don't want to have this taking up departmental time until we have some assurances."

"I'll get on it. What do we tell them in the mean time?"

Kai pursed her lips, a smile playing on the corners of her mouth. "Express interest, and a -" Kai thought for a moment. "Strong desire to be actively involved in the project."

"I'll start the publicity rolling on this right away."

Kai nodded, glancing at her watch. "Good. If there's nothing else..." Seeing the satisfied nod, Kai stood and collected her papers, heading with brisk steps for the door.

"Oh, Julian?" The doctor looked over her shoulder, her tall frame silhouetted by the light from the hallway.

"Yes?"

"I won't ask why you insist on it in the first place, but I'd appreciate it if you can hold off the 'Professor's when we are alone."
 
"Sure, Pr-" He coughed politely, slightly abashed. "Goodnight, Doctor."


To Page Five
 
 
Postscript: Alright - for those that are extra-sharp, I know that Cambridge only started offering Art History as a subject in 1999. But let's overlook that for convenience's sake, yes? *Whips out her poetic license and waves it about*
 
  1999

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