That feeling had passed as he came fully awake and recalled the seizures and the spike-sharp pain that had racked him in the night.
But now, almost four days later, the sense of pending revelation swelled once more, and Ryan thought he should struggle against the gravity that pulled him down into sleep, should rise, switch on the TV, identify the film and wring its scenes to squeeze from the story any bitter omen that it might contain.
A heavy dinner, a powerful drug, a weight of exhaustion, and a kind of cowardice influenced him, instead, to let the remaining sand grains of consciousness sift through his grasp.
He slept over ten hours and woke Monday morning with a headache that a drunk might have earned after a three-day bender.
In the shower, water pelted his skull as if every drop were a hailstone. Even low light stung his eyes, and every odor offended.
He fought this hangover with pots of coffee. He drank the first pot black, the second with cream but without sugar.
Later he ordered dry toast. Later still, a buttered English muffin. In the afternoon, he wanted a dish of vanilla ice cream.
Room service brought him one thing at a time, as he asked for it, as though he were an ill child making requests of a doting mother.
Without surcease, he worked on the computer, striving to enhance the reflections on Teresa Reach’s dead eyes and discover the meaning that he thought he would find in them. Hours after he knew that no meaning existed to be identified, he labored on those twin images.
Without this task to occupy him, he might have called the valet to have the Escalade brought from the hotel garage, and he might have driven again to the park with the aspens, if he could find it. Once in the park, he would not be able to resist St. Gemma’s, and he worried that a second visit to the church might contribute not to any resolution of this mystery, not even to any degree of clarification, but only to greater disorientation.
The many strangenesses of the past few days had initially led to bewilderment that stoked his curiosity. Bewilderment had given way to a muddy confusion that, in its persistence, was mentally and emotionally debilitating.
Monday afternoon, he finally acknowledged that nothing in Teresa’s eyes would enlighten him either as to the identity of the people who might be conspiring against him or as to their motives.
Nevertheless, he continued to feel that something about this last photograph of her was important. Spencer Barghest had no doubt held the camera; therefore, Barghest had assisted Rebecca Reach in ending Teresa’s life.
Samantha claimed to be estranged from her mother.
She is dead. To me. Rebecca’s buried in an apartment in Las Vegas. She walks and talks and breathes, but she’s dead all right.
Yet on Friday night, hardly more than forty-eight hours after making that angry declaration, she had slipped out of her apartment while Ryan napped, to meet with Barghest under the moonlit pepper tree.
Spencer Barghest was part of this, and because he seemed to be at best disturbed and at worst depraved, he was not involved because he was concerned for Ryan’s welfare. Barghest terminated Teresa, and he might be part of a scheme to terminate Ryan, which argued that Ryan’s intuitive reaction to the photograph-that it contained a key to unlocking this mystery-should not be lightly dismissed.
If the answer was not in her eyes, it might be found in another part of the photo.
His attention turned next to her mouth, which hung open. Her full lips were parted, as if the breath of life had pressed them apart to escape her.
The darkness past her lips, within her mouth, was not uniform in shade and texture, as it appeared upon a cursory look. He saw now that Teresa seemed to have something lodged in her mouth, an object just beyond her teeth, a subtle shadowy shape too geometric to be her tongue.
He enlarged her lips to fill the screen. He cloned pixels to restore definition at the greater scale.
The woman’s shapely mouth seemed to cry out to him, but the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token of the final words she may have spoken as Barghest had finished her by whatever means.
Ryan bent to this new work as obsessively as he had studied the reflections in her eyes.
At 8:40 Monday evening, as Ryan ate a Stilton-cheese sandwich with cornichons and worked at the computer, George Zane called with the results of the blood tests.
In an exhaustive analysis, the two blood specialists and their lab assistants had discovered no traces of poisons, drugs, or other problematic chemicals in the 40 milliliters that Zane had drawn from Ryan.
“They could have missed it,” Ryan said. “No one’s so good, they don’t screw up now and then.”
“Do you want me to take additional samples,” Zane asked, “and find someone new to analyze them?”
“No. Whatever it is, it’s too subtle to be detected by the standard tests. You could drain me of every drop, employ a thousand hematologists, and I’d learn nothing more than I know now.”
Ryan flushed the sedatives down the toilet and ordered a pot of coffee from room service.
He felt that time was running out for him, and not primarily because his appointment with Dr. Samar Gupta, to receive the results of the myocardial biopsy, was little more than eighteen hours away.
As the evening waned and then on past midnight, the contours of Teresa Reach’s lips and teeth and oral cavity became his universe, so seductive and all-consuming that he never went to bed, but fell asleep in the office chair, in front of the computer, sometime after three o’clock in the morning, his search for truth still unrewarded.
From Denver to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, cosseted in the corporate Learjet, Ryan from time to time studied the photograph without benefit of computer enhancement, wondering if the clue that he sought might be hidden in Teresa’s hair, in the delicate shell of her one revealed ear, or even in the folds of the pillow that was visible to one side of her face….
The plane touched down and taxied to the terminal less than an hour before Ryan’s appointment with the cardiologist.
Rather than compromise his secrets by having Lee Ting meet him at the airport with a car, Ryan had arranged for a limousine company to provide transport. They sent a superstretch white Cadillac and a courteous driver who did not feel that conversation was part of his job description.
In the limo, all the way to Dr. Gupta’s office, Ryan stared at Teresa’s dead face.
He had slid into a state of mind that was not characteristic of him. The confusion that had overcome him in Denver had thickened to such a degree that he was no longer merely confused but confounded, his mental faculties overwhelmed by what he had learned, by what he had experienced, and by his failure to make sense of any of it.
Being confounded for the first time in his life would have been sufficient to sap his spirit, but he felt as well a quiet resignation building in him, which was worse because he had not thought himself capable of any form or degree of surrender.
His parents’ selfishness and their indifference to him had only inspired him to achieve, not only later in life but also as a child, when he had determined never to be like them.
In business, he had seen every setback as an opportunity, had viewed every triumph as a challenge to achieve even more. He never surrendered, never capitulated, never so much as yielded except when he ceded his position on one issue in order to gain a much greater advantage on another.
He would have liked to believe that this growing resignation harbored in it an element of fortitude that would stave off despair. But fortitude was endurance animated by courage, and with every turn of the limousine’s wheels, he felt more isolated from his previous sources of strength and less able to summon courage.
He began to wonder if his every act these past five days-the entire investigation into Rebecca Reach and Barghest, all of it-had been only a desperate attempt to distract himself from considering the news that he was likely to receive at the appointment with the cardiologist this afternoon. Loath to accept a mortal diagnosis about which he could do nothing, perhaps he had busied himself seeking a bogeyman whom he could more readily engage in battle.
When they arrived at the medical building in which Dr. Gupta had his offices, the limo curbed in a no-parking zone.
Ryan slid Teresa’s photograph into the manila envelope.
The chauffeur got out from behind the wheel and stepped to the rear of the car to open Ryan’s door.
In the grip of unreason, Ryan took the dead woman’s photograph with him, not to show it to the cardiologist, merely to be able to hold it, as if it were a talisman, the power of which might prevent him from descending the final steep step between resignation and despair.
Cardiomyopathy,” said Dr. Gupta.
He sat with Ryan not in an examination room but in his private office, as though he felt the need to deliver this news in a less clinical, more reassuring environment.
On a shelf behind the desk, in silver frames, were photos of the physician’s family. His wife was lovely. They had two daughters and a son, all good-looking kids, and a golden retriever.
Also on the shelf stood a model of a sailboat, and two photos of the Gupta family-dog included-taken aboard the real vessel.
Listening to his diagnosis, Ryan Perry envied the cardiologist for his family and for the evident richness of his life, which was a blessing quite different from-and superior to-riches.
“A disease of the heart muscle,” said Samar Gupta. “It causes a reduction in the force of contractions, a decrease in the efficiency of circulation.”
Ryan wanted to ask about cause, the possibility of poisoning that Forry Stafford had mentioned, but he waited.
Dr. Gupta’s diction was as precise as ever, but the musicality of his voice was tempered now by a compassion that imposed on him a measured solemnity: “Cardiomyopathies fall into three main groups-restrictive cardiomyopathy, dilated, and hypertrophic.”
“Hypertrophic. That’s the kind I’ve got.”
“Yes. An abnormality of heart-muscle fibers. The heart cells themselves do not function properly.”
“And the cause?”
“Usually it’s an inherited disorder.”
“My parents don’t have it.”
“Perhaps a grandparent. Sometimes there are no symptoms, just sudden death, and it’s simply labeled a heart attack.”
Ryan’s paternal grandfather had died of a sudden heart attack at forty-six.
“What’s the treatment?”
The cardiologist seemed embarrassed to say, “It is incurable,” as if medical science’s failure to identify a cure was his personal failure.
Ryan focused on the golden retriever in the family portrait. He had long wanted a dog. He’d been too busy to make room for one in his life. There had always seemed to be plenty of time for a dog in the years to come.
“We can only treat the symptoms with diuretic drugs to control heart failure,” said Dr. Gupta, “and antiarrhythmic drugs to control abnormal rhythms.”
“I surf. I lead a fairly vigorous life. What restrictions are there going to be, how will things change?”
The cardiologist’s hesitation caused Ryan to look away from the golden retriever.
“The primary issue,” said Dr. Gupta, “is not how restricted your life will be…but how long.”
In the physician’s gentle eyes, as in a fortuneteller’s sphere, Ryan saw his future.
“Your condition is not static, Ryan. The symptoms…they can be ameliorated, but the underlying disease is not arrestable. Heart function will steadily deteriorate.”
Dr. Gupta looked away from Ryan, at another photo of his family that stood on his desk. “I think…no more than a year.”
Wednesday night, writhing in pain on the floor of his bedroom, Ryan had expected to die right there, right then. In the days since, he had anticipated being felled at any moment.
A year should, therefore, have seemed like a gift, but instead the prognosis was a psychic guillotine that cut through him, and his anguish was so intense that he could not speak.
“I could tell you about advances in adult stem-cell research,” said Dr. Gupta, “but there’s nothing coming within a year, perhaps nothing ever, and you aren’t a man who would take comfort in such wishful thinking. So there is only a transplant.”
Ryan looked up from the envelope containing Teresa’s photograph, which he gripped with both hands, as if it were a buoy keeping him afloat. “Heart transplant?”
“We’ll register you with UNOS immediately.”
“The United Network for Organ Sharing. They ensure equitable allocation of organs.”
“Then…there’s a chance.”
“Frequently the results of a heart transplant are quite good. I have a patient who has lived the fullest life for fifteen years with a new heart, and she’s still going strong.”
Instead of ameliorating Ryan’s anguish, the possibility that he might escape death through a transplant rendered him even more emotional.
He did not want to be reduced to tears in front of Samar Gupta, and in searching for something to say that would help him stave off that embarrassment, he returned to the central theme of the past few days: “Could I have been poisoned?”
Dr. Gupta frowned. “Surely not.”
“Dr. Stafford did mention it as a possible cause of an enlarged heart. Though he also did…dismiss it.”
“But in studying the biopsied tissue,” the cardiologist said, “I feel quite sure your case is familial.”
“Inherited. The cell characteristics are classic for a familial attribution.”
“You’re quite sure,” Ryan said, “but not certain?”
“Perhaps nothing in life is certain, Ryan.”
Having successfully repressed his tears, Ryan smiled thinly and said, “Except death and taxes.”
Dr. Gupta received Ryan’s smile with gratitude, and smiled himself. “Although at least the IRS will give you your day in court.”
In the days following his appointment with Dr. Gupta, Ryan surrendered to fits of denial during which he spent hours obsessively searching medical sites on the Internet for the latest developments in the treatment of cardiomyopathy.
When he found no scientific news dramatic enough to lift his spirits, he switched to alternative-medicine sites. Eagerly he sought stories about patients cured with the bark of an exotic Brazilian tree or with a tea brewed from the leaves of a plant found only deep in the jungles of Thailand.
Again and again, he read a thick packet of material about heart transplants, provided by Dr. Gupta. On each reading, his admiration for the skill of contemporary surgeons gave way to frustration over the imbalance between the number of patients in need of transplants and the number of organ donors, and to impatience with the system established by the health-care bureaucracy that was authorized to address that imbalance.