Of course, that was out of the question. He couldnt go that far. But
he was still determined to reach the main reception with its sliding
glass doors andjust beyonda real street with people and cars and
noise and dirt. By day, three receptionists answered the phones and
dealt with inquiries. After eight oclock there was just one. Alex had
already met hima cheerful Irishman named Conor Hackett. The two of
them had quickly become friends.
Conor was sixty-five and had spent most of his life in Dublin. Hed
taken this job to help support his nine grandchildren. After theyd
talked awhile, Alex had persuaded Conor to let him go outside, and he
had spent a happy fifteen minutes on the sidewalk in front of the main
entrance, watching the passing traffic and breathing in the night air.
He would do the same again now. Maybe he could stretch it to half an
hour. Conor would complain; he would threaten to call the nurse. But
Alex was sure he would let him have his way.
He avoided the elevator, afraid that the noise of the bell as it
arrived would give him away. He walked down the stairs to the first
floor and continued along a corridor. From here he could look down on
the polished floor of reception and the glass entrance doors. He could
see Conor sitting behind his desk, reading a magazine. Even down here
the lights were dimmed. It was as though the hospital wanted to remind
visitors where they were the moment they came in.
Conor turned a page. Alex was about to walk down the last few stairs
when suddenly the front doors slid open.
Alex was both startled and a little embarrassed. He didnt want to be
caught here in his dressing gown and pajamas. At the same time, he
wondered who could possibly be visiting St. Dominics at this time of
night. He took a step back, disappearing into the shadows. Now he could
watch everything that was happening, unobserved.
Four men came in. They were in their late twenties, and all looked fit.
The leader was wearing a combat jacket and a Che Guevara T-shirt. The
others were dressed in jeans, hooded sweatshirts, and sneakers. From
where he was hiding, Alex couldnt make out their faces very clearly,
but already he knew there was something strange about them. The way
they moved was somehow too fast, too energetic. People move more
cautiously when they come into a hospital. After all, nobody actually
wants to be there.
Heyhow are you doing? the first man asked. The words cut through the gloom. He had a cheerful, cultivated voice.
How can I help you? the receptionist asked. He sounded as puzzled as Alex felt.
Wed like to visit one of your patients, the man explained. I wonder if you can tell us where he is.
Im very sorry. Alex couldnt see Conors face, but he could imagine
the smile in his voice. You cant visit anyone now. Its almost one
oclock! Youll have to come back tomorrow.
I dont think you understand.
Alex felt the first stirrings of nervousness. A note of menace had
crept into the mans voice. And there was something sinister about the
way the other three men were positioned. They were spread out between
the receptionist and the main entrance. It was as if they didnt want
him to leave. Or anyone else to enter.
We want to see Paul Drevin.
Alex heard the name with a shiver of disbelief. The boy in the room
next to his! Why would these men want to see him so late at night?
What room is he in? the man in the combat jacket asked.
Conor shook his head. I cant give you that information, he
protested. Come back tomorrow and someone will be happy to help you
We want to know now, the man insisted. He reached into his jacket and
Alex felt the floor sway beneath him as the man produced a gun. It was
equipped with a silencer. And it was pointing at the receptionists
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