Jack smiled at his image. Lately it had occurred to him that if he had been able to look into a crystal ball eight years previously to see himself now, he would never have recognized himself. Back then, he'd been a relatively portly, midwestern, suburban ophthalmologist, conservative in dress. Now he was a lean and mean medical examiner in the City of New York with closely cropped, gray-streaked hair, a chipped tooth, and a scarred face. As far as clothes were concerned, he now favored bomber jackets, faded jeans, and chambray shirts.
Avoiding thoughts of his family, Jack mulled over Laurie's surprising behavior. It was so out of character. She was always considerate and concerned about proper etiquette. She would never phone at such an hour without good reason. Jack wondered what that reason was.
Jack shaved and climbed into the shower while he tried to imagine why Laurie would have called in the middle of the night to arrange a dinner date. They had dinner together often, but it was usually decided on the spur of the moment. Why would Laurie need to line a date up at such an hour?
While Jack toweled himself dry, he decided to call Laurie back. It was ridiculous for him to guess what was going on in her mind. Since she had awakened him as she had, it was only reasonable that she explain herself. But when Jack made the call he got her answering machine. Thinking she might be in the shower, he left a message asking her to call him right back.
By the time Jack had eaten breakfast it was after six. Since Laurie still hadn't called, Jack tried her again. To his chagrin, the answering machine picked up for the second time. He hung up in the middle of her outgoing message.
Since it was now light outside, Jack entertained the idea of going to work early. That was when it occurred to him that perhaps Laurie had telephoned from the office. He was sure she wasn't on call, but there was the possibility that a case had come in that particularly interested her.
Jack called the medical examiner's office. Marjorie Zankowski, the night communications operator, answered. She told Jack that she was ninety percent sure that Dr. Laurie Montgomery was not there. She said that the only medical examiner there was the tour doctor.
With a sense of frustration bordering on anger, Jack gave up. He vowed not to spend any more mental energy trying to figure out what was on Laurie's mind. Instead he went into his living room and curled up on the couch with one of his many unread forensic journals.
At six-forty-five, Jack got up, tossed aside the reading, and hefted his Cannondale mountain bike from where it leaned against the living-room wall. With it balanced on his shoulder, he started down the four flights of his tenement. Early in the morning was the only time of the day that loud quarreling wasn't heard in apartment 2B. On the ground floor, Jack had to navigate around some trash that had been dropped down the stairwell during the night.
Emerging on West 106th Street, Jack took in a lungful of October air. For the first time that day he felt revived. Climbing onto his purple bike he headed for Central Park, passing the empty neighborhood basketball court on his left.
A few years ago, on the same day that he had been punched hard enough to chip his front tooth, Jack's first mountain bike had been stolen. Listening to warnings from his colleagues, particularly Laurie, about the dangers of bike riding in the city, Jack had resisted buying another. But after being mugged on the subway, Jack had gone ahead with the purchase.
Initially, Jack had been a relatively careful cyclist when riding his new bike. But over time that had changed. Now Jack was back to his old tricks. While commuting to and from the office, Jack indulged his self-destructive streak by taking a twice-daily, hair-raising walk on the wild side. Jack believed he had nothing more to lose. His reckless cycling, a habitual temptation of fate, was a way of saying that if his family had had to die, he should have been with them and maybe he'd join them sooner rather than later.
Reprinted from Vector by Robin Cook by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright 1999 by Robin Cook
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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