On the bus, she gathered him in next to her, wrapped her own coat over his shivering little body. He curled up and immediately fell asleep. His breathing sounded like someone crinkling a paper bag inside his lungs. His cough was the bark of a seal.
This night, the clinic was less crowded. Luz paid her ten dollars and within a half hour, full dark outside now, she heard Ramiro's name called. She woke her boy and followed a stout man back into another tiny office, similar to Dr. Jadra's except there was no art, even faded.
Ramiro didn't notice. He climbed onto the paper-covered examining table, curled his knees up to his chest, and closed his eyes. Again she covered him with her jacket, and again she waited. Until she was startled awake by a knock at the door.
"I could use a nap myself," the woman said gently in good Spanish. She wore a badge that said Dr. Judith Cohn. She studied the folder, then brought her attention back to Luz. "So. Tell me about Ramiro. Where did he get this cut?"
"At school. He fell down. But he complains of his throat."
The doctor frowned deeply, reached for a tongue depressor. After a longer look than Dr. Jadra had taken, Dr. Cohn turned to Luz. "The throat doesn't look good, but I really don't like the look of this cut," she said in Spanish. "I'd like to take a culture. Meanwhile, in case it isn't a virus, I'll prescribe an antibiotic."
"But the other doctor . . ."
"Yes?" She reached out a hand reassuringly. "It's okay. What's your question?"
"The other doctor said it was a virus. Now it might not be. I don't understand."
Dr. Cohn, about the same age as Luz, was sympathetic. "Sometimes a virus will bring on a secondary infection that will respond to antibiotics. The cut looks infected to me."
"And the drug will take care of that?"
The doctor, nodding, already had the prescription pad out. "Does Ramiro have any allergies? Good, then. Now, if for some reason the cut doesn't clear up, I might want to prescribe a stronger antibiotic, but I'll let you know when I get the results of the test."
"When will that be? The results?"
"Usually two to three days."
"Three more days? Couldn't we just start with the stronger antibiotic now? Then I would not have to come back for another appointment."
The doctor shook her head. "You won't have to come here again. I can call in the other prescription if we need it."
Luz waited, then whispered, "There is also the expense, the two prescriptions."
Dr. Cohn clucked sadly. "I'm sorry about that, but we really don't want to prescribe a stronger antibiotic than Ramiro needs." She touched Luz on the forearm. "He'll be fine. You don't need to worry."
Luz tried to smile. She couldn't help but worry. Ramiro was no better. In fact, she knew that he was worse. Despite her resolve, a tear broke and rolled over her cheek. She quickly, angrily, wiped it away, but the doctor had seen it. "Are you really so worried?"
A mute nod. Then, "I'm afraid . . ."
The doctor sat down slowly and leaned in toward her. She spoke in an urgent whisper. "Everything will be all right. Really. He's got an infection, that's all. The antibiotics will clear it up in a few days."
"But I feel . . . in my heart . . ." She stopped.
Dr. Cohn straightened up, but still spoke gently. "You're both very tired. The best thing you can do now is go home and get some sleep. Things will look better after that."
Luz felt she had no choice but to accept this. She met the doctor's eyes for a long moment, then nodded mechanically and thanked her. Then she and her bundled-up and shivering son were back out in the cold and terrible night.
At around 6:20 on the morning of Tuesday, April 10, a forty-seven-year-old businessman named Tim Markham was on the last leg of his customary jog. Every weekday when he wasn't traveling, Markham would run out the driveway of his mansion on McLaren within minutes on either side of 5:45. He would turn right and then right again on Twenty-eighth Avenue, jog down to Geary, go left nearly a mile to Park Presidio, then left again back up to Lake. At Twenty-fifth, he'd jog a block right to Scenic Way, cut down Twenty-sixth, and finally turn back home on Seacliff where it ran above Phelan Beach.
Reprinted from The Oath by John Lescroart by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, John Lescroart. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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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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