Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Pledge, Book 2 in The Scinegue Series - Start Reading for Free




Prologue


Standing hand-in-hand before the painting of a large, white Catamaran surrounded on all sides by calm blue waters, with just the suggestion of an island to the side, William Berkley turned to his beautiful new bride with excitement evident on his face. “Are you ready, my dear?”
Elizabeth Sinclair Berkley stared at the painting and hesitated. She knew if Scinegue said it was safe, it was safe. It was just so new. She took a deep breath and her green eyes flashed. She hadn't reached this point in life by being timid.
“I'm ready,” she told her husband, her lips curving upwards, her excitement building to match his. Together they reached up and touched the painting of the boat. And disappeared.



Chapter 1

Crisp blue skies met and swirled with deep blue waters as Billy Roth’s focus on the painted sailboat blurred into a daydream. His eyes drifted closed, and he could feel the warm sun on his skin, smell the salt-tinged air as he sailed over calm seas. His head nodded, and his chin slipped off his fist. He jerked and straightened in his chair, looking around his office with surprise as he left the tropics behind in a blink.
As much as he loved his job, he was having trouble staying on task this morning. He pulled a stack of multi-colored folders  across his desk towards him and shifted through them, feeling guilty for his brief, unscheduled vacation. He had a mountain of work waiting for him. Something just felt off today, in that elusive ‘scalp tingling’ sort of way that was persistent enough to make him restless and unable to focus.
He rolled his head from side to side and thought about calling his wife, Sarah, just to make sure everything was okay at home—maybe make lunch plans—then remembered that she and Linda Brown were teaching a class today. 
The thought of Linda made him smile. She was one of the first to warn him and Sarah about a plot underway at Scinegue during his early days of working for the company. As a Prepper, not only was she prepared for just about anything life might throw at her, she also did her best to teach others how to prepare.
Thanks to her, he and Sarah were pretty prepared themselves. For what exactly he didn’t know, but under Linda’s guidance they had stored food and water and medical supplies—even a sealed can of heirloom garden seeds that would supposedly still germinate twenty years in the future.
Where Linda was tall with dark hair, Sarah was petite and blond and several years younger, but despite their physical differences she and Linda had hit it off from their very first meeting. With a shared interest in self-sustainability they soon started teaching preserving and fermenting classes together.
Billy thought today was a fermenting class because Sarah had him sampling sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir all week, trying to find mild tasting batches that might not scare off students who had no experience with the normally tangy ferments.
He didn’t know much about fermented food—other than he looked forward to the tasty fruit and kefir smoothies that Sarah said were good for him and sometimes made for a quick breakfast. He was willing to help however he could, he thought with a small smile, as long as good food was involved.
His stomach rumbled at the thought of breakfast, and he pressed a hand against it. It had been a long time ago, and he was getting hungry.
Mary. He would invite her to lunch.
He leaned forward and pushed the intercom button on his desk. Expecting to hear Mary’s voice, he was surprised when a male voice answered.
Tom.
He’d somehow forgotten about his new secretary, Tom Kemp.
“Yes, um, Tom,” Billy face contorted into a frown, “would you contact Mary Sinclair? Invite her to join me for lunch in Kitchen 3. If she accepts, find out what she would like to eat, please.”
“Yes, sir,” Tom’s meek voice replied promptly before the intercom went silent.
Tom was a recent addition to the company, and Billy still wasn’t convinced he needed a personal secretary. He drummed his fingers on the desktop as he thought about it. He’d always just asked the main receptionist, Mary, for the few things he needed. But he now had a secretary.
A male secretary, he thought, and then laughed out loud. He had a suspicion that Sarah was behind the idea to hire a man.
Several months earlier, he and Mary were trying to unravel the source of the plot that Linda had warned them about. A sticky situation had called for some role playing to avoid detection, and he and Mary had shared a couple of innocent kisses. He’d quickly confessed to Sarah, and she had been completely understanding, even gracious.
Still, a male secretary.
The intercom interrupted his musings. “Ms. Sinclair would be pleased to join you in thirty minutes if that works for you, and would like a chicken Caesar salad.”
“Thanks, Tom. Would you alert the chef to prepare two salads, please?”
“Yes, sir.” The intercom was silent again. 
Tom was one of the first Scinegue employees to break the stereotypical mold that had been in place for years. He wore glasses and had braces on his teeth and was noticeably shorter than most of the men at the company, probably four or five inches shorter than Billy’s 6’2”.
Not defects by any means, but traits that would have disqualified him from the position by the previous manager, Eugene Bryant. Tom was sharp though. That was the one thing that was still required at Scinegue: intelligence, and a willingness to put it to good use.
Billy’s expression was thoughtful as he picked a pistachio from the glossy, wooden bowl on his desk—Sarah ensured he always had something healthy to snack on—and absently broke off the partially cracked shell before popping it in his mouth. He decided he really needed to spend some time getting to know Tom. Their only conversations so far had been similar to the previous one: brief and to the point.
He appreciated a hard worker with a polite attitude, but he also wanted them to be able to be friends. If they were going to work together every day—and it looked like they were—they should be able to enjoy each other’s company. Maybe he would invite Tom to lunch tomorrow, he thought vaguely.
He glanced at the time and popped another pistachio in his mouth then swept the shells from his desk into the trash and brushed off his hands. With twenty-nine minutes until lunch, he was determined to make up for the lost time he’d daydreamed away earlier. He pulled up a file on his computer that corresponded with the physical file he’d just opened about the new education program Scinegue was getting ready to release.
His worries faded as he immersed himself in the program overview. The trial results showed impressive increases in both aptitude and IQ scores over a very short period of time. The games and fun activities proposed for the center were designed to compete with video games, while adding several layers of learning that most video games didn’t provide.
Billy pictured himself with Sarah, each holding a toddler’s hand as they explored the activities at a place like this. Family fun and learning. What more could you want? He focused on reviewing the research that led to this idea and the expected results once it was implemented.

“Mr. Roth,” Tom’s voice blared unexpectedly through the intercom.
Billy’s eyes darted up to check the time. He was amazed that the twenty-nine minutes had passed so quickly! That was something he really loved about this job; his work was always so interesting the days usually flew by.
“Mr. Roth?” Tom questioned. “It’s time for your lunch with Ms. Sinclair.”
Billy clicked to close the computer file before pushing the intercom button. “Thanks, Tom. I’m on my way now.”
Down the hall a few doors, Billy entered the gourmet kitchen/dining room. Bold paintings of larger-than-life fruits and vegetables decorated the pale walls, adding vivid splashes of color that highlighted the place settings on the table.
The chef glanced up and nodded at Billy.
“Hey, Matt. Smells great!”
“Thank you, Mr. Roth.” Matt smiled as he finished slicing a chicken breast before adding it to the bowls of crisp salad greens on the counter.
Mary stood by the table. Tall and regal looking, with deep red hair and a porcelain complexion, she was impeccably dressed as always. She leaned forward as Billy bent to kiss her cheek. “Thanks for joining me, Mary.”
“Thanks for inviting me,” Mary replied with a teasing smile. “You know a lowly receptionist like me doesn’t have a private kitchen.”
She winked at him and he laughed, both of them fully aware that she, along with all of the other employees, could have an excellent meal at the restaurant located on the other side of the building.
They sat at the round dining table, and their meals were placed before them with a flourish.
“Thanks, Matt. This looks delicious,” Billy told the retreating chef.
And it really did. All of Scinegue’s food was grown using very precise conditions intended to yield the highest quality food, and as an added bonus the high quality food was scrumptious.
Mary bowed her head, and Billy gave thanks for the food.
“So, have you heard anything from your grandmother since they left?” Billy asked, before taking a bite of his salad.
“Not a word.” Mary shook her head, and a smile played across her lips as she cut off a small piece of chicken. “I think they’re going to be true to their word and stay completely unreachable for their entire honeymoon.”
“Good for them!” Billy raised his glass of water in a toast. “Sarah and I are so happy for them both. It was unexpected, sure, but Uncle Bill deserves a chance to have a happy marriage. Even if it is coming pretty late in the game.”
“And Grandmother is a very strong, proud woman, but she was widowed almost twenty years ago! I’m really happy for them, too.”
“Have you made a decision yet?” Billy asked seemingly out of the blue, but Mary easily connected the question to her grandmother and her role in the company.
“About my future position?”
“Yes.”
“I’m leaning towards remaining a Protector,” she shifted towards him and confided quietly so the chef wouldn’t hear her. “I will become a Top if I’m needed, but I’ve been raised to be a Protector. It’s in my blood.”
Billy gave her a nod as he chewed. “I can understand that. You’re lucky you found your place in life at such a young age. It took me almost thirty years to figure out where I belong.”
Mary laughed at him. “You know I had a little more help than you did. I don’t think there was a day of my life that my parents weren’t preparing me for my position. Your parents didn’t even know you had a position.” She put down her fork and caught Billy’s eye. “Do they know now?”
“No.” Billy frowned down at his salad. “Uncle Bill left the decision up to me of what, if anything, I want to tell my family about this whole situation. So far, I can only see it bringing my parents pain. And Sarah and I decided not to tell her parents about my future position unless it becomes absolutely necessary for some reason, and I can’t imagine that it ever will.”
Mary chuckled. “Sarah filled me in on her mom a little bit. It sounds like if she finds out you’re a ‘somebody’, she’ll brag about it to every person she knows. That would not help you maintain a low profile at all.” 
As the potential future head of a large company which maintained a low profile itself, Billy certainly didn’t need every person in the surrounding area knowing his connection.
A dish clattered against the side of the sink as the chef returned the kitchen to its pristine condition, and Billy glanced towards the noise before turning back to Mary with a sigh. “Sarah’s mom is nice, but she’s all about image. My position as a garbage collector almost did her in. Her precious daughter married to a ‘sniff’ garbage man.”
Mary laughed.
“She was just fine when I was working two office jobs trying to make ends meet. It’s not like I changed in any way when I collected garbage, but her image of me sure did.” He jabbed his fork into his salad.
“There are some days when there’s nothing more I would rather do than tell her that her lowly son-in-law is in line to take over a huge company.” A sheepish smile replaced his pensive expression, and he looked at Mary with a shrug. “Can’t help it. I’m still human.”
“I know the feeling.” Mary took a sip of her water. “You might be surprised at how many people come into this building and treat me terribly just because I’m the receptionist. Believe me, there have been so many times I’ve wanted to tell everyone that I’m a Protector, that I’m important, chosen to help keep the world safe for people just like them.”
“People really do judge others by what they do, rather than who they are,” Billy said thoughtfully before adding, “Well, I respected you long before I knew you were a Protector.”
“Yeah, that’s because you were just a lowly trash man,” Mary quipped and had them both laughing
“What’s Sarah doing today? I’m sure you would much rather be having lunch with her,” she teased.
“She and Linda had a fermenting class this morning. We have jars lined up on the counter, jars in the fridge, jars in the cupboard.” He shook his head with a chuckle. “She has been doing a lot of experimenting trying to get everything just right for this class.” 
He looked up at Mary. “Do you do any of that stuff?”
“Fermenting? Sure. Sarah gave me some milk kefir grains a while back, and they’ve been growing strong ever since. I’ve already had to separate the grains twice, and I was able to pass the extra grains on to some friends who wanted to be able to make their own kefir.”
Billy winced. “I don’t really like to think about stuff growing in my milk.” He pictured the gelatinous, cauliflower shaped kefir grains. “Anyway, they were invited to provide a class to a group of women who are interested in learning how to make their own stuff.”
“Linda’s really expanding.”
“She is,” he confirmed. “It’s amazing to see how she was able to not only overcome the murder of her husband, but to turn it into a purpose. She’s more committed than ever to helping people learn how to provide for themselves. Now, with Scinegue’s backing, she’s able to expand in directions that interest her.”
Billy refilled Mary’s water glass from the pitcher on the table before topping off his own. “Changing the subject a little, talking about Farmer Dan’s death just reminded me that right before everything went down with Mr. Bryant, I was in the atrium one day and overheard you talking with some people.”
He gave her a searching look. “I’m guessing now that they were other Protectors?”
Mary looked surprised but nodded briefly in confirmation.
“Well, I heard someone ask if you told me everything about what was happening. You said you hadn’t.”
Mary remained silent.
“May I ask now what else was going on?”
Mary twisted the cloth napkin in her lap a few times before coming to a decision. “Billy, you know about the pledge for the Tops, right?” She looked up to see him nod. “Well, the Protectors have a pledge of their own. It’s not that I don’t trust you, because I do. I really, really do, but until you take your pledge and become a Top, it’s not something I can reveal to you.”
Billy was surprised by Mary’s reluctance to talk about whatever she’d been hiding. But after working for Scinegue for a while, he’d come to realize the company had more than its share of secrets. Most, he had learned, were for the better.
“Okay, I suppose I can wait. At the time I didn’t know you very well. When I heard you say that you hadn’t told me everything that was really going on, I wasn’t sure which side you were on.”
“I’m glad you trusted me, Billy.”
They ate in silence for a moment before Billy looked up with a teasing light in his eye. “By the way, what’s this I hear about you and Ritchie?”
Mary’s porcelain complexion flamed, compounding her embarrassment. “What exactly are you referring to?” she asked, her professional voice firmly in place.
Billy smirked at her, not fooled for a minute by her cool tone. “Rumor has it you’ve been spending more than a little bit of time together.”
“Well, he is very nice, and we seem to share several common interests, and...”
Billy smiled as he interrupted her. “You don’t have to sell me on him. He’s the best brother-in-law I could ever hope to have. I’m just giving you a hard time.”
Mary looked down at her plate, still clearly flustered.
“Mr. Roth!” Tom tore through the door, dark hair flopping over his forehead, eyes wide behind thick glasses, and beads of sweat popping out on his upper lip. “There’s been an accident!” he panted.
Billy and Mary stood to face him. “What is it Tom?” Billy asked calmly, even as his feeling of unrest from earlier turned to stomach churning fear.
“Your wife! An accident! You need to get to Central Hospital right away!”
Billy felt like the blood drained from his entire body as the words left him cold and empty. His terrified eyes met Mary’s and held for just a second before he ran from the room.
Mary raised a hand to cover her mouth in shock then walked briskly back to the front desk and dialed a number on a small blue cell phone she slipped out of her desk drawer.
“We need to meet. Alert the others. Same place,” she glanced at her watch, “thirty minutes.” 

Lush green plants surrounded the small group of people, offering them some shelter from prying eyes, while the modest roar of the distant fountain in the center of the atrium helped guard their words.
“Who knew it would be today?” Mary asked without expression as she studied each member of the group.
A tall, young man with reading glasses perched on his head looked up apologetically. “We had our suspicions.” He met Mary’s cool stare, then quickly ducked his head to study the path beneath him.
“What about the next confrontation? Have plans been made?” Silence was her only answer. “Has it not been planned yet, or do you really not know when it will occur?” Mary tried to control her rising frustration.
Silence. The small group appeared chastened; heads bent, no eyes meeting. Mary Sinclair may have been an extremely attractive woman, but she was a firm commander. And commander she was. No one else had the authority she had in their group, and few others even had aspirations to try to attain it. 
“I need these questions answered ASAP. You know what to do.” Heads nodded. The group scattered with a few glances around to make sure they weren’t observed.
Mary stood where she was with her hands on her hips and slowly turned to survey the two-way mirrored walls lining the atrium. She replayed her earlier conversation with Billy, and her eyes narrowed thoughtfully. They met in a secluded area, but if he’d stumbled upon them last year and had even overheard some of their conversation, others could as well.
Although it would be more time consuming they would have to meet in a more secure location, she decided with a final look around the large atrium.
No chances could be taken with the information that she and the other Protectors shared.

Chapter 2

Billy sat slumped in the hard blue plastic chair by Sarah’s narrow bed. The astringent smell of the sterile white recovery room was sharp in his nose as he held her small limp hand in his own. He’d been told no one knew when she would wake up, and Billy felt like he heard an underlying ‘or if’ in the words. She was already in surgery when he arrived at the hospital, and he was told all he could do was wait.
Well that, and that Linda Brown hadn’t survived the accident.
He lowered his head to rest on his fist. Linda had been a good woman—a great woman—and a wonderful friend and advisor to both him and Sarah. He shook his head, his chest tight with remorse. He couldn’t understand how any of this could have happened.
It had only been a few hours since he and Sarah were eating breakfast together. She’d spread the morning paper open between them and was focused on circling letters with a red pen as she ate tiny bites of her buckwheat pancake.
She was looking for coded messages hidden in their local paper—just for fun—as she did every morning. He could picture the way she’d looked up at him with her brown eyes wide and serious and asked if he thought ‘cat ran dirt’ meant anything important before they’d both burst out laughing. A small smile formed on his lips at the memory.
She’d found a coded message before so it wasn’t too farfetched to think it could happen again. So far it hadn’t, but they had enjoyed a lot of laughs at some of the funny words and phrases she did ‘decode’.
Metal clanked against the door as it banged open, and his head spun towards the noise. His thoughts were completely disrupted as a heavyset nurse with gray curls walked into the room wearing a colorful shirt over hospital green scrub pants. She walked directly to the other side of Sarah’s bed and began preparing a tray full of syringes and vials without a word or look in his direction.
“What are those for?” Billy asked, standing in surprise.
“The doctor recommended these shots for your wife based on her vaccination records,” she replied with a prominent Southern accent.
“Which shots are they?”
“Oh, just a few of the most important vaccines that she appears to be lacking.”
“Such as ... ” Billy drawled, wondering what it was going to take to get a straight answer from this woman.
Finally glancing up at him with a look of impatience stamped clearly on her face, the nurse rattled off a list of five or six vaccines. 
Billy only caught one name that he recognized: Tetanus. 
“Is that the tetanus vaccine?” his brows lowered and he questioned warily.
“Of course it is,” came the brusque reply.
“So, the doctor’s concerned that Sarah received wounds that could develop tetanus?”
The nurse planted her hands on her hips and turned to fully face Billy. “Obviously he is or he wouldn’t recommend the vaccine, now would he?” she demanded, fully expecting to cower Billy with her attitude.
“I didn’t notice any open wounds on Sarah, but even if there are, the tetanus vaccine wouldn’t do her any good at this point. It probably takes a week or more before it even takes effect. She would need the tetanus immunoglobulin.” Billy remained calm on the outside but was fuming on the inside. Why was it so hard to just find out what they were trying to do to Sarah?
The nurse blustered angrily and finally replied, “I don’t presume to know as much as the doctors.” She whisked an alcohol pad across Sarah's arm and picked up a syringe. “Unlike some people,” she mumbled.
Billy walked up behind her and put a restraining hand on her arm, causing her to jerk away from him in anger.
“Get your hands off of me!” she exclaimed, holding the syringe in front of her like a weapon. “I’m calling security!”
She raced out of the room, and Billy called after her retreating form, “Why don’t you just get the doctor?” He shook his head in frustration then looked over at Sarah. 
She looked so small and young lying quietly in the hospital bed. Her face was free from any makeup, and a large nasty bruise was already creeping along one of her cheeks. Billy was sure her insides were in much worse shape than her face.
His eyes rested on her slightly rounded stomach pushing against the sheet that covered her. He could picture how she would turn to the side almost daily, pulling her shirt tight against her and asking him hopefully if he thought her belly looked any bigger than it did the day before. He was so thankful she and the baby had both survived the accident.
And so sad that Linda had not. 
He rubbed a hand across his weary face. It was hard to even take in the fact that Linda was gone. He kept thinking there had to be a mistake, that she couldn’t really be dead. But then he would look at Sarah’s still form and know there was no mistake.
He gave his head a quick shake and returned to the issue at hand. Why this nurse wanted to give a pregnant woman several vaccines that she probably didn't even need was beyond him. From the little he was able to find out, Sarah had some internal injuries, and he just didn't understand why anyone thought adding toxins to her damaged body was going to help her or the baby.
If there was an outbreak, or if she’d been exposed to something he didn’t know about, maybe then he could see the necessity...
The nurse threw the door open, and this time it crashed against the chair beside it as she rushed back in with two men dressed in security uniforms following her. She pointed an accusing finger at Billy.
“That’s him! He assaulted me.” Her eyes flashed in anger, and perhaps triumph. She was certain she’d won this round.
“Sir, come with us, please,” one of the officers ordered as they both advanced towards him. “We need to ask you some questions.”
Billy’s mind did an instant flashback to several months earlier when he was escorted into an office at work over a slight mishap. The men doing the escorting then were a little bigger and scarier—and more nicely dressed he thought, picturing the dark custom-made suits they wore—but he was sure these guys could force him to do what they wanted just the same.
“I have some concerns about the treatment my wife is about to receive,” he explained in a slow, calm voice, palms facing out. “I only placed my hand on the nurse’s arm to stop her from giving my wife a shot until I have a chance to get more information from her doctor.”
Billy looked at the nurse. “I apologize for touching your arm. May I please speak to Sarah’s doctor?”
“No,” the nurse replied bluntly, and turned back to her assortment of needles. 
Billy looked over at the guards, panic starting to fill him. “Please! I just need to confirm that this is the treatment my wife needs.”
He changed tactics. “If one of those shots hurts her or the baby, it could mean your jobs for not helping me confirm the proper treatment,” Billy bluffed, panicked that the nurse seemed so desperate to give Sarah the shots without any confirmation.
The nurse picked up a syringe. “Please!” Billy repeated darting nervous looks between the nurse and the guards. “Will you just go get a doctor, and keep this nurse from doing anything until the doctor okays it?”
Billy tensed and prepared to physically restrain the nurse again if it became necessary. Her persistence was making him very uneasy.
The guards looked at each other and then at the nurse, clearly more afraid of her than Billy. Finally one of them glanced at Sarah's still form and seemed to be moved. Whether he had a wife at home who he knew he would want to protect, or if the threat of getting fired if something happened to her caused his action, Billy didn't know. But he felt faint with relief when the guard told his partner to make sure nothing was done until he got back with a doctor, and quickly left the room.
The nurse rolled her eyes, crossed her arms over her ample chest, and tapped her foot in agitation. “As if I have nothing better to do,” she muttered.
Billy tipped his head from shoulder to shoulder and tried to release the tension that caused his neck muscles to clench. “You can go do whatever else you need to be doing until the doctor gets back if you like,” he offered, trying to be considerate of her time.
She gave Billy a cold look. “I'm already set up here. I'm not going to clear everything away just to get it back out when the doctor okays everything again.”
Billy was amazed at her hostility toward him, but he wasn't going to bow down to her just because she was acting like a bully. Waiting for the doctor, Billy tried to read the names on the other vaccine bottles but the type was too small, and he knew the nurse would not approve of him getting any closer. 
“What are the other vaccines again?” he asked in the calmest, least confrontational voice he could muster, and pulled out his smart phone to type the names as she recited them.
“Wait,” he stopped the nurse soon after she started. “HPV? Why would that be recommended for a pregnant woman who just came out of surgery?”
“I guess we’ll just wait and let the doctor answer that since you’re so determined to disturb him,” she answered snidely.
She listed a couple more names before another one made his jaw drop. “You’re planning to give her the MRSA vaccine that was released six months ago, and was found to only contain saline solution?” he asked, with all the disbelief he felt clearly conveyed in his voice.
The nurse looked slightly chagrined for the first time since she’d come into the room. “Yes, well, we’ve continued giving this vaccine when it’s deemed necessary in the hope that maybe some of the vials do contain the real vaccine.”
She shrugged. “As you said yourself, the worst thing that can happen is this could be pure saline.”
Billy blinked in disbelief, and his stomach dropped as he thought of the original plans to use the fake MRSA vaccine as a way to kill off anyone who received it. The ‘worst thing’ would have been if his uncle and the other Tops hadn't learned of the plot in time to replace the vials of toxins with saline solution.
A short man wearing a white jacket walked into the room. His brown hair was disheveled and his eyes were fixed on the chart he held. “What seems to be the trouble here?” he asked without looking away from the chart.
Billy presumed he was Sarah’s doctor and answered quickly. “I have concerns about some of these vaccines being recommended for my wife,” Billy told him. “She just came out of surgery from a serious accident and she’s pregnant. I think it’s to her benefit to wait until she’s more stable before even considering adding anything else to her system.”
The doctor glanced up briefly and gave Billy a dispassionate look before turning his attention to the nurse. He ran down the list of recommended vaccines and had her confirm those were the ones she was preparing. When she did, he shrugged and glanced at Billy again. “I believe everything’s in order here. You’re obviously in shock from your wife's accident and are incapable of making rational decisions. Do you have a signed power of attorney for her?”
“What? No, but I'm her husband!”
“I think it’s in her—and the baby's—best interest if we contact another family member who might be more removed and able to help you make rational decisions.”
Billy stood stunned. He didn't think he was doing anything irrational, he just wanted to make sure Sarah and the baby were okay. 
“Parents, perhaps?” The doctor interrupted Billy's thoughts.
Billy pictured Sarah's mother. She would okay every vaccine they offered and ask for more. It was just her mindset. 
Ritchie!
“Sarah has a brother who lives in town, Ritchie Jones. I can contact him or give you his number.”
The doctor had the nurse take the number before she gathered up her syringes and bottles with a clatter and carried them out of the room, definitely bent out of shape. But not before she was assured by security that Billy would not be left alone in the room with the patient for even a minute.
Billy stared at the guard who gave him an apologetic shrug before stationing himself inside the door. Unbelievable, Billy thought. He was being treated like a criminal for questioning a doctor?
He dropped back down on the chair by the head of Sarah’s bed and pulled out his phone, hitting speed dial for Mary’s cell phone. 
“Mary, I’m so glad to hear your voice.”
“Oh, Billy, I’m so sorry!” her words tumbled out. “How are Sarah and the baby?”
“Stable. But Mary,” he paused, trying to find the strength to say the words, “Linda didn’t survive the accident.”
“No!” her voice broke on the word.
“Yeah, I know,” Billy took a steadying breath, “but I need your help. I forgot to grab my ring when I rushed out of the office. I really need to reach Mr. Radcliffe. I would say Uncle Bill, but you know, honeymoon.”
Mary sniffed. “I can contact Mr. Radcliffe for you. Shall I have him call you or do you want me to give him a message?”
Billy glanced at the guard who was staring at the ceiling and shifting from foot to foot as he tried not to listen to Billy’s conversation. “I’ll send you a text,” he whispered. “Get the message to him, okay?”
“Yes, sir,” she answered promptly, her professional voice back in place, as much a part of her as her beautiful red hair.
Billy typed a quick text with his thumbs, relaying the pertinent information and prayed that Oliver Radcliffe could do something to help. And that he was able to do it before it was too late. 
He was in disbelief that he and his wife were being treated like this, and kept replaying the conversations through his mind trying to pinpoint anything he’d said or done to raise such hostility from the nurse, and to have the doctor think he was being irrational. He thought he’d been calm and polite. Maybe he just sounded more terse than he intended due to the stress of the situation?
Ritchie burst through the door, startling the bored guard, and rushed to Sarah’s side with tears in his eyes. His shirt and jeans were streaked with dirt and his face was flushed.
“I can’t believe this happened. Is she going to be okay? The baby?” He looked from Sarah to Billy, trying to determine the   seriousness of the situation. Billy gave him a sad smile taking in the slight resemblance Ritchie shared with his sister—same blond hair and brown eyes, and something similar about the shape of their faces, he thought vaguely.
“Sarah and the baby are stable for now, but Linda...” He looked down and tried to swallow the lump that threatened to close off his throat before shaking his head. “Linda was in the car, too. She didn’t make it.”
“No!” Richie sank into the nearest chair and lowered his head to his hands.
Linda had played an integral part in Ritchie’s life over the past several months. She’d helped him develop a love for growing healthy foods, and gave him a job assisting her as she continued her research into producing even heartier plants.
“I was at her place when the hospital called. I saw her off this morning before her class and thought she would be getting back pretty soon. I even left her a note telling her Sarah was in an accident.” He stared vacantly as it hit him that Linda would never get that note. “What happened?” he asked in a toneless voice.
“All I’ve heard so far is that someone ran a red light and smashed right into their car. Ritchie, I know this is a lot to take in, but I don’t know how much time we have.”
Ritchie glanced up in concern, his flushed cheeks now pale.
“They’re trying to give Sarah some vaccines that I think could be harmful to her or the baby. One is the MRSA vaccine.” Billy let Ritchie take in that information.
“The MRSA vaccine?” Ritchie repeated in disbelief. “The one that you know who tried to use to do you know what?” he asked cryptically, almost bringing a smile to Billy’s lips.
Billy nodded. “They think I’m being irrational for not just agreeing with whatever they say, so they brought you in to make decisions for Sarah.”
He took a seat beside Ritchie and leaned in close to whisper, “You need to stall them. I’m afraid if you just decline, they’ll say you’re irrational too and bring in your mother. I love your mom, but you know good and well she’s gung-ho for any vaccine available. I’m trying to get a message to Mr. Radcliffe. I feel sure he can help us, we just have to stall until he can pull some of his magic strings.”
Ritchie swiped at the tears that escaped the corners of his eyes. “Yeah, sure. I can do that.” He stood as the doctor entered the room, the nurse with her ever-ready tray on his heels.
The doctor introduced himself to Ritchie, which was more than he’d done for Billy. “You’re the patient’s brother?”
“Yes, I’m Richard Jones.”
“Your sister has been through a very traumatic experience, and we’re trying to ensure she has the best recovery possible. She has undergone emergency surgery to stop some internal bleeding. A small portion of her liver that couldn’t be saved was removed but shouldn’t cause her any problems.
“She’ll be watched closely to make sure her condition remains stable. In the meantime, we feel it’s imperative for a woman in her condition, surrounded as she will be in the hospital by many diseases, to be up-to-date on all pertinent vaccines. If you’ll just sign this sheet giving us your permission,” he rushed on, “we’ll see that she has the proper shots immediately.”
“Sure,” Ritchie agreed. “That sounds like a great idea.”
The nurse gave Billy a smug smile, and the doctor handed the clipboard and pen to Ritchie.
Ritchie held the pen above the paper as if ready to sign, then suddenly lowered it and looked up. “I really need to check with my parents on this. I know they’ve been trying to get her to update her vaccines for a while now, and there were a couple in particular they were very concerned about. Let me get ahold of them and find out what they felt Sarah needed. Then everything can be done at the same time.”
The doctor frowned and his eyes narrowed as he gave Ritchie a searching look. “I can assure you, these are the most critical vaccines for your sister at the moment. She can always have any others added later if necessary.”
“That sounds great, but I really just want to double check first. I’ll start trying to get ahold of my parents right now.” He handed the doctor the clipboard and pen.
The doctor took on a look of frustration before deciding that Ritchie appeared sincere. “Very well, please let someone at the nurses’ station know when you have the information.” He tipped his head toward the door. The nurse once again gathered her supplies with a hiss of frustration and an open look of disgust directed towards Billy before she bustled from the room.
Billy closed his eyes and exhaled deeply in relief then gave Ritchie a nod. “Thanks, man. You didn’t have to lie about contacting your parents though,” he said quietly, not wanting the curious guard to overhear him.
“Not a lie at all. I’m going to call them right now to fill them in on the situation, and I’ll just ask in passing which vaccines they discussed with her. I never agreed to pass that information along.”
A grim look flitted across his face as he dug his phone out of his pocket, punching in numbers as he strode across the bare white linoleum floor to look out the window while waiting for someone to answer.
Click to keep reading The Pledge.