I'm in a dead sleep when Jimmy comes rushing in.  At first I think I'm still dreaming.

"Hey Deborah, get up, Langly's awake and he wants you like right now!"

My first inclination is to have a heart attack on the spot, but Jimmy's expression is a pleased one.

Deborah gets up before she's even awake.  Physicians are trained to do that.  It's a frightening phenomenon.

We all nervously follow her into the other room where the three guys are still in their beds.  I glance at their monitors.  Readings are slow but within normal limits…

And Ringo is awake.  And smiling.

"Ringo?  Are you all right?" Deborah races over to him and hugs him.  That creates a slight elevation in his heart rate, and I'm sure hers as well.

"Hey babe,"  he smiles sleepily at her.  "I'm hungry."

In all this, Mel has woken up and so has John.

"Love?  Are you okay?"

Mel smiles at me.

"It's all relative.  Do I feel great?  No. But relative to recent history, this is the best I've felt since before we got slammed."

"Do you feel like some breakfast?"  Devi asks.

No response from John and Sari.  She's too busy weeping and hugging him, and he's too busy assuring her he's fine.

"Breakfast is good,"  Ringo says.

"Nothing heavy,"  I warn Devi.  If she cooks like she does everything else in life, she'll send down a feast.  I don't think we're quite there yet.

"I could use some coffee.  Maybe a little toast," Mel says quietly to me, his arm resting on mine.

Deborah shakes her head in amazement.  "It worked.  Whatever Maggie did, it worked."

At least for now it did.  But that's good enough.

What's most amazing of all is that Anndie has slept through the whole thing.  Poor kid.

Hopefully, there will be plenty of time to keep celebrating when she wakes up.

They really can't each much, and they're still weak.  Deborah and I decide to keep them on IV hydration for at least another day.  This creates much complaining and gnashing of teeth.  The only saving grace is that they do sleep a lot, because when they're awake, they argue over what will be on TV.

Ah, normality, or something thereof.

By the end of the day, we have them all keeping down toast, chicken broth, coffee, water and popsicles. We drag each one out of bed and upstairs to check on Devi's scale for weight loss.

Mel lost 37 pounds.  His skin hangs on him.  John lost 29, and he looks like a war refugee.  Ringo tops out at 41.  His eyes look sunken and they're all haggard, but all of them are feeling much better.  We're going to have to keep them moving around as much as possible to get them stronger again.

When Anndie wakes up, many hours later, and is given the news, she bursts into tears.  Jimmy spends a long time cradling her in his lap.

"We need to call Maggie,"  she says.

Deborah makes the call.  Maggie still has one cell phone left that Jimmy gave her.  Our phone is on speaker so we can all thank her.

"It worked,"  Deborah says, very softly.

"For now, at least."  Maggie sounds less optimistic.  "I wish I could tell you what the long term effects would be, but I honestly don't know."

"I can send you the documentation,"  Deborah offers.

"Hold on to it for now,"  Maggie says quietly.  "Deborah, it might be better if we didn't talk for a while.  I'm going on exchange to England for a few months.  It'll let me lie low."

"I'll be having to leave as well,"  Deborah is somber.

"Don't tell me where you are.  Just…when it's safe again, we'll get together, and talk, and have a drink, but for now, for all of our safety, we need to stay apart."

"You have no idea how much we all appreciated this, Maggie."

"We'll talk about it in another time and place.  I've…learned some things.  I don't want to go into them now.  I just want to make myself scarce for a while.  You should do the same."

"You're a good friend,"  Deborah says softly to her.

"We'll speak again.  Just not now.  Best of luck to all of you."

And she silences her end of the phone.

The guys stare at each other.

"Fletcher got to her.  I bet you anything."  Mel's voice is hoarse with anger.

"We don't know that,"  John says.  "What if it was Runtz, not Fletcher?"

"Then we have to get hold of Yves,"  Jimmy says.

"Either way, I think we have to,"  John says.  "I was hoping to keep her out of the picture."

Sari speaks first.  "And where does that leave us?"

Where does it?

The next 24 hours are spent mostly monitoring and watching the guys sleep.  They haven’t gotten good rest since falling ill, and it’s a relief to watch BP return to near normal, oxygen saturation levels rise, and heart rates even out.  We’re still keeping them on clonazepam as a precautionary measure.  In the meantime, we keep loading them with fluids, taking blood samples (this does invoke a fair amount of protest, but at least they’re knocked out enough to fall back to dreamland as soon as we’re done), and watching for any other symptoms that might crop up.

At the halfway mark, no problems have arisen.  The few times they’re awake, it’s simply to request more water and a little food, get another pillow, or ask what the ball score is.  Sari is immersed in writing poetry, I grab a Lust in the Dust novel from Devi, and Deborah continues to study biochemistry.  Anndie and Jimmy are making plans as to what they should do—apparently, they’ve decided that they’ll travel together.

“You and Maggie did good,”  Deborah says to Anndie.

“I hope so,”  is all the shaken young girl responds.

“You guys thought about what you’re going to do?”  I ask them, trying to get some ideas of my own.

“Well…”  Jimmy blushes a bit.  “I called my dad.  I told him I was kinda out of cash, and could I get into my trust fund?  He wasn’t real happy about it, he doesn’t approve of what me and the guys were doing, but I gave him kind of a hint that they saved a lot of people from some real big trouble.  So he said okay.”

“I have a counterpart I used to work with online in Australia.  I was hoping maybe she’d help us out,”  Anndie says shyly.  “I’m just waiting for her to email me back.  I’m not gonna ask for a job right away or anything, I can’t, but I’ll come and wash glassware if I have to.  She knows what happened with Schneider, the harassment part, she doesn’t know the other part, but she always said I did right to get out of his lab.”

“Australia’s nice,”  Sari acknowledges.  “Once you get over the language barrier.”  This makes Anndie giggle and Jimmy look clueless.

“I thought they spoke English there.”

“They speak Australian.  Which is sort of like English,”  Sari laughs.  “You’ll see once you’re there.  It’s a great place to go.”  She turns to Deborah.  “I never asked you if you’ve done much traveling.”

Deborah looks vaguely amused.  “Travel?  My parents consider a trip to Disney World traveling.  Only time I was outside the States was to do a summer clinic in Honduras between my first and second year of med school.  It was kind of cool, actually.  Lots of work, but I really enjoyed that summer.  That seems like so long ago.”

“How about you, Mel?”  Sari asks me.

I chortle.  “Anytime I get away from the hospital or the house for more than a trip to the market is travel for me.  I think this has been my longest trip ever.  I don’t even remember when I last went on vacation.”  This sad fact is unfortunately very true.  “I said I wanted to do more traveling when my kids moved out.  Next time, I’ll be careful what I wish for.”  I said I wanted to get out of town.  I got out of town.  This wasn’t exactly my dream vacation.

Devi comes down, bearing a huge tray of food.  “Should be something there for everybody.”

“Looks awesome,”  Deborah says appreciatively.  Jimmy’s eyes simply bulge.

“They’re doing all right?”  Devi sweeps her hand in the direction of the guys after she sets down the tray.

“So far, looks good.”  I cross my fingers as I say it.

“How much longer are you keeping them on their plastic leashes?”  Devi asks.

“Probably another day,”  I say, and Deborah nods in concurrence.  “Then, I’m not sure.”

“We’ve got four guest rooms.  Why don’t you have them come upstairs?”  Devi offers.

“What about the consular staff?”  Deborah turns suspicious.

“Except for the guards, they don’t know anything, and this is a private residence.  I have guests all the time.  Palin’s nanny is completely trustworthy—I think we did a background check that would put the CIA to shame—as is our housekeeper.  She’s not even here every day.  We don’t have any functions planned for another two weeks.  And remember, you’re on Sri Lankan soil.  The US government or any of its agencies can’t enter here without our consent.”

“That’s really sweet, Devi,”  Deborah says.  “We’re just all trying to figure out what to do next.”

“And how to do it,”  I add.

“Well, you’re all welcome at the house in Sri Lanka—Sari, you and John are coming, aren’t you?  I’ll only kill you if you don’t.  I mean, I keep inviting you, and you never come—“  Devi comes on in a marvelous imitation of a guilt-inciting Jewish mother.

Sari laughs.  “We may just take you up on it this time.”

“No may.  You’re going.  Mula and Palin and I will be leaving in four weeks, you know.  It’s just about time for us to return.”

Sari sighs.  “My sense of time is so warped, I’d forgotten all about it.”

“Well, you’re coming.  And don’t try saying you’d be in the way.  This place is a closet next to the house there.”

I gulp.  You can fit my entire house in Devi’s living room, with leftovers.

“It’s…palatial,”  Sari comments, sotto voce.

“Palin would love it, you know,”  Devi pours on the guilt, keeping a smile on her face the whole time.

“Don’t you think I should ask John first?”  Sari laughs.

“No, I think you should tell him.  Anyway, I need to get back upstairs.  Mula’s home the day after tomorrow.”

“So what are you going to tell him?”  I feel a bit apprehensive about this one.

Devi acts as if she’s contemplating.  “Well, considering how things have gone, I figured, maybe the truth would be as good a place as any to start.  He can help you, too.  And he will.”

“Devi has all the subtlety of a bulldozer,”  Sari comments, laughing.

“And the heart of an angel,”  I add.

“Heh.  You wouldn’t say that if you saw me at the D&W annual shoe clearance.  I’ll talk to you all later.”  She waves off and heads back for the elevator.

Sari laughs some more.  “Trust me, never attend a shoe sale with Devi.  It’s not pretty.”

“She’s really done more for us than any human should be allowed to,”  Deborah says, looking a bit embarrassed.  “So are you gonna go to Sri Lanka?”

Sari thinks.  “If John is agreeable, it’d be a great place for him to get his strength back.  And I never do spend enough time with them there.  I’ve been there, but I’m always more or less passing through.  You do know that Devi meant all of you were welcome, don’t you?”

“Believe me, I’d love to.”  And I would.  But Mel has said that if they get through this, it would probably be best for them to be apart for a while.  Together, they are a lot more conspicuous than they are individually. “My imagination is leaning towards sunblock and umbrella drinks, but the reality is probably going to be a lot different.”

“Haven’t got a clue.  All I know is, I wanna be able to still do medicine,”  Deborah says.

“We don’t have to make any major decisions right now.  At least, not while lunch is hot,”  Sari says, helping herself to something very aromatic.

Savor the food.  Savor the moment.

I glance at Mel and while things are far from ideal, I realize that life doesn’t have to be perfect for me to find perfect happiness.  I still think it’s possible.

Or maybe I’ve just gone insane.  We’ll see.

They remain stable if terribly sleepy.  Their vitals are normal for 12 more hours.  I can even see some color returning to their faces.  No one in their right mind would say they look terrific—in fact, they still look like shadows of themselves—but they’re better looking shadows.  Best of all, they’re able to drink in amounts that indicate we can take them off IV fluids.  This is met with cheering generally reserved for line drives and juicy government secrets unearthed.

“Hey, not only that, Devi’s decided we don’t need to stay down in the basement.  She’s actually gonna let us upstairs,”  Deborah is beaming.  And relieved.

“You mean, like normal people?”  Ringo jokes with her.

“Ringo, you’ll never be normal people, and you probably belong outside with the livestock, but yes, we’re getting out of here.”

Ringo sticks his tongue out at her.

Deborah shoots back, “Don’t do that unless you plan to use it.”

Ringo’s eyes light up with something resembling lechery.  “Ooh, baby, you don’t know.”

Mel growls at them.  “You two, get a room!”

I take his hand.  “I think that’s a good suggestion.”

And we do get rooms.  Private rooms, with queen-sized beds, private baths and satellite TV.  Mel and I spend most of the next day snuggling and sleeping, interspersing it with “Junkyard Wars” and “Panic Mechanics.”  Devi chuckles when she drops by to deliver us dinner.

“Not that I can say anything,”  she admits, giggling.  “Don’t tell Sari, but I have the TiVo programmed to catch every ep of “Blind Date.””

“Are you kidding?” Mel slowly attempts to rise to a sitting position.  “This is quality TV.”

“That’s what Deborah and Langly said about “Battlebots”,” she laughs as she exits.  “And the “Power Puff Girls”.”

Mel and I both laugh easily, enjoying the food Devi has prepared for us.  We’re overcome with exhaustion and grateful for the chance to recover in such comfortable surroundings.  With room service, no less.  It’s a good thing she’s not competing with the Holiday Inn.  They’d be out of business in no time.

“We have to go on line tonight,” he tells me as we eat our meal.

“We’re not on a secure line up here.”

“I know a few tricks.  Bell Atlantic will never know the difference.”  He gets that sly look on his face, then his expression turns solemn.  “We have to get out of here, and soon.”

“I know.”

“One of the reasons I’m going on line is that we have a friend on the boards who lives in the Caymans.  He doesn’t think we know that, but we do.”

“Do you trust him?”

“Paid subscriber since 1989.  And yeah, we haven’t bothered him for much, but what we have gotten from him, it’s been good information.”

“But do you trust him?”

“Of course I don’t trust him.  I don’t trust anyone outside this house.”

“But you don’t think he’d turn us in.”

“Not unless he’s willing to fry himself.”

They say there’s honor among thieves.  Let’s hope the same applies to hackers.

We’re a bit surprised when Ringo and Deborah come into our room later on, without knocking.

“Were you born in a barn?”  Mel chides him.

“Close.”  That’s true, Ringo was born in Nebraska.  But still, no excuse for such manners.  “We figured you wouldn’t be doing the wild thing.”

“Ringo…”  Deborah glares at him.  “Actually, Mel, I need to look you over real fast.  And Ringo actually wanted to visit.”

“Yeah, right.”  But Ringo takes a wobbly seat at the edge of the bed.  He’s still not very sure footed and he’s slow, but he is moving around.  “Deb’s making me get out of bed.  I don’t like where this is going.”  He passes a naughty wink to her.  She smiles a tiny smile, trying to keep it private and not succeeding.

Deborah pronounces Mel in pretty good shape, considering all that’s been going on, reminds me that it’s medication time.  We’re keeping them on anti-seizure medication for the time being.

“That line always reminds me of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’,” Mel says with a shudder.

I cluck slightly.  “Do I look anything like Nurse Ratched to you?”

“I had a few choice words when you kept sticking me,”  Ringo says, grinning.

“Yes, dear.  And you used most of them.”  I pat him lightly on the arm, and I mustn’t have hurt him too badly, because he doesn’t flinch.

“He has no manners,”  Deborah says, snuggling beside him.

Neither do you, sweetie, I want to say to her, but it feels so good to be here like this, everyone feeling better, more rested, recovering, laughing.

“You guys figuring out your next move?”  Mel asks Ringo.

“Nah, we just did TV and sleep all day.”  Ringo grabs one of the Cokes from our tray.  I’m tempted to say, didn’t you have your own, but chances are, he and Deborah cleaned up everything on their tray, and have come to mooch leftovers.

“But we need to do that.  When does Devi’s husband get home?”  Deborah looks a lot more worried than Ringo.

“Not sure,”  Mel says.  “Time…it’s become rather strange.  It’s almost as if we’ve become trapped in a bubble.”

“That’s because we have,”  Ringo retorts back.

“What I want to do is Doctors Without Borders, I think,”  Deborah says.

Ringo looks at her in askance.

“You mean like go places where you get shot at?  No thanks.  Had enough of that here.”

Deborah is about to counter him when we hear a knock at the door.  “Come in,”  I call.  We’ve already started the party.

Sari and John stroll in, arm and arm.  Like the other two, he’s still ungodly pale and you can tell he’s very weak, but they look content.

“Hey Sari.  When does your brother-in-law get home?”  Deborah asks.

“I think Devi said he was due in at National around midnight.  How’s everyone feeling?”

“Much better, now that we don’t have to watch bad TV,”  Mel says, looking directly at Ringo.

“Fuck you,” mutters Ringo, and I have to laugh, despite his terrible language.  If I’ve seen nothing else in these weeks gone by, I’ve seen how strong the bond is between these three.

It’s going to be horrible to have them separated from one another.  I’m really worried how Mel will cope with that.  For one thing, who will he have to complain about?

“We’re trying to figure out our next move,”  Mel says, not rising to Ringo’s bait, at least for the moment.  “You guys all remember Jolly Roger, don’t you?”

“That downer dude?”  I gather Jolly Roger’s nickname is in direct contrast to his actual disposition.

“Isn’t he somewhere in the Caribbean?”  John asks.

“Well, I was thinking, Mel hasn’t had a proper vacation in ages.  And I could handle a little sun.”

“Yeah, and frou-frou drinks,”  Ringo adds.

“Oh, and who always whines when he doesn’t get an umbrella?”  Mel shoots back.

“Deborah wants to do Docs Without Borders,”  Ringo says.  “I don’t think you get frou-frou drinks doing that.”

“You might not get electricity or running water, either,”  Sari warns him.

“What? No electricity?”  He’s aghast.  Deborah is beginning to look very depressed.  And I don’t blame her.  She’s basically tossed away a position she worked so hard to get and, like all of us, has had her life path changed irrevocably, all in the name of saving the one she loves.

But he redeems himself.

“Hey, babe,”  He takes her hand.  “I’m just jiving, okay?  You know I’d go with you anywhere.  Long as we can work on our bot, it’ll be cool.”

“And continue to have great sex,”  she adds, a very sly, wicked grin spreading over her face.

“That, too.”  He squeezes her hand tightly and then wraps a gangly arm over her shoulder.  “Hey, wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here today to hassle you.”

“Hmm.  Maybe I should have thought about that more carefully,”  she jokes back.

“You can convince him to go to Bosnia, but the real question is, can you convince him to cut his hair?”  Mel teases Deborah.

“Why would I want him to do that?”  She laughs.

This feels wonderful.  For a little while, we have a place of quiet, the joy of friendship, the gift of health, and the love of each other.

“We’re going to Devi and Muladharma’s house in Sri Lanka,”  Sari says as she snuggles John.  “We told Palin this afternoon.”

“I’m guessing he was overjoyed,”  I say.  I’ve seen the affection the little boy has for John.

“Until he found out he had to wait a couple months to join us, he was.  Now he’s mad at Devi because she won’t let him go with Aunt Sari and Mr. Uncle John.”  John blushes at what is apparently a title of honor.

“If I felt a little stronger, I’d say we should take him with us,”  John says, a little regretfully.  “But we do need some time alone.”

“Palin’s a love, but he’s also nonstop energy,” Sari assents.  “Takes after his mother.”

“Well, guys,”  Mel says, his joints cracking as he moves, “I think it’s time to go on line, just as soon as we do some tricks they never teach you in phone installation school.  Once we do that, everyone can email their families and let them know they’re safe…and we’ll see them all as soon as we can.”

A pall of sadness suddenly falls over us.  We’re about to leave everything we know.  And it will be soon.

Mel takes my hand.  “I know it’s tough.”

“You told me it would be.”  I just had no idea.

Now I know.

Am I sorry I fell in love with this man?

I look at him, and despite everything, the answer is a resounding, “No.”

And I doubt anyone in this room would feel differently.

Go To Chapter 12