I grab Deborah at the commercial and relay the news of the additional
samples Maggie wants. Deborah groans. "Great. I guess I better start
getting ready soon."

"I don't know about you, but we're near the end of the game, and other
than driving their blood pressure up over the calls the umpires are
making, they seem to be okay. Let's at least see what's happening when
they get to the bottom of the ninth." Not to mention that I'm tired.
Doing a whole series of procedures on each one of them is not my idea of
a good time. And they're all going to hemorrhage when they find out they
have to put the horrible smocks back on. I wouldn't be surprised if they
heaved some objects in our general direction.

Sari wanders down at the top of the ninth. She seems calmer and quietly
slips her hand into John's, who is once again happy for her presence.
Score is 2-2. Part of me wants the game to go to extra innings and part
of me doesn't. I think what I really want is another pizza and a real
night of sleep.

"Did you have a nice visit with Devi?" John asks her quietly.

"Yes, and with Palin. We played some backgammon. He can't wait to see
you again."

"Does he know we're here?"

Sari shakes her head in the negative. "No. He'll want to see you then,
and I don't think this is the time of place for that."

Bottom of the 9th. Still 2-2. Looks like extra innings are in order.
Deborah pulls us during another Budweiser commercial.

"Sari, is Devi squeamish?" Deborah asks.

"She wasn't when the prime minister of Pakistan threw up all over her,"
Sari says, looking puzzled and suspicious.

"Is she sober?" I ask. I've noticed that Devi does like cocktail hour to
start early.

"She won't be much longer. It's almost five. Cocktail hour is at 5 for her."

"We need every spare pair of hands we can get," I explain. "Would Devi
be willing to help?"

"I'm sure she would. I'll get her."

Deborah's shaking her head. "That still leaves us with another problem.
Fedex won't go out till morning."

"Devi has a number of couriers she's acquainted with. The consulate uses
them all the time," Sari suggests.

"Do they drive fast?" Deborah asks anxiously.

Sari laughs. A visit upstairs really did do her a world of good. "Not as
fast as Devi in her Miata, but I think they can move it pretty well when
they need to."

"We owe her so big time already," Deborah looks shamefaced.

Sari smiles. "Devi doesn't think anything about these sorts of things.
She really doesn't. Let me get her."

That leaves Deborah and me to set up. "Who's on first?" I ask.

"I think...we'll do John first. He's in the best shape, and he'll give
us some indication of what we're going to run up against. I'm amazed
he's recovered from arresting as well as he has."

"I thought he was going to have another one in the 7th inning."

"I almost had one in the 7th inning."

"And another thing. From what I understand, he's a big 'Buffy the
Vampire Slayer' fan. If we get him done first, he'll be conscious enough
to enjoy Sarah Michelle Gellar prancing through her next adventure."

"Good point."

Devi apparently joined us without hesitation. She's run immunization
clinics in Sri Lanka; apparently she's very involved in child and
maternal health there, and she's hands on. This is heartening. Plus,
being the wife of a consul, she's a practiced diplomat, meaning she's a
a very good liar when she has to be. This has kept the staff from
becoming suspicious. Apparently they're not even aware that anyone's
down here.

We now have the unenviable task of telling the guys what we have to do
now. This elicits a great deal of moaning and groaning and protest.
Ringo glares at Deborah. Apparenlty he's forgotten that he and Deborah
were playing snuggle bunnies throughout the ballgame. She looks as if
she's going to cry again, but this time, she remembers, he's her patient
in this situation, and she treats him as such. He'll get over it.

John is not thrilled at going first, but we assure him he'll be awake
for Buffy, and he is mildly consoled. Mel wants to watch the news. Ringo
wants the Power Puff Girls. We decide we'll let them duke it out.

I've never been so nervous about doing procedures that normally I
wouldn't even bat an eyelash about doing. Then again, these are hardly
ordinary circumstances. We have no idea how the guys will react to the
drugs or procedures, and I can tell that Deborah is uncomfortable as she
ties a paper gown over her clothing. We try to be as reassuring to John
as we can, and Sari holds his hand as I push a tiny amount of Versed
through his line, followed by some Demerol. A little bit of respiratory
depression, but that's normal. We do what we normally do and push up his
O2 a bit.

"I think we'll be all right." I think Deborah is trying to convince
herself as much as any of us.

Let's hope so. Let's hope that time isn't about to run out on us. Or
that we're going to accelerate it with this.

John manages the 90-minute procedure pretty well, which encourages us.
He groans when Deborah does the punches--we were careful not to give him
too much local, which, while killing pain in one spot, doesn't eliminate
pressure and still flows systemically. He probably won't remember it.
The bronch irritated the hell out of his airway, already irritated from
the virus, so he's going to be coughing for a while. I'm thinking a
little codeine syrup would ease that, but he's low on BP. He'll have to
settle for butterscotch disks once the throat spray wears off.

"And you won't miss Buffy," Sari assures him, giggling a little. She
likes the show, too. I think she's relieved that he came through as well
as he did.

Sari's going to observe John while we work on Ringo. I can't wait. He's
been surly all day. None of this is going to improve his disposition.
John was clearly unhappy, but accepted what needed to be done, as is his
way. We could use her hands, but we also need somebody to keep an eye on
him. The first hour after doing these procedures can be tricky. And we
do have Devi, who is really good at this.

"Ever considered nursing?" I half-kid her.

"Actually, I thought about it. But I love translating. And I can work
from home a lot of the time."

"How many languages do you know?" I inquire.


"Well, get ready to swear in all of them." Deborah's bringing us our
next victim.

"I'm so not in the mood for this." Ringo is grumbling.

Deborah is clearly beaten down. "Listen, do you think this is my idea of

"Yeah, you do it all the time!"

"Ringo, I don't like this anymore than you do. And what are you bitching
about, anyway? Baltimore won."

I've had enough. Time to whap some sense into that boy.

I lean in a little closer to him.

"For your information, young man, we're trying to keep you from dying at
an early age." Harsh, but some guys just need slamming over the head
with a 2 x 4. This is one of those guys. "If you think we're doing this
to hone our skills, you are sadly mistaken. And," I pile on one last
guilt trip, "it IS Deborah's birthday. The least you could do is treat
her with a little kindness."

"Maggie's trying to help us. She needs this stuff," Deborah adds.

"So why don't you let us help?" Ringo snaps back. "I mean, give us a
couple laptops--"

"You guys are supposed to be dead, remember?" Deborah says harshly, but
I can see the tears starting to form in the corners of her eyes. "You
get on line, somebody's going to know you're alive and then what?"

"'Scuse me, but me and the guys made an entire career out of being

"Ringo, I'll tell you what. Let's have this argument later." She nods to
me to push the Versed. I do. The problem is with Versed, patients don't
shut up. They don't remember anything, but until the Demerol, they keep
chattering like magpies.

"Devi, let's get this bronch in him," I say to her.

"And keep it there," Deborah says sharply, but I know she's crying.

"Are you going to be all right to do this?" I mean it, too. She can't
afford to make mistakes right now.

She sniffs back her tears and clears her throat. "I'll be fine."

With the asthma, Ringo's a trickier customer. And he wiggles more,
partially the result of the extra steroids we gave him, and partially
because he's just a wiggler by nature.

We're almost finished with the last punch when Sari comes in.

"Is John okay?" Deborah asks her.

"John's fine. But Maggie's on the phone, and she needs to speak to you
right now."

She sighs. "Finish him up, could you?"

We get Ringo back to bed, coughing up his lungs. He'd probaby complain
more if he could get a word in edgewise.

Devi agrees to monitor the two for a moment, while Sari, Deborah and I

Deborah drops into a chair. "I got Maggie to agree that two sets of
samples were enough."

I feel my shoulders melt. We're not going to have to subject Mel to any
of this. At least not for now.

"She wasn't terribly happy about not getting the third set, but the fact
is, I can't do this. At least not right now." I would agree with that
assessment. She looks tired, depressed and discouraged.

"How is she doing on getting whatever they were exposed to narrowed
down?" Sari inquires anxiously.

Deborah looks even more worn. "That's another thing. She needs more
manpower to do searches. I told her she couldn't do that. She agreed,
but said there's no telling how long it will take."

We all look at each other. It's not looking good.

"What about getting the samples to her?"

"That was the easy part," Sari says. "Devi has one of her couriers
getting ready to go."

"Thank God for that."

"Ringo..." Deborah stares at her fingernails, "mentioned something about
them going on line. Trying to help."

"I think that's awfully dangerous. And we only have one secure line down
here," Sari argues. "They're safer if they pretend they're dead."

"Not to mention how weak they are." This worries me the most. Their skin
hangs loose on their bones, their faces ashen, and their energy nearly
nonexistent. It would help if they could get real sleep, but the disease
seems to only allow them to sleep lightly and in short bursts.

On the other hand, they have really nothing to do, nothing they have
been able to do. They're bored silly

They miss being who they are. No matter how they would live
afterwards--how we all would--we would want to take something of
ourselves with us.

"Why don't we ask them if they could do it?" I suggest.

Sari laughs. "They'll find a way. That's what worries me. And what if
they're tracked? John says every hacker leaves footprints, no matter how

"Maybe they can pretend they're leaving someone else's footprints." A
small smile plays on Deborah's lips.

"Think they'll go for it?" I ask.

"At the risk of sounding like Devi when she's in adolescent mode, well,
like, DUH!" Sari laughs.

To say the least, they're all enthusiastic. Despite their conditions,
they seem to perk up when we mention what we have in mind.

"But we need the right equipment," John points out. "We don't have any

"The consulate has at least 20 laptops," Sari points out.

"But we need other things as well. We need a hub, LAN cards, some
cabling, modem cards for dialup, and some extra phone cord," John lists,
counting off the items on his slender fingers, his face puzzling for what
he might be missing.

"Someone has to go out and get this stuff. I feel we're totally taking
advantage of Devi's hospitality. We're certainly imposing on her," Mel
frets. I've fretted about this myself, but Devi has repeatedly brushed
my concerns aside.

"Maybe she's got another courier," Ringo suggests.

"Why don't I go?" I suggest. I'd love to just see the outside world, and
a trip to Geek Nirvana never bothers me. I actually like places like that.

"What if you're spotted?" Sari's brow wrinkles.

Really. "Who is going to notice a plain, chubby, middle-aged lady?"

"Correction," Mel wags a finger at me. "Make that a beautiful, buxom
lady of indeteminate age."

Ringo sticks his finger in his mouth and pretends to gag, but Deborah
swats him lightly on the shoulder, and he smiles shyly at me.

"Your hair, though." Deborah points out. "Not that many people have hair
they can sit on. Especially someone--"

"Of my age? That's not a problem. I have my Steelers cap." I can easily
stuff my hair up. And if I look sleepy and bored, I'll just look like
everyone else who goes to Fry's.

"Steelers cap. You could get shot in DC for that," Ringo warns.

"What time is it, anyway?" John asks, suppressing a yawn.


"Another reason to go to the Fry's in Towson," John advises. "They're
open till 10."

"11 on Fridays and Saturdays!" Ringo chimes in happily. I get the
impression they are frequent customers there.

"I don't like it," Mel grumbles.

I stroke his cheek gently. "You don't have to like it, dear heart. You
just have to let me do it. And I will do it quickly, and I guarantee no
one will pick me out in the crowd."

"Yeah, it's not like anyone ever remembers you at Fry's, they got
different help all the time. I mean, we go all the time, do they ever
remember us?" Ringo looks insulted.

"I'm grateful they don't," John reminds him.

"Yeah, well, that too."

"How are we going to pay for it?" John brings up another touchy issue.

"I have my credit cards with me," and immediately realize how stupid
that comment was.

"No. I have about $200 in cash, and I'll ask Devi to spot me a little
more," Sari says. "Let me get my purse."

"How're we gonna pay Devi back?" Deborah asks unhappily. "I don't think
I even have a job anymore. Not that I've been able to check my messages
or anything."

"What we'll do is," Ringo is interrupted by another barrage of coughing.

"We'll disconnect all of your phone service, but try to get into your
phone services so that we can download your messages before we do. I
can't promise we can do it, but we'll try," John tells us, his voice
tired and raspy, but I notice a spark in his eye.

"I wish I could call my kids," and I do. They are probably wondering if
I fell off the face of the earth. For all practical purposes, I have.

"I wish you could, too, but it's too dangerous right now." Mel shakes
his head.

"I could do it from a pay phone," I indicate.

"No. I don't even like it that you're going out."

"Eventually, we'll get in touch with who we need to," John says
optimistically. "But for now, we need to remain underground."

"We are underground. Two stories under," Sari laughs, wrapping her arm
around his shoulder. He looks so thin. She's built like a bird, and he's
starting to look thinner than she is.

"Then I'd best get moving. Does Devi have a car I can borrow?" I'm not
about to be caught driving my own.
Once again, imposing on our hostess.

"Devi's got a dark blue Tahoe," Sari says. "She doesn't use it much,
since it's such a gas guzzler. But it'll make you blend in with at least
half the population of the DC metro area. Besides," Sari chuckles,
"she'd probably draw the line at letting you use her red Miata. That car
is her baby."

"Does the Tahoe have consular plates?" John must be feeling better. He's
back to being his worrywart self.

"No, it's one of their personal vehicles," Sari explains. "The consular
plates are useful for some things, but as Devi has discovered, flouting
the DC traffic laws is not one of them. Trust me, she's tried."

I lean over and kiss Mel on the forehead. "Drive carefully. And hurry back."

"Okay, everybody quiet, it's time for Buffy," announces John.

I take that as my cue to move my butt.