Read A Fierce Radiance Online

Authors: Lauren Belfer

Tags: #General, #Fiction

A Fierce Radiance

BOOK: A Fierce Radiance
12.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
A Fierce Radiance

A Novel

Lauren Belfer




The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth; and he that is wise will not abhor them.

) 38:4

When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness.

, V,
, 10–11



Chapter One

Claire Shipley was no doctor, but even she could see…

Chapter Two

Look, Daddy’s article,” Charlie said the next morning.

Chapter Three

Claire reached Edward Reese’s hospital room shortly before noon and…

Chapter Four

Claire, it’s Mack.” From the gruff voice, she knew it…

Chapter Five

Legs. Mack didn’t need to specify legs for Claire to…

Chapter Six

In mid-January, Claire stood at the doorway of Chumley’s restaurant…

Chapter Seven

You have four minutes.” Henry Luce spoke without looking up…

Chapter Eight

Dear Claire, I’m writing to you from New Haven. I…

Chapter Nine


Chapter Ten

Claire stared at the dragon, and the dragon stared back.

Chapter Eleven

On Friday, May 22, Claire took the train from Atlanta,…

Chapter Twelve

On Saturday morning, the phone rang, startling Claire out of…

Chapter Thirteen

In Prospect Park, Brooklyn, a Quaker cemetery was hidden on…

Chapter Fourteen

I’ll just bugger off for a while then, James,” said…

Chapter Fifteen

Are you finished?” growled Vannevar Bush, his voice echoing against…

Chapter Sixteen

On a warm evening in June, Detective Marcus Kreindler happened…

Chapter Seventeen

Claire sat in the backseat of a big, leather-upholstered military…

Chapter Eighteen

Detective Marcus Kreindler didn’t like to say that the key…

Chapter Nineteen

Rutherford was alert with expectation. Yes, at his age, and…

Chapter Twenty

In the bottom of the fourth inning, the crowd screamed…

Chapter Twenty-One

Late for a staff meeting, Claire slipped into an elevator…

Chapter Twenty-Two

Fifteen minutes before midnight, Claire and Tony finally found a…

Chapter Twenty-Three

That afternoon, Claire stood on the deck of a navy…

Chapter Twenty-Four

This was some smarmy guy. Why hadn’t he noticed that…

Chapter Twenty-Five

Edward Rutherford stood beside a laboratory bench at Hanover & Company.

Chapter Twenty-Six

North Africa. November 1942. The surgeon needed only to speak…

Chapter Twenty-Seven

This way to the remains,” a bulky police office shouted…

Chapter Twenty-Eight

On a gray afternoon just before Christmas, Detective Marcus Kreindler…

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Claire.” Should he have referred to her as Mrs. Shipley? Nick…

Chapter Thirty

How are you?” asked Dr. Knowles, the neurologist.

Chapter Thirty-One

Claire and Charlie spent their Saturday afternoon doing chores around…

Chapter Thirty-Two

At 3:10 PM on the third Thursday in February 1943,…

Chapter Thirty-Three

Look, Orion,” Claire said. Gripping Jamie’s hand still more tightly,…

Chapter Thirty-Four

On the upper floor of her father’s Fifth Avenue apartment,…

Chapter Thirty-Five

Claire hung up the phone. It was 8:30 AM. Each…

Chapter Thirty-Six

How’s your son?” Mr. Luce asked Claire. His penthouse office was…

Chapter Thirty-Seven

About a week later, on a Tuesday morning a little…

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Bill Shipley liked to smoke in the open air and…

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Why his thoughts went to Tia Stanton at the end,…

Chapter Forty

Edward Rutherford stood at the window of his office, high…

Chapter Forty-One

Another day, another German restaurant in Yorkville. Kreindler was getting…

Chapter Forty-Two

It was raining. Claire sat at the breakfast table with…


James Stanton watched a crane take Claire Shipley from view…


, D
10, 1941
, N

laire Shipley was no doctor, but even she could see that the man on the stretcher was dying. His lips were blue from lack of oxygen. His cheeks were hollow, his skin leathery and tight against his bones. His eyes were open but unfocused, like the glass eyes in a box at a doll factory she’d once photographed. Although his hair was full and dark brown, not gray, Claire pegged him at over eighty. His head swayed from side to side as the orderlies slid the stretcher out of the ambulance and onto the gurney. Beneath the once-white blanket, his right leg was grotesquely swollen.

Making a split-second appraisal of the scene, guided by intuition, Claire crouched and pivoted until she found the best angle. Using the 35 mm lens, she stopped down on the Leica to increase the depth of field. She took a quick series of photos, bracketing to guarantee the exposure: the patient in profile and a half-dozen nurses, doctors, and orderlies gathered around him, like a group portrait by Rembrandt, their faces saying their thoughts. They knew he was dying, too. Out here in the cold without their coats on, with the man looking dead already and nobody else nearby but Claire, they dispensed with their usual cheery and encouraging expressions.

The group proceeded into the hospital. Claire followed, the oth
ers oblivious to her. She was like a spy, paid to fit in, to hide in plain sight, her identity and her loyalties concealed. Her ability to hide in plain sight was a paradox, even to herself, because she was physically striking. Had the others taken the time to notice her, they would have seen a thirty-six-year-old woman filled with the confidence and glamour of success, tall, slender, strong, her arms and shoulders shaped from carrying heavy photographic equipment. Her thick dark hair fell in waves to her shoulders. Her face was broad, her features well defined. She wore her usual winter uniform of loose navy blue trousers, cashmere sweater over silk blouse, and a beige fleece-lined jacket with eight pockets. It was a hunter’s jacket, and she’d ordered it from a specialty store. Claire Shipley
a hunter: searching and waiting for the proper angle, the telling moment, for a narrative to give sense to the jumble of existence.

Upstairs, the group crowded into a private room. In one coordinated heave the orderlies shifted the patient from the gurney to a bed. The man moaned. At least the orderlies were quick. The staff bustled around the bed, taking the patient’s pulse, drawing blood, rearranging his useless limbs. In the enclosed space, the rotting stench he gave off assaulted Claire. She felt a constriction of revulsion and forced herself to ignore it, because the man’s eyes were alive now. Golden brown eyes, shifting slowly, their movement consuming his energy. His eyes followed the voices of the nurses. When Claire’s daughter, Emily, was a newborn, her delicate face peering from a wrap of pink blankets, her eyes had followed Claire’s voice around the room just so while Claire’s husband held her.

Claire felt a piercing ache. Her daughter had died seven and a half years ago. June 13 would mark eight years. Rationally, Claire knew that seven and a half years was a long time. Nonetheless sudden, intense memories jarred her, bringing Emily back with painful clarity. Claire’s husband was gone, too, although by now she could usually keep a mental door closed on the anger and despondency that had
followed his departure. Automatically Claire did a maternal check-in: her younger child, Charlie, was safe at school. Later he would be at home following his usual routine with Maritza, their housekeeper, who was like a grandmother to him.

At the recollection of tucking a wool scarf into Charlie’s coat this morning, Claire confronted the dying man before her. Outside, he’d been easy to objectify. Here, with the movement of his eyes, he became an individual. Someone’s husband, dad, son, brother. His fate became personal. Focusing on his eyes, Claire opened the camera’s aperture to narrow the depth of field. She wanted to portray the staff and equipment as blurry and ominous, the way he must be experiencing them.

Claire couldn’t help herself: there was Emily, lying on her bed at home, too weak to fight on, lost to infection, strands of her curly, light brown hair sticking to her cheeks. The well-meaning doctor who visited each day couldn’t help her. Claire held Emily’s hand long past the moment when Emily’s spirit or soul or spark—whatever constituted
—slipped away. In a wave of delayed recognition, Claire understood that Emily was no longer simply resting after her terrible, twisting struggle, but was lifeless. Without life. Dead. After a moment Emily’s eyes opened, staring at the ceiling without seeing it. Her pale blue eyes seemed to turn white while Claire watched. Screams of torment consumed Claire in waves, even though someone else seemed to Claire to be screaming, a kind of ghost self within her.

Charlie woke from his nap in the next room. “Mama,” he called. “Mama.”

Whom did he want? Claire wondered as she heard his cries. She was immobilized by a dense weight within her chest. Then Claire realized with a start that
was his mother. The “mama” Charlie called for was her. She heard footsteps in the hallway. A voice hushed Charlie. Comforted him. Took him from his crib. Claire’s own mother, here to care for them.

Ever so softly, with a lifetime’s worth of gentleness, Claire pressed
Emily’s eyelids shut. She kept her hand in place for long minutes. Beneath her fingers, she felt Emily’s brow, the tickle of her eyelashes, the tender perfection of her eyelids, the softness of her eyebrows. Emily’s eyebrows were darker than her hair, and Claire’s mother had predicted that Emily’s hair would turn dark as she grew older. Now they would never know. Claire tried to collect within her hand a generation of caresses, from the moment of Emily’s birth to the point far in the future, past Claire’s own death, that should have been the natural course of Emily’s life. Emily’s skin was still warm beneath Claire’s palm.

Seven and a half years ago. Like yesterday. A cliché that was always true. Claire picked up the chart from the end of the hospital bed and read the history of the man lying helpless before her.
Edward R. Reese Jr. Age
37. Height
5'11". Weight
175. Marital status
Married. Two children. Address
1020 Park Avenue
New York
N.Y. Profession

Claire shuddered. He was only one year older than she was. She imagined him holding his children on his lap to read them a story at bedtime, the way she held Emily and Charlie. She saw him advising clients in a wood-paneled office.

He began to breathe in quick, choked gasps, as if the air were a knife cutting his lungs.

Claire read on.
Fever upon arrival at the Presbyterian Hospital on Monday
December 8: 104.1. Fever upon transfer to the Rockefeller Institute: 106.04. Bacterial level in his blood at 7
on December 10
100 per milliliter.
Claire didn’t know what that meant but assumed it was high. He’d been treated with two types of sulfa drugs, sulfadiazine and sulfapyridine. Neither had worked. He’d had three transfusions to try to clear the bacteria from his blood, to no avail. The infection had entered his bloodstream from a skin abrasion at the right knee. There were six abscesses in his right leg. His lungs were affected.
Staphylococcal septicemia.

Blood poisoning. Emily had died of blood poisoning.

In one gliding motion, a stately, straight-backed nurse took the
chart from Claire’s hand and reattached it to the end of the bed.
, her identification badge read. Beneath her regulation cap, her steel gray hair was pulled into a bun. Her aloof severity reminded Claire of her high school headmistress, the type of woman who could intimidate with a glance.

“You may not read the chart.” Nurse Brockett enunciated each word with precision, as if she suspected that English were not Claire’s native language.

“That’s fine.” Claire pushed her memories of her daughter out of her mind and attacked the problem at hand. Nurse Brockett. Well, Claire wasn’t subject to this hierarchy, and Nurse Brockett didn’t intimidate her. Through her years of work she’d learned to agree with everyone in charge and then, when their attention was diverted, do exactly what she needed to do to get the story. Bravado was a trait Claire put on each morning with her silk blouse and tailored trousers. Her boss had sent her here to follow the testing of a potentially revolutionary medication, but already Claire knew that the real story, the one with emotion and power, was about saving the life of Edward Reese.

To establish her prerogatives, Claire took her equipment bags to a narrow table against the wall on the far side of the room. The table held a blue-patterned porcelain vase filled with white, billowy hothouse roses. Claire placed the vase on the floor. Sensing the nurse’s glare at her back, she slowed her movements, staking her claim. She took off her jacket, folded it, and stashed it beneath the table. When Claire heard the nurse’s footsteps leaving the room, she felt relieved: first skirmish won. She arranged her cameras and film on the table for easy access. In her notebook, she wrote down the details about Edward Reese. She checked the picture count on the cameras and sketched out rough captions. Claire was working alone today, without a reporter to take formal caption notes and help with the equipment. Ever since the attack on Pearl Harbor several days before, the office had been topsy-turvy. This assignment had come in unexpectedly, and with
staff heading to Washington and Hawaii, editorial had no reporters to spare. Just as well. Claire preferred to work alone, without a reporter’s interference.

When Claire finished what she thought of as her housekeeping chores, she looked around and was surprised to find herself alone with Edward Reese. His eyes had settled on her. She felt self-conscious and wanted to say to him, don’t worry, I’ll do you proud. Meeting his gaze, she said nothing, but it was the vow she made to herself. With her light meter in hand, she toured the room, taking sample readings and orienting herself. Luckily the room was bright. She wouldn’t need artificial light or a tripod, at least not yet.

The setup here was a little strange for a hospital. She glanced at Reese, who continued to watch her. She wondered if he’d noticed the oddness. The spacious, high-ceilinged room looked like the reception area of a private club, with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the river and an arrangement of leather chairs and a sofa. Brilliantly colored, semiabstract seascapes decorated the walls, no doubt loans from Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr., who collected modern art. Sunlight reflecting from the river shimmered and trembled upon the walls and ceiling, as if the hospital room were an extension of the paintings.

“Claire Shipley?”

Claire turned. A doctor in an unbuttoned white coat stood before her. He was about six feel tall, lean, with brown hair brushed back, and steel-rimmed glasses. He wore a conservative tie, buttoned-down oxford shirt, and a dark suit beneath the white coat. A stethoscope was draped around his neck. He held a clipboard and a three-ring binder. He was in his late thirties, Claire judged from the lines around his eyes. His face had an open, boyish handsomeness, yet the hard set of his shoulders revealed his disapproval. Nurse Brockett stood like a sentinel behind him. In the light from the river, the doctor’s eyes were deep blue. At five foot eight, Claire could almost look him in the eye, an advantage.

“I’m Dr. Stanton. The physician in charge of this case.” As Claire evaluated him, he evaluated her, and he was surprised. She was attractive. A professional woman who paid attention to herself. He appreciated that. She wore red lipstick. Her clothes, clearly designed to be comfortable for her work, nonetheless showed off her figure.

Claire understood his look and gave him time to indulge it. She needed Dr. Stanton, because now her narrative had two protagonists: the man dying on the bed, and this doctor, who might, or might not, save his life.

“Would you kindly step outside?” he said.

“Happy to.” As she followed him into the hallway, she sensed Reese studying them. Dr. Stanton walked with a certain insouciance, or maybe simply absolute confidence. Of course the confidence could be a veneer forced upon him by his position. Whichever, Claire found it stirring. The bottom of his white coat flicked backward with each step. He turned to her when they were several yards down the hall.

“Dr. Rivers told me you’d be working here today.” Dr. Rivers was the director of the hospital. He was the one who’d contacted her editor about the story, following up on a casual conversation they’d had over lunch at one of their clubs. “Frankly it wasn’t my idea to invite you, but he’s the one in charge. We don’t have time for you, and we won’t be making allowances for you. I’d advise you to stay out of our way.”

“Good. I’m hoping to stay out of your way, too. I’m hoping you’ll forget about me completely.”

Frowning, James Stanton appeared at a loss for a response. Nothing like agreement to diffuse an argument, Claire had learned long ago. By necessity, she was an expert in the manipulation of her assigned subjects. Stanton stared at her, and she stared back.

“Maybe you should tell me what you’re dealing with here. So I can work harder at staying out of your way,” Claire added with a flirtatious touch of irony.

Her tone surprised him, too. For one instant, he allowed this woman
to take him away from the morning’s pressures and responsibilities…to a vacation at the seashore, a hotel room filled with sunlight. He confronted her naked body on the bed.

Stop. She’d made a request for information. What was he dealing with? He couldn’t easily explain the issues to an outsider. Here at the Institute, the medication had been tested only on mice, never on a human. Worldwide, the medication had been tested on only a half-dozen humans. For a variety of reasons, none had survived. Nothing about the medication was established except its unpredictability. Educated guesswork alone would provide Stanton with the proper dosage for the injections. Edward Reese might have an allergic reaction and die the moment Stanton gave him the first shot. An undiscovered impurity in this batch of the drug could kill him. Yet the patient was on the verge of death anyway. Most likely he would be dead within hours. There was also a chance that the medication would work. In that case, James Stanton and his team would save Edward Reese’s life.

BOOK: A Fierce Radiance
12.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Unleashed Temptation by Savannah Stuart
Una ciudad flotante by Julio Verne
Better Than This by Stuart Harrison
Black May by Michael Gannon
Ratlines by Stuart Neville
Butterfly by Rochelle Alers
Elegy for a Broken Machine by Patrick Phillips
Dangerous Gifts by Gaie Sebold