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Authors: Michael Palmer

Sisterhood

BOOK: Sisterhood
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Michael Palmer’s Bestsellers

SIDE EFFECTS

“Has everything—a terrifying plot … breakneck pace … vividly drawn characters.”

—John Saul

FLASHBACK

“The most gripping medical thriller I’ve read in many years.”

—David Morrell

EXTREME MEASURES

“Spellbinding … a chillingly sinister novel made all the more frightening by [Palmer’s] medical authority.”


The Denver Post

NATURAL CAUSES

“Reinvents the medical thriller.”


Library Journal

SILENT TREATMENT

“A
Marathon Man–
style plot loaded with innovative twists … extremely vivid characters.”

—Kirkus Reviews

Michael Palmer has been a practicing physician for more than twenty years, most recently as an emergency-room doctor and a specialist in the treatment of alcoholism and chemical dependency.

A
LSO BY
M
ICHAEL
P
ALMER
From Bantam Books

 

The Sisterhood
Side Effects
Flashback
Extreme Measures
Natural Causes
Silent Treatment
Miracle Cure
The Patient
Fatal

The characters, events, institutions, and organizations in this book are wholly fictional or are used fictitiously. Any apparent resemblance to any person alive or dead, to actual events, and to any actual institutions or organizations, is entirely coincidental

THE SISTERHOOD
A Bantam Book

PUBLISHING HISTORY
Bantam edition published September 1982
Bantam reissue/January 1995
 

All rights reserved
.
Copyright © 1982 by Michael Palmer
.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by
any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address: Bantam Books
.

eISBN: 978-0-307-78119-2

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Random House, Inc., New York, New York
.

v3.1

Dedicated with Love
to my sons, Matthew and Daniel
and
to my parents

Contents

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The Sisterhood
is the godchild of the very special people listed below. My gratitude to them goes much deeper than the words on this page could express.

—To Jane Rotrosen Berkey, my agent and friend, for knowing I could long before I knew

—To my editors, Linda Grey and Jeanne Bernkopf, for the style, wit, and wisdom they have injected into this work

—To Donna Prince and Dr. Richard Dugas for critical reading after critical reading

—To Attorney Mitchell Benjoya of Boston and Dr. Steven I. Cohen of Providence, Rhode Island for technical assistance

—To Clara and Fred Jewett and the others who have taught me to live—and to write—one day at a time.

Finally a special thanks to Jim Landis, without whom, quite truthfully, none of this would have happened.

M.S.P.
Boston, 1982

PROLOGUE

“I
t’s all right, Mama … I’m here, Mama … ”

Fine fingers reached across the starched hospital sheet. Slowly, they closed about the puffy, white hand, restrained by adhesive tape and a leather strap to the side of the bed.

The patient, her other arm and both legs similarly bound, stared unblinking at the chipped ceiling. The rhythmic rise and fall of the sheet over her chest and sweep of her tongue across cracked lips were the only outward signs of life. Her gnarled, gray-black hair framed a face that had once been thought quite beautiful.

Now, skin clung tightly to bone, and dark circles of pain obscured her eyes. Although one could easily have placed her age at sixty-five, the woman was, in fact, only five months past her forty-fifth birthday—the day on which her terminal illness had first been diagnosed.

The girl seated to one side of the brass bed tightened her grip, but turned her head away as a tear broke free and glided over her cheek. She wore a heavy, navy blue coat and winter boots that dripped melting snow into a small pool on the linoleum floor.

Five motionless minutes passed; the only sounds came
from other patients in other rooms. Finally, the girl slipped off her coat, moved her chair close to the head of the bed, and spoke again. “Mama, can you hear me? Does it still hurt as much? Mama, please. Tell me what I can do to help?”

Another minute passed before the woman answered. Her voice, though soft and hoarse, filled the room. “Kill me! For God’s sake, please kill me.”

“Mama, stop that. You don’t know what you’re saying. I’ll get the nurse. She’ll give you something.”

“No, baby. It doesn’t help. Nothing has helped the pain for days. You can help me. You must help me.”

The girl, more confused and frightened than at any time in her fifteen years, looked up at the bottle draining clear fluid into her mother’s arm. She rose and made several tentative steps toward the door before the older woman’s renewed pleas stopped her short.

Haltingly, she returned to the bedside, stopping a few feet away. An agonized cry came from a room somewhere down the hall. Then another. The girl closed her eyes and clenched her teeth against the hatred she felt for the place.

“Please come over here and help me,” her mother begged. “Help me end this pain. Only you can do it. The pillow, baby. Just set it down over my face and lean on it as hard as you can. It won’t take long.”

“Mama, I …”

“Please! I love you. If you love me, too, you won’t let me hurt so anymore. They all say it’s hopeless … don’t let your mama hurt so anymore …”

“I … I love you, Mama. I love you.”

The girl continued to whisper the words as she gently lifted her mother’s head and removed the thin, firm pillow.

“I love you, Mama …” she said again and again as she placed the pillow over the narrow face and leaned on it with all the strength she could manage. She forced
her mind back to the warm and happy times—long spring walks, baking lessons, steamy mugs of hot chocolate on snowy afternoons.

Her body was thin and light, with only hints at the fullness of a woman. Struggling for leverage, she grasped the pillow case and drew her knees up. With each passing scene she pressed herself more firmly against the pillow. Bumpy rides to the lake, picnics on the water’s edge, races to the raft.…

The movement beneath the sheet lessened then stopped.

Her sobs mixing with the rattle of sleet against the window, the girl lay there, unaware of the fragment of pillow case which had ripped free and was now clutched in her hand.

After nearly half an hour, she rose, replaced the pillow, and kissed her dead mother’s lips. Then she turned and walked resolutely down the hall, out of the hospital, into the raw winter evening.

The day was February seventeenth. The year, 1932.

CHAPTER I
BOSTON
OCTOBER 1

M
orning sun splashed into the room moments before the first notes came from the clock radio. David Shelton, eyes still closed, listened for a few seconds before silently guessing Vivaldi,
The Four Seasons
, probably the
Summer
concerto. It was a game he had played nearly every morning for years. Still, the occasions on which he identified a piece correctly were rare enough to warrant a small celebration.

A soothing male voice, chosen by the station to blend with the dawn, identified the music as a Haydn symphony. David smiled to himself. You’re getting sharper. The right continent—even the right century.

He turned his head toward the window and opened his eyes a slit, preparing for the next guessing game in his morning ritual. Hazy rainbows of sunlight filtered through his lashes. “No contest,” he said, squinting to make the colors flicker.

“What did you say?” the woman next to him mumbled sleepily, drawing her body tightly against his.

“Sparkling autumn day. Fifty, no, fifty-five degrees. Nary a cloud.” David opened his eyes fully, confirmed his prediction, then rolled over, slipping his arm beneath
her smooth back. “Happy October,” he said, kissing her forehead, at the same time running his free hand down her neck and across her breasts.

David studied her face as she awoke, marveling at her uncluttered beauty. Ebony hair. High cheek bones. Full, sensuous mouth. Lauren Nichols was by all standards a stunning woman. Even at 6:00
A.M
. For a moment, another woman’s face flashed in his thoughts. In her own special way Ginny, too, had always looked beautiful in the early morning. The image faded as he drew his fingers over Lauren’s flat stomach and gently massaged the mound beneath her soft hair.

“Roll over, David, and I’ll give you a back rub,” Lauren said, sitting up suddenly.

Disappointment crossed his face, but was instantly replaced by a broad grin. “Ladies’ choice,” he sang, rolling over and bunching the pillow beneath his head. “Last night was really wonderful,” he added, feeling the thick muscles at the base of his neck relax to her touch. “You are something else, Nichols, do you know that?”

Out of David’s field of vision, Lauren forced the smile of an adult trying to share a youthful enthusiasm she had long outgrown. “David,” she said, increasing the vigor of her massage, “do you think you might be able to get a haircut before the Art Society dinner dance next week?”

He flipped to his back, staring at her with a mixture of confusion and dismay. “What has my hair got to do with our lovemaking?”

“Honey, I’m sorry,” she said earnestly, “I really am. I guess I have a thousand things hopping around in my head today. It was beautiful for me, too. Honest.”

“Beautiful? You really mean that?” David said, immediately regaining his élan.

“There’s still a hell of a lot of tension in your body,
doc, but less each time. Last night was definitely the best yet.”

The best yet. David cocked his head to one side, evaluating her words. Progress, not perfection. That was all he could ask for, he decided. And certainly, over the six months since they had met, progress there had been.

Their life together was often an emotional roller coaster, quite unlike the easy, free-flowing years with Ginny. Still, their differences had not been insurmountable—her judgmental friends, his cynicism, the differing demands of their careers. As each crisis arose, was dealt with, and passed, David sensed their caring grow. Although there were things he wished were different, he was grateful just to feel the caring, and the willing ness to try.

BOOK: Sisterhood
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