Today's Reading

Okay, so he's not happy with the practice.

But living the wrong life? That's no way to feel about things. There are good things in his world and it's important to appreciate them. There's Jackie and Dad and Mom and Katie, but there's gotta be a way to change the direction of his professional life.

He still tastes last night's wine, now fermented on his tongue. His queasy stomach isn't helped by the diner's lingering aromas of eggs, home fries, and bacon. Having awakened early this morning from a clammy sleep, he's steeped in an alcohol-induced fog. While he never uses drugs—doesn't even smoke a joint—he feels narcotized. He takes another sip of a third cup of coffee generously refilled by Mary, the fifty-something waitress. It's bland Silex crap, but it's hot and black, and by now, he feels caffeinated enough to return to the office whirlwind.

His watch says it's 12:20; gotta get back—patients are stacked and waiting.

His half-empty coffee cup makes a good paperweight for a five-dollar bill—a decent tip for Mary, who's gotta earn a living. He's occupied one of her tables for almost a half hour at lunchtime, ordering nothing more than the coffee.

* * *

Amid the blare of Lexington Avenue, a cold November wind knifes at his face. A pedestrian swarm clogs the street amid honking horns, wailing sirens, and the whooshing air brakes of trucks and busses. The Number 6 subway roars beneath the sidewalk, sending vibrations and the smell of ozone up through the metal grating.

It's Manhattan's symphony of madness.

Turning from Lexington onto East Seventy-Ninth, Rick contemplates the patients he'll see—people beset by diabetes, heart failure, afflictions of the bowels and bones. Hopefully, he'll avoid Kurt Messner, with whom he has a mutual abomination society.

He's suddenly jolted by sirens shrieking and the ear-bleeding blast of a fire truck's air horn. An EMT van and a string of police cruisers streak toward a crowd gathered outside the entrance to East Side Medical Associates. Did someone have a heart attack in our doorway?

Patrol cars and emergency vehicles approach with their light bars flashing and sirens burping.

Threading through the crush of people, Rick manages to get close enough for a look at what's going on.

Yellow and black police tape stretch across the sidewalk. Two EMTs off-load a collapsible gurney from an ambulance.

A Channel 7 Eyewitness News van pulls up. Two guys get out of the vehicle: one with a shoulder camera, the other holding a portable microphone.

"What's going on?" Rick asks a young man at the periphery of the crowd.

"Some guy got shot right here on the street."

Shot in broad daylight? On the Upper East Side? In front of our office door? The city's going down the crapper.

A siren whines to a halt, police radios squawk, people babble, flashbulbs explode in sudden bursts of light. Crime scene techs wearing Tyvek suits, booties, and gloves are going about their job. Threading through the throng, Rick gets closer and peers at a tarp-covered body lying on the sidewalk. A glistening delta of blood—the edges dried in the cold air—has oozed from beneath the canvas. Brown shoes protrude from one end of the covering, toes pointing skyward.

"Excuse me, Officer," Rick says to a cop standing behind the tape. "That's my office and I've gotta—"

"Nobody crosses the line," the cop says.

"I'm a physician. I need to—"

"Sorry, Doc. We're processing a crime scene."

Nearly reeling with disbelief, Rick turns, weaves back through the crowd.

* * *

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