When Doug woke he felt nothing. He lay on his back with his arms resting like lengths of cordwood beside him. He could not lift them. It took him a very long time to open his eyes. When he did finally manage to get them open he saw nothing but white. In a short, panic-filled moment he believed he’d somehow been blinded. Then his eyes began to focus and he could see the ceiling above him, the room around him and the bed sheets that covered him. Everything was white, brilliantly so and nearly blinding. As his weary and watering eyes further focused he saw tubes running liquids into his arms, a panel with red and green lights winking on and off.
A bespectacled young man in a white lab coat appeared above him, his face solemn but hopeful. There was a name tag pinned to his lapel and Doug could read it quite clearly: Dr. Vogel.
“So our patient is back from the dead.” Doctor Vogel smiled in approval.
Doug tried to reply but could not make his mouth work.
“No, don’t try,” the young doctor said. “There’ll be plenty of time for talking. We’ve been waiting for you to come around. Doctor Ferguson will be pleased.”
Doug tried again to talk but it was no use. Nothing worked. His throat felt like it had been burned closed. Doctor Vogel, sensing his distress, lowered a container with a straw sticking out of it at a right angle. Doug took a few small sips—not nearly enough—before the container was snatched away. “Not too much at first,” the doctor said. “It’s been quite some time since you’ve had anything in your stomach. We wouldn’t want it to betray you.”
Doug was starting to remember some things now; in fact they were coming back with relative ease. He remembered a woman named Ferguson, Lucy Ferguson in fact. He wondered if it was the same person. She’d seemed so familiar to him when he’d first seen her, and he felt so comfortable in her presence, so at home with her. She hadn’t mentioned being a doctor. He remembered having coffee with her in the airport cafe, the shapely curve of her thigh as she’d crossed her legs, his embarrassment at thinking the thoughts he was thinking so soon after leaving Annie, and then . . . things got a little fuzzy. He was in the men’s toilet and someone had come out of a stall holding a gun. He remembered the gun coughing and a feeling like he’d been kicked in the chest. Then he was back in his childhood reliving parts of his life he would rather have forgotten about. Then he was on an airplane and something had happened. There had been a bomb or something worse on board. People were screaming and being sucked out through an opening in the broken fuselage. He was having a hard time determining what was real and what wasn’t. He remembered thinking that he was dead or dreaming. Nothing made sense.
He realized that Dr. Vogel was no longer hovering above him. Instead the doctor’s attentive visage had been replaced by a middle-aged woman with wavy black hair wearing a white uniform. “I’m your nurse, Donna Sanchez,” the woman said giving Doug a compassionate smile. “Doctor Vogel has gone to notify Doctor Ferguson of your reemergence into the world of the living.”
“Where am I?” Doug asked. His voice was a nearly unrecognizable rasp. He was surprised that he’d had the capacity to speak at all, even more surprised that he’d been understood.
The nurse seemed to hesitate for a moment before replying. “You’re at University hospital in Whitehall Virginia. You’ve been through quite an ordeal. Now you mustn’t try to talk. You’re in no condition—”
“I want to see my wife,” Doug said around a tongue that felt like a beached whale in his mouth.
A perplexed expression crossed the nurse’s face. “I’m a private contractor, sir,” she said. “I’m not aware of our patient’s personal circumstances.”
Doug tried to move. The nurse placed a hand on each of his shoulders to hold him down. “Please, sir,” she said. “You’re in no condition—”
“But I need some answers.”
“And you will have them, just as soon as Doctor Ferguson arrives. She brought you here, you know. She saved your life. She cares very much about your recovery.”
Doug relaxed. “How long have I been here?”
“Nearly three weeks.”
“And you’ve never heard of Annie, my wife?”
The nurse shook her head. “I told you, Mr. McArthur, I know nothing about your personal circumstances.”
“Who’s Doctor Ferguson?”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss staff members, sir. Doctor Ferguson will be here shortly and I’m sure she will be able to address all your concerns.”
Later—Doug was not sure how much later because he had dozed—he opened his eyes and realized he was staring directly into the eyes of Lucy Ferguson.
“How do you feel, Doug?”
“I don’t know. What happened?”
“You were shot.”
“So I wasn’t in a plane crash?”
Lucy gave a curious frown. “How did you know about that?”
“I had a dream. It’s true, isn’t it?”
Lucy nodded sadly. “Not only did you dream it, you predicted it.”
“Damn,” Doug said. “I warned them, but it wasn’t the first plane, was it?”
Lucy shook her head. “No. It was the second one. The one they rescheduled you on.”
“Someone wanted you dead.”
Lucy did not reply.
“I’ll kill the bastard,” Doug said.
“Dead men don’t kill.”
“Doug, there’s something you need to know.”
Doug searched Lucy’s eyes.
“You and I were both on that plane.”
Doug stared at Lucy in confusion. “You’re not making sense.”
“After you were shot two of my colleagues took our seats. They used our identities.”
“My God,” Doug said. “Why?”
“It was a diversion. We were there immediately after the attempt on your life.”
“I saw you,” Doug said. “I heard you. I knew you were there.”
“We took care of the assassin,” Lucy said. “We’re not sure who ordered the hit but we think it was De Roché. Nice and clean in an airport restroom. The killer would have taken your wallet and any other valuables you might have had. Made it look like a robbery. No one would have ever suspected De Roché. But there was no evidence of a crime. We cleaned everything up. When records showed that you’d boarded the second aircraft it was obvious that he’d failed in the assassination attempt. Well, it seems he resorted to desperate measures the second time around.”
“But how . . .”
“We have no idea how he brought down that airliner. We’re working on that. But it seems he wanted you out of the way big time. In a way it was partly our fault. We wanted them to believe you got on that airplane. We knew they’d keep hunting you and eventually we might have been able to implicate De Roché without you even being harmed. We didn’t know he was ruthless enough to take down a passenger plane full of people.”
“Oh, Christ,” Doug said. “All those lives. And it was because of me?”
“No,” Lucy said, her eyes turning hard. “You can’t blame yourself for that.”
“Everyone thinks I’m dead? Is that right?”
Lucy nodded. “The important thing is, De Roché thinks you’re dead.”
“Doug, there’s been a memorial service.”
“And you didn’t tell Annie?”
“Who the hell are you people?” Doug placed his hands down on the mattress as if he was about to spring from the bed. But they were weak and useless and he could not move. He felt his eyes swirling in his head. They were hot and wet. Rage boiled deep inside him.
“Whoa, Doug, you’ve got to stay calm.”
“Calm? How can I stay calm when Annie thinks I’m dead?”
“Listen, Doug, I work for an organization called the Brotherhood of the Order. We’ve been watching you for a long time.”
“Christ. Why doesn’t that surprise me?”
“It’s not like that.”
“How is it then?”
“We’ve been protecting you.”
“You have a gift that needs protecting. If we hadn’t been there you’d be dead.”
Doug stared at Lucy for a long moment, speechless.
“The Brotherhood of the Order has a big stake in keeping you alive,” Lucy said.
“Who are you people?”
“We’re a religious organization.”
“Oh, shit, that’s just what I need—”
“Wait a minute, Doug. Let me explain. We’re not holy rollers. We’re not fanatics. We’re scholars. The Brotherhood was founded in the fifteenth century by a group of Jesuit priests. But they were more than Priests. They were scientists, scholars. Part of our mission is the study of paranormal phenomena.”
“You’re one of those nut job organizations I had to hide from when I was growing up.”
“No, Doug, we’ve never contacted you before. We’ve watched you, but always from a distance.”
The Brotherhood of the Order? Doug thought. A small memory fragment pierced a corner of his mind, but before he could grasp hold of it, it quickly receded back into a gray and foggy area. He tried to concentrate, but it was no use. Part of his mind did not seem to be working.
Lucy saw his confusion. “We are multi-faceted,” she said. “It would be useless to try and explain everything now. You’re just not ready to grasp the whole picture. You need to heal.”
Jesuit Priests? Doug thought. Paranormal phenomena? His mind kept trying to grasp some significance there, but it was no use, and he almost screamed in frustration. “I want to know about De Roché,” he said. “I want to know why he wants Annie’s firstborn and why he wanted me dead.”
“There will be time enough for that when you’re better,” the woman told him. “Right now you need to heal.”
“Wait,” Doug said, before Lucy could turn away. He was aching inside with the need for reassurance. His thoughts seemed frustratingly fragmented, however, and he didn’t even know which questions to ask of this woman. “Annie’s in danger,” he said suddenly, not understanding where the thought had come from. “I can feel it. I need to warn her.”
“Doug, listen very carefully. I can assure you that no harm will come to Annie until after the baby is born. You must not let them know you’re alive; not under any circumstances. Your survival depends upon it. If you are going to heal, if you truly intend to make a difference in Annie’s life and the life of your unborn child, then you must stay in the shadows. Trust me, it is the only way. My organization lives and works in the shadows. It is the only reason we continue to exist. In a sense you are lucky. The ones who wanted you dead are some of the most ruthless people on this planet. They believe you died on that airplane. My best advice is to keep it that way, at least for now. I guarantee that no harm will come to Annie until after the baby is born.”
“Am I a prisoner?”
Lucy shook her head. “No,” she said. “You’re free to go whenever you wish.” With that said, she turned and left the room.