Helena woke up and panicked. She was in a strange bed in a strange room. She tried to sit up, but she was dizzy, and felt horribly nauseous. Everything in her body hurt and her head was throbbing. She fell back onto the bed, landing in an explosion of agony. After a few minutes of recovery, she began to take stock of her situation.
She slowly looked around, trying to remember what she was doing in this fancy hotel room. She didn't recognize the embroidered white linen night dress she was wearing. She wondered whose it was as she tried to recall what she was doing in it. Memories of the previous night gradually crawled out of the gutter of her memory into her conscious mind.
Helena barely remembered the man pawing her, the ride on the tram to the hotel, and being carried up the three flights of stairs by Dr. Arelssyn to the strange man's room. She was mortified; she barely remembered him removing her clothes and cleaning her up, dressing her in this gown and finally tucking her into bed. She couldn't remember if the `good doctor' had taken advantage of her incapacitated state though.
Oh, God, she thought as she lay there. She wondered what he must he think of her. She was angry and felt humiliated, the more so because she knew that she had brought it upon herself by her behavior. Even that man's molesting her the night before; what else should she have expected, sitting there like some drunken harlot? She disgusted herself. Helena knew how she felt physically was not nearly enough penance for her behavior.
The source of her ultimate embarrassment chose that moment to enter the room. Dr. Arelssyn carried an ornate coffee service with two pots and two covered plates on a large silver tray. Although she normally adored coffee, this morning the smell threatened to make her retch.
"Good morning, Dr. McCoy. May I call you Helena? My name is, as you may recall, Yuvon. You will please call me that," he said cheerfully. She eyed him with suspicion. Morning was never her best of times, and presently she felt in no condition to be tortured by his early morning cheer. He set the tray down on the bed, and then sat between Helena and the tray. The simple movement of the mattress was agonizing.
"Come now, Helena, sit up." He patted the bed firmly. The vibrations pounded into her head.
"You, sir, are an evil man to take such advantage of a poor helpless lady," she said, uncertain about whether she was joking or not. She was confident that he was intentionally abusing her. She struggled weakly to a sitting position. She found that if she moved very slowly, she could control the nausea and the pain. She tried to keep her blanket covering herself, but quickly found that, in this condition, maintaining her modesty was more work than it was worth. He'd already seen everything physical that she might want to hide, and she desperately needed both hands to move. She leaned forward and held her splitting head in her hands.
"I prefer my victims that way. Helpless and ladies, I mean." He poured a packet of some white powder into a tall glass of water. The water began to effervesce. "Here now, drink this down."
Helena took the glass. She looked at it and him with equal suspicion.
"What is it? Some patent medicine cure?" She never would have believed that just holding a glass could hurt this badly.
"It is neither a patent medicine, nor a cure. Only time will help you now."
Helena drank the bubbling fluid. It was terrible. A moment later she felt overcome with nausea and tried to vomit. All she could manage was to flop over and retch dryly for a while. She whimpered, and lay in an undignified sprawl across the bed.
"I can't remember ever feeling this crapulent before."
"Crapulent? Oh yes, hungover. Well, Helena, that may have something to do with the fact that you aren't suffering from mere crapulence." He sounded as though he might be trying to reassure her. "You nearly poisoned yourself last night."
"Then why didn't you just let me die?"
"It's against my religion, as well as my personal philosophy to let either beautiful women or capable doctors die. There are too few of each in the world as it is, and to find each cohabiting the same body, well, it would have been a mortal sin."
Helena rolled over and looked up at him, suspicious again. She spoke very slowly, not quite certain how to phrase her next question.
"Did anything, ah, er, happen while I was . . .." Her voice trailed off.
"Do you mean to ask if I took advantage of you while you were all liquored up?" She nodded, angered by his mocking attitude. He laughed at her indignation. "No, nothing happened." He paused at her blatant disbelief. "Listen, I make it a firm policy never to engage in sexual congress with animals, children, or drunks."
She lay back deeper into the pillows, feeling stupid. If her behavior of the last twenty four hours was enough to convince herself that she was a total imbecile, what must a perfect stranger think?
"What about complete idiots?"
"Well, if I didn't draw the line somewhere, I'd never get any," he chuckled. Helena was startled at his bluntness.
"You, sir, are no gentleman."
He silently looked at her sprawled across his bed, and slowly smiled. His silence caused any comments, any evil rejoinders that he wasn't making, worse in Helena's imagination.
"When I get out of this bed, I am going to kill you," she said, glowering up at him.
"Well, I see that we're feeling better already."
He moved the tray over to the table next to the high backed stuffed leather chairs on the other side of the room. He returned to her.
"Well now, why don't you get up, and we shall see if you can keep any food down."
"You just told me that I'm poisoned." She was incredulous. In his place, she would force any such patient to remain in bed for a day or so, at least.
"That's right." He jerked the blankets completely away from her and off the bed with one pull. She was tossed to one side of the bed. She jumped up, her anger overcoming her sickness.
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What do you think you are doing?"
"Just making a point."
"What point?" She paused, still livid, but confused.
"You will notice that with your blood flowing, you are feeling better."
He was right. She still felt horrible, but she was much more willing to move about. Even so, she was still more than a little angry. However, since he seemed to mean her no harm, she decided to make the best of it.
"All right. Since you are so insistent, I shall get up." She looked down at her attire. "Yuvon, while this is very nice, it is inappropriate for wearing about the house. Do you have a robe of some sort?"
He baldly studied her form for a moment, then sighed dispiritedly.
"If you insist." He left the room for a moment, then returned with a black wool dressing gown. It was a man's dressing gown, much too large to fit Helena properly, but it covered her body better than just the night dress. It was warm and soft and smelled faintly of tobacco and the man who had smoked the tobacco.
Helena stood very slowly. She felt dizzy, but it wasn't anything that she couldn't control.
"Yuvon ‑‑ is that correct?" He nodded. She continued. "Yuvon, do you ever wear anything but black?" She staggered over to one of the chairs and slid into it, grateful for the chance to sit down again.
"I don't, if I have anything to say about it. I'm told that I am fixated on the color." He sat down in the other chair.
"What do you mean by 'fixated?'"
He poured himself a cup of coffee and set it to one side. He then poured some milk into a different cup. When the cup was a quarter full of milk, he poured tea from the second pot in atop the milk. He handed the tea to her. This was followed by a small plate of dry toast.
"'Fixated' is a term used by some to describe a type of monomania, what the French alienists call an idee fixe." He uncovered a plate heaped with greasy looking eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, biscuits, gravy and grits. Just looking at it made her stomach crawl up into her throat. She looked away and concentrated on her toast.
"So who was it who told you that you were 'fixated?'"
"No one important. Just a woman that I used to know."
He polished off his breakfast quickly, then cleared it away. When he returned he was holding her blouse. He neatly sewed up the damage as they talked.
"All right Helena. What was a nice young woman like you doing in a place like that, inebriated beyond your capacity to defend yourself from a shlep such as that?"
"I'm not certain that it is any of your business." She was indignant at his presumptions, as well as his perceptions. She wondered for a moment what a "shlep" was, but dismissed it as an obvious term of approbation.
"Perhaps not. Perhaps I am concerned about a patient, and don't fool yourself, you are my patient for the present."
Something about his manner made her smile. He continued.
"Listen, Helena, I realize that you don't know me. You have no reason to trust me, or even like me. I know that. But you might as well give it a try. I would like to be your friend."
He smiled at her.
"Well, my dear. After seeing you last night. . ." His tone was good naturedly teasing.
She pursed her lips at him, trying to stay angry with him, but he was just making it impossible. She finally gave in.
"Well then, Doctor, what would you like to know?"
"I would like to know why you were in there, drinking by yourself."
"I was feeling melancholy."
"The girl who died yesterday. Perhaps even more than that." She paused. She really didn't want to talk about herself, especially not to a person she hardly knew. But she could see him sitting there, looking patiently firm. And, she noted wryly, she had spent the night in his bed. "My whole practice, my whole life isn't what I'd hoped for."
"What's wrong with it?"
"You are a stranger here. What do you know of Denver's libertines and cyprians?"
"I thought not." So she told him about her practice, about the `soiled ones' and their `solid men' who took in the money, the parlor houses, the crib houses with the lower class 'brides of the multitude,' the gambling places, the opium dens, the poor and the unwanted. Helena expected him to be shocked or revolted by those things she described, the privations and despair of the poor, but she was disappointed. He seemed to understand the hopelessness of life on the streets; the cheap paint and false facades that passed for reality among people with nowhere else to hide. She could see in his deep eyes a consciousness of the emptiness of those people, who through their hardships, had forgotten how to live. As she spoke to this man, she found a kinship she couldn't define. Slowly, with each stich of his sewing, he drew Helena out until she was ready to tell him the story of Mattie Gray, the patient who had died yesterday.
"Mattie wasn't a bad girl, but she wasn't more than sixteen years old," Helena said. "Her parents died last spring, in the blizzard, and she was forced to come down into town to try and make a living. If she had gotten in with someone like Mattie Silks, Annie Ryan, or even Daphne O'Connor, she might have been fine. Unfortunately, Madame Silks had just married some man named Thompson, and they had left for Mexico to spend some time together, and neither Annie Ryan, nor Daphne O'Connor have the ability to keep track of every new girl in town. So Mattie Gray fell into the clutches of Jennie Rogers." Helena hated sounding like a melodrama, but in this, like in other things, reality reflected art.
"Jennie Rogers? You say that name as if she were something particularly unpleasant." Yuvon eyed his needlework closely, then set the blouse to one side.
"Jennie's still relatively new in town, and she badly wants to be the top bitch, excuse me, I mean, `Queen of Denver's tenderloin' so badly that she can taste it. She's hard on her girls, trying to get them to bring in more money. Poor Mattie hadn't been with her for three months when she turned up `in the family condition.'" Helena took a sip of her tea, thinking, then continued.
"Three months wasn't long enough to learn the trade, but there was no discussion. Normally, in such cases, the madames take care of their girls, then either support the infants or send them away, but not Jennie. She tossed Mattie out. There was no question of the father. It is common knowledge that Jennie was trying to seduce Chase away from Mattie Silk's girls by introducing him to younger, ah, `partners.' Ed Chase was the only man who Mattie had ever been with. The poor child really didn't have even the vaguest idea of what was going on. She was convinced until the end that Chase was going to come riding up on a white charger to rescue her from her poverty. I don't know. Chase may not even have known about her condition. He usually isn't that hard hearted a bastard."
Helena shook inside slightly. She hurt for the dead girl, but more so for herself. Helena had never been allowed such romantic dreams. She looked at Yuvon. He was being cautious, not wanting to push her.
"What happened?" he asked. "I assume that it wasn't easy."
"Hell, I don't know." She sat for a while, weak and tired. When she finally spoke, it was as if she were reliving the entire scene all over in her mind. "The baby was too large to begin with. Then, it had gotten all tangled up inside her. I don't know how long I tried to work something. Then she started bleeding, and wouldn't stop." Helena felt the emotional agony swell, only to be bottled back. Her neck spasmed again, sending pain through her head and back, sufficient pain to totally blot out any discomfort that she felt from her poisoned state.
"It sounds to me like she really didn't have much of a chance then."
"You are most likely correct." She closed her eyes and tried to force the pain to fade.
"Then don't worry about it."
"Can you do that? Are you able to simply shut off your emotions like damming up some creek?"
"Yes, but that isn't good for you, bottling up your emotions like that. Rather you should make them evaporate."
He shrugged, then grinned. "Unfortunately, I am not always successful at doing it either. But seriously, unless you can put this behind you, it will ruin you as a healer. Hell, it will ruin you as person."
"I know." She sighed and shook her head at him. She stared into the grayish‑white remnants of her tea for a few moments. "I suppose that I shouldn't have gone after Chase like that, but I felt I had to blame someone, and God is sometimes a little difficult to locate. I hate being unable to do anything. I was so frustrated and angry."
Yuvon looked distant for a moment, then replied, "I understand completely. There have been times that I was nearly willing to sell my soul to the devil to save a patient. There were several times that I did rent it out." He paused for a moment. "My wife and youngest daughter recently died in an accident. There were times I thought that I'd go insane because there was nothing that I could have done to save them."
"Oh." Helena couldn't think of anything else to say. They looked at each other for a moment, and each saw someone in pain and in need.
The thought occured to her that he must miss his wife very much to keep her nightgown with him. She wondered what it must be like to have someone love you that much. Helena abruptly stood up, steadied herself, and began to organize the silver tray.
Yuvon watched her for a moment, then asked, "What do you think that you are doing? You are still ill."
"Ah." Helena paused uncomfortably. "My duty as a woman?" she ventured cautiously, then flashed a smile that disappeared as quickly as if had come.
"Nice try," Yuvon said in a monotone. "Guess again." In a single motion he stood and stepped next to her. He towered over her menacingly.
"I am not a threat to you," he continued. "Don't treat me as one. Don't hide from me."
"I am not certain that I understand what you are talking about. What sort of threat aren't you?"
She was interrupted by a knocking on the door. Yuvon frowned in annoyance at her dissembling, then walked over and opened the door.
"Is Dr. McCoy here?" Rachel Peterson's voice came from the hall. Yuvon stepped back and Helena could see the other woman just beyond the doorway.
"Ray, what's wrong?" Helena was suddenly very worried.
Rachel stepped past Yuvon and entered the suite. She looked slightly scandalized by Helena's attire, or lack thereof, and glanced at the bed clothes in their large pile next to the bed and frowned.
"Doctor, it's Lizzie Tully. She's gotten worse." Rachel's voice was tense and irritated. "She's bleeding all over."
"Blast." Helena went over to Yuvon's chair, and picked up her blouse. Examining his mending, she asked, "Where are the rest of my clothes?"
Rachel remained silent.
Yuvon nodded toward the washroom. "They're drying in there. I did what I could. They were in dire need of a washing."
Helena moved quickly toward the washroom to change, Rachel following closely behind. As the door closed Helena saw Yuvon pick up his shoulder holster from the dresser.
Helena reluctantly shed the warm robe, then slipped the night dress over her head. Rachel was gathering up the clothes that were hanging from nearly every protrusion in the washroom. After a few moments she began to speak.
"Helena, you know that I am not one to interfere in your life, but you have been acting very peculiarly lately, and I am very concerned."
"Alright, so you're concerned about me. Do you feel that this is the appropriate place for this discussion?" Helena dropped her borrowed things on the floor, and shivered with a slight chill.
"What is going on with you?" Rachel handed Helena's clothes to her. "While I am aware that you smoke, and even take the occaisional drink, I was greatly surprised to learn this morning that last night you were publicly intoxicated and made a spectacle of yourself. Finally, and most distressingly of all, I have never known you to respond to the advances of gentlemen, and here you are, spending the night with a perfect stranger."
"I don't think he's all that perfect." Helena dressed quickly. She usually had a quick wash up to make her more alert, but the brisk chill of the still damp clothes was more than sufficient.
"Helena! What do you think that people are going to say about this? Let us not even mention the potential damage to your soul. I really believe that you should speak to Father McDevit. Perhaps someone of your own religion might be able to help you. I have been praying for you, but ...."
"Rachel, people will think what they will, and my soul is between myself and God," a Deity that Helena was having some serious doubts about. "If it will make you feel any better, nothing happened last night. Dr. Arelssyn simply took me in when I couldn't take care of myself. If he hadn't been there, well, I hesitate to think where I might have found myself." An image floated through her mind of the cretin who had been groping her, and her compliance to it all. She shuddered.
"I believe you, but Helena, please be careful. You have not been acting like yourself lately, you know. I wonder if the Devil hasn't truly taken hold of you."
"The Devil had his chance with me long ago, Ray, and the old fellow threw me back." Helena paused, staring at her shoes, then looked around the washroom. "How the hell did he get these off without a buttonhook?"
* * * * * *
A few minutes later, the trio were in a taxicab heading toward the boarding house. Yuvon's medical bag rested across his knees.
"I still don't see why you felt the need to come with us," Helena said.
"Because, my dear doctor, you are still ill, and besides I just might be of some use." Helena slumped back into the seat as Yuvon continued. "Why don't you tell me what this is all about?"
Helena sighed dispiritedly. It was rare for her to find a man who was this certain of himself, who had a personality this strong, and he was really trying her patience.
"Elizabeth Tulley moved to Denver a few years ago with her husband, Maxwell. Maxwell was a travelling button‑and‑die man. They had one child, a daughter, Mary, aged four. Maxwell abandoned Lizzie and the child last January. Rather than starve or move into a one of the crib houses, she found a job in a laundry. Last week, Lizzie accidentally caught her hand in a wringer ...."
"A wringer?" Yuvon asked. Helena looked at him strangely.
"Yes. It's a device used to squeeze the water out of the clothes."
"Perhaps thence the phrase `to be put through the wringer.'"
"I, er, believe so." Helena and Rachel exchanged confused glances, then Helena continued.
"Lizzie's hand was crushed, caught in the machinery. I've been trying everything that I could think of to save her hand, including prayer. However, I don't have the proper facilities. Hell, I can't even afford any fancy drugs to alleviate her pain."
The cab pulled up in front of the Peterson house, and Yuvon paid off the cabbie. Helena watched Yuvon as they mounted the steps to the porch of the small, wood covered brick edifice. She'd had a few minutes, while dressing and in the carriage, to think about him, and she was feeling a little suspicious. He appeared so understanding, so perfect. If possible, she wanted to catch his true reactions when he went inside the building.
The first thing Helena noticed every time that she entered the building was the faint smell of stale food, moldy clothes and rotting wood. Perhaps no one else noticed it, but to her the stench was the embodiment of poverty. She had known that smell as a child in Atlanta, in the hills of Appalachia, in New York, and throughout her practice here in Denver. It was an acrid bittersweet smell of rotting hopes, tears, fears, and, all too often, death. Just anticipating the odor brought a nauseous spasm to her gut.
To Helena's disappointment, and curious relief, the fancy looking doctor with the foreign name and accent didn't even seem to notice. Helena sensed that the states of human degradation and suffering were not new to him.
They were met at the door by 'Sister' Evangeline wiping her hands on a large towel. She looked at Rachel and Helena nervously.
"Sister Lizzie ain't changed. She's all burning up." Evangeline noticed Yuvon. She gave him a look of such suspicion that Helena almost felt like defending him. She led the trio up the narrow, bare wooden stairs to Lizzie's room. A new smell assaulted Helena's nose as they neared the sick room, a smell that made Helena's gut ache in terror. It was the smell of rotting meat.
Helena's worst fears were realized when they entered the room. The last time that Helena had seen Lizzie's hand, it had been swollen badly and blackened from the crushed blood vessels, but nothing like this. The hand was swollen to three times its normal size and blood was puddling beneath it. The bandage had come loose, and it was easy to see that the swelling had split the skin in many places. A black and greenish fluid oozed through the tears and mixed with the blood. The hand itself was a rich blackish purple. Black and chartreuse tendrils snaked up the arm, under the skin, from the disgusting mass.
The emaciated Lizzie lay like one dead. Helena could see only the barest motion to indicate that the woman was still breathing. The obvious medical decision only took Helena an instant to make.
"The arm has to come off."
Evangeline gasped and fled the room moaning. Rachel muttered in annoyance, and followed her out.
Yuvon cleared his throat.
"Excuse me, Doctor," he began politely. "What do you think are her odds of survival, even after you amputate?"
Helena whirled around to face him, answering venomously.
"I don't like to gamble on the lives of my patients."
"I am asking for your professional opinion, not delineating the terms of a wager."
"Do you really think this is the appropriate time for this? You don't question my prognosis, do you?"
"Yes, I do think this is the time for this. And, no, I am not questioning your prognosis, based on the information you currently possess. But, please, answer the god damned question." He was speaking in a strained monotone.
"I'm not sure." Helena got quieter. "I do not think that her chances for survival are good in either case."
"In that case, would you object if I made some suggestions? She is, after all, your patient, and I wouldn't presume to interfere with her without your permission."
"What in hell are you talking about?"
"I believe that I can save her hand."
Helena stared at him. Everything that she knew told her that Lizzie's hand was ruined, gangrenous and rotting. If she kept the hand any longer it would certainly kill her. But if he knew something that could help ... After a momentary pause, Helena nodded.
He opened his bag on the floor near the damaged hand. He pulled a monocle from his waistcoat pocket, and screwed it into his eye. Helena saw the light from the bedside lamp oddly reflect in the glass of the lens. Yuvon muttered to himself in some foreign sounding tongue as he scrutinized the hand and arm.
Helena watched him fill a glass and brass hypodermic syringe with a clear yellowish fluid.
"This is an anaesthetic. Is she currently under any medications prescribed by you?"
"That's fine, please give her this." He handed her the syringe. "Into a major vein, please."
Helena felt like an intern again, useless and more than a bit indignant by his automatic assumption of authority. She injected the fluid into her patient. It reacted with surprising speed. Within a minute, Lizzie's breathing had become shallower and less labored. Her muscles began to relax.
He removed his coat and rolled up his sleeves.
Helena cleared her throat. "Do you take that everywhere you go?"
He looked up at her. She pointed at the pistol in its shoulder holster.
"Why don't you remove it?" she continued coldly. "I don't want anyone working on my patient while wearing a gun."
He shrugged, and removed the weapon, chuckling as he did so. He set it on the bed stand
Yuvon walked over to the wash basin, and carefully began to wash his hands, using a bar of green soap from his bag. He indicated that Helena do the same. As she did so, he placed a tourniquet around Lizzie's upper arm, to control the bleeding. He lay clean pieces of cloth under the wounded appendage, and then removed the last vestiges of the previous bandaging. He placed a clock on the stand next to his pistol. The silence of the room evaporated in the humming sound from the clockwork. He began to spray down the arm and hand with an atomizer.
"What's that?" Helena asked, feeling like she should do or say something to assert her rapidly disappearing authority over her patient. She was worried. She had no control over Lizzie any longer, and it was a new experience for her.
"An alcohol‑carbolic acid analog. It will sterilize the field that we will be working in."
He got down on his knees next to the bed, ignoring the small puddle of blood on the floor. Helena looked at him for a moment then followed suit. They began to work. First they phlebotomized the area, and drained the poisons of the infection. Once that was finished, they sliced away the rotten flesh. Yuvon carefully explained to Helena what he was doing at each step. After removing the dead and rotten flesh from the hand, he somehow reassembled the broken bones. Helena had trouble seeing exactly what Yuvon was doing in the dim light of the sick room, but he seemed to have no such trouble. What Helena could see was that she was in the presence of what might be the most brilliant surgeon that she had ever known.
Time passed quickly, the day fading as what little light that could reflect around the heavy curtains on the windows gradually grew dimmer. Rachel was in and out of the room, trading out the water in the basin, replacing towels, and removing what bits of the mess that she could reach without disturbing the surgeons.
At last, he called an end to the surgery. Helena looked at the bandaged hand. She was forced to admit that it looked immeasurably better. Helena had been convinced earlier that the arm and hand had been ruined, but now she wasn't sure. Yuvon had done things that she had never heard of, things that he said that he had learned in `far off lands.' She wasn't certain that she believed him, but what else could she do?
If he were correct, Lizzie's hand would heal. It would never be perfect, but Lizzie would be able to keep it and use it. It sank into Helena what she had been about to do, rather than heal the wound. Helena began to shake with horror.
"I did everything that I could think of. Oh my Lord, I am so terribly sorry." She managed to choke out the words. She had never felt so inadequate as a healer before.
Yuvon looked for a moment as if he were about to strike her, but when he spoke it was with compassion.
"Doctor." He spoke the title as though it meant something to him. "If you had not done what you had, she would have died. I would never have been able to do anything for her. Not even I can cure someone who has already died." He paused for a moment. "I've had different training from you. I have different tools, and I don't think that I could hope to do half as much with the primitive facilities you have to work with." He reached out and squeezed her shoulder, and nodded at Lizzie, "Listen, why don't you bandage this up. I need to clean up this mess over here." He picked up his instruments and walked over to the washstand.
Helena bandaged Lizzie's hand and arm carefully. It was the final indignity, his treating her like a mere nurse. She shrugged, feeling he was probably right to relegate her to the simplest of nursing tasks. He really hadn't seen anything to suggest that she was competent for anything more complex.
When Helena turned back to see what Yuvon wanted her to do next, he had disappeared.
* * * * * *
Helena slowly walked down the front stairs, then outside. It was night already. The moon had been full four nights ago, and it rode, not yet noticeably gibbous, among the softly colored clouds glowing with reflected light.
All she had left in her life, the day before, had been her abilities as a physician. Now she saw those were a fraud. She wondered what the point was, what there was left for her, but there wasn't anything.
She walked slowly down the street. She wound through the dark maze, passing into the more garishly lit streets. She barely acknowledged the journey, and eventually climbed the stairs to stand at the door to her office. She clumsily fought with the lock of her office door. She was still feeling sick from her binge, and now she was sinking deeper into a pit of dispair and loneliness. All of the nausea she had blocked from her mind was catching up to her. She leaned her head against the door jamb for a moment, trying to catch her breath, then opened the door and entered the building.
Once inside, Helena moved slowly into the inner office. She slid into the hard wooden chair at the bare desk. She slowly rolled herself a cigarette, and lit it with an almost exaggerated care. She inhaled the smoke deeply into her lungs. The cigarette smoke violently mixed with her nausea. She fought retching for a few moments until the nausea had begun to fade. She leaned back, listening with some vague satisfaction as the wooden chair creaked beneath her. After balancing herself at the edge of the desk by her heels, she closed her eyes. After a few moments, she heard the sounds of a striking match, then she began to notice a harsh, sulfuric stench followed by the aroma of tobacco smoke, different from her cigarette's smell.
She peered around the dark office, moving only her slitted eyes. In the glimmer of moonlight through the window, she saw Yuvon lounging against her filing cabinet. In his hand was a deeply red glowing light Helena thought must be a pipe.
She wondered why she hadn't heard him open the door. For that matter, she wondered how he even knew where her office was.
"What are you doing here? I thought that you had gone away."
"I thought that I had as well."
She thought for a moment. "Well, what are you doing here?"
"You are in pain," he responded. "As a doctor it is my duty to help such pain." A pause. "No, that's not it. I don't know why I came back." Another pause filled the room, pregnant with unspoken things. "Dr. McCoy. Helena. In my medical opinion, you are in serious danger of destroying yourself. You need a break, a vacation from all of this."
"I am in danger, and you are the one to help me?" Helena simply couldn't believe him. She was used to the arrogance of the men that she knew, but Yuvon Arelssyn was showing himself to be alone in a class of his own.
"Yep," he replied gravely. He chuckled, perhaps at his own solemnity, then continued, serious again. "Helena, I would appear to be one of a few people who seem to care if you live or die. Mrs. Peterson cares, but you won't let her near enough to help, so it would appear to be up to me. It is very important to me that you live."
The intensity of his words startled Helena, and her heart hammered in her chest. She felt a faint flush of embarrassment, then a greater flush that grew as she became further embarrassed because of her embarrassment. Helena thanked God that the room was too dark for Yuvon to see her.
She didn't understand why he should say he cared. They had only met the day before. Her head hurt worse, the pain from her neck reaching up her spine and into her skull, tearing at her brain with long talons. Her eyes watered slightly.
"So what is it that you want from me, Doctor?" The last word was an artillery shell of irony; hard, fast, and meant to damage on impact.
"I want you to come with me for a few weeks."
Helena barked a short, harsh laugh that made her head hurt worse. "Listen, Doctor," now the word dripped disgust, as for a loathsome slug. "If you want a woman to run off with you, I can direct you to any one of a thousand just a short walk down the street. They may be a bit `soiled' but no more so than I. All that I sell are my medical skills and perhaps my self respect."
She saw his smile, charming even in the poorly lit room.
"My dear doctor," he said, his voice dripping vicious condescension. She hadn't heard such a tone from him before, and she didn't like it. "If all I wanted was a cheap piece of tail I wouldn't come to you. Don't flatter yourself. I can find more attractive women, and more worth my trouble elsewhere."
Helena sat silently, her head aching, shocked at the intensity of his retort. She looked back at the last few days, and began to lose herself in depression. She wished she could actually cry. She felt that if she could, she might be able to wash away some of the pain of her hopeless existence. God had either abandoned her, or else hated her. She simply didn't care anymore. Suddenly, she saw herself and her life, and everything seemed to fit into place. Life was simply not worth the effort, not worth anything to her. Even through her headaches and depression, she now saw what would be the best thing to do. If she removed herself from the scene, then she wouldn't hurt any longer.
"Go away Dr. Arelssyn," Helena said, throwing her cigarette on the floor, and rising to her feet. "I have things to do."
Yuvon watched her for a moment.
"It's that bad, is it?" he asked softly, reaching his hand out to her shoulder. He never actually touched her, but held his hand an inch above her. She could feel her shoulder tingle and itch from the heat radiating from his hand. Some dim part of her ached for his touch, but she rejected the desire. She wan't worth it.
"What do you mean?" she asked tiredly, telling herself that she didn't care.
"I mean that you have given up.
She shrugged and nodded. It really didn't matter if she told him or not; it wasn't as if he could stop her.
"In that case, Helena," he continued. "Let me offer you a deal, a bargain. You have nothing to lose." He paused, and Helena looked up into his face. Although the moonlight had hardened its planes and angles, Helena wanted to believe that she could see some honor and compassion behind the white‑blue mask.
"Go on." She was vaguely curious.
"Give me two weeks. I won't promise to make you into a new woman, but perhaps together we might be able to track down the old one inside you." A pause. "And perhaps I can find some trace of myself as well."
"And if we don't do any good?" she asked snidley.
"If in two weeks from this moment you do not feel like living, then I will murder you." He smiled and added dryly, "Suicide, after all, is a sin."
Helena stared at him. She could see he was absolutely serious.
"Why should you want to help me?"
"I told you, I care about you. No. You you deserve more of an answer than that. You deserve to live. You are a worthwhile person.
She snorted bitterly.
"Helena, you have a great inner strength, but even the strongest sometimes needs to lean on someone else."
"You believe that I have strength?" He wasn't making any sense to her.
"You have the strength to defy custom, the strength to defy your own inner fears and inhibitions, all so that you may do what you know is the right thing to do for yourself."
"And that is?"
"Helping others. But it is time to let someone else help you now. Even if you survive this depression, even if you survive tonight, if you don't soon do something else with your life, you will eventually become an embittered prune‑faced old crone, all dry and rotten within. And it will happen sooner than you would believe.
"And if I do find something else, then what? I'll be a happy pruned‑ faced old crone?"
"You'll be alive."
"And you can help me to find this ineffable essence that will improve my life?"
"What would it hurt for you to try? After all, you can always fold your cards later."
She thought about this man's offer. If he were to rape her in an alley, and then murder her, she wouldn't be any worse off than she was now. If he actually succeeded in helping her, then she wouldn't be so damned depressed. But if he failed, she would just be prolonging the inevitable. It was gambling with her life, and she hated gambling. Although, it occurred to her, it wasn't as if this was about anything really important. She chuckled coldly at the thought as she reached out and shook his hand.
"All right, Yuvon. I place myself in your oh‑so‑capable hands." Her voice dripped with sarcasm.
"Come along then, let's get your things."
Helena stopped at the door.
"What about Lizzie?" She felt some residual sense of concern for her patient. "I can't just leave her."
"Why not? She just needs time to recover." Yuvon opened the door and held it for Helena.
"That doesn't matter." Helena was adamant. "A physician doesn't just abandon a patient. Didn't they teach you that in school?"
"All right, all right," he said, annoyed. "Let me think about it for a while."
She accepted this with some reservations. She still didn't know how much she should trust this man. The two slowly left the office. They were met at the door of Rachel's house by Rachel herself. She eyed Yuvon with suspicion.
"And where, may I ask, are you two going? Lizzie is sleeping fine now. I thank you, Dr. Arelssyn for your help, and I thank you for seeing Helena home. If there is anything else, it will have to wait until morning."
"That's all right, Helena. I'll wait right here." Yuvon smiled at Rachel.
Helena looked at the two, and shrugged. She went up to her room to collect her things. In her room, she looked about at the chaos. Sighing, she pulled a carpet bag from its hiding place between the wash basin and the wall. She started throwing clothes and other useful items into it; underclothes, several skirts and blouses, her copy of Poe, a hairbrush, toothbrush and powder, button hook, cap and cloak. Helena had never been a collector of things, and so the gathering up didn't take long. She crammed everything into the bulging satchel and closed it. She took greater care with her medical bag, but finally she shut it as well.
She looked at the two bags on her bed and wondered if she was doing the right thing. Just making the decision though, had given her a vague feeling of hope. She picked up the bags, and went into the hall. She locked the door behind her, and went down the hall without a backward glance.
When she returned to the main hall, Rachel and Yuvon were muttering about something. As Helena drew close, Yuvon said something, and the woman burst out laughing. It was obvious that he had charmed her totally.
Helena said a short good‑bye to Rachel. The other woman gave her a short hug and an admonishment to be careful and get better.
"I'll be praying for you."
Helena was confused. "You aren't upset with me for leaving you like this?"
"No. Dr. Arelssyn told me why he is taking you away."
"Ray, this morning, hell, not five minutes ago you didn't trust him any more than pigs have wings, and now this?"
Rachel glanced at Yuvon. She looked slightly embarrassed.
"Helena, I just know that the Lord has sent him here for a reason. I have faith that everything will work out."
Helena pursed her lips.
"Just how do you know this?"
"The Lord came to me and told me."
Helena nodded slowly.
"I expect that it's time then, Yuvon. Shall we go?"
He smiled at both ladies and opened the door. Helena and Yuvon walked into the street, and slowly up the connecting streets to the street car. Helena looked at Yuvon. Already she began to feel a weight lifting from her shoulders.
"What were you and Rachel talking about?"
"Elizabeth Tulley and you," he said chuckling. "I've left instructions with her about what to do during Elizabeth Tulley's recovery, as well as money for another physician if needed. She, in turn, was giving me `care and feeding' instructions for you."
Helena flushed in annoyance. "Does she think that I need a keeper as well?"
"Nope," he said, the chuckle moving into a dry laugh. "She thinks that you need a husband."
Helena stopped short, suddenly very angry.
"You didn't tell her that . . .."
"That we were eloping? No. I simply told her that no man in his right mind would want a crazy woman for a wife. It's my job to try to make you sane again." He paused momentarily. "I'm not looking for a wife. You can relax." She looked at him for a moment, relieved. "Does she often hear the voice of the Lord?"
"Yes. At least she thinks she does. She says that's what finally transformed her from the sinner she had been before into the sinner striving to be a servant of the Lord that she is now."
Helena silently stared at the passing streetlights.
"Where are we going anyway?"
"Back to my hotel. I don't know about you, but I'm beat, exhausted. It's been a long day."
"Why couldn't I stay with Rachel?"
Yuvon looked at her.
"Would you leave a potentially suicidal patient alone to change her mind?"
She looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded her assent.
A short tram ride later, they arrived at the Windsor Hotel. The hotel was five stories of unrestrained opulence. During her previous visit she had really been too busy to notice, but tonight, she had to fight from being overwhelmed. Everything had an elegance and splendor beyond Helena's experience, from the cast iron porte‑cochere to the plushbottom furniture and the diamond dust mirrors. Yuvon abandoned Helena to the hotel's restaurant, while he sent her luggage upstairs. Helena walked into the dining room and looked at the floor. It was covered with a mosaic of individual silver dollars. She shook her head at the extravagance. Looking around the room, there was a large number of wealthy men and their fancy women sitting at tables amidst the forest of ferns and rubber trees. Helena felt sorely underdressed, and brutally conspicuous. She saw an empty booth in a corner and went to sit down.
Helena realized when she saw the look on the waiter's face as she sat down that she should have waited for him to show her to a table. He handed her a menu with an irritated frown.
"I'm going to need a second menu please." She tried not to notice his frown becoming a smirk. He left another menu and departed.
As she looked at the menu, it occured to her that, with the exception of the piece of toast she had eaten upon awakening, her last real meal had been luncheon on Tuesday. It was now Thursday evening, nearing midnight. Although she was nauseous, she knew she had to eat something. Yuvon soon joined her.
"The waiter thinks that I am a tart that you have brought in here," she told him with a thin lipped expression.
"I'm sorry. Is there anything you'd like me to do about it?"
"I suppose not. What could you do?" She studied the menu for a few moments, then looked back up at Yuvon with some embarrassment. "I must admit that I've never actually eaten in a restaurant this fancy."
He shrugged nonchalantly. "It has been my experience that the beauty and price of the plate has little to do with the quality of the food."
"Then why do you spend the money?"
He thought about it for a few moments. "Fancy restaurants generally have better security. I've had more meals interrupted by brawls breaking out around me."
The waiter returned. Yuvon ordered baked chicken for himself and indicated that Helena should order whatever she wanted. The waiter looked a bit confused, obviously expecting Yuvon to order for the both of them. Helena gave her order for soup and boiled vegetables, and the waiter left the table. She looked at Yuvon, adding one more detail to her growing list of his oddities. Most men would have done as the waiter expected, and ordered for both, if for no other reason than it was considered polite.
"So what is it that you do that these brawls are continually breaking out around you?"
"Nothing. I suppose it could be my table manners ..."
"I meant what do you do?"
"For a living? I thought that you knew. I'm a doctor."
Helena raised an eyebrow at him and pursed her lips. He sighed at her expression.
"I've spent, or rather misspent, a considerable amount of my life with adventurers, soldiers, and soldiers of fortune."
"That sounds exciting."
"Not particularly. Not after the first few of them you meet." He turned solemn, then immediately smiled at her. "Besides which, most freebooters and 'persons of adventure' aren't the sort of people that one invites into one's home. They are all just as likely to steal the silver and hold the cat for ransom as they are to act as persons of gentle birth."
"That sounds like a bit of a snob there," she ventured.
"Not really. Though many of them are indeed vulgar and gauch, even the worst of the lot are more alive and interesting than these wax mannequins." He indicated the rest of the room in irritation.
"Oh." Helena could see that he had briefly opened up a cupboard in his soul that contained some aspect of his past that bothered him, and so she let it drop.
When the waiter returned, Yuvon ordered a bottle of imported wine to accompany the meal. They ate their supper in near silence, each feeling uncomfortable with the other.
The food quickly started to make her sleepy. She covered her mouth with her hand as she yawned. She 'closed the door,' placing her knife and fork ceremonially on her plate, and carefully slid the whole thing to one side. She sat silently, sipping her wine as she considered the past day. She felt she had to know exactly what was to be expected of her. She looked at him.
"Where am I to sleep tonight?"
"In the same bed that you slept in last night."
She froze up inside.
"Where are you going to sleep?"
"Why, in the same place that I slept last night."
"And where might that have been?"
"Be patient, and you'll see. You are going to have to start trusting me eventually, so you may as well begin now."
You certainly are inquisitive." He shoved his plate aside. "You agreed to this, remember. If you are going to start setting conditions on what I may or may not do to help you, then we might as well stop this here and now."
"And you will just let me walk out?"
"Not a bit of it." He signalled the waiter. The waiter brought the check, and Yuvon signed it. Something in his tone frightened her. The pair rose in silence, and walked to the stairs.
She finally broke the silence, and asked softly, "So what do you expect of me then?"
He muttered something in irritation that sounded vaguely like "gamahuchement" then spoke clearly. "I expect that if I may not have your trust, then may I have your reliance that I mean you no harm?"
"What's the difference?"
"What? Between trust and reliance?" He looked thoughtful "One's absolute and the other's relative. If you are walking across flat ground you trust that the earth will support you weight. If, on the other hand, you are crossing a bridge ..." He trailed off, his point being made.
"Oh." She really didn't know what to say. They neared the room and she was filling her mind with images of what he meant to do with her. These images made her nervous, but between her fatigue and depression she really couldn't bring herself to do anything about it.
The room itself was dark, but for a slight glimmer from the turned down keroscene lamp on the table. Helena walked over and raised the lamp's wick. The room brightened. Yuvon closed the door with a loud click, and locked it. She turned and saw her bags sitting on the freshly made bed.
"Why don't you get ready for bed," he said. "You look exhausted."
She shrugged and began to rummage about through her carpet bag. She stopped after a moment.
"Yes?" He was settling down in one of the chairs, holding a large leather‑bound book in his hand.
"Being somewhat inexperienced in taking trips with men, I seem to have neglected to pack a night dress." She flushed deeply. Aunt Melissa's training never covered this sort of contingency.
"In that case, you may have the one that you used last night. I believe it is still in the washroom where you left it. Unless, of course, you would prefer to sleep in the nude."
Her stomach twinged, but she knew she deserved that. She turned to him angrily, though more so at her self than at him.
"Thank you. I believe that I shall use the one that I had last night." She picked up her bag and went into the washroom.
She slowly undressed, filled with waves of apprehension that, at times, bordered on a stark anxious terror that threatened to overwhelm her apathy. She looked at the night dress. The embroidery around the yoke was a beautiful white on white arabesque. Once more she wondered what a man like Yuvon was doing keeping a woman's night dress around. He seemed too pragmatic to keep it as a sentimental momento, but then again, one could never tell.
She slipped it on, and smoothed the fabric against her body. It was soft and subtle against her skin. The cloth smelled faintly of some herb she couldn't quite identify, almost like anise.
She shook her head and began to brush out the tangled mess of her hair. It had been after her bath yesterday that she had last put a brush to it, and it was a mess. Remembering that made her realize how sweaty she was after a day in surgery, but the bath tub was dry, and she suspected that it was too late to call for hot water. She lost herself for a while in the mindless action of brushing her hair.
When she finished, she stood at the door and hesitated, uncertain. Finally, she shrugged, and opened the door.
He had turned the lamp back down. In its dim light she could see that the covers on the bed had been turned aside. Yuvon was standing at the window, watching the city. He turned to face her as she entered.
"Would you like to be tucked in, or do you think that you can manage by yourself?"
"I think that I can do it myself thank you."
"Well in that case, good night." He turned back to the window.
"Good night." She was slightly confused. She had assumed that he was going to be joining her in the large bed, but now he didn't seem interested in anything of the sort. That was a relief, but still ..., she wondered.
She shrugged her shoulders slightly, shook her head, and climbed into bed. The sheets were cool and the bed seductively comfortable. She was quickly lost in sleep.
Sometime later, she woke in darkness to a strange noise. She sat up and looked around her. From the light coming through the window, she could see Yuvon sleeping in one of the highback chairs. He was tossing slightly, and muttering softly. She slid out of bed, her feet bare on he cold wooden floor. She quietly walked over to him.
As she got closer, she could hear his muttering more clearly. He was speaking in that foreign tounge she had heard him use earlier. It sounded to her like it might be some Indian dialect. He was obviously in the grip of some nightmare.
"Yuvon," she said softly.
He whimpered slightly. She reached out and touched his shoulder.
"Yuvon, it's all right. You are just having a bad dream."
He turned a little and grabbed her hand in a strong, solid grip that softened after a moment. Still asleep, he held her hand for a little while, calming noticeably.
When he was sleeping quietly once more, Helena extricated her hand from his, then slowly returned to bed. She lay there for quite some time, watching him in the moolight, wondering about this man who had interjected himself into her life. Not coming up with any answers, she gradually drifted back to a quiet sleep.