David Dun: Necessary Evil

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David Dun Necessary Evil
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    Necessary Evil
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David Dun


Necessary Evil

There is some soul of goodness in things evil,

Would men observingly distill it out.

— William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act IV, Scene 4

Chapter 1

Calamities, like buzzard birds, arrive in flocks.

— Tilok proverb

Kier Wintripp killed the motor and let the wilderness quiet settle over him. Outside the warmth of the truck, in the gray November dawn, the mountains were dressing themselves for winter, the storm smoothing their wrinkles with the white velvet of snow. Kier knew the mountains well, knew what grew in each microclimate, when it bloomed, what you might eat, and what you would not, the resident birds and migratory visitors, the mammals, the invertebrates, the tracks of all, the habits of each, and their place in the order of things. As winter swept the mountains, sap drew back into the ground, growing things began a silent renewal, and wildlife went from fat to slim in sleep or struggle as the forest awaited the plenty of spring.

The wind-driven snow covered his windshield quickly, obscuring the white stucco medical clinic that might have been snatched from a suburb of San Francisco and set on this low-lying shoulder of Wintoon Mountain. Behind it, the wildness of the mountain's rocky pitches and forested slopes contrasted sharply with the manicured grounds around the building.

Kier was late, and he would have preferred to avoid setting foot in the Mountain Shadows facility altogether. Although he supposed it was becoming more commonplace all the time, surrogate birthing in exchange for a fee bothered him. That Tilok women were doing it regularly troubled him even more. Still, he knew his family needed him, so he stepped out of his pickup and started down the breezeway that led into the sprawling complex where his niece, Winona, was about to give birth. As Kier understood the arrangement Winona supplied only the womb.

A gravely injured old rottweiler, hit by a tractor, had made Kier late. He was able to save the animal, but at some cost to the quality of its life. Using the latest surgical techniques and stainless-steel fastenings to hold the bones in place, Kier had closed the many wounds with more dissolvable sutures than he cared to count. He had left the grateful owner, given his hands a quick scrub, and driven to the Mountain Shadows clinic as fast as conditions permitted.

The clinic was in fact a small hospital, a surgicenter and a walk-in primary care facility all rolled into one. It was touted as a charitable effort, serving three Native American tribes and the nearby community of Johnson City. It was an exceptional clinic given that there weren't 20,000 people in the whole county, and Johnson City didn't swell to a population of 3,000 except in the summer.

To either side of the entryway, a trickling stream splashed over stones meant to look river smoothed. The stone was artificial, the water pumped and chemically sterilized. A large ceramic bullfrog adorned the edge of a tiny pond. Just through the main entrance was a spacious lobby with a receptionist's desk flanked by cubbyhole offices used for filling out forms and admitting patients.

Kier walked through the lobby with a barely perceptible nod, as if he knew where he was going. Two male physicians in green scrubs turned out of another corridor and walked in front of him for a hundred feet or so. They were apparently arguing over a golf score.

The place had almost no scent, which Kier found disorienting. To the ultrasensitive nose, hospitals usually had the occasional pungent sting of alcohol, the ammoniac aroma of industrial-grade disinfectants, the genuine-article piss smell from all the urine-filled plastic bags, and the lemon-peppermint odors of chemical deodorizers used to mask the first three. Powerful electrical filters, such as those in Mountain Shadows, tended to leave only the faint scent-like that of a hot router in cherry wood. A good whiff of a dirty diaper would have been refreshing to Kier.

Without much effort, he found the maternity nurse's station. Shuffling papers and moving charts, the busy charge nurse barely noticed him at first. She wore a dark green sweater over whites, the various layers of polyester stretched tight across a belly that had seen its own births, and had been hostage to long stints of a sedentary life.

After a moment, she did a quick double take. Kier knew what she saw, and he could read in her face what she thought. With his dark eyes and jet-black hair braided down his back, Kier had the general mien of the Tilok people. The rest of him looked more European, the nose narrower and the face less round. The nurse's glance went to the turquoise stones, silver, and feathers that adorned his braided hair and cowboy hat. Cowboy boots pushed the jeans-clad man to over six feet, four inches.

"Say, you're Kier Wintripp, aren't you? The veterinary doctor?"

He nodded.

"Winona told us to look for you. Room Six down there. She just got back from recovery. She gave birth by cesarean just over an hour ago."

"I didn't expect it would be that fast," Kier said.

''The baby was breech and had the umbilicus wrapped around its neck. Couldn't be helped." She pointed down the corridor to the right. "They rushed her straight to surgery."

Kier followed where she had pointed. The floors were gleaming, the walls without a mark and tastefully adorned with watercolor wilderness scenes. In the hallway, Kier passed a defibrillator and brand-new stainless-steel medicine carts.

Before he entered Winona's room, he heard the commotion.

''I want to see the baby just once." It was Winona, sounding stressed.

"It's awful, just awful." His sister's voice.

As he came through the door, Kier's mother sounded only slightly calmer. "Honey, we've asked them."

His mother smiled at him, and for just a second, the exhaustion departed her body. She looked back at Winona, whose dark hair hung down around a face taut with anguish.

"What's wrong?" Kier asked.

"They won't let me even look at the baby. Not even for a second."

Kier pondered for a moment. "I'll ask them to let you see the baby," he said. "But just for a couple of minutes. Then we have to let the baby go. He's not one of us."

"I want to see him." She grasped his hands.

"We'll try," he said, seeking to comfort her. "When they bring you this baby I want you to tell yourself something, and I have to hear the words out loud."

"What?"

"I want you to say: 'He's beautiful, but he belongs to someone else.' "

"Okay. Okay."

"I want you to swear I'll hear those words."

"I said okay. Can you stay with us?"

Kier nodded. "But I have to leave sooner than I'd like. The Donahues have an Arab mare that's due to foal. Jack's out of town, and with Claudie ill, and the storm coming in, she needs me there."

"But you'll get the baby?"

He nodded again.

Kier knew Winona needed closure following this bizarre process. He wasn't sure it would help, but after inducing a young woman to carry a baby for money the clinic could bend a little. Now, with the cesarean, Winona might never have a normal delivery. Anger flared inside him as he approached the nurse's station.

"I am sorry to trouble you. I am here to discuss my niece's request to see the baby for a minute," he said to the charge nurse.

"Your niece didn't say a minute, but the answer's the same. It's against policy." She whispered, "And you don't really want to do this to her."

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