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Equity of Life
cover art Ardy M. Scott.

 

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Equity of Life

medical thriller

Rudy A. Mazzocchi

 

 

PREFACE

Death. It defines and gives relevance to life. Without it, what would govern the rules and motivations of our existence? Even the mythical gods who had immortality envied the very fact that mortal man could die, and in his awareness of death, acquire a glory and beauty that the gods themselves could not. How would man value any aspects of his life without the absolution of death? The inevitability of death forces us mere mortals-the vast majority at least-to cherish life and to optimize the potential of our existence. However, the ending of life is one thing... the condition of having life coming to its own end, is another. Death can refer to either.

If you acknowledge that God gave man "free will," which must then encompass our ability to decide on matters ranging from pro-creation and in vitro fertilization to pre-meditated murder, rape, torture, suicide and even genocide, and that we have let our society judge and define the constraints of abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia, how are our individual choices constrained by such legal, moral and religious guidelines?

Murder and suicide resulting in death are acts of controlling life. They are the conscious and deliberate effort to terminate the activities of life. For moral, ethical and legal reasons, with the exception of the 'death penalty', man does not truly possess the ability to legally govern over the realm of death. The rare ability to control the termination of life, whether by others or self-imposed, is one of the most challenging moral struggles of the human race. This godly petition of human life... this ownership and control over the termination of one's existence is the true equity of life.

* * *

IF suicide be supposed a crime, it is only cowardice that can impel us to it.

IF it be no crime, both prudence and courage should engage us to rid

ourselves of existence when it becomes a burden.

IT is the only way that we can then be useful to society, by setting an example

which, if imitated, would preserve everyone his chance for happiness in life,

and would effectually free him from all danger or misery.

 

David M/H.... (1776)

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

"My ultimate aim is to make euthanasia a positive experience." ― Jack Kevorkian

Zurich, Switzerland

Isabella's delicate hand trembled as it gripped the cold chrome lever handle of the ominously heavy oak door that was already slightly ajar. The room's interior darkness appeared black in comparison to the dimly-lit corridor, the slight flow of air emanated the same thick odor that forced her to leave during her prior visit. Two weeks had passed since then. She'd now returned with renewed conviction.

Pushing inward, the corridor fluorescence quickly supplemented the glow of the monitors, her pupils vacillating with the waning of the light. Making her way around the edge of the bed, she found the frail woman's skeletal hand, exposed atop the cool linen sheets, the skin not much warmer. She remembered the location of the light switch just behind the bed, but wasn't yet prepared to view the ghastly face shadowed before her. A silent moment elapsed. Looking away, she turned on the fluorescent overhead light, allowing herself to focus on the collection of tubing invading the top of her mother's pale hand. It didn't look real... it didn't look human.

Only four and a half months had passed since learning of her mother's diagnosis; Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The doctors originally diagnosed encephalitis-swelling of the brain-from chronic meningitis, but impaired vision and signs of dementia stimulated the need for a brain biopsy. One in a million patients, they had said... why her?

Then, as if struck by lightning twice, a second diagnosis-systemic lupus. The immune system was literally attacking the tissues of her mother's heart, lungs and kidneys. She'd known and read about both diseases, mainly from her medical studies at the University of Zurich, but had never encountered them in the same patient during her entire fifteen years as an anesthesiologist.

Although their preferred household language was English, she'd always addressed her mother as Mutti, a German endearment for 'mother'. Papa was an American scientist who met Mutti at the famed Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH), one of the most prestigious technology universities in the world. After five years of post-graduate studies at the Ecole Normale Supérieure University in Paris, he was there to interview for an associate professorship position... a rare opportunity for a young American. He had a quick mind and deep interest in linguistics. Fluent in several languages, his American accent was undetectable.

She was just a young graduate student, more interested in being in the mountains with her rucksack and cross-country skis than the classroom with her books. Yet, he immediately charmed her with his American cockiness and perfected Swiss-French accent. Their chemistry was undeniable.

Once they committed themselves to each other, they were never apart for longer than four days until that one eventful week that ended in his unexpected and tragic death. It was a bizarre auto accident, which occurred while he was rushing home from a scientific symposium in Geneva. A collision with a chemical truck on a snow-covered road high in the Alps. The heat from the explosion was so intense it fully incinerated everything within twelve square meters of the scene. The wreckage crew eventually found what appeared to be a long bone fragment with a molded metal band at one end-later determined to be his cherished Swiss watch, a rare Chronograph edition made by the International Watch Company. It was the only recognizable physical remnant of the famed Professor James Barton.

They wouldn't even be able to salvage enough ashes to provide the family with something to scatter across his favorite lake, Lac des Dix, the lake of highest elevation in Switzerland. It was their special place, where he and Mutti originally spent their honeymoon and returned every anniversary to hike far into the glacial grandeur of the mountains. Ashes to ashes.

 

After several brief and stressful visits in an attempt to help her aging mother, Isabella finally made the decision to permanently leave the staff position as Chief of Anesthesiology at the university hospital only one year after receiving the esteemed administrative position. She was not only the youngest staff member, but the first woman ever to have been offered the post in the history of Temple University Hospital. Until now, it had been the toughest decision she'd ever made... and the final trip back from Philadelphia to Zurich was the longest she'd ever taken. It had to be done. She needed to be with her grieving and disease-stricken mother, Ana Barton... for as long as it would take.

The doctors suggested that the prolonged grievance and depression caused by her husband's tragic death had long ago stimulated the onset of her disease-which Isabella initially denied. They had both suffered deeply from his death. It took a devastating and physical toll on her mother, and a scarring, emotional one on Isabella. She never forgave him for deserting them in such a way. Never.

To calm the anguish, she pursued the life best known to her. Raised by parents who were both renowned, well-published scientists and engineers, it was easy to bury herself in the study of medicine. Papa belonged to many scientific societies and often spoke on the subject he'd labeled as 'the science of humanity' and 'the analytical power of man's will'. It greatly influenced her agnostic beliefs of a god and heaven, and she was too pragmatic to accept that pure emotion could induce such illness. However, Mutti was raised as a devout Lutheran and maintained a strong, yet silent, spiritual element within her being. Over the years following Papa's tragic death, Isabella had seen first-hand how her mother's mind, her will, had impacted the chemical and physical elements of her now frail human body.

 

Sliding her hand under the exposed fingers triggered a choking sadness. Tears flooded her eyes. Her mother's skeletal fingers were nothing but small protrusions of bone, loosely covered with a thin layer of skin. The small plastic cannula penetrating her wrist allowed access to the arterial system, to measure blood gases to assess the efficiency of her heart and lungs. A central venous catheter exited the vein that lay just beneath her protruding collar bone, the tip of which was suspended in the superior vena cava, hovering over the internal right atrium of Mutti's heart. The indwelling catheter was used for measuring venous pressures and allowed the nursing staff to periodically infuse the drugs that were too caustic for the delicate vessels in her hands and arms.

Reaching into her pocket, Isabella took a deep breath and pulled out a large 10cc syringe. As she'd done thousands of times prepping a patient for surgery, Isabella one-handedly gripped the barrel of the syringe using her forefinger and middle finger, and pulled back the plunger with the side of her thumb. Only two things were different this time: this was no ordinary patient... it was her own mother, and... the chamber was filled with nothing but pure air.

It might be more humane to provide her with an overdosing quantity of meds, but the constant vigilance of the nurses would allow them to diagnose and treat her before the drugs did their work. No, it had to be quick-immediate. She'd even played out in her mind the scene of suffocating her with a pillow, but the intimacy and brutality of physically performing such an action would be too much for her to handle.

* * *

The hospital bed beneath her was cold... the pain deep and dull, emanating from her spine, from the soles of her feet, from deep within her brain. She couldn't speak, couldn't move, and after so many endless days and nights, she'd grown accustomed to the darkness. Sometimes she would try to give depth to the darkness, concentrating, trying to get her mind's eye to create a third dimension to the pure, endless blackness. Given the degree of dementia, it provided something to keep her mind busy. It was a distraction from the pain.

She sensed the opening of the door. A movement of someone entering the room changed the pressure in the air just enough for her to feel something-a wave that resulted in a flutter of the tiny elements of her inner ear. And again... movement near the end of the bed. Someone was approaching. The tiny nerve endings on the surface of her hand fired to attention. Someone had touched her, the initial feeling like a burning torch, easing to simmering hotness, then just pressure. A touch of dark grey suddenly bordered the blackness within her eyes. Whoever had entered the room must have turned on a light. Oh, what she would give to speak one word, make one motion, provide one sign. Isabella?

* * *

A bolus dose of air, injected into the venous line would yield the same results of the pillow without the physical intervention. Inserting the needle into the latex valve at the end of the catheter, Isabella pulled her hand from beneath her mother's fingers to help stabilize the trembling of the syringe.

"Mutti, if you can hear me, I love you with all my heart. Please forgive me. Dein wunsch soll erfüllt warden." She closed her eyes and pushed the plunger.

* * *

The soft-spoken words were too distant, too muffled, to be understood, but the tone, the delivery, was familiar. Yes, it was her sweet child, Bella. Ana wanted to tell her... tell her not to worry, and most importantly, not to return. She was anxious to depart this world, to join her beloved husband who was stolen from her without a proper gesture of eternal farewell. Years of pain and suffering had warped her sense of compassion for life, for anything that mattered. The only regret was the way she'd treated her precious Bella, not appreciating how deeply the absence of a father had also scarred her daughter's emotional well-being.

Desperately holding onto her spiritual beliefs and the notion of being reunited in an unknown afterworld, she wanted nothing more than to depart her fermenting encasement and transcend to heavenly purity. Oh, just for one word.

* * *

The deadly dose of air was projected through the catheter, merged with the surging venous blood as it exited the distal tip suspended in Ana's vena cava. Bursting free, it surged into the right atrium of her heart, swirling there, looking for a place to either reside or escape. Raising to the superior surface of the small chamber, its presence now started to create the cascading effect of thrombosis-blood clots started forming around its entire surface, thickening into a larger mass. The subsequent heart beat pushed it downward, sticking to the surface of the valve that connected its temporary home to an adjacent chamber-the right ventricle. The now gelatinous mass morphed its shape as it advanced into this larger chamber, but was snagged by one of the leaflets of the valve. Suspended there for a mere second, the next constriction of the heart tore it into two segments, the larger of which whipped against the larger pulmonary valve-the gateway to the lung where the blood would be re-oxygenated for its journey back to the left side of the heart and out to the arterial system to feed the rest of the body.

The natural clotting process advanced, and the segmented masses were quickly becoming fibrotic; thickening and hardening, sticking to any surface it touched like shrink-wrap. It blocked the normal blood flow that desperately wanted to vacate the right ventricle to reach the capillary bed of the lungs. In a matter of minutes, the rest of the body started to feel the impact of this intruder, the heart itself felt the immediate loss of energy as it strained to push an inadequate blood flow to the brain. It was an internal form of suffocation. No pillow was needed. Although the cognitive function of the brain would soon shut down, it would be the heart that would totally fail first. Suffocation, heart attack, and then brain death.

 

Isabella turned away, her back to her mother, as she fumbled with the plastic protective cap to cover the needle. A quick twist separated the assembly from the syringe, like a gun ejecting its clip. She returned both to her purse. She watched the monitors as their illuminated lines on the display accelerated the frequency of their peaks. She prepared herself for the onslaught of nurses and orderlies who she now heard off in the distance. The cadence of their shoes in the hallway started to increase, matching the frequency of the screeching bleeps of the alarms.

The mere presence of the first interloper pushing through the door seemed to synchronize with the flat-lining of the display. The intermittent piercing sounds turned into a high-pitched monotone-for some odd reason causing Isabella's racing heart to calm. Despite the clatter of the metal carts and collapsing bedrails, she wondered if any of her new visitors were aware of the stillness in the room.

"Please, Dr. Barton, despite your qualifications, we must ask you to leave... immediately. Your mother is crashing. The doctor is on his way."

"Yes, of course," she heard her voice say as she finally allowed herself to seek her mother's face.

Despite the initiation of CPR and the positioning of the manual resuscitator mask, Mutti appeared to already be at peace. Gone were the folds around her pursed lips. Gone was the etched frown above her thin eyebrows. The red splotches that spotted her face turned to a pale cream color. It was over.

The young resident doctor pushed past her, reaching for the two paddles held at the ready. She thought of her mother's frail body, but knew it no longer mattered. She would feel no more pain. The massive clot in her heart would be thrust deeper into her brain by the naïve nurse pushing on her chest with a well-trained synchrony. There was nothing this team of mercenaries could do to help or hurt her situation. It was over.

Stepping into the now buzzing corridor, she turned and looked back once more at the chaotic scene she'd stimulated by such a simple fluid act. She'd anticipated, and worried, about how she'd feel at this moment. Strangely, the sense of loneliness was pushed aside by another overwhelming feeling. She swallowed hard as if it would help suppress it. The feeling of satisfaction was too much for her to accept.

Then, from the other side of the bed, the nurse who working frantically to establish any potential vital sign, running through her routine as her training dictated, suddenly looked up at her. She was expressionless. Her eyes glared at Isabella as a juror member might stare at a defendant on the witness stand. Did she suspect something? Was it obvious to her what she'd done? Isabella turned as she clutched the collar of her open jacket. Her walk toward the exit accelerated into a run.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

"Damn, did you feel that?" He looked around the room, trying to catch the eye of any one of the other dozen research subjects. "Wow!"

Only the young female technician seemed to pick up on his exuberance. "Please stick to the protocol, Jimmy... use the scale as instructed... rate it one through ten."

"Sorry, but that just kicked in like a mule. I've never felt anything like this before. That 5-Hour ENERGY shot is like mother's milk compared to dis' shit... ah... I'm sorry... what are you callin' this stuff?"

"I think the company trademarked the name, EXALT," she shrugged, checking the connection on the EKG leads that were stuck to his bare chest.

"Sounds cool, but what does it mean? Anything?"

"I actually had to look it up," she replied. "It means to increase in intensity, to lift up physically... or something of the sort."

"It's such a rush. I feel like I've just woken up from a two-day nap and have the energy of a mountain goat."

They both laughed as the technician copied the figures from the monitor onto her clipboard. "I can see that advertisement already; 'Drink EXALT and be as fit as a mountain goat'. Play your cards right, Jimmy, and you might land a spot on one of their commercials."

The pulse oximeter attached to Jimmy's finger was measuring his blood's saturation of oxygen. The figures nearly tripled over the course of minutes as he steadily increased his cadence on the treadmill. The swinging of his arms pumped away, ignoring the constriction and relaxation of the pressure cuff around his bicep. His pulse rate remained steady. No measurable increase regardless of the lengthened strides.

His intake of EXALT, less than thirty minutes ago, had started to stimulate the hyper-production of his red blood cells, exponentially increasing the amount of oxygen flooding every tissue in his body-with every heartbeat-without increasing the rate. It was the best natural approach to blood doping that God or man could have devised... soon to be available in various flavors of energy drinks to every student and athlete around the world. It was rumored that the company even had plans for a sexual enhancement cocktail to supplement the effects of all those erectile dysfunction drugs. Liquid Viagra!

Jimmy stepped up his pace as a broad smile spread across his face. He couldn't believe they were paying him for the experience.

* * *

WASHINGTON, D.C.

The bald-headed examiner pushed the documents around the surface of the mahogany conference table with the eraser end of his pencil, as if the pages were infected. He'd read them thoroughly prior to the meeting, but was trying to locate the appropriate report. The quiet anxiety of his audience added to the thickness of the still air in the antiquated room.

"Ah... okay, here it is. Do you really expect this agency to accept a review of the published literature as sufficient evidence of clinical safety? There's no statistical correlation that you could possibly-"

"Wait a damn minute," a voice from the far end of the table barked, "this agency of yours provided the recommendation that we specifically address the safety of the proposed dosage through a summary of the prospective data found in the published literature. Now... less than nine months and millions of dollars of expense later, you're going to change your mind?"

The examiner twitched and nervously rubbed the top of his pointed left ear. He knew his challenger well. The man had a reputation for pushing things through the regulatory process by either finding loop-holes in the legal wording of the requirements, or rationalizing a way of bypassing the requirements all together. This time, without exception, he'd brought with him a team of experts who were prepared to defend every aspect of their submission. Taking a noticeably deep breath, he forced himself to meet the glare of the gladiator at the end of the table.

"Mr. Citrano, first off, you should know gosh-darn well that the Food and Drug Administration reserves the right to alter its verbal recommendations to company representatives who are seeking guidance for FDA submissions. These... ah... these recommendations are provided to support the written guidelines that are available to you on our website.

"Secondly, you once again interrupted me before I could finish my statement. The data provided in your company's submission is more than adequate, but what I was about to say was that...ah... the published literature clearly does not provide sufficient evidence to corroborate the uptake of an oral dosage of... ah... ah... erythropoietin. In fact, I cannot find any reference to erythropoietin ever being administered orally."

"Excuse me, sir," it was Dr. Gupta, the company's Chief Science Officer. "Roman... ah, Mr. Citrano... with all due respect, do you mind if I take this?"

Roman pushed back in his chair, still locking eyes with the FDA examiner, now showing evidence of slight quivering. "Yes, of course, I'm just the business guy in the room, trying to keep everyone honest, and on track, that's all. Please, Dr. Gupta, by all means."

Dr. Gupta continued, "... you see, sir... you are correct, there is no documented evidence regarding the oral uptake of erythropoietin, known in the industry as 'E.P.O.', or the resulting percentage that might find its way into the blood. However, I believe we provided an excellent summary of results of our absorption studies that correlate to safety levels measured in athletes who underwent either homologous or autologous blood transfusions."

As if handing off an invisible baton, Dr. Gupta looked over and nodded to Tyrone Henderson, the company's Vice President in charge of Marketing. Tyrone, a one-time All-American running back at Notre Dame, leaned forward and took command of the room.

"Dr. Gupta is absolutely correct... but we should not lose sight of what we are hoping to claim here with our new energy drink. This hormone, E.P.O., is nothing more than naturally-occurring growth factor that stimulates the accelerated production of red blood cells. We all know that athletes, most notably the infamous Lance Armstrong, have been blood doping for decades now. Many have used direct transfusions of E.P.O.! We also have all read the reports of the risks associated with young people drinking a variety of energy drinks-too many to name-that contain enormously high dosages of caffeine, B12, niacin and sugar. EXALT contains none of those components that might be harmful to the brain and heart through continued consumption of those other products. EXALT simply includes the purely synthesized compound, E.P.O., that stimulates the body's natural increase in oxygen uptake."

"Excuse me, but before we get too far afield," interrupted Roman, "I would like to remind everyone that this meeting... this presentation to our friends here at the FDA... is out of mere professional courtesy and to establish a strong long-term relationship between the company and this agency. We actually have no obligation to seek any formal FDA market clearance for our new energy drink. We simply must comply with the provisions of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act as previously established by the FDA. We've already provided substantial data to show that E.P.O. is safe-which is the responsibility of the manufacturer-and sir... with all due respect... your agency is only tasked with taking action against us in the event it is proven unsafe after it reaches the market."

Henderson stood as if to continue the attack, but the thin, pale-faced examiner held up a trembling hand to stop him.

"Mr. Citrano, you have obviously done a fine job reading the compliance documents our agency provides, therefore you should also know that the FDA is responsible for regulating all dietary supplement products and their ingredients. Although we will not be in a position to provide your company with a formal affirmation that represents any type of approval that implies we've validated your product, we will closely scrutinize the actions of your company to ensure that the product label information is truthful and not misleading. Under our regulations at 21 CFR part 111, all domestic and foreign companies that manufacture, package, label or store dietary supplements, must comply with the Dietary Supplement Current Good Manufacturing Practices for quality control."

Roman rolled his eyes as the man continued his agency's scripted statements.

"... regardless of your obvious distain for our policies, as the manufacturer and distributor of this energy drink of yours... you... you... your company will be required to submit to this agency, all serious adverse event reports associated with the use of your product in the United States. I'm assuming this is clear to you as well."

"Sir, we are well aware of the GMP requirements, as well as the fact that the Federal Trade Commission's regulatory responsibilities to monitor our advertisements. Again, this is a courtesy visit to introduce ourselves and our products prior to filing the registration of our facility with your agency."

"Ah, yes... okay, Mr. Citrano... understood and well-stated."

Henderson unbuttoned his jacket, not yet returning to his seat, while Dr. Gupta collected the documents scattered about the table. Roman leaned forward with what he knew would be the key question to flush out the conclusive end-point of the meeting.

"Therefore, I believe your question regarding clinical safety and its correlation to whatever you were looking for in those documents, is no longer relevant to this discussion. Correct?"

"Ah... yes, Mr. Citrano, you are correct. But I caution you... all of you... that we will be monitoring your marketing claims very closely. We also will be scheduling periodic visits to your facilities, given that you are replicating the production of a natural biological agent, one that is-"

"Wait, I'm sorry," interrupted Dr. Gupta, "please don't be confused here, this biological agent is actually a synthetic, inorganic, non-toxic substance that elegantly tricks the body into thinking that it's actually E.P.O. It is far from anything one might consider a biological agent. Let's be perfectly clear."

The three visitors were now all standing, glaring down at the meek examiner who had retreated to his chair. Avoiding eye contact, he fumbled with the multiple folders in front of him while returning to the comfort of rubbing the top of his ear just as a young child would rub the end of his blanket while sucking his thumb.

"I believe we are finished here. I appreciate you taking time to schedule this visit, but you've heard my position on this. Good day."

* * *

She'd taken the fifty-minute train ride between Zurich and Bern hundreds of times before, but it now seemed to pass in seconds. Dozens of faceless passengers, commuters and businessmen, were shuffling between the country's largest city and European banking mecca to the old-world charm of its capital. It was easy to understand why Mutti had always favored the smaller historical city and its well-documented enhanced quality of life.

Before realizing it, Isabella found herself pushing through another heavy door, one leading into her mother's apartment she had helped find following the death of her father nearly a decade ago. It had now been vacant for months following the diagnosis of the debilitating diseases. Due to a government-funded healthcare referendum for the elderly, Mutti's apartment would be paid for as long as she maintained her Swiss residency. It had been her home for so long. There was never any discussion regarding what to do with her belongings. Isabella would let someone else deal with notifying the landlord and the paying authorities. It was the last of her concerns.

Standing in the small foyer, she tried to remember why she felt so compelled to visit the apartment. The smell of stale air immediately pushed the queasiness of her stomach over the top. Vomiting in the kitchen sink, Isabella simultaneously began to sob. The reality of her mother's death, by her own hand, suddenly rippled through her weary body. Gripping the tops of each chair surrounding the small kitchen table, she worked her way to the well-worn couch in the adjacent room. Greeting her were dozens of photos of Mutti and Papa, displayed everywhere; the coffee table in front of her, atop the curio chest, sprinkled along the walls-smiling faces on ski lift chairs, traversing hiking trails, on a small catamaran on the lake. Frozen images, now just floating memories of deceased characters whose stories were forever gone.

Leaning heavily with elbows on her knees, supporting her head in both hands, something suddenly pulled her from the sanctity of the sofa. Like a shrine, the walls leading to the two small bedrooms at the back of the apartment were lined with more pictures of cherished moments. She shuffled forward, pausing to gaze at each photo as if they were pieces of familiar art hanging in a favorite gallery. Childhood pictures, birthdays, graduation ceremonies... all now only relevant to one individual. She slowly lifted a small framed picture from its nail. It was of the three of them, sitting in front of a massive fireplace, the Christmas just prior to Papa's accident. Mutti was beaming, sitting with the posture of a well-honed athlete, probably in the best physical condition of her life. Her short-cropped hair with early signs of natural greying was the only sign of her true age. Papa, wearing his sleek Italian designer glasses and trademark black turtleneck sweater, his hand tucked tightly between Mutti's knees. Isabella's younger face peered back upon her as it rested lovingly against her father's shoulder. Strawberry-blond French braids laid perfectly along her neckline showing off the faux leopard fur jacket Mutti had given her as a Christmas gift. Nearly twenty years had passed since then. It would be the only picture she'd take with her as she pulled the door closed behind her.

Despite several attempts, she never had the courage to stay alone at the apartment since her mother had been permanently hospitalized. The musky smell of Mutti's perfume, and those haunting images suspended from the walls, were too much to process. Her anxiety pushed her into a rapid walk that was just short of a jog.

Isabella stepped onto the tram that stopped at the corner, just two blocks from the apartment. Despite all the open seats, she stood near the rear door for the short journey, gripping the cold metal pole for support. Closing her eyes, the darkness took her back to the corridor in the hospice, her hand sensing the coldness of the chrome door handle of her mother's room.

The tram swerved sharply as it swept her on the way to an old familiar hotel next to the main train station. The Schwiezerhof Hotel would become her home for the next several weeks while she determined how best to pull her life back together. There would be funeral arrangements and minor financial matters to tend to. Fortunately, there would be only one distant relative to notify. She had never felt so alone.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

Oklahoma City

"Good evening, Mr. Dolorean," mumbled the sleepy doorman with a slight bow.

"Evening, Sebastian... how are you tonight?" Calvin replied, speaking over the volume of the music that was playing in his ear phones.

"Same, sir... more overtime, I see."

"Yes, business seems to be picking up once again with the upcoming holidays. Have a good night."

"You likewise, sir." It was the same impersonal mindless exchange as several days earlier, neither man making eye contact.

Stepping off the private elevator into the marbled foyer of his massive penthouse condominium, Calvin dropped a heavy set of keys onto the glass coffee table and reached for the remote control of the flat screen television that covered the adjacent wall. He hated his job managing the local Walmart warehouse, but the work hours from 3:00 P.M. to midnight allowed him to pursue his morbid nocturnal activities. A scan of the headline news didn't provide any evidence that the missing bodies had yet been discovered.

His life had many distinct chapters, all of which molded his madness, forcing him on a journey of malicious revenge. Calvin, now twenty-five years of age, was the son of the Dr. Dolorean who was assassinated by an unknown bomber. His mother was assisting his father that day when the only remaining abortion clinic in Oklahoma was targeted by a faction of a rogue Pro-Life cell believed to be from Tulsa.

Calvin was just nine years of age when both his parents were murdered. He'd never forgotten that day and the image of his weeping grandmother as she picked him up from the elementary school less than three miles away. The sound of the explosion resonated like thunder, a sound which still made him tremble more than sixteen years later.

No one was brought to justice for the bombing. More than a decade and half later it was still considered a 'cold case' by both the F.B.I. and local police. How he'd hated those words... even in the written form. The insurance and inherited wealth from his parents afforded him and his grandmother a very comfortable life. Grammy's passing just three years ago provided him with an additional financial windfall, bestowing upon him the independence and opportunity to discontinue any further applications to bullshit schools of 'higher learning' and most significantly, forego any notion of being an attorney. If managed properly, he'd survive on his inheritance for the rest of his life and never need to rely on a monthly paycheck. Taking on the warehouse position was to merely provide the necessary exposure to the outside world, to undertake a mindless task to occupy the hours in the day. A job of convenience that provided opportunities. With the massive inventory of products at his disposal, he would never have to worry about someone tracking the purchases of items needed for his extracurricular activities. And, on many occasions, it also provided the perfect alibi.

 

His urges to kill had been suppressed for most of his childhood. He, himself, always felt that something wasn't wired properly in his brain. For as long as he could remember, he enjoyed the sight of death and would often find the opportunity to decapitate bugs, frogs and small rodents. His official first 'kill' of a stray cat was at the age of four. His father witnessed such acts, but never confronted him or tried to control it. In fact, he would often allow Calvin to join him in the incineration of the aborted remains after a long day in the clinic. On several occasions, he seemed to take great pleasure as he showed him fetal remnants, exposed from their bloody tombs of white surgical gauze. The scenes were etched in his memory.

Calvin would often overhear his parents discussing the possibility of him becoming a physician, or perhaps more appropriately, a mortician. It was the transition of life to the stillness of death that he found most enlightening. Yet, it wasn't until the summer between high school and the start of classes at the university did his mind create a justification for the actual taking of a human life.

* * *

He was in the process of moving into a small apartment on campus and was positioning the large legal box of documents to the far corner of his closet. He'd read through the contents hundreds of times, but something made him stop to review them once again.

They consisted of dozens of newspapers, their headlines filled with the news of the clinic bombing, the fruitless hunt for the murderers, and the public dispute that played out between the district attorney's office and local and state politicians. Another well-worn leather binder contained copies of the key proceedings of the trial his grandmother had pursued for over eight years.

After a denied Federal hearing, it turned into a high-profile civil suit against the State of Oklahoma, holding them responsible for the assassination of her son and daughter-in-law. Nothing came of it. The district attorney's office finally wore out the old woman, the final verdict by the judge seemingly pushing her into an early grave.

Calvin flipped to a page that was earmarked with a bent corner. His eyes found the passage he'd read aloud every time he encountered it. His voice heightened as to mimic the boasting woman who made the declaration: "Dr. and Mrs. Doloreans' deaths were a horrific act, but they had put themselves in harm's way with great exposure despite their knowledge of the state regulations governing abortion. It was their choice to pursue such a godless vocation. Our judiciary system, within the realm of this court, is not responsible for policing the actions of those who deem it necessary to enforce our regulations... often using such unnecessary and brutal force... but only to objectively judge those brought before us for such violations."

It was a pronouncement made by the then Assistant Attorney General, Ms. Jennifer Ryan. He'd focus on that name. Someone had to pay. They all had to pay... and it started with Ms. Jennifer Ryan.

Calvin dedicated himself to the task as if it were a special class project. He stalked her, studied her every movement and behavior. Then he identified the precise opportunity. She would spend every Sunday afternoon at the university law library, reviewing case law, preparing herself to become the next Attorney General. She was so consumed and focused on her objectives, she became oblivious to her surroundings and those around her.

He'd never forget that first kill. It was a stormy, rainy day, his trench-coat providing additional cover. She'd never see her predator who hid within the shadows of the dimly-lit parking garage that night as she hurried to unlock her car door. He overtook her like a hawk would a new-born rabbit.

With the cord cinched tightly around her neck, twisted tight with his right hand, he covered her mouth with a thick wad of gauze with his left. He'd perfected the movements a dozen times in front of his bathroom mirror. He was curious about what she might have been feeling at that exact moment, hoping the effect was causing an explosion of pain as her brain was robbed of oxygen. Taking in the scent of her hair, he wondered if the pain was anything near what his parents had felt that fateful day. He gently allowed her still body drop to the greasy cement floor.

The folded gauze lying next to her tight pony-tail, drenched in formaldehyde, brought back memories of those aborted remains in his father's clinic. As he hovered over her lifeless body, he was again overwhelmed with the stillness. Seconds ago, every muscle in her body was straining against him, her heart pounding in fear. Now, the absence of any movement of her chest, no longer rapidly rising and falling with each gasping breath, provided him with a sense of calmness... a feeling of accomplishment. He poked her opened eye with his finger, smiling at the lack of any reflective response. Allowing his hand to slide down her face, he stopped and cupped her breast. Nothing. No resistance. No rejection. No response.

Excitement overcame him. Panting like an animal, he bent down further to within inches of her ear, and in a mockingly high-pitched voice, whispered, "Your death was a horrific act, but it was your choice to pursue such a godless vocation... you bitch!"

Calvin paused, taking in the entire scene. The calmness. He collected himself, allowing himself to reflect on his other true obsession. He'd spent thousands of hours pouring over the details surrounding his life-long role model... not his father, but a man named Dennis Rader-the famed BTK killer and his notorious string of murders in Wichita, Kansas. Rader was the master in stalking his victims while blending into their environment; a family man working and living within their community, even serving as a senior council member of their church. Bind, Torture, Kill ("BTK") became his infamous signature, and strangulation was his preferred method. Tried and true.

Calvin unwound the coarse black cord from around her neck, marveling at the uniform striations it had made in her skin. What would Rader think of his work? As he'd rehearsed in his mind a dozen times, he dropped the cord into a large quart-sized Ziploc bag, followed by the gauze and, unexpectedly, the broken gold necklace that separated during the brief struggle. The trunk of grandma's powder-blue Pontiac was already lined with plastic, but it was only a secondary precaution. The drive to the abandoned Texaco gas station on Barnes Avenue was less than fifteen minutes away, there'd be little time for the loss of any bodily fluids. Before closing the truck, he reached down, pushed up the jaw to close her gapping mouth, and slowly sang the beginnings of a song he heard his father humming while performing abortions.

"Hush, little baby don't you cry...."

 

The dilapidated gas station was randomly boarded up with sheets of plywood, covered with black graffiti. The one adjacent street light was shattered more than a year ago, leaving the property in a shroud of darkness. Behind the station, isolated by a large wall of cement block, were nearly a dozen empty oil drums. The prior summer, the owner had attempted to avoid foreclosure of the business and paid Calvin and another neighborhood boy to straighten up the place and to hide the oil drums and old rotting tires out of sight from the realtors and inspectors while he negotiated a short-sale of the property. It eventually became known that the owner had failed to find a buyer and foreclosure was unavoidable. The place was slated for demolition, but the city had a long list of priorities to deal with. It would sit vacant for many years.

Calvin had creative thoughts of filing the drums with some sort of acid that would melt the flesh from the bones of his victims... bones which he'd eventually scatter into obscurity. He eventually experimented with perchloric acid, but was nervous about handling chemicals and abandoned the idea. Over time, as he worked diligently to fill those other containers, he'd come to learn that there was no need for such acid. Ms. Jennifer Ryan occupied the middle oil drum in the third row for nearly three years. He'd periodically rock the drum back and forth, hearing the slushing sound of natural fluids. Yes, acid would not be necessary. Calvin would eventually provide her company by filling four of the surrounding drums with other members of her legal team.

The news of a potential serial killer who was targeting the Oklahoma District Attorney's office hit the national papers after the third missing person. Everyone ever prosecuted by any single member of the team during the prior decade, including family members and loved-ones, became a suspect. Calvin's name never even made the 'person of interest' list.

* * *

He advanced the channels using the remote until he found CNN. A reporter was in town to interview the long-standing governor, the honorable Terrance Robert James, the Third. Governor "Bobbie" James was instrumental in changing the state laws surrounding abortion, and it was a name Calvin's father would often curse as he struggled to protect the family against social and political attacks. During the civil trial against the State, orchestrated by his grandmother and her impressive team of liberal lawyers, the then State District Attorney James felt compelled to come forth and make a public statement, one that ridiculed the proceedings and Calvin's grandmother. That was an unforgiveable mistake.

Calvin straightened himself as he heard the Governor make an announcement during the CNN interview that he was going to become a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. There it was again, a comment about reversing Roe vs. Wade. The bastard wasn't giving up. His blood began to boil as the Governor continued to criticize everything that his parents had stood for. He was the one responsible for instigating those Pro-Lifers to riot. He was the one who prompted his parents' death warrants. He was the remaining individual who had to pay for what was done!

"You fucking bastard!" Calvin shouted as he threw the remote, hitting the image of the Governor square in the face, the liquid-crystal display of the large screen shattering into thousands of pieces. A final spark and loud crack resulted in darkness. The stillness brought him peace once again, but his mind was racing.

"Yes, you indeed... Mr. Governor... will occupy one of my remaining barrels."

 

 

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Author Bio

Rudy A. Mazzocchi is best known as a medical device and biotechnology entrepreneur, inventor, and angel investor, with a history of starting new technology ventures throughout the U.S. and Europe. He's been privileged to have the opportunity to see the newest innovations in healthcare and work with some of the most brilliant researchers, scientists and physicians in the industry.

Authoring more than 50 patents, he has helped pioneer new companies involved in cardiology, oncology, orthopedics, neurosurgery and even embryonic stem-cell development. Through these efforts, he has become the recipient of many technology and business awards, including the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in Healthcare and the Businessman of the Year Award.

Combining these experiences and opportunities, with thousands of hours of travel and long evenings in hotel rooms, he found the initiative to start writing a collection of medical thrillers based on true events, the first of which is entitled Equity of Evil.

Author web site.

TTB titles:

Fiction

The EQUITY series

Equity of Evil book 1.
Equity of Fear book 2.
Equity of Life book 3.

Non-Fiction
Storytelling: The Indispensable Art of Entrepreneurism

 

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Equity of Life Copyright 2017. Rudy A. Mazzocchi. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

Format: ePub, PDF, HTML, Kindle/Mobi
    Payment Method
PayPal -or- credit card -or- via  Amazon Kindle; Apple iBookstore; BN.com Nook; Kobo Books
List Price: $6.95 USD

 

  Author News

Rudy Mazzocchi received the Global Business Recognition Award as the 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year.

Equity of Evil by Rudy Mazzocchi is the winner of the Gold Medal for the Mystery/Suspense/Thriller category in the 2011 eLIT Awards and is a finalist in the Suspense/Thriller category of the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the winner in the Suspense Fiction category of the 2012 Global eBook Awards.

Praise for Equity of Evil (book 1 in the Equity series)
"EQUITY of EVIL is a shocking indictment of the pernicious role of greed in the medical world. A powerful read!" Robin Cook, International Best-Selling Author

 

 

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