Darkest Fear Page 14

“I’ll show you to the elevator,” Dr. Singh said.

“Thank you.”

“There’s a lab on the first floor in the Harkness Pavilion.” She handed him a slip of paper. Myron looked at it. It was an order form. “I understand you might want to take a certain confidential blood test.”

Neither of them said anything else as they walked toward the elevators. There were several children being wheeled through the corridor. Dr. Singh smiled at them, the pointed features softening into something almost celestial. Again the children looked unafraid. Myron wondered if the calmness spawned from ignorance or acceptance. He wondered if the children did not understand the gravity of what was happening to them or if they possessed a quiet clarity their parents would never know. Such philosophical queries, Myron knew, were best left to those more learned. But maybe the answer was simpler than he imagined: The children’s suffering would be relatively short; their parents’ would be eternal.

When they reached the elevator, Myron said, “How do you do it?”

She knew what he meant. “I could say something fancy about finding solace in helping, but the truth is, I block and I compartmentalize. It’s the only way.”

The elevator door opened, but before Myron could move he heard a familiar voice say, “What the hell are you doing here?”

Greg Downing stepped toward him.

7

Too much history. Again. The last time the two men had been in the same room, Myron was straddled over Greg’s chest, trying to kill him, punching him repeatedly in the face until Win—Win of all people—pulled him off. Three years ago. Myron hadn’t seen him since, except on highlight films during the evening news.

Greg Downing glared at Myron, then at Karen Singh, then back at Myron as though he expected him to have evaporated by then.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he asked again.

Greg was clad in a flannel shirt over some waffle knit you’d buy at Baby Gap, faded jeans, and preternaturally scuffed work boots. The Suburban Lumberjack.

Something sparked hot in Myron’s chest, ignited, took flight.

From the day they first battled for a rebound in the sixth grade, Greg and Myron were the pure definition of cross-town rivals. In high school, where their competitive cup truly runneth over, Greg and Myron met up eight times, splitting the games evenly. Rumor had it that there was bad blood between the budding superstars, but that was just standard sports hyperbole. The truth was, Myron barely knew Greg off the court. They were killer competitors, sure, willing to do just about anything to win, but once the final buzzer sounded, the two boys shook hands and the rivalry hibernated until the next opening tap.

Or so Myron had always thought.

When he accepted a scholarship at Duke and Greg chose the University of North Carolina, basketball fans rejoiced. Their seemingly innocent rivalry was ready for ACC prime time. Myron and Greg did not disappoint. The Duke-UNC matchups drew fantastic television ratings, no game decided by more than three points. Both had spectacular college careers. Both were named first-team All-Americans. Both were on covers of Sports Illustrated, once even sharing it. But the rivalry stayed on the court. They would do battle until bloody, but the competition never overlapped into their personal arenas.

Until Emily.

Before the start of senior year, Myron broached the subject of marriage with Emily. The next day she came to him, held his hands, looked into his eyes, and said, “I’m not sure I love you.” Bam, like that. He still wondered what happened. Too much too soon, he guessed. A need to spread the proverbial wings a bit, play the proverbial field, what have you. Time passed. Three months, by Myron’s count. Then Emily took up with Greg. Myron publicly shrugged it off—even when Greg and Emily got engaged just before graduation. The NBA draft took place right about then too. Both went in the first round, though Greg was surprisingly picked before Myron.

That was when it all unraveled.

The end result?

Almost a decade and a half later, Greg Downing was winding down an All-Star pro basketball career. People cheered him. He made millions and was famous. He played the game he loved. For Myron, his lifelong dream had ended before it had begun. During his first preseason game with the Celtics, Big Burt Wesson had slammed into him, sandwiching Myron’s knee between himself and another player. There was a snap, crackle, pop—and then a hot, ripping pain, as though metal talons were shredding his kneecap into thin strips.

His knee never recovered.

A freak accident. Or so everyone thought. Including Myron. For more than ten years, he’d believed that the injury was merely a fluke, the fickle work of the Fates. But now he knew better. Now he knew the man who stood in front of him had been the cause. Now he knew that their seemingly innocent childhood rivalry had grown monstrous, had feasted upon his dream, had slaughtered Greg and Emily’s marriage, and had in all probability led to the birth of Jeremy Downing.

He felt his hands tighten into fists. “I was just leaving.”

Greg put a hand on Myron’s chest. “I asked you a question.”

Myron stared at the hand. “One good thing,” he said.

“What?”

“No transportation time,” Myron said. “We’re already at the hospital.”

Greg sneered. “You sucker-punched me last time.”

“You want to go again?”

“Pardon me,” Karen Singh said. “But are you guys for real?”

Greg kept glaring at Myron.

“Stop it,” Myron said, “or I’ll wet myself.”

“You’re a son of a bitch.”

“And you’re not on my Christmas card list either, Greggy-poo.” Greggy-poo. Very mature.

Greg leaned closer. “You know what I’d like to do to you, Bolitar?”

“Kiss me on the lips? Buy me flowers?”

“Flowers for your grave maybe.”

Myron nodded. “Good one, Greg. I mean, ouch, I’m wounded.”

Karen Singh said, “Just because this is a children’s floor doesn’t mean you two have to act like ones.”

Greg took a step back, his eyes never leaving Myron. “Emily,” he spat suddenly. “She called you, right?”

“I have nothing to say to you, Greg.”

“She asked you to find the donor. Like you found me.”

“You always were a bright boy.”

“I’m calling a press conference today. I’m going to make a direct appeal to the donor. Offer a reward.”

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