To Cassie’s surprise, lunch was macaroni and cheese. The noodles were overcooked and sticky, but no one cared. Although Eleven allowed no seconds, his refusal came with a smile. “There’s enough that we can all have some for dinner if we’re careful, so mind your portions.”
Cassie had been assigned to lunch cleanup, but tried to find Leila afterwards to see if she could help with her chores. When she didn’t find her, she rounded up a few children who were disrupting Alaina’s reading lesson and took them to the garden to help weed carrots and water roses. The pleasant lunch and simple task of working in the soil quieted her earlier concerns for awhile, but as the children grew bored and drifted away, the doubts crept back.
Galahad a Kevork? It was ridiculous. The KDS had started with good intentions. Telo was a nasty way to die, bleeding from the eyes and nose while slowly choking to death on one’s putrefying lungs. There weren’t enough drugs and doctors to make medical euthanasia available to all, so some people made their children promise to kill them. The teens of the Kevorkian Death Squad came together to trade duties so that no one would have to kill someone they knew. But as the bodies piled up, they began drinking and doing drugs to mask their trauma. Soon they were taking out their anger on police, government officials, doctors, and pharmacists. New members joined the KDS, troublemakers looking for an excuse to kill, rape and rob. Before long, the Kevorks were a menace, killing wantonly, even killing their own, until they fell apart from the force of their own violence.
Galahad was too nice to have been one of them. There was no way it could be true. Nevertheless, when he came out onto the deck in late afternoon, Cassie refused to go to him and instead waited for him to come to her. When he was finally standing over her, she said, “People were looking for you today.”
“I had something important to do.”
Cassie looked away, feigning lack of interest.
“I have something for you.” When she gave him a questioning look, he added, “It’s downstairs. I’ll need a little help with it.” Gingerly, he tugged his left sleeve over his elbow, revealing a bandage spotted with blood. “I got into a little ownership dispute over it, but Doc fixed me up. I don’t want to risk breaking open the stitches and your present is pretty heavy. Think you can help? I can’t find David or Paul.”
“They’re probably fighting over Leila,” Cassie said. “And I don’t want you stealing things for me. It’s not right.”
“Well, it’s not strictly for you,” he clarified. “I mean, I got it because of you, but—just come with me, okay?”
Cassie followed Galahad to the first floor, down a dim hallway and into the loading bay where they kept the van. He opened the back and went inside. From where she stood, she could hear something being dragged across the floor and see the van swaying. Then Galahad jumped to the ground and pulled something to the edge of the doorway. He turned to her with a grin. “Check it out.”
Cassie stepped forward. “Potatoes?”
“They’re at least as good as the other ones, maybe better.”
“I hope it’s not too late in the season.”
“Don’t say that. Not after I risked my life for these things.”
Cassie smiled. Kevork or not, Galahad came through in a pinch. “I’ll have Alaina bring her students to help with the planting,” she said. “You’re right. These will grow.”
“I ran into Alex when I was on my way to see Doc and he said he’ll give us a guard this time. So no worries about these getting stolen.”
“Great,” Cassie said. “To think we’ve come to a point where we need an armed guard to watch over potato plants.”
“Not very civilized,” Galahad agreed. “But neither is starving. So where should we put these? We can’t leave them here and I don’t want to put them anyplace where they could get stolen.”
Putting them under guard in the storeroom was the obvious choice, but Cassie worried that they might accidentally end up in a soup pot, so after some additional debate, they decided on Cassie’s room.
Getting the heavy sack up to the third floor was no easy task, but once they reached the hall they could drag it the rest of the way. But when Galahad made to follow her into her room, Cassie hesitated, remembering some of the worst rumors about Kevorks and what they did to girls.
“Did you forget to make your bed or something?”
“It’s just I don’t need any more help,” she said. “Thanks.”
“I want to help. Save your strength for getting these to the garden tomorrow, in case I’m not around.”
Reluctantly, she let him help bring the heavy bag inside. She was glad she had emptied the toilet bucket that morning so the room wouldn’t stink. They stood for a moment looking around, Cassie wondering where to put the potatoes, Galahad taking in the colorful scarves and necklaces decorating Leila’s side of the room.
“How come no pictures?” he asked.
“What?” she had been wondering where she would put the chair if she stored the potatoes under the desk.
“That’s your side, right? The one with nothing on the walls? Because the other side is definitely Leila’s style.”
“How come you didn’t decorate? I thought it was something everyone did.”
“I haven’t got anything I want to put up.” At his questioning look Cassie added, “At home I had framed posters of endangered species and things like that. But it seemed silly to bring anything with me that wouldn’t be useful. Besides, we're the endangered species now.”
Galahad didn’t say anything to this and helped her stash the potatoes in a niche near the closet. By now the children were running up and down the hall announcing dinner, so Cassie and Galahad went downstairs.
Doc saw her before she saw him. “Julilla got the sugar for us.”
Cassie scanned the room. From the guards’ table, Julilla gave a little nod of acknowledgment.
“I made a poultice and we’ll see if it helps. If it does any good, Julilla says she’ll recommend a mission to lay in a proper supply, but for now we’re going to do a trial run with Bethany as our test subject. I’ve set up a chart, a schedule and everything. It’s important to do this scientifically.”
“Of course,” Cassie said.
“So what’s this about sugar?” Galahad asked.
Doc explained as they found a place to sit and he was still discussing the nuances of wound care when dinner was brought out. To everyone’s delight, it was macaroni and cheese again, this time with a bit of meat mixed in and some canned spinach on the side. Cassie was skeptical about the meat and thought the spinach tasted like the inside of a can, but was too excited to have noodles and cheese again to complain.
“I thought they were going to save this stuff for a holiday,” Galahad said.
“You mean it’s a one-time thing?” Cassie asked.
“Until we find more. Might be tomorrow, might be never. You know what it’s like out there.”
Cassie nodded, remembering all the ransacked houses.
“Well, it’s the nutritionally correct thing to give us the best they’ve got when they’ve got it,” Doc said, then went on to expound on the merits of calcium, iron and B vitamins.
Even with Doc’s tedious conversation, it would’ve been a pleasant supper except for the rumors. There had been more child kidnappings, and it was becoming clear that the Pharms were getting in on the act. Even more unsettling, some kids were saying that a few of the Obits looked like grownups.
“That’s impossible,” Doc said. “Telo is a virally-transmitted genetic disease that lies dormant until the telomeres shorten—”
“We know,” Galahad reminded him. “But what if—”
They were still arguing over the matter when supper ended and the next day’s assignments were announced. Then while Galahad went to talk to David, Cassie followed Doc to the ward where Bethany lay on a mattress, hugging a stuffed dog to her chest and humming to the songs from an mp3 player. Sasha, the night nurse, was quick to apologize. “She’s still on her fifteen minute battery allotment.”
Doc was unconcerned. “A kid who might lose her foot before her fourth birthday should be able to listen to more than fifteen minutes of music every four hours.”
Proudly, he showed Cassie his chart and list of abbreviations for common terms. Then he unwound the bandage on the girl’s foot and shone a light on it.
Cassie thought it looked worse, not just greenish with pus and blackening at the edges, but now wet and glistening with a shiny yellow crust in the center. “Well, at least it smells better,” she offered.
Doc bent his face to Bethany’s foot and took a hard sniff, then made a note on his chart. “Maybe a little. It’s a good sign if it does, though.”
“So if this works, do you think it will be easier to get sugar than antibiotics on a regular basis?”
“If we can find some bees, we can use honey for free,” he offered. “But no, I have no idea. Julilla wouldn’t say how she traded for the three caramels she brought me, but I suspect she did some sort of triangulation with May—jewelry or aspirin in exchange for the candy, or something like that.”
“Risky,” Cassie said. “May is supposed to only give meds to the Pharms. It’s the deal.”
“Well, their deal is also supposed to include protecting her and look what’s been happening.”
They talked for a little longer about sugar treatments, then Cassie read Bethany a Dr Seuss story. She was about to wish Doc a good night when Galahad came into the clinic. He looked at her, but his words were for Doc.
“Just thought maybe you should check my arm one last time before I go to bed.”
Doc looked from him to Cassie and back again. “I told you this afternoon I didn't need to see you until morning.”
“I’m worried I might’ve broken open one of the stitches.”
Doc led Galahad to one of his bright lights and turned it on. Cassie watched him unwind the stained bandage and sucked in her breath at the long row of stitches, the gash red and puckered, bruised purple around the edges. “No wonder you needed help with the potatoes.”
“He’s lucky he didn’t bleed to death,” Doc said, reaching for a fresh roll of bandages.
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Galahad said. He gave Cassie a smile. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
Doc started wrapping Galahad’s arm. “Right. It’s worse. You may end up being test subject number two on the sugar treatment.”
“I always did like sweets.”
“Just be careful.” Doc said in annoyance. “I’d prefer you didn’t go foraging for a few days. But I guess that’s not possible.”
“It’s possible, but not likely.”
Doc finished tying the new bandage into place and Cassie thought she heard him mutter, “Showoff.”
Galahad thanked him, then offered to walk Cassie to her room. She gave a little nod and waited until they were in the hallway to speak. “You didn’t need to go making up excuses to hunt me down like that,” she said. “You’re wasting bandages and Doc’s time.”
“Was it that obvious?”
“Yes.” She tried to hurry ahead, but he kept pace.
“I wanted to talk to you before you went to bed. Have I done something wrong?”
Cassie paused. He stopped, too, and looked at her, his eyes kind and slightly hurt. What on earth was she supposed to say? That she had heard he was a cold-blooded killer? “It’s the way you act,” she said. “You’re nice one minute, then you’re sneaking off the next, not telling anyone where you’re going or what you’re up to. And then there’s those rumors—”
His face grew still. “What rumors?” When Cassie didn’t answer, he took her arm in his good hand. “Let’s go somewhere we can talk.”
Cassie pulled away. “No. I’m tired.”
“You don’t need to be afraid of me.”
“Then tell me what you’ve heard. And I’ll tell you whether it’s true or not.”