Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Chapter Fourteen : Houston

Main Street, as usual, was packed, so Jericho steered the rented Mercury Grand Marquis onto Braeswood just before hitting the Bayou. Houston is never cold, and at this time of year it was hot and humid in a way that made a person lose their fear of hell. The entire triangle between the bayou, Main, and Cambridge is a sprawling concrete heat-sink of medical centers, housing some of the most advanced facilities and reknowned care providers in the world. Jericho hit a chuckhole and wondered how many decades it had been since this triangle of medical genius had seen a road crew. The tarmac was hot enough that it was oozing oil, and all the traffic tires made an odd zipping noise as they sped along. The air conditioning was on full blast,  crystalizing the salt in the sweat-stains at Jericho’s neck, armpits, and lower back. Jericho could see the condensation in the air, like a small cloud, as the air came out of the labored air conditioning vents. It seemed to have no effect on the temperature inside the car.

Jericho missed the turn off onto Bertner, and swore under his breath. One of the perks in downtown Houston was the 4G Sprint network that blanketed the city, providing state of the art GPS navigation with real-time traffic speed adjustments. One of the downsides was that Jericho did not have Sprint. A few minutes of jerking traffic and sweltering heat later, and Jericho was able to turn left on Holcombe, before taking a right onto MD Anderson Blvd. It is difficult to describe the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. It is one of the most advanced cancer centers in the world, housing some of the only instantiations of certain technologies for several timezones. One of these technologies was proton therapy, which sounded to Jericho like something out of Star Trek, and for the what he was paying, probably was. The impressive technology and expertise of MD Anderson was sheathed in a collection of equally impressive architectural genius. Everything was glass and steel and the redish-tan concrete that everything in Houston is built out of. Clusters of buildings clawed their way skyward like clusters of supernatural crystals, sunlight dazzling off of horizontal glass and smudging the edges of vertical concrete. Consisting of coastal wetlands and heat and skillet-flat clay, the largest plants Houston has ever grown are rice and sugar cane. As a result, it is very rare to see anything built out of wood or stone. Even the sprawling pre-fab mansions with perfectly kept lawns and annoyingly symmetrical design are made out of concrete.

Jericho passed under the glass tube walkway that joined a gorgeous red and beige concrete palace to the parking garage and turned left toward the self-parking area. He glanced at the sign, which read “MD Anderson Cancer Center” with the “cancer” part crossed out with a bolt red line in a font that roughly imitated a child’s crayon. Jericho was pleasantly surprised by how clearly marked the entrances and pathways were, despite the endless sprawl of the campus, which merged effortlessly into the nearby care providers, and from there into the indistinguishable Houston skyline. Everything was clean, and shiny, and clearly marked, with colored lines on the wall or floor or sidewalk leading to various destinations. It really did seem like the set of a science fiction film, only more friendly, and Jericho’s spirits were lifted by the thought that Caitlyn was able to receive world-class care in such a clean and warm atmosphere.

The man behind the desk was young, gorgeous, and a bit too peppy for Jericho’s mood.
“Caitlyn Slade.”
The young man smiled too broadly and typed a few keystrokes. His smile turned into a sympathetic frown that reminded Jericho of a disappointed Koala. “I’m sorry, sir; your name isn’t on the approved list.”
Jericho smiled with his teeth. “There must be a mistake. She’s my daughter.”
The young man put on his pouty face and pretended to do something with the computer. It was frustratingly condescending, but Jericho chalked that up to his bad mood, and the bile of fear that was rising in his stomach.
“No mistake, sir; I’m sorry.”
“She’s my daughter. I paid for her to be admitted. A lot, by the way.”
The young man’s face remained infuriatingly impassive. “I’m sorry sir, but I can’t grant you access if you aren’t on the list. You can check with our community relations department and see if…”
But Jericho had already turned away.
What has that crazy bitch done this time?

Fear and anger snatched at his stomach, and he suddenly felt nauseated. He fumbled his phone out of his pocket and pulled up his lawyer’s number. It rang, and then rang again, and Jericho realized that he was walking without direction or purpose. He had no idea where he was, and the phone call went to voicemail, and he was lost in a very large, very nice building where people came hoping not to die. And somewhere in the concrete and steel and LCD lighting and taupe carpets Caitlyn lay fighting for her life.

Sharon wouldn’t pick up, and her deadbeat pimp boyfriend’s number had been disconnected, of course, because he probably hadn’t paid his phone bill – again. A small part of his mind cursed at the money he had spent on a PI to get him one useless phone number.

God damn it! God fucking damn it! She has custody – she must not have listed me as an approved visitor. What a shitbag thing to do. She never thinks of anyone! And how much time has she spent with Caitlyn in the last year? A couple of hospital visits? I have taken care of everything. Everything! The bills, the doctors, the goddamn insurance companies! This can’t be legal. Life is a bitch without her throwing her two brain cells into the mix.

And yet for all his anger and angst, Jericho never once thought of suing her or hitting her or taking out his rage in a pound of flesh. Life was one shit sandwich after another, and hurting someone else would not improve anything.

The car was hot, and the air-conditioning ineffective, and the tarmac boiled under the fierce sun.

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