"House, honestly," Wilson pleaded for maybe the third time in a week. "If you want to know what happened so bad, why don't you just ask him?"
"I did ask!" House said. He was sitting on the edge of Wilson's desk, shuffling the papers his friend was trying to fill out and file. "He denied it."
"Did you really ask," Wilson countered. "Or did you antagonize him and try to provoke him into letting something slip?"
"I'm the one who taught him to lie," House complained. "He's turning my own sneakiness against me. It's unnatural."
"Or maybe it's just private," Wilson said. He snapped the page out of House's hand, signed it, and put it away before House could steal it again.
"Chase works for me," House said. "Privacy is not included in his benefits package."
"I'm pretty sure that one's guaranteed under the Constitution," Wilson said. "Fourth amendment or something."
"He's a permanent resident, not a citizen," House pouted. "The Constitution doesn't apply to him."
"So he had a fight with his father," Wilson sighed and pinched his nose. He was getting kind of tired of this. Rowan Chase had long since gone back to Australia, and frankly he thought they had bigger problems than spying on Chase to satisfy House's curiosity: namely Vogler. "What's the big deal? You don't get along with your parents either, if I recall. Should I give Chase their number in case he wants to find out why?"
"You don't have their real number. I gave you a fake," House told him. Wilson just rolled his eyes and nodded.
"Okay," Wilson said. "Let's assume you're right. Chase is hiding some deep dark family secret. Why do you need to know it? What, you think you're going to stage some great reconciliation between him and his father within the next three months? I thought you didn't believe in deathbed conversions." House sneered and deliberately dribbled ink from one of Wilson's fountain pens over an insurance form. It didn't damper Wilson's grin. "Dr. House, have you been an idealist in cynic's clothing all this time?"
"It could be that," House shrugged. "Or I could just be looking for blackmail and torment opportunities. I can only call him British so many times, you know."
"House, can we check your priorities please?" Wilson begged. "I'm not sure you realize just how precarious your situation is." House put on a scared face and pretended to shudder. "Vogler is already gunning for you. He thinks you're a financial drain."
"Maybe," House said. "But I'm a drain with tenure."
"Well, as the new Chairman of the Board with $100 million backing him, Vogler may have what it takes to break that tenure," Wilson said. "It may take a unanimous vote, and you know I'll take up for you, but all that means is that Vogler will be looking to get rid of me too. Unless you give him a reason not to. So maybe imposing in Chase's personal life can wait?"
House's smirk fell. He hadn't really considered that he was risking Wilson's job along with his own when he antagonized the new Chairman. But, damn it, he wanted to know!
The gossip had started after some of the ER staff witnessed an altercation between the Chases during their cigarette break. The father and son had been on the other side of the parking lot – too far to hear – but the discussion was obviously heated. Apparently, Chase tried to get in his car to leave, but Rowan grabbed his arm, pulled him bodily away from the car, and shouted at him. Chase responded in kind, pushed him away, climbed into his car, and tore off. The next day, both men acted like nothing happened. Now, with Rowan gone and Chase apparently back to normal, most people forgot the rumors. House didn't; he wanted to know what could rile such a stoic as Chase. He was sure Chase didn't know that Rowan was dying, so what was it?
"Okay, fine," House begrudgingly agreed. "Vogler is priority."
"Good," Wilson smiled.
"But Chase is readily available, so I still get to pry," House added on his way out of Wilson's office. Speaking of which, he should probably check in with the flock and see how their latest case was wrapping up.
It was a little girl, Maria Stanza. Her symptoms seemed straight forward: fatigue, weakness, weight loss, abdominal pains, shallow breathing, swollen lymph nodes and anemia. It was all pointing to leukemia, so she'd been passed to Oncology. Only Wilson passed her right along to Diagnostics when she turned out to be cancer-free. The little girl was fading fast, so he'd split his team up. Foreman was working the lab. Cameron was probing the mother for information. And Chase had been sent to their house to look for possible sources of infection or poison, depending on what the tests told Foreman.
So House was a little disgruntled when he saw Chase in the hallway on his way to the conference room. Chase picked up the pace when he spotted his boss. House folded his arms and prepared to berate Chase for whatever lame explanation he came up with for disobeying his instructions.
"Why am I looking at you?" House demanded. "You're not supposed to be here. You're supposed to be at the kid's house so Foreman can send you on a scavenger hunt. What, you don't want to play with us anymore?"
"Game's over," Chase snarled. "We need to call the police." House raised his eyebrows and unfolded his arms. "I know what Foreman's going to find. Maria has mercury poisoning."
House quickly ran over the symptoms in his head. It certainly fit. In fact, it had been one of the initial suggestions during differential diagnoses when leukemia was ruled out. "Okay, let's assume you're right," House allowed. "So Maria got into some fungicide or disinfectants." Those were the most likely sources in a suburban household. "I don't think an accident constitutes criminal neglect."
"Maybe not," Chase said. "But if the mother was deliberately exposing her to it, that constitutes attempted murder."
House opened the door to the office and pulled Chase inside. Accusations like that were best not made in an open hallway. Chase started pacing and running his hand through his hair. Normally House would have teased him, asking who he was trying to impress with his golden tresses or something, but Chase was too agitated and his suspicions too serious for it to be amusing.
"I found three broken thermometers in the waste baskets," Chase explained. "I think Maria's mother has been using the mercury to poison her, probably for a while now."
Cameron had pulled the girl's school records, and she was absent a lot. Also, the school nurse was the one to call an ambulance when Maria collapsed during recess. If mercury poisoning was responsible for the serious symptoms the child was showing, she would have been sick for a while. The mother should have taken her to a doctor long ago.
"All right, Detective Chase," House folded his arms. "Do you have a motive?"
"I don't know," Chase said. He was getting more irritable. The pacing was getting on House's nerves. He pushed out a chair for Chase to sit in, but Chase ignored it. "I also don't care. She's killing her daughter! We need to start Maria on chelation therapy and call the police. I didn't touch anything in the house, so they'll find plenty of evidence."
"Assuming the concerned, attentive, hard-working, single mother is in fact poisoning her own child," House said. "How do you know the worried mom didn't just break the thermometer while taking her daughter's temperature?"
"Three times?" Chase argued. "Besides, they had a digital one in the medicine cabinet, not new. And since when do you believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt?"
The office phone rang. House put it on speaker phone. It was Foreman calling from the lab.
"I've found the problem," Foreman announced. "Call Chase and tell him to look for sources of…"
"Mercury?" House interrupted. Chase folded his arms and glared impatiently.
"How'd you know that?" Foreman asked.
"We already found the source," House nodded to Chase. Chase whipped out his cell phone and dialed the police. "Start Maria on a chelating agent and have security detain Mommy Dearest."
He hung up before Foreman could question him and leaned against the windowsill while Chase spoke to the police. Chase finished quickly.
"They're going to contact DYFS and search the house," he said. "A social worker will come to take care of Maria. They'll need to talk to Foreman."
"Foreman?" House repeated.
"Well, I can't very well tell them I got suspicious during a B&E, now can I?" Chase replied. House nodded and shrugged; it was a good point. "Foreman can tell them Maria tested positive for mercury and you can explain why the circumstances were suspicious."
It was a solid plan, so House and Chase both went to check in with the rest of the team. The four of them caught up halfway to Maria's room. Cameron was fuming and Foreman was frowning with disapproval.
"Why did you call security on Ms. Stanza?" Cameron demanded of Foreman. "That poor woman is hysterical!"
"Hey, talk to him!" Foreman pointed at House. "Why did we call security, anyway? Mercury poisoning could easily have been accidental. Don't you think we're jumping to conclusions?"
"No," Chase snapped. "We're not. A kid was poisoned. It looked suspicious. So we call the police. Or did they repeal the mandatory reporting statutes? If there's an explanation, let the authorities find it. Ms. Stanza isn't our responsibility; her daughter is."
"What he said," House agreed, but he was scrutinizing Chase. Usually it was Cameron getting all worked up on behalf of the patient. If anything, Chase was more like him, detached. House felt another piece of the puzzle taking shape. "Foreman, you and I are going to talk to the police. Make sure you're clear on how much mercury the kid would have to be exposed to, to develop this level of toxicity. Cameron, Chase, you two run a few more tests; see if you can't find evidence of prolonged exposure."
"We'll start with her mouth," Chase said. "If the mother was poisoning her, she was probably putting it in her food. Might be some sign."
"Go find out," House shooed him away.
Ms. Stanza had already been taken to the security office, so Chase and Cameron were able to examine Maria without a scene. There two sores on the back of her soft palate and a raw throat. A body MRI revealed further irritation to the esophagus and stomach. Chase did the examination himself, but he sent Cameron to House with the results while he took Maria back to her room. A social worker was already there. Chase briefed her quickly about the tests he'd just run and their implications and told her to talk to his supervisor for further details.
He rejoined the rest of the team in the conference room. Cameron was poring coffee for herself. Foreman and House already had theirs. She offered the cup to Chase when he came in, but he waved her off.
"Good call, Chase," Foreman praised when he came in. "Apparently Ms. Stanza broke down and all but confessed as soon as she saw a cop."
"Poisoning her own baby," Cameron shook her head. "What are we thinking, Munchausen's?"
"Do we care?" Chase scoffed. Cameron frowned at him. "Are we caring why she did it? It's done!"
"Well, at least Maria's safe now," Cameron said.
"Right," Chase said. His stomach was starting to lurch in a familiar way. He was stressing about this too much, but he couldn't let it go either. "I'm sure foster care will be a real step forward for her."
"Hey," Foreman objected. "What's the matter with you?"
"Nothing," Chase sighed. He ran a hand over his face and wiped the excess moisture on his lab coat. "If you don't need me here, I'm heading down to ICU." He walked out before anyone could contradict his plan.
"Has anyone else noticed how his accent gets thicker when he's bullshitting?" House said.
"So he's a little rattled," Foreman shrugged. "Come on, that was a pretty sick situation."
"Sickness?" House gasped. "In a hospital? No! How can it be?" Foreman sighed irritably and crossed his arms. "Chase isn't a novice. He's seen plenty of nasty cases without breaking a sweat." He frowned, then shrugged dismissively and turned to the remaining two. "Well, I'm sure there's plenty of work somewhere for you to do and for me to avoid. Go amuse yourselves." Cameron and Foreman shared an exasperated glance on their way out.
House had promised Wilson that he'd only pursue his curiosity about Chase while the youngest duckling was in line and readily available. So he figured he'd better get after him quickly before he reached the ICU and became unavailable. Unfortunately, when he reached ICU Chase hadn't signed in yet. Where could he be? House considered Chase's behavior today. Perspiring, short tempered, his hand had gone to his stomach more than once…House checked the men's room between Diagnostics and ICU and sure enough there was Chase doubled over and clutching the back of a toilet.
"Get lost?" House asked.
"Wish you would," Chase managed before he started heaving. The water in the bowl splashed as he vomited violently. House glanced over his shoulder and frowned slightly at the excessive amount of red. The second retch brought up less, but it was almost all blood.
"Great," House sighed. This was so inconvenient. He might have to do without Chase's contributions for weeks if this turned out to be serious. If it was a severe stomach flu or something that Chase could have taken care of it earlier, House was going to kill him. As it was, he leaned his head out into the hallway and told a passing nurse to sign Dr. Chase in as a clinic patient. That way he could pass off harassing Chase as doing clinic hours. Chase finished hurling and was heading for the door. House stepped in front of him. "Hey, where do you think you're going?"
"I need to go home," Chase said weakly. He was sweating even more and shaking a little.
"Right," House said. "Cause that's what you'd do if one of your patients suddenly started barfing up blood, send them home."
"I'm not a patient," Chase objected. He tried to circumvent his boss, but House blocked him again with his arm. "And I don't think Dr. Cuddy would like it if I stay here and start vomiting all over the real patients. It won't help hospital's reputation."
"So aim for Vogler if you see him," House suggested. Chase glanced behind him, under the bathroom stalls, to make sure nobody – specifically Vogler - had heard that. For better or worse, though, he and House were alone. House took Chase by the arm with his free hand and started pulling. "Come on, be a good sport. You can sign into the clinic and get a lead on your hours." If it worked for him, why not for Chase? "Cuddy just says you have to be there. She never said it couldn't be as a patient."
"I don't need the clinic," Chase insisted. He pulled his arm away and nearly fell over for his trouble. "I need a cab. I can't drive like this and I need to get home."
"Dr. House?" The nurse had returned and was looking anxiously at Chase. "Dr. Chase is signed in. Should I help him to an exam room?"
"Go get a gurney," House ordered. He watched Chase continue to sway on his feet. He was still sweating profusely and clearly in a great deal of pain. And he had thrown up a fairly substantial amount of blood.
"I want to go home," Chase objected. "I don't need…oh…" Chase collapsed to the floor, clutching his stomach. He struggled to get up for a moment before passing out completely. House just watched. Chase was a doctor. If he couldn't figure out for himself that he ought to be sitting down with his symptoms, why should House waste his breath telling him? Besides, Chase was much more compliant while unconscious.