Roy believed that the simple way was usually the best way. Some people used lock picks or credit cards; he just used a pair of heavy steel-toed boots. A couple of hard kicks and he was in the apartment. If he did it quickly and with a minimum of fuss, none of the other tenants in the building would bother to call the police about such a brief disturbance. One of his friends, a cab driver, had given him the tip-off about the empty apartment. The cabbie had driven the occupant and his luggage to the airport, and he'd noticed that his passenger didn't have anyone to see him off. Still it was possible that another person might live there as well. Roy listened for the sound of any movement. Then he relaxed; all his instincts told him no one was home.
He carefully propped the door back in its frame, so that someone glancing in its direction might not notice that it was off its hinges. The occupant had left the curtains drawn so it was quite dark. Roy turned on the lights and looked around. He was impressed. Whoever lived here was not afraid to spend money on the things that gave him pleasure. There was an excellent music system, television and DVD player, the latest game console, a laptop, a guitar, and a very nice piano. Unfortunately, the piano would never fit in his van, but the other items made up for it.
When Roy did his first break-in, he'd been a panicky seventeen year-old drug addict, desperate for enough money for his next high. He'd been so scared, he'd just grabbed what he could and ran. Most of what he took had been worthless; stuff you couldn't unload at a garage sale. That was a long time ago. Today, he was drug-free; he'd detoxed in prison, which had been no picnic. Theft was a just a job to him. Roy was a criminal because theft paid better than the kind of minimum-wage job an ex-con could land. He took his time and enjoyed his work.
Roy stuffed dozens of cd's into a garbage bag. The cds reflected an eclectic and idiosyncratic taste. Hidden behind a cd of the Who, Roy found a bottle of pills. He glanced at the label - Vicodin. He knew their street value. Roy also recognized the name of the doctor who'd prescribed the pills. Whoever lived here had cancer. Roy put the bottle in his pants pocket, and moved towards the DVD player and the DVD's. He'd only pulled half a dozen DVD's off the shelf when he found another full bottle of Vicodin. This aroused his curiosity. There might be dozens of pill bottles hidden in the apartment. Roy stuffed the rest of the DVD's into the bag and then started searching the rest of the room. Usually, Roy didn't bother with books – too heavy and no resale value – but now he pulled them off the shelves looking for more Vicodin. Soon he had half a dozen bottles of Vicodin and a bottle of morphine.
Roy noticed that some of the books were on medical subjects. On the coffee table, he found an issue of a medical journal that someone had been using as a coaster. The mailing label identified the apartment's occupant as Dr. Gregory House.
A doctor! That explained all the pills. James Wilson was a typical member of the medical profession. Let an ordinary person, even his own brother, come to him in agony and beg for a little pharmaceutical assistance and Jimmy would just turn him down flat. Another doctor was a different story, though. For another doctor, Jimmy would write prescription after prescription until his writing hand cramped! Ordinary people with cancer had to suffer, but this Dr. House wasn't going to suffer. Jimmy had prescribed him enough pills for House to kill himself before the pain became unbearable.
When Roy was on the job, he tried to stay calm and methodical. Emotions could lead to costly mistakes. This time, he felt an anger rising in him that he could not control. He swept through the living room and the bedroom, emptying drawers and knocking pictures from the walls, careless of the noise he was making. He found another five bottles of pills, which he dumped into the garbage bag; a collection of porn magazines, which he ripped up; and a rat in a cage, which he let loose.
Roy made his way into the kitchen. He could tell that cooking was not one of Dr. Gregory House's hobbies. The cupboards were full of ramen noodles and canned chilli. He pulled open the refrigerator and grabbed a squeeze bottle of mustard. He started to make a puddle of mustard on the kitchen floor until a better idea occurred to him. He went into the living room and smeared a message on the wall in mustard using his latex-gloved fingers. When he ran out of mustard, Roy went back for ketchup and relish. He finished up with a can of chilli and some leftover Chinese food. The words on the wall looked as if they had been written in some obscene biological waste product. They said DIE IN PAIN.
Roy smiled. Without all his Vicodin, Dr. House would die in pain.
House was attending a medical convention in San Francisco. The current speaker was hopeless – the idiot could not even talk and press a computer mouse at the same time. Whenever a new slide was needed, Dr. Moorhead would freeze while the audience waited in anticipation for the synapses in the swamp of sludge that was Dr. Moorhead's brain to catch fire. Then the feeble signal would pass through his nervous system with the startling speed of a turtle with a broken leg. Finally, the signal would reach his hand and then his finger would depress on the clicker. The new slide would appear, and Moorhead would stare at it in befuddlement for a few seconds before beginning to talk again. The speech was excruciatingly dull and wrong-headed but the long pauses had given House ample time to come up with a mental list of devastatingly clever questions for the q-and-a session at the end of the talk. He'd have Moorhead in tears.
House's cell phone went off. He pulled it out of his pocket, looked at the caller id, and then got up from his seat, and headed toward the exit. Half the audience turned to watch him leave, and Dr. Moorhead, distracted, lost his train of thought again.
"Don't mind me," House called out to the hall, as he limped up the aisle. "I'm the prime exhibit for the next seminar and I've got to get there early."
In the corridor, House speed-dialled a Princeton number.
"What's the problem, Cuddy? Some billionaire's son with an especially hard-to-diagnose case of the sniffles?"
"Hello, House. Your landlord called. He said your apartment has been broken into. He already called the police. They'll probably been in touch with you shortly. "
"There's more," Cuddy said. "Apparently there's been some malicious damage. Wilson went to see if he could help but the police wouldn't let him in. There's also some writing on your living room wall. It's a death threat."
"What sort of threat? 'Death to the capitalist imperialist doctor'?"
"This isn't funny, House. Remember that patient's husband who tried to kill you? The police never caught him."
"I got the impression that they never really tried. The police are too busy harassing people with chronic pain problems to look for gunmen."
"Just be careful. It sounds like you have an enemy, and he seems to be a pretty disturbed person."
House arranged to change his flight and go back to Princeton Plainsboro. He had let Cuddy know of his new plans, so he wasn't surprised that his best friend at the hospital, Dr. James Wilson, was at the airport to pick him up.
"How was the convention?" he asked.
"Tedious. I had to leave before the good part. This heart specialist from Tacoma was going to take me to this place he knows where all the strippers dress up like hospital administrators. Give them an extra twenty and they'll be extra friendly."
"I'll have to keep it in mind for my next trip to the Bay Area. Oh, by the way, I have some bad news for you."
"More bad news. Did a speeding bus crash into my apartment?"
"Worse. It's Tritter. He was in your apartment when I went to check out the damage. I hope there isn't anything there that shouldn't be there."
"What, you mean that half-kilo of China White I've got in the vegetable crisper?"
"Something like that."
"I have valid prescriptions for everything. I don't take any chances. If there's anything there, it's because Tritter and his friends on the force have planted it."
Wilson pulled up in front of House's apartment building. House could tell that Wilson was nervous. His friend did not want to see Tritter again.
"Do you want me to come up with you?" Wilson asked.
"No, I'll be fine." House said.
"I can book you a room at my hotel if you need a place to stay. It sounds like your apartment might not be habitable right now."
"I'm going to see if Cuddy will give me free room and board. If not her, then Cameron, Chase or Foreman. Maybe not Foreman; I don't think I'd be safe in his neighbourhood."
"Maybe not Cameron either. You know how she feels about you."
"Do you think I'd toy with her emotions?" House assumed an outraged tone.
"Why not? You toy with everyone else's."
Wilson drove off, leaving House in front of the apartment building. The door opened and Tritter stood in the doorway.
"Dr. House," he said. "We weren't expecting you back for another two days."
"I heard you were here and couldn't resist coming back early to see you."
"Come inside. Let's talk about your enemies. We'll make a list."
Roy had already fenced most of House's possessions, but he kept the laptop himself. People were careless. They often left their credit card numbers on their computers. Sometimes he found other interesting things as well, which he would pass on to a friend of his who had a sideline in blackmail. He opened House's e-mail. Most of the e-mail was spam – ads for herbal Viagra or penile enlargement – but there were a few personal messages. One of them was from "jewilson." He opened it.
Cameron told me that you're working at home today. Another ploy to get out of clinic duty or is there an extra special episode of GH today? Anyway, Simonds in radiology was telling me about a place where they do a great New Orleans style muffuletta. The owner is a refugee from Katrina, so it's really authentic. Want to try it tomorrow? I've been eating cafeteria salads all week and want to sin a little.
Have you got the budget figures for Cuddy yet? If you haven't got them in yet, bring them with you. I can work on them this weekend. I was planning on going condo hunting with Bonnie, but she has the flu, so I'll have some free time.
Roy snorted. Wasn't it just like Jimmy? His own wife had the flu, but rather than look after her, he preferred to spend his time doing another doctor's paperwork. Dr. House was probably Jimmy's boss. Even as a kid, his baby brother had been a suck-up. Maybe he hoped to get Dr. House's job after he died of cancer.
Because Roy had dropped out of high school and spent most of his life living on the streets or in prison, people assumed he was stupid. Before he had become addicted to drugs, Roy had been an honour student with a bright future. Everyone had predicted scholarships to Ivy League schools, and a brilliant career. He had been his family's pride and joy, and Jimmy and Mike had worshipped him. Everyone had known he was the best of the Wilson boys. Mike and Jimmy got good grades, but his were excellent. He'd been the star of the high-school baseball team, while Mike and Jimmy hadn't even been picked. Girls fawned over him, while they were tongue-tied and awkward. He was the best of them, but now he was a lonely ex-con while they had successful careers and happy marriages. Life had been hard on him. No, that wasn't quite right – his family had been hard on him.
When Roy had developed his addiction, they had given up on him. It was their fault. The process by which they had withdrawn their love and support had been slow and cruel. The first step had been when his parents had told him he would have to either go to rehab or leave the family home. Roy had heard about the rehab centre his parents chose. His friends told him that it was a snake pit run by sadists. The orderlies laughed while the patients sweated and vomited. One of his friends knew a guy who'd had a seizure from withdrawal and swallowed his tongue. He'd died. Roy decided that living on the streets was better than rehab. A couple of his friends had an apartment in a low-rent area. Roy gave them as much money as he could spare for rent, and slept on the couch.
His parents refused to visit him in his apartment, but they would still phone. Roy usually got into a shouting match with his father, but his mother would cry and urge him to come back home. Mike and then Jimmy went off to university. Mike didn't have any contact with Roy after he left home, but Jimmy sent him letters and tried to phone. Roy usually hung up on him. Once Jimmy came by to the apartment when he was back home for winter break. Roy was passed out in the closet, and didn't remember the visit at all. Jimmy, the condescending bastard, had brought Roy a bag of groceries as if Roy were incapable of getting his own food. Roy had wanted to throw that food out, but his friends had objected. They wanted it even if he didn't and Roy hadn't made a contribution toward the rent in two months. He'd felt humiliated by his little brother's charity. His so-called friends had kicked him out of the apartment a few weeks later, and he'd ended up on the streets.
He'd seen Jimmy just once since then. Roy had been living in a skid-row hotel in New York. He'd run into an old acquaintance from high school who told him that Jimmy was working at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital as an oncologist. Roy had phoned him up at work. Jimmy had actually sounded pleased to hear from him, and had agreed to meet him at a restaurant in Jimmy's neighbourhood one Saturday.
Jimmy had insisted on buying Roy a big meal, even though Roy couldn't remember the last time he'd had an appetite for food. He'd picked at the meal, and ordered a whiskey. Jimmy ordered a beer.
"I hear you're working over at PPTH," he said. "You've made a real success of your life. Simon Rosenthal told me you got married. Didn't invite me to the wedding, but that's okay. What's her name, Michelle?"
Jimmy blushed. "I didn't invite anyone really. We eloped. It was a big mistake. I wasn't ready. We broke up."
"A mistake, huh. I guess anyone can make a mistake, even you."
"Yeah. I'm married to someone else now. Her name's Bonnie. We're hoping for kids. You seeing anyone?"
"I see people all the time, but no one sees me. I'm living on the streets. We street people are invisible you know. We walk right up to people, ask 'em for help, and they don't answer. We must be inaudible, too."
"If you need some help," Jimmy said, "one of the nurses was telling me about a place she went to when was using amphetamines. She said it's really good. You can see how much happier she is, since she came back. "
"Someplace like that sounds a little out of my price range."
"I'd pay for it, of course."
Roy put a tiny portion of mashed potato on his fork and started lifting it to his mouth. He stopped when he noticed his hand was shaking.
"There are better ways for you to help me."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm an experienced drug user," Roy said. "User not abuser. I know just how much to take to keep myself functional. The drugs themselves aren't a problem. What's hurting me is that they're expensive and illegal. I have to go to dealers to get the drugs I need, and they lace them with impurities and poisons which are destroying my health. I have to turn to crime because the dealers charge so much that no nine-to-five job could pay for them. You could solve my real problem."
"I'm not giving you drugs," Jimmy said flatly.
"If you really wanted to help me, you would. You know what separates a do-gooder from someone who actually helps? A do-gooder decides what your problem is and what the solution is, all by himself. Someone who helps listens to you when you tell him what you need and then he gives it to you. That's the difference."
"That's not someone who helps, that's an enabler."
"Oh, has little Jimmy been to therapy? Spare me the psychobabble. I want another whiskey."
"You've barely touched your food, and who knows what other drugs you're mixing with alcohol," Jimmy snapped. "Have a Coca Cola or something."
"You expect me to eat this stuff. It tastes like shit. I need whiskey to wash the taste out of my mouth. Waitress! I need a whiskey and my brother needs a large stick removed from his ass! And a slice of pie. Blueberry, that's your favourite, isn't it?"
"No, blueberry was Mike's favourite. I like apple."
"Apple pie. The golden boy likes apple pie. How could I forget that? It's so predictable. Make that apple, " he called out to the waitress.
"Listen," Jimmy said earnestly. "This place I was talking about, it's called Newspring. It's not too far away. I could drive you there tonight. You deserve better than the life you're living now, Roy; you really do. You're better than this. You can be the brother I idolized when I was a kid. He's still in there. Please, Roy, give this place a chance. "
"You think this is a new idea? You think I haven't tried rehab before? It's torture; that's what it is. If you were a good brother, you'd give up on this rehab idea and give me the kind of help I really need. All I need is something to keep me going. It's so easy for you."
"I can't. You know I can't. I'd lose my license."
"I should have known," Roy said bitterly. "Self-interest always comes first with you. I'm leaving."
"Don't go yet," Jimmy said.
Roy cursed at him, got to his feet, swaying slightly, and headed for the door. That was the last time he saw his brother.
House refused to talk to Tritter and insisted on making his statement to another officer. Tritter agreed to let another policeman take House's statement, but he didn't leave the room. He was silent and his expression was bland and innocuous, but House knew that he was listening to every word that he said, hoping for information that could be used against him.
"Where's Steve McQueen?"
"Steve McQueen is my rat. Is he still in his cage?"
"I didn't see a rat, but I'll tell the men to look out for him. He's a rat; he knows how to survive. Now, tell us where you were when this incident occurred."
"I was in San Francisco at a medical conference. I was going to be on one of the panels today, but I guess they found someone else to fill in."
"Who knew that you were attending this conference?"
"There was a list of presenters published before hand. Everyone who was planning to attend the conference got it. It was listed on the webpage as well. So all the people in the world who have Internet access and can read English could find out that I was going to be in San Francisco."
"My colleague didn't ask who could find out. He asked who knew," Tritter said.
"Cuddy, Wilson, Cameron, Chase and Foreman. Cuddy's assistant. Any of the nurses that Wilson has flirted with in the past week. The night janitor who wears his pants backward. The cafeteria ladies. My motorcycle mechanic. All the good people at United Airlines and the staff of the San Francisco Hilton. The cab driver who drove me to the airport."
"Do you know of any people who wish you harm?" the other police officer said.
"Yes, I do. Tritter, for one."
"Okay, I'll put him on the list, but I think he has a pretty good alibi. Anyone else?"
"The guy who shot me. Moriarty. You never caught him."
"None of Wilson's ex-wives like me very much. Foreman keeps telling me I'm trying to corrupt him and turn him into an evil zombie version of myself. Cuddy said she'd skin me alive if I didn't get the budget figures in on time, but I was a month and a half late and I still have my skin. That woman who was poisoning her husband, is she in jail?"
"She's out on bail, awaiting trial. We'll be talking to her."
"You don't think this threat is serious, do you?"
"We have to take this sort of things seriously, especially since you've been attacked before. Do you have any place where you can stay for a while?"
"I was thinking of asking Cuddy to put me up."
Tritter's voice was low and friendly. "Dr. House doesn't mind inconveniencing his friends or putting them in harm's way. "
"If you think whoever did this is really dangerous, I could stay in a hotel."
"Dr. Wilson is at the Princeton Sleep Inn. It's quite comfortable there."
"How do you know where he is?" House snapped.
"I keep an eye on Dr. Wilson," said Tritter. "He might need my help one day. I haven't forgotten him."
"If you want to come after me, do it. Leave Wilson out of it."
"I don't think Wilson has anything to do with this particular incident," Tritter acknowledged. "I think this is all about you and the way you treat people. Now, someone is after you, and I can't say that I'm surprised."
Roy looked at the other messages but didn't find anything else from Jimmy. He went to the PPTH website. James Wilson was listed as Head of the Oncology Department. Dr. Gregory House was Head of Diagnostic Medicine. Was Head of Diagnostic Medicine a more prestigious job than Head of Oncology? Cameron was another doctor in the Department of Diagnostic Medicine and Cuddy was Head of Medicine. Jimmys friends and colleagues. How could he use them? James had the life that Roy deserved. How could he take it away from him? He decided to start with Bonnie. He went to Google and typed "Bonnie Wilson" Princeton. The first result was for a real estate company
Roy called the cell phone number listed on the website. He pretended to be interested in purchasing a condo and made an appointment to see Bonnie Wilson at ten o'clock the next day. He wasn't sure what to do after that. He'd had to do some unpleasant things to survive life in prison and on the streets, but Roy didn't consider himself a violent or unreasonable man. How much did he want to hurt his brother? How much pain did Jimmy deserve for abandoning him?
Wilson and House were in Wilson's hotel room. They were watching an old episode of Seinfeld on Wilson's t.v. House was sprawled the bed, and Wilson had taken the chair. He'd moved it next to the bed, and was resting his sock-clad feet on the bed. He'd made microwave popcorn, but only had a mouthful before House appropriated the bag.
"Don't get any salt under the covers," Wilson ordered.
House rubbed his salted, buttery fingers on the bedspread, just to irritate him. Wilson threw a box of tissues at his head.
"Use these for God's sake."
"A civilized person would have napkins," House complained. "These disintegrate when you get butter on them."
"I'm more civilized than you. I have microwave popcorn and cable. I have a desk and a plug-in for my computer. You have a view of the dumpster."
"It was the only room left. Stupid Class of 1997 reunion. I thought you were going to get me a nice room."
"And I thought you were going to Cuddy's house. She wouldn't let you stay with her?"
"I didn't ask. I had second thoughts. There's a full moon tonight, and I'm really not into claws, teeth and fur."
"Okay. What about Chase, Cameron or Foreman?"
"It's not really a good idea to associate too closely with underlings. Gives them delusions of adequacy."
"You're not trying to protect them, are you?" Wilson asked. "You don't think you're really in danger?"
"No, Tritter was just trying to scare me. It was mindless vandalism."
"What did the message say?"
"Die in pain."
"Not just die, but die in pain?"
"Oddly specific," Wilson said. "Why in pain?"
"I suppose whoever wrote it doesn't like me very much," House said," or maybe he just hates everybody."
"And it was written in food."
"Chilli and leftover Chinese takeaway."
"I thought it was more usual to write in blood or excrement."
"This was bad enough. There were flies everywhere. The walls are going to have to be repainted, and he wiped his hands all over the sofa. Fortunately, he didn't get at the piano, but some of the furniture is going to have to be replaced. I already called my insurance company."
"It's just weird."
Wilson's voice was slurred. It was long past midnight and he was half asleep but too polite to tell his friend to leave. House didn't really want to be alone. He wanted to keep Wilson up all night just to keep him company, but Tritter's sly comment insisted on its insinuating its way into his mind , "Dr. House doesn't mind inconveniencing his friends or putting them in harm's way."
"I have to be up early," he said, awkwardly climbing out of bed. Wilson took the almost empty bag of popcorn from him and passed him his cane. "See you tomorrow."
"Night," said Wilson.