Jake "House Of" Blues stopped short as he walked out of the main entrance to Mayfield and glared at the vehicle parked across the street.
"Where's the bike?" he asked.
"The what?" Elwood "Wandering Eye Wilson" Blues asked.
"The bike," House repeated. "The Honda? The Bluesmobile?"
"You expected me to pick you up on the bike?" Wilson shook his head. "Besides, I traded it."
"For an ambulance?"
"No, for a pediatric MRI. I picked this up for a song at the City of Glendale Heights auction."
"Five months I'm stuck in this joint, playing nice with the head shrinkers to get them to write me a psych leave from Joliet, and you pick me up in an ambulance?"
"It's got a 500-horsepower ambulance engine. It's got enough room in the back to haul your piano. It's got ambulance shocks. It's got flashing lights and it's got a siren." Wilson floored it before House had even closed his door.
"Nice pickup," House said. "Where are we going?"
"To see the Golem."
They didn't notice the sedan following them, or the young blonde woman at the wheel who copied every turn they made on the run down to South Side hospital. Wilson parked in front of the abandoned emergency entrance. The blonde parked in the shade and lit a cigarette, tossing the match carelessly into the back seat with the explosives and missile launcher.
House and Wilson made their way through the empty hallways, ignored the elevator -- which hadn't worked since House was sixteen years old and Wilson was ten -- and made for the stairs. There were faint voices coming from the interns' locker room, and the sounds of a squeaking wheelchair in orthopedics. They crossed from the hospital into the empty rooms that had once been the boy's dormitory, back before the city shut down the orphanage at the Princeton-Plainsboro United Temple Beth-El Teaching Hospital and Workhouse.
House raised his hand to knock, but the door to Cuddy's office flew open before he'd even touched it.
"So," said Cuddy, "they let you out."
"Looks like," House said. He took a seat on the far side of the room. Wilson took a chair next to Cuddy's desk.
Cuddy gestured him closer. House merely stretched out his legs. "I'm close enough," he said.
Cuddy crossed her arms over her chest, blocking House's view of the C cups of kosher administrative goodness. She stared at him.
Wilson looked from House to Cuddy and back again, then leaned toward House. "You want to leave, you'll have to do what she wants," he whispered.
House scooted forward three inches.
"It's about the clinic," Cuddy finally said.
House headed for the door. "I'm out of here."
"Stop!" Cuddy yelled, and the door slammed shut in front of his face.
House blinked at it, then turned around. "Impressive." He looked up at the ceiling tiles. "You got some wires rigged up under there?"
House sat without thinking about it.
"Come closer!" The chair flew forward, stopping just shy of her desk.
"Maybe magnets," House said, looking for hidden tracks in the linoleum floor. "Powerful ones, rare earth magnets."
House opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He glanced over at Wilson, who only raised his eyebrows.
"The clinic," Cuddy repeated. "Last week, I got an injunction from the city. They're claiming we owe $250,000 in fines."
"For what?" Wilson asked.
Cuddy waved her hand. "Something about some claim that we have poor security," she said. "Nothing major."
House rubbed the fading bullet scar on his neck. She ignored him.
"What's important is that they told us that we have to pay up by the end of the week or they'll shut us down. We can't let them do that." Cuddy eyed House. "You," she said, "can't let them do that. The clinic is the only thing we've still got going for us here. It's the only place the people in this neighborhood have. Now I know you boys love this place ..."
House tried to snort, but found himself coughing instead.
Cuddy smiled slightly. " ... so I know you'll be happy to find a way to come up the cash we need."
"You want us to rob a bank?" House's voice worked this time. "That's how I ended up at Mayfield last time."
"No banks," Cuddy said. "I'm tired of doing penance to make up for all those lies I'm forced to tell on the witness stand."
"You're Jewish," Wilson pointed out.
"It's a saying," Cuddy replied. She leaned forward, put one hand on each of their knees. "Now what do you say, boys, you going to help us out?"
House didn't remember nodding. All he remembered was the low cut of her sweater and the view of two perfect mounds of flesh straining against lace, and thinking how long he'd been at Mayfield, where the most interesting view had been the jello they served for lunch on Saturday.
Next thing he knew he was sitting on the battered sofa next to Wilson in the janitor's closet in the basement.
"She got you, didn't she?" Weird Night was grinning at him. "The Golem gets you every time."
"She did not 'get me,'" House said.
"Oh, she got you." Wilson cracked open a beer from Weird Night's refrigerator and handed it to House. He lounged back in his usual chair, the one that had been his favorite since he was a kid, back when the Blues brothers were among the last residents of the workhouse, and Weird Night had taught them everything he knew about picking locks by having them practice on all the empty offices in the south wing.
Weird Night had taught them everything that was important, except why it was he wore his pants backwards. That remained his own mystery.
"She got you and now you're going to help us out." Weird Night grinned, his mouth showing the gap in his teeth on his lower jaw. "I know you don't care about the Golem, but it'll mean the world to me. I'm an old man, and I don't know where else I could go."
House wanted to say no, to walk away.
"We've got to do it," Wilson said. "You promised the Golem."
"I've made a lot of promises to her," House pointed out. "How many have I kept?"
"Including this one?" Wilson asked.
"None," House answered for him. "And I'm not starting now."
"But what about me?" Weird Night asked.
"Learn to wear your pants the right way around, and maybe someone else will hire you," House said. "I've got better things to do."
"Like what?" Weird Night asked.
House didn't answer. He turned his back on Weird Night and Wilson and stared out the window. The neighborhood beyond the glass was the gray of broken concrete and worn-down housing projects where families lived one on top of the other in high rises, and neither the elevators nor the residents ever seemed to work for long.
It was all he'd ever known -- this place and a series of reform schools or jail cells where he'd set up residence until they eventually kicked him out. It wasn't much, but it was home.
Cuddy was an idiot to ever think the crappy clinic could do anything for the people here. Nothing ever helped. Nothing ever would. Why should he give a crap if no one else ever did?
Weird Night was telling the story again about the first time he caught House, back when House was just a kid, trying to break into the pharmacy. He always liked to claim that he'd stopped House from a life of crime. Wilson always liked to say something at this point that all Weird Night had done was focus House's criminal mind, but he was silent this time. House caught Wilson's reflection in the glass, and saw him studying House before he looked down and finished off his beer instead.
If it were up to Wilson, they'd be knocking on doors for donations, but it wasn't. He always let House make plans for both of them, whenever House was around, which hadn't been often the past few years. Probably the only reason Wilson hooked up with the Cutthroat Bitch was because she told him what to do -- just like House did.
House headed for the door. "Come on," he said. "I've got better things to do than hang out here."
Wilson shrugged as he followed House out of the room and up the stairs. The sun was setting, and House squinted out at the horizon, not noticing the sedan silhouetted against the sky. The driver inside raised her binoculars and watched House walk around to the front of the ambulance, his shadow nearly as dark as the midnight blue suit both he and Wilson wore. House had a different cane than the last time she'd seen him, but he still had that familiar swagger to his lopsided walk -- the one she'd first noticed when he'd walked into the room.
The ambulance engine roared to life and the blonde turned the ignition of her own car, waiting until the ambulance had turned out onto the main road before she slipped the car into first gear.
Wilson drove as far as stop lights two blocks down the road before he turned to House. "So where are we going?"
"Don't you know?"
"Since you didn't tell me, that's going to be a no."
House waited for Wilson to speak up, to tell him what he wanted. Maybe, House thought, he should just ask Wilson what he wanted. Or maybe he should just do it for him.
House stared out the window. "Like the Golem said, we're going to go make some money. A quarter of a million."
"I guess I made a promise, didn't I?"
Wilson stared at him.
The lights changed, but the ambulance didn't move. "Green light," House said.
Wilson didn't do anything but narrow his eyes and study House.
House nodded toward the intersection. "Green means go."
"You're up to something."
"You never do whatever Cuddy asks, unless there's something in it for you."
"Two somethings. Each one fits in a C cup."
Someone honked a horn behind them, but Wilson still didn't move forward.
"I'm turning over a new leaf," House said. "All that talk therapy at Mayfield really got through to me."
Wilson shook his head. "That's not it."
"Doesn't matter," House said. He looked away but could still feel Wilson's eyes on him. "Just drive, will you?"
Wilson finally hit the gas just as the light turned red. They'd barely made it through the intersection when House heard the siren behind them.
"Oh geez, I'm not even out a day, and you've got the cops after us?"
Wilson sped up, then blew through a stop sign as another cop car peeled in behind him. "Why did you agree to get the money for Cuddy?" he asked.
"Just let them give you a damn ticket, will you?" House held onto the dashboard as Wilson made a hard left turn. "I'll pay for it."
"It's a game of some kind," Wilson said. "I can't just figure out what." He turned into an alley. "And I can't afford another ticket. Tritter already got some judge to yank my license for review."
"And racking up six more tickets is going to change things?" House asked.
"All I have to do is get out of sight."
"It's an ambulance. It doesn't exactly blend in."
"Sure it does, if you know the right places."
Wilson made another sharp left and stepped on the gas as a large red brick warehouse came into sight. A truck was just pulling away from the loading dock and Wilson headed for the open door. House barely caught the sign as Wilson raced up the ramp. "Vogler Medical Supply Co." Wilson spun the wheel and the ambulance squeezed between two stacks of boxes filled with hypodermic needles. House watched in the mirror as one of the cop cars behind them cut the turn wide, and sent the hypos flying. He heard the bursting tires as the second car hit the needles.
"The question is, if it's a game, what's in it for you if you win?" Wilson kept his eyes out in front of the ambulance, making a last minute turn behind a pyramid of bedpans, but House knew that mentally Wilson still had him under the microscope.
"First prize is that you shut up," House grumbled. He looked out the side window. "Hey, forceps are on sale."
"They're even cheaper if you buy them by the dozen."
The remaining cop car was coming closer, its smaller frame able to take sharper turns, but Wilson seemed to know the layout better. He came to a squealing stop behind the CAT scan machines and waited for the cop to pass, then backed out slowly. He looked down the aisle where the cop had gone, then headed in the opposite direction.
House stared out the window as Wilson spun past the surgical linens, then turned around and looked into the back of the ambulance. It was nearly empty -- just an old oxygen canister and a defibrillator that had seen better days.
"Pull over," he said. "I've got an idea."
It was dark by the time the ambulance eased out of the warehouse and into the neighborhood. The cops were long gone, but Wilson stuck to the side streets as he headed north -- past Chinatown and the lofts of the old printer's district and finally into a rundown neighborhood where only one streetlight out of a dozen was still working. He found an empty spot on the street under the elevated train and parked.
House double checked the locks on all the ambulance doors. As he followed Wilson across the street he thought he saw something moving out in the darkness. He stopped and looked down the street, but then shrugged his shoulders and continued on, walking through the door that Wilson held open for him.
The blonde in the sedan released her grip on the steering wheel. She picked up the matte black, semi-automatic 45 caliber handgun from the seat beside her and tested its weight by pointing it at the building on the other side of the street.
An old man sat in the narrow doorway, blocking both Wilson and House. The guy's hands shook as he crossed his arms over his chest. The DTs, House thought, or Parkinson's. Judging by the body odor and the empty bottle stashed on the floor beside him he'd go with the DTs.
"Got my cheese?" the guy asked.
"They were out of Stilton," Wilson said. "I had to substitute with Maytag Bleu."
Wilson tossed him a wedge of cheese he dug out from his coat pocket and the guy moved aside let them pass.
"Someone was looking for you," the guy said. "Cops. They said you'd have company."
Wilson led the way up the stairs. "Not company, just family," he said.
The place looked just as House expected it. Wilson's extra suit was hanging in a dry cleaning bag, his favorite mug was upside down on a drying rack beside the sink, while another mug sat on the table where he knew she'd placed it the last time she'd been there.
"You ever going to throw that out?" he asked.
"It doesn't bug me," Wilson said.
"It bugs me," House said. "It creeps me out." He ignored it and dropped himself onto one of only three chairs in the place. He remembered when the three of them had filled all the chairs, back before the bitch decided to replace Wilson on a simple bank job, and it had all gone wrong.
Wilson opened the cupboard and took out a bottle of Irish whiskey. "So about this plan ..." he started.
"First things first. We've got to get the team back together."
House rolled his eyes. "Because we need them to make the plan work."
"And the plan is ..." Wilson started again.
"I'll wait until we're all back together so I only have to explain it once."
Wilson poured himself a shot, downed it, then poured another one in his glass and handed the bottle and another glass to House.
"So where are they?" House asked.
"You don't know?" House asked.
"I've got some ideas. I can track them down."
"You better," House said. "I ask you to do one thing for me while I'm gone, and you can't even do that."
"Don't worry," Wilson said. "I'll find them."
House crossed the room and flopped down on the single bed over in the corner of the room.
"Hey, that's my bed," Wilson said, but House was already snoring.
The sun was just rising as the blonde aimed the bazooka. It had taken her most of the night to assemble it, working in the dark. But now it was ready. She held her breath, pointed it square at the center of the building. A cloud floated out of the way, and the full force of the morning sun bounced off the glass back at her. Her eyes watered and she couldn't focus. She forced herself to look away, to blink.
When she looked back, the shade had been rolled up in the apartment window. She could see the vacant room where Wilson had been slumped up against the wall all night, and she realized that the ambulance was gone. She swore under her breath and lowered the gun.
"You're not serious." House stared at Wilson as he pulled up in front of Mercy Hospital.
Wilson nodded and got out of the ambulance.
"They could have gone anyplace, and ended up here?"
"Cameron said something about not wanting to sell the condo in a crappy market."
"And where Cameron goes, so goes Chase, but Foreman?"
Wilson shrugged and led the way across the road and through the front door. He bypassed the lobby desk, just nodding at the security guard who let them pass without identification.
"And they say Princeton-Plainsboro has crappy security," House mumbled.
The elevators worked here, whisking them both up to the seventh floor lounge. Wilson must have called them sometime during the night, because Chase, Cameron and Foreman were all sitting around one table, watching as they walked through the door.
House didn't waste any time. "I'm getting the team back together."
Chase raised his eyebrows, and Cameron actually smiled, but Foreman frowned. "Who says we want to be back together?" he asked. "Especially working for you. You took off on us without a word. Cuddy shut down the department and left us hanging. You screwed us over one too many times."
"That wasn't his fault," Wilson said.
"I don't care," Foreman said. He leaned back in the chair, separating himself from House. But, House noticed, he hadn't actually walked away yet. He was still listening.
"Yes you do," House said. "You care because you hate this place, with its pitiful suburban housewives who keep bringing you their snot-nosed kids."
"It's a steady job," Chase said. "It's reliable."
"Unlike you," Foreman added.
"Reliable, and boring." This time House took a step closer to Foreman, moving in next to Cameron. Cameron would be easy to sway, he thought. Tell her something about people needing help, and she'd be there in a second.
"Mercy's got the largest staff in the state, and patients who can afford to go anywhere they want, anytime. The people at Princeton-Plainsboro have no one."
He saw Cameron nod slightly and knew he had her.
"And who wants to be stuck specializing in just one type of surgery? How many appendixes have you taken out in the past couple of months, twenty?"
"Twenty-five," Chase said.
"So no brain surgeries? No bone marrow transplants?"
Chase glanced over at Cameron.
"I'll bet you haven't done a single exploratory surgery since you got here. It's all cut and dried. Operating by numbers."
House didn't need to see Chase nod to know he had him. He focused on Foreman. "And are you really going to be happy diagnosing whether it's a flu or a cold?" He was standing right next to Foreman now, close enough that Foreman couldn't ignore him. "When's the last time you had a good case of tick paralysis? Or paraneoplastic syndrome."
"I'm not like you," Foreman said. "I'm in medicine to help people, not to get my rocks off."
House let loose one ironic laugh.
"Besides, we've all got contracts here."
"Every contract has an escape clause that can be used for a good reason," Wilson said. He stood next to House. "And we've got a good reason."
"Which is?" Cameron asked.
Wilson put his hands on his hips. "We're on a mission from God."
"I don't believe in God," House said.
"OK then, we're on a mission from Cuddy."
"Pfft. Like I'd do anything for her."
"OK then, why are we doing this?"
House grinned. "Because it's going to be fun."
Cameron, Chase and Foreman looked at each other. They didn't say a word, just nodded.
"So," House said, "where's everyone else?"
"No Thai, how may I help you?" Remy answered the phone with the same phrase she used every day. "No sir, we're a restaurant, not a sex shop." She listened for a moment. "Yes, sir, I understand that the word Thai is a homophone that could be used in another context, but that's not the case this time." She sighed. "No sir, I'm not calling you a homophobe. I said homophone." The lunch crowd would be picking up soon. She needed to get off the phone. "Yes, sir, I'm sure."
She hung up just in time to see a familiar silhouette on the other side of the door. Tall, slender and leaning to the right. House came through the door a moment longer, Wilson following him like a shadow in his dark blue suit. Neither of them took off their sunglasses despite the dim lights in the entry.
"I quit," she said, before House could say anything.
"You told the hospital you were quitting," he said. "You never told me."
"Fine," she said. "I quit."
She looked away from him to read the lunch reservation list.
"I don't accept your resignation."
"I don't care."
"We've got a job," Wilson said. "We need you, Thirteen."
Remy shook her head. No one had called her Thirteen for months. "I've got a job."
"A lousy one," House said. "Receptionist?'
"Maitre' D," she corrected him.
"Whatever. Think this is going to make you happy for the rest of your life?"
The phone rang and she picked it up. "No Thai," she said. "How may I help you?" She nodded. "Warner, party of two for 9 p.m. Friday, yes, we have an opening. We'll see you then."
She marked the reservation in the book, then turned to House.
"I don't exactly need long-term life plans, remember?" She looked back up at him. "I've got good hours here, I get good food for free, I've got insurance, and no one's trying to screw with my head."
House leaned down onto the podium to look her in the eye. "And since you don't have much time, why not go out with a bang? Think anyone's going to remember you after you die for seating them promptly? I'll bet they don't even remember to tip you."
Remy turned around and looked at the half-filled dining room, then at the names on her list. She recognized most of them, but doubted any of them remembered her name. The only time they spoke to her at all, they called her "Miss," or "Excuse Me." At least when people called her Thirteen they all knew who they were talking to.
The phone rang again. And again. Thirteen tossed down her pen and stepped back from the podium. "What did you have in mind?"
Thirteen climbed into the back of the van with Cameron and Chase, leaving the front passenger seat next to Foreman open. House tilted his head slightly at the arrangements, but didn't say anything.
"Where next?" he asked.
"Clinic over on 16th," Cameron said. "Taub's wife sold the Porsche she'd bought him to set up a private plastic surgery practice where she could keep her eye on him." She paused for a moment. "And he took Kutner with him."
"Wait," Wilson said, "Kutner?"
"But he's ...."
"Taub doesn't seem to mind," Foreman said, "and Kutner doesn't seem to notice."
"Kutner hasn't noticed that he's dead?"
"You know how he was. He never wanted to believe bad news about anything."
"But," Wilson repeated, "he's dead."
"Everything going on around here, and it's the zombie that bothers you?" House asked.
Wilson nodded. "Well, yeah. He's dead."
"We've established that," House said.
"Doesn't matter because you'll never get Taub," Chase said. "Rachel will never let him go."
"Wanna bet?" House asked.
Foreman led the way to the clinic, the ambulance gliding along behind the van. Half a block back, a dark sedan pulled into line behind them. The blonde behind the wheel was smiling for the first time in days.
There were a half-dozen patients in the waiting room. House nudged Wilson and nodded toward a brunette with a crooked nose and breasts no bigger than mosquito bites.
"Think he's offering a two-for-one special?" he asked.
Wilson ignored him and went up to the reception desk. House recognized the woman from the photo he'd seen in Taub's wallet when he'd gone through it looking for lunch money.
"Is the doctor in?" Wilson asked. "We'd like to have a consultation."
She glanced at the closed door leading from the waiting room. "He's busy," she said. She handed over a clipboard. "Why don't you fill out these forms and give me your insurance information."
Wilson shook his head. "No insurance," he said. "Cash."
"Cash?" Rachel repeated.
House nodded. "Just tell him it's Osama."
"He'll know who it is."
"Why not just give me your real names? Wouldn't that be easier?"
"Easier," House said, "but not as much fun."
Rachel didn't look convinced, but went through the door. House and Wilson turned around, both leaning against the desk and staring out at the room. They heard the door open a moment later.
"House?" Taub asked. "They let you out?"
"No, I escaped."
"You escaped?" Kutner was standing in the doorway, staring at them.
"No, you idiot." House shook his head. "He hasn't gotten any smarter in the past few months, has he?"
"I think it's the brain cells dying off," Taub said. "My working hypothesis is that zombies eat brains to replace the brain cells that have died."
"So why hasn't he --" House started.
"He keeps saying he isn't hungry," Taub said.
"So why keep him around?" Wilson asked.
"He seems to be enjoying himself, and since he doesn't sleep, he doesn't mind doing the paperwork all night," Taub shrugged. "Turns out that zombies are very cost effective." He turned his back on Kutner. "So, what are you two doing here?"
"We're putting the team back together. We've got a job."
"No you don't," Rachel said. "You're not taking him anywhere. I've put too much time and money into getting this place a decent reputation. We're finally turning a profit."
"Would it help if I told you that this is for a very good cause?" House asked.
She crossed her arms over her chest.
"We're on a mission from God," Wilson added.
She laughed. So did House.
"Look," House said, "I'm not asking you to do this for me."
"But you'll benefit," Taub pointed out.
"That's beside the point." House turned his attention on Rachel. Get her on his side -- or at least wear her down -- and he could have Taub. "We're going to be seeing the kind of patients who spend money on anything -- the kind of patients every plastic surgery practice in the country covets."
"What kind of patients?" she asked.
"I can't tell you that. Not yet," House said. He gave her a smile, the same one that had worked on Stacy the first time he asked her out. "All I can tell you is, it'll be worth it." He saw her eyes widen, saw the first crack in her armor. "Just let me have him for six days. That's all."
"Six," he said. "Seven at the most. And in return, you'll get a rolodex list of names that would make Doc Hollywood jealous."
"I guess I could clear some time off his calendar," she said.
House didn't wait for her to change her mind. He took Taub by the arm and led him away.
"Seven days," he said. "I promise."
"Six," Rachel called after him. She saw Kutner still lingering by the desk. "You too," she said. "And you better be back here in six days, or I'm digging up someone new."
House directed Wilson toward the stretch of vacant buildings on Baker, then had him stop in front of one in the middle of the street. He got out and waited for the van, then led everyone up the steps and through the door.
The place looked abandoned from the outside, but inside someone had cleaned. The tile floors glistened. Down the hallway and into the first room on the right there was a bed and a couple of chairs. Through another door, and there was a deep sink and piles of surgical soap packs. There were gowns piled on a shelf. Beyond that, an operating room. Spotless.
Weird Night stood in the middle of the room.
"Good job," House said. "The other rooms ready?"
"Almost," Weird Night said. "They'll be ready when you are."
The team looked at each other. It was finally Chase who spoke up. "What's going on?"
"Simple math. We need to raise some money, and you know who has money? Rich people."
Foreman's head tilted to one side. "Still not following you," he said.
"What rich people don't have -- or at least some rich people -- is perfect health. Kidney failure doesn't just affect the poor, you know." House wandered further into the middle of the room until he was under the full glare of the operating lamps. "And all those martinis aren't good for the liver. Know what else is bad for the liver? Cocaine."
He looked at the scalpel kit still in its sterilized bag. "So here you are with all this money, and you're dying -- just because your organs are failing. What are you going to do?"
"Go on a waiting list, like everyone else," Thirteen said.
"Ah, but the rich hate waiting. It makes them seem so," House paused for effect, "common."
"Are you saying we're going to run a black market transplant center?" Cameron asked. "That's insane."
"And illegal," Foreman added.
"Illegal and insane," Taub said.
"Cool," Kutner said.
"What's insane about giving people what they want?" House asked.
Wilson didn't say anything. He and Weird Night stood in the shadows, waiting to see if House could pull this off.
"He is crazy, right?" Weird Night asked.
"So we've got some guys walking around who need kidneys, and we also have people walking around with two perfectly good kidneys -- one more than they need -- and it turns out that the one thing they don't have is money," House said. "We're simply providing a service that the marketplace hasn't filled."
"Just kidneys?" Chase asked.
"Livers too," House said. "Live donors who can afford to give up half."
"But just kidneys and livers?"
"I thought about hearts, but not everyone enjoys being undead like Kutner does."
"Where are we getting the equipment from?" Foreman asked. "The meds? The ..."
"We've got the ambulance filled to the brim," House said. "What we don't have there, we can grab from some of the empty wings at Princeton-Plainsboro. The Golem will never notice."
"Sounds interesting -- exciting even," Thirteen said. "It's all very 'you,' but I hate to point out that it's still illegal."
House closed the gap between them in three steps. "And who's going to turn us in, the guys buying black market kidneys? That would be interesting."
Thirteen looked at Foreman and shrugged. "What the hell," she said. "Beats the Saturday night rush." She crossed over to House's side.
"And I get to keep a copy of all the contact names?" Taub asked.
"Absolutely. After all, they'll need a good plastic surgeon when this is over to hide their scars."
Taub crossed to House's side, followed by Kutner.
Chase took a deep breath. He looked at Cameron, then took a place to House's right. Cameron shook her head, but followed him.
"Well?" House asked.
Foreman crossed his arms. "You're crazy."
Foreman threw his hands in the air, and walked over to House. "So," he said, "where do we start?"
Taub and Chase took charge of getting the operating rooms ready, with Weird Night tracking down all the supplies they needed. Foreman and Cameron set up the lab, ready to run tests on every patient walking through the door. Kutner and Thirteen handled ...
"Procurement," House said.
"Procurement of what, exactly?" Kutner asked.
"Donors, I'm guessing," Thirteen said. "Why us?"
"Because you," House said, looking at Thirteen, "have a history of being able to get people into bed. We could think of this as just a different kind of bed."
"And what about me?" Kutner asked.
"You're," House said. "You're ..."
"Backup," Thirteen said.
"Cool." Kutner held up a stack of photocopied papers, each promising big pay for volunteers for "medical trials." "Dibs on the stapler," he said.
Wilson worked the phone, following up with contacts he'd made back when he sat on the transplant committee.
"Three livers, five kidneys," he said, and handed Thirteen a printout with the blood types and antibody details. "We need them by Thursday."
She took it and walked out, Kutner tailing her, his staple gun held ready in his right hand.
"That's $90,000 in profit -- even considering the payout to your volunteer donors," Wilson said.
"That's not even half of what we need," House said.
"It'll happen. After all we're on a mission from ..."
"Don't say it."
Wilson tossed his pen onto the desk and pushed the porkpie hat back on his head, a lock of his hair falling loose onto his forehead. "So seriously," he said, "why are you doing it?"
"To annoy you."
House sat across from Wilson, swung his legs up onto the desk.
"Why can't you just admit it? Just once?" Wilson asked.
"Fine. When I wasn't selling off my meds to the other loonies at Mayfield, I was having a hot affair with my roommate. Jealous?"
"No one's going to think less of you just because you do something nice every once in a while."
"Nice is boring." House leveled his cane at Wilson. "I am not nice."
"I won't tell anyone."
"Yes, you will. You'll run off to Cameron and make her all googly eyed again." He shifted his legs onto the floor and sat up, staring into Wilson's eyes. "I," he said, "Am. Not. Nice."
He picked up the phone and handed it to Wilson. "Now call some more idiots and tell them we'll save their lives."
The blonde hadn't seen the ambulance in two days, and was beginning to think that he'd gotten away again, slipped away during those five minutes she fell asleep. When she spotted the woman and man walking along one of the nearby streets, she tailed them. She'd seen them both with him, and figured that sooner or later they'd lead her back to him.
When they went into a homeless shelter, she followed them at a distance, lingering in the lobby while they went through to the day room. She heard the woman saying something about medical trials, offering cash for healthy volunteers. She slipped back into the shadows when they left, then grabbed one of the flyers they left on the front desk.
She read the address, and grinned.
Tritter had his suspicions about the ambulance ever since the beat cop's report came across his desk. The whole thing stank of the Blues Brothers: the speed, the escape surrounded by drugs, the description of the driver and his passenger. He'd ordered the cops at his station to pull over every ambulance they saw and search it, but after some parent with a sick kid in the back of one of them whined to the paper, the district attorney ordered him to stop.
He'd backed off, but his instincts told him something was going on. Mayfield confirmed that they'd let House out ten days ago. Now there was this. He looked at the flyer one of the cops had given him.
"They're all over the place down in the projects," the beat cop had said. "We checked out the address and the guy there said it was some kind of a clinic."
"This guy, what did he look like?" Tritter had asked. "Dark blue suit? Skinny tie? Sunglasses? Pork pie hat?"
"Black guy, gray suit, pink shirt. Very stylish."
The description didn't match, but Tritter trusted his instincts. Once a criminal, he thought, always a criminal.
And if the DA wouldn't approve a surveillance, maybe he'd just have to spend a few hours of his own time staking the place out. Might be a good way to spend a day or two.
Two days in, and they had nearly enough cash on hand to pay off the fine. One more day, and they'd have it all, but the deadline was 9 a.m. Friday.
"We're not going to make it," Wilson said. "We won't have the final ten grand until then."
"So push the start of surgery up a couple of hours."
"Chase has been cutting and sewing for fifteen hours straight," Cameron said. "He needs a break."
"So has Taub," Thirteen added.
House groaned. "Fine, I'll scrub in. Do I have to do everything myself?"
"You haven't done anything yet," Foreman pointed out.
"I had the idea, and I've supervised. Without me you'd still be twiddling your thumbs at Mercy waiting for the next case of strep throat."
"I, uh, hate to point this out," Wilson said, "but you don't have your medical license yet."
"Black market surgeries, transplant criteria thrown out the window, half of the homeless population walking around with only one kidney and you're worried about a piece of paper?" House asked as he walked toward the scrub room.
Wilson raised his hands. "Just thought I'd point it out." He followed House from the waiting room.
"Where are you going?"
"To scrub in."
"No, you're not," House said. "You're going to go make a call to get the last guy in here early so we can get the money in time."
"It's scheduling," Wilson pointed out. "Even Kutner could do that." He scowled. "Maybe."
"You don't need to be here," House said.
"What, you think that if we're going to get busted they're going to care whether I actually touched a patient?"
"You don't have to protect me. Hell, if I hadn't taken you to see Cuddy, none of this would have happened."
"And if Cuddy had just hired security after the first three shootings, none of this would have happened," House said.
"So it's Cuddy's fault?"
"Sure," House said. "I can live with that."
Another limousine pulled up in front of the brick building on Baker Street, and Tritter ran the license plate. It came back with the name of a guy from New York with more money than God, and a kid on dialysis.
This was no homeless shelter clinic.
He picked up the radio and called for reinforcements.
The blonde still hadn't seen the ambulance, but she'd paid a guy enough money to describe the people inside the building. House was there, which meant that Wilson was there, which meant that the ambulance was somewhere nearby.
She pulled the building records and spotted the opening to a set of tunnels beneath the row of houses, leading to a garage a block away.
She parked her car just inside the garage entrance, and waited.
Wilson was just tying off the last stitches for House when Thirteen knocked on the window. She was holding a stack of bills, fanned out against the glass.
It was 7:35 a.m. Less than an hour until the county offices opened, and less than 90 minutes until the fine was due. House pulled off his mask and stepped outside.
"Ten thousand." Thirteen held it out.
"You already pay off the donor?" House took off his gloves and grabbed the cash.
"Yep. That makes it a quarter of a million," she held out a separate wad of money, "and change."
"Finish up for Wilson and get the guy into recovery," he said. "I've got to go pay some bills."
House stripped off the scrubs and pulled on his suit. In the office, he counted out the final tally and put the last of the cash into a beat up black briefcase. He was just clicking the latches shut when Wilson showed up, sunglasses in place and holding out the keys.
"Let's go," he said.
They were in the basement when they heard the blast of the door being forced open above them, and the thundering rush of footsteps over their heads.
"They'll be OK, won't they?" Wilson asked. He hesitated at the hidden door that led out to the tunnels under the buildings. "Should we go back?"
House tried to shut the sound out of his mind. He pulled Wilson through the door and slammed it shut behind him. "They knew what they were getting into," he said, but lingered near the door for a moment before following Wilson.
There was nothing but the sound of their own footsteps, the tapping of House's cane and the occasional scrabbling of a rat once they entered the tunnels. Wilson was sure-footed, leading the way like he knew every turn even in the dark. House followed him half a step behind. Half a block before the end of the tunnels, they saw the first dim rays of light making their way to them, the black turning gray, then the open light at the end of the tunnel.
House heard the click of a bolt being ratcheted into place a moment before the figure stepped into the light. He yanked at Wilson and pulled him down to the concrete floor just before the first bullets whizzed past them.
"You're not gonna get away this time," the figure shouted out, followed by the sound of another round of bullets pinging against the walls.
House searched his memory for the voice.
"I loved you, you bastard," she yelled.
It had been a long time since he'd heard it, but it was still there -- the sweet sound of a teenage crush somewhere below the shrillness.
"Ali?" he asked.
"It wasn't just the spores, House," she shouted out. "It was real, dammit, and you just tossed me away."
House raised himself up to his knees, Wilson slowly following his lead. "You were just a kid," he said. "I thought you'd forget all about me once you'd had a little time."
"I didn't forget you," Ali said. At least she wasn't shouting this time. "I told everyone that you'd be there for senior prom, the day I turned 18. I told them you'd be there. I told everyone. I made head cheerleader and still remained celibate for you. And then the day came and there I was, standing at the back of the hall waiting all alone, because you never showed up. My father paid for a limo. My uncle paid for the driver. And you know what happened? Nothing. Nothing, you bastard."
The rifle bolt slid into place again.
"Listen, Ali, it wasn't my fault, really. I was going to be there, but there was an emergency at the hospital. My car got a flat tire. I ran out of gas. Someone stole my car. I didn't have money for the cab fare." House walked slowly toward her, Wilson following a few steps behind. "There was an earthquake. A flood. Locusts. I wanted to be there, but I just couldn't. God didn't want me there."
"I thought you didn't believe in God," Wilson whispered.
House jammed his cane down onto Wilson's toes. "You've got to believe me, Ali. I love you." He reached out to her and she lowered the gun, finally dropping it to pull him close to her in a tight embrace.
"You do love me, don't you?" she asked.
"Would I lie?"
Wilson snorted but picked up the rifle and emptied the clip. "Let's go," he said.
"Listen, Ali, I've got something I need to do, but I'll be back," House said.
Ali slowly loosened her grip and let him go. "You'll be back?" she asked. "You really mean it?"
"Scout's honor," House said.
Wilson was already in the ambulance, gunning the engine. "You were never a scout," he said.
House gave Ali a final wave, then climbed in next to Wilson.
"It's sixteen miles across town in rush hour traffic," Wilson said. "We've got a quarter tank of gas, police have cordoned off the neighborhood, and we've definitely both lost our medical licenses."
House nodded. "Hit it."
Wilson screamed out of the garage entrance, the ambulance momentarily tilting onto the passenger side wheels as it made a sharp right turn. There were cop cars blocking the end of the street, but Wilson didn't slow down. Instead he pushed the accelerator down further.
"Physics," he said. "An ambulance outweighs a cop car."
House braced himself as the ambulance clipped the rear end of one of the cruisers, spinning it out into the intersection and blocking the rest of the road behind them. He looked down the street toward the front of the building they'd turned into their clinic to see Foreman holding his head high as some cop led him to one of the cars. Then he saw Tritter race toward him, his gun already in his hand.
"I think we got someone's attention," House said.
Wilson spun the wheel toward the freeway entrance.
"You're not taking the interstate, are you?" House asked. He could see the cars barely moving at a crawl as Wilson headed for the backup.
"Most direct route," Wilson said, and flipped a switch that started the lights flashing and the siren wailing. "We just need to clear a path."
Two cars swung to the other lane to make room for the ambulance to pass. Wilson headed onto the shoulder, just missing a minivan. House looked in the rear view mirror as one of the cop cars chasing them hit the van and spun into the median. Another car went wide and clear, though, and House was pretty sure he saw Tritter's face staring back at him.
"Don't slow down," House said.
There were other cops waiting for them as Wilson took the off ramp at 90 miles per hour, the ambulance catching air at the bottom of the ramp. House held onto the dashboard and waited to hit the ground.
"Two blocks," Wilson said. "How much time we got?"
House checked his watch. "Five minutes until the office opens."
Wilson nodded. "I'm taking the shortcut," he said, and he made a left into the park, just missing a jogger. The cops slowed down just for a split second before they followed them, leaving just enough time for Wilson to gun the engine again and put a little distance between them.
"Shame about those bushes," Wilson said as the ambulance burst through the shrubs at the far end of the park.
"Stupid place to plant them anyway," House noted.
They were on the plaza now, pigeons flying out before them until Wilson hit the brakes and swung the wheel to the left. The ambulance slid to a stop in front of the doors, blocking them for everyone else.
"Two minutes," House called as he crawled through the door and into the lobby, the briefcase held tight in his left hand, his cane marking double time across the tile floor.
They were the only two people in the elevator headed up to the sixteenth floor. "Building construction fees and court fines," the sign read in the hallway when they got out. House hit every button in the elevator to force it to stop at each floor on the way down.
Some guy was just opening the office door when they got there, and they pushed their way past him and to the counter. There was a dark haired woman there, already looking bored with her day just two seconds into it.
"Take a number," she said.
"There's no one else here," House said.
The woman stared at him. "We have a procedure here," she said. "Procedure makes everything run smoothly." The name plate next to her listed her name as Brenda Previn.
"Look, Brenda," House said, "we're kind of in a hurry."
"Then you'd better hope you get the first number," she said.
Wilson went back to the door and took a number from the machine. He heard footsteps charging their way toward them. Heavy footsteps. Cop boots. Lots of them. He dragged a bench across the doorway and slung the brass stanchion rail through the door's handles, then gave House the number.
"Thirty-one," said Brenda, the sign overhead clicking to show the number. House looked at his. Thirty-two.
"Thirty-one," she repeated.
"Thirty-one's not here, obviously," he said.
"Wait until I call your number."
"Thirty-one?" She waited a few more moments. The footsteps were getting closer.
Brenda reached below the desk, flicked a switch. The number over her head changed. "Thirty-two?"
House placed the briefcase on the county. "This where we pay for court-ordered fines?"
"This is the assessment against Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital." House opened the briefcase. "Two hundred fifty thousand."
Brenda raised her eyebrows. "I'm going to have to count this," she said.
There was a banging coming from the door. House looked over and saw Tritter glaring at him through the window. He pulled five hundred dollar bills from his pocket -- the extra change that Thirteen had given him. He spread them out in front of Brenda's face. "Five hundred if you trust me," he said.
Brenda shook her head, but held her hand out next to the briefcase, out of sight from the growing mob trying to break through the door. House closed the briefcase and pushed it across to her. She pocketed the bills, then tapped a few keys on the computer and House heard the sound of a printer whirring to life.
The bench Wilson had jammed against the door scraped on the linoleum as the door pushed against it.
Brenda slapped a paper down on the counter, and held a stamp above it. Waiting for just a heartbeat, then slammed it down. "Paid In Full," it read.
Tritter burst the door half a second later and tackled House, pinning him to the ground.
"Wait your turn," Brenda yelled.
Warden Nolan always liked to start the inspection tours with a casual conversation in his office. Joliet wasn't the hellhole outsiders thought it was, he'd tell them.
"We're very advanced," he always said. "We have computer classes as part of our retraining program. We also have been working with a local theater group for part of our rehab. I find that killers learn a lot about themselves when playing fictional criminals. This year we'll be doing 'King Lear.'"
From there, he led them down to the communal wards.
"We just repainted this month, and we replaced the old mattresses with ergonomic foam earlier this year." He nodded to the guards at the end of the hallway and the doors buzzed open ahead of them.
"And this," Nolan said, "is our crown jewel."
"It's an infirmary," one of the inspectors said. "What's so special about it?"
Nolan gestured to the prisoners stationed around the room: the blond man with an Australian accent, a black man who managed to make his uniform seem chic, a short guy with a receding hairline, two women -- one with dark hair, one blonde -- a dark haired guy wearing a porkpie hat and sunglasses and in the middle of it, a tall, slender man leaning on a cane.
"Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the best staffed prison infirmary in the country," Nolan said.
He'd barely finished speaking when a young, dark haired man lumbered awkwardly into the room, moaning as he bumped into two of the visitors.
"By the way," Nolan said in a whisper, "I'd take it as a personal favor if you don't mention the zombie in your official reports."