Jack shook his head, laughing quietly, and entered the closet they generously called an office. As a contract employee, the fact that any space was allocated at all meant they thought he was valuable, just not enough to put in a salaried position. He didn’t have the string of letters after his name required of full-time employees, anyway. Jack was just really good at what he did. Mason called him the “Leap-Meister” for his almost magical ability to see outside the box. He considered himself an above-average diagnostician. If he had a medical degree, he would be even better. Not a chance in hell I’m going back to school, though, he thought as he placed his briefcase on his tiny desk.
He sat in his overstuffed leather chair–the only nod to comfort in the whole office–and pulled the slim file from inside the case. Logging into the system from his computer, he downloaded the raw files that made up the preliminary report from his personal cloud account. The Center–and Sally especially–frowned on his use of outside services, but the creaky government systems were just too unreliable in his opinion. They simply weren’t practical for use in the field. He preferred thumb-drives or a direct connection from his laptop, but those options were strictly forbidden. When he offered this as a compromise, Sally reluctantly gave in. He was a notoriously slow typist, and she was impatient.
The first file he imported was a zipped directory of hundreds of pictures he had taken at the hospital. While his computer chugged away at extracting them, he left to fetch coffee to help him power through the morning. When he came back to his desk, mug in hand, the folder on the screen was full of photo thumbnails. The majority of the shots were in the rooms where the children slept, nurses tending to their patients as doctors looked on with concern. Some were of the work areas behind the scenes–rapidly emptying supply closets, overfull laundry areas, harried janitors, and weary administrators. Parents and other family members constituted a whole other class, and were in a completely different file.
He would have to take a whole day to go over every photograph to select the right ones for his final report–Sally’s deadline be damned–but he couldn’t help staring at them now, seeing each one with fresh eyes. Most were similar enough to pass as duplicates In one of them, several of the nurses conferred with a doctor while a man–a parent, presumably–stood close by, listening. Jack couldn’t see the man’s face, or the worry he knew must be there, as it was obscured by the dark gray fedora the man wore. He was standing just behind a nurse, leaning in slightly with his head down, with his hands stuffed into a dark overcoat. In another picture, the same man hovered over a bed that held a small girl Jack assumed must be his child. Two frames later, however, the man was at yet another bed. Then another, and another. Jack flipped through all the pictures rapidly, and saw the same man in over a third of them, standing by as many as twenty different beds. Why didn’t I notice this guy before? he thought. Maybe he was an administrator or something. That wasn’t likely, though, as Jack was sure he and his interpreter had spoken to all of the management.
He downloaded the file with the pictures he had taken of the parents. After more chugging by the old computer, he opened the folder and clicked through each shot. The man was not prominent in any, but could be seen hovering in the background of a few. At no time was his face in full view for Jack’s lens. Another folder yielded similar results. This time the subjects were the staff, and while the man was visible in many of the shots, he was never the subject. In one sequence of pictures Jack had captured doctors and nurses rushing to help a patient who had coded, and the man was at the far end of the room standing–then kneeling–beside another bed. A chill ran up Jack’s spine as he flipped through the pictures, watching the man pull something from his pocket and lean toward the little girl asleep there. In the next frame he was standing again, placing whatever it was back in his pocket. In the last frame he was gone, only a sliver of the coat captured in the doorway to mark his passing.
Jack ran a shaking hand through his hair, and leaned closer to the monitor. Zooming in on the previous picture, even as the shot pixelated, he could easily make out the shape of a syringe.