Brilliant pre-med student Amoreena Daniels needs money. Desperately. Her mother is dying of cancer and her medical insurance has run out. When a seemingly perfect women’s clinic offers Amoreena a generous payment for service as a surrogate mother, Amoreena thinks her prayers have been answered. But then—much too early—her baby begins to move.
The strange dreams, another surrogate’s mysterious death and a drug-addicted former medical intern confirm Amoreena’s worst suspicions: there is something terribly wrong with the pregnancy. Amoreena embarks on a dangerous journey to uncover the truth behind the endless battery of genetic tests, sonograms and frightened patients, only to discover that she has unwittingly become a pawn in a high-stakes game of biomedical experimentation.
GARGOYLES is book 1 of the Resurrection trilogy.
Excerpt (Chapter One):
Amoreena Daniels gazed at the woman retching into the plastic emesis basin and struggled to visualize her mom as she once was, her mom prior to the diagnosis, her mom minus the cancer. It was a difficult if not futile exercise.
Wearing a hospital gown that appeared two sizes too large, Geneva Daniels adjusted her brightly flowered scarf with one hand, the cloth a replacement for her once-vibrant tresses. Seated next to her, Amoreena counted another fresh bruise coalescing under her mother’s limpid skin, where an IV line replenished her fluid stores.
Room 441 on the University of California Medical Center oncology ward no longer seemed just a hospital room; rather, a bleak reminder of what physical devastation a disease run amuck could wreak on the human spirit. Even the astringent, aseptic smell failed to eliminate completely the specter of illness and suffering.
“Amoreena Daniels.” It was the ward clerk. She waited outside the door as if what lay inside was contagious.
“Hold on,” Amoreena said curtly, throwing her thick mane of auburn hair out of her face with a toss of her head. “You okay, Mom?” she asked, helping steady the basin.
Geneva coughed twice and nodded. “How ‘bout a cigarette?”
“Not funny.” Amoreena checked the basin. No blood, only thickened saliva. She carried the basin into the bathroom.
Geneva heard the water in the sink. “You’re just like your dad. No sense of humor.” It required two breaths and a coughing spell to expel the words.
Amoreena returned, setting the clean basin on the nightstand. “I’ll develop a sense of humor when you develop an appetite,” she said, studying her mother’s skin. She thought the sallow hue had lessened, or maybe it was just the fluorescent lighting. “And will you stop with the ‘Dad jokes.’ He doesn’t deserve it.”
“Ms. Daniels.” It was the clerk again. “Dr. Gillespie’s waiting.”
“Sure, all right.” Amoreena feigned a smile. It wasn’t the ward clerk’s fault her mother had metastatic cervical cancer. “Mom, I’ll see you before I leave.”
Geneva coughed deeply and spit into a Kleenex before finding some renewed vigor. “Amy…” She called her only daughter “Amy” with a short ‘a’ whenever their discussions centered on the serious. “When you’re through with Dr. Gillespie, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me now. He can wait.”
“No, later. Dr. Gillespie’s very busy.” She attempted a weak grin. “I’m not going anywhere. Yet.”
Amoreena bent low and pecked Geneva on the cheek. Her skin felt cold and dry on her lips. Not the way she wanted to remember her mother. “See ya.”
The conference room for the oncology ward was situated adjacent to the central nurses’ station. Amoreena was very familiar with it. It was in this very room six months ago that Dr. Gillespie had unleashed the appalling news that her mother’s cancer was a stage IV, metastatic. It had already invaded the liver and lungs. The revelation had given new meaning to the term shitty Monday. But there was still a fighting chance, he’d said. More out of a sense of duty than any realistic expectation of success, Amoreena surmised. Only later that night when she and her mom were alone did the real tears flow.
Dressed in faded denims and a loose scooped-neck T-shirt, Amoreena approached a man in a wheelchair. She moved with a certain aloofness that was both enticing and ingenuous.
The man waved. She returned the gesture. She’d seen him several times before during her prior visits, and each time he appeared thinner and more cachectic. Acute myelocytic leukemia.
“Heya, gorgeous,” he said, as she passed.
Amoreena allowed a smile. “How’s it going?”
“Another day, same old shit.”
Momentarily, she wondered how long he had. She didn’t even know his name. Quickly, she dismissed the thought when she observed the blinds to the conference room drawn shut. Ignoring the stares from the nurses and resident physicians, Amoreena paused at the door and inhaled. Fuck cancer. She knocked.
“Come in.” The voice sounded apologetic.
She entered and shut the door behind her.
Dr. Gillespie sat alone at a long table. Balding and bespectacled, he was an African-American with a well-trimmed gray beard. A medical chart lay open before him. He motioned her to a seat.
Finding the chair directly across from him, she didn’t miss the gyn-oncologist’s pained expression. The same expression he failed to mask six months ago.
In that one instant, Amoreena knew the news, whatever it was, was not going to be pleasant.
“So how’s premed these days?” he asked, breaking the ice.
Amoreena stifled saying ‘same old shit.’ “Fine,” she answered.
“Next fall with UCI, UCLA, and USC.”
“Want to stay in California.”
“UCLA’s my first choice. It all depends.” She left it hanging.
“Hm-hm.” Dr. Gillespie’s eyes scanned the blackboard.
Amoreena followed his gaze. Limned in chalk were clusters of cancer cells—she presumed they represented cancer cells—the big CA on an oncology ward was usually a dead giveaway. Adjacent to the diagram, a list of drug names had been scrawled. A second sketch demonstrated how these specific drugs attacked the foreign cells’ replicating system. Curing cancer was simply that. Stop the unauthorized replication and the patient survived. Amoreena wished it were that easy. Dr. Gillespie lightly tapped the chart on the table. “Your mother’s weight’s down.”
Amoreena felt a tinge of undeserved guilt. “I know, it’s almost like I have to force-feed her at home. This last round of chemo really took a lot out of Mom.”
“You and Geneva are waging a tough battle.” He hesitated, as if unsure how to proceed. “Amoreena…” he started again, but pursed his lips at the knock on the door.
Amoreena turned to find the door open and a woman filling the empty space. She was large, not fat, and exhibited an androgynous figure. She sported a business suit, one of those styles illustrated in catalogues targeted toward female corporate types who seemed to believe that becoming as successful as a man entailed dressing like one. The woman carried a thick satchel.
Without waiting for an invitation, she strode imperiously into the room and took the chair at the head of the table.
Dr. Gillespie made the introduction. “This is Ms. Rosalind Cates. She chairs our hospital’s utilization review committee. Her specialty is medical oncology.”
Amoreena sat in silence, staring at the only medical chart in the room. Her mother’s. With no prior experience, she suddenly knew she despised utilization review committees.
“It’s come to our attention, Amoreena,” the oncologist continued haltingly, “that…” There was another disquieting pause.
At this juncture, the imposing Ms. Cates grabbed the reins. “I’ll take it from here, Doctor,” she said.
The tone of the woman’s voice exhibited a callous knifelike quality very much like a personal-injury attorney Amoreena had seen pitching on late-night television.
Ms. Cates set her satchel on the table but remained standing. She placed both hands on the back of the chair. “Ms. Daniels, I believe your mother’s health care coverage had been provided by the Standard Care Insurance Company.”
Amoreena nodded. “That’s correct. And still is,” she added in rejoinder to Ms. Cates use of the word “had.”
Ms. Cates grunted. “Well, that’s the purpose of this meeting. As of the end of this month, Standard Care will no longer cover Geneva Daniels for health care needs. This includes any catastrophic coverage.”
Amoreena felt her face grow hot. “What do you mean?” She swiveled to face the oncologist. “Dr. Gillespie, what’s she talking about?”
“Ms. Daniels,” Ms. Cates interjected.
Amoreena ignored her. “What’s this lady got to do with Mom’s treatments anyway?”
Before the doctor could reply, Ms. Cates had removed a spiral-bound notebook from her satchel and placed it on the table. “Ms. Daniels, your mother was employed as a secretary for H&M Printing Press for fourteen years. Is that correct?”
Amoreena refused to make eye contact. “And she’d still be employed if her pap smears had remained normal.”
“When did her leave of absence commence?”
“Six months ago. After the diagnosis.”
Ms. Cates gave a satisfactory nod. “That partially explains the confusion.”
“Confusion?” Amoreena blurted out.
“Ms. Daniels, as of five months ago, H&M Printing has been in receivership, they’ve declared bankruptcy, and are no longer paying premiums for their employees’, including any retirees’ health care coverage. As per the law, Standard Care, as well as the human resources department at H&M, notified your mother numerous times that her medical coverage would be her responsibility. Unfortunately, Geneva Daniels failed to respond appropriately, no premiums were paid, and therefore, as of this moment, she is without coverage.”
Amoreena’s mouth felt gummy. No coverage. My God, she has metastatic cancer. She barely heard Ms. Cates continue.
“I took the liberty of presenting Geneva Daniels’s case to a group of other insurance agencies for gap coverage. However in light of your mother’s current situation, they felt it would not be in their best financial interests to intervene. One did agree, though, to issue a policy, however, it would not cover any preexisting conditions. I’ve referred her case to Social Services.”
Amoreena shook her head. “That’s fucking great.”
Amoreena stood. “What is this shit? This is a damn hospital isn’t it, or did I drive into the wrong parking garage?”
Ms. Cates cleared her throat. “There’s no need to be obscene, Ms. Daniels. I understand—”
“You don’t understand crap.”
“I understand this,” Cates retorted. “I’ve reviewed the chart and doctors’ notes regarding your mother’s treatments and at this stage of Geneva Daniels’s illness, her cost/benefit ratio fails to fall within the curve of a successful outcome. Unless you can devise alternative means to finance her treatments, I regret to inform you, your mother will be forced to seek care elsewhere once she is discharged.”
Alan Nayes was born in Houston and grew up on the Texas gulf coast. He lives in Southern California. He is the author of the critically-acclaimed biomedical thrillers, GARGOYLES (Book One in the Resurrection Trilogy) and THE UNNATURAL. His most recent releases are BARBARY POINT, SMILODON, GIRL BLUE and PLAGUE (Book Two in the Resurrection Trilogy)
An avid outdoorsman and fitness enthusiast, he is one of only a few individuals to ever swim across Wisconsin’s chilly Lake Winnebago. When not working on his next project, he enjoys relaxing and fishing at the family vacation home in Wisconsin. Website: http://www.anayes.com
Interview with: Alan Nayes,