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The Altruist

The sound of hate and vitriol poured through the metal of the van from all corners. Like missiles thrown from the crowd, chants and shouting impacted the occupants inside far harder than the physical debris and weapons.

Broken bricks, bottles, and trash bounced off the windows and walls with a heavy thud. Glass occasionally broke and debris crunched under the tires as they sped through the city streets.

Dark windows and light armour protected the vehicle’s occupants from the waiting crowd. People of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds lined the walkways to scream obscenities at an anonymous white box as it travelled downtown. Objects flew from the streets and contacted the vehicle with a hard thwack or dull thump. The sound echoed through the walls inside but could barely register with the occupants anymore. A hard and determined silence filled the mobile room.

A prisoner transport by design, the vehicle they travelled in was partitioned into six smaller cells with additional guard seats adjacent. None of the cells were locked shut today. The chain loops remained unfastened and the occupants free to move around the back of the van. Nobody inside the transport had committed a crime punishable by law.

The van moved through the crowds with as much speed as it could carry through heavy traffic and protesters. The cell doors inside were bolted open, natural light flickered and cast bright spots on the walls as they moved between buildings and trees. They moved as a convoy, slowing slightly but never quite coming to a stop despite the densely packed crowds.

The choice of vehicle was one of practical necessity over protocol or convention. Its occupant, though law-abiding, fell far and fast in the court of public opinion. Perhaps the single most wanted person in America, he had already cost more in police presence for a single day than most high profile prisoners do in an entire lifetime.

Police bikes periodically roared ahead of the van to stop traffic a minute ahead of the convoy. Every few minutes police bikes would roll off the front of the group to stop the next junction ahead. Riders would roar up to the back of the pack and the cycle would continue to keep the convoy in a state of constant movement.

News anchors and journalists estimated a million people would descend on the city to chant and protest today. Even allotting for clickbait and hyperbole, vast crowds were expected to attend. By early morning it looked as if that many and more had arrived already.

Both intensity and volume was ramping up notably as the convoy drew closer and closer to the courthouse. Chants and shouts grew more hate-filled and obscenity laden than they had been on the outskirts of the city. Missiles thrown from the streets were increasing in both number and size as they battered and dented the van.

Strategists had decided to arrive at the courthouse in the early morning in an attempt to get ahead of the worst of the protests. It had, if anything, allowed people to arrive before work and in the cool morning temperatures before it was too hot even for hate and bile.

A police presence hundreds-strong gathering around the building had tipped organisers off early. By the time the main event arrived from outside the city people could barely move within the courthouse square. Approaching the building, the convoy slowed to a complete stop for the first time since they had departed an hour ago.

A sudden absence of noise broke the silent daze of the room in the back of the van. Its five occupants were braced for an intense barrage of debris and people as they approached the court. They braced and waited while nothing came. Outside the vehicle, the atmosphere was almost as quiet and calm as it was inside.

The crowds drew to a silence as the bulk of the convoy entered the court square. Hundreds of thousands of eyes watched and stared, they bore holes through the blank sides and small dark window squares as the van slowed to a stop. In a highly charged crowd of so many people, nobody spoke a word in anger. Placards rested, some even fell to the ground as spectators stared curious, angry, and disgusted as the convoy continued to the court building

Giant garage doors in the base of the building opened to swallow the convoy whole as the crowd stared in silence. Images captured by news crews and broadcast worldwide showed a vast crowd silenced by a single man simply entering the courthouse in a prison van.

Each vehicle descended down the ramp and into the courthouse garage in turn. Four police bikes and two patrol cars entered ahead of the oversized van. The mood inside the building was more relaxed that the ice cold atmosphere on the front steps. Two more cars and four more bikes entered behind. Police and support staff milled around the parking garage as they waited for the vehicles to begin unloading.

The four leading motorbikes lined up against the walls on either side of the garage and shut off their engines. Two police cars in front of the van found parking bays ahead and parked facing the garage exit. By instinct as much as design, protocol for high-risk prisoners was followed to the letter.

Shortening the journey between the van and the court building. the prisoned transport parked directly next to the doorway which signalled the court entrance. Its engine was shut off and officers had already completed a walk around to secure the doors on every side. Two officers stood at every doorway within touching distance of the vehicle. Four more stood further back, arms by their side, at attention without fixed gaze.

There was a silence in the garage where only footsteps on the concrete floor and the crowd outside could be heard through the closed garage doors.

A stout and humourless guard pulled a fistful of keys from a cord tether on his belt. He feathered one key from the middle of the silver hedgehog and opened the rear van door. Inside, another guard stood by the doorway ready to exit. With a heavy, resonating thud the door swung wide open and latched to a hook.

The transport guard stepped down out of the van and took up a chaffer-style position by the doorway. Each of the staff were more relaxed than during a typical prisoner transfer. While the actions were the same and the instincts remained throughout, everyone was fully aware there was precious little that could go awry today.

A tall gentleman had emerged from one of the open van cells. In another context on another day he may have been mistaken for an elderly professor or just a kindly gentleman. He wore an well pressed brown suit with casual shoes, his silver hair and beard immaculately combed for the day.

Stepping from the van he smiled politely and nodded at the two guards by the exit. He took a second, straighten his shirt and brushed down his jacket as if emerging from a long-haul flight to a far-flung holiday destination. He entered the courthouse relaxed and composed amidst the chaos going on outside. The man’s polite, calm, and relaxed demeanour simply built on his image as a well-regarded university professor.

An almost complete silence dominated the courthouse interior. It was one that everyone present universally enjoyed in comparison to the path they had taken to arrive here.

Hate-filled songs and chants wishing for death and torture were still faintly audible from outside the doors but these sounds didn’t appear to reach the kind looking professor who was relishing the comparative quiet and spacious surroundings.

The group took the large, slow-moving elevator up one floor to the main court building. Inside, the gentleman stood in the middle, surrounded by officers and guard on every side. They waited in silence while the doors closed and the elevator slowly climbed the single story. Seconds ticked by while they waited on the floor for the doors to pry themselves open.

As they set-off out of the elevator, officers and guards fell into line two-by-two behind the main group. Guards ahead cleared the way while rows of officers either side of the elderly gentleman created a moving corridor that blocked him from the crowds.

On an ordinary day the formation would be used to prevent escape and protect the world from the prisoner in the centre. Today, the formation existed to protect their voluntary prisoner from the outside world.

Inside, the courtroom was remarkably subdued and controlled—particularly for a case so highly charged with emotion. The passion on display on the courthouse steps was merely an undercurrent of tension and suspense inside the building. Court officers remained alert and on edge, waiting for conversation and procedure to break down in any given moment.

The gentleman and his legal team sat silently while a hundred pairs of eyes and more than a dozen camera lenses kept them firmly in their sights. On the other side of the court sat four lawyers for the state.

Piles upon piles of papers and binders sat neatly organised in front of them. It seemed as though every square inch of the table’s surface was covered under paper. Behind them, an entirely different team organised yet more papers and shuffled even more folders back and forth across the bar. The elderly gentleman sat comfortably with his two lawyers. They patiently waited for the start of the case and hoped for at last an end to the ordeal. Two piles of handwritten notes sat on the table on front of them.

“Case 314 A, Gardiner versus the state, all rise” the bailiff shouted.

The court stood in unison. A wave of shuffling feet, shifting bags, and rustling jackets started at the front and washed through until it reached the rear wall. No sooner had the last members stood up than the judge ordered them seated with a wave of his hand. The court rustled and shuffled to sit down once again

“Good morning” the judge announced as he lowered himself into the chair.

A heavyset man under flowing black robes, he showed no outward signs of having any interest in one of the most intense and controversial cases in decades. He took a second to scan over the papers and folders that lined his desk. He familiarised himself with the position of its contents, confirming every piece was in its right and proper place before proceeding.

“I see a full gallery for the first in a long long time at one of my cases” he mused. He was not immune to the effects of the trial outside of the courtroom walls.

Mr Martin Adam I believe you are in attendance today in place of the prisoner, is that correct?”

The gentleman stood to address the judge.

“It is, your honour” Martin replied

“Ok, well I expect we’d have had a quieter day if the reverse were true,” the judge said.

Martin let a small smile break across his face. He remained standing, not entirely sure whether more was expected of his role in proceedings or not.

“Since this is an emergency session, if Mr Adam’s legal team could state their case, we should be able to get straight to the heart of the matter” the judge ordered.

Martin sat down again, confident that his part for the day was mostly played out. He had waited days, travelled hundreds of miles, ridden through crowds screaming and jeering for his death. His role now was to sit out the day passively watching a hearing take place around him.

A tall, slim man stood up at the far end of the table. He buttoned the front of his jacket with one hand before launching into a well-rehearsed casual monologue.

“Certainly, your honour. This case is one which raises grave concerns about whether the state can provide fair and effective medical treatment for our client, Mr Ron Gardener.”

He paused for a second as if to let the point settle over the room. If the judge was mover at all by the opening point, his facial expressions and unwavering posture done well to disguise his concerns.

“Mr Gardener is regrettably very ill indeed. He currently holds two simultaneous roles as both patient and prisoner of the state. Medical experts have determined that the only thing likely to improve his condition both short and long term is an immediate organ transplant,” He continued.

“Mr Adam has generously agreed to assist in this regard, selflessly offering to take part in a living donor kidney transplant in order to save Mr Gardiner’s life.”

“Were it not for the actions of the state, who have intervened to prevent this operation taking place, the procedure would have most likely been carried out and both Mr Gardiner and Mr Adams would on the way back to recovering in good health already”

“We believe that these actions contravene the state’s duty to provide health services equivalent to that which are available to the general population as a whole.”

Stopping again, somewhat self-satisfied, he expected an interruption, question, or interjection to break his momentum. None came from either opposite council or the judge. He was forced instead to gather his thoughts and continue his argument.

“we stipulate that state has otherwise its duty to provide life-saving care to Mr Gardiner very seriously.”

“Before the most recent case developments and throughout the duration of Mr Gardener’s time with the corrections institution, he has received dialysis treatment at least three times per week, every week until today.”

“This course of treatment is entirely in-keeping with standard procedure for patients suffering from Mr Gardiner’s condition.” He paused for a second before adding “Which would ordinarily be resolved with organ transplantation.”

It may have been a little too much, a little too on the nose, but he had gone with it and was happy to have verbally underlined his point.

“Our case here today is simply to see to it that Mr Gardiner receives the proper course of treatment that any individual with the same health concerns in a conventional environment, inside or outside of prison, could expect to receive.”

He sat down with purpose, adding an imagined full stop to his outlined case. There were no outward signs of injustice or even annoyance from the judge at the bench. Even the close of the argument did not illicit movement or even a ruffling of papers. Instead, he cast a look over to the state’s legal team eagerly waiting for their chance to make a case.

A well-dressed young woman stood from the near-side of the table. She held on to a small hardback notepad which she opened to its first page.

“Mr Gardiner’s legal counsel has contended that the state’s duty of care is falling short of that which would be expected in the general population,” she began

“But the state will argue that Mr Gardner’s position as an inmate scheduled for imminent execution is a critical consideration in determining the most appropriate course of action for his treatment.”

The young lawyer chose the moment for a long pause. She stopped to drink a glass of water, letting the argument sit with the court slightly longer than necessary.

“The state agrees that, in ordinary circumstances, a patient with Mr Gardiner’s medical needs would be placed on the transplant list for receipt of a donor kidney as soon as practically possible. However, such a donation would also be subject to review before a medical committee in order to judge the recipient’s suitability and eligibility for a donor organ.”

She pressed her argument, building to a climactic point.

“Among the wide and varied number of factors a potential review board must take into account before judging a patient’s suitability for treatment are quality of life, and the length of time a patient is likely to gain as a result of the complex, risky, and taxing medical procedure.”

“Given Mr Gardiner’s current status as an inmate on death row, one who has received two proposed execution dates already, the state has been advised that Mr Gardiner’s medical file fails several of the basic tests required to approve the patient for organ transplant”

“It is the state’s belief that to undertake a transplant procedure at this time would not be in the best interests of either Mr Adam or Mr Gardiner. The procedure is expected to present unnecessary risk and complications to both parties without achieving substantive enough benefits to undertake the operation.”

The young lawyer straightened her suit jacket and took her seat at the table again to bring her argument to a close. Unsure of whether she had made her case sufficiently; she worked to put the arguments delivery behind her.

The judge shifted at the bench, raising his head and straightening his back from a hunched position.

“Thank you,” he said, addressing both sides of the court. “I want to be direct here,”

“Is the state asserting that Mr Gardiner’s legal team are taking fortune from Mr Gardiner’s medical condition or otherwise using the situation to postpone the inmates sentence?” He asked.

“We consider it to be one of several reasons the procedure may be scheduled at this late hour, your honour,” the young woman answered without standing.

The judge looked over to the opposing table, expecting and inviting a rebuttal.

“Of course, we dispute that assertion completely your honour,” the man sitting closest to the aisle obliged. “Our intent, and indeed, Mr Adam’s intent is to merely provide medical treatment to a sick patient,” Despite his best judgement he continued to speak.

“Our belief is that Mr Gardiner’s right to medical treatment as guaranteed by the eighth amendment is being willingly withheld at this time,” feeling as if he was being invited to state his case at its strongest, he pressed the point further.

“The medical documentation submitted shows that the donor, Mr Adam, acted ad the earliest available opportunity to make himself available and willing for living donation. At no time has the process been slowed or stalled, as the state contends, to postpone proceedings”

The lawyer sat back down while the judge looked over his papers at the bench. The courtroom was silent for a seemingly endless amount of time. He gathered his thoughts and sat for a time before delivering his thoughts.

“In ordinary circumstances, a brief recess would be called, but these are not, by any means, ordinary circumstances.” he began. “Given the unique interest shown in this case, the circus in attendance outside these walls, and the demand for urgency required, I find it necessary and possible to deliver an immediate verdict”

The court and gallery waited anxiously for him to continue. A collection of creaks and groans came from the spectators as 100 chairs leant forward at once.

“I can not accept the state’s assertion that the medical procedure being applied for is simply a stalling tactic on the part of the defence” the judge ruled.

“It is the courts findings that the care provided to Mr Gardiner has fallen short of that which is to be expected at the hands of the state, regardless of future sentencing to be carried out. It is of paramount importance that a prisoner whether awaiting sentence on death row or in the general population, be granted the same medical care as any other.”

“Mr Gardiner’s eligibility for transplantation before the review committee has no bearing in this case, despite being a prisoner of the state, the procedure is essentially a private one between donor and recipient.”

The gallery tensed further with every passing syllable. Even though the ruling was clear, they still waited with bated breath.

By mid-afternoon they could expect talking heads and images of protest on every channel in the country. By the next day the whole world would know and there would be little else up for discussion for the next two weeks.

As the hearing drew to a close, reporters edged closer and closer to the edge of their chairs. At the drop of a gavel they would scatter from the court and appear on air within minutes. The crowd outside held vigil, unaware of the direction that proceedings were taking.

The judge, aware of the impending rush, began his final statement.

“As it stands, there are no reasons medical or legal that the state should be allowed to prevent a surgical procedure from being carried out in order to prolong and preserve the life of a citizen in its care.”

“The court rules to allow Mr Gardiner’s medical treatment to continue immediately. While all else remains the same, the procedure previously postponed should be carried out as soon as is reasonably feasible.”

A loud crack shot through the court as the judge rapped his gavel on the bench. Before he had time to rise from his own chair there were numerous bodies halfway to the door. White noise echoed through the court as feet shuffled and rapped on the hard courtroom floor. The urgency of the gallery continued to grow as more and more bodies attempted to file through the door at once.

Only opposing legal teams failed to make any significant movement. Both groups casually filed papers and exchanged few words amongst themselves as the activity of the court blew around them like a storm. By the time reporters were standing by their cameras the world was already turning to a dumbfounded anger.

Within minutes of the decision being made a young, newly appointed news reporter was delivering the verdict down the barrel of a television camera to an audience of millions.

“It’s expected that death row inmate Ron Gardner will be transported to hospital sometime within the next twenty-four hours for a life-saving kidney transplant just days after his first proposed execution date.” she announced.

In the background, the court’s steps were almost empty. The gallery had emptied ni the seconds following the drop of the gavel. In a case where every observer had so much to say, there was no time to stand around to chat about proceedings. The crowd were becoming increasingly restless as facts, half-truths, and misinformation spread around the court. Entire sections broke into chanted and sang while others stood silent with placards. A far-off corner was mid-prayer when the court building itself sprung to life again.

The garage door, surrounded by armed guards and police vehicles, opened without warning. The electric motors whirred into action and rolled up the metal shutters in a few seconds. In the very moment there was enough clearance to leave, two police motorbikes exited up the building ramp at full roar. A police cruiser followed close behind, immediately ahead of the same prison van leaving court once again.

Four more bikes and two more cruisers followed behind the van, exiting the courthouse and taking to the road at speed. The section of crowd surrounding the door stopped to watch, staring without any meaningful resistance or protest to offer. At the nearest set of lights, police bikes stopped traffic crossing in either direction as the van and remaining fleet sped away through the red light.

In under an hour the van arrived at the gates of Saint Etive hospital. Inside, the atmosphere was still one of stone-faced silence, the shouting and jeering had faded away to nothing long ago. The convoy was now just another piece of traffic cutting through the city at speed.

The choice of hospital was made at the last possible minute, several miles after they had already left the courthouse. The driver’s radio directed them to a hospital where they had the managed to clear and secure an entire floor for just two patients.

A relatively simple procedure was tightly wound with complex security arrangements. By offering to save one life, Martin had become the number one most wanted fugitive in America.

Transporting either man following the outcome of the hearing would have been close to impossible. Though it would be some time before Ron could arrive at the hospital, Martin was taken there immediately. It would be a long time to wait, a lot of nothing to do, and a lot more time in a single room than a regular donation generally dictates.

Martin didn’t particularly mind. He knew when he signed up that the task would be a long, difficult, and dangerous one. His time in hospital would barely register as inconvenient in comparison to his time in the public eye. He continued the process, content to wait, to travel through angry crowds and sit through torturous hearings and interviews. He continued the process, everything that it takes, in order to do the right thing.

Ron was just one of the many millions of viewers watching live as young journalists retold the story of the day. He listened intently as the reporter repeated the same words for a third time on the tiny black and white television screen. He picked out every word, waiting to hear information which hadn’t been relayed the first few times the story was told.

Down the hall, the guards office was getting busier and busier as staff steadily trickled in to prepare for prisoner transport. Ron could hear familiar sounds and voices talking, joking, and laughing despite the challenging day ahead.

So far, untold hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent in transporting Ron between his prison cell and hospital word. Three times a week, every week, forward and back to be hooked into a machine for a couple of hours at a time.

Treatment had initially begun for Ron on a small travel cot without leaving the prison complex. A medical room in the back reaches of facility held an out-of-date, half-functioning dialysis machine. Good enough for a death row prisoner, they said.

After barely a week, Ron’s lawyers had made enough threats to have the state governor overturn the decision. Every week since, he felt as if he was the first death row inmate to spend more time outside his cell than in it. Three times a week Ron’s day was a 16 hour journey to the nearby hospital and back.

Ron was listening intently as the sounds from the office were becoming steadily quieter. Jokes and laughter were being replaced by Velcro fasteners, chains, and body armour straps. Tv news continued to play the case on a steady loop. Officially, Ron still didn’t know the outcome. Nobody had come to announce the result or telephone to tell him what would happen next but nobody had to either. He lay back down in bed, breathless from the effort of sitting through the last five minutes of TV news.

The television screen flashed numbers across the screen. Estimates of almost 200,000 people gathered in the court square alone to protest the attempts of the man who would attempt to save his life. The camera rose high above the reporters to show a sea of bodies gathered together. Tens of thousands of heads stood in the crowd without a visible space between them.

He flicked the switch on the front of the unit and the pictures imploded into a white dot in the centre of the screen. He closed his eyes and rested on a familiar groove embedded in the thin foam mattress. He thought about living life in the hours and days after his scheduled execution. He thought mostly about the burning irony of being too sickly and too close to death to be executed.

The phone rang at the end of the hallway. A shrill piercing sound snapped him out of deep thought and caused him to jump with fright. The distance was too far to hear what exactly was being said when the officer answered but a bustle of activity and preparation that followed seemed to mean they were going to be underway soon.

Both security and medical necessity dictated that a move sooner rather than later was the best thing they could do. This remained to be governed by the prison system however. Everything happened on its own time frame if it was ever going to happen at all.

Ron was, in many respects, a model prisoner. In his time as a resident on the row, he took pride in being cooperative, helpful, tidy, and even friendly. In return all but a few hardened guards respected Ron; most even treated him with kindness.

Lying on top of a neatly made bed, he listened as footsteps began to drum their way towards his cell. His mind raced back through the handful of times he had his cell turned over, possessions taken, or caught a beating at the hands of a guard feeling particularly aggrieved that day. Today’s visit was a rare occasion he could override that fear, confident he knew what the visit was about.

Today, eyes around the globe were focused on the walls outside his prison cell. For a brief eight seconds, the team taking Ron from building door to the back of the van would be global TV stars. National news crews were already fixing their lenses on the space between the building and the van, ready for the briefest glimpse of the prisoner as he moved into the vehicle.

Inside the corridor, metal chains clinked and rattled over footsteps marching down the hall. A larger team than usual came to visit his cell for this transfer. More akin to rubbernecking than genuine necessity, most stood to the back impassively watching as the lead officer and two assistants took charge.

“Hands,” the officer ordered.

Ron stood from his bed casually eyeing the small platoon of armoured bodies escorting him from his cell. Barely capable of standing for whole minutes at a time he savoured yet another strange quirk about life on death row. A dozen armoured officers waited patiently to collect a sickly frail man.

He turned his back to the guards and presented his wrists to the bars. The lead officer snapped two shackles around his wrists and wrapped a metal chain around his waist. Two metal shackles attached to chain and cuffs fell to the floor. When he was finally deemed secure enough to be moved by a dozen guards, another officer unlocked the cell door with a 1950’s era iron key.

Ron didn’t move a muscle as the agent secured the final two shackles to his ankles. Already he was tired and he knew the routine well by now. Another officer stepped inside the cell and took hold of one of the chains with a gloved hand. The heavy weight and cold metal of the restraints had a deeply familiar and almost calming effect on Ron. He had made almost the same trip so many times before that he could recite the rest of the day’s script by heart.

Martin lay in an empty white corridor. The doors behind his head lead back out into the hospital corridors; The doors ahead of his feet led to two sterile operating rooms. He was finally in the last stages of preparation for a living organ transplant. The room itself was a brilliant shade of white lit by long neon tubes in the ceiling. The only furniture present was his own bed and a large empty space to his right for another.

The room he was in felt almost airless and sterile. He could her faint parts of discussion from the theatres ahead. Staff were working to prepare equipment and take their place for a private finale to one of the most public shows in the world.

He thought for a while about the absence of opinion in such a critical space. The professionalism that required in life-saving work despite the highly-charged consequences. In performing such a surgery, in saving Ron’s life, and even saving his own, they may well take his place as the countries most wanted.

For his part, Martin was content to wait in the empty room. It seemed to be his main role in the entire saga. He imagined himself somewhat skilled in the art of doing nothing by now. Waiting for court appearances, waiting for transport, and waiting for medical tests and procedures over the past weeks had left him well practised.

Eventually the ward around him began to change. The empty corridors behind were coming to life with chatter and movement. The secured elevator was coming to life. Typically used three times daily to manage shift changes, it was now returning to the floor every few minutes.

Each time heavy footsteps filled out to fill the rooms and corridors with more bodies. The extra staff seemed to do little other themselves than stand around and wait. Radios frequently beeped and chattered, spurring to live and dying down in waves of activity and broken conversation. Some guards paced the floor others stood in doorways bored as hell.

The final time the elevator stopped, it wasn’t just footsteps which left. The rattle and clatter of trolley wheels filled the corridors as a single patient was wheeled towards Martin’s room.

The double doors opened with a heavy thump. Cold air blew entered along with the patient as he was wheeled into position on the right-hand side. For the first time since the ordeal had begun the two men at the centre of a media universe were side-by-side in the same room.

Neither man initially reacted. Martin eventually looked over to Ron lying beside him. Unexpectedly, the inmate was a fairly pitiful site. He lay in the centre of his own bed, taking up less than a third of the space available. A tiny, frail shape barely registered through the single blue blanket.

The attendant finished wheeling Ron’s bed into place. He clicked down the brake with his foot and left through the same door both beds had entered. Both men were alone in the room. They sat silently for a time. Both expecting each other to speak but neither man knew precisely what to say.

Of the thousands of things to be said, none of them were present in that room at that moment in time. The thousands of things which had been said about both of them already seemed far away and irrelevant by now. Both men continued to lay in silence, unsure who should speak first, if at all.

It was not a room filled with tension or overflowing with emotion. There was an overriding sense of process which had brought them to their place today. A large and cumbersome machine had mechanically ground, processed, and contorted their stories to deliver them both to that precise location at that precise time.

As time went on the opportunity to speak, to say something, anything, dwindled to nought. Almost five minutes after Ron arrived in the room, 4 nurses walked through the door to collect the two waiting patients.

In a few seconds more both men would be unconscious and unaware of the protests and vigils that went on all around the world against this very moment.

Martin opened his eyes again some time later. It was twilight by now, the sun setting low over the city buildings in the distance. He surmised by the time taken and without much panic or attention, the operation must have been at least somewhat successful.

He poured a cup of ice water from a plastic jug in front of him. Aside from an unbearable thirst and aching right side, he may well be at home on a Sunday evening, catching up on sports or light reading.

Relaxing into the bed he felt content for the first time in a long time. For his part, he had succeeded, won the day and went through with the procedure to come out the other side.

He would wait once more, listening to hear the result of the operation taking place in the neighbouring theatre. Before he could sleep that night he would wait to find out that Ron’s procedure had been as successful an outcome as his own.

Martin could slept as hard and as well as he may ever have slept in his life.

It was mid-morning before Martin was able to make is only request from the entire process. He asked to meet with Ron that same day before either of them were scheduled to leave the hospital. His request, in exchange for a single working organ, a short meeting for a couple of hours that same afternoon.

Administration and bureaucracy meant that the simple request was anything but simple. The query which came to an officer which guarded Martin’s door passed upwards through management until it eventually reached the prison warden. Along the way, the discussion was bombarded with opinions and ideas from every person it met.

A living donor transplant in ordinary circumstances would merit little to no contact between either participant. At a minimum little communication could take place for a year or more.

As argued in court however, the situation faced here was more akin to a transplant between relatives or friends. The two patients involved were certainly not anonymous to one another, they had even already met before.

Despite the stringent security requirements put in place by such a unique situation, there seemed little practical reason to prevent the meeting taking place. Having just saved Martin’s life it seemed vanishingly unlikely that he would visit only to murder the inmate immediately after.

The meeting was eventually approved. Word got back to Martin some hours later. Just in time.

By 3 pm Martin was ready to meet. He dressed in a shirt and jeans. Against medical advice and all good sense, he insisted that walk to Ron himself. He opened the door and explained to the guard his intended destination. With reluctant agreement, the guard escorted Martin several doors down the corridor to the room where Ron lay in bed. He opened the door and stepped inside.

“You look, well,” he said

Ron was laying in bed, gazing aimlessly out the window when he entered. If he had any particular thoughts playing through his mind at that point in time he had immediately forgotten them by the time the sentence ended.

“Well enough,” he replied. “Thanks yo you I guess”

“I can’t take all the credit,” Martin responded. “The doctors had a bit of a part to play too,”

Unsure how to respond and unclear of the social niceties in a situation such as this he offered Martin a chair, gesturing to a high-backed seat beside the bed.

Martin took the offer and lowered himself slowly and with more than small aches and pains into the chair. Looking at his watch, Martin noted the time and settled into a comfortable position. A football game played without sound at the far end of the room.

“How’s the tests?” Martin asked

“Good!” Ron replied “Doc says the numbers are low but they’re still coming back stronger every time. A full recovery is on the cards!”

“Good, that’s good,” Martin said.

Both men focused on the mute television at the far end of the room. The game was one with little meaning. Neither of them had ever put much care into the sport but the action was the one thing in the room that they could focus on and watch in silence. Martin shifted in his chair and looked again at his watch.

The game passed into its second half before another word was spoken between either of them. They sipped at ice waters together as if drinking cold beers in a sports bar.

At half-past three a messenger in Day-Glo bicycle apparel appeared in Ron’s room. In a typically medical setting it would have been an unusual sight. Both of them were acutely aware of the security procedures and barriers the messenger would have had to take to reach them.

A young man in his early 20s, the messenger lay down a heavy stack of documents only just out of Ron’s reach, placing a small white card in his hand instead.

“Sign here please,” the messenger said without emotion.

Confused and anxious Ron signed the card which bore his name in large type in the centre. The young man turned and walked immediately out, lighter one large stack of papers. Martin sat without sound or movement. Instead, he watched as Ron stretched and strained to slide the stack closer.

He opened the cardboard fastener and slid out the documents inside. On the top sheet was a document he immediately recognised. He needn’t even read the words from the page to know what it said. It was a date and time issued for his own execution.

Almost immediately, he performed the calculus Martin had wanted him to. He connected the pieces and understood immediately why Martin had carried out a selfless act at great personal risk and cost. He understood now why he was here, in his room right now too. This moment was the reason it had all taken place.

“I guess I should make copies of these for you too” Ron sneered.

“No, thank you” Martin responded. “I’ll frame a newspaper when it happens. When is the big date?”

“30 days from today” Ron answered without reading from the paper again. “Want tickets? You can be my plus one”

“No thanks, the scar’s enough for me. It’s been a long time coming, making sure a man like you is healthy enough to execute takes a lot.”

Ron didn’t have a response. His upcoming date seemed near inevitable. His health would recover to such a degree that the state would find no objection to executing him in good conscience. His appeals and objections had mostly been fought on his first scheduled date. There was so little standing between him and the date 30 days from now that he could feel it.

“You know, there’s an old Chinese proverb about the responsibility one bears after saving someone’s life,” Martin said. “So make sure you take care of yourself Ron, cause I guess I’m responsible for the rest of it”

Martin stood slowly from his chair beside the bed. He walked to the door, ready to leave Ron, the hospital and this period of his life long behind. He stood by the door before leaving Ron’s room.

“But I guess I’m responsible for ending it too. Tricky one that.”

Without looking back to Ron or any of the staff guarding him he walked out the door and left behind a violent and turbulent life he had found himself duty-bound to write himself into.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

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