A Second Opinion: Chapter Eight: The Final Argument of Kings
This is chapter 8 of a serialized libertarian novella appearing free on Art For Liberty. Read from the beginning here.
Chapter Eight: The Final Argument of Kings
“Ultima Ratio Regum” – Inscribed on the cannons of Louis the XIV
“Shelly? Enoch.” The normally dry voice had an uncommon pep to it, the ends of his words clipped off more suddenly than usual. Shelly could almost imagine the older man with his dark, graying hair, drumming his fingers on the desk in a rare display of excitement. “Listen, that tip you gave Thomas King turned out to be very fruitful. In fact, it’s been upgraded to an internal security matter and I’m handling it personally.”
Shelly’s heart caught in her throat. “What…” her mouth was dry, “What did they find out?”
The usually reserved Enoch Boyle was almost giddy. He’d never had a case like this. The recording from the Health Department surveillance van had worked its way up quickly through the state security apparatus and, combined with the information that there had been a malicious hack within the hospital’s network, had returned with one verdict, “Possible terrorist suspects. Apprehend immediately.” And a final sentence that had sent Boyle’s blood pumping, “Deadly force authorized.”
His voice over the phone line practically cackled with glee, “It looks like Dr. Morales has been spending time with some very interesting compatriots…”
John’s personal phone rang during surgery. Alone in his office it buzzed angrily, its incoming call light casting a harsh, artificial glow across the mess of papers on his desk. It vibrated four times, each seemingly more frantic than the last. Finally it was silent. In the surgery room, John, eyes focused intently, ordered the nurse to pass him a needle. His unseen cellphone buzzed one last time and the text on its screen read, “New Voicemail.”
An hour later, finished with the surgery and freshly scrubbed, Morales returned to his office to fill out the paperwork required by a brain tumor craniotomy. He was halfway through form H-10289-B before he even thought to check his cell phone.
The voicemail that greeted him was loud, it was harsh, it was grating. It was from Shelly Reyes.
“You cabrón! I know all about your late nights at the hospital with your whore and her brat! I know you went to her apartment last night and missed the dinner I cooked you. You cheating hijo de puta! I’m staying with my sister. I want your things moved out of my house by the time I get back tomorrow!” There was a pause in the recording, then a final burst of vehemence, “And I hope you know that whore of yours is going to jail. Citizen Security just told me she’s a terrorist.” The message ended.
Morales should have felt shocked. His heart should have jumped into his throat and begun pounding furiously. It did not. Instead he experienced a curious feeling of detachment. The unreality of the situation made him view it as if from a distance.
There was no way Lysandra and her daughter were going to jail. They’d pay a fine for abusing the medical system, perhaps, as would he, but they weren’t terrorists. They’d never hurt anyone (and, indeed, Morales doubted the young woman and 10 year old girl were capable of hurting someone), or blown up any buildings. Those were the types of things terrorists did. Seeking medical care outside the system was not among them.
These thoughts reassured him. But then he heard Lysandra’s words again in his ears, How far away do you think we are, really, from political dissidents and undesirables being arrested and ‘disappeared,’ all in the name of some common good? He shook his head.
John Morales was unsure what to do. He had no phone number for the Fremonts, no way of warning them, and no idea if he even should. Besides, she’d lied to him.
The Fremont woman had used him for her own weird political aims. If she could deceive him for so long about something he was supposedly an expert on, what else had she been hiding? Maybe Lysandra had blown up buildings. Trying to help her escape a government dragnet for terrorists was hardly a rational thing to do, especially considering their most recent interaction. He still felt the acid in his chest from learning he’d been duped.
No, helping the Fremonts escape government custody was not rational. Helping them originally had not exactly been rational either. Yet he had done it.
It was at this moment that the surgeon was forced to confront the problem he had relegated to his subconscious mind for the last few months; the question of why, exactly, he had decided to help the pair in the first place.
It had seemed, at first, impulsive, reckless. He’d thought the decision aberrant.
And, for a career doctor, operating in a state administered health system and concerned narrowly with the day-to-day of paperwork, patients, and making ends meet, it was.
John had, he realized with a start, long ago resigned himself to such narrow cares. It was a gradual transition, one he hardly noticed as he was undergoing it but which, in retrospect, he could see as an inexorable progression from clear-eyed idealism to weary, cynical, pragmatism. But he was not, at his core, a cynical person. He had become so, step by slight step; when he allowed a senator’s friend to jump the waiting list “just this once,” when he didn’t correct an erroneous lab report because the hospital had already exceeded its allowed number of blood tests that month, and when he refused a patient who wasn’t eligible to be treated under the Patient Care Laws. It had been so easy, like sinking slowly into a dreamless sleep. And, his conscience assured him, it was all for the greater good.
The first visit from the Fremonts had been a shock to his system: a defibrillator that sparked life into his almost extinguished flame of idealism. He thought then that helping them made no sense, that it was aberrant. But it wasn’t, really. Lysandra had finally shown him that with her copy of The American Journal of Ethics in Medicine, and the conclusion of his own essay.
Morales had always felt vaguely bothered by the healthcare system as it existed. Too many things caused him to turn down his mouth in quiet disgust. Unlike the many others in his profession he’d never really been able to shake the feeling of unease with the current system or fully lose his sense of early idealism. What he hadn’t had before Lysandra Fremont was an outlet for that feeling; a way of acting on it.
In fact, he hadn’t even had a voice for it until the thin woman with the grey eyes had showed up illegally with her daughter one evening. She’d said things he’d felt but been unable to describe, she’d challenged his silent quiescence.
She’d lied to him.
Did that even matter?
“Is it wrong, or right?” Her daughter had asked the question that first night. He’d given her a rote non-answer, then. But the issue was clearer to him now. Lysandra’s persistent questions and the intervening months had made him think hard about what he really believed.
Was it wrong to refuse care to people not on an approved government list, or right?
Was it wrong to rely on an inefficient, centralized bureaucracy for life-saving medicines, or right?
Was it wrong to give government employees special care because they controlled the budget, or right?
Was it wrong to fight a system that was only accountable, not to the people it was supposed to serve, but to connected career politicians and unelected bureaucrats?
Or was it right?
At that moment there was no emotional conflict, no inner contradictions, no agonizing choice to make. Morales had to drive to the Fremonts’ apartment and warn them.
His mind made up, John stood from his desk, opened the office door, and strode into the hallway.
And right into the path of Thomas King, who was flanked by two burly men carrying sidearms.
“Hello doctor. You’ll come with us please.” There was no preamble, and the bureaucrat’s smile was feral. The two men at his side glowered. One rested his hand slowly on the pistol in his holster, underscoring the nature of King’s request.
Morales nodded, numbly.
Outside the hospital, one of the men put a dark hood over John’s head and he was ushered, not exactly gently, into a waiting government SUV.
His cell phone, forgotten once more on his desk, was silent for moment, and then it lit up excitedly, buzzed once, and was again still. The words on its screen read, “New text message from Unknown.”