“Good morning, Michelle,” Dr. Charles McNider said to the young secretary seated outside his office. “It feels like a nice morning today.”
“Good morning, Dr. McNider!” The young woman said, smiling. “It certainly is; not a cloud in the sky! I put Dr. Green’s report on his head trauma case on your desk. Transcribed into braille, as always.”
“Efficient as always, Michelle, thank you,” Dr. McNider said smiling, his hand on the doorknob of his office. One of the hardest things about pretending to be a totally blind man had been learning braille and having his reports written in that form to maintain the charade. Recently he had been afraid he’d have to use it for real, as his bizarre reverse-vision had been starting to fail him. But a special set of glasses devised by his late friend, Dr. Ogilvey, had solved that problem, and by way of thanks, Doctor Mid-Nite had brought Ogilvey’s murderer to justice.
“Oh, and Dr. Pierce wants to see you right away,” Michelle added. “In his office.”
Dr. McNider stiffened. “Yes, thank you, Michelle. I’ll be right there.”
McNider turned and walked out of his office. It still rankled him that Dr. Pierce was chief of staff of Stanasch Hospital. He had been an intern when McNider was chief resident. Of course, McNider had taken ten years off from his medical career to write pulp magazine stories and fight crime as Doctor Mid-Nite. In 1951, when the JSA was driven underground by Senator O’Fallon, McNider had returned to medicine. It had not been easy, while maintaining a charade as a blind man (something he had done, since the need for Doctor Mid-Nite arose once in a while). But he had done it, and by this time was one of the highest-respected physicians in the hospital. But he still had to kowtow to Dr. Pierce, and the younger man knew it.
As he turned the corner heading for Pierce’s office, being careful to look like he was counting steps, McNider wondered what Pierce had in store for him now. He hoped it was nothing that would divert his attention, today of all days.
Not with the special patient in Room 101.
Dr. McNider rapped on the rich wooden door with the shiny brass plate reading DR. B.F. PIERCE, CHIEF OF STAFF. He heard the doctor’s jovial voice from within calling, “Come in!”
He did so, and he saw another man in the room with Dr. Pierce, a tall, well-built man in his mid-thirties. The man’s face looked vaguely familiar, but Dr. McNider couldn’t think where he had seen it before. Of course, he couldn’t ask the man.
“Dr. McNider, come in,” Dr. Pierce said in his plummy voice. “Someone here I’d like you to meet.”
“This is the guy?” the other man asked Dr. Pierce enthusiastically. He strode over to Dr. McNider, grasped his hand, and pumped it enthusiastically. “Doc, it’s a pleasure to meet you! You and I are gonna be great friends, I know! Great friends!”
“Er, thank you, I’m sure,” McNider said. “I’m sorry, you have the advantage of me, Mister…”
The stranger goggled in surprise. “You mean you don’t recognize me?” He said it as though this were a crime.
“Dr. McNider doesn’t get to the movies much,” Dr. Pierce explained patiently.
Movies — that was where McNider had seen this man.
“Oh, sure, sure,” the man said, “but I figured my voice, maybe? From television?”
“I don’t own a television set,” Dr. McNider said, and this was true. “I prefer my phonograph.”
“Hey, sure, whatever you like,” the stranger said, undaunted.
“Dr. McNider, may I introduce Mr. Clint Reynolds,” Dr. Pierce said. “Perhaps you’ve heard of him — a movie star and three-time Oscar nominee.”
“Four time,” Reynolds corrected. “Lost to DeNiro last time out, but there’s no shame in getting beat by the best, is there, Doc?”
“I’ve never thought so,” Dr. McNider said. “It’s an honor, Mr. Reynolds. What can I, er, do for you?”
“Mr. Reynolds would like to spend the day with you, Doctor,” Dr. Pierce said, in an undertone that implied that refusal was not an option. “Observe you on rounds with patients, consulting with other doctors, that sort of thing.”
“He does?” Dr. McNider asked. Then, realizing that was rude, turned to Reynolds. “You do? Er… why?”
“Well, Doc, I’m a method actor,” Reynolds explained. “I like to get into a role I’m playing… actually live the part, you know? When I made Smoke Eaters, I rode with the boys of Engine 451 in St. Louis for a month. When I did Motion to Compel, I went around with an actual trial lawyer. Hell, I sat second chair on a murder trial! ‘Second chair,’ that’s a legal term.”
“I’m familiar with it,” McNider said, afraid that he knew where this was going.
“My next picture,” Reynolds said proudly, “is called Up From Darkness. It’s about a young man who’s wanted to be a doctor all his life. He’s worked his way through med school, worked hard at it, and finally graduates with honors. But on the day he graduates, he’s in an accident and loses his sight.”
“Interesting,” McNider said.
“Dang right!” Reynolds cried. “This will get me my Oscar for sure! The blind guy, see, struggles to overcome overwhelming odds and practice medicine anyway, even though he can’t see! That’s my part, the blind doctor who becomes a medical genius in spite of his handicap! That’s the role I have to live!”
“And that’s where you come in, Doctor,” Pierce said, enjoying McNider’s obvious discomfort.
I was afraid it was, McNider thought to himself.
“So the nurses, they translate the charts into braille for you?” Reynolds asked.
“Not the nurses,” Dr. McNider said. “We have support staff that do that.” McNider lifted the chart from the foot of a patient’s bed and ran his fingertips slowly over the bumpy surface. He smiled slightly. “How are you feeling today, Mr. Giordano?”
“Stomach hurts, Doctor,” the middle-aged man in the bed muttered.
“I don’t wonder, with the ulcer you have,” Dr. McNider said. “We’ll get you fixed up, but you’re going to take it easy. No more spicy foods for you.”
“What, no marinara sauce? No garlic bread?” Giordano asked.
“I’m afraid not,” McNider said.
“Doc, didn’t you take an oath to end human suffering?” Giordano asked. Dr. McNider nodded. “Then don’t make me give up my wife’s cooking!”
Dr. McNider chuckled. “You’ll adjust, Mr. Giordano.”
As they walked away from the bed, Reynolds turned to McNider. “You’ve got a good way with the patients, Doc.”
“Thank you,” Dr. McNider said. “It’s something they can’t teach you in med school. It comes from the heart. Either you have it, or you don’t. A doctor without it is nothing but a mechanic.”
“Hey, that’s good!” Reynolds said, fumbling in his pocket. “Here, do you mind saying that again?” The actor held a miniature tape recorder up to McNider’s face. The doctor sighed and repeated his statement word for word.
“Great, great stuff!” Reynolds said, very pleased. “I’ll leave this running, if you don’t mind. Don’t want to miss any more gems like that! Boy, this will get me that gold statue for sure!” Reynolds paused, unsure if he had said something tasteless. “You do know what I mean by ‘gold,’ right, Doc?”
“I had my sight until I was twenty-six,” Dr. McNider said patiently. “I remember ‘gold.'”
“Oh, right, right,” Reynolds said. “Twenty-six, hey? Dr. Pierce told me it happened to you, like, forty years ago.”
“That’s right, in 1941,” McNider said.
“Well, I gotta say, you’re lookin’ great for sixty-six!” Reynolds said admiringly. “How do you do it?”
“Clean living,” McNider said earnestly.
“No, seriously, how?” Reynolds asked.
“I am serious,” McNider said. “If you live right, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to do everything at ninety that you could at nineteen.”
“For real?” Reynolds goggled.
“Of course,” McNider said. He enjoyed talking about physical health; it was one of his favorite subjects. “I have never drank alcohol, used tobacco in any form, or taken any kind of artificial drug. I eat meat only sparingly, perhaps once every month or two. I exercise regularly, I eat only natural foods — nothing artificial, never anything fried. And last month, I celebrated my sixty-sixth birthday.”
“Celebrated how?” Reynolds asked. Dr. McNider frowned and pretended not to hear the chuckle of a passing intern.
“Hey, Doc,” Reynolds said as they continued their rounds, “what’s with all the cops? I mean, I know you can’t see them, but you know about them, right?” Dr. McNider and his unwelcome shadow were approaching a hall where armed police guards stood at either end, barring admittance. A sign on the wall read Rooms 101-107.
“I know about them,” McNider said. “We have a… celebrity in one of our treatment rooms.” McNider showed his hospital ID badge to one of the policemen, who grunted that he could pass. The doctor and the actor continued on.
“A celebrity? Yeah? Anyone I might have worked with?” Reynolds asked.
“I doubt it,” McNider said dryly, “unless you had some very interesting odd jobs before your acting career took off.” Dr. McNider and Reynolds approached Room 101, where three more armed police stood guard. Again the showing of ID, the grunted assent. Dr. McNider pushed open the door and entered.
Reynolds followed and saw the single occupant of the room, a man of about McNider’s age, but showing it somewhat more, with an angular face, a long nose and chin, and stark white hair that made him look almost elfin. But one look at his crystal blue eyes and the menace hidden within them dispelled the elfin analogy. His skinny left arm was manacled to the bed rail. Tubes went into his other arm, and electrodes connected his chest to an EKG machine that recorded his heartbeat with a steady beep… beep… beep. He grinned when he saw Dr. McNider.
“Afternoon, Doc,” the patient said, grinning. “Say, what’s a fellow have to do to get the air conditioning turned up around here? I’m roasting.” The patient noticed Reynolds for the first time. “Who’s this, Doc? A specialist?”
“In a way,” McNider acknowledged. “This is Clint Reynolds, the actor. I’m showing him how to be a blind doctor.”
“Is that so?” the patient chuckled. “Well, they came to the right person. Reynolds, sure. I’ve seen a couple of your movies. What was that one where you were a super-soldier created in a government lab…?”
“Major USA,” Reynolds said. “Like it?”
“Pretty good,” the patient said. “I mean, the science was all wrong, but what else is new in Hollywood, huh? You were good in it, I thought. Good role for you.”
“Hey, thanks! Always glad to meet a fan!” Reynolds said enthusiastically. “Doc, aren’t you going to introduce me?”
“I was getting to that,” Dr. McNider said. “Let me present Dr. Joar Makent, better known to all as the Icicle.”
Reynolds gasped. Makent winked.
“Howja do, Clint?” he said with a grin.
“The Icicle!” Reynolds cried, pointing a quivering finger at the frail-looking old man lying grinning in the hospital bed. “You’re the Icicle! Y-you’ve tried to kill Green Lantern, a-and the whole Justice Society! You even stole the Washington Monument, once! You’re a super-villain!”
“Why, thanks,” Makent said, still grinning. “It’s always nice to meet a fan.”
“Doc, what’s he doing here?” Reynolds demanded. “A super-villain! Why wasn’t I told about this? I want to talk to my agent!”
“Relax, Mr. Reynolds,” Dr. McNider said placatingly. “Dr. Makent is quite harmless in his present state.”
“Sure of that, Doc?” Makent asked impishly.
“Dr. Makent was shot by a bank guard,” Dr. McNider explained, unperturbed, “while in the act of robbing Foxgarden Savings Bank two days ago. A crime that, actually, seems somewhat beneath his usual standards.”
“Hey, even Matisse didn’t paint a masterpiece every time out,” Makent said with a slight shrug. “Besides, chemicals cost money.”
“The bullet punctured a lung,” McNider went on. “Dr. Makent was brought here for immediate treatment. Once he’s well enough to be moved, he’ll be transferred to the state correctional facility to await trial.”
“Some trial,” Makent snorted. “I’ll probably just plead guilty this time and save the hassle. We all know the outcome already.”
“Doc, are you sure he’s harmless?” Reynolds demanded. “How do I know he’s not going to suddenly, I don’t know, freeze the hospital or something? And he knows I’m here now! He could try to kidnap me, ransom me to my studio! Good Lord, he–”
“Mr. Reynolds,” Dr. McNider said patiently, “I assure you, you’re in no danger from Dr. Makent. He is seriously injured, not even recovered enough to get out of bed by himself, even if he weren’t handcuffed to the bedrail.”
“About that, Doc,” Makent chimed in, “where do I register a complaint about the bedpans? Whose bright idea was it to keep them in the refrigerator?”
“I should think you’d be the last one to complain about that,” McNider said dryly. “Furthermore,” he continued, to Reynolds, “Dr. Makent is not truly a ‘super-villain’ in the first place. His is a scientific genius–”
“Thanks,” Makent piped up.
“–who perverts his knowledge to criminal purposes,” McNider went on acidly. “But without his weapons, he is as powerless as anyone else. There’s nothing he can do.”
“So why the armed guards, then?” Reynolds demanded. “I saw fewer goons at Fort Knox!”
“You were at Fort Knox?” Makent asked, interested.
“Sure, we filmed All That Glitters on location there,” Reynolds said.
“Interesting,” Makent said. “And they had fewer guards than this, you say? Tell me more.”
“Some other time, perhaps,” McNider said firmly. “Come on, Mr. Reynolds, I’m due in an M-and-M conference shortly. I’m sure you’ll find that fascinating.”
“See you later, Doc,” Makent called. “And I know you won’t see me first, huh?” The doctor and the actor left to the sound of the Icicle’s chilling laugh.
Dr. McNider frowned. Sure, Makent was helpless right now. But he had friends who were not.