“I wish I’d known you were mad,” said Ezra. In his hand he held a lantern to illuminate Martha, who lay unconscious atop the workbench. “Because if I had known what lunacy you were capable of I never would’ve encouraged you with those philosophical exercises.”
“If you are going to insult me at least hold the light steady.” Joseph spoke with undisguised disdain for his friend as he inspected Martha’s wound.
“Juris,” Joseph addressed Brother Pizzaro, “the bullet penetrated Martha’s side here but there is no point of exit. I need to locate that bullet and determine if it has become lodged in bone or is freely moving. Pass me the Nelaton’s probe. It is the one with the ceramic tip.”
“I am quite familiar with all the relevant terms for your surgical equipment,” Brother Pizarro spoke in a very precise and condescending tone as he handed Joseph the correct instrument. “Need I remind you gentlemen that we are running out of time.”
Joseph worked in silence with a precise and dedicated focus as he eased the probe into the wound, however something that was said earlier had clearly touched a nerve. “Have you had some sort of mental lapse, Ezra?” Joseph managed to sneer despite his continued attention to the swollen lesion. “What we drafted in those heady days was nothing short of the blueprints for our new world order; the ideal republic running like a fantastically complex clockwork! Those were no mere philosophical exercises.”
“I think you’re the one who’s had the mental lapse,” Ezra shot back. “Those were just political mind games we used to play over your father’s wine and imported tobacco.”
“You and your wine,” Joseph gave a derisive snort and dismissive shake of his head. “Don’t you think this cerebral professor affectation is getting a little tired? What are you going to do with your life, wander around the parks of this city spouting off philosophical conundrums to random passers by? You could have been so much more than you are if you had only applied yourself with the proper discipline and zeal.”
“Am I to understand that by proper discipline and zeal you mean keeping people locked in cages and disfiguring children in some insane and twisted desire to rule your own private fantasy world?”
“You mentioned something earlier— that you wished you had known I was mad.” Joseph paused, letting the moment linger. He had found the spot deep inside Martha where the bullet had come to rest. “I wonder what else you wish you had known?”
“Excuse me?” Ezra replied, trying not to let any shadows interfere with his work of focusing the light.
“Perhaps, for example, you wished you had known my wife just a little bit better?” Joseph taunted.
“Gentlemen!” Brother Pizarro cautioned. “This is neither the time nor the place for such discussions. Mr. Farquhar will be back with the lorry shortly and I cannot emphasize enough that we must be ready.”
“I have located the bullet,” said Joseph, removing the probe. “It passed through the fourth intercostal space, and has come to rest just behind the fifth costae verae. I can remove it. Forceps.”
Joseph took the forceps and inserted them until he felt the bullet. “I have it,” he said, easing the forceps out and holding them up for all to see. With a slight flick of his wrist he tossed the bullet into the pan beside Ezra with an audible clang. “It is a relatively narrow wound. No more than a dozen sutures to close it. Change the bandages for ones that are sterile every four to six hours. It sounds frequent but I am worried about infection setting in, especially with the bullet passing through the Faulkner girl before penetrating Martha.
“Would the signs of τέρας νέκρωση be consistent with with those that we observed a decade ago?” Brother Pizzaro asked.
“They would,” Joseph cleared his throat of emotion and took a deep breath. “You would be prepared?”
Brother Pizzaro nodded.
Ezra’s eyes were red and watery with clashing emotion. “Fine time for you to start worrying about her! Fine time indeed!”
Joseph shifted his gaze to Ezra. They locked eyes, neither willing to be the first to look to the side. “We could have been emperors together,” Joseph said. “Ruling a new Utopia.”
“What makes you think I ever would have wished to be an emperor?”