10

Fair Oaks is a quiet street nestled into the hillside that slopes down from affluent Noe Valley to the grittier Mission District. Ed and Julie’s Italianate Victorian, built in 1889, had three modest bedrooms, one small bath, a new skylight over the breakfast nook, a little deck leading to a cozy yard, and a basement room that housed Julie’s sewing equipment, fabric, and yoga mat, and Ed’s library, home office, and rowing machine. Even with two good incomes, the house was a stretch. Renovations stretched things further. But that was life in San Francisco.

After the party, Julie drove the sitter home. Ed peeked in on Sonya, who should have been fast asleep, but wasn’t.

“We didn’t do reading,” she pouted.

“It’s late, honey. Go to sleep.”

“Just a little, Daddy. One page?
Please?”

It was way past Sonya’s bedtime, but they were encouraging her to read. Ed sat on the edge of her bed while his no-longer-little girl worked her way through
Charlotte’s Web. She was turning into quite the reader, though Ed still had to help with the occasional word. Two pages and some tough negotiations later, Ed tucked Sonya in, kissed her, and whispered in her ear, as he did every night, that she was his favorite girl in the whole wide world.

As Ed departed, Sonya demanded the song.

“It’s too late, honey. Go to sleep.”

“But I need the song. I
really need it.”

Across the hall, Julie was undressing and heard the plaintive whine. She appeared in a robe and touched Ed’s shoulder as if to say: I’ll take things from here. Every night, Julie sang Sonya to sleep with one of a half-dozen songs. Sonya requested “Lean on Me.” Julie sang it a honeyed alto.

Then Ed and Julie descended to their basement sanctuary. Julie sat at her sewing machine and mended a zipper. Ed opened a book on the heyday of the cable cars in the 1890s, when twenty-one lines ran from downtown all the way to the Presidio and south to the Mission. Most of the track was damaged beyond repair in 1906 and never rebuilt, but five lines remained in service until the late 1940s, when Mayor Roger Lapham decided to embrace progress and save money by getting rid of them. Then Ed’s eyelids got heavy.

He was brushing his teeth when the phone rang. It was too late for good news.

“Ed? Todd,” the voice said, minus Todd Gardner’s usual joviality. “Dar’s in the hospital.”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“They don’t know. But something’s weird. I’m in the emergency room. An ambulance just pulled up. The guy on the gurney looked a lot like Ted Calderone.”

“What happened?” Ed covered the mouthpiece and yelled to Julie to pick up.

Todd ignored the question.

“I’ve got the boys with me. But it looks like I’ll be here all night. I hate to ask, but can one of you come get them?”

“Of course,” Julie said. “Where are you?”

“CPMC.” California Pacific Medical Center, the huge hospital in Pacific Heights on the city’s wealthy north side. It was a twenty-minute drive from Ed and Julie’s.

“I’ll be there in ten,” Julie said. She was already dressing.

“What happened?” Ed repeated.

“We got home from the party. Dar had a stomachache. Then it got worse. Then I heard moaning from the bathroom. I found her doubled up on the floor looking like she was
dying.” His voice cracked.

“Where is she now?”

“Intensive care.”

“What do the doctors say?”

“Nothing. Not a goddamn thing.” The crack in his voice widened. “I’m
freaking. You should’ve seen her.”

“I’m on my way,” Julie said.

Ed told Todd to hang in there. It sounded lame, but what else could he say?

Todd and Dar had two sons, T.J.—Todd Junior—twelve, and Donny, ten. Ed opened the door to the guest room. Lately, Julie had taken to calling it the
nursery. There were clean sheets and a thick blanket on the bed. Ed pulled the futon from the closet, unfolded it, and made it up.

Then what Todd said registered: Calderone might be there, too. One person hospitalized after a party could be anything. But two might be something else. News. He turned on the all-news radio station and called the
Horn. The radio had nothing and the night Metro editor hadn’t heard a thing.

*****


It was close to midnight when Julie returned with the two boys. Once they were settled in bed, Ed pounced.

“So?”

“They don’t know. They think it’s something she ate. They’re pumping her stomach. They wouldn’t let us near her. I asked this one doctor if she was going to be all right. He said, ‘We’re doing the best we can.’”

“Oh, God.”

“Todd’s a basket case.”

“Is he staying there?”

“Won’t leave.”

Ed took a breath and exhaled slowly. “Then I’m going.”

“Ed, it’s midnight. You can’t do anything. When I left, he was dozing.”

“Then I’ll watch him sleep. He shouldn’t be alone. We owe them.”

Julie nodded. The previous year, she’d found a lump. Her mother, for whom Sonya was named, had died of breast cancer. Things were tense until the biopsy came back benign. During the ordeal, Dar and Todd were terrific. They took Sonya a few nights, brought casseroles, were true friends. Afterward, they had Ed and Julie over for a barbecue with zany umbrella drinks, very heavy on dark rum.

Ed threw on some clothes. He grabbed his book and portable chess set. On picnics, Ed and Todd played. They were pretty evenly matched, which they both enjoyed.

On the drive across town, Ed tried the all-news station again. Nothing. He pulled out his phone. The night guys at the
Horn monitored the police band. There were a few more ambulances than usual on the street, but nothing out of the ordinary, and no names, no reports that Calderone had been hospitalized.

Ed found Todd fast asleep, stretched out on a sofa by the nurse’s station that led to the ICU. The overnight desk nurse was a tiny wisp of an Asian woman who looked Vietnamese, maybe Thai. Ed asked about Dar.

“And you are?” The nurse had huge eyes and was all business.

“Her brother,” Ed lied. Hospital staff never talk to anyone but family. “Todd called. I got here as fast as I could. But I don’t want to wake him.” He pointed to his “brother-in-law” sacked out on the sofa. “Any news?”

The nurse stared at her screen, moved the mouse, and clicked a few times. “The team is still with her.”

“Team?”

“Dr. Banerjee, internal medicine. Dr. Laskow, hepatology. And Dr. Smithey, toxicology.”

Toxicology. That didn’t sound good.

“Hepatology?” Ed ventured. “Isn’t that the liver?”

“Yes. When a doctor comes out, I’ll call you.”

Ed plopped down in an armchair, put his feet up on another, and began to read about the far-flung network of cable car lines that once crisscrossed the city. Next thing he knew, Todd was shaking him awake.

“Ed! How long have you been here?”

Ed wished he could brush his teeth.

“Since around midnight.”

“It’s six-fifteen.” Todd clapped a hand on Ed’s shoulder. “Thanks for coming.”

“Any word?” Ed’s eyes focused. Todd looked like hell.

“She’s still with us. The doctor said in poisonings, if they hang in there the first six hours, they usually make it. It’s been like eight, so that’s something.”

“Poisoning?” That explained the toxicologist. “How?”

“Fuck if I know. They pumped her stomach. Found poison mushrooms.”

“Jesus.”

“Doctor said it fried her liver.”

“Dar’s tough,” Ed said, pulling himself to his feet. It was all he could think to say. “I brought the chess set. Want to play?”

“Thanks, but I’d rather get some fresh air. How about a walk?”

Outside the day dawned foggy and raw. They walked the perimeter of the sprawling medical center. The neighborhood loved the hospital’s reputation, but hated the traffic and parking problems it created. Ed eyed the homes—stately, lovingly restored Victorians built around the same time as his, but in grander style, an ornate genre known as “Stick Vic.”

*****

When they returned, Dr. Laskow was waiting for them—and smiling.

“Mr. Gardner, your wife has pulled through. I expect a complete recovery, but it’s going to take a while. Her liver took quite a hit.”

Todd blinked rapidly and had to wipe his eyes. “Thank God. Thank you, doctor.” He grabbed Laskow’s hand and worked it like a water pump.

“I expect your wife will need bed rest for a month. She won’t feel back to baseline for a good eight weeks. I want to keep her here another day or two, monitor her liver function. We’ll know more by the time she’s discharged.”

Todd wiped his eyes again, “Thank you
so much.”

“Now if you’ll excuse me,” Laskow said, “I have another mushroom poisoning to attend to. Haven’t seen one in years. Now, two in one night.”

Laskow strode toward the elevators. He was pushing the button when Ed registered what he said.

“Doctor!” Ed bolted down the hall.

The elevator door opened and Dr. Laskow stepped inside. It was closing when Ed reached in and swatted the trip mechanism. The doors reopened. “This other poisoning: Do you have a name? Is it Ted Calderone?”

Laskow flipped through the charts in his hand. His brow furrowed. “How’d you know?”

“We were all at a party together last night. How is he?”

Laskow flipped through the chart.

“I’m not at liberty to say. But you were at a party?”

Ed nodded.

“How many people were there?”

“About a thousand.”

Laskow’s eyes widened. “I think I better call the health department.”

“Good idea.”

Then Ed recalled the death threats against the writer of the breast milk story. He decided to call the police—and the paper.