Chapter 6

The Coliseum. The Roman Forum. Trevi Fountain. Picture perfect weather was the background as Ellen strolled through Rome with a Michelin tourist guidebook of Italy in her hand. Rome, like many European capitals, is a perfect walking city, especially with many of the sites being located on narrow side streets, and Ellen spent two days exploring the famed attractions on her own while Kevin participated in the seminars. The all-day walks helped to counter-balance the delicious multiple course dinners she and Kevin enjoyed each evening. Glancing at her wristwatch Ellen crossed the Piazza Venezia and hailed a taxi to take her back to the hotel. Tonight she and Kevin were invited to the apartment of a prominent Rome psychiatrist speaking at the symposium and Ellen decided to forgo the walk to the hotel for a leisurely bath before dressing for dinner.

Around 9 p.m. that evening Kevin and Ellen alighted from a taxicab and climbed several sets of stairs to a 6th floor apartment located in a building on the Via del Governo Vecchio. The wife of Kevinís colleague, Anna Guidarelli, greeted them in the foyer and escorted them into the spacious top-floor apartment. Photographs, paintings, shelves overflowing with books, and framed sketches lined the walls gave evidence that their hosts valued the arts as much as their noted professions. About 30 people mingled in the study and parlor, with most people congregating near a Bosendorfer grand piano where a guest had consented to give an impromptu performance. As Kevin conversed with another conference attendee, Ellen excused herself and wandered over to the buffet table that overflowed with food.

While debating what to take for herself and for Kevin when a voice whispered in her ear, "The antipasto is quite good." Ellen turned to find a tall, distinguished looking gentleman smiling at her.

Ellenís cheeks grew warm under the intensity of his gaze. "Thank you. I think I might try it," she said.

"Let me introduce myself. I am Federico Guidarelli. And you areÖ"

"My name is Ellen Burgess. Iím here with Kevin Collins, who is attending the symposium you helped to organize.

Dr. Guidarelli spoke warmly of conferring with Kevin during the conference and expressed interest in continuing their collaboration in the future. When Ellen referred to some of the research areas of particular interest to Kevin, it was impossible for her host to hide his astonishment. He was obviously surprised that Ellen didnít speak as a lay-person when discussing technical matters and verbally expressed surprise at her knowledge. With a mix of amusement and suppressed irritation, Ellen, in a humorous tone, challenged him to guess what she did for a living. Kevin arrived right behind Ellen as Dr. Guidarelli offered his guess of Ellenís profession.

"I think you are a model," the doctor said with supreme confidence.

His answer took Ellen by complete surprise and she laughingly replied, "Thank you for the complement Federico but I am far too short to be a model. Do you care to make a second guess?"

Before Dr. Guidarelli could respond to Ellenís question, Kevin remarked, "But Federicoís response is quite understandable Ellen." Addressing their host, Kevin explained, "At General Hospital Ellen is much more accustomed to being complemented for her intelligence than for her beauty. Dr. Burgess is the head of the Emergency Services at General Hospital. In fact, I came over her to introduce her to Dr. Benzini of your hospital. Heís very interested in some of the innovations sheís instituted at General Hospital."

Both Kevin and Ellen watched as a clearly shocked Dr. Guidarelli apologized profusely for his mistake and offered to personally introduce Ellen to his colleagues.

Surely mistaking me for a model instead of a physician isnít an embarrassing situation. However it was obvious from Dr. Guidarelliís overtures that he was attempting to make amends for his earlier comment. Ellen recognized something slightly familiar about Dr. Guidarelliís surprised look when Kevin revealed her professionÖ A slight gasp escaped her lips when she deduced the reason for Dr. Guidarelli not guessing she was also a colleague in the medical profession.

Upon hearing her gasp, a very confused Kevin whispered to Ellen, as she was being escorted away by Dr. Guidarelli, "Whatís wrong, did I miss something?"

"Iíll explain later," Ellen assured him.

Dr. Guidarelli proved true to his word. For the rest of the evening he personally escorted Ellen and introduced her to everyone at the party. For guests who spoke very little or no English he patiently acted as a translator during many of the conversations. Towards the end of the evening, Kevin reclaimed his date and they sat together when Signora Guidarelli and two guests performed as a trio and treated the guests to an instrumental recital of classical Mozart pieces. Shortly after 1:30 a.m. even though many guests were still at the party, Kevin and Ellen thanked the Guidarellis for a lovely evening and made their departure. Instead of immediately hailing a taxi, the couple linked arms and decided to walk to the Metro stop four blocks away.

Remembering Ellenís earlier promise, Kevin queried, "O.K. Ellen. What was the big secret and why did Federico stick so closely to you tonight? Surely he wasnít trying to seduce my girlfriend immediately upon seeing her." Mind you, Kevin wouldnít have been too shocked if this was true. Italians were very different from Americans in that the men did not hide their open admiration of women, regardless if the women were escorted or not. Several times during their trip so far Ellen had been flabbergasted when men openly flirted with her with Kevin standing next to her. Her reaction in a way endeared her to him. Lucy would have joined right in with the flirtation but Ellen was always embarrassed by it, even though she now accepted that this was very typical for Italian behavior.

"Federico was making up for his faux pas during our introduction. He was taken aback that I was a physician because I am a black woman."

Total disbelief washed over Kevin as he immediately stopped walking and spun Ellen around so he could look her at her eyes. He knew that Ellen would never joke about such a serious topic but upon seeing the calm acceptance in her eyes he was flabbergasted that he missed the reason for Dr. Guidarelliís mistake.

Knowing it didnít occur to Kevin that race was the source of Dr. Guidarelliís mistake she smiled and said, "Thank you for the complement Kevin but no, Federico didnít think I was too pretty to be a doctor."

"I can hardly believe it Ellen." Kevin was stunned. "He and most of the other people Iíve met here are very intelligent and seem very broadminded."

Shaking her head, Ellen clasped Kevinís hand again and continued to walk, leading him toward the Metro.

"Intelligence has very little to do with it. Itís more about what people are used to seeing and experiencing personally." Glancing at Kevin she continued, "You visited a hospital in Rome yesterday as part of the symposium events. Were any of the senior staff you met at the hospital black?"

Upon reflection, Kevin slowly replied, "No." He remembered seeing some nurses and cleaning people who were African or Indian but he never saw a person of color at any of the meetings he attended.

"And itís not just the hospitals here. Look in the shops and restaurants. Rarely there do you see black people working. And look at the television stations. Unlike the States we donít see people of many races reporting the news. The only time weíve seen black people here in Italy are the African immigrants who sell fake Italian designer bags on the streets or on T.V. when rock stars or sports figures are highlighted. It must be extremely hard for people of color to advance professionally here in Italy. There are still race issues in the United States but I think in some ways weíre far ahead of other countries. There are more opportunities for people of color to advance in the United States."

"I guess Iím somewhat ashamed of myself that I hadnít notice these things."

Patting his arm in sympathy Ellen countered, "And why would you? This is why I said intelligence isnít the only factor; familiarity is a factor too. Iím in the medical profession, but I was not aware of a lot of issues facing handicapped people until Matt came into my life. Just because weíre intellectually aware of issues doesnít mean a lot usually until weíre really made conscious of the issues. Until tonight, Federico and a lot of his colleagues never thought about a black woman being a competent physician anywhere other than Africa. So the next time they meet a black person, their minds may entertain the possibility that this person could be a doctor, an engineer, or an architect."

Kevin gentled squeezed Ellenís hand a little tighter and they walked down the stairs to the Metro station.

************

5:30 a.m. Albany, New York

How busy can the assistant chief of staff of the hospital be at this hour in the morning? After waiting more than 25 minutes, Mac left the main floor waiting room and walked back to the reception area to inquire about Dr. Andersen, who was the top hospital official on duty. Just as the nurse lifted the telephone to make another page, a slim haggard-looking sandy haired man in his mid-thirties approached Mac. Taggert, seeing the man walk toward Mac, joined them in the reception area.

"Iím Neil Andersen. Sorry for the delay. Our emergency room became quite busy all of a sudden and I canít spare a lot of time. How may I help you CommissionerÖ"

"Scorpio," Mac interjected. "Iím the police commissioner in Port Charles and this is Lieutenant Marcus Taggert. Your supervisor, Dr. Bloch knows that Lieutenant Taggert and I will be on the floor where Anthony Moreno will be staying during his heart procedure, and we want to get settled before he arrives."

"May I see your badges?" Dr. Anderson asked sharply.

Surprised, both Mac and Taggert presented their badges.

After closely but quickly examining the badges, the physician abruptly turn on his heels and said over his shoulder, "Come with me" as he swiftly walked down the corridor.

"The good doctor can use additional classes on dealing with the general public," Taggert smirked. "Whatís his problem?"

Mac had caught the sight of the grimace on Andersenís face before he had turned and his uneasiness increased. Catching up with Andersen but not stopping him Mac barked, "What is it doctor? Morenoís not due for another hour. Whatís wrong?"

As they turned the corridor the trio walked swiftly past a dozen federal agents, state police, and local police personnel. Mac quickly whispered to Taggert, "Find out whatís going on out here and Iíll stick with the doctor."

Nodding, Taggert remained behind and Mac once again caught up with Dr. Andersen.

"For some reason there was a last minute change and I was told last night at midnight that Moreno, a guard from the federal prison, and four federal agents would arrive at the hospital about two hours early, at 4:30 a.m., for security reasons." Andersen explained. Pushing open the double doors to the emergency room, six gurneys were in the emergency room. Four of the gurneys were completely covered with sheets, signifying four bodies. Two teams of physicians were working frantically on the occupants on the other gurneys. "Apparently the change in time did nothing to prevent an ambush on Route 4 just outside of Albany, on the other side of the Hudson river. Three of the federal agents were killed; two died at the scene of the ambush and one died here 15 minutes ago. Weíre working now to save the fourth agent but it doesnít look good. The prison guard and two unidentified men also died at the scene. Moreno Ö" Andersenís summary was cut short as one team stopped working on a patient and an ER doctor called the time of death at 5:36 a.m.

Struggling to suppress his anxiety while walking towards the still uncovered body on the gurney, Macís voice shook slightly as he asked, "Is that Moreno?"

"No," Dr. Andersen sighed. "Unfortunately the ambush was successful in that Moreno escaped custody. We donít know who this Joe Doe is."

Grimly, Mac raised his gaze from the body which he recognized to look at the doctor and he made the identification. "Your John Doe is a man by the name of Rafael Sabatini." Mac thanked the doctor for the information and told him heíd remain outside the emergency room with the other law enforcement representatives. Taggert spoke to Mac as soon as he entered the ER lobby.

"You heard?" Accepting Macís curt nod as a response, Taggert continued, "The person in charge of the investigation, Agent Daniel Green, is still at the crime scene and probably will be for the next few hours. He probably has the best overall information about what went down and the best information on tracking Moreno. Do you want me to head over there?"

Mac pulled out his cellphone and looked at Taggert. "No, Iíll see Agent Green myself and will start to track down Moreno from this end. Thereís something more important for you to do. Go directly back to Port Charles right now and oversee protection for Dara until I get back. Iíll make the call right now to have PCPD personnel at her apartment within minutes but I want you to personally watch over her until I get back." Mac knew Taggert would protect Dara and despite the words they exchanged months ago when he and Dara first started dating, Mac didnít have to say that he was trusting Taggert with his life by making the request. Marcus Taggert saw this simply by looking at Macís face.

"Iím on my way." Taggert replied and without another word he took his leave.

Mac immediately made the call to arrange the round-the-clock security for Dara and then he dialed Daraís home number.

"Good morning," Dara murmured upon answering the telephone. "I miss you."

Mac knew Dara had screened the call using caller id and savored her warm familiar greeting. "I miss you too."

So in tune with her loverís emotions, upon hearing those few words Dara asked, "Whatís wrong Mac? Are you alright?"

"No."

Mac told Dara of Morenoís escape but didnít give a lot of details about the number of people killed during the ambush. Sheíd hear that soon enough once she got into the office. He informed her that a police officer would be with her constantly until his return and that Taggert was on his way back.

"When will you be back in Port Charles, Mac?"

"Itís hard to say at this point. You know Iíll be home as soon as I can."

"It is not your fault Moreno escaped. There was nothing you could do."

Logically, Mac knew Dara was probably right, but hearing those words from her did nothing to make him feel better. He still felt that somehow he had let Dara down and he didnít acknowledge her last comment. Instead he said, "I love you, Dara. Iíll call you as soon as I can."

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