The Cardiac Cartel
By David Mucci
Published by 1st Books 
January 2002 (in paperback); ISBN: 0759685126; 192 pages

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The Cardiac Cartel by David Mucci Chapter One

Dr. Anthony Collas sat hunched over at his desk. His blood shot eyes, blurry at times, fixed on his computer screen. Until recently, his shoulders were normally squared and solid, but tonight they drooped under tremendous stress and tension. A winter storm charged outside in unrelenting gusts. Despite the frigid air that flowed through the partially opened third floor window, the room felt like a steam bath and he sat drenched in sweat. Beads rolled down from under his loose prematurely gray hair and continued under the bridge of his thick glasses. Occasionally the drips veered into one, or both, of his eyes causing him to blink hard from the sting of the salt. Otherwise the coalesced beads formed on the tip of his short, stubby nose. He ignored them now, and let them fall where they splattered onto the keyboard, his sleeve long since saturated from blotting them away.

The studio apartment that he had lived in for the last year was compact, not much larger than an efficiency unit. The bedroom, separated by a partial panel, allowed the landlord to charge full apartment rates. That didn't bother him. He was not one to place much emphasis on a place where he only ate and slept. Until a few days ago, all his free time had been spent at the hospital.

A pizza box hung off the edge of his small dinette table. Its contents were cold and untouched. A coffee pot, drained and refilled four times in the last three hours sat filled with its warm brew. Coffee was the only thing Dr. Collas had consumed from 11:00 PM to the present 3:10 AM, but it wasn't the caffeine that made his heart pound faster with every swallow. It raced more from what his light brown eyes danced over on his computer. His palms, damp and clammy, tightly gripped the mouse and guided the cursor across the screen with expert precision as he checked and rechecked his data.         

Startled, he snapped his head around to the left. The sound was sharp and quick like a twig snapping. He panted with fast, short breaths as he scanned the room. The double-bolted door remained locked. Computer spreadsheets covered the stacks of Cardiac Journals that littered the floor. The window shade swayed with the suction from the winter storm that raged outside. The room lit only by the computer screen and a side desk lamp was empty. The apartment was too small for anyone to hide in. He rubbed his throbbing temples. The rhythmic pounding in his head made him think of his heart pumping the blood through the dilated vessels just below the surface of his scalp. That made his headache unbearable. Assured he was alone he attempted to calm down by taking three purposeful, long, deep breaths, then he turned his attention back to the computer screen.

He mumbled to himself as he clicked the mouse and advanced the screen, "These numbers aren't even close. How did they get away with this for so long?"

 

Suddenly, like a shot, out of his peripheral vision a shadow moved. He spun around ready to defend himself, hands clenched, again only to find an empty room. The shade fluttered slightly and the shadow from the street lamp across the street cast a moving shadow on the opposite wall. He rubbed his temples again. "I've been doing this too long." He looked at the clock and realized he wasn't going to get any sleep this night.         

The steaming hot shower relaxed his tense muscles, though only momentarily. By the time he was dressed and ready to leave for the hospital the spasms in the nape of his neck had returned. He backed out of his apartment glancing before he left at his computer to ensure that it was off and the disks were hidden away. He pulled the door tight behind him and spun around, but his heart stopped and he gasped as he ran head on into a tall muscular man draped in a heavy winter coat. Their arms intertwined in a brief moment of struggle. Dr. Collas gave out a yell, pushed the man away and held his hands up ready to strike out to defend himself.

"Hey, hey, hey! Collas, what the hell are you doing?" Dr Yasito, a fellow resident, called out as he quickly retreated.

It took Collas a few seconds to recognize Dr Yasito's face and voice. He lowered his hands. "Oh God, sorry. You scared me. Shit, you almost gave me a heart attack. I thought you were attacking me."

"No, not today Collas. I'm just heading in for a shower then back to the hospital." He gave Collas a funny look. "Are you alright?"

"Yah, just a long night writing a report. Listen, I gotta go. See you in the hospital."

Five in the morning was an eerie hour in the Cardiac Care Unit, the limbo between day and night when the body's normal circadian rhythm shuts down the adrenal glands. This is the time when one's body should be asleep, and the ones that weren't experience chills and shakes that at times resemble early narcotic withdrawals. Dr. Collas felt nauseous and involuntarily shuddered. He felt relatively safe inside the confines of a patient's intensive care cubicle as he glanced over the patient's chart, illuminated only by a dim side light. Out of the corner of his peripheral vision he again saw a shadow, but he was nonplused. No one would be around at this hour, he thought, other than himself and the nursing staff. The firmness of the hand gripping his shoulder told him otherwise. He turned his head and was horrorstruck to see a hand clutching a syringe swiping at him in a downward arc. Terror filled his face and his eyes grew wide. In that moment a protective instinct took over, he raised the medical chart to shield himself and deflect the syringe. The needle struck it and bent, rendering it useless. Collas stared at his attacker in disbelief.

"You've been given a momentary reprieve Dr. Collas. But make no mistake about it, today you will die." The attacker reached into his coat and pulled out a gun fitted with a silencer.

Collas swung the chart and struck his attacker on the nose, stunning him momentarily. In that instant he jumped out of the room and into the dark hallway. He looked in both directions but saw no one; no nurses, no technicians, and no secretary. Where were they? He asked himself. With no time to think he broke into a run down the hall, each second expecting to feel the searing pain of a bullet in his back.

He rounded the corner and heard, between gasps for breath, the soft pounding of footsteps behind him. When he reached the elevator bank he pushed every button there was, willing, pleading for one to open. The footsteps were closing in and no elevator had arrived. On the opposite wall he saw a door to a stairwell and he reached it in two strides. He threw the door open and charged onto the landing dismayed to find that the stairs only went up. Furious with his lack of choices he entered the isolated stairway and ran up two steps at a time. At the top of the steps he stopped, but he heard the pounding of footsteps not far below. With no choice he ran though the door onto the roof. The storm had reached a feverish pitch and the swirl of wind and snow instantly blinded him.

Fear engulfed him as his vision was reduced to being barely able to see three feet in front of him. Despite that he moved forward, away from the door. He had to find a way off this roof. He knew the howl of the wind would disguise the sound of the door when his attacker arrived. His only solace was the fact that if he couldn't see his attacker his attacker couldn't see him. He bent forward at the waist and struggled in a random direction hoping to come to another door or a fire escape that would lead off the roof. The stinging wind-driven snow blinded him but when his hand touched something hard and rough he knew he had reached the three-foot high cement border of the roof. He stopped to think, and quickly realized how intensely cold he was. He had on only thin hospital scrubs and his lab coat offered no protection from the wind, and snow. His fingertips stiffened and he knew that he was in as much danger from the cold and hypothermia as he was from his attacker.

He edged along the roof squinting in a vain attempt to see. Suddenly two strong arms spun him around. Chilled to the bone his muscles shivered in spasms and he stiffened further. Unable to protect himself he stared at his attacker. "Why?" Was all he managed to yell over the howl of the wind.

"Why am I going to kill you? An interesting question Dr. Collas." The voice yelled back. "I'm going to kill you because you got too close, way too close. And I can't have you jeopardizing my future."

"But I trusted you." His voice weakened fast.

"That, Dr. Collas, was your biggest, and last, mistake."

The two hands suddenly gave him a hard push. He fell backwards over the cement retaining wall and off the roof. In a surrealistic swirl he fell through a snow filled void. His vision instantly lost the figure above him in a snowy haze as the distance between them quickly increased. An instant later it was over.

Copyright 2002, 1st Books David Mucci
Reprinted with permission. (back to top)


Synopsis

You have crushing chest pain and every labored breath you take feels like it may be your last. As you are drifting into a mindless stupor due to the sedation that's preparing you for emergency angioplasty, you hear the invasive cardiologist comment to his colleague "His insurance pays next to nothing. That's what he'll get from me. One pass and I'm done." What if cardiologists across the country were part of a secret network--a cartel--that determined what medical procedures you were given based upon your insurance coverage reimbursement rates rather than your medical needs? If you didn't think this could happen to you, you'll think twice after you read "The Cardiac Cartel."

* * * * *

Floating through the corridors of some of the nation's most prestigious hospitals were unspoken whispers of a powerful wealth driven cartel of Cardiologists. Their expertise in Angioplasty was second to none, but the deceit and treachery from which they derived their fortune remained shrouded in secrecy.

For Dr. Peter Pavano the first days of his fellowship in Angioplasty at Connecticut General Hospital set in motion a chain of events that would pit him against the Cartel. Now a fugitive from justice and on the top of the Cartel's assassination list, Peter realizes his only hope lay in his past--a past shrouded even more deeply than the Cartel's.

Peter has a hunch that digging into the Cartel's past will uncover the weak link he needs to clear his name and destroy the Cartel. Peter's notoriety rivals Robin Hood's as he bands with an unlikely group of characters to fight against both the Cartel's assassins and the government's tentacles--tentacles the Cartel have masterfully unleashed against him.


Reviews

"David Mucci, MD writes his hero not as a Knight in Shining Armor, but a Knight in a White Coat who possess all the qualities of an old fashioned country doctor in his sense of loyalty to the Hippocratic Oath; while, on the otherhand, utilizing today's technology in medicine and mystery."
-The Book Review Cafe

Amazon readers rating: from 13 reviews

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Author

After graduating from medical school in 1981, David Mucci settled in central Connecticut, close enough to the city of Hartford to enjoy the arts and entertainment cities offer, but far enough from it to give him the tranquility to sit on the deck in his back yard and hear nothing but birds singing. Over the last ten years he's written four books of different genres. Though none of them were published, each was a step forward in learning the art of story telling and writing. Finally, at the suggestion of his wife, he wrote about what he knew--Medicine. And thus The Cardiac Cartel was born. After numerous re-writes, frustration set in and The Cardiac Cartel was shelved. Then six months later, in the middle of the night, the plot that had eluded him came. Within six months, The Cardiac Cartel was finished and ready for print.

While reading The Cardiac Cartel, the reader should understand that the medicine portrayed is accurate and completely realistic. Being an Emergency Room physician for eighteen years Mucci is well versed in detailed but simplistic explanations of what is going on with the patient, patients in the Emergency Room need that simplicity. Mucci strives to have the reader see the physician’s point of view.

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