Poison 1/3

Poison
Written May 2006
Rated PG-13
Synopsis: When Cuddy collapses during a meeting with donors, House must figure out what happened — and who tried to kill her.
Spoilers: “Who’s Your Daddy?”

Disclaimer: The characters within are property of Heel & Toe, Shore Z. Productions, Bad Hat Harry Productions, and other corporations. No infringement is intended.


“Let the record show that Dr. Gregory House signed out at…” He looked at the clock and waited for the second hand to approach the 12. “Five o’clock. Let the weekend begin.” He tucked the cherry lollipop into his cheek and grinned.

The tap-tap-tapping of high heels behind him could only mean one person, and his suspicions were confirmed when Lisa Cuddy appeared, taking a file from the nurse at the station and skimming through the pages. She wore a slightly shorter, slightly lower cut pale blue business suit than she’d had on earlier, and he examined it unabashedly.

“So … hot date or hospital donor meeting?”

She scribbled her signature on the last page and returned the file to the nurse before looking at House. “Does it matter?”

“Yes. Hot date, I could crash. Hospital donor meeting, I couldn’t.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah. We need the money for more lollipops.” He waggled his eyebrows and hobbled toward the clinic exit.

“It’s not too much, is it?”

“What?”

“The suit.” She gestured to her clothing. “Would you donate money to the hospital based on the suit alone?”

He ogled her again. “I’d give you money to take it off. Do you accept American Express?” She made a grand show of rolling her eyes before walking off in the opposite direction. Her hips swung provocatively, and he wondered if she was doing it on purpose. “How about traveler’s checks?”

“Have a good weekend, Doctor,” she called before disappearing from view.

***

Cuddy looked at the check and struggled to keep her composure. “This is a … very generous donation, gentlemen.” All of the zeroes were making her head spin. “Thank you.”

Jack Manning grinned, displaying a set of perfectly straight, bright white teeth. “This hospital deserves it. When my wife had pneumonia, the treatment and care she received was top-notch. And when she has her baby, we’re coming here.”

Talking about babies got Cuddy’s attention. “When is she due?” she asked, moving to her desk to put the check safely in the center drawer. Ever since she’d decided to have a child of her own, she’d developed a strong interest in the excitement of expectant families. She’d been spending way too much time in the pediatrics ward, looking at the babies and talking to the parents and doctors. Good thing the department was up for a complete review, which shadowed her curiosity.

“In about a month. I can’t wait.”

Troy Owens groaned. “That’s all I’ve heard for the last eight months.”

“You don’t sound interested in having children,” she noted, adding mentally, but that’s okay because there’s no way I’d want you fathering mine. Troy had asked her on so many dates that her stomach churned uneasily every time he opened his mouth. She had the impression that he was just after her for sex, and after hearing stories about Troy’s numerous conquests in college, she was probably right.

“Don’t get me wrong, kids are great — when they’re not yours.” The final member of the trio, Ed Harper, chuckled at that. “What? Don’t tell me you’ve jumped on the baby bandwagon, too.”

“I’d like to have a child someday,” Ed replied, his almost feminine voice barely above a whisper. He smiled at Cuddy, and she did her best to return the gaze. Definitely not. Ed was short and extremely thin, rivaling supermodels everywhere. His hair was already balding, despite the fact that he was not yet 40. While he did have the intelligence factor she was looking for — he was a licensed accountant but worked as a stockbroker — he was lacking everywhere else. He probably liked Mozart too.

“Well, I think this calls for a celebration,” Jack announced as he opened his briefcase and produced a bottle of scotch. He caught Cuddy’s eye and grinned. “Hopefully the Dean of Medicine won’t throw me out for sneaking alcohol into her hospital.”

She gave him an innocent look. “Why, Mr. Manning, I have no idea what you mean.”

“I didn’t bring any fancy cups though.”

“Guess we’ll be toasting in styrofoam. I’ll go get some from the lounge.”

“No, allow me,” Ed said before disappearing from the room.

Troy sauntered over to Cuddy, stopping only when he was close enough that she could feel his breath on her face. “Love the suit.”

“Thanks.” She began straightening papers on her desk and wished Ed would hurry up and return with the cups. There was no topic of conversation she could strike up with Troy; he was too self-centered, and the blond haired/blue eyed hunk thing would only go so far. Besides, he was a golf instructor; she didn’t even like golf. He also liked to tout the fact that he went to medical school but often neglected to mention that he flunked out. There was no common ground between them and definitely no attraction — not mutual anyway.

“Want to have dinner this weekend?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t.”

“Hospital can’t run itself, huh?”

“Unfortunately not.”

“How about some free golf lessons? We’ll call it a trade skill exchange. I’ll help you practice your swing, you help me practice my CPR.”

She couldn’t help but laugh. “I have to admit, that’s one of the more creative ways you’ve asked me out.”

“But the answer’s still no, right?”

“My schedule is so busy, I barely have time to sleep. I’m sorry.”

He grinned, but there was something in his eyes that she didn’t like. “You know, Lisa, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you enjoyed turning me down.” Before she had a chance to respond, he whispered, “Good thing I don’t quit until I get what I want.” He held her gaze for a moment. “I’ll bring you a drink.”

“Uh, not too much for me.”

“Same here,” Ed said, handing the cups to Jack, “unless you want to see me imitate John Travola from Saturday Night Fever.”

Jack poured scotch two cups, one of them half full, and Troy grabbed them both. “Hey–”

“Always serve the ladies first.” Troy gave the cup with the lesser amount to Cuddy. “Here you are, my dear.”

Jack gave a cup to Ed and took the last one for himself. “Well then. To Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital and the best doctors in the world.” Everyone raised their cups then took a drink.

The moment the liquid passed through her lips, Cuddy knew something was wrong. Her office began to spin and then … nothing. The cup slipped from her hand, and she collapsed on the floor.

“Oh, God.” Troy knelt beside her and pressed his fingers to her neck. “Her pulse is weak — but fast. Lisa?” Jack ran out of the room, shouting for help. “Lisa, can you hear me? Lisa…”

***

The previews had promised that someone would die by the end of The O.C. finale, and as Ryan and Marissa drove along in his new Land Rover, House had a pretty fair idea who. Then his telephone began to ring, breaking his concentration momentarily. “I’m not here,” he said aloud as his answering machine kicked in.

House, I know you’re there, pick up the phone.

“Hello, Jimmy,” he greeted as if Wilson was actually in the room.

Okay, fine, don’t pick up. Look, something’s happened to Cuddy. She was entertaining some donors in her office, and she just collapsed. Her blood pressure dropped to the point they can’t get a cuff reading. They’re treating her for shock. The nurse said something about you being her health care proxy? Now pick up the phone. House. House!” There was a pause, followed by a sigh and the click of the call being disconnected.

The answering machine beeped, signifying the end of the message, but there was no one in the apartment to hear it.

***

“How is she?”

Eric Foreman and Robert Chase were loitering in the hospital lobby, waiting for House’s arrival. Chase spoke first, his speech rushed. “She’s stable for now; we’ve got her on atropine and in a pair of MAST trousers. Cameron’s running the blood work.” House started for the elevators, and the other doctors followed him.

“Initially, she had warm, flushed skin,” Foreman said. “Then it turned clammy. Mild cyanosis presented in her fingers and lips.”

“Diagnosis?” The doors slid open, and they stepped inside. Chase hit the button for the fifth floor.

“Vasodilation,” Foreman said. “Blood vessels dilated and caused her to faint, then sent her into shock when the heart couldn’t pump enough blood to keep her vitals up.”

“Caused by?”

“Drugs. Most likely hypertensive medication or beta blockers.”

He made an obnoxious buzzing noise. “Thanks for playing, Dr. Foreman, but you lose. Cuddy’s not hypertensive.”

“There was no trauma–”

“That we know of.”

“No trauma,” Foreman repeated firmly. “When she passed out, she didn’t hit her head or puncture anything, there was no internal bleeding, and she had been standing by her desk, so it wasn’t a syncopic reaction to sitting up too fast.”

“Says who?” The elevator doors opened, and they walked out. Foreman and Chase had to move quickly to keep up with House, despite the man’s limp and cane.

“The donors she was with. Three college buddies.”

“What were they doing before she collapsed?”

“Drinking scotch. They’d just toasted to the hospital.”

“In that case, I’ll go with drugs. They probably slipped something in her drink so they could have their wicked way with her.”

Chase raised his eyebrows. “Chloral hydrate can cause hypotension and cyanosis if too much is consumed.”

“She went down immediately,” Foreman said with a shake of his head. “Chloral hydrate takes about half an hour before symptoms present.”

“Did somebody call the police?” House asked.

Foreman frowned. “The police?”

“A healthy woman does not suddenly collapse.”

They reached Cuddy’s room, and House slowed his pace. She was still unconscious, or the curtains to her room would be drawn; she wouldn’t want her staff seeing her like that. Her head was turned away from him, but he could see the clear tubing indicative of an oxygen mask. Treating the shock was the main priority, and the team had followed the book, crossing every T and dotting every I. Probably wouldn’t look good if they killed the head of the hospital. From his vantage point, it was clear she was receiving a high dose of intravenous fluids and electrolytes. He couldn’t see the MAST trousers because she was buried under numerous blankets. Wilson had his back to the window, charting her vital signs, and was unaware of the men standing outside.

His voice softened as he continued to stare. “Foreman, do an EKG, make sure there’s nothing wrong with her heart that we don’t know about. And somebody call the police. Where are the three donors?”

“In the waiting room,” Chase replied. “Want me to go get them?”

“No. Go see if Cameron needs any help with the blood work.”

House wandered to the waiting room and surreptitiously watched the three men seated there. One was dressed in a fancy dark blue suit and solid-colored tie. He was talking quietly on his cell phone, the fingers of one hand threaded in his brown hair. Definitely the richest, most self-important of the three. The second was considerably more casual in a polo shirt and khakis with a head of sun-blond hair and a dark tan. The third was extremely thin; he probably didn’t weigh one hundred pounds wet. They didn’t look like three guys who would be friends.

If he left the questioning to the police, he’d never get the information he needed. Cuddy’s life may depend on it. He stepped around the corner. “I’m Dr. House. I’m treating Dr. Cuddy for her collapse.”

“Is she going to be okay?” the thin one asked in a sotto voice.

House blinked at him, trying to decide if he was a man or a woman. If he was a woman, he’d been severely shortchanged in the estrogen department. “Her condition is stable.”

“What happened?” the man in the suit asked urgently.

“She went into shock, brought on by hypotension. That is low blood pressure, and when blood pressure drops that much that fast–”

“Fainting, cyanosis, and potentially death,” the last man answered.

“You must watch a lot of Jeopardy!.”

“I went to medical school.” He held out his hand, which House stared at blankly, then withdrew it. “Troy Owens. I’m a golf instructor.”

“That pays more than being a doctor?”

“Uh, hardly.”

House looked at the thin person. “And you are?”

“Ed Harper.”

“Oh, so you are a man. Wasn’t sure. Did you go to medical school too?”

“No, sir, I’m a stockbroker.”

“And you?” he asked, addressing the man in the suit.

“Jack Manning. I’m an attorney. Is Lisa going to come out of it? Will there be any permanent damage?”

“Dunno. Was she acting strangely at the meeting? Complaining of any dizziness, nausea?”

Ed shook his head. “Nothing. She seemed fine. Maybe she drank too much.”

“How much did she drink?”

“About a swallow,” Troy replied. “The rest of it soaked into the carpet when she dropped the cup.”

“Well, that could count as drinking too much,” Ed said. “I once had a shot of tequila, and–”

“Yeah, well, she weighs more than you.” Troy sighed. “I gave her a cup that was half full. She didn’t even drink all of that. Happy?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, are my questions offending you? ‘Cause, see, I’m trying to figure out why the Dean of Medicine collapsed in her office with the three of you present.”

“Don’t look at me. You’re the one with the degree.”

“Troy…” came Jack’s warning tone. “Look, Dr. House, I’m sorry. We’re all a little tense right now. She could’ve died.”

“And she could still die, if you don’t start answering my questions.” He spotted Allison Cameron walking toward him. “Excuse me.” He hobbled over to her. “Am I the only one who goes home on Friday night? Or is the social scene at the hospital really exciting?”

“Cuddy’s blood was chocolate-colored when it was drawn. The hemoglobin had converted to methemoglobin.”

He waited for her to confirm his own diagnosis, but she remained silent. “Well, don’t keep me in suspense.”

“Nitroglycerin. Mixed with the alcohol, it was pretty potent. If she’s hypertensive, why–”

“She’s not.” He looked over his shoulder at the three donors in the waiting room. Jack was pacing, Ed was sitting perfectly still, and Troy was sprawled out on the couch. “So which is it — Larry, Moe, or Curly?”

“What?”

“My money’s on Larry.”

She squinted at him and shook her head. “What are you talking about?”

“See the Three Stooges over there? One of them just tried to kill Cuddy.”

End of Part 1

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