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Hadn't that been what brought on her diagnosis to begin with? If she still liked fires...liked setting them and seeing the flames eat...

"Mr. Baptiste, as you know, there is no cure for schizophrenia. We work within the confines of medication and therapy such as psychosocial treatment, illness management skills, education, rehabilitation, and cognitive behavioral therapy." He tapped the closed file folder. "Taking all of that into consideration, I've selected four patients who I believe, in my professional opinion, are candidates with the highest potential to succeed in the halfway house program. Lisbeth is one of the four."

Just the chance for Lisbeth to be out and normal... "If you think she has a shot, let's go for it."

The doctor smiled and passed a piece of paper across the desk. "Here's the information as well as the tentative timeline. If all goes as projected, the house will be ready by early summer. Of course, we'll go over the authorization forms as the date to move draws nearer. For now, read over the information, and feel free to call me with any questions or other concerns."

Nickolai scanned the first two paragraphs but stopped on the third that had the breakdown of costs. He jerked his stare to the doctor. "Forty thousand a year?"

Dr. Bertrand nodded. "That includes room and board, and fulltime, on-site medical personnel. That's a requirement for the program."

Forty thousand. "How much does our insurance cover?"

The doctor frowned. "As this is a trial program, private insurance companies provide no coverage allowance."

Forty thousand dollars. "What about state or federal funding?"

"I'm sorry. With the economy and the crackdown on welfare, Medicaid, and Medicare, there are no government funds for this particular program."

'Forty-k'. Nickolai tried to wrap his mind around the amount. That was more than he lived on in a year. "So, you're telling me that I'll have to pay the full forty thousand dollars?"

"If the lump sum is a problem, we have arranged with our board of directors to allow for a payment plan. Of course, that would include interest. I don't have that information on hand at the moment, but I can have a copy sent to you, if you'd like."

Forty thousand. "Please send me the information."

"I will." The doctor stood, extending his hand. "I appreciate you coming so quickly.

We'll be talking more very soon."

Nickolai noticed the Rolex as he shook the man's hand. A watch probably worth at least a third of the needed forty thousand dollars. "Thank you. Can I see Lisbeth today?" The director glanced at his watch. That very expensive watch. "She's in group therapy right now. You know how changes in the schedule can uproot not just Lisbeth, but the entire group. There are many in her group who aren't as stable as she has become."

"I understand." He didn't have time for a real visit anyway. He let the doctor escort him from the office.

"Thank you again for coming in so quickly, Mr. Baptiste. We'll be in touch very soon."

Nickolai gave a quick nod then headed into the parking lot. A heavy mist weighed on his shoulders as he climbed into the Ford F-250 diesel. He rested his forehead against the steering wheel and waited for the indicator light to go off so he could crank the engine.

Forty thousand dollars was a lot of money. Money he didn't have just sitting around.

He started the truck and stared out the windshield. A push of breeze clumped wet leaves against the edge of the concrete median.

The information stated the selected patients wouldn't be moved for at least sixty to ninety days. If he took every case offered and worked overtime, he might be able to come up with a down payment. Enough that he could qualify for the payment plan at least. Hopefully.

His iPhone chimed then flashed his appointment reminder on the screen. He had a meeting with a lady to discuss a job. She was wealthy. Recent widow. Maybe he could get a head start on that down payment. Maybe tonight.

Nickolai steered the truck into the road. He'd already loaded the lady's address into his GPS. He pushed the button, and the driving instructions popped on the screen. He'd arrive within ten minutes.

Images of Lisbeth before flitted across his memory. Her smile. Her hugs. Her dry sense of humor.

Forty thousand dollars was a lot of money, but his sister's recovery would be worth every single penny.
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