Every day for the next week, I monitor the news carefully, looking for stories about Amber Swanson. All I want to hear is that they caught the guy who did it. Maybe it was some man who had asked her out on a date and she turned him down. Or some creep who saw her jogging early in the morning and started following her.
But if the police have arrested anyone, it doesn’t appear in any news stories.
Anyway, Detective Barber doesn’t show up at my office again. And no other letters mysteriously arrive from Aaron Nierling. I’m certain I must’ve accidentally dropped the letter on the kitchen floor. It’s the only thing that makes sense.
A few times, on the way home, I was very tempted to stop at Christopher’s for an Old Fashioned. But I couldn’t do that. I would end up running into Brady, and it would be awkward, considering I have no intention of seeing him again. I’ll have to look around for a new bar to frequent, although I hate to do it. I like Christopher’s. And I am not a big fan of change. I like my routine.
A week later, I arrive at the office bright and early, because I don’t have any surgeries scheduled for today. But when I get there, my heart sinks when I see Philip flirting with Harper.
Not that he doesn’t do that all the time. Philip flirts like breathing. He even flirts with Sheila, who is about twenty years his senior. He flirts with me, even though a snowball would have a better chance in hell. But for some reason, this particular interaction grates on my nerves. Because Harper just broke up with her long-term boyfriend. Her heart is broken, and she’s on the rebound.
I watch Philip perched on the edge of her desk, pontificating about who knows what. Harper is gazing up at him with her big blue eyes, like he’s God. Which makes sense, because he sort of thinks he’s God.
“Hi, Dr. Davis,” Harper says cheerfully. “Sheila is doing the intake on your first patient.”
I look at Philip coolly. “Don’t you have any patients to see right now?”
“My first patient canceled.” He grins at me. “I was thinking about making a run to get some coffee for us.”
I can’t say I wouldn’t appreciate that. Especially since my coffee mug seems to have mysteriously disappeared. I secretly suspect Philip dropped it, tossed the pieces in the trash, and failed to mention it to me.
“You really don’t have to do that, Dr. Corey,” Harper says. At least she’s still calling him Dr. Corey. If she called him Philip, I would be really worried.
“I don’t mind.” He hops off her desk and stretches enough to show off what are actually some pretty impressive biceps. When does Philip find time to work out? I certainly don’t have any. “What do you want, Nora? Black coffee?”
Harper shudders. “I don’t know how you drink it that way, Dr. Davis.
Black coffee tastes so bitter.”
“I got used to it in residency,” I say. They had a coffee pot always brewing in the resident room, but never any milk or cream or sugar. At first, it was almost undrinkable, but I forced myself because I was so tired. Now I’ve gotten used to it, and it tastes strange any other way but black.
“I drank it black in residency too,” Philip says. “But now that we can have it with cream and sugar, why wouldn’t you?”
I shoot him a look. “Are you going to get us coffee or criticize what I like to drink?”
Philip laughs. No matter what I say to him, he’s never offended. Sometimes I wonder if he takes me seriously. But he must. He went out of his way to recruit me to work here after I graduated. He wasn’t willing to take no for an answer.
Philip goes back to his office to grab his jacket. I follow him, even though I’m sure my patient is going to be annoyed that I’m keeping him waiting. But this is more important.
“What’s up, Nora?” he asks me.
I shoo him inside his office and close the door behind us. “Remember how I talked to you when Harper started working here, about not hitting on her? I need you to do that now. Don’t hit on her.”
Philip rolls his eyes. “Nora…” “I’m not joking.”
He pushes aside the stethoscope on his desk so he can sit down on the edge. “Harper has been working here for a year. Why are you freaking out about this now?”
“Because she just broke up with Sonny. And she’s vulnerable.”
“She’s not your daughter, Nora. You don’t have to worry so much about her.”
I am mildly offended that he is implying that a girl only ten years younger than I am is a daughter figure to me, although it’s possible he hit the nail on the head. Like I told Brady when I was in college, I never wanted to have kids. But I do feel some sort of maternal urge towards Harper. She has such a bright future ahead of her, and she’s not saddled with all the family history that I’ve had to deal with.
If Philip starts dating her, it’s not going to end well. She’s probably going to end up quitting—best-case scenario.
“Look,” I say to him, “you could have any woman you want…” He looks amused. “Gee, thanks.”
I groan. “That’s not my point. My point is, choose anyone else. Not Harper. Okay? Just please stay away from our receptionist. That’s all I ask.” “You know,” he says, “when you’re upset, you get this little vein
sticking out right here.” He touches his temple with his forefinger. “Someday that thing is going to pop, Nora.”
“Okay, okay!” He holds up his hands in surrender. “I won’t go near Harper anymore. I’ll be a perfect gentleman. Happy?”
I nod, although I’m not entirely sure I trust him. I’d sort of like to have a talk with Harper too, but I’m worried the more I try to keep them apart, the more I’m going to create a Romeo and Juliet star-crossed lovers type of situation, and I’m eventually going to find them in a lip lock in the supply closet. Maybe it’s better just to keep my fingers crossed she’s smart enough to see through his bullshit. I mean, I think she is. But I know how it is on the rebound.
That is to say, I know how it is for other people on the rebound. I never had that problem.
Now that Philip has headed out to get the coffee, I go to see my first patient of the day. It’s a man named Timothy Dudley, who I performed a hernia repair on three months ago. I consider myself an excellent surgeon
with a very low complication rate, but the complication rate is not zero. Some percentage of patients are going to get infections in their incisions. It’s just a fact of life.
Mr. Dudley got an infection in his incision.
If there’s some sort of rule about being a surgeon, it’s that you’re always going to have complications on the worst possible patients. The ones who already didn’t entirely trust you. And then when something goes wrong, it just reinforces their theory that all surgeons are butchers.
I tried treating Mr. Dudley with antibiotics, but it didn’t work, and I ended up having to do a washout of his incision. But he’s fine now. The infection is gone and he’s healed up. So I’m hoping this will be a quick visit in which I look at his incision, we will pretend to like each other, and then I can send him on his way and maybe never see him again.
But the second I walk into the room, I know that isn’t going to happen. He is sitting on the examining table, his large abdomen protruding under a T-shirt, the gown we provided lying unused beside him. He’s got his stubby arms folded across his belly, and he’s glaring at me. I’m not even
going to attempt to get him into that gown.
I channel my infamous father’s charisma and flash him a smile I am not feeling. He doesn’t smile back. Not even a tiny bit.
“How are you doing today, Mr. Dudley?” I ask.
“Not too great, Dr. Davis,” he says. “It still hurts where you cut into
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
His bushy white eyebrows shoot up. “Are you?”
I nod solemnly. Sometimes it’s very hard to keep my temper during
these confrontations. I want to scream at the person that if I hadn’t operated on them, they would’ve had a bowel incarceration. And instead of repairing their hernia, I would be excising a large chunk of their intestines. I’m sure he wouldn’t be any happier with me if I did that.
“My family doctor told me I didn’t need that surgery,” Mr. Dudley
I fold my hands together patiently. “This is not his area of expertise. I
assure you, you needed the surgery. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.” “He told me he heard you’re quick to operate.”
Out of everything he’s said to me so far, this is the first thing that gets to me. He heard you’re quick to operate. Is that a reputation I’ve been getting? Yes, I’m aggressive. But I’m a surgeon. This is what we do.
“That’s not true,” I say.
“And one of the nurses told me,” he says, “that you’ve got a contest going with another surgeon to see who can operate the most this year.”
My mouth goes dry. I try not to let my composure slip, but it’s hard. What nurse said that? Who would say that about me? That’s completely inappropriate. That sort of thing can destroy someone’s career.
If I find out who said it, I’ll make sure she’s very, very sorry.
“I promise you,” I say quietly, “I would never do something like that.
Which nurse told you that?” “I don’t remember.”
I’m not sure if he’s lying. They probably meet a lot of nurses. He wouldn’t necessarily remember one of their names. I’ll figure out who it is, one way or another. Philip will want to know as well.
Of course, this whole damn thing is probably his fault. I never told anybody about our bet. He’s the one who is probably bragging to the nurses about it. About how he thinks he’s ahead, when in reality, I’m way ahead.
Fine. I do operate a lot.
“This is all a game to you.” Mr. Dudley sneers at me. “I almost died from an infection in my gut because of you.
“No, you listen to me, Dr. Davis.” He sticks his finger in my face. “The only reason that I came to this appointment today was to tell you that you’re going to be hearing from my lawyer. And I wanted you to know why.”
With those words, he hops off the table. He pushes past me and walks out of the examining room, his boots stomping against the ground.
Well, that wasn’t the best start to the day. But the reality is that most of my patients aren’t like Mr. Dudley. Most of them are very grateful to me— like Henry Callahan was before I refused to have dinner with him. And I doubt any sort of lawsuit Mr. Dudley files against me will be successful. In fact, I’m going to bet that’s the reason he showed up here in the first place. He knew he couldn’t really sue me, so the best he could do was scare me.
I start to head out front to see if any of my other patients have arrived, but before I can get there, I nearly bump into Harper in the hallway. Her cheeks are slightly flushed. “Dr. Davis,” she says. “I was about to come looking for you.”
“There’s another patient here?”
“No, but…” Harper’s eyes dart in the direction of the waiting area. “That police officer is here to see you again.”
Mr. Dudley’s threats didn’t scare me, but this does. I inhale sharply. “The same one from last time?”
She nods slowly. “Yes. The detective.”
Oh God. Does this have to do with Amber Swanson again? I know they haven’t found who killed her. They can’t possibly think it was me, could they? I barely knew the girl aside from removing her infected appendix.
Harper’s brow crinkles. “Is everything okay, Dr. Davis?”
“Absolutely,” I say it so firmly that I almost believe it. “It’s about that poor girl who was a patient here and was… killed. They’re just trying to figure out what happened to her, and of course, I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
I see the question all over Harper’s face. Why would you be able to help them find out who killed that girl? I can’t tell her the truth though. I can’t tell anyone.
I wait in my office as Harper tells Detective Barber to come in to see me. Even though I don’t usually use it when I see patients, I grab my white coat off the hook on the back of my door and throw it on. I figure anything that makes me look more professional is worth doing. Although unfortunately, my white coat has become wrinkled. Which is somewhat baffling considering it has just been hanging from the wall. Oh well.
The detective enters my office, looking like he’s been up half the night. There’s a bit of gray stubble on his chin and his shirt is wrinkled. He doesn’t look any friendlier than he did the first time he was here. In fact, any trace of a smile, phony or otherwise, has vanished from his face. His expression is deadly serious.
“Hello, Dr. Davis,” he says.
I swallow a lump in my throat. “Detective, I’m happy to answer any questions for you, but I wish you would talk to me at my house rather than
showing up here with all my patients watching.”
The expression on Barber’s face doesn’t change. “I’m sorry for that, but unfortunately, you’re a hard person to track down. And time is of the essence.”
I shake my head. “I don’t understand. Amber was killed a week ago, so what is the urgency?”
“This isn’t about Amber.”
My body turns cold. This isn’t about Amber? “Then what…”
“Dr. Davis,” Barber says. “Do you have a patient named Shelby Gillis?”
“I…” The name rings a bell. I’ve heard it before. “Maybe…”
He takes a photograph from the pocket of his dark jacket and slides it across my desk. I pick it up and look down at the smiling face staring back at me. It’s a headshot of a pretty girl with long dark hair and bright blue eyes.
Dark hair and blue eyes.
“Yes,” I say. “I believe I did a lumpectomy and open breast biopsy on her a couple of months ago.”
It’s all coming back to me now. Shelby Gillis was anxious because she found a lump in her right breast. I did a lumpectomy and they ran pathology on the tissue I took out. The lump was benign. I got to give her the news, and she was so happy. She grabbed my hand in both of hers and squeezed my fingers. I feel like I’ve gotten a second chance, Dr. Davis.
I clear my throat. “Is… is she okay?”
What a stupid question. Obviously, she’s not okay. There isn’t a detective sitting in front of my desk, asking me questions about her because she’s A-okay.
“She was found dead yesterday evening, Doctor,” he says. “By some hikers. She was stabbed to death.”
I can barely find my voice. So much for Shelby’s second chance. “That… that’s awful.”
“And both her hands were severed.”
Oh God. I think I’m going to be sick. One patient of mine being found dead like that… okay, it’s possible it could be a coincidence. But two? There’s no way. And the detective knows it.
“Dr. Davis?” His voice sounds far away. “Are you all right?”
“Fine,” I manage. I can’t fall apart like this—not in front of the detective. I don’t know what’s going on, but it won’t help me to panic. “I’m fine.”
Detective Barber reaches over and takes back the photograph he put on my desk. I notice he’s handling it carefully, touching just the edges. I wonder if he showed me that photograph so I would touch it and get my fingerprints on it. Or maybe I’m being paranoid. Either way, let him analyze my fingerprints. I’ve never committed a crime. And they’re not going to find my fingerprints on anything belonging to Amber or Shelby.
“She was reported missing two days ago,” he says. “She worked at an art gallery and she showed up for work Monday morning, but not Tuesday. So obviously, she disappeared sometime between leaving work on Monday evening and Tuesday morning.”
“Right,” I murmur.
“Can you account for your whereabouts during that time?”
“Yes,” I say. “I probably left the hospital around eight o’clock at night and then I went home.”
“And you live alone.”
“Yes.” I squeeze my knees with my sweaty hands. “My father is still in prison, right?”
“I think you would know if he wasn’t.” He keeps his eyes on mine. “Do you ever visit him there?”
He lifts an eyebrow. “How come? He’s your father, isn’t he?” “He’s a monster. That’s how come.”
I watch his expression. He’s hoping that I’ll crack, slip up. But he doesn’t have anything on me.
Part of me wants to tell the detective about that letter I found in my kitchen. The one from my father. Maybe that has something to do with it all. I’m not going to pretend this is all a crazy coincidence.
But I don’t trust this detective. I don’t like the way he’s looking at me. If I tell him about the letter, he’s going to twist it around to make me seem guilty. After all, my father is in prison. He’s not slipping letters under my door.
“It’s very sad,” I finally say. “I feel terrible for Shelby’s family. This is tragic.”
Barber rubs a finger along the gray stubble on his jaw. “You know,” he says. “I still remember your father’s trial. After he pleaded guilty, he gave that speech about how sorry he was. About how he wished he could give his life to bring those girls back. And you know what? It almost sounded like it wasn’t complete bullshit.” He raises his eyebrows at me. “Are you as good at telling lies as he is?”
My cheeks grow hot. “Detective, I think this is enough. I’m going to have to ask you to leave. And if you want to speak to me again, it will be in the presence of my lawyer. I mean it this time.”
Now I have to get a lawyer. Great.
Barber shifts in his chair. He’s sizing me up, trying to figure out how far he can push me. If he knows anything, he’ll realize he can’t push me very far. Just because he’s a detective, it doesn’t mean he has the right to harass me at my workplace. Finally, he gets out of his seat.
“We just want to find out what happened to Shelby,” he says. “If you think of any information at all that would be helpful, give me a call.”
“Right,” I say through my teeth.
The detective gives me one last long look, then he turns around and leaves my office.
After he’s gone, I just sit there for a moment, staring at the wall. I can’t believe that an hour ago, my biggest problem was Philip hitting on Harper. And then after that, my biggest problem was a patient threatening to sue me. This is so much worse.
Two of my patients were murdered in the span of a week. There’s no way that could be a coincidence, could it?
Even if that were a coincidence, the hands being severed… That’s an obvious connection to me. It’s undeniable. And there’s one definite conclusion I can draw.
Whoever is doing this knows who I am.