Chapter no 23

The Locked Door

By the next morning, the story of the two murders is all over the news.

Everybody is talking about the fact that there’s a new serial killer in the Bay Area. And of course, people are reminiscing about the Handyman because of the obvious similarities. The news notes that the Handyman has been in prison for twenty-six years, and will continue to be imprisoned until the day he dies. Whoever killed these women is a copycat.

Thank God, I have surgery to keep me busy all morning. I lose myself in operating, and for about five hours, I don’t think about Amber Swanson, Shelby Gillis, and especially Brady Mitchell.

But then on the drive to the office for my afternoon patients, the murder is on every radio station. Everybody is fascinated by it, the same way they were fascinated by the Handyman. I finally have to turn off the radio and drive in silence.

When I get to the office, I’ve miraculously made it with ten minutes to spare until the afternoon clinic begins. Harper and Philip are sitting together at her desk, their heads close together as they both munch on sub sandwiches. I don’t even have the energy to fret over Philip hitting on Harper anymore, but I do clear my throat very loudly.

“Hey, Nora,” Philip says, as if he’s done absolutely nothing wrong. “We got an extra sandwich for you if you want it. Italian sub.”

“No, thanks,” I mutter. I scarfed down a cheeseburger from the food cart, and it feels like a ton of rocks in my stomach.

Harper lifts her blue eyes. “Dr. Davis, your two patients are all over the news! Did you know that?”

“And they didn’t even mention our practice,” Philip grumbles. “That would’ve been great advertising.”

Harper rolls her eyes at him, but it’s in an affectionate way. I can’t deal with this right now.

“You know Harper never even heard of the Handyman,” Philip says. She laughs. “I wasn’t born yet!”

“But you were born, weren’t you, Nora?” Philip rests his gaze on me. “You remember him, don’t you?”

Of course, I remember him. I was eleven years old when the police discovered what was in our basement. “A little. It was a long time ago.”

“He killed like twenty women,” he says. Actually, eighteen verified. But likely more than thirty. “And he would keep their hands as a souvenir. What a nut job.”

“Mmm,” I say.

“I think he was from Oregon.” Philip strokes his chin thoughtfully. “Aren’t you from Oregon, Nora?”


“Didn’t you go to Oregon State? I remember it from your resume.”

I take a deep, calming breath. I wanted to leave the state for college, but there was no money. The best deal was at the state university. Especially because I knew I would be facing a mountain of debt when I went to medical school.

“You’re remembering wrong,” I say.

He raises his eyebrows. “Whatever you say…”

Of course, it would be easy enough for Philip to find out where I went to college and call me on my bullshit. I don’t know why I didn’t just admit it. There’s nothing criminal about having lived in Oregon.

“I’m going to go check my messages,” I mumble, before I leave Harper and Philip to God only knows what they’re up to. I’m not going to let myself get upset over it. At least if Harper is around Philip, he can keep her safe from whatever psychopath is stalking my patients.

Back in my office, I bring up the list of messages on my computer. Mostly, they are from patients and doctors’ offices. Some of these Sheila has checked off as having taken care of. But two messages stand out among the others.

One is from Brady Mitchell.

He googled me to figure out where I work. And then he called here, hoping to get in touch with me.

All the message says is that I should call him. And it gives his phone number, just in case I erased it from my phone. Which I was tempted to do, but I didn’t. If I wanted to call Brady, I could call him. But I don’t want to call him.

The other message is much more disturbing. It’s from Detective Barber.

Much like Brady’s message, it doesn’t have any real information. All it says is that I should call him. Right away.

Why does the detective want to talk to me? I’ve told him everything that I know.

But it couldn’t be anything that bad. I mean, if it were, he would have come down here. Or to my home. This is just a phone call. Maybe he needs some medical information on Amber or Shelby. If that’s the case, I’ll need to see a warrant. I’m not just turning over private healthcare information, even on a deceased patient.

I’ve got a jam-packed schedule for the afternoon, mostly follow-up patients. I try not to think about either of the dead girls or where their severed hands might have ended up. Is there a chest in somebody’s basement containing their bones?

I can’t think about it. It’s too horrible.

My four o’clock patient is a new consult named Gloria Lane. It looks like she’s a fifty-eight-year-old woman who is here for consideration of gallbladder removal. I take her chart off the door, reviewing the notes that Sheila wrote. Then I feel a tap on my shoulder.

“Just so you know,” Sheila says, “there’s something a little fishy about this woman.”


She nods. “She listed her PCP, but not only do we not have a referral for the surgery, but the doctor has never heard of her. A little strange, don’t you think so?”

“Yes…” I tighten my fist around the papers in my hand. “So what do you think is going on?”

“My honest opinion?” She glances at the door. “Maybe a reporter? You’re not going to be able to keep it quiet for much longer that both these girls who were killed came to this practice.”

I make a face. “Philip is ready to go to the news station himself. He thinks it’s good publicity.”

Sheila’s expression is stony. “He’s an idiot then. This is not good for us. If it’s a reporter, we should get her out of here right away.”

I nod in agreement. I’m hoping Gloria Lane is just some ordinary patient. But my gut is saying that Sheila is right—she’s no dummy.

When I open the door, there is a woman sitting in one of the chairs, wearing jeans and a sweater. She hasn’t made any sort of attempt to put on the gown we provided for her, which is a red flag in itself.

What isn’t a red flag is how she looks. She does not look like a reporter who’s here for information. Her hair is gray and disheveled. She has dark purple circles under her eyes. She looks a decade older than her reported age.

“Dr. Davis?” she says.

“Yes.” I frown at her. I want to smile, but it’s hard given how she looks. “Mrs. Lane?”

She lifts her bloodshot eyes. “Actually,” she says, “it’s Mrs. Swanson.

I’m Amber Swanson’s mother.”

“Oh…” Dammit, Sheila was right. “Mrs. Swanson, I’m so sorry for your loss.”

She sneers at me. “Yes, I’m sure you are.”

My mouth feels dry and it’s suddenly hard to swallow. “Of course I


“Drop the act.” She glares at me and my stomach sinks into my shoes.

“I know who you are, Nora Nierling.”

At the sound of my name, I do the only thing I can do. I close the door to the examining room, so nobody else can hear us.

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