ANNA AWOKE SATURDAY MORNING, FILLED WITH A SENSE OF FUTILITY. HOW long had it been since her world started to fall apart? A month? A year? No, less than a week. She felt like that guy in Greek mythology—the name escaped her—who was doomed to roll the boulder up the hill. Every time he made a little progress, it rolled back. That was her, no doubt about it. It seemed as though every time she tried to solve one of her problems, another one cropped up.
She considered those problems, one by one. She had new credit cards, but she didn't know who had been using her old ones. She'd eventually clear her credit history, but she was sure it would be a time-consuming and frustrating process. She'd learned why Eric Hatley suffered a fatal reaction to a medication he should have tolerated, but in the process she'd been hit with the news that Hatley's mother was filing a malpractice suit. And when it came to finding out who was responsible for the narcotics prescriptions that bore her name and DEA registration, not only had she made no headway, the harder she looked, the more people she found who could be responsible.
She was a doctor, not a detective. Why was she the one doing all this looking anyway? She heaved a sigh. She was doing it because until she was no longer under suspicion by the DEA and the police she was a woman without a profession. She wanted to practice medicine, to teach, to get her life back. If she wanted that sooner rather than later, she'd better stop sitting here at the breakfast table drinking coffee and feeling sorry for herself. Even though it was Saturday, she should be doing something. Unfortunately, she had no idea what that was.
"Might as well run some errands. I can't foul that up," she muttered under her breath.
Anna rinsed out her coffee cup and set it beside the sink to drain. It took her only a few minutes to make out a grocery list. After that, she'd go by the cleaners, fill up her car, and try to catch up on all those little things she'd let slide recently. She knew that none of this would get her any closer to clearing her name with the law, but at least she could feel as though she'd accomplished something by the end of the day.
The last time she picked up groceries, she drove out of her way to shop in another part of town. Her first inclination was to do the same thing and avoid the grocery store where the pimply-faced clerk had sent her running out the door by announcing to her and the world that her credit card was over the limit. Then she made a decision. No minimum-wage store clerk was intimidating her. She'd walk into that store with her head held high, buy a cart full of groceries, and pay for them with one of her brand-new credit cards.
Anna relaxed when she entered the store and scanned the faces of the checkers. No, he wasn't here. Maybe that was a good sign. She went up and down the aisles, loading her cart, ducking her head to avoid the glances of the shoppers around her. Then she realized that no one but her had any notion of what had happened here a few days ago. And even then, it hadn't been her fault.
The shortest line was in front of a checker Anna knew by sight but not by name, a middle-aged woman with a slightly distracted look behind her corporate smile. She scanned each item, bagged it all with practiced ease, and announced, "Fortytwo fifty- three."
Anna cringed a bit when she swiped her new card. Her heart thumped as she watched the display announce, "Awaiting approval." Ten seconds. Fifteen. No, this couldn't be happening again. "What's the problem?" she finally asked.
The checker said, "Let me see that card, Hon." The woman swiped it on the scanner above her register's keypad. She frowned. She swiped it in the other direction. Another frown. She turned the card over, looked at the front, and her frown turned into a look of triumph.
"What?" Anna said.
The checker pointed to a small sticker Anna had managed to ignore. "See this, Hon? This is a new card. When you get it, you have to call this number and have the card activated. That keeps somebody from stealing it out of your mailbox and using it." She handed the card back to Anna. "Got another one?"
Anna remembered that she'd done exactly what the woman described when her new MasterCard arrived, and she'd used that card ever since. When this VISA card arrived, she'd filed it away in her wallet, intending to activate it later. Then she'd forgotten. Today, she'd pulled out the card for the first time, not realizing her error until it was too late. Way to embarrass yourself again, Anna.
She tucked the not-yet-active card back into a slot in her wallet and swiped her MasterCard. When the "Approved" message popped up, along with a space for her signature, Anna realized she'd been holding her breath. She took in what seemed like half the air in the room, wondering how long it would take for her pulse rate to slow down again. Who was it that said of life's reverses that whatever didn't kill you just made you stronger? If that was the case, she'd already gotten a lot stronger. She hoped her strengthening process was about over, but a little voice inside her warned that there was probably more to come. Anna's grandmother would have called it "second sight." Nick probably would tell her it was an acceptance of Murphy's Law. Whatever it was called, Anna felt distinctly uneasy as she wheeled her cart out of the store, afraid of what might be next.
Once she'd stowed her grocery purchases, hung up her dry cleaning, and tossed her credit card receipts on the desk for filing later, Anna sat down with the phone and called the number indicated to activate her VISA card. The whole process took five minutes, four of which were spent listening to an operator telling her how important it was for her to purchase a plan that would notify all her credit card companies if her cards were lost or stolen. Anna told the operator thank you very much, and declined the coverage.
She still felt as though she should be doing something. Maybe her attorney had talked with the DEA or the police by now. She didn't know how fast lawyers worked. And would he be in his office on Saturday? If she'd been presented with a difficult medical problem, she knew she'd worry with it until she was on top of it, weekend or not. Maybe he operated under the same philosophy.
Well, she was paying Ross Donovan, so why should she be afraid to call him? Anna found his number, making a mental note to program it into her cell phone's memory, punched the keys, and waited. One ring. Two. Three.
"Ross Donovan." The response was a bit brusque, but not antagonistic. Sort of like, "Hey, I'm trying to get some work done here and hate to stop to answer the phone." Anna knew the feeling.
"Mr. Donovan, this is Dr. Anna McIntyre."
The tone of the response brightened appreciably. "Hi, Dr. McIntyre. You know, we're going to be working together for a while. I'm Ross. May I call you Anna?"
"So was there something you need? I'm afraid I haven't—" Anna heard a muffled thud. "Hang on, I just managed to shove a stack of papers offmy desk." A minute passed before the attorney was back on the line. "Sorry. Is there something I can do for you?"
"I wondered if you'd called those policemen." Anna searched her memory, and finally the names popped up. "Green and Dowling. Are they still intent on proving that I'm part of some sinister narcotics ring?"
"I left a call for them yesterday. One was in court, the other was off. They may try to call me this weekend. Once I've talked with them, I'll get back to you. But, as I told you yesterday, if you're innocent, you have nothing to worry about."
Anna wished she could believe that. "What about the DEA?"
"Again, I left messages for both Hale and Kramer. No return call yet. If they're reasonable, I should be able to get you a new DEA permit fairly quickly. There's no doubt that the prescriptions are forgeries. The only question is how someone got your number, matched it with your other information, and started using it to write false prescriptions."
That brought up a question Anna had wondered about."Could they have picked a number at random, and by chance it matched mine?"
He chuckled. "Sorry, didn't mean to laugh at you. Yeah, they could have picked a number, and the chances of it matching yours are the same as a roomful of monkeys producing the works of Shakespeare. No, whoever's behind this had to know what name went with the number."
"Don't pharmacists check that against some kind of directory or list?"
"So it still comes down to someone who knew both my name and number." "Yep," Donovan said. "If I were you, I'd think about someone you work with as the most likely suspect. Maybe we can point the police toward the real criminals and get them off your back."
Anna sighed. "Well, I've thought about it already, and that list is getting longer and longer. Anyway, I won't keep you. If you're in the office on Saturday, I know you must be busy."
"Not as much as you might think. Being in rehab for two weeks to dry out and get my head straight didn't leave me with a bunch of clients."
What could she say to that? "Well, I trust things are going okay for you now."
"So far, so good. You know, one of the things they tell us in AA is not to get too tired or too hungry. I've been working all morning, and it's getting near lunchtime. How about a working lunch?" Donovan correctly interpreted the silence on the other end of the line. "You realize, I wasn't asking you for a date. That would be unethical, so long as I'm working on your case."
"I . . . I really think I'd better take a rain check. Maybe some other time."
"Sure," Donovan said. "And I'll call you when I know more."
The phone call left Anna with feelings she couldn't identify. There was something about Ross Donovan that attracted her, while at the same time setting offall kinds of alarms. He was flawed, but his openness about his problem and the way he handled it were somehow appealing. If there was another invitation for a lunch or dinner—a working one, of course—she might just take him up on it.
Anna shoved the phone out of the way and turned her attention to the pile of unopened mail on the desk. Might as well take care of that. After all, this was supposed to be a catch-up day. The first two envelopes she opened informed her, in what would have been hushed and respectful tones if the letters could have delivered their message aloud, that she'd been preapproved for credit cards with a limit far above her reasonable purchasing power. She tossed them in the trash, but while she opened her bill from the phone company a disturbing thought hit her. She retrieved the two discarded sheets and systematically ripped them into tiny pieces. She opened her fist and loosed a small snowstorm into the wastebasket, thinking that she really needed to buy a paper shredder—today.
The next three pieces of mail were bills, and Anna dutifully put them aside in a stack next to her checkbook. She'd pay them this afternoon. Her credit was more important to her than ever, and she wasn't about to let these go unattended.
She picked up the next envelope and was about to apply the letter opener to it when the phone rang. The caller ID showed an unfamiliar number. Who could be calling her? Someone from the medical center? She was effectively suspended from clinical duties. There was no way that Fowler would be in his office today. She thought of Nick and felt an unexpected flutter. "Hello?"
"Hey, Anna. How's your Saturday going?"
Anna wasn't sure whether she appreciated or resented the chipper tone of Nick's voice. "I think the expression is 'rowing against the tide.' I've already spent half the day and don't feel as though I've accomplished anything worthwhile. How about you? Aren't you on call?"
"Yep. Had to go in for a frozen section this morning, but things are quiet now. Have you had lunch?"
Anna looked at her wrist and discovered she'd left her watch on her bedside table, not an unusual action for her on a day off."Is it that time already?"
"My stomach tells me I'm at least half an hour late for lunch." Nick paused, apparently for effect. "I knew it. Mickey's little hand is on the twelve and his big hand is on the six. How about having lunch with me?"
"What about your being on call?"
"No problem," Nick said. "Things are quiet now, and there shouldn't be anything I can't put offfor an hour or so. Why don't I show up with some deli treats? We can picnic in your living room. Guaranteed good weather. No flying or crawling critters to interfere."
Anna hesitated. Their relationship seemed to be moving a little fast. Didn't she have enough to worry about? Then again, she liked having Nick around, so what was the problem? "Okay. How long before you're here?"
"Does this answer your question?"
The sound of her doorbell ringing was simultaneous with a fainter version in the phone receiver. She laughed. "Pretty sure of yourself aren't you, Dr. Valentine?"
"Pretty confident, Dr. McIntyre. Besides that, I knew when I bought it that if you weren't home or—perish the thought— turned me down, the food wouldn't go to waste."
Anna rose and started toward the door, dropping the unopened mail on the coffee table along the way.
Nick shifted the wicker basket from his left hand to his right. The woman at the deli had sold him the picnic hamper for what she'd termed a bargain price, probably because he'd spent so much on the food in it. He wasn't sure what made him think he could make this crazy idea work. After all, he'd told Anna only yesterday that he'd be tied up today. She probably had her day all planned out—a day without him. But after doing the frozen section, after hammering out the stack of stuffon his desk that he'd put offfor a week, he found that he missed her. He wanted to talk to her, be with her, even smell the floral scent of her shampoo. The way he felt about her . . .it was different than anything he'd ever felt about a woman. And he liked it.
The front door swung open and Anna stood there smiling at him. She was dressed casually: simple skirt and blouse, sandals. Her red hair was pulled back with a band that matched her green eyes. "You're just full of surprises, aren't you?" "I like to keep you guessing," Nick said. He hefted the basket."Can I put this down somewhere? I think the lady at the deli threw in some lead weights when my back was turned."
Anna beckoned him in. "Sure. Bring it into the living room. We'll set up a picnic on the coffee table."
Nick pulled a red checked cloth offthe top of the basket and handed it to Anna. "When Nick Valentine brings a picnic, he brings everything except the ants."
"Where did you get all this?" Anna asked. "Red checked tablecloth, picnic hamper, goodies. This is like something out of a movie."
Nick shrugged an "it was nothing" gesture. "I'd heard about this little deli in Highland Park. Family owned, been there for years. I decided to pick up a couple of sandwiches and call you to see if you wanted to share them with me." He shrugged. "I ended up buying all this."
"It's wonderful. But there's so much food."
"As I told you, any leftover food won't be wasted. As for the basket and tablecloth, maybe you can keep them for our next picnic."
Nick wondered why he'd said that. It sounded brash, assuming that there'd be more picnics, more time together. Don't rush her. Take it easy. Be cool.
Anna scooped a pile of mail offthe coffee table. "Let me clear this offso I can spread the cloth." Two letters on the bottom of the pile slipped from her grasp and fell to the floor.
Nick set the basket on the floor and stooped to retrieve the mail. "Let me get those." One letter had landed address side up, and his eyes brushed across the return address: Metro Clinical Laboratories. "This looks like a lab report."
Anna smoothed the wrinkles from the cloth and began to pull items from the hamper. "Oh, that's probably mine. I had my annual physical a couple of weeks ago. I suppose my doctor ordered some kind of new test that the lab at the med center wasn't set up to do yet, so he sent it to an outside lab."
Nick frowned, but hurried to erase it before Anna looked up. "You know, I'm in the pathology department. If there's a test out there that we can't run, I haven't heard about it."
"Well, Dr. Pathologist, in that case, why don't you open it and see what it is? And if I have trouble interpreting the results, I've got an expert on hand."
Nick fumbled with the envelope. "Are you sure, Anna?" There was no levity in his voice now. "This is confidential stuff.Look." He held out the envelope and pointed to the large red letters in the lower-right-hand corner: CONFIDENTIAL.
"I don't mind if you know my cholesterol or my triglyceride or whatever. Go ahead. I almost have our picnic set up, and I don't want to stop."
Nick ran his finger under the flap and pulled out a single sheet of paper. He scanned the results with a practiced eye. Then he looked at the top of the page and double-checked the name and address of the patient. Finally, he asked, "What's your date of birth?"
"Why do you ask?" "Just making sure this is really your report."
For the first time, Anna looked up. "July seventh."
"That matches." Nick said. "Did your doctor talk with you about ordering any unusual tests?"
"Nick, you're scaring me," Anna said. "What is it?"
He handed the report to her. "You'd better see this yourself."
Anna put down the loaf of sliced sourdough bread she was holding and looked down at the report in her hand. "Why did Dr. Reed order these? And why were they sent to a lab outside the medical center? The names of the tests are vaguely familiar, but I can't quite place them."
Nick eased onto the sofa and patted the cushion beside him."Anna, sit down."
She sank into the seat, the picnic forgotten. "I don't understand," she said.
"Let me take your questions in order." Nick's voice was quiet, his tone sober. This wasn't the Nick who'd walked in her front door a few moments ago, the one who made her perk up. He'd changed. And it wasn't good. "First, Dr. Reed must have ordered these tests because he had reason to suspect a serious illness."
"What kind of—"
"I'll get to that. Second, he probably sent them to an outside lab because he was being considerate. By and large, our lab personnel at the medical center are professionals. They respect patient confidentiality. But sometimes they let things slip. He didn't want this information to get out."