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IT TOOK A FEW SECONDS BEFORE INSTINCT AND EXPERIENCE MADE ROSS Donovan move. He was pleased that years of alcohol hadn't erased those reflexes. Dulled them a bit, maybe, but they were still there. And this seemed the way to go. Ross leaned toward Anna and whispered in her ear, "Don't say another word. Don't even acknowledge the Miranda warning." She turned toward him, her eyes wide, and opened her mouth. He touched his lips with his forefinger and shook his head. "Doctor, do you understand these rights?" Dowling asked. Ross spoke distinctly, leaning a bit toward the microphone, making sure his words reached both Dowling and the tape."Detective, my client, as I clearly pointed out before you began this taping, has recently been hospitalized with a severe head injury. The chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School was her attending physician, and I feel sure you'll agree he's qualified as a medical expert. If necessary we can produce an affidavit from him that she's still not completely recovered. Since she is not yet in full possession of her faculties, I find your ambush tactics to be both unethical and bordering on harassment." "Counselor, don't—" Ross went on as though Dowling hadn't spoken. "I've advised my client not to say anything further. I will agree to produce her for an interview at some future time when she is able to do so without jeopardizing her rights, but until then I have only one question for you." He paused and looked from Dowling to Green and back. "Are you prepared, at this time, to arrest my client? If so, please produce a warrant." The room was silent as a tomb as Dowling and Green exchanged glances. Finally, Ross spoke once more. "For the tape, please, gentlemen. Your answer?" Green spat his response from between clenched teeth. "Not yet!" Ross rose and took Anna's arm, guiding her to her feet."Then this interview is over. Please make any future contact with my client through me." In the hall, Anna said, "Why—" "No," Ross said. "Not a word until we're on the street." Outside, Ross said, "Okay, I know you've got a lot of questions. Well, I have some of my own. Let's go back to my office, where we can have some privacy. We'll sit down with some coffee and try to make sense of this mess." The office was comfortably warm, but Anna shivered. She clasped her hands around the mug of coffee and watched ripples move across its surface. "All right, take your time. Pull yourself together." Ross Donovan's voice was calm and reassuring. "We'll get through this. Remember, I'm on your side. You've engaged me to be your lawyer. This is what I do. Don't let those two guys get to you. That's what they want." "Why did he read me my rights? Were they about to arrest me?" "Normally, police only give the Miranda warning in association with an arrest, but you heard their answer. They don't have enough for an arrest warrant, so apparently they thought they could scare you into an admission of guilt." "But I swear, I'd never laid eyes on Eric Hatley, never even heard of him, until I encountered him on that operating table," Anna said. "I didn't arrange for him to be shot. As I understand it, he got caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting in the projects. Obviously, I didn't know he was allergic to Omnilex. If I'd known that, I wouldn't have signed offon giving it." "Do you know anything about the prescription Green showed us?" Ross asked. "Nothing. I had no idea Hatley had been using illicit Vicodin." Anna took a sip of the coffee and recalled Ross's description—alcoholics' coffee. If she were a drinker, now would be the time to have some, but she'd just stick with this strong, bitter brew. Ross flipped to a fresh page on his legal pad. "So this is all news to you?" "Of course it is. I didn't write any of those Vicodin 'scripts they were talking about, I have no idea who was using them or how they got them. If I did, maybe we could unravel some of the mystery about this whole thing." She took another sip of coffee and put down the cup, pleased to see that her hands were slowly becoming surgeon-steady again. "Talk me through it once more. The whole thing. The Hatley case. Your credit card and bank problems. The use of your insurance information. I keep thinking there's a common thread that ties all this together. We just have to find it." Anna thought of the image she'd had that morning. Had it only been a few hours ago? A tangled ball of thread, with her looking for a loose end to pull and unravel. Maybe the two of them, acting together, could find that thread. But when they tugged on it, would it help unlock some of the mysteries, or tighten the knot further? A tap on the door made Nick look up from the stack of death certificates he was signing. "Dr. Valentine?" The doorway was filled by the broad shoulders of an African American man whose wrinkled brown suit and out-of-fashion tie suggested a not very successful insurance salesman or a low-level manager. "May we come in?" "Sure." Nick gestured the man in. The big man glided into the room with a grace that belied his size. Football, Nick thought, because he sure didn't learn how to move like that as a dancer. The larger man was followed by a lanky white man, dressed in a similar style. They took the chairs Nick offered and introduced themselves. "I'm Lamar Green," the first man said, flipping open a credentials wallet and holding it out to Nick. The gold shield and photo ID identified him as a detective with the Dallas Police Department. If any further proof of his bona fides was necessary, it was provided when the man pulled aside his coat to stow the wallet, giving Nick a glimpse of a handgun, riding butt-forward on Green's left hip. "This is Burt Dowling," Green said, pointing to his partner, a cadaverous man with a pronounced five o'clock shadow. Dowling also offered his badge and ID. Nick wasn't too worried by the visit. The police often came to talk with him about some of the autopsies he did on homicide victims. "All right, gentlemen. How can I help?" Dowling took the lead. "Doctor, did you perform the autopsy on Eric Hatley's body?" Nick didn't have to look it up—the name was fresh in his mind—but he held up one finger in a "just a moment" gesture and turned to his computer. What were these guys after? Nick called up the Hatley file, and, still facing the computer, said, "Got it. What about it?" Dowling unwound the string that held a hard cardboard file folder shut. He pawed through the papers inside and pulled one out. "You listed the cause of death as anaphylaxis due to allergic reaction to Omnilex. Is that still your professional opinion?" "Sure. No reason to change." Nick swiveled to face the detectives. "Why do you ask?" Green took up the conversation. "We're just getting our ducks in a row. So you'd be willing to testify in court as to the cause of death?" "I suppose so," Nick said. "What's this about? Do you have the shooters? Are you trying to make a case against them? Because if he hadn't had the allergic reaction, Hatley probably would have recovered from the gunshot wounds. Dr. Nguyn did a nice job with the surgical repair." "No, we're mainly interested in the Omnilex reaction. If a doctor knew a patient was allergic to that drug but still gave them Omnilex, they'd expect a severe reaction, just like Hatley had. Right?" Nick didn't like where this was going. "Right." Green leaned forward slightly. "And if they dragged their feet a little in treating that reaction, maybe delayed giving the right medicine or didn't give it at all, they could see to it that the patient died. Right again?" Nick looked Green in the eye. "Now you're into conjecture. And in this case, I've reviewed the records of everything that happened in the operating room. If anyone was slow in making the diagnosis, it was the first- year resident who gave the anesthesia. But Dr. McIntyre got the senior anesthesia staffin as soon as the patient got into trouble. All the doctors worked hard, gave the right medication, did everything that could be done to save Hatley. But, despite their best efforts, he died. That happens sometimes. We can't save everyone, but we try. And this was no exception." Dowling made a calming gesture. "No need to get angry, Dr. Valentine. We're trying to get our facts straight. We don't need a formal statement from you now, but you may be called on to testify later." Green grinned and added, "If you have any notion about not giving us a statement or testifying, we'll see that you're subpoenaed. So you'll do it. Whether you want to or not." During the interview, Nick had been trying to figure out where he'd seen these men. Then it came to him. These detectives were the two men who'd brushed by him on their way out of Anna's house. And apparently they were still out to get her. "Gentlemen, I hope you'll excuse me." Nick made a show of looking at his watch. "I'm due in surgery in a few minutes to assist with a frozen section. I trust you can find your way out." He herded them toward the door. Nick figured they had no way to find out if he really was due in surgery. Besides, he needed a cup of coffee, and what they brewed in the surgeons' lounge was usually pretty good if you caught a fresh pot. The detectives seemed content to go, but Green turned to Nick as they paused at the branch of the corridor where their paths separated. "Thank you for your time, Doctor. And I don't guess I have to remind you that what we've discussed was in confidence. It involves a case under investigation, so don't go talking to anyone about it, or you could find yourself in trouble." Ross Donovan had told Anna to go home and try to relax, saying he'd call her tomorrow to set up a time for a strategy session. "And don't worry." Don't worry. She'd just been accused of murder by two cops who seemed to think it was their mission in life to send her to prison, maybe even to death row. Don't worry, indeed. What Anna wanted was a long soak in her tub, accompanied by a pint of Cherry Garcia ice cream and the latest issue of Vanity Fair. As soon as she got home, she bolted the door, took the phone offthe hook, and set about preparing to make that dream a reality. She'd been in the tub for about five minutes when she heard her cell phone ring. Drat, she'd forgotten to turn it off. Well, let it ring. She'd return the call later. But the phone continued ringing at five- minute intervals, and finally, like the constant dripping of the Chinese water torture, it wore her down. Swathed in a terry-cloth robe, Anna left a trail of water to the living room, where she snatched up the phone and flipped it open just as the call rolled into voicemail. The display showed four missed calls, three messages, all from Nick Valentine. Well, she probably wasn't going to have any peace until she talked to him. Besides, she felt bad about the way she'd deflected Nick's attempts to build their relationship. He really did seem to care for her, and right now she could use all the support she could get. She dialed his number and he answered on the first ring. "Nick, this is Anna. Sorry about missing your calls. I was in the tub." Nick's tone was that of a mortician discussing final arrangements."Anna, we need to talk." "Sure." She looked around for a chair that would tolerate the water seeping through her robe. "Go ahead." "No, not on the phone, especially not on a cell phone. Can I come over?" "Nick, you're scaring me. And I've already had a bad day, so my coronaries don't need any more stress. What's this about?" "Anna, I can be there in half an hour. It's important." Anna dropped into an armchair, heedless of the upholstery by now. "If it's that important, sure. I'll see you then." Forty minutes later, dressed in jeans and a tee shirt, sneakers on her bare feet, Anna looked through the security peephole of her front door and saw Nick on the porch holding a pizza box. As soon as she opened the door, he eased inside and slammed the door behind him. "Nick, why all the cloak and dagger stuff?" Anna asked. "I told you, you're scaring me." Nick dropped the pizza box on the coffee table and turned to take Anna by the shoulders. He seemed to hesitate for a moment, then pulled her to him and hugged her. "Sorry. But maybe I'm sort of scared too. Sit down. I need to tell you some things, even though telling you could get me in trouble with the police." Anna felt like she was free-falling from a great height. What more could go wrong? And how was Nick involved? She sagged onto the couch, patted the space beside her, and said, "Okay, let's hear it." Instead of sitting, Nick began to pace. "I had a visit today from two detectives." As Nick related his story, Anna tried to make sense of it all. Why did these men seem so determined to tie her to the illicit narcotics prescriptions when the DEA had already told her they were satisfied she wasn't involved? And now, the detectives were trying to hold her responsible for Eric Hatley's death, not as an act of malpractice, which was bad enough, but cold-blooded murder? "And as they left, they told me this was an ongoing investigation, so I couldn't talk about it with anyone. I don't know what they can do to me for coming to you like this, but I don't care. It seems to me that you're in trouble, and I want to help."His forced grin held no humor. "After all, that's what friends do. And we are friends. Right?"