NICK TOOK HIS FRUSTRATION OUT ON HIS CELL PHONE WHEN ANNA FAILED to show. She had promised to come by his office and have lunch with him after her appointment with Mike Simpson. Nick had planned his day carefully so he'd be free for lunch, had even picked out a place off- campus where they'd have a little privacy. He'd gotten up enough courage to say some serious things to her, but now it was as though the earth had opened up and swallowed her.
When he hadn't seen or heard from her by one in the afternoon, Nick started calling. Her administrative assistant said Anna wasn't in and hadn't come into the office all day. Was there a message? Nick said he'd try elsewhere. No message.
Anna's machine at home picked up on the first ring, so he figured there were already messages waiting for her. Nick hung up without adding one of his own. When a call to her cell phone came up dry, he swallowed hard and decided to leave a message. He hated that. Voicemail messages were so sterile and impersonal.
He worked to keep his voice neutral—no urgency, no begging."Anna, this is Nick. I thought we had planned on lunch. Give me a call when you get this. I—" He bit back the rest of his message and hung up.
Nick began to picture scenarios to explain why Anna was out of touch. Had Mike found a problem this morning? Maybe Anna had developed a late consequence of her head injury. What if she had a chronic subdural hematoma? At this moment, could she be suffering through the claustrophobic experience of an MRI? Was she once more lying in a hospital bed, or—oh, please, God, no—was she being prepped for surgery?
Nick's temples throbbed. He pulled a bottle of Advil out of his desk drawer and washed two tablets down with cold coffee. Of course, there was another possible scenario. He'd shoved this one into the back of his mind, but it kept creeping forward to stick its tentacles into his consciousness and stir his thoughts into unease. Had those two Dallas police detectives, Green and Dowling, brought her in for more questioning? He could picture her, sitting in an interview room being buffeted by questions and looking to her attorney for help. That last thought made him cringe. He knew Anna had confidence in Donovan, but Nick wasn't sure she should depend on an alcoholic, even if he was dry, or sober, or whatever AA called it.
"Dr. Valentine, call for you on line one." The voice on the intercom snapped Nick out of his thoughts before they could spiral downward any further.
He lifted the receiver. "Dr. Valentine."
"Doctor, this is Detective Green. You may remember—"
"I know who you are. What do you want?" Nick regretted snapping at the detective, but it was too late. Anyway, the man knew he wasn't a big fan, so how much more harm could Nick's tone have done?
Green went on, apparently unfazed. "We want you to come down here so we can get a formal statement from you."
"What about? That parking ticket I got last week? I'm going to pay it. Honest."
There was no humor in Green's voice. "You know what it's about, Doctor, so don't try to laugh it off. We need to get you on the record about Eric Hatley's death. Can you come down today?"
Nick held the phone near the surface of his desk and shuf- fled some papers. He knew what his schedule was, but Green didn't. How long could he stall? "Just checking my calendar. Can't do it today. And tomorrow's out too. How about next week?"
"How about we send a marshall down to your office with a subpoena? He can bring you back right now. Sound good to you?"
"No, not really." Nick decided to give it one more try. "Look, today and tomorrow really are bad days for me. Give me fortyeight hours to rearrange my schedule and get someone to cover for me. I'll come down Friday afternoon. Will that work?"
There was a murmur in the background, and Nick figured Green was conferring with Dowling. Good. Dowling had seemed like the more reasonable of the two. In a moment, Green said, "Friday at two p.m. Know where we are? On Harwood?"
"Yeah, I know. See you then."
Nick hung up, closed his eyes, and leaned back. The Advil hadn't touched his headache that bordered on a migraine. And now he had one more thing to add to his list of worries. "Lord, help me," he whispered.
Anna met Neil Fowler at the door to the surgeon's lounge. She gave him a brief rundown on the surgery she'd performed, careful to mention how Matt Ryan had functioned extremely well as her first assistant. "He's applying for a surgery residency here, and I hope you'll remember this when you review his application."
"Sure. Why don't you send me a memo—an e-mail will do—and mention this? I'll be sure that Peggy attaches it to his application when we get it." He moved toward the coffee urn."I signed offon the narcotics order for your case, by the way. I'll be glad when the DEA gets that straightened out, and I know you will too."
He held up a cup and Anna nodded. When they were both seated with their coffee, Fowler told her about his own case, a bus driver whose face was so badly injured in the crash that it took more than two hours to repair the damage, realigning broken bones and meticulously sewing up lacerations. "Wouldn't you know it? Half our plastic surgeons have gone to a meeting in Chicago, so I got drafted. I haven't done a case like that in years."
"You know you enjoyed the challenge."
"Yeah, I guess you're right." Fowler tossed his empty cup into the wastebasket. "Do you feel okay? I know Mike told you to take another week off, but if you hadn't been here today, I'm afraid that little girl would have bled out. You saved her life."
"I'm fine," she said. "Just a little wrung out, I guess."
"Well, head home. I'll look in on your patient tonight. Call me tomorrow and let me know how you're feeling. I don't want to push you."
"Thanks. I'll stop by the waiting room and talk with Rosa's parents before I go."
At home, Anna dropped her backpack inside the front door and headed straight for the fridge. She pulled out a can of Diet Coke and trudged back to the living room, where she collapsed onto the couch and rubbed the cold container against her throbbing temples.
She closed her eyes but couldn't rest. Her mind kept going in circles that had no end. She remembered something she'd seen in geometry—or was it algebra?—called a Möbius strip. It was a paper strip twisted a half-turn and fastened together so it had no beginning and no end. Start to draw a line down the middle of it, and eventually you'd end up back where you started, with a line on both sides of the paper. Well, her problems were a Möbius strip, with no end in sight. The detectives who seemed determined to charge her with murder; the person or persons who were using her DEA number to write bogus narcotics prescriptions; the identity theft that threatened her credit, cost Eric Hatley his life, and almost convinced Nick she was HIV-positive.
That set her thoughts on another track—something she never thought would be a problem for her. Two weeks ago there were no men in her life. Now there were two. Each seemed fond of her and growing fonder, and that was nice. But they both had problems, and she wasn't sure she was strong enough to deal with her own difficulties, much less those of Nick and Ross.
"Lord, I need help." Anna wasn't sure whether she'd spoken the words aloud or just framed them in her mind, but they were certainly an outpouring of what she felt in her heart.
A loud banging at her door made her jump. What now? Her first thought sent a chill down her spine. Was it the police with a warrant for her arrest? They'd take her downtown and book her. Wasn't she supposed to get one phone call? What was Ross Donovan's number? She couldn't imagine they'd let her keep her cell phone in a jail cell. She scrambled through a pile of unopened correspondence on her desk until she found the slip with Ross's number on it. She started to stick it in her pocket, then changed her mind and wrote it on her palm with a Sharpie.
The banging continued. What else? Her mind raced. She'd never prepared to go to jail before.
"Anna, open up. I know you're home. I can see your car in the driveway."
At the sound of Nick's voice, Anna felt a mixture of relief and irritation wash over her. What was he doing here? She wasn't ready for company. She wanted to shower and fall into bed.
When she opened the door and saw the look on Nick's face, Anna's irritation melted.
"Anna," Nick said. "I've been trying to reach you all day. When I couldn't get you, I pictured all kinds of terrible things. At first, I thought maybe Mike Simpson found a problem from your head injury. I could picture you back in ICU, or on your way to surgery. Then I had visions of those detectives arresting you. I know it's silly, but I just had this bad feeling about you. I had to see you and know you're okay."
"Funny," she said. "I had that last vision myself when I heard you pounding on the door. So I guess we're both relieved."
"May I come in?"
"Of course. Would you like something to drink?"
In a moment, they were seated side-by-side on the sofa."I'm sorry I wasn't around when you phoned," she said. "There was a huge pileup on the freeway, and I was scrubbed in on an emergency case. What was it you wanted?"
Nick decided this wasn't the time for the serious talk he had in mind. When he spoke with Anna about his relationship, he wanted her in a better mood than this. But there was still something Anna needed to know. He sipped his soft drink, but his throat remained dry. "I had another call from our detective friends."
"Which one? Green or Dowling?" "Does it matter? Dowling seems to be a little easier to deal with than Green, but I get the impression they've played 'good cop-bad cop' for so long, they've kind of settled into those roles. I'm not fond of either one." Nick finished his soft drink in one long gulp. "Anyway, I got a call from Green. He wants me at police headquarters for a statement. Says he needs me on record about the cause of death in the Hatley case."
"But why? You've already told them it was nothing more than an adverse consequence of a medication we administered based on flawed information. They should worry less about going after me and more about catching the person responsible for that false information in Hatley's medical records."
Nick sighed and leaned toward Anna, as though he could add urgency to his message through his body language. "Anna, I went through all this when I shot that man years ago. I know how the authorities can twist your words and tie you in knots. Don't you think the police and the District Attorney can do that with my statement? I don't want to go on record. I don't want to give them even one word under oath because I'm afraid of how they might use it against you."
"Nick, I appreciate your concern. Don't think I'm not worried too. I'm supposed to talk with Ross Donovan tomorrow to plan our strategy. We're both afraid that Green and Dowling are about to arrest me."
Anna saw something flash in Nick's eyes when she mentioned Ross Donovan's name. Was it jealousy? Probably. Well, she didn't have the time or energy to deal with it.
"You've probably got a couple of days," Nick said. "I tried to put offGreen until next week, but he finally pinned me down. I'll give them my statement on Friday afternoon. Be sure to tell Donovan when you talk to him."
Anna tried to ignore the way Nick said the name of her attorney. "Thanks for those two days," she said. "I probably had a week's grace, but I blew that this afternoon."
After she gave Nick a brief recap of the day's events, he shook his head. "Anna McIntyre, you're something else. I'm not sure I could have done that."
"Of course you couldn't do that kind of surgery," Anna said."You're a pathologist."
"That's not what I mean, and you know it. I mean the way you pitched in to help, even when you knew you might suffer for it in the end."
"Nick, that's sort of the heart of everything I believe. 'Do unto others as you would have them do to you.' I don't know if I have the words exactly right, but you get the meaning."
"You know, one of the things I admire about you is the way you've held on to your faith in the midst of all that's happened. I'm afraid mine's gone for good."
"That's not true," Anna said. "Your faith is right where you left it." She yawned. "I'm sorry. I can hardly keep my eyes open. I need to get some rest, but I appreciate your coming by. I'll call you tomorrow." Nick opened his mouth, closed it, and then shook his head."Sure. Give me a call."
Anna woke slowly, swimming toward the surface of consciousness. She remembered falling into her bed as soon as Nick left. She squinted one eye open and tried to read the red numbers of her bedside clock. Was it seven a.m. or seven p.m.? There was a little red dot illuminated beside the numbers. Good. She hadn't slept the clock 'round. Maybe she could do something productive for the rest of the evening.
Soon, fortified with a grilled cheese sandwich, she sat down at her desk to sort through the stack of mail she'd let pile up.Bill. Bill. Junk mail. Sale circular. Bill.
Anna discarded the junk and set the bills aside. She'd deal with them last. Her fear was that she'd open them and see more charges made by someone else. Ross had taken the material Anna had dropped offfor him and assured her that her phone notifications and his filings would protect her from future unauthorized charges. But that was only part of the problem. She still had the feeling that her identity theft wasn't an isolated instance. And although she had nothing to substantiate it, she still wondered if it was connected to the unauthorized use of Eric Hatley's medical insurance that had indirectly caused his death.
She felt a figurative light bulb go on over her head. Before she could change her mind, she pulled out a phone book from the desk drawer and thumbed through it, searching her memory for the right first name. Please, don't let it be unlisted. No, there it was. She punched in the numbers and waited, the beat of butterfly wings roiling her stomach.
"Mrs. Hatley, this is Dr. Anna McIntyre. Please don't hang up."
"What do you want? My lawyer told me not to talk with you."
Anna hurried on. "No, please. I just have one question, and it has nothing to do with your lawsuit. Do you recall your son telling you about problems with his credit card?"
There was a prolonged silence. "How did you know that?"
"So, in addition to his medical insurance information, he'd suffered other instances of identity theft."
"Just a few weeks before he . . ." There was a catch in the woman's voice, and Anna felt sorry for bringing back painful memories to her. "Not long before I lost him, he called me and complained that someone had used his credit cards and run up a big bill. He started to contest the charges, but he never—"
"Mrs. Hatley, I'm sorry to bring this up. But if you have any of those receipts and bills, please, please don't destroy them. They could help the police find the person really at fault for your son's . . . for your loss."
"How do I know this isn't some lawyer's trick?" Now there was suspicion in the woman's words. "Mrs. Hatley, you can talk with your own lawyer. Give the material to him to hold. Then it can only be released to the police if they have the proper papers. I won't be able to get hold of it. But believe me, it's imperative that information be preserved."
"I'll think about it." A loud click signaled the end of the conversation.
Anna cradled the phone and pulled a yellow legal pad toward her. She began to write, pausing for long periods between thoughts. She connected some of the words to others with lines that soon made the page look like the web of a drunken spider, searching for that loose end of the thread that would allow her to unravel the mystery.