ROSS DONOVAN SAT AT HIS DESK, STARING INTO SPACE, REPLAYING EVERY word of his conversation with Glenn. Poor Glenn. What a terrible way to die. Ross shivered as he realized it very nearly was him lying on that stainless steel drawer in the morgue, his earthly remains identified by a tag on his toe. If he didn't stop, would that be his fate anyway? He knew he was playing a dangerous game, but there was no turning back now.
He arranged and rearranged the files and papers on his desk, shuffling them like a shell-game hustler on a New York corner. Maybe if he looked at things from a different perspective, considered the chronology, his next move would become clear. He started with the discovery that someone was using Anna's narcotics license to write bogus prescriptions. Ross opened the file labeled "DEA" and pulled out Anna's application for renewal of her license. He cleared a space on his desk and laid that form at the left end of it.
Then Anna had found her identity had been compromised and her credit cards used until they were maxed out. He shuffled through the stack to the pile labeled "Credit" and found Anna's latest credit report. That went next to the DEA application.
In the meantime, Eric Hatley showed up in the Emergency Room, the innocent—well, apparently innocent—random victim of a gang shooting. Because someone else had used Hatley's insurance information, he received an antibiotic that caused a fatal allergic reaction. From the folder marked "Hatley," Ross pulled the summary sheet from the man's pitifully thin hospital chart. He placed that next in line.
Then the police, in the persons of Detectives Green and Dowling, advanced the theory that Anna was guilty of murder, or at least manslaughter. Their key bit of evidence was the prescription bottle showing Anna had prescribed narcotics for Hatley. Ross now knew the label had been faked, but his witness was dead. Yesterday, Glenn had given Ross a blank prescription label from the pharmacy where he worked. Ross pulled that from the pocket of his coat and laid it alongside the other papers.
His eyes scanned the row, back and forth, left to right and back again. Nothing made any sense. There had to be a connection that tied all of this together, but so far the only connection was Anna. His legal training rebelled at the thought that kept running through the edge of his mind like something seen with peripheral vision. Could Anna be guilty of all this? Was Glenn's revelation a complex double fake to get Ross to believe she'd been set up? And then did some as-yet-unknown associate of Anna's assault Ross to make the story more believable? If that was so, then Glenn was beaten to death to keep him from recanting his carefully planted story.
No! That was too far-fetched. Anna was innocent. She had to be. He couldn't bring himself to think otherwise.
Suddenly, as though a filter had been moved aside, Ross saw it. There was the connection. He swiveled toward his computer and called up a program, entered information, scanned the results. Yes, that was it. But what should he do about it? He didn't hesitate. He had to go there, see for himself.
He pushed back his chair when his cell phone rang. "Ross Donovan."
The conversation that followed was short, but it galvanized Ross into action. He grabbed his coat, slammed his office door, and almost ran down the hallway toward the elevators.
When Nick Valentine heard his cell phone ring, his first reaction was a sigh. Would he ever be able to get through this stack of slides? He needed to finish the day's surgical dictation, and he'd never do it if he had to continually stop to answer calls. Then he realized that the tones he heard were a signal that Anna was calling again.
He plunged his hand into the pocket of his lab coat and fumbled to answer the phone before the call rolled over to voicemail. "Hello. Anna?"
But it wasn't Anna's voice that he heard. Instead, a male voice, faint and a bit muffled, was saying, "They let me resign, which kept me out of federal prison."
"Anna," Nick said. "What's going on?"
Then Anna's voice, faint like the other one but also strained. "So what were you doing? And what does that have to do with this house on Shady Lane? And why are you holding me here?"
Shady Lane? That was just a couple of streets from where Anna lived. She'd talked about an address in her neighborhood that she thought might have something to do with the people behind her identity theft. Had she gone there? It appeared that she had—and she was in trouble.
The next words brought Nick out of his chair. "I've got a gun and I'm not afraid to use it." By the time the man finished speaking Nick was halfway out the door of his office. He took the cell phone away from his ear long enough to press the mute button.
His startled administrative assistant looked up as he rushed by.
"I have to leave. Life or death emergency. Call Dr. Rollins and ask him to finish the surgicals from today. I'll explain later."The last words trailed after Nick like the tail of a comet as he dashed down the hall toward the parking lot.
Anna couldn't believe it—didn't want to believe it. Was Nick at the heart of the scheme that had brought her here to the brink of her death? How could that be? Oh, Nick! She felt so foolish. She'd begun to care for the man. Care deeply, in fact.
Harsh words from the mailman interrupted Anna's pity party. "What do you want?"
"I'm looking for Anna McIntyre," Nick said.
Anna saw the mailman move forward to block the doorway and Nick's view of the room. Her captor's hand was already reaching into his mailbag. Anna tried to scream but the tape over her mouth did its job well. All she could produce was a weak, muffled sound that neither man seemed to notice. Well, if she couldn't warn Nick, she'd have to stop the mailman herself.
In a move she'd seen numerous times from the stands while in college but had never tried, she sprang from the sofa and launched herself at her captor in a flying body block. Although she'd never played football, she'd practiced medicine, and she knew where to aim. Her right shoulder took the mailman in the back where the bottom of his rib cage ended, right over the kidney.
By this time, the mailman's gun was clear of its leather hiding place and in his hand, but the unexpected blow sent it flying. Anna, her captor, and Nick all hit the floor. Anna looped her bound hands over the mailman's head from behind and began pulling backward with all the force she could muster. The man struggled and cursed, although the words came out in a strangled whisper. He clawed around for the gun, but Anna spied it a good ten feet away, out of everyone's reach.
"Don't move." Anna looked past the mailman and saw Nick standing in front of them. He held his own gun in a twohanded grip, aimed directly at her captor's chest. "Anna, get back." Anna disengaged her hands from the chokehold and scrambled away. The mailman moved to stand, but a gesture from Nick stopped him. "Hold it right there. Hands over your head," Nick said. "Anna, come over here and let me see if I can get that tape offyou."
With the gun in his right hand, Nick managed to unwind the tape from Anna's hands with his left. When her hands were free, she steeled herself against the pain and ripped the tape from her mouth.
"Nick, I'm so glad to see you," she said. "But why did you come?"
"I got a call from your phone. Then I heard somebody talking about a gun and not being afraid to use it. You mentioned Shady Lane, so I took offand drove up and down the street until I saw your car. You saw what happened after that."
"I know what must have happened. On my cell, the '9' button dials 911. I was reaching down blindly, trying to push that number, hoping the police operator would hear what was going on and send help. Instead, I must have hit the 'redial' key."
"And you're not angry that I brought my gun along?"
"No, I think it may have saved my life—just like it saved yours once," she said.
"Speaking of guns, how about picking up the one this guy dropped? I don't like the way he keeps looking over at it."
Anna retrieved the automatic and, under Nick's direction, removed the clip. "Toss it all into that wastebasket in the corner. We'll let the police deal with it later," Nick said.
"The police are here." Detective Dowling stood in the open doorway, his badge folder hanging from the breast pocket of his ill-tailored sport coat, a substantial-looking pistol in his hand. Backlit, his gaunt frame looked like a visitation from death.
Anna turned to Nick. "You called the police before you came here?"
"No," the mailman said, getting to his feet. "I did. And you heard me make the call." He glared at Dowling. "Took you long enough. I'd thought you weren't coming."
Dowling pointed at Nick. "Just drop that gun and kick it over here. And in case you or the doc have any ideas about coming after me, this Glock can blow a hole the size of a dinner plate in you."
Nick eased into a crouch, put the gun on the floor, and kicked it away. The mailman took one step toward the gun, but Dowling stopped him. "Don't be in too big a hurry. I've been thinking about this since you called. You're getting to be a liability, so I think it's time to shut this little operation down. And I don't plan to leave any loose ends."
The mailman didn't waste any words. Instead, he launched himself at Dowling, his left hand moving to knock the gun aside as his right hand reached for the detective's throat. There was a single shot and the mailman fell backward, both hands covering his belt buckle. Anna watched as the man's fingers turned red and the stain around them widened. Anna took a tentative step forward. "Let me see what I can do for him."
A sneer creased Dowling's face. "Don't go all humanitarian on me. I intend for him to die. And you and your boyfriend will be next." He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and retrieved Nick's gun. "First, I'll shoot both of you with this gun. Once my former colleague here dies, I'll wrap his hand around it and fire a couple more shots into the wall, to take care of fingerprints and gunpowder residue. Then I'll call it in and take the credit for shooting him, expressing sorrow that I heard shots but didn't get here in time to save you two."
"Don't be too sure of that, Burt. Now drop the gun. This isn't my finger you feel poking you in the back."
Anna's eyes had swiveled between the injured man on the floor and the gun in Dowling's hand. Now she looked behind Dowling and saw the considerable frame of Detective Green filling the doorway, his usual hard expression no longer in place.
"Doctor, I heard the shot as I drove up. I've already called for backup and an ambulance. They should be here pretty quickly, but in the meantime, would you see if there's anything you can do for that man on the floor?"
The small group filled Ross Donovan's office to overflowing. Ross was behind his desk. Anna and Nick were seated across from him in the two client chairs. Detective Green's bulk more than filled the chair Ross had dragged in from his small waiting room.
Anna rubbed the scabs on her wrists. The deep abrasions made by the duct tape as she struggled with her captor were still painful. She wondered how long it would be before they healed. Would they leave scars? And what about the wounds no one could see, the emotional trauma? What kind of scars would that produce?
Ross spoke first. "I thought it would be a good idea for us all to meet and share information." He inclined his head at Detective Green. "I especially appreciate your being here."
Anna looked at the man who'd been both her enemy and her rescuer. "I thought you and Detective Dowling were out to arrest me."
"That was what Burt had in mind," Green said. "Hatley's death, on top of the DEA investigation, was generating too much heat. Putting you in the spotlight would take it off him."
"And you went along with him," Anna said.
"Had to within reason. Burt's been under investigation by Internal Affairs for over a month. We wanted to see if he'd lead us to other members of the little operation he'd set up. And he did."
Nick spoke for the first time. "Well, you took your sweet time getting there."
"So you followed your partner?" Anna asked.
"No, I was responding to Dr. Valentine's call. Lucky for me that Burt had already left the office, so I got the message."
Anna turned to Nick. "And you heard my conversation, called the detective, then came to my rescue—gun and all."
Ross lifted his hand like a student asking permission to speak. "And while you all were playing cops and robbers, I got a call from the mother of Glenn Wilcox, who wanted to see me. Anna knows that Glenn told me some anonymous man pressured him to plant that false prescription. Well, he lied. Turns out, Glenn was part of the ring. The person who told him to fake that prescription bottle was the head of the ring, our old friend Detective Dowling."
"How do you know all this?" Nick asked.
"That's what Glenn's mother called me about. Before Glenn met with me, he put down all the details in a letter and mailed them to his mother, asking her to turn it over me if anything happened to him." Ross opened his middle desk drawer, pulled out a thick envelope, and handed it to Detective Green.
The detective put the envelope in his coat pocket. "This is icing on the cake. Our mailman was asking for a chance to roll on his partner as soon as he hit the recovery room after his surgery. After I leave here, I'm going over there with an Assistant DA to take his statement." He nodded toward Anna."Nice work, by the way, keeping that man alive after Dowling shot him."
"All I did was apply a pressure dressing to his wound. The EMTs did the rest."
Green reached into his pocket and brought out a notebook. He flipped pages until he found what he wanted. "By the way, this guy you've been calling 'the mailman' is named Brevard."
"Okay," Anna continued. "When we got Brevard to the hospital, Dr. Nguyn did the surgery. I just helped."
"Hang on," Nick said. "You and Luc Nguyn did the laparotomy?"
"Yeah, I know what you're thinking," Anna said. "Just like Eric Hatley's case. Gunshot wound of the abdomen. No vital structures hit, a number of smaller vessels injured, several perforations of the intestine."
"Did you give him Omnilex?" Nick asked.
"Nope," Anna said. "When Brevard hit the ER, he was awake enough to tell us. He's allergic to it." She shook her head. "Talk about irony."
Green rose. "Well, I need to get back to the station." He turned to look directly at Anna. "Dr. McIntyre, I'll be in touch through Mr. Donovan here, but I don't think there's any question that you're in the clear with us. I'm sorry you had to go through all this."
Anna had a stinging reply on her lips but bit it back. "Sorry" didn't begin to make up for what she'd been through. Then again, the police weren't responsible for her problems. Dowling was the culprit there, and now he was in custody and looking at a jail term. Ross had told her that police officers didn't fare well as prisoners. She wished she could feel sorry for him. She couldn't.
As the door closed behind Green, Anna turned to Ross."What about the malpractice suit Eric Hatley's mother filed?" Ross tented his fingers and leaned back. "I can't predict what will happen, but I can tell you what I'd advise, and I suspect her attorney will do the same. That's to drop the action against you and bring a civil suit against Dowling. Unless I miss my guess he's stashed away a tidy sum from his activities. After Brevard brought him into the picture, he expanded the operation to include false credit cards, false insurance information, bogus narcotics prescriptions, drivers' licenses, and probably a few other things we haven't even discovered yet."
"And his associates?" Nick asked.
"Little fish. Brevard gave us names. Dowling will probably give us more, hoping to get a lighter sentence. We'll round them all up. So far as this little enterprise is concerned, it's all over."
Anna clenched her jaw until her teeth ached. Over? No, it wasn't over. The aftereffects would linger for a long, long time. She had to rebuild her credit, complete the process of getting her DEA privileges restored, expunge the false medical information from her records, probably more things that she hadn't yet considered. There was still a lot for her to do. And there was no way of knowing how many others had been similarly affected. And for at least one person—Eric Hatley—it was too late to repair the damage. Much too late.