Nick put down the phone and massaged his chin, running his fingers over the scratchy stubble as he thought about the information he'd just been given. Both units of blood received by Eric Hatley were totally compatible with the patient's own blood. The lab director herself had done the cross-matches in duplicate. No question about it. The blood wasn't the source of the allergic reaction that had killed the man.
"Still here?" The morgue technician stood in the open doorway and raised his eyebrows as though to ask, "Why?"
"Yeah," Nick replied. "I want to work on some stuff, and it's a lot quieter over here than in my academic office."
"Right. Those folks in the drawers back there don't make much noise, do they?"
Nick frowned. He understood that when you worked around death all day, making jokes about it was a normal defense mechanism. But it still didn't make him like the practice. He kept quiet and eventually the attendant took the hint and left with a cheery, "Well, it's quitting time. I'm out of here."
His unfinished project stared back at Nick from the computer screen, the cursor accusing him with every blink. He really should finish it today. But first he wanted to let Anna know what he'd found out about the blood. There was no question in his mind that talking with her took precedence over making his chairman happy. Wetherington was never happy anyway, so why worry about it?
Nick opened the faculty directory and dialed Dr. Anna McIntyre's office number. Her administrative assistant answered on the first ring.
"This is Dr. Valentine. I'm trying to reach Dr. McIntyre. Is she there?"
"I'm sorry, Doctor. She's left for the day."
"Oh." Nick looked at his watch. A bit after four. Sort of early in the day for Anna to be leaving, but— "Well, what time does she usually get there in the morning?"
The woman cleared her throat. "I've been told that Dr. McIntyre will be on leave for at least two weeks. Could someone else help you?"
That didn't make sense. The likelihood that a junior faculty member in her first year would have two weeks of accrued leave, let alone be permitted to take it in one block, was about the same as a meteor hitting Neiman Marcus at noon tomorrow. Had the chairman suspended her? Was she in trouble over this patient death? If so, that made his call even more important.
The assistant's voice interrupted Nick's thoughts. "Doctor?"
"Sorry. I guess I could page her."
He started to hang up when he heard a rattle of words and brought the receiver back to his ear. "What was that?"
"I said her pager is sitting on her desk. I saw it just a few minutes ago. I really think she doesn't want to be disturbed."
Nick could feel his temper bubbling to the surface. He shoved it down and tried to keep his voice calm. "All right, could you give me her home number?"
"I'm afraid we can't do that. Why don't I transfer your call to the chairman's office? Maybe Dr. Fowler can help you."
"No, don't bother. Thanks." Nick hung up before she could respond. He didn't want to go through Neil Fowler to contact Anna. And he didn't want to leave a message. It was dawning on him that what he wanted was to see Anna McIntyre again.
He swiveled back to his computer and looked at the screen. He sighed and closed the document. Then he logged on to the Internet. It shouldn't be hard to find Anna.
Being home didn't defuse Anna's anger and frustration. She took the time for a quick shower and a change into more casual clothes. Back in her living room, she pulled a folder from her desk drawer, kicked off her loafers, and slumped into an easy chair with a Diet Coke and the cordless phone, ready to do battle with the credit card company. She flipped through the folder until she found her last MasterCard bill. She dialed the wrong number once, then navigated a maze of electronic commands, entered her account number, and confirmed her mother's maiden name to an operator who seemed only mildly interested in the process. Finally, she was able to speak to someone about her problem.
"How may I help you?" said the slightly accented voice on the other end of the line.
"My card was declined today because I'm supposedly over my credit limit. I have my last statement right here. I made a payment only a week ago, and I should be nowhere near my limit. Can you tell me what's going on?"
"I'm so sorry." The operator's tone didn't match the words, but Anna figured that she'd settle for action instead of sympathy."Let me pull up your account."
Anna took a long gulp of soft drink while she waited.
Anna put down her drink can and sat forward in her chair."What's wrong?"
"Well, it appears that we actually tried to get in touch with you today about your account, but there was no answer at your home number."
For the first time, Anna noticed the blinking red light on the answering machine. "What were you calling about?"
"According to my records, in the past two days there have been numerous charges to your account, and at the present time it's almost two hundred dollars over your credit limit." "That can't be right."
"No problem," the operator continued, apparently unfazed by Anna's tone. "Your payment history has been good, so if you like, I'm sure we can extend your limit."
Anna felt her heart descend into her shoes. This was defi- nitely not what she needed on top of all her other problems."I don't want my credit limit extended. I want you to remove those charges. They're not mine. I can tell you exactly how much I've used my card in the past week." She fumbled in the folder and withdrew a few charge slips. "I charged gasoline a week ago, then a meal at El Chico, a blouse at Dillard's, and two days ago I bought some things at CVS pharmacy. That's it. That couldn't have put me over my limit. You must have my account mixed up with somebody else's." She heard the panic creep into her voice but couldn't stop it.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. McIntyre. Could your husband have made some of these charges and not told you?"
"It's Doctor McIntyre, and I'm not married. I'm the only person with this card."
This time there seemed to be genuine sympathy in the operator's reply. "Oh. I'm afraid what we have here may be a case of unauthorized usage. If you'll hold for a moment, I'll get a supervisor on the line."
Anna found herself automatically saying, "Thank you," before the full import of the operator's words registered."Unauthorized usage?"
"Unfortunately, it's not that uncommon. The supervisor will get more information from you and confirm a security breach. Then she'll cancel your card and arrange to have a new one sent to you by express courier. You should have it tomorrow afternoon. Will there be someone there to sign for it?"
While the saccharin strains of music on hold played in her ear, Anna considered what this meant. It would be an inconvenience to be without her card for a day, but she had a VISA card she could use until the new MasterCard arrived. Being at home to sign for the delivery would be a pain, but she'd work it out somehow. And she was pretty sure she wouldn't have to pay for the things charged to her account by someone else. Clearing up the mess left behind by whoever hijacked her credit card would be a major nuisance, but somehow she'd get through it. The question that stuck in her mind, going round and round without an answer, was how someone had gotten hold of her credit card information. And did this have anything to do with her DEA number being compromised?
Nick looked at the address written in blue ballpoint ink on his left palm, what he'd once heard called the primitive version of a Palm Pilot. It had taken him twenty minutes of computer surfing to dig up a home phone number for Anna McIntyre and only a few clicks after that to uncover the physical address that went with it. Truly, with the growth of the Internet there was no longer any such thing as privacy.
Now that he was here, he had to wonder why this had seemed so important to him. Because he wanted to help her solve the question of why her patient died? Or because he was excited about seeing Anna?
He eased out from behind the wheel of his Honda Civic and squinted to see the numbers on the doorposts of the duplex. There it was, on the left. He marched to the door and rapped firmly. He made himself wait a measured thirty seconds before repeating his knock, this time a bit harder and longer.
Nick was rewarded with a faint call from inside. "Just a second."
It was closer to two minutes before the peephole darkened for an instant, then the door opened and Anna McIntyre greeted him. She wore a hip-length Dallas Cowboys T-shirt over faded jeans. Her feet were bare, her red hair tousled. Without makeup, the simple beauty of her face shone through. Nick knew that his heart wasn't really doing somersaults, but it sure felt like it.
Anna was talking on a cordless phone as she motioned him inside. She waved him to a seat, pointed to the phone in silent apology, and disappeared into the next room, still talking.
At least she hadn't turned him away at the door. He scanned the living room. Minimal furnishings, but every item obviously chosen with care and taste. He knew how much an assistant professor at the med school made—at least in his department—and he suspected that Anna's personal budget was as tight as his. It appeared that she'd done a nice job with the funds available.
"Sorry." She strode through the door and replaced the phone in its cradle. She scooped up several sheets of paper and shoved them into a manila folder, which she filed in a bottom drawer of the small desk in one corner of the living room. "I've had sort of a personal crisis around here, and I had to finish trying to deal with it."
Nick ran his hand through his dark hair and wished he'd gotten that haircut he'd kept putting off. "I should have called first."
"You wouldn't have gotten through. I've been on the phone for almost an hour, and I refuse to have call waiting. I have trouble enough keeping up with one conversation at a time."She eased down onto the sofa beside him.
Anna had been tense when he saw her earlier today, and apparently, there were still storm warnings flying. He'd love to see her when she actually relaxed. "I'm glad I caught you," he said.
"So, what brings you here?"
Nick hated to jeopardize any chance of turning this into a social occasion by immediately talking about medicine, but that was the reason he was here—or at least, the pretext for the visit. "I got the results of the tests on the blood that Hatley received. Everything checks out. The blood didn't cause the allergic reaction."
Anna frowned. "So it was the antibiotic."
"Probably. But you said he tolerated it only a couple of weeks before." "Look, I don't have an explanation for it, and right now I have another crisis I'm dealing with." She tucked her feet under her and turned until she faced him. "I know that this afternoon I made a big deal about finding out why Hatley died. Well, it's still a big deal, but unfortunately, it's been overshadowed by some other things—personal things."
"Anything I can do?" Why had he asked that? It was none of his business. But he wanted it to be.
She shook her head. "Nothing, but thanks for offering. It's a hassle with my credit card company. I can handle it."
"Hey, I've been there. They don't cut you much slack, do they?"
"Not really." Anna rose and took a step toward the door. "I appreciate your willingness to help me dig into the cause of my patient's death. It was nice of you to come here in person to tell me what you've found."
He stood, but made no move to leave. "No problem. Hatley's death is bothering you, and it's puzzling me. And I'd like to cooperate in the investigation." He paused, choosing his words carefully. "And, to be honest, I enjoyed our time together this afternoon. I'd really like to get to know you better. Think that's possible?"
Anna looked away. "I'm sorry. I guess you can see I'm pretty preoccupied, and that's one of the curses of being a surgeon. I'm a linear thinker—one thing at a time. I'll worry at this Hatley case like a dog with a bone, and until I get some answers I doubt that I'll be very social."
"I can wait. Meanwhile, let me help you with the Hatley case." "Frankly, I can't even see why you want to get involved. It was my patient who died. I'm the one who had to face the family. I'm the one who'll probably get sued."
Nick saw the pain in her eyes, heard it in her voice. "You have every reason to want some answers. Maybe I want answers too. One of the things pathologists are good at is piecing together evidence and coming up with conclusions. This is important to me too. If we can pin down the reason Eric Hatley had that reaction, maybe it will keep another patient from dying."
Anna chewed on her lower lip. "Okay," she said. "We can work together on the Hatley case."
Nick checked the time. Half past seven. "What would you think about doing it over dinner?"
She shook her head. "No, I'm just going to—" She stopped, and her face crumpled.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"I started to say that I was just going to cook something for myself tonight. But I can't because I don't have anything here to cook. When I went to get groceries this afternoon—" She looked away. "They told me my credit card was maxed out."
Nick knew how that felt. "Hey, I've had that happen to me. This is my treat."
"No, that's not it. The card was maxed out because somebody stole my identity. And I'm in trouble with the DEA. My chairman has put me on what amounts to a two-week suspension so I can hopefully clear my name. And if I can't—" She waved her hand in front of her face as though shooing away a troublesome insect. "I don't know why I'm telling you all this. It's complicated, and it's not your problem."
Nick decided to go for it. "Why don't you tell me about it over dinner? I'm a great listener. And I know where there's a wonderful little restaurant near here. Do you like Italian?"