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"Coming!" Keera's sleep-scratchy voice barely cleared the bedroom door and there was no way the person outside on her front porch could hear her. But she didn't really care. This was her time. Off work.
She wasn't on call, and after tomorrow she had no hospital obligations for the next week. A few days off after an entire year on. Blessed vacation time for eating, sleeping, reading. Most of all, quiet time to herself. No one to intrude, no one to disturb her. Time alone was all she had on the schedule and she adamantly didn't want to be disturbed before her holiday started. But as chief of cardiac surgery, she didn't always get what she wanted. Case in point, someone was knocking right now, and rather vigorously at that.
"OK, OK. Give me a minute," she grumbled on a weary sigh, the sentiment directed more to the neon green clock light blinking acrimoniously at her from the nightstand than to anything or anyone else.
She blinked back at it, wanted to throw a shoe at it when she saw it was telling her the time was ten after two. And she'd only been in bed since twenty after one. Meaning she'd had fifty full minutes of sleep.
"Figures," she grunted as another knock jolted her out of her blearies. Then another knock, louder this time. Last time this had happened to her, it had been the National Guard come to fetch her in the middle of a torrential storm. "Hospital's on emergency alert, Dr. Murphy. Don't want you driving in this because of the conditions, so we've come to take you in." Yep, that had been quite a night, being hefted up into the back of a military helicopter and jostled around fallen trees and power lines.
But tonight there was no rain. No storm or adverse condition of any kind going on. And as Keera's mind started to clear, she began ticking off the various reasons someone might be doing exactly what they were doing. Worst-case scenariofull-out disaster that wasn't weather-related. Best-case scenarioemergency surgery waiting. But why not simply call her, like they always did?
Maybe they had. Maybe she'd slept through it. "I said I'm coming," she shouted, cinching her robe as she plodded out to the entry hall. "Identify yourself, please," she shouted, even though a glimpse through the peephole revealed the uniform of a police officer. "And show me some identification."
"Will do, Miss Murphy," the man out there shouted.
Miss Murphy. After fast-tracking her way through medical school and all the other stages that had preceded cardiac surgeon, that's what it all boiled down to, wasn't it? Unmarried doctor, unmarried miss Successful at career, unsuccessful at life. It was pretty much everything that defined her.
Keera pushed her long red hair back from her face, and looked out again. Saw what she required from the first officer.
"Officer Carla James," she said, obliging Keera with a sight of her ID. Short woman, slightly rounded, definitely hiding behind the taller officer.
"And Officer Brian Hutchinson," the taller one added, bending down to Keera's peephole so she'd get a good wide-angle view of his face then his badge. "Would you please open the door?"
"Is it medical business?" she shouted at them, as she unlatched the first of three safety chains then finally pulled back the dead bolt. A little extra precaution as a result of living alone.
"No, ma'am, it's not," Officer Hutchinson said, stepping forward as soon as the door opened to him. He held out his leather wallet for her to match his photo with his face. Then tucked it away when she'd nodded her satisfaction. "I'm sorry to say it's personal."
That's when the first grain of relief shot through her. Keera Murphy didn't have a personal life. Everything about her was medicine.
"How? I mean, what?"
Officer James chose that moment to step out from behind Hutchinson, and the only thing Keera saw was the bundle in her arms. "I'm sorry. I don't understand." Were they bringing her a patient? A child? No. This was a mistake. Didn't make sense. They were at the wrong house, or had the wrong person. That had to be it. They wanted the Keera Murphy who was a pediatrician, if there was such a person, and she was the Keera Murphy who did cardiac surgery.
"I'm sorry to say, there's no easy way to do this," Officer Hutchinson continued. "But earlier this evening your husband and a yet unidentified passenger were killed in a single vehicle crash off Mountain Canyon Road. Your daughter was thrown free, and escaped without injury. We did have her checked at a clinic near there, and except for some scrapes and bruises she's fine. In shock, I think, because she's not talking, maybe a little lethargic due to the trauma. But the doc who looked at her said she was basically good."
"I'm glad, but this is a mistake because I'm not married." Keera took a step backwards, braced herself against the wall. "Divorced. No children."
"Kevin Murphy," Hutchinson continued. "Kevin Joseph Murphy, ma'am. Your husband, according to some legal papers we found at the scene. House deed, this address."
"But we're not Haven't been " She shut her eyes, trying to focus. Kevin was dead? Their marriage had been a real stinker and their divorce nasty in epic proportions, but she wouldn't have wished this on him. "You're sure?" she finally managed.
"Yes, ma'am. We have a full identification on your husband but not his passenger. We were hoping "
Keera glanced at the officer holding the child, wondering why they'd brought her here. Wondering if this was the child who It had to be. Who else could she be but the child he'd fathered while they had still been married? "Maybe the passenger is his second wife. Mel-anie, Melodie, something like that." Or the one after her, if there'd already been another as Kevin seemed to have his women in fast succession. "Melania, that's her name. Melania." Keera's head was spinning now the information was finally beginning to sink in. Kevin was dead, most likely along with his second wife. And their child. "She's not mine," she said.
"But you were listed as Mr. Murphy's wife and next of kin, so we assumed"
"Wrong assumption," she said, cutting him off. "Old information. My husband and I divorced a few months ago, the papers you found were probably from part of the agreement." Or, in their case, disagreement. "He called several days ago, said he had some final papers for me to sign, and that child." She shook her head. "Part of his second marriage." Kevin's secret to keep, along with his mistress.
"Then we have a problem," Carla James said, "because we have nowhere to take the child for the night."
A little girl, she'd been told. Keera had never actually seen her. Hadn't ever wanted to see her. Didn't want to see her now, even though that was about to change. "Surely, there's a foster-home with an opening. Or some kind of contingency in place for situations like this one?"
Both police officers shook their heads.
"Social services?" Hopeful question with an answer she'd already guessed.
"That would be me," a perky young woman said from behind Officer James. "My name is Consuela Martinez, and I'm the temporary case manager assigned to Megan. And right now I don't have a contingency plan that would be in the child's best interests. We were hoping her family"
"But I'm not her family," Keera interrupted.
Consuela stepped out in plain sight, the yellow of the porch light giving her more of a jaundiced look than it should. And just like that Keera switched to doctor mode, her mind ticking off various conditions that came with a yellow tinge one of the reasons Kevin had strayed, he claimed. Too much doctor too much of the time. Sadly, she hadn't had an argument to counter his because, in the end, she had loved her medicine more than she'd loved her husband or their marriage.
"Look, I know there's a contingency plan," Keera said. "When a child is involved there's always a contingency plan." It was said without conviction because she really didn't know that to be the case. But she hoped it was, or else.
"You're right. Usually there is. Except right now. Every spot we have for someone Megan's age and developmental stage is filled," the case worker continued. "But I can have a callout to other agencies in other areas by morning, or we might be able to shift a few children to other situations, and after that"
"Are you taking flucloxacillin, by any chance, Consuela?" Keera interrupted, so totally not wanting to hear that Megan had no place to go tonight.
Consuela looked confused. For that matter, so did both police officers. "Um, yes. I am. For an outer ear infection. Why?"
"You might want to call your doctor first thing in the morning and mention that you're having an adverse reaction to the drug. Nothing serious, so don't be alarmed. But it's worth noting." And that didn't change the problem at hand, as there was still a child bundled in Officer James's arms who needed a place to stay. "Sorry," she said. "Force of habit. Part of my job is paying attention to the details, and I've been told I can go overboard about it."
"It's good to know you're conscientious, Doctor," Officer Hutchinson said, "but it's two-thirty, and we're not getting any closer to figuring out what to do with"
"With my ex-husband's child." It was an irony coming back to slap her hard. This was his secret child, the one he'd told her he'd fathered but had only told her on the child's first birthday. His first devastating confession, followed by how much he loved the baby's mother, how he wanted a divorce, wanted to keep their house for his new family But none of that was Megan's fault, was it? "You're sure there's really no place for her to go tonight?"
"The county home," Consuela said, "which I try to avoid when I can, especially for children so young. It's a large facility, too many children. The younger ones get overlooked."
"An institution, ma'am," Officer James volunteered. "In the traditional sense. But if you're rejecting the child, it's our only recourse, because I can't stand on your doorstep all night, holding her."
"No, of course you can't," Keera said, taking a step backwards as she felt her resolve start to melt. Another step, pause taking a moment to gird her resolve. Then another backwards step, and finally the gesture to enter her home. And as Officer James passed her, Keera took her first good look at Megan, and if it weren't for the fact that the room was filled with people strangers, she would have fallen to her knees. Would have cried. The lump in her throat started to choke her, and the light feeling in her head caused the room to spin. "Please, lay her on the sofa. I can sit up in here with her, she shouldn't be alone." Shouldn't be in an institution! No child should ever be in an institution.
Keera glanced at Consuela, who'd stopped at the mirror in the entry hall and was staring at her yellow-tinted complexion. "But this is only until morning," she warned the social worker. "If you don't have a placement for her before I leave for the hospital, in exactly three hours, you'll find her in the daycare center.
"Oh, and, Consuela, I can't look after her longer than what I've said. I'm not good with children. They don't respond to me, and outside normal medical situations I wouldn't know how to respond if they did. So, come morning, do you understand me? My early surgery will be over by ten, followed by routine rounds, and I don't want to go into my rounds knowing I still have a child to worry about."
It made her sound unpleasant, like a bully or, worse heartless. Which wasn't at all what she'd intended. But how did a person go about dealing with a situation like this? She'd just taken in the child who had caused the final curtain to drop on her marriage, and she wasn't sure there was a proper way to deal with that.
"So, before you go, do we know if she has any allergies?" Kevin had been allergic to shellfish. "Or medical conditions that require attention or medication?"
Consuela, who'd finally torn herself away from the mirror, shook her head. "Her doctor is Reid Adams, and his practice is in a little town called Sugar Creek, Tennessee. About an hour or so west of here. But we haven't been able to get in touch with him yet. He's at camp."
"Camp?" Keera asked.
"Youth camp, for kids recovering from leukemia and all the associated conditions. He's the camp physician, I've been told. And I do have a call in for him." Consuela stepped around Keera, who made no move to help Officer James settle Megan on the sofa. "And, Dr. Murphy she's a good child. Very quiet. She won't cause you any problems."
No, the child wouldn't. Not now, anyway, because Keera's problems were in the past. And while little Megan hadn't caused them, she was a result of them. "Noon at the very latest. Please find your contingency plan by noon."
Ten minutes later, when the house was quiet again, Keera settled into the chair across from the sofa and simply stared at the child. Lovely little girl. Blonde hair, like Kevin's. Probably blue eyes like his, too. Sadly, there was so much turmoil for one little life. Poor thing. Her heart did go out to Megan for so many reasons.
"It's good that you don't have to understand any of this," Keera whispered to the child, while she pulled her feet up under herself, preparing to spend the rest of her night right there, looking after the girl. "But you're going to be fine. You're a beautiful little girl, and everything's going to be fine."
"I'm sorry, Doctor, but I really don't have anything to tell you." Reid Adams tossed the ball into the grass then stood back to watch the stampede of children go after it. No matter what else was going on in his life, coming to camp was always a highlight. "I'd have to look at her records before I could say anything, but I'm not in my office this week and"
"Then find someone who can do it for you," Keera snapped, then hastily added, "Look, I'm sorry I sound so grumpy, but."
"Normally, if someone sounds grumpy, they're grumpy," Reid said, stepping behind the large oak tree as two little girls came running in his direction. Black hair, dark eyes, dark skin. Hispanic beauties, and the lights of his life. His reason for existing wrapped up in a couple of very energetic little girls, aged five and seven. "And I think your situation with Megan would make a lot of people grumpy if it happened to them. No relatives turn up yet?"
"An elderly aunt who refused the child, as well as some male cousins the social worker thought weren't suitable. Apparently there are other family members being contacted, but I may have the child through the afternoon, and I'd feel better knowing about her health situation."