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Camille Lawson swung open the door to the establishment and stepped inside. He was where the nurses at the hospital said he would be. Sitting at a small table, his drink halfway to his lips as he read the newspaper. For a second she watched him without him noticing her. Tall, lean, ridiculously handsome with ink-black hair that had a smattering of white at the temples.
The white hair should have made him look old. Instead it made him look dashing.
She wondered again if this was the stupidest idea she'd ever had, but she'd come this far.
Approaching the table, she set her briefcase on the chair opposite him as an announcement of her presence.
At first he looked surprised to see her. His expression quickly changed to smug. "Camille. What brings you to a place like this? I thought you disdained addicts."
"I do." She sniffed, then assessed what he was drinking. "I see you haven't kicked the habit."
"No intention to kick it. I like it too much."
"I don't have to tell you, enough of that will kill you."
"Nope." He took a deep gulpto annoy her she knew. "I have a business matter I would like to address with you."
One eyebrow crooked. "This," he said with a deliberate pause, "should be interesting." He waved to the chair across from him in invitation and folded up his paper.
She shifted her briefcase to the floor and sat cautiously. It wasn't beyond him to do something silly such as kick the chair out from under her. Had they met when they were children, she had no doubt he would have taken pleasure in putting gum in her hair and giving her noogies.
He'd been that kind of boy. She was sure of it.
Taking a sterile wipe from her handbag she wiped the tabletop in front of her. It wasn't her habit to come to public drinking or eating establishments. They were infested with germs. On half washed glasses and utensils. On tables where people rested their hands and elbows. Even the smell of the place, which announced its purpose as soon as a person stepped through the door, made her queasy.
How many thirsty, needy people had passed through here today alone? How many of their individual germs had soaked into the fabrics and settled on the leather surfaces?
So many people. All of them carelessly touching everything around them with their hands. She suppressed a shudder.
Having done all she could do with the surface, she put the wipe in an empty Ziploc bag, which she carried for such an occasion, and made a mental note to keep her hands in her lap as much as possible. She would have preferred to sit on a stool with no arms and less chance of contamination, but she didn't imagine he would be bothered enough to move to a different location. At least not for her.
Reaching for the files inside her case, she started with her pitch. "It's probably nothing. I don't even know why I'm here but"
"Oh, no." He held his hand up to stop her. "If you came here to discuss business with me, we do it on my terms. You'll need a drink."
"You know I don't enjoy"
"For me. For whatever it is you need from me," he corrected. "In the spirit of colleagues."
This was so typical of him. Doing anything he could to push her buttons. There was no spirit of colleagues. Not between them. Not after. She shook the painful memory from her head. For now, she needed him.
"Fine," she said through gritted teeth.
Wyatt held up a single finger and a girl in a green apron bustled over. "Can I get you something?"
In a fit of bravado Camille raised her chin. "I'll have what he's having."
"Nice," he murmured.
The waitress, who apparently knew his order, didn't bother to confirm what he was drinking.
"Can we get down to the matter at hand?"
He took another deep gulp. "Go for it."
Camille withdrew a folder and handed it to him. It was the case review of her last patient. "Donald Morose. A sixty-one-year-old man with multiple blockages. Three weeks ago I opened him up and did a quadruple bypass. He was recovering, on schedule, then died."
"Okay," Wyatt said slowly.
Camille pulled another folder. "Samuel Ross, a fifty-two-year-old man, also with multiple blockages. He needed a triple bypass. Once again the operation was successful and he also was recovering on schedule."
Wyatt flipped open the folder. "Until he died."
"Camille, what do you want from me?"
This was the tough part. "I want you to tell me why they died."
He barked out a laugh but she could tell he wasn't amused. "I resigned from my position as God a few months back. I'm afraid I can't help you."
Camille struggled to hold on to her patience. "Those surgeries were perfect. Those men were recovering. There were no complications. They should not have died."
Wyatt shook his head. "Camille, people die every day. For Pete's sake, you're a doctor. You know that. It happens."
"Not to me. Not when I know I executed flawlessly. I have over a ninety-seven percent success rate in bypass surgeries. To have two patients not recover in the span of twenty-seven days is statistically improbable."
"Are you serious?"
She could hear the incredulity in his voice. And she knew what she was saying could sound unreasonable. But she also knew the medical history of those two men to the minutest detail. She knew what the odds of survival were on both. She knew how she had performed and she knew what their post-op status meant. They were recovering. They were getting better. Donald had been one day away from discharge. They shouldn't have died. Which led to only one conclusion.
One impossible conclusion.
She had missed something.
"Really, Camille? You think you are that much in control? You think this is going to kill me," he said, raising his drink. "Your convoluted notion that you have ultimate power over your universe is going to kill you."
"Look, I don't want a lecture. I want you to review the files and tell me if you think I missed something. Some common denominator. Something that might have caused these two patients to die."
"Something other than having their chests cut open and arteries bypassed you mean."
"Yes. Something other than that."
"You said these men died post-op?"
"Then there would have to have been a review."
Camille nodded. "There was. The medical examiner found nothing obvious and concluded both men died as a result of complications after surgery. Most likely an embolism."
He closed the folder and leaned back in his chair, arms crossed.
Here it came. She knew he wouldn't do this for nothing. She knew there was going to be some condition. She braced herself for many things.
Her parking spot. Never going to happen.
A tour of duty in his outpatient clinic where she was sure to catch every virus floating around this season.
An embarrassing public announcement. Something along the lines of her agreeing he was the greatest doctor she had ever known. This, of course, would be a lie. She'd worked under Schlossberg, who developed groundbreaking techniques in organ retrieval. He was, without question, the greatest doctor she had ever known.
After her grandfather, of course. All doctors paled in comparison to her grandfather. Should she be forced to say otherwise, she would need to do it with her fingers crossed.
"Say it," she prompted, ready to hear the worst. "What do you want?"
"First, I would like you to drink what you ordered."
The waitress put a large mug in front of Camille. It was foaming.
"Grande, triple-shot, mocha with whip cream and extra foam."
"Thanks, Christy." Wyatt, because he was Wyatt, paid the waitress at the table, probably including a ridiculous tip rather than standing at the counter with everyone else in the coffee shop. Christy was happy to indulge him.
"No problem, Doc. See you tomorrow."
Camille flinched as she studied the mug, determining the best way to attack. She took another wipe from her purse and scrubbed the edge where her mouth would touch. She would have preferred to clean the mug herself, but this would have to do. She dumped the wipe with the earlier one and braced herself.
If she came down with the plague, it was going to be his fault.
"You know you're a child," she said as she took a sip of the uber-caffeinated, sickly-sweet drink. Of course it was delicious but that wasn't the point. "All this caffeine and sugar are not good for you. A poor diet can lead to a weaker immune system which could lead to"
"A cold. Yes, I'm aware of the ramifications, Camille. Now for my next request."
"Wait," she said. She took another sip of the coffee only because she figured she'd damned herself already by taking the first. "Before I agree to what I'm sure will be an absurd demand, I want to make certain we understand each other. I want only the best medical opinion. I don't want any tricks. None of your silliness. No woo-woo medicine."
He scowled. "Forget for a minute you're a grown woman using the word woo-woo. I will reiterate for the one thousandth time, using non-Western medicine to diagnose and treat patients is not silliness, Camille. It's sensible and it works."
"I heard the nurses talking the other day. They said you brought in a psychic to read a patient's health aura."
Wyatt shrugged. "I had trouble determining what my patient's problem was. I had met the psychic at a holistic conference in Tahoe a few months back. I gave it a shot."
"Said psychic being tall, blond, buxom and gorgeous."
He smiled like a wolf. "Ooh, is that jealousy I hear in your voice?"
"Certainly not." Mostly not.
"The womanher name is Drusilla by the way"
"Of course it is."
"actually concluded what I had already begun to suspect."
"That the patient had a symptomatic aura?"
"That the patient was faking it. The aura was perfectly healthy. When confronted by the psychic the patient no longer felt that he could lie. He concluded that Drusilla, unlike a standard medical doctor, had detected the truth. Can't very well have a dishonest aura. He broke down and I was able to steer the patient toward psychotherapy. I believe he's making a recovery."
"You say all this as if it was a success. You perpetrated a fraud."
"I did no such thing. I treated a patientcorrectly I might add. That's what I'm in the business of doing."
Recognizing that they were once again heading down a path that would lead to shouting, cursing and foot stompingmostly by herCamille backed off. "Fine. You have different methods. I accept that."
"No you don't. That's our problem."
"We don't have a problem" Saying it the way he did implied they had a relationship with a problem in it. That was not the case. "I'm only asking that for this case review you don't employ any nonstandard diagnostic techniques."
"Got it. No woo-woo"
All right. The word did sound ridiculous.
He flipped through the files again, briefly skimming. "Can I speak with the families?"
Camille sighed. She'd hoped he wouldn't have to. She had a very unrealistic wish that he'd find something simply by looking at the case reports. But if cause of death was that simple, she would have found it herself. And if she hadn't, then the medical examiner would have.
"Both families are distraught. Of course. So if you have to speak to them, do so as delicately as possible. I would appreciate that."
"Plus you don't want to raise any alarms. No sense in stirring up trouble and having the families file a malpractice suit."
Her hand slammed down on the folder, causing him to jump. "I'm not doing this to cover my ass. I'm not doing this because I think I did anything wrong. I'm doing this because I know, damn it, that those men should not have died. Not by my hand. And I want the answer as to why they did."
The smile was back. "I love it when you go all hellcat on me."
"Will you do it?" she asked, ignoring his taunt.
"I will. For one teeny-weeny thing."
"Name it." Camille braced herself again for the request.
Mochas for a year. Clean his office at the hospital for a week wearing a costume of his choosing.so not going to happen.
"I want a second date."
Of all the things he could have asked for that was the one she didn't see coming.
Camille headed to the top floor of the hospital where the administration people had their offices.
Ruby, the hospital CEO's senior assistant, was sitting at her desk staring at the computer screen. The young girl was competent if a little oblivious at times. She had an addiction to tanning beds that wasn't at all flattering with her red hair.
Camille cleared her throat.
"Oh. Hi, Dr. Larson. I'm sorry. I was reading this article on the swine flu epidemic. Scary stuff."
Camille wished the assistant hadn't said anything. She had a hard enough time coping with the germs that covered so many of the surfaces in the hospital, she didn't want to imagine what types of illnesses they led to.
One mental health condition was surely enough for a person. No need to add hypochondria to her neurosis list.