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Dr. Lola Famosa rubbed the goose bumps on her arms and the chill had nothing to do with the cold, dead body reposing on the slab in front of her.
On her way to the hospital's morgue in the basement, she'd had the sensation of eyes following her. Ridiculous, since she'd taken the elevator down alone and all the doors along the pristine corridor had been closed.
She glanced over her shoulder at the slice of window in the door to the morgue. Squinting through the mesh covering the glass, she gripped the edge of the table, her gloved fingers inches away from the lifeless arm of Elena Hidalgo. Nada.
Lola blew out a breath and dragged the back of her hand across her forehead, the smell of the latex glove competing with the scent of formaldehyde in the morgue. The twin smells jerked her back to reality and the task at hand. Dr. Trapp ran a tight ship down here, and he'd grudgingly allowed her to take a look at Elena Hidalgo while he was on a break.
Dr. Trapp didn't get why Lola had insisted on taking a peek at the dead crack addict, murdered by her drug-dealing boyfriend. But then Dr. Trapp wasn't responsible for the well-being of the crack addict's child, Eddie, who'd been injured in the assault on his mother.
Lola wiggled her fingers, snapping the gloves tighter around her hands. To better treat Elena's son, Lola wanted to get a sense of this woman, wanted to judge the extent of her trauma. Dr. Trapp planned to do the autopsy later this evening, so Elena Hidalgo lay before her battered but still in one piece.
With one finger, Lola brushed the woman's dark hair from her bruised cheekbone. Her gaunt, lined face told a story much longer than Elena's twenty-four years of life. Had she tried to protect her child in the end? Had she felt one last burst of motherly instinct, which had deserted her ever since she'd begged the courts to give her one last chance?
The door to the stairwell creaked on its hinges, and Lola jumped back from her examination of Elena. She banged her elbow on the open door to the freezer where Elena had lain tagged and bagged. Could Dr. Trapp be back from his break already?
Lola's pulse danced at the base of her throat. She backed up on silent sneakers, away from the scope of the narrow window, and pressed her back against the wall. Running her tongue across her dry lips, her gaze flitted toward the tray of sharp instruments awaiting Dr. Trapp's steady hand.
If someone broke into this room, a well-placed scalpel could stop him in his tracks. She stifled a gasp. Was that a footfall outside the door?
The morgue remained locked at all times, and she had to practically beg Dr. Trapp for his extra key. So if Dr. Trapp or his medical examiner assistant was lurking in the hallway, either one of them would have access. Folding her arms and gripping the sleeves of her white coat, Lola flattened herself against the icy wall and stared at the door handle. It turned. And stopped. Thwarted by the lock.
A cry gurgled and died at the back of Lola's throat and she slid down the wall. She could crawl toward the instrument table, unseen by anyone peering into the room. And then what? Grab a scalpel? Hell, she could grab an electric saw.
A shadow darkened the window. Lola splayed damp hands, sweating inside the gloves, on the cool linoleum, as if securing them in starting blocks, waiting for a whistle or some sign to send her scurrying for a weapon.
Maybe someone had come down to the morgue to get a last look at Elena Hidalgo. To mourn her. To curse her.
But Lola's thumping heart mocked this theory. She knew the stranger outside that door was here for her. He'd been watching her for weeks. Waiting.
The ding of the elevator and the rumble of the doors acted like a cool hand to a fevered brow her fevered brow. Someone was coming. Voices spilled down the hallway, the cheery click of heels dispelling the ominous silence hovering outside the door to the morgue.
This time when the footsteps halted on the other side of the door, a key scraped in the lock. Lola shot to her feet as the door swung open.
Dr. Trapp raised his reddish eyebrows. "Are you still here, Dr. Famosa?"
Despite the chill in the room, Lola's cheeks warmed. "I got here a little later than expected."
"I pulled her out for you." He plucked a glove from the box and waved it at the tall brunette, shrugging into a white coat. "Do you know Dr. Felson?"
Lola thrust out an arm, and Dr. Felson dropped her gaze to the less-than-pristine glove encasing Lola's hand. Lola shook her head, her ponytail swinging behind her. "Oh, I haven't examined the body physically."
Dr. Felson gave a little wave and a smile. "That's okay. I'll pass."
"I hope you're not squeamish, Dr. Felson." Dr. Trapp adjusted his glasses and peered at his vicious instruments. "Autopsies are not for the squeamish."
Dr. Felson rolled her eyes at Lola. "If I were squeamish, I wouldn't have survived my training." She added in a mock whisper to Lola, "Dr. Trapp doesn't think women can stomach autopsies."
"I heard that. You're not a woman, you're a doctor." Dr. Trapp wheeled the scale next to the slab
"My point exactly. Anyway, I'm not squeamish, just hygienic." To prove her point, Dr. Felson strode to the stainless steel sink and cranked on the water.
Lola eyed her wrinkled gloves and flushed again. Although you could eat off this floor if you really wanted to, it was still a floor in a hospital, and Lola's gloves had been sweeping it moments before.
She peeled off the gloves and dropped them into the trash can. "Did you two see someone in the hallway when you came off the elevator?"
Dr. Felson twisted her head over her shoulder as she soaped up her hands in the sink. "No."
Lola shifted her gaze to Dr. Trapp. "Dr. Trapp?"
"Hmm?" He'd picked up his saw and was testing the blade with his gloved fingertip.
"Did you see anyone outside the door or in the hallway?" Dr. Felson had turned from the sink, crumpling a paper towel in her hands and drawing her brows over her nose, probably congratulating herself that she'd refused to shake hands with the crazy doctor.
Dr. Trapp glanced up and over the rim of his glasses.
"The hallway was empty. There's nobody down here this time of the day, or should I say night? The pathology department is closed for business. That's why I prefer to do autopsies nowfewer distractions."
Lola rolled the kinks out of her shoulders. The intruder had heard the elevator and had taken off the way he'd come down the stairwell. Or maybe he'd slipped out the exit to the alley. She'd seen the door handle turn. There was no mistaking that.
Dr. Trapp waved a scalpel across Elena Hidalgo's body like a magic wand, only there was no bringing this sad woman back to life. "Are you done communing with the crack addict?"
Lola pursed her lips. Miami Hope Hospital should be thrilled Dr. Trapp saw only dead patients and not live ones. "I just wanted to have a look at my patient's mother so when he speaks of her, I have a visual."
"You're a pediatrician, Dr. Famosa, not a psychiatrist."
"Sometimes the two go hand in hand." Lola shrugged out of her lab coat and dropped it into the laundry bin. "Dr. Felson, can you stand at the door and wait until I get in the elevator? I swear there was someone outside this door earlier and it creeped me out."
The doctor held up her hands, elbows bent. "Sure, if you get the door. I don't want to have to wash my hands again."
Lola cranked open the door and propped it open with her foot while Dr. Felson wedged her shoulder against it to hold it ajar. She winked at Lola. "I don't blame you. I'm not comfortable wandering around the basement at night, either."
Lola slipped into the hallway as Dr. Trapp's voice whined, "I hope you're not squeamish, Dr. Felson." Lola quickened her pace over the freshly mopped floor.
It occurred to her that maybe her stealthy stranger had been someone from the janitorial staff. Whoever it was, he or she had been skulking outside the doorno other word for it.
Jabbing at the elevator button, Lola threw a glance at Dr. Felson, still stationed in the doorway of the morgue. Dr. Felson called down the hallway, "I hope it's not slow tonight. Dr. Trapp's getting very antsy in here."
An orange light illuminated the B above the car as the elevator settled into place. The doors rumbled open and Lola flashed a thumbs-up sign to Dr. Felson and slipped inside the confines of the four walls. Safety.
She'd grab one of the security guards to see her safely to her car, and then maybe she could shake this aura of doom that had hung over her for too long. She rubbed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. In reality, she'd never escape the dread that had overcome her life since her brother, Gabriel, had disappeared in Afghanistan not until he was home safe and sound.
The doors slid open at the lobby level, where a few people still milled around, perhaps coming in to visit patients. Miami Hope's emergency entrance, which would be bustling, was around the corner and facing a different street.
Lola spied her favorite security guard, Sergio, and waved. "Hola, Sergio. Que tal?"
Sergio flashed her a big smile. "Hola, doctore. Estoy bien. Trabajando tarde? "
"Si, I'm working a little late. Can you walk me to my car? Or at least watch me? I'm on this level."
"No problema." He took two steps toward the door leading to the parking structure and held it open for her. "Where's your car?"
"It's in the second aisle, two from the end. If you could just walk me to the end of the aisle that would be great."
The soles of her sneakers squeaked on the smooth surface of the parking garage. Sergio's solid presence beside her was comforting. When they reached her car's aisle, she put her hand on Sergio's arm. "This is good. Gracias!"
Lola beeped her remote. Grabbing the handle of her car door, she turned and waved at Sergio, who was still stationed at the end of the aisle. She tossed her purse into the passenger seat and dropped onto the leather on the driver's side.
She clicked her locks, and almost immediately a frisson of fear spiraled up her spine. Then a hand clamped over her mouth from behind and a husky voice rasped in her ear, "I need your help."