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So close, Maya Santino reflected, with a sigh. She'd actually made it to the staff exit this time.
A lanky E.R. nurse swooped in from the side. "Nice try, Doc, but it's a no go." Spotting Maya's earbuds, she cupped a hand to her mouth. "I said, we need you, Dr. S."
"Yes, I gathered that, Jamie." She pulled out the earbuds and stuffed the iPod into her oversize bag. "What's the problem?"
Although she wanted to resist, Maya let her friend and colleague propel her back along the corridor. "You do know I was coming off a ten-hour shift even before that last two-hour meeting, right?"
"Is it my fault the man won't see anyone but you?" Jamie Hazell continued to push her forward. "Admissions says his hand's wrapped in a filthy towel, but he flat out refuses to go to the clinic. Says it's you or no one. There's Lysol at the desk if you want it."
Maya grinned. "My uncle raises chickens in South America. Spend a weekend on his farm, then talk to me
about McVey." A brow went up. "Treatment room four?"
"As far from the madding crowd as possible."
"There's a madding crowd?"
Jamie swept a hand in front of her as they rounded the corner. "You decide."
From Maya's perspective, it was only mild mayhem. She'd seen much worse during her three-year tenure at Miami's Eden Bay Hospital. Once, the sea of gurneys had been so deep, she'd been forced to climb over one to reach another.
Of course, they'd been smack in the middle of the hurricane season then. Storm after storm had pelted the southern coast. There'd been home and highway accidents, tramplings and assaults. Scores of buildings had been damaged. Maya's roof had taken two beatings from uprootedtrees. Her car had gotten it from a toppled streetlamp.
Reaching out, she straightened her friend's name badge. "Cheer up, Nurse Hazell. You're transferring out of the E.R., remember? Thirty days and counting."
"Unless Dr. Driscoll changes his mind. It's happened before. Enjoy your patient."
Five minutes later, her earbuds replaced by a stethoscope around the collar of her lab coat, Maya pushed through the treatment-room door.
McVeyit was the only name he usedsat on a table. His thin shoulders were hunched, and his back was bowed. The thought struck, as it often did, that he seemed familiar in some way. Then, poof, the thought vanished, and he was just McVey again, a man currently in a great deal of pain.
He supported his injured left hand with a grimy right.
He might not live on the street, but Maya suspected the odd jobs he did at a low-income apartment complex didn't keep him far from it.
"Okay." Using her two index fingers, she indicated the bloody towel. "What's the story?"
"Got slammed in a furnace door. Rusty metal, sharp edges. Tore the skin when I jerked free. Uh, is Witch sorry, Nurse Hazell working tonight?"
"I'm afraid so."
Maya watched his face as she unwrapped the towel. He kept his eyes averted. Meant he was lying about something, though she figured the rusty-metal part was probably true enough.
"Any point asking if you've had a tetanus shot over the past decade?"
He almost smiled, but still didn't meet her eyes. "Any point trying to fake you out?"
"Not much." It was a deep gash that would require several stitches. "Why me?"
Another near smile. "Because you're pretty?"
"Other doctors are prettier."
"But only you remind me of Sabrina."
"The movie, remember? Audrey Hepburn was the title character. She grew up and was transformed, like you've done since you came here as a resident."
"Have I known you that long? Huh, blink and the years fly by."
A grim-faced Jamie came into the room. She sorted through the instrument tray while Maya finished her examination.
McVey's eyes narrowed. "You're not gonna spray me again, are you, Nurse?"
"I'd like to do more than spray you," Jamie retorted, with an expression that made Maya's lips twitch.
"Careful," she warned when McVey opened his mouth. "Remember, Nurse Hazell administers the local."
He pressed his lips together for the duration, even took the tetanus shot without a whimper. But then she suspected he was accustomed to injections and, if the alcohol on his breath was any indication, not in quite as much pain as he could be.
"Okay. Done." She snapped off her latex gloves. "Grab a doughnut on your way out."
The door cracked open, and an intern's head appeared. "Sorry to interrupt, Doctor, but there's been a pileup on the interstate. Twenty, maybe thirty cars. Several injuries, and we're the closest E.R."
"We're also the most understaffed," Jamie called after him. "Crap. Why's it always us?"
"Fate or proximity to the freeway. Take your pick." Maya started for the door. "Keep that hand as clean as you can, McVey. Come back Monday, before I go off shift, and I'll look at it."
Her attention shifted instantly at the sound of sirens wailing. She joined the line of attendants jogging toward the entrance.
It was going to be a very long night.
Everything around him had gone gray and blurry, even with his eyes open. Sort of open, Adam amended, inasmuch as he could think with the light that kept tugging at him. Beautiful light, silvery and soft. It had siren qualities, but he resisted the lure.
He sensed movement, saw the gray haze alter. Ugly streaks of red slashed it apart. Noise, like shrieking daggers, jabbed into his brain. Hands clutched his shoulders and shook him.
"Don't die," Falcon pleaded from above. "I need that information back."
Adam would have laughed if an anvil hadn't been sitting on his chest.
"I have to go." The snitch's voice faded. "Someone'll help you. I'll come back when you're better. I don't think he saw me in the warehouse. I think you blocked his view ."
Probably true, Adam thought fuzzily. Man, this had definitely not been his night.
The darkness thickened, grew hotter, stickier. He couldn't swallow, could no longer think. Faces flashed inside the red. His ex-wife's, his old friend's, his new enemy's.
Voices shouted indistinct words. The hands on his shoulders fell away. He heard Falcon swear, then a more familiar voice.
Startled but not panicky. Female.
She leaned over, and he saw her face. Exotic features, dark hair, incredible eyes. Bluer than a tropical lagoon.
"Screwed up," he murmured. "Made you hate me."
"I don't hate you."
Maybe not, but she was waking the pain anyway.
The light around him intensified. He was breathing fire now. He felt her hands on him and groped until he caught her wrist. "Stop," he croaked. "Listen."
"Adam, I can't help you if"
"I'm dead, Maya. I know it, and so do you. Do this for me, please."
He squeezed. "Take care of things. Made a will last year. Straightforward. Money, investmentsthey're my sister's. Condo's yours. Go through it andAhh!" Pain sheared from chest to brain. He had to talk through his teeth. "Don't let my brother have the Mustang Crash addict. Give my sweet baby to Tal." He fumbled two sets of keys fromhis pocket. "Condo keys, car keys. Promise."
"Yes, okay, I promise. Now let me help ."
"There's more. Stuff, official stuff. Hid it. Don't trust anyone, anywhere. Huge mistake. Big fish, small pond. S'all I can say. Tell Tal to finish the deal."
The light flared. It seemed to explode like a starburst that went from a bang to a fizzle.
"Sorry, babe." He rattled out a breath. "I'll tell your mom you're good."
"Adam?" Now she shook him. "Adam!"
The last thing he saw was her face. Then the sparkles died, and there was nothing.
"Dr. Santino?" A nurse with red curls and acne touched her sleeve as she stared at her ex-husband's face. "A lower body trauma's just come in. Female. Six months pregnant."
Through the buzz of shock in her head, Maya caught the last part of the nurse's statement. She shook off what she could and refocused. "Where?"
"Over there." The young nurseCassie? Callie? pointed. She looked down, then hesitantly up. "Can I, uh, do anything for you?"
"No. Thanks, but no." With a hand that wanted to shake, Maya closed Adam's eyes. She regarded the paramedic who'd helped her lift him from the ground to the gurney. "Take him inside. I'll be right there."
"Got a bleeder over here," another nurse called.
The words jarred. "Thirty seconds," Maya told the redhead. "Get Jamie to take the bleeder."
Turning away, she pressed two fingers to her temples. She needed to settle herself, to absorb what had just happened.
Adam had always been a risk taker. She'd loved him once, hated him briefly, then figured to hell with it and dealt with her mistakes. With her mistakes.
They'd been strangers, for the most part, after the divorce. He'd transferred to Orlando, but returned to Miami sixteen months ago, because his roots were here, he'd said.
She understood roots. Hers were mostly here, too. In any case, she hadn't hated him by then.
Her thirty seconds were up. Adam was dead. She couldn't make him undead by standing outside the emergency room, ignoring the injured while a host of memories swamped her.
"I'm really sorry, Adam." Head tipped back, she spoke to the night sky. Then shut down and fixed her attention on the living.
"Are you awake, Tal?" Don Drake's voice hacked rudely into Stephen Talbot's dream.
"Go away," Tal said into the phone. "I'm still working the Demorno case."
"You're done enough to be back in Miami, so listen up. I got a call from Lieutenant Morse in fraud."
Tal tried to prop his eyes open. When that failed, he rolled onto his back and let the watery light outside play against his lids. "You've got about ten seconds before my brain shuts down. This is the first time I've seen a bed in three days."
"Tyler's dead," his captain growled. That worked. He went up on one elbow. "Adam Tyler?" "You got it. He was shot late tonight, died in the E.R." Tal swung his feet to the floor. "Eden Bay?" "You're two for two. He went to his ex for helpor was taken there. Details are sketchy. McGraw's on his way over to firm up what he can, but since homicide and fraud are more or less cooperating on the Perine investigation, I want a rep there, too. Tyler was a cop, Tal. He was one of us. I know you're familiar with the case he was working on, even if you weren't directly involved. I want that shooter nailed. Tyler was your friend, so I'm thinking you'll want the same thing."
Tal's sleep-deprived mind resisted the attempt to shove it into line. When had he and Adam talked last? Seven, maybe eight days ago, and only briefly then. Adam had called him in Tampa.
"He said he had a line on Orlando Perine." "Had a hook in the bastard's mouth, near as I can tell." Drake gave a grunt. "Grill McGraw, see what he knows, but don't count on him giving you straight answers. You know how the fraud boys are. Vultures over a rotting carcass."
Standing, Tal bulldozed the last of the grogginess from his brain. His old academy friend was dead. He'd died at Eden Bay Hospital. Adam's ex-wife worked at Eden Bay. Had she seen him, spoken to him? Hell, had she watched him die?
With the light off and the phone wedged between his shoulder and ear, he located his jeans. "Adam was working with an informant last week," he said. "Some guy who wanted out. Didn't get a name."
"He didn't, or you didn't?"
"Both. He called the guy Falcon."
Dragging a T-shirt over his head, Tal searched for boots, sneakers, shoesanything wearable. He found a pair of black hikers on the closet floor and, holding his keys in his mouth, laced them on.
"You know Tyler's ex, don't you?" the captain asked.
Tal grabbed a jacket. "We've met."
"Use it. Tyler was a good cop, and homicide's our business. We call the shots. Fraud's on the sidelines here. Make sure McGraw understands that."
Tal really didn't care what McGraw understood. Adam had been his friend. Whether officially or unofficially, this was his case now.
"Heading out," he said and tossed the handset aside.
Adam Tyler was dead. And the man responsible was going to pay.
"You can't outrun the truth, Ms. Santino. Someone shot your ex-husband. Someone who works for Orlando Perine, aka the slimiest scumbag in the Sunshine State."
Gene McGraw enunciated the last part of his statement as if speaking to a five-year-old child. Not the best approach, in Maya's opinion, but then if the rumors she'd heard about him had any merit, he wasn't the most tactful cop in the fraud division. He certainly wasn't the most incisive.
Three hours had passed since the first ambulance had pulled in. She'd lost count of how many patients she'd treatedwhich was just as well, since counting meant thinking, and thinking would lead her straight to Adam. Not that she could avoid that destination indefinitely. Detective McGraw was dragging her there despite the crush of activity around them.
Bumping him back, Maya palpated the ribs of a man groaning on a gurney outside an overflowing treatment room.
"Ms. Santino "
She turned from the patient. "You don't seem to be getting it, Detective McGraw. I haven't got time for a cross-examination right now. Although it continues to escape your notice, we're a bit busy here."
"So the fact that your ex-husband's been murdered doesn't mean diddly to you?" He hitched a testy shoulder as a pair of paramedics elbowed past.
Appearance-wise, McGraw reminded Maya of a shaggy blond Columbo. In terms of attitude, however, the word caveman sprang to mind. Or perhaps more aptly, her cousin Diego, who she swore was a throwback to one of her mother's nastier Andalusian ancestors.
"Believe me, Detective, I'd give a great deal to be able to reverse time and bring Adam back, but I can't do that, and unless you know some secret science, neither can you. What I can do is help the people in the here and now. Once the last patient is treated, I'll be more than happy to answer any question you want to throw at me. Until then, the machine in the doctor's lounge has better coffee than the cafeteria. It's also free."
Tipping her lips into a quick smile, she sidestepped his arm and was out of range before he could object.
"Guess you told him, huh?