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Olivia Morgan pulled on her lucky red baseball cap, snagged her ponytail and dragged it through the opening in the back. She grabbed off the seat next to her the tool bag containing a lock-pick set, a screwdriver, an extra flashlight and a water bottle.
Sucking in a breath to quiet her nerves, she stared out into the moonlit night at the towering facade of gray granite that housed the Black's Cove Clinic.
Breaking in to obtain her brother's medical file was the only way she'd ever know if their treatment had helped him, or put him in a wheelchair and erased the knowledge of basic human functions from his brain. Her own personal question was why her parents had brought him to this macabre clinic in the first place?
Reaching for the door handle, she pulled it, let the door swing open and climbed out of her car.
The century-old building looked more like a throwback to Elizabethan England than a medical clinic. It was built in the 30's and served as a mental institution until the Trayborne family purchased it in 1956 and converted it into the Black's Cove Clinic.
The hair on the back of her neck rose. She pulled the collar of her jacket up a little closer and eased the car door shut just enough to extinguish the dome light inside. Looping the tool bag strap over her shoulder, she prepared for her assault.
The place had been closed for years, but the newspaper archives she'd been digging through had revealed an interesting fact. The clinic's medical records were still housed in the basement.
Slipping out of the grove of aspens she'd hidden her car in, she walked the edge of the cobbled drive and turned on her mini-flashlight. The skinny beam shone against the weed-lacedstones leading up to the gatehouse.
Her hearing went on alert, every muscle in her body firmed in fight-or-flight standby. Why was she so tense? The place was empty. Abandoned. Standing alone in an isolated corner of southeastern Idaho. Getting answers would be like popping in to Jitter's Espresso shop for a latte. Quick and easy.
Pulling resolve from that fact, she stared at the massive structure, its upper floors visible above the eight-foot-high stone wall surrounding it.
A shudder zig-zagged down her spine. She ducked in behind a tall arborvitae, fighting to regain her nerve. She'd taken risks before; it went with her job as a freelance investigative journalist digging for stories on medical mistakes. Ross's condition certainly fit the description.
She swallowed and stepped out from behind the evergreen.
He knew she would come; had seen her in a precogni-tive vision. And now she was here. Poking around where she didn't belong, searching for answers he'd stop her from finding.
High on the stone wall blended with the tree branches and fall leaves, he watched the faint flicker of her flashlight through the window she'd entered, at the top of the fire escape. Coming to his feet from a squatting position, he willed his physical senses to heighten. Pulling in a deep breath of night air, he dissected its components in his mind, sorting threat from nonthreat in the process. He couldn't sense them, but he knew they were here.
Sharpening his eyesight, he dragged his stare through the darkness, coming up empty. Concern fired along his nerves; he had to stop them before they hurt her.
Glancing back at the window, he turned his head slightly to the left, honing in on the sounds coming from the room. He closed his eyes, hearing her hesitant footsteps against the hardwood, the sound of the ancient knob turning, the swish of the door being pulled open and finally the pin sliding into the kick plate as she closed the door and released the knob.
There wasn't much time.
Olivia leaned against the door and shone her flashlight along a corridor to the right. A dead end with a window view. To the left, a long hallway opened up.
Ahead, fifty feet, the light beam bounced off two balusters at the midway point. The stairs, she guessed, glad when she reached them and stared down at the main-floor entrance below.
Six narrow windows rose above the double doors, allowing shards of moonlight to penetrate the interior. The platinum light cut across the great entry hall and illuminated a sitting area, crowded with furniture draped in white covers. Grains of dust danced in and out of the moonbeams, raising the level of caution in her blood.
Had someone stirred it up? Or was she just being paranoid in a dusty old building that made her want to sneeze? She chose the latter and put one foot in front of the other, descending the wide staircase to the ground floor.
She'd give the tip of her right pinky finger for a map of the place, but she'd have to rely on her sense of direction instead. The place had been built at the turn of the century. The kitchen was probably at the back of the building, and so too the stairwell leading to the basement.
Moving off the landing, she turned right, weaving her way through the cloaked furniture. Under the stairwell and directly behind the entry, she found what had once been a dining hall, probably when the building had housed mental patients. It was empty now, save a couple of tables with their chairs upended, legs to the ceiling.
How many patients had dined here?
She picked up her pace through the cavernous room, heading for a row of shutters that lined an opening in the wall to the right. The wide swinging door next to the serving window should lead into the kitchen if she'd guessed right.
Olivia eased the door open, shining the flashlight beam around first before stepping into the massive commercial kitchen. The strong smell of cooking oil and chlorine bleach overwhelmed her nose, almost making her gag.
"Ick," she whispered as she probed the darkness, settling the beam of light on a narrow doorway at the far end of the galley, with a ladder leaned up against it.
"Yes." She moved toward it, a sense of relief stirring in her veins. The sooner she found her brother's file and got the heck out, the better she'd feel. This place gave her the creeps and then some.
She pulled the ladder out of the way, opened the door and stared down the stairwell, pointing the flashlight into the black hole below.
Pulling in a breath, she staved off the desire to turn and run. Down there was the truth and she'd be damned if she was going to stop hunting for it now.
Somewhere in the belly of the structure, a low mechanical groan hummed. About to jump out of her skin, she paused long enough to feel air rush from an overhead vent in the kitchen. The heat had kicked on. Shaking off her jitters, she started down the narrow wooden stairs, her senses on hyperalert.
Every creak of the ancient steps under her feet made her hesitate. At least she'd hear if anyone came down after her. Not that it was even a possibility. She was utterly alone in this place. She hoped.
Olivia reached the bottom of the steps and waved her flashlight around the basement. It had been divided into a series of rooms along the back wall. On her right was a bank of washers and dryers. The clinic's laundry room.
One of the rooms against the wall on the left had to contain the file storage.
Stepping off the landing, she hurried to the first door and pulled it open. Inside was a food pantry, stocked with a smattering of canned goods.
She closed the door and went to the next one. It was locked. This had to be it. Snagging her tool bag off her shoulder, she fished out her lock picking set and knelt in front of the knob. With her light in between her teeth, she inserted the tension bar into the keyhole. Pushing the rake into the lock, above the tension tool, she coaxed the lock pins, feeling them give. The knob turned and she pushed open the door.
Grasping her flashlight, she shone it into the interior of the large room where rows of metal shelves stood as a testament to the number of patients who'd passed through the clinic. Thousands, she guessed. Olivia shoved her tools into the bag, stepped into the room, closed the door behind her and locked it.
She made a quick assessment moving her light around the perimeter. There were no windows.
Turning back toward the door, she focused on the light switch and flipped it on.
Overhead, a couple of incandescent bulbs dangling from shaded pendants came on, casting light down through the tall shelving units arranged in ten rows.
She could only hope each box had been marked with a month and year. It would make finding Ross's medical records a piece of cake, but why her parents had signed a nondisclosure order in the first place, she'd never know. They'd both passed away without giving her the information.
Excitement pulsed in her veins. She turned off the flashlight and slipped it inside her tool bag. In less than ten minutes she'd have the answers she'd guessed at for years.
Staring up at the file boxes, she worked her way up and down the rows, until she spotted a box with the month and year she needed. It was on the top shelf. Frustrated, she moved out of the row, looking for something to climb on. In the corner she spotted a stepladder.
Olivia walked over to it, picked it up and carried it back into the row. She opened the ladder and put her foot on the first rung.
The stairs creaked under someone's weight.
Olivia froze in place, her heartbeat escalating in her own eardrums.
Someone was coming.
A silent curse repeated in her mind as she stepped down off the rung. Whoever was outside the door must know she was in here? If not, the light under the door would be their first clue.
Maybe it was a maintenance man or a security guard.
She swallowed hard, straining to hear.
There it was again, the groan of the wooden stairs.
Panic ignited in her veins. She went on the defensive. On the right bottom shelf in front of her was an opening between two boxes. She crawled into the void, listening as the doorknob was twisted back and forth a couple of times.
Closing her eyes, she worked to stay calm, pulling air into her lungs in even rhythm.
Overhead, the lights started to buzz, a low-pitched sound, like a bee circling.
A charge of fear racing through her, she opened her eyes and stared up, watching the light overhead dim and glow bright again. A power surge?
Tension held her body captive.
Pop! The glass bulb shattered, sending shards raining to the floor next to her.
A small squeak squeezed from between her lips. She slapped her hand over her mouth.
The second bulb blew into tiny pieces and hit the floor. The room went black.
Olivia reached for her tool bag. The sound of the lock releasing stirred terror in her. It was only a matter of time before she was discovered and arrested.
In desperation, she rummaged in her bag and pulled out the flashlight.
A loud scuffle erupted near the door.
She squeezed the light in her hand, determined to use it as a weapon if anyone got too close.
A deep guttural yell echoed in the room. The sound of mortal combat less than ten feet away from her played out in the dark.
Fear, solid and unmistakable, solidified in her mind.
Something scraped on the floor near her hiding spot. The stepladder she'd left in the row?
It slapped shut, grinding over the floor right past her and splinting into pieces against a wall on the opposite side of the room.
"Where is she?" a raspy male voice demanded from out of the darkness.
"Get out." The order was unmistakable. Olivia strained to see in the blackness, to put a face with the voice, but if she turned on her flashlight, they'd find her for sure.
"Take care of it or we will."
"Don't threaten me."
Bump! Bump! Bump!
All hell broke loose in the room as one by one the shelves banged into each other, falling like dominoes.
She lunged forward in the dark, aiming for a way out before she was caught in the calamity, but she miscalculated her location and slammed into a shelf, hitting her head and losing her ball cap.
Rolling onto her back, she turned on her flashlight just in time to see the first file box careen off the shelf above her.
She rolled to the left to avoid being crushed and ended up on her belly.
A scream rose in her throat.
Squeezing the flashlight as hard as she could, she aimed it toward the door.
There was a hard tug on the flashlight cylinder. Increasing her grip, she hung on to it as tight as she could. Another tug, then a jerk.
The light wrenched from her hand, rocketed across the room, slammed into the wall and went out.
Terror rocked her. What was happening? Who was in the room? Who or what?
She felt a tiny prick in her right arm through her sleeve and slapped at it. Something clattered to the floor next to her. Patting the cement, her hand came down on a syringe. She'd been drugged?
Fear raced through her as one by one her senses dulled and went into hibernation. Still fighting, she settled into the void and closed her eyes.
"She's dangerous. She'll expose us."
He had to agree, but his methods differed from theirs. "I'll make sure she leaves Black's Cove. Stay away from her. Do you understand?" For emphasis, he mentally shoved them into the wall, holding them there with his mind.
"If you don't get rid of her, we will."
Letting them drop, he stepped back. In an instant, they were gone, leaving him alone in the room with her.