Dr. Mike Scanlon accepts the call of duty to serve as an Army doctor abroad he is acutely aware of the dangers he will face—and the hardships his being away will cause his wife, Chloe, and their newborn baby. But when Mike is away, it is Chloe who dies in the Scanlons’ very own kitchen, a victim of an apparent household accident. Devastated, Mike returns home to bury her, only to discover that the life he left behind has fallen apart. His medical practice is in jeopardy, he is a stranger to his own daughter, and he discovers a shocking secret that sends him into a downward spiral. . .
As layer upon layer of lies are revealed, Mike realizes that the most important battle of his life faces him on the home front—and soon he must put it all on the line to save what matters most. . .
“Scottoline spins a compelling drama that reads like the literary love child of Jodi Picoult and Nicholas Sparks.” —Library Journal
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|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.42(w) x 6.77(h) x 1.21(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:July 1, 1955
Place of Birth:Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Education:B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1976; J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School, 1981
Read an Excerpt
By Lisa Scottoline
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Smart Blonde, LLC
All rights reserved.
Chloe woke up on the floor, her thoughts foggy. She must have fallen and knocked herself out when she hit the hardwood. She started to get up, but felt dizzy and eased back down. The kitchen was dark except for pinpoints of light on the coffeemaker, TV, and cable box, like a suburban constellation.
She tried to understand how long she'd been lying here. The last thing she remembered, she was rinsing the dishes after lunch, eyeing the sun through the window, like a big, fresh shiny yolk in the sky. Yellow was her favorite color, and she always tried to get it into her painting. Chloe used to teach art in middle school, but now she was a new mom with no time to shower, much less paint.
She heard a mechanical ca-thunk, and the Christmas lights went on outside. Red, green, and blue glimmered on the wetness underneath her, which seemed to be spreading. Her gaze traveled to its edge, where her Maine Coon, Jake, sat in silhouette under the table, his ears translucent triangles, backlit by the multicolored lights.
Chloe reached for a chair to pull herself up, but was oddly weak and slumped to the floor. She felt cold, though the kitchen had a southern exposure and stayed warm, even in winter. She needed help, but was alone. Her sister Danielle and her brother-in-law Bob had come over for lunch, then Danielle had taken the baby Christmas shopping and Bob had gone to work. They didn't have children, and Danielle had been happy to take Emily to the mall by herself.
We can pick out Christmas presents for you and Mike!
Chloe closed her eyes, wishing her husband Mike were here, but he was a reservist in the Army Medical Corps, serving in Afghanistan. He'd be home in a month, and she was counting the days. She'd prayed he wouldn't be called up because he was thirty-six years old, and when the deployment orders came, she'd taken it badly. She'd simply dissolved into tears, whether from sleep deprivation, crazed hormones, or worry.
Mike, please, I'm begging you. Don't go.
Suddenly Chloe realized something. The Christmas lights were controlled by a timer that turned them on at five o'clock, which meant Bob and Danielle would be back at any minute. She had to hide the vodka she'd left out on the counter. Nobody could know about her drinking, especially not Danielle. Chloe should have been more careful, but she was a beginner alcoholic.
She reached for the chair and hoisted herself up partway. The kitchen whirled, a mad blur of Christmas lights. She clung to the chair, feeling dizzy, cold, and spacey, as if she were floating on a frigid river. Her hand slipped, and the chair wobbled. Jake sprang backwards, then resettled into a crouch.
She put her hands on the floor to lift her chest up, like a push-up, but the wetness was everywhere. Under her hands, between her fingers, soaking her shirt. It didn't smell like vodka. The fog in her brain cleared, and Chloe remembered she'd been loading the dishwasher, and the chef's knife had slipped, slicing the underside of her arm. Bright red blood had spurted from the wound, and she'd fainted. She always fainted at the sight of blood, and Mike used to kid her.
The doctor's wife, who's afraid of blood.
Chloe looked at her left arm in horror. It was covered with blood, reflecting the holiday lights. Blood. Her mouth went dry. She'd been bleeding all afternoon. She could bleed to death.
"Help!" she called out, but her voice sounded far away. She had to get to her cell phone and call 911. She dragged herself through the slippery blood to the base cabinet, clawed the door for the handle, and grabbed it on the second try. She tried to pull herself up but had no strength left. She clung to the handle.
Chloe spotted her laptop to her right, on its side. She must have knocked it off the counter when she fell. Her best friend Sara was always online, and Chloe could g-chat her for help. She slid the laptop toward her and hit the keys with a slick palm, but the monitor didn't light up. She didn't know if it was off or broken.
She shoved it aside, getting a better idea. She would crawl to the front door and out to the sidewalk. The neighbors or someone driving by would see her. She started crawling, her breath ragged. The front door lay directly down the hall, behind a solid expanse of hardwood and an area rug. She dragged herself toward it, smearing blood across the kitchen threshold.
Hope surged in her chest. Her arms ached but they kept churning. She pulled herself into the hallway. She kept her eye on the front door. It had a window on the top half, and she could see the Christmas lights on the porch. She had put them up herself, for Emily's first Christmas.
The door lay thirty feet ahead, but Chloe felt her legs begin to weaken. Her arms were failing, but she couldn't give up. She was a mother. She had a precious baby, only seven months old.
Chloe moved forward on her elbows, but more slowly, like a car running out of gas. Still she kept going. The front door was only fifteen feet away. Then thirteen, then ten. She had to make it.
Go, go, go. Nine, eight, seven feet left.
Chloe reached the edge of the area rug, but couldn't go another inch. Her forehead dropped to the soft wool. Her body flattened. Her eyes closed as if they were sealed. She felt her life ebb away, borne off in a sea of her own blood. Suddenly she heard a noise, outside the house. A car was pulling into the driveway, its engine thrumming.
She heard the sound of a car door opening and closing, then footsteps on the driveway. They were slow because the driveway was icy in patches, the rock salt melting it unevenly.
Hurry, hurry, hurry.
Chloe remembered the front door was unlocked, a lucky break. She was supposed to lock it behind Danielle, who had been carrying Emily, the diaper bag, and her purse, but she had forgotten. It would serve her well, now. Whoever was coming could see her through the window, rush in, and call 911.
The footsteps drew closer to the door, but Chloe didn't recognize them. She didn't know Bob or Danielle by their footstep. It could be anybody.
Please God hurry
The footsteps reached the front door, and Chloe heard the mechanical turning of the doorknob. The door unlatched, and she felt a vacuum as it swung open. Frigid air blasted her from the open doorway. Her hair blew into her face, but she couldn't even open her eyes.
Help me help me call 911
She heard the footsteps walk to her, then stop near her head. But whoever it was didn't call her name, rush to her side, or cry out in alarm.
What is going on why aren't you calling 911
She heard the footsteps walk back to the door.
Wait don't go please help me
She heard the sound of the front door closing.
No come back please help I'm—
The latch engaged with a quiet click.CHAPTER 2
Mike raised the scalpel, about to make the first incision. He always said a prayer before he cut, though his wife Chloe was the religious one. She'd given him a silver crucifix before his deployment, and he kept it in his ACU pocket with a picture of their baby Emily. He was about to send up his homemade prayer when he noticed Joe Segundo, their administrative medical service officer, looking at him funny from across the OR.
Mike returned his focus to his case, telescoping the task at hand and ignoring the anguished moans of the wounded, the constant talk of the docs and nurses, the whop whop whop of the Chinook outside, and the crack pop of ordnance in the distance. The 556th FST, or Forward Surgical Team, was only three to five miles behind the offensive, but Mike didn't think about that when he operated, staying in the silence of his own mind, his fingers working on muscle memory, a result of the on-the-job training from hell, in hell.
The 556th was a twenty-person surgical team assigned to an Army combat brigade, traveling with three tents that took only an hour to assemble into a surgical facility complete with triage, OR, and recovery bays, as well as medical supplies and materiel to last seventy-two hours, including generators to power the fluorescent lights that shone overhead. The OR reeked of sickly-sweet blood and medicinal iodine wash, and the air was freezing. One of the nurses had decorated an IV stalk with homemade tinsel, but it wasn't easy to make carnage cheery.
Mike was the only orthopedist/podiatrist of the 556th, and the three other docs were general trauma surgeons, now bent so far over their patients that they looked almost headless from behind. There was Phil DeMaria from Providence, chubby enough to be called Phat Phil, and Adam Goldstein, who was in his mid-forties, so they called him Oldstein. Their FST commander was Stephen Chatham, a hotshot from Darien who never shut up in the OR. Mike called him Chatty Kathy, but he called himself Batman. Everybody loved Chatty, especially the nurses, who made him a Batman cape out of a body bag, which he never took off.
Mike never felt like a superhero, and podiatry was far from a prestigious branch of medicine, which was why his nickname was Dr. Scholl's. Ironically, blast injuries to the extremities were the signature wound of Operation Enduring Freedom, due to the overwhelming number of IEDs, so Mike was the busiest doc in the 556th. Supporting the team were three nurses, two nurse anesthetists, three medics, three surgical technicians, and Joe Segundo, who kept track of them and the paperwork the Army loved so much.
Mike focused his attention on his case, Nestor Salinas. Salinas was twenty-one, and his right calf and ankle were riddled with AK-47 fire that had shredded his gastrocnemius, the large calf muscle, and the smaller soleus, underneath. Salinas must've sprinted in high school track, his calves were so well-developed, but Mike didn't have time to think about that. The FST docs limited their surgeries to an hour or two, then evacuated the case to a Combat Support Hospital, or CSH, out of the battle zone, similar to the old-school MASH units. Salinas would end up in CSH Bagram, but the more severely wounded were flown from Bagram to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Salinas was already being transfused, and Mike needed to salvage as much tissue as he could from the lower leg. His goal was to control any hemorrhage and clean, debride, irrigate, and pack the wounds, emplace a cast or external fixation if necessary and get Salinas onto a transport. Each minute counted and the FST was in constant motion, but Mike had learned to slow time down while he operated, all the while assessing the variables that meant life or death in combat theatre.
Mike cut around the first wound, a glistening cavern of blown-away flesh, nine centimeters long. The bullets had shredded, burned, and shattered everything in their path, including the tibia and fibula, embedding bone fragments in the remaining tissue. Still it was only a GSW, a gunshot wound, and Mike had gotten used to the idea that a soldier who merely got shot was lucky.
He felt eyes on him as he worked and looked up to see Joe Segundo talking with Oldstein. It wasn't Mike's concern, and he made the cuts he needed, excising the purplish tissue and salvaging the healthy red and pink. The wound didn't smell bad and wasn't that filthy; in contrast, homemade IEDs were stuffed with trash, so when they blew up, they caused bizarrely dirty wounds, embedded with pens, rocks, pins, nails, and even kid's toys.
Mike tied off the veins, noting that the wound was remarkably clear of blood flow, thanks to a battlefield tourniquet by a combat medic, the medically trained infantrymen, the 68W who acted as first responders. Medics were able to stabilize a wounded soldier in fifteen minutes, and the one who had treated Salinas had written on his bare chest in purple marker, per procedure, so that the soldier was traveling with his medical records:
tourniquet 3:15 am
Mike felt as if he were being watched again and glanced up to see Joe Segundo, now talking to Chatty. He wondered what was going on, momentarily distracted. He'd heard that the 556th might get reassigned up north, which would be a problem because they weren't ready to roll out yet. When they had to go, Chatty would tell them the way he always did—to the Batmobile!
Mike accepted a roll of Kerlix bandages from his nurse, Linda, and began to pack the wound, which stopped the bleeding by pinching off leaky vessels and pressing them into soft tissue. The technique was called tamponade, from the French, which also gave rise to the word tampon. Mike loved knowing stuff like that and he loved being a podiatrist, though they all kidded him because he worked in silence. His nurse, Linda, liked to joke around with Chatty, who was singing, I'm too sexy for my cape, and Linda sang back, I'm too sexy for my gloves, then Chatty sang, Who needs latex, it gets in the way, and the OR erupted in laughter.
Mike kept his hands in Salinas, who would become The Kid With The Lucky GSW. He remembered his soldiers by names he gave them, like The Kid With The Big Freckles, The Kid With The Lazy Eye, and The Virgin. He would never forget The Girl With Hair Like Chloe's, because he had to amputate her left foot after an IED blast. Her injuries scored nine on the Mangled Extremity Scoring System, the tactlessly-named MESS scale, when anything over seven was predictive of amputation. He still replayed that procedure in his mind when he couldn't sleep, thinking of Chloe.
He tried not to think of his wife now, but he wasn't succeeding. He loved his wife and he hated not to be home on their baby's first Christmas. His only consolation was that his tour ended in a month, and he was counting the days. Emily was only a newborn, a month old, when he deployed, and the photos Chloe emailed him showed how much she was growing. They emailed and Skyped when the 556th returned to base to resupply, but the contact only intensified his longing for her, the baby, his home, his practice, his very country. It was all too much, and afterwards, he would block it out, mentally. If Mike was a superhero of anything, it was that. He was the Batman of Compartmentalizing.
Joe Segundo walked to Mike's table, his dark eyes concerned over his surgical mask, which cut into his fleshy cheeks. He was a short and blocky Texan, whose jarhead haircut fit perfectly under his scrub cap. He frowned when he saw Salinas's wound, up-close. "Bone salad, yo," he said, with a touch of a Tex-Mex accent.
Mike glanced up. "What's going on?"
"When will you be finished?"
"Me? My tour is up in one month." Mike was joking, but he could tell by Joe's eyes that he didn't smile under his mask, which was strange. "Joe, what's up? Something on your mind?"
"Can we talk when you get a break in the action?"
Mike thought it was an odd request. "No, I gotta finish this kid, then I got another GSW.
Why, are we rolling out?"
"The other GSW isn't an urgent. Oldstein will take him. Come find me when you're done, okay?"
"Okay." Mike let it go, figuring that it was about the FST or Army politics, as usual. Army MEDCOM was always on their case about one thing or another, and Joe loved to vent to Mike, whose odd-man-out status made him like Switzerland. It was probably nothing.
But later, when they told him that Chloe was dead, Mike remembered one thing:
I forgot to say my prayer.CHAPTER 3
Mike climbed the jetway at Philadelphia International Airport in a sort of trance, numb. His backpack hung off his shoulder, and his iPod buds were plugged into his ears, though he played no music. He'd turned off his phone in Afghanistan, to avoid the condolence emails and calls from his former partners and friends. The one call he would have answered wouldn't come, ever again.
Mike lumbered into the gate area, where the fluorescent lights hurt his eyes and the Christmas music bled through his buds. It was inconceivable that Chloe was dead. She was worried about him, not the other way around. They'd even made wills and upped their life insurance, in case he died. So it made absolutely no sense that she had died in a household accident, a stab wound, an SW. His wife. It wouldn't have happened if he'd been home. He had failed her. Chloe had died alone.
Excerpted from Don't Go by Lisa Scottoline. Copyright © 2013 Smart Blonde, LLC. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Reading Group Guide
1. Don't Go explores the theme of parenthood, and what it means to be a good parent. Do you think a father can be as good of a parent as a mother? Does the gender of the child change your answer? Why or why not?
2. What do you think caused Chloe's downward spiral after Mike left? In what way did your understanding of her actions change by the end of the book?
3. Do you understand Mike's feelings of alienation from his daughter? Would he have felt this way had his child been a boy? How did Danielle either contribute towards these feelings, or help alleviate them?
4. What motivations do you attribute to Bob and Danielle's actions? How did your impression of them change throughout the story? Did you like them? Why or why not?
5. In what ways do you think the war changed Mike as a person? Did you agree or disagree with his decision to return? Do you think he really had a choice? Why or why not?
6. Mike forms an unbreakable bond with his war buddies, yet his longtime friend from home turns out to be less than trustworthy. If he had met his war buddies in regular life how do you think their friendships would have differed? In what ways do friendships amongst women differ from friendships amongst men?
7. Mike's return home from war turns out disastrous. What do you think Mike could have done different to make his transition with his daughter better? What ways can our communities and government help our veterans to transition back into society when they return? What about helping the families left behind?
8. Mike experiences betrayal from several people he loves the most. Whose betrayal do you consider the most significant? If Mike had not gone to war, how do you think his relationship with Chloe would have been different? How did his feelings towards her change throughout the book?
9. At what point do you think Mike decided to fight back? What do you think are his greatest challenges in raising a daughter as a single dad and a wounded war vet?
10. Don't Go is filled with both dark moments and bright moments. What do you think was the darkest moment in the book, and what was the most uplifting?
11. Ultimately, Don't Go is about being a hero. What do you think it means to be a hero? In what ways is Mike a hero?