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The smell of blood filled the air in the stark white operation room and took her back to a frightful night almost a year ago.
The blackness of night surrounded them as they walked to her apartment. There were no stars and clouds covered the moon so the only light shed was from nearby streetlights. She loved the night, full of mystery and darkness, excitement and pleasurable silence. But tonight was different. The darkness was almost eerie and the silence, deafening. Something was wrong, someone was watching. However, she didn’t say anything because she knew her brother would protect her from harm, and he didn’t seem the least bit worried. He kept chatting away about his ex-girlfriend, who had recently passed. There’s no need to worry, she thought. Everything’s fine.
Her brother stopped abruptly. With an expression of confusion and a certain hidden sadness, he looked over at his sister and said “I know I haven’t told you nearly enough, but I love you.”
The shot rang out, shattering the glass window of the store behind them. Then another sounded and her brother, the only family she had left fell back against her. Shock came first, then a pain on her right side as she fell on the ground from the weight of her brother. Panic was her only emotion as she stared with a tear-streaked face at the lifeless body in her arms. Finally, she focused on what she knew, what she had studied for years in medical school to achieve her dream of being a surgeon. Chest wound. O God, O God. Don’t die on me…
Snapping back she looked over at Dana, the assisting nurse during the operation. “Huh…? Oh, sorry. Scalpel.”
Dr. Alice Jennings walked the pathway around the hospital grounds with a crisp breeze blowing through her dark hair. Leaves of red, brown, and orange covered the ground and each step crunched with the sound of frost. Alice loved walking outside, especially during fall, but today she was distracted. The flashback during the surgery she just finished scared her more than a little. She hadn’t had that fear and loss of concentration in the hospital since right after her brother’s death. The reminder was a heavy weight on her heart. Sudden grief overwhelmed her and the sorrow made her knees shaky. Sitting on a park bench, Alice closed her eyes and for a moment just breathed in the autumn air.
“Alice! Hey, isn’t it a bit cold out to be taking a nap? You should take a break from the double shifts. You look exhausted,” yelled Meg Buchanan.
She always seemed to be yelling or belting out a friendly comment. The interruption was welcomed, though, because Alice was very near taking another dive into the past. Alice replied sarcastically, “Aw, thanks so much for that wonderful compliment.”
Laughing, Meg said, “You’re very welcome. I got your mail for you,” and handed Alice a couple of envelopes. “You always forget it.”
“Thanks.” She shuffled through, pausing for only a second on the envelope with just her name written in the center. “I don’t know what I’d do without you Meg. You working tonight?”
The sun brightened the day and warmed the air as the two women discussed work schedules and upcoming events. Alice talked to her friend, though her mind was ready to retire and she would rather have been at home sleeping on her warm, cozy bed. Just the thought of her new, soft bed made her drowsy. Meg noticed her friend’s sleepy condition and took mercy, ending the conversation and telling Alice to go straight home and to bed. Alice jumped on the opportunity to leave and quickly made the chilly walk to her car.
After making a pit stop for coffee, she pulled into her apartment building’s parking lot. She went straight upstairs and willed herself not to fall asleep standing up in the elevator. Once inside, Alice headed straight to the back and dropped her purse on the kitchen counter. She rushed through the mail and once again paused on the envelope stating: Dr. Alice Jennings. For some unknown reason, her hands shook as she gently pried it open. Stunned, Alice dropped the paper on the floor. She shook her head in denial as she read the print a second time. She picked up her purse and headed back for the door, knowing that she was taking that dive into the past, knowing that she wouldn’t be coming up to air for a while, hoping that she wouldn’t drown.
Meanwhile, Jason Conway was pulling his cruiser into the police lot with a scowl on his face because he was late…again. He was going to have to drink the dreadful office coffee and most likely catch up on paperwork all day. He opened the back door and immediately got called to the front. With a long sigh and thoughts about even more paperwork this visit would create, he made his way to the front desk. A woman with dark, curly hair wearing scrubs stood on the other side. She let off a calm and collected disposition, but with one look in her deep blue eyes Jason saw hysteria and desperation.
“Yes?” His voice was deep, but Alice could hear the compassion it held.
Her reply was surprisingly steady when she answered, “I’m Alice Jennings. I got some mail from my work mailbox this morning and received a – a disturbing letter.” She watched intently as the officer read:
Hello, Doctor Jennings. It’s been awhile. I hope you didn’t take your brother’s passing the wrong way. I really didn’t mean to kill him, for I was aiming for you. But, you know how sometimes people fail. It was just an accident. This time, however, I’ll be accurate. There will be no failure. I’ve been practicing and planning for almost a year. I will succeed. I hope you’ve had a pleasant life because it’s about to be cut short.
The compassion that was once in his eyes was now gone and was replaced by a hardness unlike any Alice had ever seen. She found it hard to look directly into the officer’s eyes, frightened by the cold daggers of ice shooting from them. “When did your brother die?”
She was surprised by how gentle he asked the question. “Almost a year ago; he was shot in the street. I still don’t know who did it. The police never found any connections.”
“I need to ask you some questions. Is now a good time or would you rather come back later?” Her face was pale and the bags under her eyes suggested she hadn’t gotten much sleep in a while. He was about to suggest she come back after she got some rest, but she replied that she would rather do the questioning now.
Alice was led into the next room, which was filled with desks only a couple feet apart. The room shouted ‘Claustrophobia!’ with papers everywhere and other officers squeezing through the maze of tables. Jason’s office wasn’t nearly as bad. She could tell he liked organization because there wasn’t a trace of clutter or stray papers anywhere in sight. There was also a spectacular view of the boardwalk from the window behind his desk, making the room seem more open, less rigid.
He motioned to one of the chairs and took the seat beside her instead of behind his desk. And the questions started. What was the exact date of the incident? Take me through everything that happened. Do you know of anyone who particularly dislikes you, an enemy? The only thing added to the questions this time was Do you know why someone would want to kill you?
The questions went on for an hour. Alice was used to them because of her brother’s death. However, Jason caught her off guard with the next question. “Have you ever had a patient die on you?”
Confusion showed on her face and silence overtook the small room. “Umm…yes. I’m sure most doctors have had at least one person die. We do everything we can to try and save them, but sometimes we just can’t,” she said, in an offensive tone.
“Okay. I’d like to have a list of your patients who’ve died in the past two years. The letter that he wrote emphasized failing and succeeding. I think he’s connected, somehow to you and he’s obviously mad at you. From the letter, I think he believes you’ve failed in some way. We need to find the connection.”
“Alright, I’ll get it to you later today,” she said after a moment of hesitation. She’d never thought of the possibility before. Of course, she’d only known her brother wasn’t meant to die for a couple hours. A knew, sudden grief washed over her at the thought of her brother. He could have been alive and she, dead. Alice reached her car with every intent of collapsing against the seat to catch her breath and stop the tears from brimming over the edge.
Right as she reached for the door handle, she was stopped by a touch on her shoulder. Turning around abruptly, she smashed into the chest of Chad Loudon. “Dr. Jennings?”
It took Alice a minute to catch her breath from the scare he just gave her, but she finally found her voice. “Hey Chad; you gave me a little scare. I didn’t expect to see you at the police station.”
“I’m just running an errand for a friend of mine. Are you okay? You look kind of pale.”
“Me? I’m fine. I had a little business here myself,” she said, avoiding telling the whole truth.
“Why don’t we take a walk down on the beach? You can tell me about if you want, or if you don’t, we can just have a peaceful morning. It’s a beautiful day out.”
Alice looked over, curious. Chad Loudon had never given this much attention to her. He was a handsome man, with soft-looking black hair and smoky eyes. She remembered several occasions in which she flirted at the hospital, but he’d never given her so much as a second glance. Surprised, she answered, “Yes, it is a beautiful day.”
They wound their way down the hill and walked on the boardwalk, talking about insignificant things and keeping the conversation light. Alice reached the end and leaned on the railing, looking out at the ocean. Seagulls glided in the air beyond and boats continued their journey through the calm waters of the morning. Everything around her was rich with color from the sunrise that cast out along the beach. Not many people were there at that time in the morning, just the usual dedicated runners and an occasional tourist.
Chad was still talking about a benefit dinner coming up when Alice tuned back into the conversation. She was so busy looking at the landscape that she hadn’t noticed how close Chad was. He was only a breath away and when she moved to the right, he moved with her. She looked up with confusion as he backed her into a corner, and only then noticed the murderous look in his eyes. The grey had turned black when he said, “What’s wrong, Alice? Do you miss your brother?” He laughed, then, “I know, I know. A doctor’s supposed to save lives. Must I remind you of Aubrey? Aubrey Loudon?’
Panic settled on Alice’s face, making her eyes grow wide with terror. Then, recognition set in and the puzzle pieced together: a patient who’d died on her table, her brother’s ex who’d passed…, Chad’s sister.
Jason headed to the lounge for some much needed coffee. The latest case had him curious about Alice Jennings. He couldn’t help but wonder who would go as far as killing to avenge the dead. He made his way back to his office, glancing at the window he had put in when he first moved here. A glimpse of green – green scrubs – caught his eye. He walked closer and cursed when he saw Alice trapped by a man on the boardwalk.
Alice knew she was in trouble when Chad got a gleam in his eye. Her remembrance of his sister saved a lot of time. He no longer had to explain his motives, so he reached in his pocket and pulled out the gun. “It’s been a pleasure doctor, but you failed. You failed my sister and now she’s gone. I like to call it an eye for an –”
Somebody yelled from the beach. Alice was too consumed by fear to realize who it was, but she didn’t care. Chad had shifted to look toward the shout and the gun was no longer pointing at her. Suddenly, a loud shot rang out. As Chad collapsed, Alice rammed into the railing of the boardwalk. The pain it caused almost sent her over the edge and into frigid water, a dive she certainly didn’t want to take. However, Jason reached her in time and pulled her into his arms. She sounded hoarse when she said, “I found the connection. It’s finally over.” Jason held her as the gentle breeze swayed and the morning light shined on the beach.