What Echoes Render, страница 1
Seattle, WA 2014
COPYRIGHT 2014 TAMSEN SCHULTZ
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Cover Design by Sian Foulkes
Edited by Julie Molinari
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to similarly named places or to persons living or deceased is unintentional.
PRINT ISBN 978-1-62015-218-8
EPUB ISBN 978-1-62015-314-7
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014939887
To Nav, even though you don’t like Ardbeg as much as I do
And to Rai and Liam, for making me laugh just a little more often than you make me want to cry
ALERTED BY THE CLICK OF HER HEELS on the industrial floor, several heads raised from behind nurses’ stations as Jesse Baker walked down the hall of Riverside Hospital’s intensive care unit. Housing the sickest of the sick, this floor was, naturally, one of the quietest in the hospital. But even so, as Jesse made her way from the sixth floor elevators toward the east wing, the silence seemed to have seeped into everything around her, dampening movements and slowing time; the people, the lights, the machines, all seemed to be moving in their own worlds.
But then again, it had been a somewhat surreal day altogether.
Rounding the corner to her destination, Jesse came upon a man standing with his back to her. Wearing cargo pants, work boots, and a navy-blue t-shirt emblazoned with the firefighters’ emblem and “AFD,” he stood with his hands in his pockets, as still, as contained, as everything else around him. From the back, he looked youngish. And fit, judging by his shape. He wasn’t what Jesse had been expecting. But her surprise was only of the curious kind that happens when one isn’t actually aware of one’s expectations until presented with something that doesn’t meet them.
His head turned at the sound of her approach and she caught a glimpse of his profile. His brown hair, streaked with gold, touched the top of his ears. His nose was straight and his skin the color of a man who spent time outdoors. When he turned toward her, she noted the emblem over his pectoral, a miniature of that on the back of his shirt.
“You must be the investigator from the state,” Jesse said, striding toward him with her hand outstretched, her voice sure.
She didn’t miss the way his eyes took her in—taking stock, not judging—as his hand closed around hers. His fingers and palm were rough, the hand of a man who did more than just type on a keyboard.
“I’m Jesse Baker,” she said. “The Hospital Administrator.”
“David Hathaway, Arson Investigator.”
“And Albany Firefighter, if your shirt is anything to go by?” she asked. The official who had called to alert her about the visit had only mentioned the investigator’s arson credentials.
He nodded. “The state called, I assume?” he asked.
She confirmed with a nod then glanced around the hallway, wondering if maybe they should go somewhere else to talk. She’d never been in this kind of situation before. But he resolved her indecision by taking control of the conversation.
“You run the show then, Ms. Baker?” he asked with a vague gesture of his hand meant to encompass the facility.
She inclined her head, going along.
“Such as it is. And please, call me Jesse,” she added.
“It’s a nice place,” he responded, his eyes sweeping the area. He looked about her age, mid- to late-thirties. And though his attempts to put her at ease weren’t subtle, she appreciated them nonetheless.
“Have you been here long?” he asked, returning his gaze to her.
Despite everything, she let herself smile a bit at that. She looked young, always had. She wasn’t young, in any sense of the word, but people always thought she was a good ten years younger than she was. Including, apparently, David Hathaway.
“I’ve been the administrator for six years, but I’ve been at Riverside Hospital for over twelve,” she answered.
His brows shot up in surprise and then he seemed to catch himself.
“Then I can’t imagine much surprises you these days,” he said, his voice indicating that his mind had returned to the reason for his visit.
Again, she dipped her head.
“Generally, that’s true. But this, well, this situation is new to me, Mr. Hathaway.”
“Please, call me David.”
She nodded then looked down the empty hallway again. What she’d gleaned from the first responders and the news was that the house that had gone up in flames earlier in the day was so rural that, while the neighbors eventually saw the smoke, no one had heard anything. And based on what the state official had told her, the cause of the fire that had brought Aaron Greene to her hospital was still, officially, undetermined. But he had also told her, confidentially, that there had been an explosion. What kind, she assumed, was the investigator’s, David’s, job to figure out, but the man from the state had intimated that it might not have been accidental and may not have been meant for the house. Which left her thinking what he’d no doubt intended her to think—Aaron had been involved, somehow, with a bomb.
The thought made her sick, and knowing what it might do to the community, if in fact Aaron had been planning to detonate a bomb somewhere in the area, she had every intention of keeping it quiet until the state made an official ruling. So, even though she and David weren’t talking about anything confidential—yet—she didn’t particularly want prying eyes and ears nearby. Especially since it was still possible that the explosion wasn’t anything intentional.
“I’ve never met an arson investigator investigating this kind of thing,” she continued as she stepped to the side of the hall, toward an empty room. He followed and seemed to sense her desire to keep things quiet as he moved close enough for her to lower her voice as she spoke. “And while we have our fair share of kids doing stupid things, I can safely say, Aaron Greene and his father are our first . . .” She let her voice trail off, not wanting to say “bomb victims.”
A frown touched his lips and she knew that he heard the concern in her voice. Concern about the explosive that had ripped through the Greenes’ rural farmhouse, to be sure, but also concern for those involved and what it all might mean. But he didn’t know the community the way she did, didn’t know how its people would react or respond, and wisely, she thought, he held his tongue, handing her a folded piece of paper instead.
“The warrant for Aaron’s medical records?” she asked.
He nodded and she gave it a cursory glance before refolding it.
“How is he?” David asked.
“He’s in serious condition,” she answered. “It was a toss-up as to whether we should transport him to Albany or not. But he seemed to stabilize here so we’ve kept him. They have a better burn unit there, but he’ll get more individualized care here since we’re a bit smaller.”
“And he’s part of the community,” David suggested but didn’t seem to be judging.
“There is that part of it, yes,” Jesse answered then g
And they would have, but it had been a judgment call, like so many decisions in hospitals were. And thankfully, it looked like it was a decision that was going to work out okay. Aaron was in serious condition, but he was stable.
David didn’t seem to feel the need to comment, so, with the exception of the click of Jesse’s heels, they made their way down the hall to Aaron’s room in silence. She stopped in front of the large glass window that separated the hallway from the room where Aaron lay. For a moment, they observed the young man—his body, bandaged and unmoving, hooked to machines that monitored the life still fighting for a chance within him.
The smell of burnt clothes and flesh had been awful when he’d first come in over seven hours earlier. Even now, there were still hints of it lingering in the hall, although it had mostly been suppressed by the antiseptics used to clean every surface in the ICU and by the glass wall dividing the patient from the hall. There was also the plastic containment unit Dr. Martinez had ordered constructed around Aaron as an additional layer of protection.
“Did they know him?” David asked, presumably referring to her son, Matt, and Dr. Martinez’s daughter, Danielle.
“Not well.” She shook her head. “But while Riverside is a small town, Windsor, where we’re from, where Aaron is from, is even smaller. And it’s an even smaller high school.”
“Everyone-knows-everyone kind of place?” he asked.
She nodded. They stood, not speaking for a moment, and she wondered just what an arson investigator would be thinking about what he was seeing in front of him.
“So, what do you think?” he asked, surprising her.
“About?” she responded, not entirely sure what he was asking her.
“About Aaron,” he clarified, keeping his voice low. “Do you think he was the kind of kid to build an explosive device?” he asked, confirming her assumptions about just what he was investigating.
She glanced at David, caught a little off guard by the question, before letting her gaze fall back on the boy. He was eighteen, so not legally a child anymore. But lying there alone, he looked small and helpless.
“I think that, whether he constructed a bomb that killed his father or he was the victim of it, it’s going to be a tragic story,” she said, her voice soft.
She could feel David’s gaze on her as she stared at Aaron for a moment longer. As a mother, her heart broke for the young man. She knew enough about his life to know it hadn’t been easy for him these past few years. Not that she thought that would be an acceptable excuse if he did end up being responsible for building a bomb that ruined his home and killed his father, but she believed what she’d just said. Whichever way things turned out, it was going to be a tragedy.
Not wanting to sink too far into maudlin thoughts, Jesse straightened and turned away from the glass window to face the investigator. “I’ll take you to my office and we can pull the files. I’ll also call Dr. Martinez so that she can come up and answer any of your questions,” she said. “Once you have what you need from us up here, we can head down to the morgue where Dr. DeMarco is finishing up the autopsy of Brent Greene, Aaron’s father.”
David recognized her comment for what it was, more of a plan than a request, and he gestured with his hand for her to precede him. She led him back down to the elevators and to her office located on the first floor. When they arrived outside her office, Kayla, her assistant, looked up from her desk.
“Here is the official warrant for the records for Aaron Greene,” Jesse said, handing the paper to Kayla, who took it from her without a word. She had no doubt Kayla would know exactly what to do with the document. Kayla was one of the brightest, most detail-oriented people Jesse knew, despite the fact that, unlike herself, her assistant actually was young, very young.
Leaving Kayla to her task, they entered Jesse’s office where she offered David a seat. He declined, opting instead to take a slow tour around the room, checking out her pictures and books while she sat down at her desk to make a quick call to Abigail Martinez and bring up the electronic medical records. Hitting the print button she sat back and waited for the documents to spit themselves out.
“Is that your boy Matt?” David asked, pointing to a picture. It was one of her favorites of her oldest son. Matt was sweaty and his hair was sticking out all over the place, but the grin he wore, along with the medal from the track championships, reminded her of the little boy he’d once been.
“Yes, it was at the all-state track meet last year,” she answered. “He came home with several medals,” she added, not bothering to hide the hint of parental pride. Her printer stopped and she walked to a file cabinet to retrieve a folder from the bottom drawer for David to take the papers in. Straightening away from the cabinet, she turned to find him watching her. She held his gaze for a split second, then he looked away.
“You must be very proud,” he said, turning back to the picture. For just a beat, Jesse felt a touch off balance. That he was an attractive man hadn’t escaped her notice, but she was so used to being heads-down working during her time at the hospital that recognizing a person as anything other than a colleague was a skill she had long ago lost. Or maybe not. Because that look had felt like more than just a collegial exchange.
Deciding she’d imagined it, she turned back to the printer to pick up the documents as she answered. “I’m proud of both my boys. They’re good kids.”
She handed him the file and he looked about to ask another question when a knock sounded at the door.
“Are you ready for me?” Abigail Martinez asked as she popped her head through the doorway. At more than a decade older than Jesse, Abigail’s short, dark hair was streaked with gray and her face held hints of her age. But her deep brown eyes danced with almost childlike humor just as often as they reflected the strain of her job.
Jesse offered her friend a smile and welcomed her in, thankful for the break in the conversation that was turning a bit too much toward her family. It’s not that she had anything to hide, but no matter how good-looking David Hathaway was, he was still a virtual stranger.
After making the introductions, they agreed that Abigail would bring David back to Jesse’s office when the two had finished going over Aaron’s injuries and medical condition. After that, Jesse would take him down to the morgue where the autopsy on Brent Greene would be finishing up. In the meantime, she had paperwork to finish, reports to review, and a newsletter to write. Good times.
Jesse watched the two leave as an errant thought filtered into her head. David Hathaway might be an interesting distraction, but, like most parents, she already had more on her plate than she could handle. Really.
David walked through the hospital with Dr. Martinez as his mind stayed in the office with Jesse Baker. He had watched her lean over to pull a folder out of a cabinet drawer and for a moment his mind had gone blank. She had more than caught his attention as she’d come striding toward him in the hallway earlier—with her long blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, she wore a fitted V-necked sweater the same color as her brown eyes and a not-quite demure skirt that hit just below her knees, but hugged every curve. A pair of four-inch heels that he was sure were an attempt to disguise her petite stature were the coup de grâce. He’d thought her too young to run Riverside Hospital and had initially thought maybe the administrator had sent an assistant to handle the inquiry into Aaron Greene. And to say he was surprised when she said she’d been there for twelve years was an understatement. He vaguely remembered thinking it put her closer to his own age if she had started right out of graduate school.
But then when she’d bent
Then she’d straightened and looked at him. The shape of her standing before him, slightly turned at the hip and glancing over her shoulder, had reminded him of the bombshells from the fifties. She wasn’t tall, maybe five foot four in her heels, but she looked like someone had taken Marilyn Monroe, blonde hair and all, and just shrunk her down without changing any of the proportions.
David had never been very attracted to skinny women and, for good or for bad, Jesse Baker had reminded him of that with every move she made, from her confident walk, to the way she slid into her chair, to the way she held his gaze for just a moment after she’d straightened away from the file cabinet.
But then she’d handed him the file. And he had reminded himself that he wasn’t there to flirt, a skill that was so rusty he was pretty sure he’d lost the ability altogether anyway. No, he was there to figure out if eighteen-year-old Aaron Greene had built a bomb that had gone off earlier in the day, destroying the peaceful spring morning as well as Aaron’s home, his body, and his father’s life.
David gave an internal sigh as he followed Dr. Martinez and begrudgingly admitted to himself that it was probably a good thing she had arrived when she did. He had no business digging into Jesse’s life, asking about her sons. His own life was finally, after years and years of effort, becoming less complicated. He didn’t need to fuck that up by flirting with a woman he’d just met. A woman he knew nothing about and who was, most likely, married. So, dutifully, he wrenched his brain away from the tempting curves of the hospital administrator and focused on the horror that Dr. Martinez was about to lay before him.