Someone to Watch Over Me
“Miss Kendall, can you hear me? I’m Dr. Metcalf, and you’re at Good Samaritan Hospital in Mountainside. We’re going to take you out of the ambulance now and into the emergency room.”
Shivering uncontrollably, Leigh Kendall reacted to the insistent male voice that was calling her back to consciousness, but she couldn’t seem to summon the strength to open her eyelids.
“Can you hear me, Miss Kendall?”
With an effort, she finally managed to force her eyes open. The doctor who had spoken was bending over her, examining her head, and beside him, a nurse was holding a clear plastic bag of IV fluid.
“We’re going to take you out of the ambulance now,” he repeated as he beamed a tiny light at each of her pupils.
“Need . . . to tell . . . husband I’m here,” Leigh managed in a feeble whisper.
He nodded and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. “The state police will take care of that. In the meantime,
you have some very big fans at Good Samaritan, including me, and we’re going to take excellent care of you.”
Voices and images began to fly at Leigh from every direction as the gurney was lifted from the ambulance. Red and blue lights pulsed frantically against a gray dawn sky. People in uniforms flashed past her line of vision—New York State troopers, paramedics, doctors, nurses. Doors swung open, the hallway flew by, faces crowded around her, firing urgent questions at her.
Leigh tried to concentrate, but their voices were collapsing into an incomprehensible babble, and their features were sliding off their faces, dissolving into the same blackness that had already devoured the rest of the room.
WHEN LEIGH AWOKE AGAIN, it was dark outside and a light snow was falling. Struggling to free herself from the effects of whatever drugs were dripping into her arm from the IV bag above her, she gazed dazedly at what appeared to be a hospital room filled with a riotous display of flowers.
Seated on a chair near the foot of the bed, flanked by a huge basket of white orchids and a large vase of bright yellow roses, a gray-haired nurse was reading a copy of the New York Post with Leigh’s picture on the front page.
Leigh turned her head as much as the brace on her neck would allow, searching for some sign of Logan, but for the time being, she was alone with the nurse. Experimentally, she moved her legs and wiggled her toes, and was relieved to find them still attached to the rest of her and in reasonably good working order. Her arms were bandaged and her head was wrapped in something tight, but as long as she didn’t move, her discomfort seemed to be limited to a generalized ache throughout her body, a sharper ache in her ribs, and a throat so dry it felt as if it were stuffed with sawdust.
She was alive, and that in itself was a miracle! The fact that she was also whole and relatively unharmed filled Leigh with a sense of gratitude and joy that was almost euphoric. She swallowed and forced a croaking whisper from her parched throat. “May I have some water?”
The nurse looked up, a professional smile instantly brightening her face. “You’re awake!” she said as she quickly closed the newspaper, folded it in half, and laid it facedown beneath her chair.
The name tag on the nurse’s uniform identified her as “Ann Mackey, RN. Private Duty,” Leigh noted as she watched the nurse pouring water from a pink plastic pitcher on the tray beside the bed.
“You should have a straw. I’ll go get one.”
“Please don’t bother. I’m terribly thirsty.”
When the nurse started to hold the glass to Leigh’s mouth, Leigh took it from her. “I can hold it,” Leigh assured her, and then was amazed by how much effort it took just to lift her bandaged arm and hold it steady. By the time she handed the glass back to Nurse Mackey, her arm was trembling and her chest hurt terribly. Wondering if perhaps there was more wrong with her than she’d thought, Leigh let her head sink back into the pillows while she gathered the strength to talk. “What sort of condition am I in?”
Nurse Mackey looked eager to share her knowledge, but she hesitated. “You really should ask Dr. Metcalf about that.”
“I will, but I’d like to hear it now, from my private duty nurse. I won’t tell him you told me anything.”
It was all the encouragement she needed. “You were in shock when you were brought in,” she confided. “You had a concussion, hypothermia, cracked ribs, and suspected injuries to the cervical vertebrae and adjacent tissue—that’s whiplash in layman’s terms. You have several deep scalp wounds, as well as lacerations on your arms, legs, and
torso, but only a few of them are on your face, and they aren’t deep, which is a blessing. You also have contusions and abrasions all over your—”
Smiling as much as her swollen lip would allow, Leigh lifted her hand to stop the litany of injuries. “Is there anything wrong with me that will need surgery?”
The nurse looked taken aback by Leigh’s upbeat attitude, and then she looked impressed. “No surgery,” she said with an approving little pat on Leigh’s shoulder.
“Any physical therapy?”
“I wouldn’t think so. But you should expect to be very sore for a few weeks, and your ribs will hurt. Your burns and cuts will require close attention, healing and scarring could be a concern—”
Leigh interrupted this new deluge of depressing medical minutiae with a grin. “I’ll be very careful,” she said, and then she switched to the only other topic on her mind. “Where is my husband?”
Nurse Mackey faltered and then patted Leigh’s shoulder again. “I’ll go and see about that,” she promised, and hurried off, leaving Leigh with the impression that Logan was nearby.
Exhausted from the simple acts of drinking and speaking, Leigh closed her eyes and tried to piece together what had happened to her since yesterday, when Logan had kissed her good-bye in the morning. . . .
He’d been so excited when he left their Upper East Side apartment, so eager for her to join him in the mountains and spend the night with him there. For over a year, he’d been looking for just the right site for their mountain retreat, a secluded setting that would complement the sprawling stone house he’d designed for the two of them. Finding the right site was complicated by the fact that Logan had already completed the drawings, so the site
needed to be adaptable to the plans. On Thursday, he’d finally found a piece of property that met all his exacting qualifications, and he’d been so eager for her to see it that he insisted they should spend Sunday night—their first available night—in the existing cabin on the land.
“The cabin hasn’t been used in years, but I’ll clean it up while I’m waiting for you to get there,” he promised, displaying an endearing enthusiasm for a task he’d always avoided. “There isn’t any electricity or heat, but I’ll build a roaring fire in the fireplace, and we’ll sleep in front of it in sleeping bags. We’ll have dinner by candlelight. In the morning, we’ll watch the sun rise over the tops of the trees. Our trees. It will be very romantic, you’ll see.”
His entire plan filled Leigh with amused dread. She was starring in a new play that had opened on Broadway the night before, and she’d only had four hours of sleep. Before she could leave for the mountains, she had a Sunday matinee performance to give, and that would be followed by a three-hour drive to a cold, uninhabitable stone cabin, so that she could sleep on the floor . . . and then get up at dawn the next day.
“I can’t wait,” she lied convincingly, but what she really wanted to do was go back to sleep. It was only eight o’clock. She could sleep until ten.
Logan hadn’t had any more sleep than she, but he was already dressed and eager to leave for the cabin. “The place isn’t easy to find, so I drew you a detailed map with plenty of landmarks,” he said, laying a piece of paper on her nightstand. “I’ve already loaded the car. I think I have everything I need—” he continued, leaning over her in bed and pressing a quick kiss on her cheek, “—house plans, stakes, string, a transom, sleeping bags. I still feel like I’m forgetting something . . .”
“A broom, a mop, and a bucket?” Leigh joked sleepily
as she rolled over onto her stomach. “Scrub brushes? Detergent?”
“Killjoy,” he teased, nuzzling her neck where he knew she was ticklish.
Leigh giggled, pulled the pillow over the back of her head, and continued dictating his shopping list. “Disinfectant . . . mousetraps . . .”
“You sound like a spoiled, pampered Broadway star,” he chuckled, pressing down on the pillow to prevent her from adding more items to the list. “Where is your sense of adventure?”
“It stops at a Holiday Inn,” she said with a muffled giggle.
“You used to love to go camping. You were the one who taught me how. You even suggested we go camping on our honeymoon!”
“Because we couldn’t afford a Holiday Inn.”
With a laugh, he pulled the pillow away from her head and rumpled her hair. “Leave straight from the theater. Don’t be late.” He stood up and headed for the door to their bedroom suite. “I know I’m forgetting something—”
“Drinking water, candles, a tin coffeepot?” Leigh helpfully chanted. “Food for dinner? A pear for my breakfast?”
“No more pears. You’re addicted,” he teased over his shoulder. “From now on, it’s Cream of Wheat and prunes for you.”
“Sadist,” Leigh mumbled into the pillows. A moment later she heard the door close behind him, and she rolled onto her back, smiling to herself as she gazed out the bedroom windows overlooking Central Park. Logan’s enthusiasm for the mountain property was contagious, but his lighthearted mood was what mattered most to her. They’d both been so young, and so poor, when they got married thirteen years ago that hard work had been a necessity, and then it had become a habit. On their wedding day, their
total combined assets were eight hundred dollars in cash, plus Logan’s new architectural degree, his mother’s social connections, and Leigh’s unproven acting talent—that, and their unflagging faith in each other. With only those tools, they’d built a wonderful life together, but during the last few months, they’d both been so busy that their sex life had been almost nonexistent. She’d been immersed in the preopening craziness of a new play, and Logan had been consumed with the endless complexities of his latest, and biggest, business venture.
As Leigh lay in bed, gazing out at the clouds gathering in the November sky, she decided she definitely liked the prospect of spending the night in front of a roaring fire with nothing to do but make love with her husband. They wanted a baby, and she suddenly realized that even the timing was right for conception tonight. She was dreamily imagining the evening that lay ahead when Hilda walked into the bedroom wearing her coat and carrying Leigh’s breakfast tray. “Mr. Manning said you were awake, so I brought you breakfast before I leave,” Hilda explained. She waited while Leigh struggled into a sitting position; then she handed her the tray containing Leigh’s ritual breakfast fare—cottage cheese, a pear, and coffee. “I’ve tidied up after the party. Is there anything else you’d like me to do before I go?”
“Not a thing. Enjoy your day off. Are you planning to stay in New Jersey at your sister’s tonight?”
Hilda nodded. “My sister said she’s had very good luck at Harrah’s lately. I thought we might go there.”
Leigh suppressed a grin because, as far as she’d been able to tell, Hilda had absolutely no human weaknesses—except one for the nickel slot machines in Atlantic City. “We won’t be back here until late tomorrow afternoon,” Leigh said as a thought occurred to her. “I’ll have to go straight to the theater, and Mr. Manning has a dinner meeting
that will last until late in the evening. There’s really no need for you to be here tomorrow night. Why don’t you spend two days with your sister, and check out some of the slot machines at the other casinos?”
The suggestion of two consecutive days off threw the housekeeper into a total state of inner conflict that reflected itself on Hilda’s plain face and made Leigh stifle another grin. In the War Against Dirt and Disorder, Hilda Brunner was a militant, tireless general who marched into daily battle armed with a vacuum cleaner and cleaning supplies, her foreboding expression warning of an impending assault on all foreign particles. To Hilda, taking two days off in a row was tantamount to a voluntary retreat, and that was virtually unthinkable. On the other hand, if she did as Leigh suggested, she would be able to spend two full days with her sister at the nickel slot machines. She cast a glance around the immaculate bedroom that was her personal battlefield, trying to assess in advance the extent of damage likely to occur if she were absent for two entire days. “I would like to think about it.”
“Of course,” Leigh said, struggling to keep her face straight. “Hilda,” she called as the German woman bustled toward the door.
Hilda turned in the act of belting her brown coat around her waist. “Yes, Mrs. Manning?”
“You’re a treasure.”
LEIGH HAD HOPED to leave the theater by four o’clock that afternoon, but the play’s director and the writer wanted to make some minor changes in two of her scenes after watching the matinee performance, and then they argued endlessly over which changes to make, trying out first one variation, then another. As a result, it was after six when she was finally on her way.
Patchy fog mixed with light snow slowed her progress out of the city. Leigh tried to call Logan twice on his cellular phone to tell him she was going to be late, but either he’d left his phone somewhere out of hearing or the cabin was beyond range of his cellular service. She left voice mail messages for him instead.
By the time she reached the mountains, the snow was falling hard and fast, and the wind had picked up dramatically. Leigh’s Mercedes sedan was heavy and handled well, but the driving was treacherous, the visibility so poor that she could only see fifteen feet in front of her car. At times it was impossible to see large road signs, let alone spot the little landmarks Logan had noted on his map. Roadside restaurants and gas stations that would normally have been open at ten P.M. were closed, their parking lots deserted. Twice, she doubled back, certain she’d missed a landmark or a road. With nowhere to stop or ask for directions, Leigh had little choice except to keep driving and searching.
When she should have been within a few miles of the cabin, she turned into an unmarked driveway with a fence across it and switched on the car’s map light to study Logan’s directions again. She was almost positive she’d missed a turnoff two miles back, the one Logan had described as being “200 feet south of a sharp curve in the road, just beyond a little red barn.” With at least six inches of snow blanketing everything, what had seemed like a little barn to her could just as easily have been a large black shed, a short silo, or a pile of frozen cows, but Leigh decided she should go back and find out.
She put the Mercedes into gear and made a cautious U-turn. As she rounded the sharp curve she was looking for, she slowed down even more, searching for a gravel drive, but the drop-off was much too steep, the terrain
far too rugged, for anyone to have put a driveway there. She’d just taken her foot off the brake and started to accelerate when a pair of headlights on high beam leapt out of the darkness behind her, rounding the curve, closing the distance with terrifying speed. On the snow-covered roads, Leigh couldn’t speed up quickly and the other driver couldn’t seem to slow down. He swerved into the left lane to avoid plowing into her from the rear, lost control, and smashed into the Mercedes just behind Leigh’s door.
The memory of what followed was horrifyingly vivid—the explosion of air bags, the scream of tortured metal and shattering glass as the Mercedes plowed through the guardrail and began cartwheeling down the steep embankment. The car slammed against several tree trunks, then hurtled into boulders in a long series of deafening crashes that ended in one, sudden, explosive jolt as five thousand pounds of mangled steel came to a bone-jarring stop.
Suspended from her seat belt, Leigh hung there, upside down, like a dazed bat in a cave, while light began exploding around her. Bright light. Colorful light. Yellow and orange and red. Fire!
Stark terror sharpened her senses. She found the seat belt release, landed hard on the roof of the overturned car and, whimpering, tried to crawl through the hole that had once been the passenger window. Blood, sticky and wet, spread down her arms and legs and dripped into her eyes. Her coat was too bulky for the opening, and she was yanking it off when whatever had stopped the car’s descent suddenly gave way. Leigh heard herself screaming as the burning car pitched forward, rolled, and then seemed to fly out over thin air, before it began a downward plunge that ended in a deafening splash and a freezing deluge of icy water.
Lying in her hospital bed with her eyes closed, Leigh relived that plunge into the water, and her heart began to race. Moments after hitting the water, the car had begun a fast nosedive for the bottom, and in a frenzy of terror, she started pounding on everything she could reach. She located a hole above her, a large one, and with her lungs bursting, she pushed through it and fought with her remaining strength to reach the surface. It seemed an eternity before a blast of frigid wind hit her face and she gulped in air.
She tried to swim, but pain knifed through her chest with every breath, and her strokes were too feeble and uncoordinated to propel her forward more than a little bit. Leigh kept thrashing about in the freezing water, but her body was going numb, and neither her panic nor her determination could give her enough strength and coordination to swim. Her head was sliding under the surface when her flailing hand struck something hard and rough—the limb of a partially submerged fallen tree. She grabbed at it with all her might, trying to use it as a raft, until she realized that the “raft” was stationary. She pulled herself along it, hand over hand, as the water receded to her shoulders, then her waist, and finally her knees.
Shivering and weeping with relief, she peered through the dense curtain of blowing snow, searching for the path the Mercedes would have carved through the trees after it plunged off the ridge. There was no path in sight. There was no ridge in sight either. There was only bone-numbing cold, and sharp branches that slapped and scratched her as she clawed her way up a steep embankment she couldn’t see, toward a road she wasn’t sure was there.
Leigh had a vague recollection of finally reaching the top of the ridge and curling her body into a ball on something flat and wet, but everything after that was a total blur.
Everything, except a strange, blinding light and a man—an angry man who cursed at her.
LEIGH WAS ABRUPTLY JOLTED into the present by an insistent male voice originating from the side of her hospital bed. “Miss Kendall? Miss Kendall, I’m sorry to wake you, but we’ve been waiting to talk to you.”
Leigh opened her eyes and gazed blankly at a man and woman who were holding thick winter jackets over their arms. The man was in his early forties, short and heavyset, with black hair and a swarthy complexion. The woman was considerably younger, slightly taller, and very pretty, with long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail.
“I’m Detective Shrader with the New York City Police Department,” the man said, “and this is Detective Littleton. We have some questions we need to ask you.”
Leigh assumed they wanted to ask about her accident, but she felt too weak to describe it twice, once for them and again for Logan. “Could you wait until my husband gets back?”
“Gets back from where?” Detective Shrader asked.
“From wherever he is right now.”
“Do you know where he is?”
“No, but the nurse went to get him.”
Detectives Shrader and Littleton exchanged a glance. “Your nurse was instructed to come straight to us as soon as you were conscious,” Shrader explained; then he said bluntly, “Miss Kendall, when did you last see your husband?”
An uneasy premonition filled Leigh with dread. “Yesterday, in the morning, before he left for the mountains. I planned to join him there right after my Sunday matinee performance, but I didn’t get there,” she added needlessly.
“Yesterday was Monday. This is Tuesday night,” Shrader said carefully. “You’ve been here since six A.M. yesterday.”
Fear made Leigh forget about her injured body. “Where is my husband?” she demanded, levering herself up on her elbows and gasping at the stabbing pain in her ribs. “Why isn’t he here? What’s wrong? What’s happened?”
“Probably nothing,” Detective Littleton said quickly. “In fact, he’s probably worried sick, wondering where you are. The problem is, we haven’t been able to contact him to tell him what happened to you.”
“How long have you been trying?”
“Since early yesterday morning, when the New York State Highway Patrol requested our assistance,” Shrader replied. “One of our police officers was dispatched immediately to your apartment on the Upper East Side, but no one was home.”
He paused for a moment, as if to make certain she was following his explanation; then he continued, “The officer spoke with your doorman and learned that you have a housekeeper named Hilda Brunner, so he asked the doorman to notify him as soon as she arrived.”
Leigh felt as if the room were starting to rock back and forth. “Has anyone spoken to Hilda yet?”
“Yes.” From the pocket of his flannel shirt, Shrader removed a notepad and consulted his notes. “Your doorman saw Miss Brunner enter your building at two-twenty that afternoon. He notified Officer Perkins, who then returned to your building at two-forty P.M. and spoke with Miss Brunner. Unfortunately, Miss Brunner didn’t know exactly where you and your husband had planned to spend Sunday evening. Officer Perkins then asked Miss Brunner to check the messages on your answering machine, which she did. Seventeen messages had accumulated on your answering machine between Sunday at one-fourteen P.M. and Monday
at two-forty-five P.M., but none of them were from your husband.”
He closed his notebook. “Until now, I’m afraid we haven’t been able to do much more than that. However,” he added quickly, “the mayor and Captain Holland both want you to know that the NYPD is going to assist you in every way we can. That’s why we’re here.”
Leigh eased back against the pillows, her mind falling over itself as she tried to grasp what seemed to be a terrifyingly bizarre situation. “You don’t know my husband. If he thought I was missing, he wouldn’t stop at calling our apartment. He’d call the state police, the governor, and every police department within a hundred fifty miles. He’d go out searching for me himself. Something has happened to him, something terrible enough to—”
“You’re making too many assumptions,” Detective Littleton interrupted firmly. “He might not have been able to use a telephone or go out looking for you. The blizzard knocked out telephone and electrical service in a one-hundred-mile radius, and in many areas, it still hasn’t been restored. Almost a foot and a half of snow fell, and none of it is melting. Snowdrifts are eight feet high in places, and the plows have only been able to clear the main roads. The side roads and private roads up here are mostly impassable.”
“The cabin doesn’t have any electricity or phone service, but Logan would have had his cell phone with him,” Leigh told her, growing more frantic with each moment. “He always has it with him, but he didn’t try to call me, or warn me to stay home, even though he must have known I was driving into a bad storm. That isn’t like him. He would have tried to call me!”
“He probably couldn’t use his cell phone,” Detective Littleton argued with a reassuring smile. “Mine doesn’t work
very well up here. You said the cabin doesn’t have electricity, so even if your husband’s cell phone was working, it’s possible he decided to leave it on a charger in his vehicle, rather than take it inside. The blizzard came on very suddenly. If your husband was taking a nap, or doing something else, when it started snowing, it might have been too late to get to his car and his phone when he finally realized there was a problem. The snowdrifts are unbelievable.”
“You could be right,” Leigh said, clinging fiercely to the fairly plausible theory that Logan was safe but unable to use his phone or dig his Jeep out of the snow.
Shrader removed a pen from his pocket and opened his notebook again. “If you’ll tell us where this cabin is, we’ll go out there and look around.”
Leigh gazed at both detectives in renewed alarm. “I don’t know where it is. Logan drew a map so I could find it. It doesn’t have an address.”
“Okay, where is the map?”
“In my car.”
“Where is your car?”
“At the bottom of a lake or a quarry, near wherever I was found. Wait—I can draw you another map,” she added quickly, reaching for Detective Shrader’s notebook.
Weakness and tension made Leigh’s hand shake as she drew first one map and then another. “I think that second one is right,” she said. “Logan wrote notes on the map he drew for me,” she added as she turned to a fresh page and tried to write the same notes for the detectives.
“What sort of notes?”
“Landmarks to help me know I was getting close to the turnoffs.”
When she was finished, Leigh handed the notebook to Shrader, but she spoke to Littleton. “I might have gotten the distances a little wrong. I mean, I’m not sure whether my husband’s map
said to go eight-tenths of a mile past an old filling station and then turn right, or whether it was six-tenths of a mile. You see, it was snowing,” Leigh said as tears choked her voice, “and I couldn’t—couldn’t find some of the landmarks.”
“We’ll find them, Miss Kendall,” Shrader said automatically as he closed his notebook and shrugged into his jacket. “In the meantime, the mayor, the police commissioner, and our captain, all send you their regards.”
Leigh turned her face away to hide the tears beginning to stream from her eyes. “Detective Shrader, I would appreciate it very much if you would call me Mrs. Manning. Kendall is my stage name.”
NEITHER SHRADER nor Littleton spoke until they were in the elevator and the doors had closed. “I’ll bet Manning went out looking for her in that blizzard,” Shrader said. “If he did, he’s already a Popsicle.”
Privately, Samantha Littleton thought there were several, less dire possible explanations for Logan Manning’s absence, but it wasn’t worth arguing about. Shrader had been in a foul mood for two days, ever since Holland pulled him off the homicide cases he was working, and sent Sam and him to Mountainside. She couldn’t blame Shrader for feeling angry and insulted at being turned into what he regarded as “a celebrity baby-sitter.” Shrader was a dedicated, tenacious, overworked homicide detective with an outstanding record for clearing his cases. She, on the other hand, was new to Homicide and, in fact, had only transferred to the Eighteenth Precinct two weeks before, when she’d been temporarily assigned to Shrader until his regular partner returned from sick leave. Sam understood and even shared Shrader’s frustrated urgency about the cases piling up at the Eighteenth, but
she prided herself on her ability to deal with frustrations without inflicting them on others. Masculine displays of irritability and outrage, like the ones Shrader had been indulging in for two days, struck her as being amusing, adolescent, or mildly annoying—and, occasionally, all three.
She’d chosen a career in a field dominated by macho men, many of whom still resented the encroachment of women into what had been their domain. But unlike some other women in law enforcement, Sam felt no compulsion to make her male colleagues accept her, and absolutely no desire to prove she could compete with them on their own level. She already knew she could.
She’d grown up with six rowdy older brothers, and she’d realized as a ten-year-old that when one of them shoved her, it was futile to try to shove him back harder. It was far easier, and far more satisfying, to simply step aside. And then stick out her foot.
As an adult, she’d converted that tactic to a mental one, and it was even easier to execute because most men were so disarmed by her pretty face and soft voice that they foolishly mistook her for a sweet, ornamental pushover. The fact that men underestimated her, particularly at first, didn’t faze Sam in the least. It amused her and it gave her an edge.
Despite all that, she genuinely liked and respected most men. But she also understood them, and because she did, she was serenely unperturbed by their foibles and antics. There was little they could say to shock or anger her. She’d survived life with six older brothers. She’d already heard and seen it all.
“God dammit!” Shrader swore suddenly, slapping his hand on the elevator wall for emphasis.
Sam continued fastening her jacket. She did not ask
him what was wrong. He was a man who’d just cursed and then hit an inanimate object. It followed that he would now feel compelled to explain the unexplainable. Which, of course, he did.
“We’ll have to go back upstairs. I forgot to ask her for a description of her husband’s vehicle.”
“It’s a white Jeep Cherokee, brand-new, registered to Manning Development,” Sam told him, digging her gloves out of her pockets. “I called DMV a little while ago, just in case Mrs. Manning couldn’t talk much when she finally came around.”
“You called DMV on your cell phone?” Shrader mocked. “The phone that doesn’t work up here in the mountains?”
“The very same one,” Sam admitted with a smile as the elevator doors opened. “Mrs. Manning needed some sort of explanation for her husband’s absence, and that was the most reassuring one I could think of at the moment.”
The lobby of Good Samaritan Hospital was deserted except for two maintenance men who were polishing the terrazzo floor. Shrader raised his voice to be heard above the noisy machines. “If you’re going to get all soft and gooey every time you talk to a victim’s family, you won’t last two months in Homicide, Littleton.”
“I’ve made it two weeks already,” she replied brightly.
“If you hadn’t transferred to Homicide, I’d be back at the Eighteen, doing my job instead of sitting on my ass up here.”
“Maybe, but if I hadn’t transferred, I would never have had the chance to work with someone like you.”
Shrader shot her a suspicious glance, searching for signs of sarcasm, but her smile was perfectly pleasant. “Logan Manning doesn’t even qualify as a missing-person case. He’s a misplaced person.”
“And you think it’s my fault that Captain Holland sent us up here?”
“You’re damned right.” He pushed his shoulder against the exit door, and the blast of arctic wind nearly blew both of them back a step. “The Mannings are VIPs. The mayor and Commissioner Trumanti are both personal friends of theirs, so Holland decided he’d better send someone ‘with social polish’ to deal with Mrs. Manning.”
Sam treated that like a joke. “And he thinks I have it?”
“That’s what he said.”
“So, why did he send you along?”
“Just in case there was any actual work that needed to be done.” Shrader waited for her to return his insult, and when she didn’t, he began to feel like a bad-tempered jerk. To even out the score, he poked fun at himself. “And also because he thinks I have a great ass.”
“Did he say that, too?”
“No, but I saw him checking me out.”
Sam couldn’t help laughing. Shrader knew his appearance was anything but attractive; in fact, it was downright daunting to strangers. Although he was only five feet six, he had massive shoulders that were disproportionately large for his short body and that complemented his thick neck, square head with wide jowls, and piercing deep-set brown-black eyes. When he scowled, he reminded Sam of an angry rottweiler. When he wasn’t scowling, he still reminded Sam of a rottweiler. Privately, she’d nicknamed him “Shredder.”
Back upstairs, on the third floor of the hospital, a young doctor was standing at the foot of Leigh’s bed, reading her chart. He left quietly, closing the door behind him. The additional morphine he’d ordered was already seeping through Leigh’s veins, dulling the physical ache that suffused her body. She sought refuge from the torment in her
mind by thinking about the last night she’d spent with Logan, when everything had seemed so perfect and the future had seemed so bright. Saturday night. Her birthday. And the opening night of Jason Solomon’s new play.
Logan had given a huge party afterward to celebrate both occasions. . . .