(Romantic Suspense)Ryen Flannery, RN, only thinks she's having a bad day when, exhausted from overwork, she sees a fleeting shadow against the curtain across the room. But things get much worse when she finds the patient unresponsive, then realizes he's the sixth unresponsive patient she's found in as many months. To make matters worse, someone is killing patients, and setting her up for the fall. Even the police think she's to blame.
Ryen sighed. She’d been planning to follow him, hoping he would lead her to . . .where? As she thought about it, she realized how stupid it all was. But maybe there was another way.
She pulled up the personnel file on Rother Gotsch and jotted his address down on a slip of scrap paper. With a huge sigh, partly of relief and partly of fatigue, she turned off the lights, locked the door and quietly exited the building. She had approximately two hours before Rother got off duty.
The dry night air nearly crackled with static electricity. Low clouds filled the sky, as a breeze rustled the brittle leaves on the trees, composing its own muffled symphony one swish at a time.
Rother lived in a small bungalow just south of downtown, in a slightly seedy neighborhood. Not quite dangerous, but not exactly on anyone’s wish list, either.
Except for a few barking dogs and pieces of litter pitching around in the chilly night breeze, everything was still. A thin sliver of a moon slipped in and out, playing ambivalent tag with the clouds. A gauze-like mist shortly began to cast hazy shadows under the dim streetlamps.
After parking her car in front of his house, she sat a minute, giving herself a pep talk. Her nerves mimicked a piano wire tuned to high C as she walked up the narrow driveway a minute later. Weeds and water grass grew arrogantly through cracks in the worn cement, and she narrowly missed tripping over several as she strode purposefully toward his back door.
With her senses heightened, she mounted the stairs of his rickety porch, put her ear to the cold glass window in the back door and listened. No sound came from inside.
Ryen realized she knew nothing about him. Was he married? She shined her flashlight through the backdoor window. From the looks of the place, no woman lived here. The kitchen counters were littered with dirty dishes and uneaten food. Partially eaten cartons of Chinese takeout littered the counter, as catsup and peanut butter jars sat with their lids off, and garbage overflowed the trashcan several feet away. Something small ran across the countertop . . .a roach. She cringed and wrinkled her nose, imagining the smell. Her flesh crawled as she thought about the roaches and rats his raunchy housekeeping could attract.
Still looking through the window, she saw that a round-cornered Frigidaire refrigerator sat at the far end of the counter, and a beat-up gray Formica metal table and chairs set, from the 1950’s, filled the small eating area. More used dishes and half filled jelly glasses covered the table’s grubby surface.
As much as she despised playing Sherlock Holmes, she knew it was now or never. In fact, she wondered if Sherlock had ever had to sleuth in such squalid conditions.
She squared her shoulders and stuck the credit card in the wide crack that held the ill-fitting door closed. It opened with only the barest sigh, but the handle squealed in protest, crying out for a few shots of WD40, as she turned it to close the door. Ryen breathed a sigh of relief as she turned and tiptoed further inside.
Her first deep breath only affirmed her notion about the smell. How could anyone live like this? Especially a surgeon? She cringed as she imagined his idea of sterile, and kept her hands by her sides, hesitant to even touch anything.
The kitchen walls sported early 1930’s wallpaper, with faded likenesses of cutesy kitchen utensils displayed floor to ceiling. The paper had separated from the wall in several places and looked damp to the touch, darkening with mildew. Ryen cringed as the scent of mold filled her nostrils.
Having already seen enough of his kitchen, she crept to the dining room door, and walked softly through it. The floors, covered in dirty brown carpet, were old and uneven, making her walk gingerly, wary of squeaking sounds, though she realized she worried about nothing if no one was home.
Using only the narrow beam of her flashlight, she studied the medium sized living room, to her right, not knowing exactly what she was looking for. The room’s décor was early 1930’s, with stucco archways and square pillars separating it from the narrow entry. It boasted yellowed wallpaper, covered with fist size cabbage roses, and was slightly mildewed at the corners, with an occasional damp-looking stripe, reminiscent of a water leak, streaking toward the floor. Disgusting looking olive green curtains hung at the window, straight out of a time machine, set for 1972.
The furnishings consisted of a battered brown leather couch and a gray tweed recliner, with worn spots on the arms and seat, and darker places where he had laid his head. Newspapers lay haphazardly in piles, and shoes, slippers and socks were strewn here and there on the floor. Several used coffee cups and soda cans also dotted the area around the chair. An obsolete console stereo in a faux oak cabinet filled the far corner of the living room. A drop leaf pine table held piles of junk mail and bills. After sifting through the pile, and seeing nothing noteworthy, she turned toward the hallway. The dim room was lit only by the reflection of the sodium streetlamp at the curb.
In the semidarkness, she saw something move across the floor. It slid over her shoe, making her gasp. A mouse. It took a minute of slow deep breathing for her to calm her frenetically beating pulse.
Finally satisfied that there was nothing left to see, she tiptoed softly toward the bedroom doors, both of which were off to the side of the living room. The doors were painted off white, as was the rest of the grimy woodwork, but the paint had chipped and peeled, so that little remained on the doors.
As she opened the first door, she saw a nearly empty room, with a battered looking hide-a-bed, on which lay a half dozen bed and couch pillows in various states of disrepair.
The same carpet and cabbage rose wallpaper covered the floors and walls. She decided the decorator must’ve gotten a great deal in big lots, if they had such a thing in 1930.
On a cheap laminated desk sat an older computer, its dust-covered screen streaked with shooting stars. She pushed the space bar, brought up his desktop, and opened the My Documents file. Several documents had only dates to identify them. She opened first one, and then another, and her heart nearly stopped when she read correspondence, from someone by the name of Stan Berg, asking about obtaining organs outside of regular channels.
As she read on, her heart nearly stood still when she saw blood typing and other vital statistics on all the patients she had found unresponsive. But the following page included donor information she never expected to see, listed under, of all things, her own name. Oh, God, help me.
Shining her light at the archaic printer, she could only wonder how much noise it would make if she used it.
Ryen closed the door and began to open other files. Immediately, her shoulders grew tense as she looked at her watch. He would be home in an hour. She began printing the files, but the thing was painfully slow and she grew more anxious as she mentally urged it on. As it loudly cranked out copies, she glanced at her surroundings.
The only other thing in the room was an old leather suitcase, sitting on the floor. Two fat manila folders lay on top.
The floor squeaked slightly as she knelt beside the suitcase. At that moment, she flinched as a very loud and cranky furnace kicked into gear. It groaned and creaked in agony, spewing forth its meager imitation of heat. The sound caused the hairs to stand up on Ryen’s neck, as she fought the urge to jump and run.
Nervously, she shined her light on the top file, and opened it to reveal the medical record of a thirty-six year old man named Herschel Maycomer. She scanned the sheets, and her mouth opened involuntarily as she read that he faced certain death from cardiomyopathy and would require a donor heart to stay alive.
The second file held the record of a forty-eight year old woman named Genevieve Beckwith. As she flipped pages, she scanned doctor’s notes. Evidently, the woman’s husband, a wealthy land developer from Dallas, Texas, would spare no expense to obtain a heart for his wife.
Finally the print copies lay in the tray. She scooped them up, folded them, and stuffed them inside her belt before zipping her coat.
The manila folders contained exactly the kind of evidence she sought. Picking them up, she turned the handle and stepped through the door. She frowned, thinking she heard a sigh, or other human sound as she approached the second bedroom. Its door stood slightly ajar, and allowed her to see what was obviously a bathroom door in the far side of the room. In seconds, anxious sweat formed on her upper lip.
Moving slightly to the right, she could see more of the room. There in the bed slept Rother Gotsch.