Diagnosis Murder 4 - The Waking Nightmare (23 page)

BOOK: Diagnosis Murder 4 - The Waking Nightmare
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"One could argue that everything she's done has been on her husband's behalf," Mark said. "That even now she's fighting for, and protecting, what was important to him."

Steve gave his father a skeptical look. "'One could argue'?"

"Yes," Mark said. "One could."

"But not you."

"Not me," Mark said.

Steve smiled. "Now we're talking."


On the drive back to Los Angeles, Steve got two calls on his cell phone.

The first call was from Lissy Dearborn, thanking him for the coffee table and agreeing to go out to dinner with him the next night. She was taking some time off to help care for Rebecca, who would be returning home today and wasn't able to get around on her own with a leg and an arm in casts. Lissy told Steve that Tucker Mellish had sent over enough pastries to fill a bakery. Steve was already eager to see her, but the lure of fresh bear claws only made the prospect more tempting.

The second call was from Captain Newman, assigning Steve to a homicide investigation. Two homeless men got into a knife fight over a bag of Cheetos, leaving one of the combatants dead. There was no mystery who the killer was or how the murder was committed, so Mark didn't try to come up with an excuse to accompany Steve to the scene and his son didn't invite him.

Steve dropped Mark off at Community General and went directly to the crime scene. Mark went directly to his office, where he spent the next few hours catching up on the enormous stack of paperwork that had accumulated over the last several days.

He tried to concentrate on his work, but his thoughts kept wandering back and forth over his numerous conversations with Sara Everden, sampling bits and pieces seemingly at random.

Something wasn't fitting into place. He could feel it, almost like an itch, but couldn't identify it.

This persistent mental glitch was particularly irritating since, as far as Mark could tell, all the mysteries surrounding Brant's death were solved.

There was no doubt that Winston Brant killed himself and if there had been, the notarized suicide letter he'd left for Grace Wozniak removed any question. The letter not only confirmed how he died, but why. The few details Brant left out were neatly filled in by the test results in his medical file. Brant had an incurable, muscle-wasting disease. Rather than let the disease take its course, he concocted an attention-getting way of killing himself that would demand intense scrutiny and expose the criminal activities within his company.

And for the most part, his scheme worked. The police investigated, the financial misdealings were revealed, and the stock price of Brant Publications fell so low, his family was able to buy back control of the company.

There were no more questions left unanswered. All the facts were there and they fit together perfectly.

Except they didn't.

Where, or why, they didn't, Mark couldn't say. But the feeling that he was missing something wouldn't subside.

Or was it simply hunger?

Mark suddenly realized how long it had been since he'd eaten, and he was starving. He gave up on his paperwork and went down to the cafeteria for a late lunch.

While standing in line, waiting to pay for his macaroni and cheese, small Caesar salad, and slice of strawberry cheesecake, Mark spotted Dr. Morgan Gendel sitting at a table by himself, reading the newspaper and eating his last few bites of chocolate cake.

Mark picked up his tray and headed over to Dr. Gendel's table. "Mind if I join you?"

"Of course not, Mark." Dr. Gendel swept the newspapers off the table and set them on one of the empty chairs. "Sit down. It's good to see you."

Dr. Gendel was in his late forties with premature flecks of gray in his hair, which he tried to hide with a buzz cut. He was recently divorced, his ring finger still white where he'd worn his wedding band for fifteen years.

"What happened to you?" Dr. Gendel asked, his eyes drifting with concern from the bandage on Mark's head to the cast on his left ann.

"I was in a little car accident," Mark said, starting to eat. "I'm fine, it's my car that's in intensive care."

"Can it be saved?" Dr. Gendel asked.

"I hope not," Mark said, between mouthfuls of macaroni and cheese. "There are a lot of nice convertibles on the market these days."

"You don't have to tell me about it," Dr. Gendel said. "What do you think I bought myself as soon as the divorce was final? Didn't you notice the new SL in my parking space?"

"Does that mean your life is settling down?" Mark asked, sampling the salad. He couldn't remember the last time he was so hungry.

Dr. Gendel nodded. "Jerrilyn and I are getting along better now that we're divorced than we did over the last couple years. My daughter is handling it great and we see each other every weekend. It's the dating scene that's been hell."

"Has it changed a lot since you were single?"

"I'm rusty," Dr. Gendel said. "Besides, when I try asking women out, they look at my ring finger, see that white band, and think I'm some sleazy married guy cheating on his wife. I think I'm going to have to hold off on dating until my finger gets tan."

"Have you tried offering them a coffee table?"

Dr. Gendel gave Mark a bewildered look. "No, I can't say that ever occurred to me. Does it work?"

"It seems to," Mark said, then tipped his head towards the newspaper. "Did you read the story about the scandal at Brant Publications?"

"Yeah," Dr. Gendel said. "It's amazing how many ways there are to steal money."

"I understand Winston Brant was your patient," Mark said.

Dr. Gendel was surprised. "How did you know that?"

"I've been consulting with the police on the Brant homicide investigation," Mark said. "He wasn't murdered. Brant killed himself and I think you know why."

"I do?" Dr. Gendel said.

"I know Brant had ALS," Mark replied. "Sara told me they came to you."

"I suppose if Dr. Everden told you, then I'm not breaking any confidences talking about it now," Dr. Gendel sighed. "It's so sad. The truth is, a med student could have looked at the elevated muscle enzymes and the MRI film and made the same diagnosis I did. The areas on each side of the brain near the ventricles were intensely white on the MRI, clearly indicating high signal intensity in the corticospinal tracts."

"I wouldn't have wanted to tell a man like Winston Brant what he was facing."

"Neither would I," Dr. Gendel said.

Mark felt his pulse quicken. He dropped his fork and pushed aside his plate, his appetite immediately forgotten. "You didn't give him your diagnosis?"

"I never met him," Dr. Gendel said. "I spoke to Dr. Everden on the phone, she told me his symptoms, and then sent over his blood work, spinal fluid analysis, and the MRI for me to review."

"So you never even spoke to him," Mark said. "You looked everything over and called her back with your findings."

"I sent over a written opinion, too," Dr. Gendel said. "But I think I was just confirming what she already knew."

"I'm certain you were." Mark slid the cheesecake over to Dr. Gendel. "Thanks, you've been a big help."

"With what?" Dr. Gendel asked, but Mark was already out of his seat and on his way.

Dr. Gendel shrugged, picked up a fork, and started to eat his second dessert.






When Mark rushed into the morgue, Amanda was in the middle of performing an autopsy on a man who fell off his roof while replacing shingles and impaled himself on his wrought iron fence.

"I need your help, Amanda," he said, huffing out each word between deep breaths.

Amanda looked up from the chest wound she was measuring. "It looks like what you need is oxygen. You better sit down. Did you run over here from someplace?"

"Up the stairs," Mark said, taking a seat at her desk. "From the cafeteria."

"What's the big rush?"

"Winston Brant."

"He's not going to get any deader," Amanda said.

"He had ALS," Mark said, his breathing becoming regular.

She cocked an eyebrow. "I didn't see any signs when I opened him up. Are you sure?"

"No, I'm not," Mark said. "That's why I'd like you to do a muscle biopsy and examine his spinal tissues."

"I can't," she said.

"Of course, I understand," Mark said, gesturing towards the body on the table. "You've got a lot of other work without revisiting a suicide. I can prepare the samples here myself."

"That's not it," Amanda said. "Brant's body isn't here anymore. I released it to the family this morning. The mortuary came and picked him up hours ago."

Mark's throat went dry. He suddenly remembered the way Sara's hand was shaking when he held it. Was it from anger or fear?

He bolted up from his seat. "Drop what you're doing. We have to get that body back right away."

"You're going to need a search warrant," Amanda said.

"That's Steve's problem," Mark said.

Amanda draped a sheet over the corpse in front of her. "Let's go."


While Amanda drove the fifty miles south to Newport Beach, Mark worked his cell phone.

First Mark called Steve and told him about his conversation with Dr. Gendel.

"I think Winston Brant was completely healthy and was tricked into believing he had ALS by his wife."

"How?" Steve asked.

"The Prozac," Mark said. "He probably had no idea he was taking it. Maybe she spiked his food with it or told him it was vitamins. How she did it doesn't matter. I believe it was the pills that made him feel weak and listless."

"She examined him, ran the tests, and faked the results," Steve said.

"Or she used results from other patients and told him they were his."

"I can see how she fooled her husband," Steve said. "But how did she con the other doctors?"

"They never saw Brant themselves," Mark said. "They based their opinions solely on the test results."

"If you're right, that means she drove him to suicide."

"It's murder," Mark said. "Only she used blood tests and an MRI as her weapons."

"Can you prove any of this?"

"Not without Winston Brant's body," Mark said.

"I'll talk to a judge," Steve said. "If I can get a warrant, I'll meet you at the mortuary."

Next, Mark tracked Jesse down at BBQ Bob's and asked him to do some research on Dr. Everden and the patients she'd treated over the last few years.

"What are you looking for exactly?" Jesse asked.

"Any patients of hers who suffered from ALS."

"I'm glad to oblige," Jesse said. "But I'm not sure I can get what you need without bending some of the rules governing the confidentiality of medical records."

"Do what you have to do," Mark said. "But don't put your career at risk doing it."

"Good advice," Jesse said. "I'll make a deal with you. I'll follow it if you do."

It was a deal Mark couldn't make. And Jesse knew it.

Mark fidgeted nervously in his seat for the next hour as they inched slowly along the traffic-clogged freeway to the wealthy Orange County enclave.

The Richonen Brothers Mortuary looked more like a resort hotel than a funeral home, the low-lying glass-and-stone building surrounded by lush green grass and enormous burbling fountains.

Amanda had barely brought the morgue van to a stop in front when Mark jumped out and hurried inside. She caught up to him quickly, joining him in the immense entry, which was bathed in sunlight by a huge skylight.

"Slow down, Mark. You're not going to get anywhere without me," she said.

It was true. Mark was merely an anxious man with a bandaged face and an arm in a sling. Amanda had all the authority and she was displaying it to full effect. Her Los Angeles County Medical Examiner ID was clipped to her bright blue Windbreaker, which had the county insignia on the chest and the words MEDICAL EXAMINER stenciled in big yellow letters on the back.

They were met almost immediately by a somber young man in a perfectly tailored suit. Mark figured somber was at the top of the list of qualities required for the job.

"Who are you?" Amanda asked, taking charge.

"Emil Richonen, the funeral director," he said in carefully enunciated English. "How may I help you?"

"I'm Dr. Amanda Bentley from the LA County medical examiner's office and this is Dr. Mark Sloan, homicide consultant with the LAPD. We need Winston Brant's body back."

"I'm afraid that's not possible," Richonen said carefully.

"The search warrant is on the way," Amanda said. "That's irrelevant," Richonen said. "He's being cremated."

"Now?" Mark said in dismay.

"The body was placed in the cremation chamber fifteen minutes ago," the funeral director said.

"I'm sorry, Mark," Amanda said.

Mark did some quick mental calculations. The body would be wrapped in plastic and cremated in a casket. Depending on the type of casket and the size, weight, and body fat of the corpse, he knew the incineration could take as long as an hour and a half. Once the cremator door closed, a giant blowtorch aimed at the head of the casket would spit out a stream of flame. The coffin would ignite first, then collapse in on the corpse, burning it from the outside in. The spinal cord would be the last portion of the body touched by fire.

They might not be too late.

"Take us there now," Mark said.

"Surely you're not serious," Richonen said, glancing at Amanda for support. For a moment, she looked like she agreed with him, but then her expression changed.

"You heard the man," Amanda said. "Move your ass."

Richonen led them through the casket showroom, behind a door, and down a set of stairs to the basement, which was dominated by a giant, square, stainless steel cremator, a long conveyor belt leading to the mouth.

A mortuary worker stood nearby, keeping a watchful eye on the computer display mounted on a podium, monitoring the temperature, the indicator reading fourteen hundred degrees Fahrenheit. He was a heavyset man in his thirties, with a nose that had been broken so many times it was nearly flat.

"Shut it down and get the body out of there," Mark said.

BOOK: Diagnosis Murder 4 - The Waking Nightmare
10.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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