Authors: Brandilyn Collins
Tags: #Suspense, #Thriller
He chuckledâan evil sound. "Then why are you sick, Mrs. McNeil?"
My mouth closed.
"After they're done testing you for all the things they won't find, go to a doctor who knows how to treat Lyme. There are a few in the Bay Area, although you'll be amazed at the small number. Seven or so in a population of six million. Can you imagine if we had that few oncologists?"
"And what's a Lyme doctor supposed to do?"
"Send you for proper testing, for a start."
"I ought to be able to believe a t-test given by a . . . hospital as respected as this one!"
"Agreed. It's shameful. But it's not the hospital's fault. They're merely using the standardized testâthe one doctors like your husband hold up as the Holy Grail. Tell me, isn't he worried that your doctors are stumped?"
I thought of Brock's unconvinced tone, the way he'd looked at me.
"Jannie, maybe your illness is psychosomatic."
Why was I even talking to this man, after what he'd put me through?
"If your husband's worried about you, Mrs. McNeil, he'll pursue the answer to your illness, regardless of what it takes. Even if it means seeing past his stubborn mind-set."
The last two words punched me in the gut. Brock was stubborn. Was he refusing to see the truth about my sickness because it didn't fit into his neat little box?
I shook my head. "Leave me alone! Do
call me again."
"Janessa, you must do what I say."
"He doesn't believe I have Lyme! And besides, what difference would it m-make? I'm already sick. If I change my husband's mind, are you going to wave a magic . . ." The word fled. It made me all the madder. "Wand and make me well?"
A silent, throbbing pause dragged out. My stomach turned over. When the man spoke again his voice fell to thin, sharp silver. "What makes you think I'll stop with you?"
I screamed at myself. But my fingers wouldn't let go of the phone.
"You're not the only one who can fall sick, Mrs. McNeil."
"Kiss your daughter for me."
The line clicked in my ear.
Heat rolled up my body. "No, wait! Listen to me."
I lowered the receiver, trembling. Movement on the right caught my eye. I turned my head to see a nurse entering the room. She looked in her late fifties, her hair pepper-and-salt, her demeanor so casual. As if the world hadn't just cracked in two.
"Hello there, you called for me?" She smiled as she approached.
"Why did you take so long? You're too late!"
"Too late for whâ?"
I shook the receiver at her. "I wanted you to hear. I w-wanted somebody to hear his voice, what he was saying." Heat sank teeth into my limbs. I felt sweat pop out on my forehead. I had to get to Lauren, protect her. I had to get
of this hospital.
He's c-called three times, threatening. And now he's
threatening my daughter.
Her eyes rounded. "What is he saying?"
I hit the off button on the phone, pressed talk. "I have to call my husband." The words were whispered half to myself, my finger stumbling over the numbers as I dialed home. After three rings the message machine clicked on, my own voice answering. With a small cry I ended the call and dialed Brock's cell phone. The nurse stood at my bedside, nonplused.
"Hello." My husband's voice spilled into my ear.
"Brock, heâ" All words seized up.
"He called again, here in the room. And he said I
have Lyme, and you're wr-wrong. And you have to relook at your . . . studies and change your opinion. Or he'll make Lauren sick!"
"Jannie, don't even say such a thing."
"That's what he
" My eyes filled with tears. I couldn't bear to see Lauren in the condition I was in, barely able to walk, to think. The pain was too much for a child. "A nurse is here, she'll tell you." I thrust the phone into the woman's hand, only to remember she'd heard nothing.
She gave me a questioning look, then placed the receiver to her ear. "This is Nurse Evans."
Brock's commanding voice barked from the receiver. I could hear his every word as he asked what she'd heard.
"I didn't hear anything. I walked in and she was just holding the receiver."
"She wasn't talking to anyone?"
"Yes. She was just holding it. That's all."
Silence hung in the room. I glowered at the nurse. She shook her head, as if to say
and handed the phone back to me. "Can I get anything for you?" She studied my face, as if I weren't quite all there.
"We could ask the . . . switchboard. Somebody had to put him through."
"Jannie!" My husband's voice barked through the phone.
She shrugged. "They get so many calls. I'm not sure anyone would remember."
I waved the nurse away.
Thanks a lot.
Pressed the phone to my ear. "Brock, I have to come home." I fought to sound steady, but my voice wavered and pitched. "We have to watch Lauren every minute. Somehow he'll get to her. I don't w-want her like this. I don't want this to happen to her!"
"Nothing's going to happen to her."
"But he saidâ"
"You need to calm down. Take a deep breath."
breathing. You need to listen to me."
"Fine. I'm listening. Tell me everything he said."
"He said the Lyme test is no good. It's a f-false negative. And he'll hurt others if you don't start listening to me. And then he let me know he was talking about Lauren. We n-need to tell the police, Brock. They have to know!"
"All right. I'll tell them."
I hesitated. His voice didn't sound right. "You will?"
"Can they watch Lauren closer at school? And Maria should know. She can't let the . . . girls go anywhere this weekend."
"I'll talk to her, too. Now listen to me. I want you to get some rest."
How could I rest? I could barely move, but my mind swooped and plummeted.
"We'll talk more about this tomorrow, Jannie. For tonight Lauren's safe at Katie's."
The receiver felt slick in my fingers. My left elbow throbbed. A new wave of tiredness washed through me, as if my body suddenly realized it had spent what energy it possessed. My head sank deeper into the pillows. "You're not going to call Maria, are you."
My husband breathed over the line, a weary, beleaguered sound. "How do you suppose this man found you in the hospital, Jannie?"
"Don't know. Maybe he f-followed you here and figured it out."
"I teach at the med school. I'm at the hospital on a regular basis."
"Maybe he doesn't know that."
"I thought he knew all about me. How important my opinion is to the medical world."
There was that tone again. Almost accusing. "What are you saying?"
"It's just odd, that's all. He calls on your cell phone, then our home line, and neither call has a traceable ID. You and I agree to have our home phone tapped. The police have your cell. So now you say he calls your private hospital room."
"What are you getting at, Brock?" My nerves prickled. I could not be reading him right.
"Remember that conversation we had some years ago? How when you were young you faked a stomach ache so your father wouldn't treat you so badly?"
My mouth opened, but I said nothing.
"The plan worked. You used it again and again."
Somewhere deep within me a voice whispered that I should have known. Hadn't I thought of this very same thing just after Brock left my room? "Are you saying I'm faking this illness?"
The question punched me in the stomach. Psychosomatic illness, nothing. My husband didn't want to believe meâperiod. "And the m-man? His calls?"
"Those calls came from the same areas where you were. Both times."
"Yes. He was so close!"
"Or you made them."
My head dropped back against the pillows. "
"You could have bought the throwaway cell phone. You said you know all about the tracing methods."
I could barely breathe. "And the one here? To my room?"
"No one heard it but you."
No. This was too much. This could not be my husband talking. "Why, Brock? Why would I do all that?"
He released a long sigh. As if we both knew exactly why.
My left arm fell to the bed. The phone bounced on the covers and out of my hand. Half in a daze I picked it up and pressed the button to end the call.
For a long time I lay staring at the wall, my saturated mind trying to understand what was happening. Who my husband had become.
And what I was supposed to do now.
I STAYED IN THE HOSPITAL A SECOND FULL DAY, FLOATING IN A SORT OF PURGATORY. I wanted to go home and take care of Lauren. Bring her back from Katie's house. In fact I insisted to everyone who would listen that I had to leaveâ
Dr. Belkin didn't want to discharge me until the tests were finished. He asked Brock to talk some sense into me. How doctors stick together. Brock phoned and said I had to stay another day.
"What for?" I demanded. "Since all this is fake anyway."
What an odd, strained dance we found ourselves in. To music I'd never heard.
"Jannie, Dr. Belkin wants to cover all the bases. Maybe there's something he hasn't found yet."
And you, Brock? If you were my doctor?
The doctors ran more tests on my blood and urine, looking further for this esoteric poison and that. They poked and prodded me, watched me walk (like a wambling sailor) and listened to me talk (stuttering and searching for words). They did a brain scan.
They found nothing.
More fodder for Brock.
Dr. Belkin looked from my chart to my face, then back again. "Perhaps you've developed a case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. But it's far too soon for that diagnosis. You certainly have some of the symptoms. Impaired memory and concentration, muscle pain, joint pain, trouble sleeping, and most of all the fatigue. However, we typically wait to see if symptoms other than fatigue are present for more than six months. Until that time we'll keep an eye on you and see if you don't get better on your own."
Brock called again later in the day. I wondered why he bothered. Neither of us mentioned the
it conversation. But it hung between us, overripe. The spoiling fruit of his suspicion. We would talk of it againâI knew that from the authoritarian tone in his voice. He was waiting for the right time. Maybe when I came home.
Made me want to stay in the hospital.
In the afternoon Brock brought Lauren to visit. She came at me as I sat up in bed, her arms wide for a hug. I cringed. "Oh, sweetie, I'm s-sorry. My body hurts so much it's hard to be hugged. Just pat me on the . . . cheek, okay?"
Teary-eyed, she laid her fingers against my face. "You're talking funny."
"I miss you."
"I miss you too. I'm coming home tomorrow."
"Are you any better?"
How I wished I could say yes. I managed a smile. "A little."
We talked about school. Perched on the edge of my bed, Lauren chattered about her friends, her too-much homework for the weekend. Her lively conversation tasted bittersweet. How her nine-year-old world had gone on without me.
Brock sat on a chair in the corner, listening and withdrawn. He did not smile at me, barely looked me in the eye.
And he watched Lauren with a protective gaze that made me shiver.
JUD MAXWELL SLUNG DOWN THE PHONE IN HIS CRAMPED OFFICE and hunched over his computer. Six o'clock on a Saturday nightâand no going home anytime soon. Three more house burglaries in the last two days in Palo Altoâtwo last night and one today in broad daylight. That made seven altogether in the last two weeks. Chief of Police Jeff Kraminsky was not happy. With the media and angered public breathing down his neck, he wanted the crimes solved
A little hard without one suspect fingerprint yet. The perp had taken precautions.
Despite Jud's extra stress the McNeil case bubbled in the back of his mind. He wasn't happy about being pulled away from it to focus on the burglaries. But fact was, he had nothing to go on. As promised, Brock McNeil was updating him on Mrs. McNeil's condition and test results. So far the tests had all returned normal. And no more threatening phone calls had come in. The tracings on the two she'd received had been disturbing. The suspect was right in the area. But then he'd fallen quiet.
Jud peered at his monitor, trying to refocus. Before his phone rang he'd been in the middle of typing up his report of the latest burglary. His fingers found the computer keys to continueâand his phone went off again.
Muttering under his breath, Jud yanked up the receiver. "Maxwell."
"Jud, you have a visitor here who wants to see you." It was Glenda's smoke-husky voice, out at the front desk.
Jud groaned. "Who is it?"
"Dr. Brock McNeil."
Jud blinked. McNeil to see him
Maybe he had news about the final test results. "I'll be right out." He dropped the receiver into its cradle and shoved back his chair.
A moment later Jud strode into the waiting area, his gaze lighting on Dr. McNeil, clad in khakis and a polo shirt. The man was pacing, agitation rolling off him. He glanced up and saw Jud, and relief flickered across his face.
"Dr. McNeil." Jud stuck out his hand.
The man shook it briefly. "Thank you for seeing me."
Didn't sound like the same brash, take-charge man from Thursday night. "No problem. Come on back to my office."
Jud led the way down the hall and into his quarters, extending an arm to invite McNeil to step in first. The doctor entered and looked around, face pinched with distraction.
"Sorry it's so cluttered in here." Jud grabbed a stack of files from the extra wooden chair and dropped them on his desk. "Have a seat."