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Authors: James Grippando

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BOOK: Lying With Strangers
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of childhood asthma but, as always, the real draw was the free lunch. On salaries that computed to something less than two dollars per hour, interns flocked to freebies.

Afterward, in the hallway, Peyton stopped to chat with friends and assure them that she was recovering nicely, which took all of two minutes. That was all the time they had before getting back to work, and it was about as long as Peyton cared to dwell on the injuries.

Peyton found it invigorating to be back in the hospital, even if it was only for a few hours and on crutches. In some ways it was more like being home than actually being home. The hospital was her comfort zone. Back at the apartment, she hadn’t the slightest idea of what to do with herself. Here, she had a routine. The morning rounds. The noon lectures. Even the mundane paperwork of patient discharges. It was as familiar as the bitter coffee in the lounge, the lumpy mattress in the on-call suite, the frenetic pace in the ER—and the mime standing at the other end of the long corridor.

He was looking right at her. Then he was gone.

Peyton stopped short, her heart skipping a beat. It had been quite a distance between them, but she could have sworn it was the same clown who had danced the tango with her on the day before her car accident.

She snaked through the crowded hallway as fast as she could on crutches, stopping at the T-shaped intersection at the end of the hall. The cafeteria was to the right. The lobby was to the left. She stood in the middle, unsure of which way to go. A group of nurses passed her. A gurney rested unattended against the wall. But there was no sign of the mime.

Peyton felt a chill. The way he’d stared into her eyes after the dance had troubled her from the beginning. It was all the more disturbing to learn that no one really knew who had hired him for the surprise party. This latest stare and quick departure hadn’t exactly put her at ease.

It was time to voice her concerns.

Peyton waited almost forty-five minutes for the residency program director to return from a meeting, but finally Miles Landau was able to see her.

Though Landau was a physician, his long-term service as program director had all but transformed him into a full-fledged administrator. He even dressed each day in a business suit rather than a traditional physician’s coat. Part of his job was to make sure each intern and resident was on track to meet the program and certification requirements. Part of it was smoothing the daily bumps in the road.

Seeing that he had two other visitors waiting in the reception area and three other calls on hold, Peyton quickly summarized. He listened carefully, then asked, “Are you saying you’re being stalked?”

“I’d be lying if I said he didn’t scare me at that party. Then, less than twenty-four hours later, someone ran me off the road. Maybe it was all an accident, and maybe this is just a coincidence. But after what just happened in the hall this afternoon, I don’t know what to think.”

He scratched his head, thinking. “Didn’t you raise this stalking theory with the police?”

“Yes, but they weren’t very helpful.”

“It was my understanding that they checked into it and ruled
it out. You thought the young man you subdued at the Haverhill clinic might have run you off the road. Turns out he was in jail at the time of the accident, which is a pretty tight alibi.”

“That’s true. How did you know about that?”

“His lawyer keeps us informed.”

“What lawyer?”

“This upstanding young man is represented by the same ambulance chaser who sued us over the bullet you fired into Nurse Felicia’s hindquarters. Now we also have to answer to this jerk, who claims he had an adverse reaction to the secobarbital injection that knocked him out. His lawyer says you falsely accused him of stalking as an intimidation tactic, so he wouldn’t sue.”

“That’s frivolous.”

“Tell that to our underwriters. They estimate our legal fees will be at least fifty grand.”

She wasn’t sure if it was intentional on his part, but she was beginning to feel like a troublemaker. “I’m sure it will be resolved in our favor once the facts come out.”

“Let’s hope so. But anyway, back to you. Your concern is what, exactly?”

“I’d simply like to find out who the mime was at my surprise party. Maybe we can check his background, ask him a few questions.”

“Because he gave you a funny look?”

“It’s more than that.” She paused, debating whether to say more, already concerned that she was coming across as paranoid.

“From the clinic, it’s obvious I know how to shoot a gun. My father was a cop and taught me as a teenager. But I never owned one till a few months ago. I used to jog at night during the summer. That’s when I first got the feeling someone was following me, and then one night last December I could have sworn I heard someone picking at the lock on my front door.”

“So you believe this stalking has been going on for months?”

“That was the first creepy sensation I had about it. As much as my husband travels on business, I didn’t feel safe. I feel the same
way now. Maybe I’m crazy on all counts. But just maybe it all ties together.”

“No one is calling you crazy. But—”

“I’m not asking you to hit the panic button. Just a little follow-up, that’s all.”

He glanced at his phone, the lines blinking on hold. “All right,” he said, sounding as if he’d run out of time to debate. “I’ll have security check into it.”

His sudden acquiescence unleashed the butterflies in her stomach. She hoped her fears were unfounded; then again, she didn’t want to be the intern who cried wolf. “Hopefully it will all turn out to be a big nothing.”

“You don’t have to backpedal. The fact is, even if this guy doesn’t turn out to be a stalker, he’s in trouble. This is a children’s hospital. And I freely admit, a very image-conscious children’s hospital. We can’t have our clowns blowing up balloons one minute and ogling female doctors the next. You did the right thing by bringing this to my attention.”

“I’m glad you feel that way.”

“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he said with a glance toward the blinking lights on his phone.

She was going to shake his hand, but before she could rise on her crutches, he grabbed the phone and turned one hundred and eighty degrees in his swivel chair until he faced the window. She could almost see her own forlorn expression in the shiny bald spot on the back of his head. Between lawsuits and now the suspected paranoia, she apparently wasn’t his favorite intern.

“Thanks for your time,” she said as she saw her own way out of his office.


Kevin’s flight arrived at La Guardia in the late afternoon. He did have a seminar in New York and it did start tomorrow, just as he’d told Peyton. But first he had other business.

A taxi took him to the hotel on Eighth Avenue, a fringe area of midtown Manhattan. Directly across the street were some boarded-up buildings, former adult bookstores that had been shut down in the city’s crackdown on petty crime. Just up the street was a modern office tower that housed New York’s most prestigious law firm, a veritable institution that was regarded as the most powerful in the world by everyone but its closest rivals across town and a few dreamers in Washington. The hotel was the other nice building on the block, not exactly a palace but still a far cry from the ratty surroundings.

Since leaving Boston, he realized just how glad he was to have made the clean break with Sandra. Before they had ended up in bed together, she had been a good friend and an excellent source of information about the firm. Luckily, he hadn’t slipped and shared his secret with her. No one, not even Peyton, knew anything yet. Everyone was better off that way.

For two years he’d been working furtively and feverishly, mostly on nights and weekends. Occasionally he’d get behind schedule and have to catch up in midday, like this afternoon when his supervising partner had caught him at his computer in the office. Despite those intermittent near misses, he had managed to keep his mission to himself. Secrecy was paramount. His status was already shaky at the firm, and he didn’t need to fan the flames by giving Ira Kaufman and the associate review committee reason to believe that he was padding his time sheets to make up for the hundreds of hours he had diverted from billable projects to his personal agenda.

“Keep the change,” said Kevin as he exited the taxi. He stepped through the revolving door at the hotel’s main entrance and walked straight to the registration desk. The cheery attendant checked him in.

“Could you tell me if Percy Gates has arrived yet?”

He spelled the name for her, and she brought it up on the computer. “I don’t see a reservation for a Mr. Gates.”

Kevin shrugged it off. The meeting wasn’t until nine o’clock
tomorrow morning. Gates would probably come in for the day. Kevin could have done the same on tomorrow morning’s Boston-New York shuttle, barring snow or some mechanical problem. For the price of a hotel room, he wasn’t about to risk missing the meeting that could change his life.

He rode the elevator alone, having waved off the concierge. His garment bag was light enough for him to carry it himself, and no way was he going to hand over his briefcase and notebook computer to some stranger. Especially not today.

His room was on the twenty-fifth floor, which put him at eye level with the hotshot lawyers in the fancy building up the street. Six years ago, he would have wanted to be one of them. Six months from now, they would all want to be him. He sat on the bed and switched on the television, but his mind was elsewhere. He wasn’t exactly sure what to expect tomorrow morning, even though Percy had explained the entire deal to him by telephone. The whole field was new to Kevin, but he felt confident enough. He knew that in a very short while he’d for once evoke a sweet measure of jealousy from those snotty bastards at Marston & Wheeler. Peyton would sure be proud. Or envious, Sandra might say. Him and his competitive wife.

, he thought.

He leaned back against the headboard, kicked off his shoes, and called room service. Without batting an eye, he ordered a thirty-four-dollar cheeseburger and a six-dollar Coke. “And a jumbo shrimp cocktail,” he said just before hanging up, completely on a whim.

The irony, he realized, was that he was too excited to eat. He was about to dial and cancel the order, then stopped himself. What the heck? Let it come.

Suddenly, he felt like splurging.

evening and turning very cold. Yet even in the darkness there was something instantly soothing about the quaint street she lived on, where iron picket fences adorned one well-preserved Queen Anne–style residence after another.

Despite a lively student contingent, Magnolia Street was quiet after midnight, especially in winter. The spring would bring it to life, when the trees—it really was
street—would come into full bloom. In warmer weather Peyton loved to put on her running shoes and jog on nearby Commonwealth Avenue. The wide French-inspired boulevard epitomized the nineteenth-century spirit of self-indulgence that had driven the upper class from thrifty old Boston into the Back Bay. Running was one of the few ways Peyton could find time to take it all in. She’d pace herself through the Public Garden and around the willow trees that encircled the showcase lagoon, continue at a brisk clip along Newbury and her favorite sidewalk cafés, and finally cut over two blocks and kick it toward home past the old Romanesque-style church whose chiseled trumpeting angels had earned it the sobriquet of “Church of the Holy Bean Blowers.”

That was where she’d first noticed him. Some guy who always seemed to be there. She’d thought nothing of it till last December, when Kevin was out of town yet again and she was home alone.
Late one night, she’d thought she’d heard someone picking at the lock on the front door. That’s when she’d decided to buy a gun.

A gust of wind swept a wisp of light snow past her feet. It whistled down the sidewalk like a ghostly flying carpet, the tiny icy crystals glistening in the dim glow of old street lamps. Their two-bedroom flat had an outside entrance. She climbed the steps and unlocked the front door. A toasty warmth greeted her in the foyer, which told her she had most assuredly forgotten to turn down the thermostat before leaving this morning. Kevin was always on her back about leaving the heat blasting and the lights on when she left the house. The glowing light from the kitchen marked her failure on that count as well.

She hung her scarf and hat behind the door, then brushed the snow from her coat and tucked it in the closet. Too tired to eat, she headed for the bedroom and stopped halfway down the hall. She could have sworn she smelled paella from the kitchen, one of her all-time favorite dinners. She headed to the kitchen.


The older woman screamed, then brought a hand to her heart, as if on the verge of cardiac arrest. “My word, child. You scared me half to death.”

“I didn’t expect to see you either. Didn’t you get my message?”

“Yes. But there’s no need for you to be a martyr. I don’t mind looking after you while Kevin’s out of town.”

“This isn’t really necessary.”

“Too late. Paella’s in the oven. Extra mussels, just the way you like it. Why don’t you help me with the salad?”

Peyton went to the sink and started washing the lettuce. Her mother was being unusually sweet. It made Peyton suspicious, but she decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. “This is very nice of you. Thanks.”

“I thought you could use some cheering up.”

“I’m pretty cheery these days, considering.”

“That’s the part that concerns me. The ‘considering.’”

Peyton didn’t answer. There it was, the reason for the sweetness. Another fishing expedition into what was going on in her daughter’s life.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” her mother said. “A man came by while you were out.”

“A man?”

“A process server. He left you a summons and something called a civil complaint. It’s on the table.”

Peyton dried her hands and glanced at the summons.

“You and the hospital are being sued,” said her mother.

“Did you read this?”

“Of course. I thought it might be urgent.”

Peyton kept reading. “I knew they’d sued the hospital. I guess now they’re going after me individually as well.”

“You want to tell me about it?”

“Someone’s just looking for a deep pocket to extort some settlement money. It’s all a bunch of baloney.”

“So you didn’t shoot that nurse?”

“It’s a long story.”

“Is that why you were fired from the clinic?”

“I wasn’t fired.”

“The complaint says you were fired. Paragraph eleven.”

“What, did you memorize it? I didn’t get fired. I’m being reassigned.”

“You don’t have to hide anything from me. I’m your mother.”

“There’s no need to be concerned. My work is just fine.”

Peyton started away, but her mother gently took her arm to stop her. “It’s not your work that I’m concerned about.”

“I really wish you and everyone else would stop treating me as if this stupid car accident has turned me into a basket case.”

“I don’t think the accident caused the problem, dear. I think it’s a symptom of a deeper problem. One for which I’m partially to blame.”

Peyton blinked hard, not comprehending. “I’ve blamed you
for a lot of things in my lifetime, but this car accident is not one of them.”

“Your whole life I pushed you to be better than everyone else, to do better than I ever did. Sometimes I set goals that were totally unrealistic, just so that when you fell short, you’d still land in a good place. But damned if you didn’t exceed even the unrealistic goals. And now that you’re a grown woman, you push yourself even harder. Your father and I are proud of all that you’ve accomplished. I don’t think you’ve ever failed at anything. But everyone eventually fails at something. Getting fired from a stupid clinic in Haverhill isn’t worth, you know…”

“Worth what?”

“Driving a car into Jamaica Pond.”

“You think I tried to kill myself?” she said, incredulous.

Her mother’s eyes glistened, moist. “I totally understand how you must have felt. Embarrassed, angry. No one likes to fail. You’d been working insane hours and then there was this fiasco at the clinic. And to top it all off, you were pregnant but so ambivalent that you hadn’t even told your husband about it.”

“You’re getting it all wrong.”

“I know things aren’t good between you and Kevin.”

“Our marriage will be fine.”

“Have you asked him where he was on the night of your accident?”

“He was in Providence on business.”

“Did you know he had lunch today at an obscure little restaurant with a very attractive woman?”

She was troubled for a moment, as he’d told her that he was just stopping by the office briefly before heading to the airport. Then shock kicked in. “Have you been following him?”

“Your father and I are concerned.”

“Don’t put this on Daddy. Spying isn’t the kind of thing he would do.”

concerned. What’s wrong with that? I know what you’re going through. You work hard, you’re talented, you feel like
you should be on the fast track to success. And then, bam, somebody takes away your dreams.”

“Not this again. Daddy didn’t take anything away from you. And neither did I.”

“I know you didn’t mean to. But the mind can do funny things to a person. Just like you, I’ve hit the lowest of the low points. That’s why I understand this so well. You find yourself driving down a dark road one night and realize that with one quick jerk of the wheel…”

“Are you mad? I’m not suicidal.”

“You can’t deny that you’ve been depressed.”

“Yes, I’ve experienced some depression.
the accident.”

“The accident was a catharsis. You were unhappy before and didn’t even know it.”

“It was no catharsis. I’m sad because I miscarried.”

“And you shouldn’t feel guilty for that. Blame me. By pushing you all your life, I’ve only pushed you away. Believe it or not, there was a time when you wanted to be just like your mommy. And now you’re twenty-eight years old and we’re practically strangers. That depresses me. Somewhere inside, it has to depress you.”

“My feelings toward you have nothing to do with the way you pushed me to succeed. And for the record, I’m not depressed about anything except the fact that I lost the baby. If that doesn’t meet the rational, unemotional standard you set when I was a teenager, I’m sorry.”

“That’s a low blow.”

Peyton suddenly regretted her words, but her mother had a way of knocking her off the high road. “You’re right. I’m sorry. But for crying out loud, Mother, if you would just stop hitting me over the head with the fact that I was the pregnancy you didn’t want, maybe I wouldn’t come back at you with the pregnancy you didn’t seem to care about losing.”

“You’re talking about your sister, my own flesh and blood. I was traumatized for months.”

“You sure didn’t act like it.”

“Maybe the only way for me to deal with it was to tell myself that it was the best thing for everyone.”

“No, Mom. You mean the best thing for
. That’s always been the test in our family.” Peyton turned away, silencing herself before it was too late. “I’m going to bed.”

On crutches she hurried down the hall to the bathroom and shut the door. The accident was no catharsis, but she felt one now. She hadn’t yelled at her mother that way since she’d been a teenager, having vowed long ago never to stir up the old, destructive anger. The loss of a child was all but guaranteed to take Peyton and her mother back to those dark days.

She leaned forward with both hands on the sink, staring into the basin, breathing deeply. Slowly, she raised her eyes and took a good look at herself in the mirror. Her eyes were red and she was on the verge of tears. For almost a week she’d toughed out the accident, the miscarriage. Somehow, she’d managed to contain her feelings and remain stoic. She’d canceled the appointment for Jamie’s first ultrasound, given one of her patients the prenatal vitamins she no longer needed, even donated to charity the maternity clothes she’d never gotten big enough to wear. All that, without having faltered in the least. Now, however, she felt deprived of the emotional release she’d obviously needed.

Her left eye started to twitch. It hadn’t given her much trouble since the injury, but it was suddenly painful. She squinted and leaned toward the mirror. A stabbing sensation emerged just below the lower lid. She blinked twice and noticed a minuscule drop of blood at the outside corner of her eye. She dabbed it with a tissue and realized what it was. A shard of shattered glass had worked its way out from somewhere beneath her skin. Clear and rigid, like a tiny frozen teardrop that had hardened deep inside her. She was suddenly cold, overwhelmed with sadness.

With that, the tears melted and finally began to flow.

BOOK: Lying With Strangers
7.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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