Yesterday, we met author Gabrielle Black. Today read an excerpt from her murder mystery, Treat Murder. As always, I love your comments.
Beautiful, brilliant Veronica Lane, M.D. finds herself the subject of a murder investigation after her patient is found poisoned in the hospital. When the only witness to the murder turns up dead and the police arrest her, Dr. Lane is forced to try to solve the case herself. With her reputation, her freedom, and possibly her life on the line, Dr. Lane hunts down the killer. Her only help: an underage hooker, a local reporter, and her handsome attorney.
But even she is shocked when she finds out how close the murderer really is.
Things would have been so much easier if I had known that the condition I was treating was in fact, murder. The outcome for the patient, well, -- all involved, but especially the patient -- could have been so much better. I don’t blame myself for this…anymore.
Unaccustomed to the bright sunlight, I started sneezing as I walked out of the medical school library, and cursed under my breath at the hypersensitivity of my pale, blue eyes. A med student strolling up the stairs in his short, white intern’s coat glanced up, saying, ‘God bless’ as he passed.
I had just spent the last several hours searching the stacks for information on different treatments for multiple sclerosis. In fact, I had spent the last few months researching online, and in all of my medical journals, and had found nothing that would help me treat Sarah Summers.
This morning, I had driven down to my alma mater to see what else I could learn. Now, having failed in the library, I had one last resort, my friend and mentor Ellen Krauss.
I walked across the grassy quadrangle toward her office, reminiscing about my days in school. I missed being a carefree student, and only wished I still looked like one. Not that I look too bad now at thirty-two, but my cheekbones are certainly more prominent, and several brunette hairs have defected to gray around my temples.
At the entrance to the old stone building, I paused to let another student pass. He held the door open for me. “Thanks,” I said as I maneuvered past him to climb the four flights of stairs. At the landing, I stopped again, gulping air and letting the burn in my calves subside. My daily jogging should have made that climb so much easier. As I glanced down the hall, an amused “Ha!” escaped my lips before I could stop it. There were several disheveled stacks of journals piled outside the door. Dr. Ellen Krauss’ papers had finally succeeded in overtaking her office, and were on their way to conquering the fourth floor. I always knew they would. The woman was an incurable packrat, if not quite a hoarder.
“Nic? Is that you?” called a disembodied voice.
“Yes,” I answered, smiling and hurrying the rest of the way to her door, and then picking my way carefully around the stacks as I crossed the threshold. “Foof!” I blew out an upwards breath that lifted my slightly damp bangs off my forehead. “Yes, it’s me. How’d you know?”
“Why would I no’?” She smiled and gestured at an overflowing chair. There was a hint of a lilting burr in her voice that identified her as a Scotswoman. “I never forget a laugh, and I’m sure no one could ever forget yours; ye sound like a goose choking when you laugh. It’s been a while since I last heard it, though. Your practice must be keeping you busy.” Krauss stood as she spoke, and took a couple of chilled cans of Coke from a tiny refrigerator in the corner -- a corner which was nearly hidden beneath its own stack of journals. She handed me one, then popped hers open with a hiss, a ritual of ours that had become automatic over the years. “So what brings you nearly a hundred miles to see me? Not a social visit, I suppose?”
Before replying, I took a long sip of the icy Coke, taking a moment to savor the unique pleasure of that first sip. Then I scooped a pile of files off of an old wooden school chair she gestured to, and stacked them on another pile nearby.
“No. I wish.” Plopping down in the seat the way I had a thousand times, first as a student, then as a resident, I said, “I came here to do some research. When I finished in the library, I thought I’d drop by.”
Krauss sat down and chuckled, “Alright, my wee information hound. What kind of research would bring ye all the way down here?”
I smiled. Our friendship had grown out of our mutual thirst for answers. The kind of thirst that slakes itself on stacks of journals, and then not yet satisfied, saves them all in case it might later discover a missed drop of knowledge. For the record, however, my journal collection is actually filed and organized on my laptop.
I said, “The kind of research I was hoping you could help me with.”
Dr. Krauss smiled and raised an eyebrow.
“I have a patient with multiple sclerosis. For years she’s been stable, with only infrequent mild attacks that we controlled well. Now, for the past several months, she has had a completely downhill course-- no remissions, no rebounds. Everything has stopped working, and I’ve tried everything out there. I was looking for something else to try. Something that may not have hit the mainstream yet. I don’t know what to do, and frankly we’ve run out of options.”
Krauss nodded and leaned forward in her desk, pushing her reading glasses up on her nose. “So what did you find out?”
The window behind her head needed washing. I stared past the grime as I considered what to say. Same grime, same streaks. It felt like home here, but this was not the same old school debate on another interesting academic conundrum. A life depended on the answers, so my tension did not lift, and the pleasure of our meeting was not what it could have been. “Well, nothing helpful. Everything I saw was old news. I’ve tried my ABC’s, then the rest of the alphabet.” I smiled wryly. “Tysabri worked best, but lately, nothing helps. Rebif helped some… for a while.”
I took another drink of my Coke. “Sometime back, I saw a Newsweek article that mentioned someone doing bone marrow transplants with some success, but I can’t find anything on it in my journals. I don’t know who did the research, but I’ve got to find it, to see what they did, and if it really worked. I feel like it could be her last chance.”
Krauss wrinkled her nose and nodded slowly. “Aye. I’ve seen something about that. Wait a minute, let me think.” She got up and turned slowly around the room, not really focused on anything, looking for all the world like she was listening to someone I could not see. “Let’s see.” She continued to spin. “Here.” She stabbed a pile of journals with a finger like a divining rod. I shook my head although I had seen the strange ritual before. Housekeeping was absolutely banned from the office. Years ago, she’d nearly gotten one poor girl fired for coming in and cleaning off her desk. “Here it is.” She pulled a journal from somewhere near the bottom of a stack and handed it to me. “They didn’t do it here at Emory, but it looked like a good study. I think the general conclusion was that it was effective in survivors, but too risky for the average MS patient because the mortality was rather high.”
I slouched in my chair and flipped through the journal. “I guessed as much, but she is dying. It’s hardly increasing her risk.”
Suddenly, all I could see, was Sarah Summer’s wasted body at her last visit. She had vision in only one eye; the other was blinded by a plaque on the optic nerve. Her crumpled posture in the wheelchair spoke volumes, accusing me of failure. Even her graying skin haunted me.
Sarah had been my patient for years, beginning before I finished residency. Then she followed me to my new practice, after she wound up in Rome herself. Her loyalty gave my professional pride a boost in my first year of practice, but the price of that boost was the crushing sense of responsibility I felt now. Her life and mine were linked; her decline felt like mine as well.