Diagnosis AttractionBy: Rebecca York
Panic choked off Elizabeth Forester’s breath as she turned the car onto Mulberry Street, the wheels screeching when she took the corner too fast. The maneuver didn’t shake the car that was following her. She was pretty sure she had picked up the tail after she had left the motel where she’d been hiding out—using a car she thought nobody would recognize. She made a snorting sound. Apparently her precautions hadn’t been enough.
For the past week, she’d been acting like she was in the middle of a TV cop show. But she’d decided the evasive action was necessary. Today it looked like she’d been absolutely right to try to cover her tracks.
It had gradually dawned on her that a dark-blue Camaro was appearing in her rearview mirror on a regular basis—following her during the day—and that the ever-present car must be connected to the case she was working on. Something too big for her to handle?
She hadn’t started off understanding how big it really was. But a lot of little details had led her to the conclusion that she needed to protect herself by checking into the motel a few miles from her house and taking alternate routes to work.
She glanced again in the rearview mirror. The blue car was inching up, and she could see two tough-looking men in the front seat. She shuddered, imagining what they were going to do if they got their hands on her.
She’d almost decided to go to the police with what she knew at this point, until she’d concluded that the plan was dangerous. It was terrible when you couldn’t trust the authorities, but she had to assume that they were protecting the man who’d sent the thugs to intercept her.
As her work took her all over Baltimore, she had an excellent knowledge of the city. If she could get far enough ahead of the men tailing her, she could turn into the nest of alleys up ahead and disappear. And then what? For now the prime objective was to get away.
She made another quick turn into an alley, slowing her Honda in case a kid came darting out from one of the fenced-in backyards.
Glancing behind her, she breathed out a little sigh. She was in the clear. In the next moment, she realized her mistake as she saw the Camaro whip around the corner also. Damn.
Still on the lookout for pedestrians, she sped up again, turning onto the next street. To her horror, a delivery van had just pulled over to the curb. And a car coming in the other direction made it impossible to escape by crossing to that lane.
She swerved to avoid the van, thinking she could squeeze past on the sidewalk. But a woman and a little boy were coming straight toward her.
The fear on their faces as they saw the car bearing down on them made her gasp as she swerved again. If a lamppost hadn’t suddenly materialized in front of her, she could have gotten away. But she plowed into it and came to a rocking stop.
The old Honda she was driving didn’t have an air bag. The seat belt kept her from hitting the windshield, but she was stunned as she sat behind the wheel.
She knew she had to escape on foot, but she was moving slowly now. Before she could get out of the car, one of the men from the Camaro appeared at her window.
“Got ya, bitch.”
Yanking open the car door, he dragged her out, hitting her head on the car frame as he hurled her to the sidewalk. The blow stunned her, and then everything went black.
* * *
DR. MATTHEW DELANO’S first stop on his morning rounds was the computer at the nurses’ station, where he scanned for urgent cases and noted which patients had been discharged—or had passed away—since his last visit to the internal-medicine floor.
No deaths. He always counted that as a good sign. This morning most of the patients on the general-medicine floor were in for routine problems—except for one woman whom the cops had named Jane Doe because she didn’t remember who she was.
As he read the notes from the E.R., he gathered that the whole situation with her was odd. For starters, she hadn’t been carrying any identification. And she’d been driving an old car registered to a Susan Swinton.
But when a patrol officer had knocked on Swinton’s door late in the afternoon yesterday, nobody had been home, and the neighbors had said the woman was on an extended trip out of the country. Which left the authorities with no clue as to the identity of the mystery woman in room twenty-two.