Death Angel (Chapter Twenty)

SIMON FLEW INTO DENVER THAT NIGHT. HE CARRIED ONLY one small bag, so he could leave directly from the arrival gate instead of dealing with the hassle of luggage claim. He had no weapons on him, and no need to procure any. He just wanted to see Drea for himself, to make sure it was really her, and to find out what had happened.

There must be some mistake. The woman in the hospital probably wasn't Drea. It would be a hell of a coincidence if there were two Jane Does, one alive and one dead, and the live one would be more newsworthy than the dead one. Drea's accident had happened a good distance away, in a far less populated area; the report of an unidentified accident victim might not have made it into any newspaper at all.

Or, worst case, the medics had somehow revived Drea, but she was either brain dead or had very limited function, maybe just enough activity in her brain stem to keep her lungs working and her heart beating, though how her heart could beat after what had happened, he didn't know. He couldn't imagine any surgeon doing the kind of extensive repair job that would be needed, if one were even possible, on someone who was either brain dead or in a severe vegetative state.

That was why he thought the woman couldn't be Drea. He didn't want it to be Drea, not with the brain damage she would have suffered.

But if it was, if the woman really was Drea and some damn fool had kept her body alive even though her brain was gone, he'd take care of her. He'd find the best place in the country for her, someplace where her body would be tenderly cared for. He might visit her occasionally, though seeing her like that would be even tougher than watching her die. He had no legal right to make any decisions concerning her care, but fuck that. He had the money to make it happen, and if anyone stood in his way he'd simply take her. He made a living being where he wasn't supposed to be, and doing things he wasn't supposed to do.

He checked into a hotel for the night. There would be more people coming and going at the hospital during the day, making it easier for him to blend in. Days were busy, with outpatient tests, visitors in and out all day, flowers and newspapers being delivered, food and medical supplies coming in; he would be one more face in the crowd. In his experience, people working the night shift lived in a smaller world and tended to notice strangers more.

First, he'd have to find out if the Jane Doe was still in the hospital. Over two weeks had passed; if the woman in question wasn't Drea, she might already have been released-or she might have simply walked out because people without ID usually had something to hide. If she was no longer there, then obviously she wasn't Drea, and he could go home. If her injuries had been severe and she was still there, then he'd have to see her to make certain she was or was not Drea. Back before hospitals got so pissy about privacy, he could have placed a call and learned all he needed to know, but now information was given out only to immediate family. Still, that didn't mean he couldn't find out things, just that it would be a little harder.

He was at the hospital before six o'clock the next morning, waiting for the shift to change. Could be some of the hospital staff worked twelve-hour shifts, which might be from six to six, or seven to seven, and he didn't know who his target would be. He'd have to work fast; he might have hours, depending on how alert the target was-though, coming off a long night shift, probably not all that alert-or he might have no more than thirty minutes. But shift change was the time to move in, when distraction was high.

He went in through the emergency room entrance, which was always busy, then located the elevators and the directory. ICU was on the seventh floor. A harried-looking woman, her face lined with exhaustion and worry, hurried in just as the elevator doors were closing. She had probably been to the cafeteria, because she carried a large cup of coffee. She punched the button for the fourth floor. After she exited, he rode the rest of the way alone.

The glassed-in ICU waiting room was full of bleary-eyed people camped out in the cramped room, some almost literally, bringing sleeping bags, snacks, books, and anything else to make the long dreary hours more comfortable. A coffeemaker was set up on a table, making popping noises as it spewed out a fresh brew. Several tall stacks of polystyrene cups stood sentinel next to the pot.

The heavy doors to the ICU, operated by a pressure plate on the wall, were directly across from the waiting room. The glass walls allowed him to watch the doors from inside the waiting room, and while he waited for a shift change he might be able to glean some information from the relatives who had stood watch through the night, desperately hoping their loved ones would live or stoically waiting for the end. Sharing an ICU waiting room was almost like sharing a foxhole; everyone was in a crisis situation and information flowed like water.

He found an empty chair where he could watch the ICU, then leaned forward and propped his elbows on his knees, his head hanging down. His body language suggested despair, an emotion with which everyone in that room was on intimate terms. He kept his head just high enough that he could still see the ICU doors.

He didn't make eye contact, didn't look around; he just sat there, the very picture of misery. Within a minute, the gray-haired woman on his left asked in a sympathetic tone, "Do you have a family member here?"

She meant in the unit, of course. "My mother," he said in a strained voice. An ICU always had plenty of elderly people in it, so that was a safe choice, plus appearing as a devoted son always put people at ease. "Stroke." He swallowed hard. "A severe one. They think…they think she might be brain dead."

"Oh, that's tough. I'm so sorry," she said. "But don't give up hope yet. My husband works construction. A month ago he fell from four stories up, broke almost every bone in his body. I thought I'd lost him." Her voice trembled with remembered despair. "I'd been trying to talk him into retirement and he'd finally promised me next year, then this happened and I just knew he'd never get to enjoy all the hunting and fishing trips he'd planned with our son. No one thought he'd make it, but he's still holding on, and now they think that maybe next week he can be moved into a regular room."

"That's good," he murmured, looking down at his hands. "I'm glad. But my mother-" He broke off, shaking his head. "I found her too late." He threw in a bit of guilt, to make the pot bubble. "They're running tests now, but if she's brain dead…"

"Even the best doctor doesn't know everything there is to know about the human body," broke in a burly, red-faced guy seated on the other side of the gray-haired woman. "A couple of weeks ago they brought in a woman who'd been in a car wreck, ran off the road and hit a tree. Tree branch went right through her chest."

There it was, exactly what he needed to know, and he didn't even have to get into the ICU itself. Simon controlled his expression as his attention was caught with a painful jerk. That was Drea. Beyond a doubt, that was her. The relief came as a roller-coaster ride in his stomach, but then abruptly it knotted with dread. She might have survived the wreck, but in what kind of shape? Would she ever be able to function? Walk, talk, recognize anyone? He tried to speak and couldn't, his throat so tight he could barely breathe.

The gray-haired woman patted his arm in sympathy, evidently thinking he was on the verge of tears. The simple, compassionate gesture startled him. People didn't touch him so casually, so easily. There had always been something about him that made people keep their distance, something cold and lethal to which this woman was evidently impervious. Drea had touched him, though; she'd put her hand on his chest, she had clung to him and kissed him, her mouth as tender and hungry as if she couldn't resist the urge. The memory made him swallow convulsively, and that loosened his throat enough that he managed to talk. "I think I read something about that," he lied, choking the words out.

"The medics said she was dead at the scene. They were packing everything up when one of them heard her gasping. They swore she hadn't had a pulse, but all of a sudden she did. They had to cut the branch off so they could bring her in, because they figured if they pulled it out they'd do even more damage, plus the branch must somehow have been pressing against her aorta, kept her from bleeding to death." The burly guy crossed his arms over his massive chest. "They thought for sure she'd be brain dead, but she wasn't. Took over eighteen hours of surgery to patch her up, then…was it three days ago when they moved her?"

"Two. Day before yesterday," said the gray-haired woman, picking up the story.

"They moved her into a regular room. I heard she's doing fine, but I also heard she can't talk, so maybe there was some brain damage."

"She's started talking," someone else said. "She said something to one of the nurses. They were all talking about it."

"That's amazing," Simon said, his stomach doing the loop-the-loop again, this time joined by his heart. With distant amazement, he realized he might pass out-or vomit. Or both. She was doing fine. She was talking.

"It's a miracle, for sure," said the burly guy. "She was a Jane Doe. She didn't have any kind of ID, and nobody seemed to be looking for her. They couldn't get her to write her name or anything. Now that she's talking, though, I guess they know her real name."

No, they wouldn't, Simon realized. Drea was too sharp for that. She'd give them a fake name, which presented him with a problem: how was he to find her? Even if he gained access to a computer, which he had no doubt he could manage, he had no idea what name she'd told them. Swiftly he abandoned that idea; he'd have to tackle this from a different direction.

"Who was her doctor?" He had no reason to ask a question like that, but people talked about any number of subjects in a hospital waiting room. They talked to pass the time, they talked to distract themselves, they formed relationships that might not last beyond their loved one's stay in the ICU, but while they were enclosed in this glass cell they laughed and cried together, comforted one another, passed along family recipes and birthdays-anything to get by.

"Meecham" was the prompt answer. "Heart surgeon."

The surgeon would make his rounds every day, visit all his patients. When someone had a traumatic injury like Drea had suffered, the surgeon's ego got all tied up in how well that patient was doing, especially when the patient had defied all odds and survived. Finding Dr. Meecham wouldn't be difficult; following him around wouldn't be, either.

He thought about hospitals, about how they were organized. Patients weren't assigned willy-nilly to an empty bed; different floors were for different situations, which streamlined different types of care by concentrating it. There was the maternity floor, the orthopedic floor-and the post-op surgical floor, which was where Drea would most likely be.

Doors to the patients' rooms were left open a lot, whether it was from carelessness, haste, or for the nurses' convenience. The odds were at least fifty-fifty he could walk down the hall on the surgical floor, glance in all the rooms that had open doors, and find her. If not, then he'd trail Dr. Meecham. One way or another, though, he would find her. There had never been anything more important to him than that.

He had never cared about anything before, much less so intensely that he couldn't let it go and walk away. He didn't like it, but he still couldn't let it go. Drea represented a weakness that could be used against him, by Salinas or anyone else who figured out that he had this one chink in his armor.

Across the hall, the double doors to the ICU swung open and a small knot of nurses, both male and female, came out of the unit. He didn't need access to the unit now, so he didn't follow them. If it turned out he needed to lift an ID tag so he could go into controlled areas, he'd get one, but first he'd see if he could locate Drea the easy way.

She was here, she was alive, and she was talking.

Abruptly he couldn't sit there another minute, another second, couldn't hold his act together and pretend he was concerned about his nonexistent mother when all he wanted to do was get somewhere he could be alone until he had himself back under control.

"I'm sorry," he said, breaking into the conversation that had been flowing around and over him, then getting up and striding out of the waiting room. He looked around, spotted a restroom, and all but bolted for it. It was, thank God, a one-seater; he locked the door, then stood trembling in the middle of the tiny room.

What in hell was going on? He'd spent his entire adult life, and some years before that, perfecting his control. He tested himself, learned his own limits, and then pushed those limits. He didn't fall apart, had never fallen apart. Everything he did and everything he said was deliberate, chosen to produce the response or result he wanted.

He could handle this. Finding out she was alive and at least functional was good news-still a shock, but nothing to send him over the edge. If he could find a way to talk to her without scaring her to death, he'd tell her she had nothing to fear from him, that as far as Salinas was concerned she was dead and to go on with her life. Not now, though; physically she would still be too weak, and he didn't want to do anything to put a strain on her heart. God only knew what kind of damage she'd sustained.

Besides, there was always the possibility that she truly didn't remember who she was, in which case she wouldn't remember him, either. Just because she was talking didn't mean she was mentally unscathed. He had to get a grip, and find out exactly how she was instead of letting his imagination run away with him.

Shit. Imagination. When the fuck had he started having an imagination? He dealt in facts, in hard reality, in what was. Reality was solid. He could depend on reality, depend on it being a cold, hard bitch. That was okay with him, because he was a cold, hard bastard. They were a good pair.

He took several deep breaths and shook off whatever the hell it was that had him so on edge. All he had to do was find Drea, and discover for himself exactly what her condition was; then he could get back to New York. There were things he needed to do; he'd been in the same location long enough, and it was time he moved on. He'd check on Drea, and if she was all right he'd walk away for good.