Vital signs dmb 2, p.13

Vital Signs dmb-2, page 13

 part  #2 of  Dr. Marissa Blumenthal Series


Vital Signs dmb-2

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  Paul hung up the phone and hurried across the street to get into his car. He had positioned it so that he could see the car that the women were in as well as the one the Asian man was driving.

  As soon as Marissa and Wendy pulled away from the curb, so did the Asian.

  "That confirms it!" Paul muttered, pulling out. As he drove he jotted down the Asian's license number. Monday he'd call his friend at the motor vehicles bureau and find out who owned the car.

  "You'd think we were about to rob a bank," Wendy said.

  "My pulse is racing." She and Marissa got out of the car. It was a dark, windy night.

  So is mine," Marissa admitted as they slammed the car doors.

  "It's Robert's fault with all his talk about felonies."

  They had parked in the deserted clinic employee lot at the end of the street. Clutching their collars closed and leaning into the wind, they walked back to the clinic's courtyard. There they paused. The place was significantly quieter. Except for the lobby lights, most of the windows were dark. No one was entering or exiting. There wasn't a soul in sight.

  "Are you ready?" Marissa asked.

  "I'm not sure," Wendy said.

  "What's our plan?" Besides feeling nervous, Wendy was now shivering with cold. The temperature had dropped into the forties with a biting March wind. The thin white doctor jackets they were wearing afforded no warmth whatsoever.

  "We have to find a computer terminal," Marissa said, shouting over the wind.

  "Doesn't matter where, just as long as we are left alone for a while. Come on, Wendy. We're going to freeze if we stay here."

  "All right," Wendy said, taking a deep breath.

  "Let's go."

  Without further delay, they crossed the courtyard and mounted the steps. On their way, both women nervously glanced at the rhododendron planter with its flattened bushes, an all-too vivid reminder of Rebecca Ziegler's awful fate.

  Marissa tried the door only to discover it was locked. She cupped her hands and peered through the glass. Inside, a cleaning crew was busy polishing the marble floor with electric polishers.

  She rapped on the glass several times, but the janitorial people didn't respond.

  "Damn," Marissa said. She scanned the courtyard for another door, but there wasn't one.

  "Who would have guessed they would have locked up already"

  Marissa said.

  "I'm freezing," said Wendy.

  "Let's get back to the car and regroup."

  They turned and hurried back down the steps. Crossing the

  A courtyard, bent over against the swirling debris, they approached a man coming into the clinic.

  "The door's locked," Wendy told him as they passed. But the man just kept walking. Then, at the mouth of the courtyard another man appeared, also heading for the clinic entrance.

  "Door's locked," Wendy said again.

  The women turned right and hurried toward the parking lot.

  Suddenly Marissa stopped and faced back toward the courtyard opening.

  "Come on," Wendy urged.

  One man, then the other, appeared. Catching sight of the women watching them, they quickly walked off in separate directions.

  "What's the matter?" Wendy demanded.

  "Did you see that first man?" Marissa asked.

  "Sort of," Wendy said.

  Marissa shivered, but this time not from the cold.

  "He gave me the creeps," she offered, starting to walk again.

  "He reminded me of a bad trip I once had with ketamine, Weird!"

  In the parking lot, Wendy fumbled with her keys. Her fingers were numb; she had trouble manipulating them. Once in the car, she reached over and opened the passenger side for Marissa. She then started the car, turning on the heater full blast.

  "That was the strangest sensation I got from seeing that man," Marissa said.

  "It was almost like deji vu. How can you have deji vu from a hallucination?"

  "I had a bad experience with pot once," Wendy admitted.

  "It was in California. Anytime I tried it after, it was the same. That was the end of pot for me."

  "I had a sort of flashback recently. Robert and I were at a Chinese restaurant. It was the oddest thing."

  "Well, maybe that was it," Wendy said.

  "I think the first guy was Chinese. At least he was Asian."

  "Now you are going to make me sound like some kind of subconscious bigot," Marissa said with a nervous laugh. Any mental phenomena outside of her control made her feel uneasy.

  "What should we do now?" Wendy asked.

  "I suppose we don't have a lot of choice if the doors are locked," Marissa said.

  "What about going in the overnight ward on the other side of the street and crossing in the connecting walkway?" Wendy suggested.

  "Great idea!" Marissa said.

  "I guess it takes a genius to see the obvious. Let's do it!"

  Wendy smiled, proud she had come up with a possible solution.

  Marissa and Wendy again alighted from the car and ran to the overnight and emergency entrance opposite the main clinic building.

  Above them loomed the darkened walkway spanning the street.

  The door was not locked; Marissa and Wendy entered with ease. Once inside they made their way down a short corridor which opened to a waiting area. A few men were looking at magazines. On the right wall was a glass-fronted security office.

  Directly ahead was a receptionist's desk where a nurse sat reading a paperback book.

  "Uh oh!" Wendy whispered.

  "Don't panic," Marissa whispered back.

  "Just keep walking as if we belong here."

  The two women approached the desk and started to turn right into the main corridor when the woman lowered her book.

  "Can I help…" she began, but then she stopped herself, saying only, "Sorry, doctors."

  Marissa and Wendy didn't answer. They merely smiled at the woman and continued down the corridor to the stairwell. After the door to the stairwell closed behind them, they nervously giggled.

  "Maybe this is going to be easy after all," Wendy said.

  "Let's not get cocky," Marissa warned.

  "This ruse won't work if we run into anybody who recognizes us, like our own doctors."

  "Thanks," Wendy said.

  "As if I didn't have enough to worry about."

  They started up the stairs.

  "Hell!" Paul Abrums muttered as he watched the Asian enter the overnight ward of the Women's Clinic. What had started out as a simple job was rapidly becoming complicated. His first orders had been merely to tail Marissa, find out what she was up to, and, if she happened to go into the Women's Clinic, keep her from doing anything illegal. But that was before the mysterious Asian appeared. Now Robert had told him to find out who this guy was. What was more important? Paul didn't know. And now his indecision had forced his hand. Having let the women go into the clinic by themselves, he was forced to follow the Chinese fellow." Stubbing out his cigarette, Paul jogged across the street and yanked open the clinic door just in time to see the Asian make a right down a corridor.

  Paul hurried ahead, taking in his surroundings. First he saw the receptionist's desk with a night nurse reading a novel. Next he spotted the waiting area with a few men sitting reading magazines.

  Catching sight of some movement through a glass panel to his right, Paul slowed his steps. He found himself looking into a security office. Inside, he saw the Asian man he'd been following talking to a uniformed guard.

  "Can I help you?" the woman at the desk asked. She'd lowered her book and was looking at Paul over the top of her glasses.

  Paul walked over to the desk. He absently fingered a small metal tin of paper clips, trying to think of the best ruse to a opt.

  "Has Mrs. Abrums come in yet?" he asked.

  "I don't believe so," the woman said. She scanned the sheet on the clipboard before her.

  "No, she hasn't."

  "Guess I'll have to wai
t then," Paul said, He glanced back toward the glass-fronted security office. The Asian and the uniformed guard were facing forward and seemed to be conferring over something below the window.

  Trying not to be too obvious, Paul took a stroll around the waiting area, feigning impatience by alternately looking out the front window and then at his watch.

  After the woman had gone back to reading her book, Paul wandered into the same corridor the Asian had entered. About ten feet down was the entrance to the security office. The door was ajar. Spotting a drinking fountain at the end of the corridor, Paul walked briskly to it. After a drink, he sauntered back toward the waiting area, pausing at the security office's open door on his way.

  The two men had not moved from the window. Paul could see that they were watching a bank of TV monitors mounted below the sill. Paul tried to overhear what they were saying, but it was impossible; they were speaking another language. He assumed it was Chinese, but he was no expert. The other detail that caught his eye was that the guard was armed with a .357 Magnum, an unusual piece for hospital security. As a retired police officer, it all seemed odd to Paul, very odd indeed.

  "Cripes! They're locked!" Wendy said after trying the fire doors barring the way to the clinic's main building. They had crossed over the street in the glass-enclosed walkway, thinking they were home free until they encountered this final barrier.

  "This place is shut up like Fort Knox," Marissa said.


  "I don't have any other ideas," Wendy said.

  "What about you?"

  "I think we've given it our best shot," Marissa said.

  "I guess we'll just have to try our ruse in the daytime when the clinic is open."

  Turning back, the two women hurried over the walkway. They didn't want to be seen from the street. But before they got to the overnight clinic side, Wendy stopped.

  "Wait a sec," she said.

  "This seems to be the only connection between the two buildings."

  "So what?" Marissa said.

  "Where are the pipes for water and heat and electricity?"

  Wendy asked.

  "They can't have built separate power sources for both buildings. It would be too impractical."

  "You're right!" Marissa said.

  "Let's try the stairwell again."

  Returning to the stairs, the women descended to the basement level and cracked the door. The corridor beyond was poorly illuminated, and as far as they could tell, deserted. They listened for a few moments but heard no noises. Entering cautiously, they began to explore.

  Most of the doors off the main corridor on the side facing the main building were locked. The open ones turned out to be storage areas. Eventually, to their encouragement, the corridor itself turned in the direction of the main building.

  Advancing to the corner, they cautiously peered around, then abruptly pulled back. Someone was coming toward them. Almost at the same moment they began to hear the sound of approaching footsteps as they echoed in the narrow hallway.

  Panicking, Marissa and Wendy ran back toward the elevators.

  There wasn't much time. The footfalls were getting louder. Frantically, they began trying the doors along the way, hoping to find one that wasn't locked.

  "Here!" Wendy whispered. She had discovered a cleaning closet filled with a slop sink and mops. Marissa slid inside and Wendy followed, pulling the door closed behind her.

  The two women held their breath as the footsteps bore down on them. They had no idea if they had been seen or not. When the footsteps passed their door without hesitation, Marissa and Wendy breathed a sigh of relief. They heard the elevator doors open, then close. Then silence.

  "Whew," Wendy whispered.

  "I don't think my nerves can take much more of this slinking around."

  "It's a good thing whoever that was didn't see us," Marissa said.

  "I doubt if our doctor's coats would help us down here."

  "Let's get out before I have a heart attack," Wendy said.

  Marissa gingerly opened the door. The corridor was clear.

  Venturing out, they returned to where the corridor took a bend toward the main building. No one was in sight.

  "Okay," Marissa said.

  "Let's go." The corridor dipped down and then up again. Thick exposed pipes ran along the left wall and along the ceiling.

  At the end of that corridor, they came to another fire door.

  This one wasn't locked. Pushing through, they entered the basement of the main clinic building.

  A red Exit light marked the door to the stairwell. Feeling progressively more and more nervous, Wendy and Marissa entered and hurried up two flights, passing the ground floor where the janitorial staff had been working on the marble.

  At the door to the second floor, they paused and listened for sounds of activity. Thankfully the place was as quiet as a mausoleum.

  "Ready?" Wendy asked, putting her shoulder to the door.

  "As ready as I'll ever be," Marissa said.

  Wendy cracked the door against its automatic closer. The hall beyond was dark and the fluorescent light from the stairwell spilled out onto the vinyl flooring in a bright, shiny puddle. After listening again for a moment, they quickly stepped from the stairwell and let the door close quietly behind them.

  The light was extinguished with the closing of the door. They waited for their eyes to adjust; there was still a bit of light coming from the streetlights outside. Once they could see again, it didn't take them long to get their bearings. They were just beyond the main elevators, near the waiting room of the in-vitro unit. This was an area of the clinic the women knew only too well.

  Edging slowly down the corridor, they advanced to the waiting room itself. There the illumination was somewhat better.

  Marissa and Wendy skirted the receptionist's desk, making a beeline for the doorway to the main corridor. This gave access to the doctors' offices, examining rooms, procedure rooms, and the in-vitro laboratory.

  The first door they opened was to an examination room. In the dim light spilling in from the hall, the room took on a particularly sinister aspect. The stainless-steel table gleamed in the darkness, and with its stirrups, it appeared more like a medieval torture device than a piece of medical equipment.

  "This place gives me the creeps in the dark," Wendy said as they circled the room.

  "My thoughts exactly," Marissa said.

  "Besides, there's no terminal in here."

  "Let's check the doctors' offices," Wendy suggested.

  "We know there will be a terminal in each of those."

  Farther down the corridor there were a few dim lights from glazed laboratory doors; otherwise the whole clinic was dark.

  They moved quickly but carefully, Marissa trying the doctors' offices on the left while Wendy tried those on the right. All were locked.

  "They certainly are careful," Marissa said.

  "I swear this place seems more Re a bank than a clinic."

  "I don't think any of the offices will be open," Wendy said, stopping halfway down the hall.

  "Let's go back and try ultrasound.

  I think each of the units has terminals."

  "I'll try the rest of the offices," Marissa said.

  "You go to ultrasound."

  "Oh no!" Wendy said.

  "I'm not going anyplace by myself I don't know about you, but I'm really spooked in here."

  "Me too," Marissa said.

  "The idea of coming in here sounded a whole lot better before we got in."

  "Maybe we should go," Wendy said.

  "We're not handling this well."

  "Let's try ultrasound first," Marissa said.

  "At least it's on the way out."

  The women retraced their steps toward the waiting area. The sharp cry of a siren made them both jump. The siren got louder, then faded. They realized with relief that it was only a passing police car.

  "God!" Wendy exclaimed.

  "We really are in ba
d shape."

  Passing by the receptionist's desk a second time, they tried the door leading to the ultrasound area. It was unlocked. Making their way down this narrower corridor, they began trying the doors to the three ultrasound rooms. They were able to open the very first door they tried.

  "A promising sign," Marissa said. Since there were no windows from which they'd be seen, they turned on the light switch.

  Marissa went back and closed the door to the waiting area and then the door to the ultrasound room.

  The room was about twenty feet square and had two entrances: the one they'd just entered and another that connected to the lab. The ultrasound unit dominated the back of the room along with the examination table. All the complicated electronic components were built into a console that included a computer terminal.

  "Eureka!" Wendy said as she stepped over to the terminal. She sat herself down on a stool with casters and pulled herself close.

  "You don't mind, do you?" Wendy asked.

  "Computers was my minor in college."

  "Please," Marissa said.

  "I was hoping you'd take over here."

  "Keep your fingers crossed," Wendy said as she turned the terminal's power switch on. The screen blinked to life as it emitted an eerie greenish glow.

  "So far so good," Wendy said.

  "Ahbee!" Alan Fong, the uniformed security guard, exclaimed.

  "You were right. The women have entered!" He spoke excitedly in Chinese, a Cantonese dialect to be exact. He pointed to a pinpoint of light in the middle of a board below the TV monitors. The board was a schematic of the computer layout of the clinic.

  "Where are they?" David Pao asked in the same dialect. He was considerably calmer than his cohort.

  "They have entered the computer in one of the ultrasound rooms," Alan said. He punched up the ultrasound room monitors from his own computer terminal.

  "Not that room," Alan said. He made another entry into the computer. The monitor screen remained blank.

  "Trouble?" David Pao asked.

  "Not that room either," Alan said. He entered the code for the third ultrasound room.

  The monitor screen blinked. Then an image emerged. Wendy could be plainly seen seated in front of the computer terminal built into the ultrasound console. Marissa was standing next to her.

  "Want me to record it?" Alan asked.

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