The Ideal Man (Buchanan-Renard 9)

Page 3

“I heard there was a shooting outside the hospital doors. Is that right?”
“Yes, it happened close to the hospital,” Max answered.
Westfield waited for the agent to expound and was sorely disappointed. Usually, the chief’s intense frown, pursed lips, and unnerving silence was enough to make the people he was interrogating so uneasy they would blurt out all sorts of information. His tactics weren’t working on Max.
“Three men were killed?” he prodded.
“Yes, that’s right.”
Another ten seconds passed in silence. Then the chief asked, “An FBI agent was shot?”
Ellie was trying not to smile. Westfield had to be frustrated. By using his stern tone and his most serious scowl, he was doing his best to push the agent into giving an explanation, but it wasn’t working. Apparently, Max couldn’t be intimidated.
The chief abruptly turned to Ellie. “Who did the surgery on the agent?” And before she could answer, he added, “It couldn’t have been you because you’re off duty, aren’t you? And you aren’t on call this weekend. So who did the surgery? Was it Walmer?”
Westfield knew she had operated on the agent. The man knew everything that went on inside the hospital. He was just trying to exert his power and make her squirm. Four more days under his thumb, she reminded herself, just four more days and she was free. She needed to suck it up until then.
“No, sir, Dr. Walmer didn’t do the surgery.” Taking Max’s lead, she didn’t say another word.
“Edmonds?” he snapped.
“No, sir.”
“Then who operated?”
“I did.”
The glare was back in place. “Even though you were off duty?”
“Yes, sir, even though.”
“Don’t give me attitude, Sullivan,” he said, pointing a finger at her.
Max kept expecting Ellie to tell Westfield that Agent Goodman had pleaded with her to do the surgery, but she didn’t. She didn’t offer any excuses. She simply stared Westfield in the eyes and waited.
“Help me understand,” he began in his best sarcastic voice. “Why didn’t you notify Walmer or Edmonds to hightail it to the OR?” And once again he didn’t give her time to answer the question before posing another. “Do you think you’re a better surgeon than they are?”
She didn’t hesitate. “Yes, sir, I do. Absolutely.”
Max could tell Westfield was pleased with her answer but trying not to let her know it.
“You’re arrogant.”
Ellie was about to say, “Thank you,” but caught herself in time. “Yes, sir, I am.”
And it was true. When it came to her work, she was arrogant, just like all the other surgeons in the hospital. It came with the territory and, in Ellie’s opinion, was a necessary requirement. When a surgeon held a scalpel in her hand and was about to cut open a patient, she had better have skill and almost superhuman confidence. Ellie honestly didn’t think there was such a thing as a timid surgeon, and if there was, she certainly wouldn’t want him cutting on her.
Unfortunately, none of her self-assuredness and arrogance spilled over into her personal life. During her last trip home, she had been told by her sister Ava that she was depressingly insecure. But, since Ava was the sister who was marrying Ellie’s ex-fiancé, she wasn’t inclined to listen to anything she had to say. Ava’s twin, Annie, was living in San Diego and hadn’t had a chance to weigh in on Ellie’s faults. She would side with Ava, of course, but she would be much kinder about it. Despite her sisters’ persistence, Ellie would disagree with both of them. She wasn’t depressingly insecure. Just mildly so.
Ellie suddenly realized she was zoning out. Now wasn’t the time to think about personal problems. She’d have plenty of time for that once she was home. Focus, she told herself. Westfield was chatting with Max again, probably telling him how to do his job. She took a deep breath in an attempt to get more oxygen to her befuddled brain.
Westfield turned back to her, his index finger just inches from her face. “You. Get out of here. Now.” He didn’t snarl the order, but he came close.
Ellie watched him as he strode toward ICU. He shoved the doors out of his way, looked over his shoulder, and snapped, “And sign the contract.”
The doors automatically closed behind him. She sighed and, in a faint Southern accent, said, “Isn’t he sweet? We all just love him to pieces.”
Max laughed. “How long have you been taking orders from him?”
“Why does he call you Prod?”
She shrugged. “He likes to.”
She started walking down the long hallway with Max at her side.
“What does it mean?” he asked.
When she didn’t immediately answer, he glanced down at her and saw her cheeks were flushed. She was embarrassed, and that only piqued his interest all the more. He let the question go for now. “Did I hear you call him a dinosaur? When I asked you who he was . . .”
She smiled. “You don’t see the resemblance? Actually, I usually call him ‘T. rex.’ I think it’s more personal. When he’s on a roar—which is ninety percent of the time—he does remind me of a gigantic, prehistoric beast.”
She was moving at a fast clip.
“Ellie, hold up. Where are you going?”
“Upstairs to get my keys.”
“We have to sit down and—”
“I know.”
She kept right on going. Max was becoming frustrated. “Do you run everywhere you go?”
“Pretty much,” she admitted. She slowed to a normal pace . . . normal for her, anyway. She noticed that Max had no trouble keeping up with her. In fact, with his long legs, he barely had to increase his stride beyond a stroll.
She glanced over at him. He was definitely out of her comfort zone. The man had so much testosterone, he made her nervous. He didn’t scare her, though. When he smiled, the corners of his eyes creased, and there was a glint in them that made her shiver inside.
Jeez, get a grip, Sullivan. She was acting like a sex-starved teenager. Granted, it had been a long time since she had been with a man—a long, long time—but, still, her reaction to Max went beyond bizarre. It was completely contrary to her usual calm, rational nature. When she had time, she would figure out her weird behavior. There had to be some logical explanation. But then, maybe she didn’t really have to worry about it at all because, as soon as Max questioned her about the shooting, he’d be on his way, and she would be sane again.
Max noticed that she kept looking at him with a puzzled expression on her face. “What is it?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Nothing important.”
“I’m not going to be much help with descriptions I’m afraid,” she said.
“We have to take your statement anyway.”
“Another agent, Ben MacBride, and I are working this together, and we have to question you.”
“Okay,” she agreed. “Where is he?”
“At the crime scene,” he answered. Where I should be, he silently added.
“Why don’t you start asking your questions while you walk with me.”
“Doesn’t work that way. I’m going to record what you say.”
“Okay, then we need to find someplace quiet, right?”
Ellie passed a bank of elevators and continued on to the stairs. “I’ll grab my things, and we can get out of here. I stand a better chance of actually leaving if you’re with me.”
“How’s that?”
She smiled. “You’ve got a gun.”
Max kept pace as she ran up three flights. “You have a thing against elevators? A phobia?”
“This is the only exercise I get.”
“You were running the track when the shooting started, weren’t you?”
“How did you figure that out?” she asked, taking the steps a little slower while she waited
for his answer.
“I’m an FBI agent, trained to be observant,” he said.
“Oh, please. You thought I was one of the kids on that high school soccer team.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I did,” he admitted. “One of the other agents told me you were running the track.”
He could laugh at himself. What an appealing trait, she thought. She liked that quality in a man . . . Seriously! What was happening to her? She really needed to get away from him as soon as possible.
“You haven’t answered my question. Is it a phobia or just a quirk?” he wondered.
“I do the stairs and I run the track and I don’t particularly like being crammed inside a little metal box with a bunch of other people.”
He grinned. “So that’s a yes. You do have a phobia.”
Probably, she thought, but she wasn’t going to admit it. She did ride in elevators with patients when she had to. She didn’t like it, but she did it anyway.
“Where do you keep your things? On the roof?” he asked.
“Just here.” Ellie entered the hallway on the fourth floor and opened the door to a dark room filled with lockers. She switched on a light and walked to the third one on the left. Had she been alone, she would have locked the door and changed into jeans and a T-shirt, but she wasn’t alone, so she was going to have to stay in her scrubs. She didn’t like wearing them outside the hospital, but she didn’t have a choice now. She pulled out her backpack, put some of her clothes inside, grabbed her keys from the top shelf, and was ready to leave.
She followed him to the stairwell, appreciating the fact that he wasn’t pushing the issue with the elevators. When his cell phone rang, he stopped on a landing to answer, and she stopped to wait for him.
Max’s partner, Ben MacBride, was on the line and wanted help with a couple of uncooperative witnesses.
“Yeah, okay, I’ll be there in five.”
“Hold on,” Ben said. “Agent Hughes wants to talk to you.”
While Max was waiting for Ben to get Hughes, he turned to Ellie. She stood on the step above him, and her eyes were level with his. He found it impossible not to stare at her. The woman was breathtaking. Her eyes were the most intense shade of blue. Her nose was dotted with freckles, which he found damn alluring, and her mouth . . . ah, man, he really needed to stop staring. He was already conjuring up all sorts of fantasies involving her full, luscious lips, and he was going to be in real trouble if he let his eyes wander lower.
Max didn’t wait for Hughes to get on the line. He abruptly ended the call, turned, and continued down the stairs.
“Where are we going to do this?” she asked.
He smiled. Now, that was a leading question, considering where his thoughts had been.
“Go home.” His voice was brisk.
“Yeah,” he said, glancing back at her. “You can go home, and we’ll come to you.”
“Great,” she said. “I can get out of these scrubs. Let me give you my address . . .”
“I’ve got it.”
“Cell phone?”
“Got that, too.”
“But how—”
“You’re a witness. I had all your information downloaded to my phone while I was waiting for you.”
“You Googled me?”
“No, I didn’t need to.”
Ellie wondered what she would find if she Googled him. Under “occupation” would it say he was an FBI agent and give her the number of criminals he’d apprehended . . . and shot? No, of course not. His profile probably wouldn’t tell her whether he was involved with anyone or whether he was married, either. She had taken the time to notice that he wasn’t wearing a wedding band, and something told her that, if he was married, he would always wear it.
Now, why would she make that assumption? She wasn’t clairvoyant, and the truth was, she didn’t know anything about him other than he carried a badge, could be quite intimidating at times, and had a great smile. Was she making him admirable because she wanted him to be? From what she knew about the FBI—which was precious little—outsiders weren’t privy to personal information, but she might Google him anyway just to appease her curiosity.
Okay, she really needed a life outside of the OR. Then maybe she wouldn’t have such a strong reaction to a man she barely knew.
They reached the main floor on the south side of the hospital. Ellie’s ancient SUV was parked in the doctors’ lot adjacent to the hospital. Max opened the exit door for her. She brushed against him as she walked outside and got a hint of his masculine scent and just a trace of aftershave. For a man who looked as though he hadn’t picked up a razor in quite some time, he smelled really good.
She knew what she smelled like. Disinfectant. Unfortunately, that had been her perfume for the past several years. It could be worse, she thought. The pathology residents smelled like formaldehyde, even when they were off duty. The odor seemed to permeate their skin.
Max walked her to her car. It was a gentlemanly thing to do, but not at all necessary since it was light outside and there were police cars all over the campus. The crime scene team was still there, combing the park for additional evidence. Ellie didn’t believe she could be any safer.
“Do you walk out here in the middle of the night?” Max asked as he looked around.
“Yes. Why?”
“I count only six lights, and this is a big parking lot with countless places to hide. Not good.”
“If I’m leaving during the night, a guard walks me to my car.”
“What happens when you get called to come in?”
I park my car, then run like lightning to the doors with pepper spray in my hand, she thought but didn’t say.
“I try to park as close to the hospital doors as possible, and I’m vigilant,” she stated with a nod.
“Vigilant, huh?”
His smile could stop traffic. She couldn’t tell if he was teasing her or laughing at her.
Max opened her car door. “I’ll see you later. It will probably be a couple of hours before we get to your place. Don’t go anywhere. Stay home.”
“Of course.”
It wasn’t until she had driven out of the lot and was on her way home that she glanced in the mirror. No makeup, hair a mess, and wearing scrubs that were two sizes too big for her—lovely. No wonder Max had escorted her to her car. He probably felt sorry for her. He wouldn’t have given her a second glance under normal circumstances.
Oh well, what did it matter? After a brief interview, he would be history, and after next Tuesday, hopefully, she would be, too.
The Landrys had escaped once again, but Max knew it was only a matter of time before the notorious couple would run out of luck. Since Dr. Ellie Sullivan was a potential witness to the shooting, it was his job to find out all he could about her before he added her to the witness list for the federal prosecutor.
He tried to be objective but found it impossible, for the more he learned about her, the less inclined he was to let anyone know she had witnessed anything, which was ludicrous considering the other agents in the park had watched her stabilize Sean Goodman, knew she had operated on him, and by now had heard that she had seen Calvin Landry shoot the agent.
While he had waited for Ellie in the hospital, Max had quickly pulled up all the superficial information on her: her phone numbers; addresses both in St. Louis and in Winston Falls, South Carolina; and her position and schedule at St. Vincent’s Hospital. When he dug a little deeper, however, he uncovered something disturbing: court documents detailing five separate incidents involving Ellie and a teenager named Evan Patterson. The first document was filed when Ellie was only eleven years old. According to the records, Evan, who was seventeen at the time, had become infatuated with the young girl after the two attended a science camp sponsored by the Winston Falls School District. His obsession grew, and when he physically assaulted her, Ellie’s family brought charges against him. Since he was a juvenile with no pr
evious record, he was given leniency.
The second time, Patterson became more aggressive. He tried to force her into his car. His statement to the police said he couldn’t stop thinking about her, that they were kindred spirits, and once she was alone with him, he would be able to convince her that they belonged together. Patterson was given probation with court-ordered therapy.
Despite the strict rulings of the court, Patterson did not keep his distance, terrorizing the girl on two more occasions. His anger over her rejection had grown to an alarming intensity. For these offenses, he was ordered to undergo yet another psychological evaluation and a thirty-day hospitalization; however, with shrewd attorneys and plea bargains he bypassed judge and jury.
There was no plea bargain for the fifth offense of attempted murder.
Ellie was on her way home from school. She was with three girls who tried to protect her, but Patterson was big and strong. He grabbed Ellie and threw her into his car. The authorities found her two hours later, brutally beaten and left for dead in a ravine two miles out of town.
By the time she reached the emergency room, she had lost a lot of blood and her prognosis was bleak. She was flown to a trauma center, and the surgeons worked through the night to save her. She spent her twelfth birthday in the ICU.
“Ah, man,” Max whispered as he read the last report. “That son of a bitch.”
He was sitting in the local FBI office across from his partner, Ben MacBride, who had just hung up the phone.
“What are you reading?” Ben asked as Max was closing his laptop.
“Ellie Sullivan’s background.”