The Ideal Man (Buchanan-Renard 9)

Page 5

She smiled. “And poor.”
“But real smart?” Ben asked.
“Prod,” Max said. “Chief of surgery calls her Prod.” He turned to her. “That’s short for prodigy, isn’t it?”
She didn’t look happy that he had shared that information.
“Just one more question. Where’s Evan Patterson now?” Ben asked.
“I don’t know. If he was to come back to Winston Falls where my family lives, my father would let me know.” She lifted the pillow and squeezed it to her chest.
Max could tell she hated talking about Patterson. That was obvious. “I’ll find out where he is now,” he said.
Frowning, she asked, “Why? Why would you do that?”
Because I know what he did to you, he thought. “It will give you a little peace of mind knowing exactly where he is, won’t it?” he asked.
“Yes, of course, but . . .”
“But what?”
“My father has friends in the FBI. Neither one of them could find Patterson. Why do you think you can? Do you think you’re better at it than they are?”
Did she realize she was repeating the same question the chief of surgery had asked her?
He decided to answer in kind. “Absolutely. I am better.”
She suddenly got it. “You’re as arrogant as I am.”
“When it comes to the job, yeah, I am.” He continued to stare into her gorgeous eyes as he asked, “Do you want me to find him or not?”
“Yes, please, but . . .” She started to say something more then changed her mind. “Thank you.”
“Hold on,” Ben began. “Catch me up. Did Patterson just decide to leave your hometown, or did something happen?”
She sighed. And here she thought the conversation was finished. “Yes, something happened, and he was committed to the Stockton Institute, for a time anyway.”
“What’s the Stockton Institute?”
Max answered. “A state-run facility for the criminally insane. Patterson attacked her, damn near killed her. Read the reports. That will answer some of your questions.”
Ellie frowned at Max when she said, “You knew all about Patterson before Ben saw the restraining order, didn’t you?” Before he could answer, she continued, “Of course, you did. My God, it’s only been what? Four? Five hours since we met?”
“Longer than that.”
“How did you get all that information so quickly?”
“It’s in your file.”
Her hand went to her throat. “For anyone to read?” She sounded appalled.
“No, not for just anyone.” Then, frowning, he asked, “What did you mean, Patterson went to Stockton for a time?”
“That wasn’t in the file?” she asked.
“No. Now tell me.” He sounded as though he were grilling her again.
“Patterson’s family is very wealthy, and they were able to get him transferred to a private facility. And guess what? Eventually he was given weekend passes to go home.”
“After he tried to kill you?” Ben asked.
Oh God, she was going to have to dredge it all up again. She took a deep breath. “After Patterson left me for dead . . . actually, I was told he thought he had killed me . . .”
“Yes?” Ben urged when she hesitated. His tone was softer this time.
“He ran, and the police and FBI couldn’t find him right away. So my father, with the help of the two FBI agents who had become friends, decided I needed to go into hiding.”
Max filled in the blanks for Ben. “The son of a bitch had been terrorizing her for over a year. He’d even grabbed her a couple of times, but she was able to get away. He wasn’t going to give up until he killed her.”
Ellie continued. “As soon as I was ready to leave the hospital, my father drove me here. One of his friends introduced him to a couple, the Wheatleys. They took me in. They’re both teachers and very kind people. They had no children of their own, and they opened their home to me.” For the first time since the topic had come up, she smiled. “They didn’t know what to do with me.”
She didn’t expound, and neither Ben nor Max pressed.
“They took good care of me,” she said. “I stayed with them while I finished college and all the way through medical school and part of residency.”
“And you’re finishing your residency now,” Ben concluded.
“No, I’ve already finished my residency. Now I’m finishing my fellowship in trauma. Are we done talking about Patterson?”
Ben nodded. “Almost. One last question, and we’ll move on. Just tell me, when did Patterson get released?”
“He’s been in and out for the past ten years. About six months ago, my father heard he’d gotten out and vanished. The attorneys were supposed to keep watch, and so were my father’s friends, but none of them were informed of his release. It was by chance that my father heard about him.” She clasped her hands together emphatically and said, “Now I’m done talking about this. You’re here to interview me about the shooting, remember? So why don’t you get to it.”
Max nodded to Ben, who pulled his chair closer to the coffee table and said, “Okay, let’s start. Go ahead and turn the recorder on, Max.”
Ben stated the date, time, location, and the names of the people in the room for the recorder, then asked, “Dr. Sullivan, did you see Agent Sean Goodman get shot?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Tell us what happened from the time you left the hospital. It’s my understanding you were going for a run. Isn’t that right? Why don’t you start there.”
Now that the subject of Patterson was off the table, Ellie could take a deep breath without feeling as though her chest was trying to crush her. She tried to be as accurate as possible as she told what she had seen, and then she patiently answered a myriad of questions. She didn’t have as much trouble describing the man who shot Agent Goodman as she did the strange woman, but she stressed that she didn’t think she would be able to point either of them out in a courtroom.
“He looked directly at me, but he had sunglasses on. I could see the sweat on his face. The sunglasses slipped down his nose, and I saw his eyes, but only for a second, then he swung the gun around, and I dropped to the ground.”
“Describe him for me,” Ben requested.
“He was around six feet tall. He wore a brown windbreaker and black pants.”
“And the woman?”
“She was dressed all in black. Black slacks, black top. She was shorter than he was, around five seven, and I’d guess her weight to be about one hundred thirty.”
“What else did you notice about her?”
“She was freaky looking. She was wearing a black wig, but it was askew. And her eyes didn’t look real.”
“What do you mean, not real?”
“They sort of . . . glowed. Definitely contacts,” she added quickly so he wouldn’t think she was nuts. “It all happened so fast, and they had their heads turned away from me most of the time.”
Ben calmly led her through more questions. He seemed laidback about it all, but Ellie was certain it was all an act to put her at ease. She knew from past experience that when a policeman or federal agent was harmed, the city went into lockdown mode until the culprit or culprits were apprehended. Sean Goodman was not only a friend, he was also a fellow agent. Taking it all in stride? Not possible.
“What about Agent Goodman? He saw them,” she said.
Ben nodded. “Yes, he did.”
“Sean saw a man and a woman moving fast toward the street. We’re not sure if he saw their faces before he was shot, and like you said, they obviously tried to change their appearance,” Max explained.
“If he had gotten closer . . . ,” Ben began.
Ellie shook her head, stopping him. “Had he gotten closer, the bullet would have done a lot more damage, especially if he was hit in the chest. Those wounds are . . . messy.”
“Why wasn’t he wearing a vest?” Ben asked Max. “Do you know?”
“He was sup
posed to stay in the van, but the second he got out, he should have put the vest on. Farber and Stanley had taken their vests off,” he added. “They thought it was all over. Maybe Sean thought that, too.”
“Yeah, maybe he did,” Ben allowed.
“What about those kids who ran into the street to flag down the ambulance? They must have seen the couple running away,” Ellie said.
“They didn’t see their faces.” Max sounded irritated again.
“There were people all over the park. Could someone else have gotten a better—”
“We’ve checked,” he barked and turned the recorder off.
She frowned at him. “Are you always this grumpy?”
Surprised by her question, he repeated, “Grumpy?”
“Yeah, he is kind of grumpy today,” Ben interjected.
“The hell I am.”
Laughing, Ellie moved the pillow out of her way and stood. “I’m getting a Diet Coke. You two want anything?”
“Sure, I’ll take a Coke,” Ben said.
She turned to Max. “I shouldn’t have called you grumpy. You’ve had a bad day. Your friend was shot, and from what you’ve told me, the plan to apprehend these people fell apart.” She headed toward the kitchen and added, “So it’s okay to be grumpy.”
“Yeah, he’s usually real cheery.” Ben laughed as he told the lie. His cell phone vibrated, and he quickly read the text.
“Hey, Ellie, could I ask you a medical question?”
She peeked around the corner. “Sure. What do you want to know?”
“What does it mean when a pregnant woman has all the symptoms of indigestion?”
She thought he was joking until he looked up from his text, and she saw the concern in his eyes.
“It means she has indigestion.”
He wasn’t convinced. He read his wife’s symptoms aloud, told Ellie that she was four months along, and that she had miscarried their first child at exactly four months.
Ellie reached for her cell phone. “What’s her name?”
“Give me her cell phone number.”
Leaning against the doorway she began to text, her thumbs tapping out her message with lightning speed.
Ben was impressed. “You’re fast.”
She smiled. “I’ve been doing this for a while.”
Ellie gave Ben’s wife suggestions to help with the indigestion and ended the message by telling Addison she could text her with other questions when she needed to.
“Thanks,” Ben said when she had finished. “She worries.”
Ellie gave him her cell phone number. “If you have concerns, you can text me, too.”
When Ellie returned with the Cokes, she handed one to Ben and took her seat next to Max.
“Will Sean get into trouble because he didn’t wear his vest?”
Max answered. “He did get into trouble. He got shot, remember?”
That wasn’t what she meant, but she didn’t pursue the matter.
Max turned the recorder back on. “Ben, do you have any other questions you want to ask Ellie?”
“No, I think we’re done for now,” he replied. “You’re going to be around, though, aren’t you? You aren’t taking off for Europe?”
“Did you forget the ‘I’m poor’ part of the interview?” she asked.
He laughed. “Right. So no Europe.”
“I will be going to Winston Falls for a wedding next week, but until then I’ll be here, and you can always get me on my cell phone.”
Once again, Max hit the button to turn the recorder off just as Ben asked, “Where is Winston Falls?’
“South Carolina.”
“Ellie’s family lives there. It’s her hometown,” Max volunteered.
“How often do you get back home?”
“Not often.”
“Are you going anywhere after the wedding?”
“No, I’ll come back here . . . for a while.”
“I guess we’re finished,” Max announced and started to stand. Ellie put her hand on his knee to stop him.
“Now it’s my turn to ask questions,” she told him.
“That’s not how it works,” he replied.
She ignored his comment. “Why were they in the park?”
Ben answered her. “The FBI has been following them since the last case didn’t make it to court, and when we heard about the buy, we set a trap. Max and I wanted in on it.”
“What was the buy? Drugs?”
“Weapons,” he said. “Very sophisticated weapons.”
Before she could ask him another question, his cell phone rang. He saw who was calling and said, “I’ve got to take this.”
He disappeared into her kitchen for some privacy before he answered his phone. Ellie turned to Max, realized then that her hand was still resting on his leg, and pulled back. “What did he mean, the last case didn’t make it to court?”
“Witnesses couldn’t testify.”
“Couldn’t or wouldn’t.”
She didn’t push him to explain, but said, “What went wrong in the park?”
“A lot of things.”
It was as much as he was going to tell her, she realized after waiting several seconds. She tried another question. “Ben said the FBI has been following them, so you know who they are?”
When he didn’t immediately answer, she gave him a good nudge with her foot. He was so surprised, he smiled. “Did you just kick a federal agent?”
“No, I nudged a federal agent. I’m getting ready to kick.”
“Calvin and Erika Landry.”
“Now, was that so hard?”
He laughed and she was happy to see the tension ease from his face for a second.
“I’ve never heard of them,” she said.
“I didn’t think you had. They don’t usually do business here. We’ve had other dealings with them. Fact is, we’ve been chasing them for some time. We knew about the deal that was going down at the park, and we were hoping we could catch them in the act. Unfortunately, they got away before anyone could identify them. That’s why eyewitnesses to the shooting are so important. Too many agents have been working on this for too long.”
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Do you live in St. Louis? I’m just curious about who’s involved in this case,” she hastened to add so he wouldn’t think she was being too personal.
Max stood, slipped the recorder into his pocket, and said, “For the past six years I’ve lived in Honolulu.”
She didn’t know why she was so bummed out by the news, but she was. She hardly knew the man, and he definitely was all wrong for her. Yet there was just something about him . . . The truth was, she had never had such an immediate attraction to any other man before, not even her ex-fiancé, though she’d be loath to admit it.
It was all so confusing. She didn’t want a relationship with Max, but she wanted the possibility of one? She wasn’t making any sense.
Her brain chemistry was all messed up, she decided, and that was why her physical reaction to him was so intense. That was it exactly. Her endorphins were going haywire. Sleep deprivation was probably one reason for the imbalance, and being a workaholic with no social outlets was probably another.
There was one other theory: She was crazy, just plain crazy.
Ben finished his call and was leaning against the door frame, drinking his Diet Coke. He pulled away when Max said, “Let’s go.”
“Is Ellie going on the witness list?” he asked.
Max shook his head. “Agent Hughes is running this, remember? If Ellie’s name goes on that list, you know what will happen.”
“Yeah, but you and I could stop it.”
“From Honolulu? Not possible.”
Stop what, Ellie wondered. She waited for Max or Ben to explain, but neither did.
“I’m telling you Hughes will w
Max cut him off. “I said no.” He walked to the door and unbolted the locks.
Ben turned to put his drink on the kitchen counter and headed to the door that Max was holding open.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t be more helpful,” Ellie said, a bit puzzled by their brusque departure.
“It’s okay.” Max started to pull the door closed but stopped abruptly. He stood for a second as though weighing his thoughts before saying, “Are there any good restaurants around here?”
“If you like Italian, you should go to the Hill. There’s a great restaurant called the Trellis. You’ll love it. It’s casual dress. You’ll see everything from suits to shorts.”
“Okay. I’ll pick you up at seven tomorrow night.”
He shut the door before she had time to react.
“Wait . . . what?”
Finding out who the blond runner was on the track turned out to be surprisingly easy.
A shoot-out on hospital grounds with FBI agents swarming all over the park was big news. Every local station led the evening broadcast with a report about the downed agent and the hunt for the perpetrators. The hospital was still buzzing about the incident. The staff, the volunteers, even the patients wanted to rehash the event. Some even did a bit of embellishing.
Willis Cogburn knew how the gossip grapevine worked and used it to his advantage. Dressed as a deliveryman for a local florist, he carried a potted plant with Agent Sean Goodman’s name on it into the hospital. It was late afternoon when he made the delivery, and the lobby was empty except for a few volunteers milling around behind the reception desk waiting to help anyone who wanted assistance.
An older, white-haired gentleman, wearing the name tag “Roland,” looked up the number of the patient’s room, marked it on a Post-It, and stuck it to the bright red bow attached to the plant before setting it on a cart with other floral arrangements ready for delivery.
Willis didn’t have to ask where Sean Goodman was. All he had to do was engage the volunteer in conversation while he leaned over the counter and read the room number.
“How’s that FBI agent doing? I sure hope he’s going to make it,” Willis asked sympathetically.
“He’s almost as good as new,” Roland said. “One of the aides told me they already moved him out of ICU into a private room. He might even get to go home as early as the day after tomorrow.”