The Ideal Man (Buchanan-Renard 9)

Page 7

“No, I’m not giving away confidential information. You would have to spend a little time on the Internet searching for articles, but you could find out all about that case. It was in the newspapers.”
“Do you think those two witnesses who disappeared are still alive?”
“I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “I think they may have gotten spooked when they heard about the hit-and-run, and they took off.”
Who could blame them? she thought. She took a breath and said, “Thanks for telling me.”
“Just promise you’ll be careful.”
“I will.”
He picked up his menu. “Are you ready to order?”
“I’m not very hungry.”
Max read through the menu, and when he glanced up at Ellie again, she was staring into space, lost in thought, absentmindedly turning her spoon over and over on the table. He should have stuck to his guns and waited until after dinner to tell her about the Landrys, but she’d been too perceptive and forced him to give her the news sooner than he’d planned. Way to go, Daniels, he chided himself. Here he was, sitting across from a gorgeous, sexy woman, and all she could think about was the danger that threatened to uproot her life.
Determined to change her mood, he said, “Tell me something.”
“On a scale of one to ten, how’s the date going so far?”
As soon as the waiter had taken their orders and left ,Max said, “I think every man in here is staring at you.”
The comment surprised her, and she looked around. “You’re exaggerating.”
He wasn’t. Ellie was stunning, and even he, as cynical as he had become, was a bit in awe of her. After spending a short time with her, however, he’d come to realize her appearance didn’t define her.
Ellie said, “Do you know, when I walked out of ICU and saw you waiting in the hall, I thought you looked so relaxed. I almost envied you.”
“I was relaxed.”
She didn’t argue, yet the look she gave him indicated she didn’t believe him.
“Okay, I was worried about Goodman,” he admitted. “And I was angry.”
“About the shooting.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Yes, of course the shooting, but I was also furious that the Landrys got away. We should have had them.” And with what was supposed to be an airtight case this time, he thought.
“What did Agent Hughes have to do with the investigation?” To clarify, she said, “You and Ben were talking about him when you were at my apartment.”
“Hughes flew down from Omaha to take charge when he heard the Landrys were involved. He’s been chasing them for about four years now.”
“You don’t like him much, do you?”
He shrugged. “Our methods are different.”
Tommy strolled over to their table, refilled their glasses, and handed the pitcher of ice water to a hovering waiter.
“Did you tell Max about the golfers yet?” he asked Ellie.
“No, I didn’t.”
“Come on, it’s a good story. She’s humble,” he told Max. “She won’t tell you how it really went down, but I will.”
“What happened?”
Both Tommy and Max turned to her. There was no getting out of it, she knew.
“It turns out I have a bit of a temper when I’m pushed,” she began. “I’m not proud of that.”
“No, you kept your cool,” Tommy insisted. “It was that jerk you were with who lost his temper. The guy had an ego the size of Nevada.” To Max he said, “And all she did was try not to embarrass him.”
“Up to a point,” she interjected.
“See, here’s what happened,” Tommy continued. “There were four men, all of them in their fifties, I’m guessing, sitting at a table across my restaurant from where Ellie and the deadhead were sitting. The golfers were a loud bunch but not offensive. They were just having some fun, and they weren’t bothering any of my other customers. They’d had a lot to drink before they got here. Who could blame them? It was a real pisser out there that day, over ninety degrees.” He turned to Ellie. “Are you gonna help me tell it?”
She laughed. “All of them had ordered steaks,” she explained.
“Grade A prime. Meat that will melt in your mouth,” Tommy crooned. “I only serve the best.”
“I happened to look over just as one of the golfers took a bite of his steak.”
“It was a twenty-one-ounce porterhouse,” Tommy interjected. “One of the customers’ favorites.”
“The man stuffed a piece the size of a small roast into his mouth. I couldn’t believe it,” she added. “I watched him, hoping he’d keep chewing.”
“But he didn’t,” Tommy said, grinning.
“I’m guessing it didn’t melt in his mouth,” Max said.
“No, it didn’t.” Ellie continued, “He swallowed and, of course, began to choke. He tried to stand, then crashed to the floor.”
“I didn’t get to see any of this,” Tommy said. “I was busy in the front, but I heard the guy’s friends shouting for help and yelling that their friend was having a heart attack. I ran over to see for myself, and I saw him on the floor. The guy’s face was getting red.” Turning to Ellie again, he said, “Go ahead, you tell what happened next.” Tommy’s enthusiasm was comical.
“My date, Dr. Dwight Parish, said, ‘I’ve got this,’ and ran over to the golfer, whose name I later found out was Chuck,” she said.
“Chuck the Choker is what I dubbed him,” Tommy added.
“What did you do?” Max asked Ellie.
“I started the clock the second Chuck tried to swallow the meat—”
He interrupted. “What do you mean, you started the clock?”
“Oxygen deprivation,” she explained. “There was plenty of time, but I always start the clock, which means I note the time down to the second.”
“The deadhead announces he’s a doctor,” Tommy said, “and he kneels down beside Chuck and starts pushing his chest, giving him CPR. He, too, believed Chuck was having a heart attack. The jerk acted like he was running a seminar or something, talking to the crowd while he pumped Chuck’s chest.”
“Then what happened?” Max wondered.
“I tried to explain to Dwight that the man was choking,” Ellie said.
“Yeah, she did,” Tommy agreed. “I stood beside her. She was real nice about it, but the deadhead wouldn’t listen, even after she told him she’d seen Chuck try to swallow a hunk of meat. Deadhead was too busy dazzling the crowd to pay attention. And all that pumping didn’t dislodge the meat, did it?”
“No, it didn’t,” Ellie said.
“And I’m watching, getting real worried. It’s bad for business when a customer dies in your restaurant.”
Max had to agree. “Yeah, that would be bad.”
“I didn’t know the kid was a doctor then,” he added. “But she was trying to convince deadhead that Chuck wasn’t having a heart problem—”
“Had anyone called nine-one-one?”
“Oh yeah, of course. So tell him what happened next,” Tommy urged.
“I was watching the time,” she said. “And I politely asked Dwight to get out of my way.”
Max raised an eyebrow. There was something about the way she made the comment that told him she wasn’t quite telling the truth. “Politely, huh?”
“I thought so.”
“Before you go on, tell me, what kind of doctor is Dwight?”
“He just finished his residency.”
“In what field?”
“Ah,” he said, smiling.
“It’s an important and difficult residency,” she told him. “However, Dwight has a Superman complex and was determined to revive the golfer. If he had had paddles, he would have tried to shock him. I say ‘try’ because I wouldn’t have let him.”
“Dwight sounds like a jackass,” he commented.
mmy nodded vigorously.
“Okay, so go on,” he urged, caught up in the story, but before she could continue, he asked, “Weren’t you a little worried? What if you couldn’t get the meat out?”
She looked astonished, as though she couldn’t understand why he’d ask such a silly question.
“There was still plenty of time, and I had a backup plan. Clean steak knife, alcohol. If I had to, I’d open his throat. I wasn’t going to let him die. All of what Tommy and I have told you took less than a minute,” she added. “It sounds like a lot was going on, but it happened really fast. I explained that the man was choking, but Dwight continued to argue that I was wrong, that it was a heart attack. He said he knew the symptoms. He was once again talking more to the crowd than to me, and it was difficult to get a word in.
“I’m a trauma surgeon,” she reminded Max. “And we are trained to take charge. We’re . . . aggressive when we need to be. I tried to explain to Dwight . . . but he just wouldn’t listen, so I did what I had to do . . .”
Tommy finished for her, “She used her foot and knocked Dwight out of the way. He landed halfway across the room.”
“Tommy helped me get Chuck upright, then I dislodged the meat and pulled it out of his throat. All the while I’m checking the clock. It was all good,” she said. “I still had plenty of time.”
“I wanted to throw the meat at Dwight, but she wouldn’t let me,” Tommy grumbled.
“And Chuck?” Max asked.
“No worse for the wear,” Tommy said. He stepped aside to let the waiter set plates in front of them. “You kids go ahead and eat your salads now, and I’ll check on your dinners.”
As soon as he left, Max asked, “Did good old Dwight ask you out on another date?”
“Like I would go?” She shook her head. “Since I had had my fingers down Chuck’s throat, I went to the ladies’ room to wash my hands, and when I came back to the table, Dwight had taken off.”
“What a gentleman.”
As the evening wore on, Max asked questions about her work. It was obvious that she had a real passion for helping people, and he loved the way her eyes lit up when she talked about them.
“It must be stressful at times,” he commented.
“It is,” she answered. “But what about you? Your job has to be riddled with stress.”
“Sometimes,” he admitted. He smiled and added, “And then there are those criminals who all but capture themselves. One of my first cases as an agent I barely had to investigate.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
He put down his fork and leaned back in his chair. “It was a robbery of a neighborhood bank, a one-man job. I don’t think the robber had much experience, though. When he walked into the bank with a cap pulled down over his eyes and a gun concealed in his pocket, he found the lobby crowded with customers. He was so nervous, he decided he should wait until they had cleared out before going up to the teller to make his demands. But he didn’t want to look suspicious just milling around the bank doing nothing, so he went to a table with some forms stacked on top.
“In the surveillance tapes, you could see him pick up the pen and start writing on one of the forms. He must have been pretty distracted because, after he finally made it to the teller and got away with the cash, he didn’t think to pick up the forms he had been filling out.”
“What were they?” Ellie asked.
“Applications for a job.”
“No,” she said incredulously.
“Yep,” he said. “He wrote down his name, address . . . everything we needed to drive to his house and pick him up.”
“I can’t believe anyone would be that stupid.”
He nodded agreement. “A friend of mine who’s on the police force in Honolulu told me about a crime he covered where this man went into a convenience store to rob it. He got the money from the cash register and then demanded the clerk hand over a bottle of whiskey, too. Out of habit, the clerk asked to see some form of ID, and . . .”
“He gave him his ID,” she finished.
“That’s right.”
“Tell me another one,” she pleaded, laughing.
“I’ve got a hundred of them, but just one more,” he said. “It’s my favorite. There was this one guy who tried to rob a bank. He carried a grocery bag to use as a mask to conceal his identity. His ingenious plan was to put it over his head, then throw the front door of the bank open and rush in. He’d cut holes in the bag for his eyes but evidently hadn’t tried it out because, when he put it on, the holes lined up with his forehead. On the tape, you see the guy come barging into the bank with a bag over his head, waving his gun and turning in circles, trying to get the tellers to give him the cash. He was threatening a potted plant.”
Max liked the way Ellie’s eyes sparkled when she laughed. The waiter appeared with the bill, and he knew it was almost time for them to leave. He was sorry to see the evening end.
“Ellie, if Dwight left you here, how did you get home?”
“I was going to take a cab, but Tommy’s wife, Mary, was on her way out the door, and she drove me home. She’s not here tonight, or Tommy would have brought her over to our table to introduce her. He’s very proud of her. They’ve been married for almost thirty years.”
“That makes them unique.”
“You sound cynical.”
“When it comes to marriage, I guess I am. I’ve had friends whose happily-ever-after lasted about three years.”
“My parents have been married a long time, and they’re not an anomaly.”
He didn’t comment. “Are you ready to go?”
He surprised her by taking her hand as they walked through the restaurant. It wasn’t until they were once again in the car and on their way back to her apartment that she returned to the subject of his cynicism. She wanted to know what had happened to make him so sour.
“I take it your parents are divorced?”
“No. They’re not. They’ve been married a long time, too.”
“But they’re miserable.”
He laughed. “No, they’re happy together.”
“Then it’s just you, unless . . .”
“Unless what?”
“How many ex-wives do you have?”
“None,” he assured her. “I’ve never been married.”
“Any long-term relationships?”
He glanced at her. “Define long-term.”
“More than three months.”
He had to think about it. “No,” he said. “I like women, Ellie, and the women I take to bed know there isn’t going be a long-term anything.”
Was it a different woman every night? She didn’t have the nerve to ask.
“What about you?” he asked. “Are you involved with anyone?”
“How come?”
“No time,” she said. And no desire in a long while . . . until you came along, she silently added.
“That’s an excuse, not a reason,” he told her. “What about friends with benefits . . . you know . . . casual sex?”
The question surprised her. “No, so far not interested. Some of my friends have sex with friends, and they tell me it releases a lot of stress. It just seems a little too cold and clinical to me.”
The rest of the ride home was quiet, but she wasn’t uncomfortable with the silence. Ellie kept thinking about her answers to his questions. No sex, no friends with benefits, no involvement . . . My God, she’d made herself sound like a female eunuch. And a bore.
Max parked in front of her building and walked inside with her. He insisted on checking her apartment to make sure it was safe, which Ellie appreciated. It took as long as a hiccup. She waited by her door as he looked around. Soft light from a single lamp illuminated the living room.
“Would you like something to drink?” she asked as he walked toward her.
“No, I’m good.”
He was inches away. She swallowed and said, “I have to tell you . . .”  “What?” he asked as he planted his hands against the door on either side of her.
“I liked the date portion of the evening much better than the serious talk.”
“The date portion isn’t over yet.”
And with that he leaned down and kissed her. His lips on hers felt sweet. It was a soft kiss until her mouth opened under his and she moved into him. She sighed when his tongue swept inside and rubbed against hers. His touch was electrifying.
And that was only the beginning.
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her up against him as his mouth slanted over hers again and again.
“Damn, you taste good.” His voice was raspy. He kissed the side of her neck and felt her shiver.
She put her arms around his neck and her fingers tugged on his hair to get him to kiss her again. She had wondered what it would feel like to be kissed by him, but no fantasy could match the reality. He overwhelmed her, and it was wonderful. He kissed her again, a hot, wet, openmouthed kiss that made her want much, much more, and when he pulled back she felt dazed.
“Do you want me to stay or leave?” he asked.
She kissed the pulse at the base of his neck. “I guess I can try casual,” she whispered, shocked by how ragged her own voice sounded.
“Sweetheart, if I stay, it isn’t gonna be casual.”
He tilted her chin up with his thumb, needing to see her eyes and hear her say the words before he started tearing his clothes off and then hers.
His cell phone rang a scant second before Ellie’s phone beeped.
Max took a deep breath, then reluctantly pulled away from her to answer the call. Ellie found her phone in her purse and read the text.
“I’m on my way,” he said into his phone. He ended the call and looked up to see Ellie opening the door.
“There’s been a shooting at the hospital.”
At the same time she said, “I’ve been called in to surgery.”
Ellie thought she should drive herself to the hospital, but Max disagreed. He wasn’t going to let her out of his sight until he knew what in thunder was going on. Ignoring her protests, he grabbed her keys, locked the dead bolts, and pulled her along to his car.