I rushed to my office early the next morning, arriving two hours before my first scheduled patient. I nipped on the computer, found the strange email, clicked the hyperlink Again it came up an error. No surprise really. I stared at the message, reading it over and over as though I might find a deeper meaning. I didn't.
Last night, I gave blood. The DNA test would take weeks, but Sheriff Lowell thought they might be able to get a preliminary match earlier. I pushed him for more information, but he remained tight-lipped. He was keeping something from us. What, I had no idea.
As I sat in the examining room and waited for my first patient, I replayed Lowell 's visit. I thought about the two bodies. I thought about the bloody wooden bat. And I let myself think about the branding.
Elizabeth 's body was found off Route 80 five days after the abduction. The coroner estimated that she'd been dead for two days. That meant she spent three days alive with Elroy Kellerton, aka KillRoy Three days. Alone with a monster. Three sunrises and sunsets, scared and in the dark and in immense agony. I try very hard not to think about it. There are some places the mind should not go; it gets steered there anyway.
KillRoy was caught three weeks later. He confessed to killing fourteen women on a spree that began with a coed in Ann Arbor and ended with a prostitute in the Bronx. All fourteen women were found dumped on the side of the road like so much refuse. All had also been branded with the letter K. Branded in the same way as cattle. In other words, Elroy Kellerton took a metal poker, stuck it in a blazing fire, put a protective mitt on his hand, waited until the poker turned molten red with heat, and then he seared my Elizabeth 's beautiful skin with a sizzling hiss.
My mind took one of those wrong turns, and images started flooding in. I squeezed my eyes shut and wished them away. It didn't work. He was still alive, by the way. KillRoy I mean. Our appeals process gives this monster the chance to breathe, to read, to talk, to be interviewed on CNN, to get visits from do-gooders, to smile. Meanwhile his victims rot. Like I said, God has some sense of humor.
I splashed cold water on my face and checked the mirror. I looked like hell. Patients started filing in at nine o'clock. I was distracted, of course. I kept one eye on the wall clock, waiting for "kiss time" - 6:15 P.M. The clock's hands trudged forward as though bathed in thick syrup.
I immersed myself in patient care. I'd always had that ability. As a kid, I could study for hours. As a doctor, I can disappear into my work. I did that after Elizabeth died. Some people point out that I hide in my work, that I choose to work instead of live. To that cliche I respond with a simple "What's your point?"
At noon, I downed a ham sandwich and Diet Coke and then I saw more patients. One eight-year-old boy had visited a chiropractor for "spinal alignment" eighty times in the past year. He had no back pain. It was a con job perpetrated by several area chiropractors. They offer the parents a free TV or VCR if they bring their kids in. Then they bill Medicaid for the visit. Medicaid is a wonderful, necessary thing, but it gets abused like a Don King under card. I once had a sixteen-year-old boy rushed to the hospital in an ambulance - for routine sunburn. Why an ambulance instead of a taxi or subway? His mother explained that she'd have to pay for those herself or wait for the government to reimburse. Medicaid pays for the ambulance right away.
At five o'clock, I said good-bye to my last patient. The support staff headed out at five-thirty. I waited until the office was empty before I sat and faced the computer. In the background I could hear the clinic's phones ringing. A machine picks them up after five-thirty and gives the caller several options, but for some reason, the machine doesn't pick up until the tenth ring. The sound was somewhat maddening.
I got online, found the email, and clicked on the hyperlink yet again. Still a no-go. I thought about this strange email and those dead bodies. There had to be a connection. My mind kept going back to that seemingly simple fact. I started sorting through the possibilities.
Possibility one: These two men were the work of KillRoy. True, his other victims were women and easily found, but did that rule out his killing others?
Possibility two: KillRoy had persuaded these men to help him abduct Elizabeth. That might explain a lot. The wooden bat, for one thing, if the blood on it was indeed mine. It also put to rest my one big question mark about the whole abduction. In theory, KillRoy like all serial killers, worked alone. How, I'd always wondered, had he been able to drag Elizabeth to the car and at the same time lie in wait for me to get out of the water? Before her body surfaced, the authorities had assumed there had been more than one abductor. But once her corpse was found branded with the K, that hypothesis was finessed. KillRoy could have done it, it was theorized, if he'd cuffed or somehow subdued Elizabeth and then gone after me. It wasn't a perfect fit, but if you pushed hard enough, the piece went in.
Now we had another explanation. He had accomplices. And he killed them.
Possibility three was the simplest: The blood on the bat was not mine. B positive is not common, but it's not that rare either. In all likelihood, these bodies had nothing to do with Elizabeth 's death.
I couldn't make myself buy it.
I checked the computer's clock. It was hooked into some satellite that gave the exact time.
Ten minutes and eighteen seconds to go.
To go to what?
The phones kept ringing. I tuned them out and drummed my fingers. Under ten minutes now. Okay, if there was going to be a change in the hyperlink it would have probably happened by now. I put my hand on the mouse and took a deep breath.
My beeper went off.
I wasn't on call tonight. That meant it was either a mistake - something made far too often by the clinic night operators - or a personal call. It beeped again. Double beep. That meant an emergency. I looked at the display.
It was a call from Sheriff Lowell. It was marked Urgent.
I thought about it but not for very long. Anything was better than stewing with my own thoughts. I decided to call him back.
Lowell again knew who it was before he picked up. "Sorry to bother you, Doc." Doc, he called me now. As though we were chums. "But I just have a quick question."
I put my hand back on the mouse, moved the cursor over the hyperlink and clicked. The Web browser stirred to life.
"I'm listening," I said.
The Web browser was taking longer this time. No error message appeared.
"Does the name Sarah Goodhart mean anything to you?"
I almost dropped the phone.
I pulled the receiver away and looked at it as though it had just materialized in my hand. I gathered myself together a piece at a time. When I trusted my voice, I put the phone back to my ear. "Why do you ask?"
Something started coming up on the computer screen. I squinted. One of those sky cams. Or street cam, I guess you'd call this one. They had them all over the Web now. I sometimes used the traffic ones, especially to check out the morning delay on the Washington Bridge.
"It's a long story," Lowell said.
I needed to buy time. "Then I'll call you back."
I hung up. Sarah Goodhart. The name meant something to me. It meant a lot.
What the hell was going on here?
The browser stopped loading. On the monitor, I saw a street scene in black and white. The rest of the page was blank. No banners or titles. I knew you could set it up so that you grabbed only a certain feed. That was what we had here.
I checked the computer clock.
The camera was pointing down at a fairly busy street corner, from maybe fifteen feet off the ground. I didn't know what corner it was or what city I was looking at. It was definitely a major city, though. Pedestrians flowed mostly from right to left, heads down, shoulders slumped, briefcases in hand, downtrodden at the end of a workday, probably heading for a train or bus. On the far right, I could see the curb. The foot traffic came in waves, probably coordinated with the changing of a traffic light.
I frowned. Why had someone sent me this feed?
The clock read 6:14.21 P.M. Less than a minute to go.
I kept my eyes glued to the screen and waited for the countdown as though it were New Year's Eve. My pulse started speeding up. Ten, nine, eight...
Another tidal wave of humanity passed from right to left. I took my eyes off the clock. Four, three, two. I held my breath and waited. When I glanced at the clock again, it read:
Nothing had happened - but then again, what had I expected?
The human tidal wave ebbed and once again, for a second or two, there was nobody in the picture. I settled back, sucking in air. A joke, I figured. A weird joke, sure. Sick even. But nonetheless-
And that was when someone stepped out from directly under the camera. It was as though the person had been hiding there the whole time.
I leaned forward.
It was a woman. That much I could see even though her back was to me. Short hair, but definitely a woman. From my angle, I hadn't been able to make out any faces so far. This was no different. Not at first.
The woman stopped. I stared at the top of her head, almost willing her to look up. She took another step. She was in the middle of the screen now. Someone else walked by. The woman stayed still. Then she turned around and slowly lifted her chin until she looked straight up into the camera.
My heart stopped.
I stuck a fist in my mouth and smothered a scream. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't think. Tears filled my eyes and started spilling down my cheeks. I didn't wipe them away.
I stared at her. She stared at me.
Another mass of pedestrians crossed the screen. Some of them bumped into her, but the woman didn't move. Her gaze stayed locked on the camera. She lifted her hand as though reaching toward me. My head spun. It was as though whatever tethered me to reality had been severed.
I was left floating helplessly.
She kept her hand raised. Slowly I managed to lift my hand. My fingers brushed the warm screen, trying to meet her halfway. More tears came. I gently caressed the woman's face and felt my heart crumble and soar all at once.
" Elizabeth," I whispered.
She stayed there for another second or two. Then she said something into the camera. I couldn't hear her, but I could read her lips.
"I'm sorry," my dead wife mouthed.
And then she walked away.