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KND Freebies: Colorful thriller THE IMPOSTER is featured in today’s Free Kindle Nation Shorts excerpt

Judith Townsend Rocchiccioli writes about what she knows — medicine and big urban hospitals. Add a compelling mystery and a tough, beautiful protagonist set against the dramatic backdrop of New Orleans, and you get this page turner of a medical thriller…

“Ms. Rocchiccioli has done it again!! The Imposter is a fascinating read

Now 33% off the regular price!

The Imposter (Alex Destephano)

by Judith Townsend Rocchiccioli

5.0 stars – 9 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:

Life is not easy in the Big Easy…

It is hotter than hell in New Orleans and newly promoted NOPD Commander Jack Francoise is battling horrific crime in the Vieux Carre in the August heat. At Crescent City Medical Center’s Psychiatric Pavilion, nurses are doling out Thorazine Slurpees and Geodon shots to some of the most criminally insane and viciously psychotic patients in the South.

Alexandra Destephano, a registered nurse and legal counsel for CCMC, is troubled by safety issues in The Pavilion and enlists former husband, dashing surgeon Robert Bonnet to assist her in minimizing the dangers, but they are only aware of the ones they see.

The situation escalates as the days become hotter and the nights become longer. Brutal beatings and murder are the order of the day and life in the Big Easy is clearly Uneasy.

5-star praise for The Imposter:

Could not put it down!

“Great book and really well developed characters.”

Fun and drama in New Orleans!
“…Alex is a powerful main character…The twists and turns kept me guessing and made it a fun read…”

an excerpt from

The Imposter

by Judith Townsend Rocchiccioli


Copyright © 2014 by Judith Townsend Rocchiccioli
and published here with her permission

         Chapter 1

       “Holy Shit, Mary, Mother of God! What the hell is wrong with people? Are they crazy, stupid, or just nuts,” hollered Jack Françoise to no one in particular, even though he was sure his rants could be heard through the bull pen of the 8th Police District. “Honest to God, two tourists with their throats torn out in the deepest, darkest part of the Quarter. What is wrong with these idiots? I don’t even go in that part of the French Quarter. No one needs to go down there, no one in their right mind wants to go down there, not even NOPDs swat team in full combat gear. Holy Shit, can anybody be that stupid or that drunk?! I just don’t get it.”

Newly minted New Orleans Police Commander, Jack Françoise, sat behind his massive, but deeply scarred, walnut desk at 334 Royal Street glaring at two crime reports placed in his in-basket for review. A big, burly man who tended towards overweight, Jack looked distinguished in his Commander uniform and his polished medals matched the glint of silver in his hair. A man’s man, Jack commanded the respect of almost everyone he met. He stared out of his tall office windows, already heating up in the August sun, but saw nothing. His attention returned to the crime sheets, and as he reached for his coffee cup, his administrative assistant and PR guy knocked at his door frame.

“What’s up, Jason? Did I wake everybody up yelling?”

Jason Aldridge grinned at his boss. “Well, maybe a few left over from the night beat, but they were due to go home anyway,” Jason joked.

Jack shook his head. “Did you check out these murders in the Quarter last night? What the hell?”

”Yeah, pretty bad. Young people, too, from what I heard. Kind of similar to that woman they found in that abandoned warehouse near Canal over in the First District several years ago. By the way, the Coroner’s Office just called and they want you over there ASAP. It’s about this new case, the one they are investigating in the Quarter now.”

“Yeah, I just bet it is,” Jack muttered sarcastically. “Who’s working the scene in the Quarter? Think I’ll go over there on my way to see the M.E.”

“I think Bridges caught the case, but he’s probably gone now. Don’t know who is head of the forensic team. I can check for you.”

“Never mind, I don’t care. If the M.E. calls back tell her I’m coming, but am stopping by the scene first.”

“Will do, Capt’n! Whoops, Commander,” Jason stumbled over his boss’s title and smiled apologetically.

“Just call me Jack. Skip the title. I don’t act like a Commander anyway. Didn’t even want to be one. I was and am happy in the trenches and on the street. But, as you know,” Jack said wryly, “I never planned to leave them.”

Jason nodded, “Yeah, I know that. I’m sure you’ll always be a beat cop, no matter the title. You’ve never left the streets before, and you’re too damn old and stubborn to start at this late date,” Jason acknowledged, waving his boss out of the office. His heart swelled with pride as he watched the big guy leave the 8th district office.

Jason loved being Jack’s right hand, a job he had just formally assumed several months ago when Jack had risen in the ranks. Jason had more respect for Jack Françoise than he’d ever had for any one man. Françoise could come across as a total police asshole, but deep inside, he was kind and generous and a true advocate for the citizens, particularly the victims of murder and violent crimes in New Orleans. Jack was also tenacious, bull-headed, and hard to work with, but Jason was used to this as well. Sometimes, Jack’s dark moods surfaced when he reached a dead end in the crimes he sought to solve. In Jason’s mind, Jack was a hero and always would be even though Jack would never claim fame or recognition for the cases he solved.

Jason smiled as he considered that magical way Jack disappeared from press conferences and the media. He was sure Jack planned to keep it that way, even as a Commander. He was as humble as he was caring and altruistic and Jack flat out hated the press. Jason smiled to himself as he reflected on his years with Jack Françoise. An honorable man, Jason thought, closing the  An honorable man, Jason thought, closing the Commander’s door quietly as he left the office.

Chapter 2

Jack hated the blast of August heat that momentarily blinded him as he exited the 8th District office. He jumped into his vintage, police-retrofitted, silver Cadillac, which was parked in a no parking zone on the side of the building, and headed down towards the Canal crime scene on Burgundy. He parked, illegally of course, at the corner of Toulouse, knowing that all NOPD in the area knew his car and would never ticket him. He trudged down towards the scene, wiping the sweat off his brow with a white linen handkerchief.

Jack, as hardened as he was to street scenes, turned his head away from a man with a needle in his arm and a guy lighting up his crack pipe while sitting in a doorway. He was convinced that neither man had seen the inside of a house or had a meal or shower in days. He quickly glanced inside a vacant, burned out building on Canal noting several others vagrants boldly smoking crack, not caring who or what could see them. The bottom of the barrel, the dregs of humanity, hung out in this part of the Vieux Carre. The Commander hurried his pace towards the crime scene. He could see the yellow tape several blocks away. He thought about what a bitch it would be to climb back up the hill in the August heat. He hailed the CSI team chief processing the scene.

“Yo, Vern, what’s your ornery ass doing up so early in the morning,” Jack asked, slapping the forensic chief on the back. “I thought you were working nights!”

Detective Vernon Bridges stood up, turned and faced Jack smiling broadly, “Why Commander, what in the world are you doing down here in this hell hole this early? With your big promotion and all, I never expected you’d leave your air conditioned office on Royal Street,” Vern joshed, pumping the Commander’s hand.

Jack returned the grin, happy to see his old friend. “Vern, you know me better than that. I get the hell out of there every chance I get so I don’t have to write reports and go to meetings. I hate all of those damn meetings.” Jack shook his head and sighed, “These bureaucrats are crazy. They even meet to decide where to place the water fountains.” Jack rolled his eyes and Vern laughed heartily.

“Well, then, who writes the reports and goes to the meetings? Isn’t that why you got the big pay raise?” Vern teased his old buddy.

“Jason goes. He likes meetings, and as my assistant, it is his job to make me happy. So, he goes to the meetings and writes the reports, and that makes me happy. Besides, he’s glad to get me out of there so he can do his own thing. So, what do we have here,” Françoise questioned, gesturing toward the crime scene.

Vern pointed to the two chalk-etched bodies on the ground and groaned, “The meat wagon took the bodies away an hour or so ago. Two kids, probably late teens or early twenties. Most likely tourists. They were pretty tatted up, lots of body piercings. Looked Goth if you ask me, but then, what the hell do I know? Black clothes, black hair, black nail polish and lipstick on the female vic, lots of metal.”

Françoise shook his head, “Geez, not again. The report said their throats were torn out, sort of like an animal had attacked them. Anything else?”

Vern searched out his digital camera and flipped to a couple of shots. “They also had their wrists slit.”

“Not much blood around here,” Jack said. “Has anyone hosed down the streets? Had city maintenance been through here before they were found?”

“No, I don’t think so, although they often come through before dawn. We waved off one truck when we got here a little after 5.”

“Who called it in?” Jack asked.

“Anonymous. Someone dialed 911,” Vern said, shrugging his shoulders. “Figures, doesn’t it. Probably the sick SOB that did it. I got a funny feeling that he is sitting somewhere close, watching us work the scene. Been thinking that all morning,” Vern ended, looking around the area at the rundown buildings and dark alleys.

“Could be. It’s happened before. Any possibility they could have been killed somewhere else and dropped here? Any witnesses?”

“Shit, Françoise, you think we got a fairy godmother hanging out down here in no man’s land? Nobody saw anything, nobody heard anything, and, the truth is, everybody we’ve seen is smoking a crack pipe, shooting up, or is drunk or drugged out of their mind.”

“Yeah, got’cha. Figures. Get the troops to canvass the neighborhood. You may get lucky. Keep me posted. I am off to the Coroner’s Office. The M.E. sent for me to talk about these two vics.”

“Will do. See you, Jack. Hey, by the way, looks like the male may have been upside down on that wrought-iron fence at one point. See the blood on the concrete? Stay out of trouble and meetings,” Vern joked as he turned back to the scene.

Upside down, what the hell,” Jack muttered to himself as he began his hike back to his car. “Damn, it’s hotter than the gates of hell already.”

Chapter 3

When Jack reached his car, he was sweating like a pig. He opened the door of his silver Cadillac and sat down relishing the plush seats. He turned the AC on full blast, turned all the vents towards himself and sat there for a good three minutes taking pleasure in the cold air. Finally, he started the short distance towards the M.E.’s office on Rampart, praying for a decent parking place, even if it was illegal. He spied one. Bingo! It looked promising as he viewed the street parking. And the parking spot was legal. The day was looking a bit brighter as he slid into the metered spot. Of course, he would never put money in the meter.

Jack squinted in the florescent lights as he entered the temporary administrative offices of New Orleans Forensic Center. He was overcome by the smell of disinfectant and bleach. He high-fived the guard at the desk, signed-in, and continued down the back hall to the stark white autopsy room and morgue.

The NOLA Coroner’s Office had been under considerable strain lately due to bad publicity in the media. The Times Picayune had run a whole series of articles about screw-ups at the Coroner’s office. The stories had focused on staff losing DNA evidence, filing incomplete reports, and misinterpreting autopsy findings that had never existed. Worst of all, the office had been accused of selling body parts. It was rumored that the coroner had made thousands of dollars selling livers, corneas, and bone marrow. These provided a field day for defense lawyers. Jack clenched his jaw and gritted his teeth just thinking about it. Damn the liberal press!

The Coroner’s office employees, like most state offices in the many parts of the nation, were underpaid, understaffed, and under appreciated by most people who crossed their thresholds. The NOLA staff was demoralized and the office had experienced lots of turnover when in fact it was also home to some really fantastic forensic pathologists, dentists, and physicians. They were probably some of the best in the country, although you can bet the Times Picayune hadn’t reported that little detail. He cursed the newspapers again under his breath.

The autopsy room was busy. Three physicians were autopsying recent victims, but he didn’t see his favorite medical examiner. Nor did he find his two stiffs from this morning – at least, he didn’t think he did since the victims on the tables all looked pretty old.

“Yo, Fred,” he hailed a morgue tech, “You seen Dr. Jeanfreau?”

“Yeah, she’s in her office. Straight back, Commander,” Fred gestured, giving the Commander a big grin. Fred was a favorite of Jack Françoise because he always knew what was going on, never played dumb, and wasn’t lazy, all traits which put Fred on his way to meeting most of Jack’s criteria for earning praise.

“Thanks, man,” Jack said as he started back down the hall and noticed the decrepit condition of the offices. Unlike the bright autopsy room, the temporary offices of the Coroner were pretty shabby. Jack eyed the faded, dirty carpet as he wandered down the hall towards Maddy’s office. He wondered when they were moving into their new building, although he hated the thought of them leaving his police district. It had been convenient having them so close. Now he’d probably have to hit I-10 to get there. What a pain. Traffic was always bad going out of New Orleans. As a matter of fact, traffic in New Orleans was always awful and he didn’t know all of the illegal parking spots in that part of town.

Maddy’s door was partially open. Since she wasn’t dictating, Jack decided to knock and interrupt her.

“Yo, Maddy, you rang?”

Dr. Madeline Jeanfreau, Assistant Medical Examiner, stood and walked around her desk to see Jack. She was a tiny woman. Even with high heels, she was only a little over 5 feet tall. She hugged Jack and kissed him on the cheek. Jack returned the hug.

“What the hell, Commander? You get promoted, have a party and don’t even invite your favorite M.E.? How do you expect to keep getting special treatment from me or my office?” the diminutive Dr. Jeanfreau queried, as she smiled and shook her short, highlighted hair.

“That wasn’t a party, it was just a bureaucratic BS hour. I didn’t want to go and you would have hated it. Think of who you would have had to hobnob with for an hour, all while getting nothing but punch and cookies. It was grueling.”

“Well, you owe me lunch then and it’s going to cost you a bunch … and drinks as well,” Maddy insisted, giving Jack a grin. “Soon! I want my lunch soon.”

“Anytime, Maddy. You’re the busy one. You know I just sit around and eat chocolate éclairs all day, Jack commented sarcastically. “What’s up? Jason said you wanted to see me.”

“Yeah, about those two dead kids that came in a couple of hours ago. Have you got any ID or information on them?”

“No, nothing yet. I just talked to Bridges, the detective who caught the case. We’re still looking for witnesses. There was no ID found with the bodies. The detective said they looked Goth and were tatted up. Not much blood at the scene, though probably enough for DNA. Why?”

Maddy shook her head and said, “It’s pretty strange. We haven’t finished the autopsies yet, but we started collecting body fluids when they first came in, before we put them in the chiller.”

“Yeah, so? That’s pretty normal, right?”

“Yes, it is,” Maddy replied, looking straight at Jack. “Problem is, they didn’t have any.”

“Didn’t have any what? Maddy, I am not getting this. What are you telling me? The stiffs didn’t have any fluids?”

“That’s right, Jack. They didn’t have any blood. It’s likely the C.O.D. will be death by exsanguination.” Maddy stared at Jack.

Jack’s shoulders slumped as he stared back at his friend. He felt the fear crawling out of his pores. Maybe not fear, just uncertainty perhaps? What The Fuck! Not again! Please, not again, he thought to himself. Their eyes locked, each reading the meaning on the other’s face.

Maddy finally broke the silence. “Yeah, Jack. Here we go again. Just like 2009, 1984 and 1933.”

Jack was suddenly overcome with fatigue. He shook his head. The day really wasn’t getting better after all. “Well, keep me in the loop. Hopefully, these are the only two. We’ll know more when we ID them.” His voice sounded worn and tired.

“If you ever do ID them,” Maddy replied. “Remember, we never had an ID for the case in 2009. I’ll handle the autopsies personally. There could be another cause of death, but it is unlikely with the two of them and the fact that they are young and healthy…..”

“Yeah, I know,” Jack replied, while checking a text message that had just come in. “I’ve got to go. I just got a 911 from CCMC. I hope there’s nothing major gone wrong over there,” he groaned, as he hugged Maddy and left her office. But, he knew better. He knew something bad had happened. Whenever he got called to Crescent Center Medical Center, it was always something bad.

“Oh, Jack,” Maddy called after him, “The vics had a receipt on them for $116. From Howl.

Jack turned around, looked at her, and shook his head. “Great, this day just keeps getting better, ” he said sarcastically.

Chapter 4

It was a little after midnight and Angela Richelieu was just finishing her nursing shift report when the red light went on in the corner of the nursing station at Crescent City Psychiatric Pavilion signaling an All Staff Alert. “Damn!” she muttered under her breath. Flashing red meant all hell had broken out somewhere on the unit. She sadly knew what that meant for her and picking up her daughter on time. Her shift had ended at 11, but paperwork had taken her an hour after that. Now who knew when she would get out of there.

Cursing under her breath, she unlocked a small metal cabinet and took out a syringe filled with Vitamin G. She laughed a bit as she thought about the Vitamin G – a nickname for Geodon. A powerful anti-psychotic agent, it could settle down a horse almost immediately. G for good night! She placed the syringe in the pocket of her blue uniform top and cautiously opened the security door that led onto the Psych unit. Never knew who was hanging around, just waiting to get into the office.

Now the coast was clear. Angela saw everybody heading toward the east corridor. She heard an angry “Get the hell off of me! I’m a policeman!” coming from that hallway. Big Jim! she thought to herself.

She was surprised and not surprised at the same time. James McMurdie, the former NOPD cop, had been a model patient up until now, so she was surprised that he was involved. She was not surprised because that she had almost seen something coming earlier in the evening.

It had been a great shift on the unit until that new administrator, Lester Whats-his-name, had shown up. He wasn’t even a real employee. Don Montgomery, the CEO, had contracted with him to run the Psych Pavilion. Lester was weird, just as weird as some of the patients. The patients had been quiet until he came onto the unit. Once the patients saw him, a sort of agitation had set in like a wolf walking into a field of tasty sheep.

Plus he was creepy. Angie shook off a chill when she thought about the way he had looked at her. He was gross and struck her as a real letch. He’d stayed most of the evening on the unit. He was working in his office between the general psych and the prison units when he wasn’t on the units talking with the patients. She remembered how the other nurses had said how inappropriate it was that he talked so much with the patients. He had spent a lot of time talking with Jim in the dayroom. A lot of time….

Angela hurried past the shuffling patients and when she turned the corner and looked down the corridor, she saw a sight that was both tragic and comical. Jason, the lone security guard, whose best asset was his enormous weight, was lying on top of Jim in the hallway. Ben the orderly had control of Jim’s right arm and Amy, a petite Asian-American patient care assistant was trying to control his left arm. Amy was wrapped around the arm like a python as he threw her up and down as if she were weightless and he tireless. Amy grunted each time Jim slammed her onto the dirty green tile floor.

Ben looked up as Angela ran down the hallway. “Hurry up! He’s beating the hell out of Amy!”

Angela looked to Jim’s left arm where Amy was clinging like a tired squirrel to a tree trunk, and saw that Jim’s sleeve had ripped at the shoulder, exposing his taut deltoid muscle. Without hesitating, she sat down on top of Amy. Mercifully, their combined weight kept the flailing left arm pinned to the floor as Angela plunged the needle into the deltoid muscle and pushed the Vitamin G into Jim’s body. She withdrew the needle and waited.

As she sat perched on the softening arm, Angela thought about what a joke the Psychiatric Pavilion was. The “Pavilion” was really an old three-story storage warehouse that CCMC had hastily renovated into three psychiatric units about eight years ago when psychiatric and substance abuse services had actually been money-makers for the hospital. Now they weren’t and the building had been sadly neglected and was beginning to have the look of a “blighted” building that Angie remembered from her Community Health class at LSU where she had recently received her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing. Fat lot of good that did me, she mused.

But Angie knew in her heart that her degree did matter. She chose to work at the Pavilion where the salary was at least 50% more than the medical units because the patients were so sick, scary and dangerous. The Pavilion was actually three nursing units. Pavilion I was now was the Prison Unit and housed some of the most dangerous, criminally insane inmates from the deep south. Pavilion II was general psychiatry where chronically psychotic patients were committed by temporary detaining orders. They were kept there “until they promised not to try to kill themselves or others again.” Angie thought it was criminal that these sick patients were generally discharged in two days. Jim was one of the exceptions. Pavilion III was the substance abuse unit where patients were detoxed and “cured” in three days when they were discharged. The absolute worst was the CCMC Pavilion management. Don Montgomery, the CEO of CCMC, had contracted with the state hospital over in Mandeville to take their forensic psychiatric patients several years ago when a public outrage from the good citizens of Mandeville had succeeded and the hospital closed. Even though CCMC received a premium for housing and caring for the forensic patients, none of the money went back into the safety and security of staff and patients at CCMC. Angie shuddered and felt a chill when she thought about the patients she’d worked with over the past year. Some of them had nearly frightened her to death. She had thought Jim was one of the safe ones – until now.

As she had plunged the needle into Jim’s shoulder, she had made the mistake of looking into his eyes. The eyes were there, but Jim wasn’t. It was as if he were somewhere else. He had not recognized her. Recognition was the basis of human interaction, and is what separated friend from foe. Those empty eyes terrified her!

“What set him off tonight?” Angela asked Ben as she came back to the present. “He was one of the good ones – I thought.”

“Louis and Jim were playing Battleship in the dayroom. Louis won and Jim said he was cheating. It was strange-like. Normally Jim didn’t care if he won or lost. Not this time. Next thing, Jim said Louis was sleeping with his wife. Crazy! Louis hasn’t had a hardon in ten years. Next thing, Jim lunged at Louis and missed and Louis ran into the hallway yelling. Jim followed with murder in his eyes. Louis ducked under Jason’s arm and Jim ran smack into that arm. Knocked him down and Jason got on top of him. I came out of the dayroom and jumped on Jim’s arm.”

“Thanks, Louis. Many thanks to you, Jason. And Amy -what you did was above the call of duty. I think you’re going to be pretty sore. If you need to call off for your next shift, I’ll vouch for you,” Angie said as she looked at the poor battered Asian-American woman.

“Thank you, Miss Angie.” replied Amy in broken English.

“OK, let’s get a stretcher and get Jim into the seclusion room. I’ve got to go back to the office and write up the report for this incident.” Angie got up and hurried back to the office, carrying the capped syringe with her to deposit in the sharps container.

Chapter 5

It was after two am when Angela finally stood in front of the first of two locked metal exit doors. This one bore the scars of countless chair and table strikes. The institutional grey paint was scratched and the graffiti had not been washed off for a week. She fumbled with her keys and finally got the key in the lock and urged the heavy tumbler to turn. “Damn,” she cursed glancing at her watch and noting the time. She wished she had called the child care center in the main hospital to tell them how late she would be picking up Jessica. Oh my God, I am three hours late, she thought. They’re going to kill me over there. She felt her pulse race with anxiety as she considered how upset her 16 month-old daughter was going to be when she woke her up to take her home.

I’ve got to get a new job, she thought. This psych unit is killing me. She closed the door and heard the reassuring click as it locked. She walked down the short hallway to the second of the two locked doors. This one only bore a couple of scars, but they were deep. She didn’t remember who it was or when, but one of the patients had followed a staff member through the first door with a broken off chair leg in hand. Most of the blows had landed on the unlucky staff member. A few had landed on the door. The door had survived – the staff member had not.

I never get off on time, she thought. She glanced behind her just once to make sure nobody was in there with her, then she unlocked the second door. Once through that door, there was a long hallway, then an exit door with a push bar. The second door closed behind her and she made sure it was locked before she walked down the long hallway. Boy, it’s dark out there, she thought as she peered through the glass windows of the hallway. Sensing freedom, she pushed on the bar to open the door to the outside. The elation was short-lived.

The heat smacked Angie in the face as she walked into the August night. The air was close and heavy. A crimson-tinged bolt of lightning highlighted the sky for an instant, then things went dark again. Thunderstorms, she thought. “I’ve got to get home soon. Jessica is scared of thunderstorms and lightning and she will freak out if it happens in the car.” She walked quickly through the darkened path towards the parking lot. She looked around and told herself she was alone. It’s pretty spooky out here, she thought. For a moment, she considered calling security, then she remembered that it would take at least thirty minutes for the guard to get over to the Pavilion. Besides, if he were busy, it could be twice that time.

With the cutbacks heralding the new health care act, there was only one security guard on the night shift now. There used to be three or more guards, even on weekends and now there was only one roaming guard and one – Jason – in the forensic psych unit where Angie worked. After all, it is New Orleans and even post Katrina, the crime rates were startling.

Angie continued the trek to her car,She continued to reflect on the Pavilion as she walked to her car. Now psychiatry was a money-loser, a liability to the bottom line — and CCMC, a world-class hospital, wasn’t about to spend large sums of money to safeguard patients or staff. Managed care payment systems made it almost impossible for you to be crazy, have a breakdown or recover from prescription or street drug abuse or alcohol. Reimbursement had all but disappeared and with health reform on the horizon, it would only get worse. The mental health system in the US was sadly and severely broken, irretrievably so, perhaps. In fact with everyone getting care under the new reformed system, it was predicted that mental health care would increase steadily with shorter term admissions. Angie shook her head when she considered just how awful the mental health system was in the US. Depressed, deranged and addicted psychiatric patients could no longer come in for a few weeks of therapy, get their meds regulated, have a few art classes and play some board games to learn to control their anger. Why, just last week they had discharged a newly diagnosed Bipolar II female patient who had attempted suicide and been in a coma for 10 days with an aspiration pneumonia. She only stayed on the psych unit for two days, because the patient promised, “I’ll never do it again. I don’t know what came over me.” Of course, her insurance didn’t want to pay either but the hospital would have been ethically bound to keep her if she had asked to stay. In Angie’s mind, that bordered on gross negligence. Suppose that woman went home and “offed” herself with her small children in the home? Worse still, suppose in her psychosis, she killed herself and her family? It had happened before. What safeguards had been put in place? Oh, I forgot, Angie admonished herself. She had two days of counseling and three days of Lithium. At least that’s what the attending shrink had told Angie when she questioned the discharge. That should do it. Yeah, sure Angie thought. She was disgusted with the entire US mental health system. How in the world could anyone get better in only several days? These poor, mentally sick, often physically ill patients, were discharged back on the streets of NOLA or even to their homes with no regulated medicines or skills to fight back against the demons that endlessly plagued their minds.

Her walk in the black night seemed endless. Even this late, the southern air was stifling and viscous. She was sweating, but she felt cold on the inside. Angie continued to think about the dangerous patient population at the Pavilion. Many of CCMCs psychiatric admissions were initiated at the hands of the New Orleans Police and the local magistrate who had them committed after they had been picked up for a crime or some sort of outburst. Angie quivered again when she thought of some of the deeply psychotic patients trying to live on their own.  They also had to medicate several of the most violent patients prior to bedtime. Angie had doled out six Thorazine slurpees like they were health food drinks but even then, the brutality was awful. She thought about it and then deliberately pushed it from her mind.

When she was honest, Angie admitted to herself that she hated working on psychiatry. She hated it because she was afraid. And she knew the patients knew. It was almost as if they could smell it on her. She could see the recognition in their eyes when they realized it. They seemed to give her a secret smile. Many of their eyes seemed to have an evil glint. Besides, on the critical care units or in the emergency room, you could predict physiological changes in patients. You knew if a patient was going to “go bad” and have a heart attack or throw an embolus. You knew what to expect. But, in psych! You just couldn’t tell. You couldn’t anticipate the interworking and short circuitry in the minds of the profanely and criminally insane. They’d go off at the drop of a hat over nothing. You could hand them their fork the wrong way and they’d come after you. It was frightening. Many of the patients were violent, criminals who had committed heinous crimes, yet CCMC cared for them and she didn’t mind caring for them. She just wanted to have enough staff to work in a safe place.

Angie continued her musings on the way to her car. Her background was critical care and emergency department but there’d been an opening on the psych unit where she could work just weekends and get paid for full time. This was ideal in many ways as it allowed her time with Jessica. She could be the kind of wife her husband wanted–at least most of the time. Besides, the money was good. Everybody at CCME knew the Psychiatric Pavilion was the armpit of the hospital and that nurses were paid a premium to work there because it was dangerous. The Pavilion was also isolated, turbulent and chronically understaffed, especially now because nobody really knew what health reform was going to do to psych care. Usually Angie didn’t mind so much. But the past three nights had been particularly stressful for her, more so than usual. She had been on a different unit each night and besides, Jessica had a cold and she always felt bad leaving her baby in daycare when she was sick. Her Catholic guilt kicked in every time.

It was darker than the blackest of nights, as an ominous feeling of dread hung thick in the night air. Thunderstorms earlier in the evening had created a mass of low, overhanging clouds that completely obliterated the moon. Suddenly, Angie felt a chill come over her. She looked over her shoulder as a quiver ran up her spine. Her legs tingled. Did she hear someone breathing? She strained her ears. She didn’t hear anything. The hum of the cicadas and other night insects was deafening. Angela picked up her step, making a pact with herself never to walk to the parking lot alone again. Not ever. It was scary and unsafe. What in the world was wrong with her? Why had she made such a reckless decision? After another minute or so she heard another noise. It sounded like a set of keys hitting the pavement or, perhaps, like metal hitting metal, she thought. Then, she heard a cough and a sigh of what seemed like satisfaction.

Angie’s autonomic nervous system kicked in. Fight or flight! She started running for her life, but was no match for her assailant. He quickly overtook her, grabbed her by the hair, stuck a rag in her mouth, and pulled her over into a crop of trees to the right of the road. Her attacker seemed huge and had a large scarf tied over his face. His head was covered with a hat. Angie looked into her attacker’s face as he leered over her. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, her pupils widened in disbelief. She knew this man! Her heart was firing erratically and she was dizzy and weak with fear. Her assailant looked at her and laughed.

“So, you recognize me, you little slut bitch. We can’t have that now, can we?” Her assailant spat the words at her.

Angie was paralyzed with fear. Her hands were pinned down and the assailant’s knee was in between her legs. Her captor outweighed her and was strong. She couldn’t move, but struggled against him anyway, trying to overcome his strength. He let one of her hands go for a second while he pushed one of the metal spikes into the soft ground. Angela’s hand ripped the hat off her assailant’s head and she dug her nails into his hair, pulling as much hair out as she could. She had wanted to poke out his eyes, but had missed.

“You little bitch, I could kill you for that! How dare you touch me. You are one of them. The man slapped her, dislocating her jaw. Angie felt the bone pop near her ear. The pain was overwhelming and she started to vomit. This further enraged her captor and he slammed her face into the dirt, ripping off her uniform pants. His intent was clear, but all Angie could do was lay there and focus on the smell of the rotting vegetation on the side of the road. She tried to detach herself from her surroundings. It didn’t work.

She heard him grunting while he pushed three more stakes into the ground, singing quietly to himself as he moved methodically through his tasks, clearing old leaves and trash out of his way and away from her. It was like he was cleaning house. For a moment she thought he had forgotten about her and she felt a bit of hope. But it was far-fetched. He turned to her, smiled sweetly, and bit her on her shoulder. Angie screamed and then her attacker hit her in the head with a piece of metal pipe.

Angela felt the searing pain rip through her head and down into her neck and shoulders with the first blow. The second blow didn’t seem to hurt so much. Her last conscious thought was how pretty the twinkling lights looked in the intensive care unit in the main hospital building. She could see them clearly from where she was and she wished she were working a double shift up there where everything was predictable, where the patients were harmless and appreciative. Then, finally, blessedly, she lost consciousness.

Chapter 6

“Oh, no, no … no …. Oh, no …, it can’t be. It just can’t be. This has to be a joke and it isn’t funny. Stop telling me these things. Angie’s at home right now taking care of the baby. She worked last night, she only works on the weekends. Today is Monday,” Bridgett insisted.

A short silence followed as Bridgett continued to listen to the voice on the other end of the phone. Her voice was confused, skeptical as she responded, “You’ve got to be kidding me. This is wrong, wrong, WRONG! It’s not funny! ” Bridgett’s voice reached a fevered pitch as she continued to argue with the person on the other end of the phone for playing games with her about her sister. Finally, she slammed down the phone down and marched into Alex’s office, all legs, high heels, and long, blonde hair.

Alex , the legal counsel for Crescent City Medical Center, looked up from her desk, startled to see her normally good-natured, fun-loving secretary glowering at her, full of rage. Bridgett could best be described as a blonde bombshell. She was tall and beautiful. She wore bright colors and survived a full day in the highest stiletto heels Alex had ever seen. Bridgett’s big blue eyes flashed anger and her voice was clipped as she addressed her boss.

“I’m so mad, in fact, I’m pissed. Somebody from the E.D. just called and told me Angie is a patient there and is all beaten up. It really isn’t funny and it’s a sick joke. I know Angie’s at home taking care of Jessica.” Bridgett glanced down at her watch and added, “Besides, it’s 10:00 in the morning and she worked last night over at the Pavilion. I know, because I talked to her.”

Alex stared at Bridgett, confused by the conversation. “Who called you, Bridge,” Alex asked, her voice soft and concerned.

“I’ve no clue. I didn’t hear their name. I’m sure it’s a mistake, but I am still pissed because they got the wrong person. They need to be more careful over there. Besides, I’m too busy for this stuff today. I love to have fun and cut-up, but not about sad stuff. This just isn’t funny. It pisses me off.” Bridgett fumed, her blue eyes stormy with anger.

Alex and Bridgett heard a knock in the outer office and stared as the door to Alex’s private office slowly opened. Crossing the threshold into her office were Dr. Monique Desmonde, the chief of psychiatry at CCMC, Commander Jack Françoise of the New Orleans Police Department, and Alex’s old nemesis, Betty Favre, the chief nursing executive at CCMC.

Alex felt a cold, numbing twinge in the pit of her stomach and the hair on her arms began to rise. She knew something was very wrong and surmised what was coming next. Dr. Desmonde gave Alex a hard look, shook her head negatively and turned her attention to Bridgett. Jack moved into a position behind Bridgett and gently directed her towards the elegant sofa grouping in Alex’s office. Alex felt as though she were watching a perfectly choreographed production. Betty Favre stood uselessly to the side of the group for a moment, studying her bright red manicure, and then took a seat in a Queen Anne chair.

Alex’s heart was thudding as Monique motioned for her to join them on the sofa. Bridgett seemed transfixed, unable to talk. She looked like a tall, beautiful Barbie doll. Dr. Desmonde began slowly, “Bridgett, I’m afraid I’ve some bad news for you.”

Bridgett’s eyes were blank as she stared at Monique, a beautifully groomed, dark-haired woman in her forties. Dr. Desmonde began gently, “Bridge, can you hear me? We must talk, now.”

Bridgett nodded her head slowly. Alex could feel fear and uncertainty crawling up her own spine. Her knees began to shake and her heart was pounding madly. It was the same feeling she always had when something bad had happened. Alex felt her knees jerking so badly that she was sure they would cause her feet to jump out of her 4 inch heels. Jack touched her knee, realizing Alex’s discomfort and offering support. Alex gave the police Commander a small, tight smile.

Dr. Desmonde continued, her voice soft, her eyes meeting Bridgett’s straight on. “Angela worked yesterday, Bridgett. She worked the 11am to 11 pm shift on the psych unit.”

Bridgett interrupted Dr. Desmonde. “Yeah, yeah, I know. I tried to call her last night. . I called early in the evening, but she was working on the prison or forensic unit or wherever. We never spoke,” Bridgett continued, the irritation in her voice unmistakable. “The idiot from the E.D. said she was over there and had been beaten up or something, said she couldn’t speak so I didn’t believe them.” Bridgett turned and noticed Commander Jack Françoise at her side and addressed him, her brilliant blue eyes full of anger. “Commander, can you do something about this? Someone is harassing me about Angie,” Bridgett said as she started to rise from the sofa. “I’ve got to go. I have a ton of work to do.” Bridgett rose from the sofa to leave, as if nothing real had just happened.

Jack looked over at Dr. Desmonde who gave him a thumbs-up sign. He took Bridgett’s hands in his own and said, “Bridge, it’s not a joke. Someone hurt Angie after she left work last night. She was attacked and we didn’t find her until this morning and ….”

Alex’s heart lurched at the sight of Bridgett’s big blue eyes. They were filled with terror and uncertainty. Her pupils were huge, surrounded by liquid pools of white. Her long blonde hair created a halo around her head. Alex wasn’t completely sure if Bridge understood what the police commander had said.

Dr. Desmonde interrupted, “Angie’s over in the E.D. They’re going to take her up to surgery and I thought you might like to see her before she goes,” Monique’s voice trailed off, uncertain of Bridgett’s level of comprehension.

“Yes, yes, I would. Is she OK?”

Monique continued, slowly as she shook her head, “No. Not really. She is very sick. In fact, she is in critical condition. She has a machine breathing for her, a ventilator, and she has some head injuries. She has lost a lot of blood. She also has some internal injuries and Dr. Goshette wants to do an exploratory to be sure she isn’t bleeding on the inside,” Monique said.

“How’d she get hurt?” Bridgett asked in a dazed and child-like manner as she looked around the room. It was clear to all of them that Bridgett really wasn’t getting it. Alex couldn’t help but be amazed at how good the brain was at screening out bad news.

Being the psychiatrist that she was, Monique tried hard to work through Bridgett’s shock and denial. She started again, “Bridgett, Angie was attacked and beaten last night after work. She is very ill. Do you understand?”

Bridgett nodded impatiently, “Yes, you told me. I’d like to go see her now, if you don’t mind. You said she was going to surgery, right?” Bridgett stared at Dr. Desmonde as if she was a moron for not understanding her.

“Yes,” Monique sighed. “Bridgett, you must understand that she has bruises and cuts on her face and that ….” Monique stammered, searching for words, “You must understand that she looks very different. Someone beat her badly. Are you sure you’re up to seeing her?”

Bridgett nodded her head impatiently, “Of course, Dr. Desmonde, of course I am. But it isn’t all that bad, not nearly as bad as you say. Angie and I are twins. If she were hurting badly, I’d be hurting too. It’s always been like that, since we were babies.” Bridgett smiled and continued, “I’m really not worried, let’s go,” she said looking around the group. “Hurry up! I just need to get my purse.”

Alex, Jack, and Monique looked at each other while Bridgett went into her office. Betty Favre had completely removed herself from the situation and was flipping through a copy of “Architectural Digest” she’d removed from Alex’s coffee table. What an uncaring bitch, Alex thought silently to herself.

Monique rolled her eyes at Betty, shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, Bridgett doesn’t really get it. Angela looks pretty bad, and believe me she is really hurting. The reason Bridgett isn’t feeling any pain is because Angie is in a coma.”

Alex was startled, “Oh no, is it really that bad?” She searched the faces of her good friends and colleagues. Her crystal blue eyes locked with Commander Françoise’s dark ones. “Please say it isn’t, Jack,” she implored.

“Wish I could Alex, but I can’t. It’s bad. It’s real bad. I’ll fill you in later. Let’s get Bridge through this part first.” Jack lifted his large, bulky frame from the chair and moved into the outer office to help Bridgett gather her things.

Dr. Desmonde added quickly to Alex, “Jack’s right, Alex. Angie is pretty beat up. She may be bleeding internally. She has a skull fracture and some seriously broken bones. Her jaw is broken, as well. She laid out there for hours before anyone found her. She lost a lot of blood and Lord knows how long she has been unconscious. Her crit, CBC are way down.”

Shsssst!” Monique put her finger to her lips as Bridgett and the Commander returned to Alex’s office. “We’ll catch up later.”

Betty looked up from her magazine and spoke for the first time. “My secretary called Bridgett’s husband and he’ll meet us in the E.D. They’re looking for Angela’s husband. He is supposedly on his way. Favre’s voice was flip and tinged with sarcasm. Alex immediately moved into Betty Favre’s personal space to confront her, but Monique waved her away while she motioned for Jack and Bridgett to wait in the hall for them.

“Later, Alex,” she cautioned, “We have enough going on here and you’re not dying on the Betty Favre hill right now.” Monique glared at Betty Favre, “See me later, Ms. Favre. I want to discuss the concept of empathy with you. And I do mean it.”

Alex smiled to herself as she watched Betty bristle with anger and then felt ashamed for enjoying the exchange. Dr. Desmonde was probably the only person at the medical center who disliked Betty Favre as much as she did and this behavior was so unlike Monique it was a bit shocking. They both had Favre’s number and supported each other when the nurse executive ran rough shod over the staff. Betty was uncaring, incompetent, inept and not very smart. Unfortunately, the CEO, Don Montgomery, didn’t share their opinion of Betty — most likely because they were very much alike. If you were to believe the hospital scuttlebutt, they were lovers. Gross, yuck, is all Alex could think about that rumor. It made her feel slightly sick.

As Monique and Alex joined Jack and Bridgett in the hallway, Alex began to feel angry about what had happened to Angie. For three years, Alex repeatedly asked the hospital executive committee to at least move the psych units closer to the main hospital, if not into the main medical complex itself. Of course, Don had a shit fit over that one. He would never tarnish his “world-class, prestigious medical center, soon to be a health sciences center” with the likes of the crazy lowlifes of New Orleans and criminals with HIV. He had even declared at the Board of Trustees’ meeting that he would never turn CCMC into an insane asylum or increase the number of beds for the psychiatric community. Alex doubted if he ever knew how much he had appalled the Board or that he had made an enemy of Monique Desmonde for life, which was probably not a good thing.

Needless to say, Alex had met massive resistance from both Favre and Montgomery, who had issued a joint press release suggesting that “psychiatry, while a necessary albatross to any hospital, was CCMCs gift to the sick, poor, and disenfranchised mental cases of New Orleans.” Monique had seethed with anger and it had taken her and Alex several bottles of Virginia wine to settle both of them. Alex had always been afraid that an accident like Angie’s would happen and that someone, whether a patient, visitor, or staff member, would be seriously attacked in or around the Pavilion. Now it had happened.

All four were silent as they waited for the elevator to the ground level E.D. The elevator seemed to take forever as it stopped on each and every floor. They were met at the nursing station by Sandy Pilsner, the nursing director of the emergency department. Sandy eyed her friends for some nonverbal direction. She moved close to Bridgett, took her hand, and said, “Bridge, Angie looks bad. Her face is black and blue, her eyes are swollen shut and she is hard to recognize. We have IVs and bags of blood hanging and she has a tube down her throat that is hooked to a machine that is breathing for her. She’ll be going up to surgery in a few minutes. We think she is bleeding internally because her lab results are so bad.”

Bridgett smiled brightly at Sandy. “Is Angie talking you to death. I know how she is. She has never even been in the hospital, except for when Jessica was born. Do you think we can even count that?” Bridgett seemed totally out of it.

If Sandy was surprised at Bridgett’s lack of understanding, she didn’t let on. She said very clearly, “Angie is not talking. She’s not breathing on her own and she cannot talk to you. Bridge, do you understand me? She is very sick. Maybe she can hear you, but she cannot talk to you. There is also a possibility her assailant raped her.”

Bridgett didn’t respond. Her expression showed no emotion and her affect was flat. Sandy glanced at Alex and Dr. Desmonde, who shrugged her shoulders and nodded her head. “Let’s go, Sandy,” Monique said gesturing forward with her hand. “We’ve got to break through this denial somehow.” Jack’s face was impassive. Alex knew him well enough to know that he was feeling phenomenal stress. She patted his hand for reassurance.

The sounds of the E.D., the newly renovated patients’ rooms, and the spanking clean floors brought no comfort to Alex. As physicians and nurses glanced at her and offered tight smiles, she felt their pain. They all knew Angie and many had worked with her over the years at CCMC. They had celebrated her graduations from nursing school – first from Delgado at Charity Hospital and then LSU. They had celebrated her marriage and the birth of Jessica. They had worked side by side with her every day. Angie was one of the team, one of their team. She was their friend. She was one of their own, one of CCMCs highly skilled and coveted nurses, and one of the millions of caregivers all over the world who gave endlessly and selflessly of their time, talents, and gifts every day.

Alex noticed that Monique was eyeing Sandy carefully. They both knew this was especially hard for her. Angie had worked in the E.D. prior to the birth of her baby and Sandy had hosted her baby shower. Sandy had already lost her good friend and mentor, Diane Bradley, during the tragic accident in the emergency department just before Mardi Gras earlier in the year. Sandy seemed to be holding up pretty well. Nurses are tough creatures, Monique thought to herself. Much tougher than we docs.

As they entered the patient bay, they walked slowly towards the bed. Bridgett looked hard at the patient in the bed and said angrily, “What in the world is going on? I don’t know who this is, but it certainly isn’t Angie. What kind of sick joke is this?” Bridgett’s eye flared with anger as she glared at Alex.

The next few seconds seemed like eons and finally Monique said gently, “Yes, Bridge, it is Angie. Look carefully. Her face is swollen, her jaw is broken, but it is Angie.”

“It is not, it is not! Why are you all doing this to me? I thought you were my friends.” Bridgett’s enormous blue eyes brimmed over with tears as she stared at the faces of her friends around the bed.

Sandy reached to remove the O.R. cap from Angie’s head. When Bridgett saw the long, mussed up blond curly hair, just like her hair only matted with dark, dried blood, she knew and she began to scream, “Oh, no! Oh, no, no, … PLEASE, no, it can’t be. Angie, Angie, talk to me, Please, Angie, please answer me.” Bridgett touched the long knife wounds extending from her sister’s forehead all the way around her face. She looked at her friends around the bed. “Who did this? Who did this? It must be a monster. It looks like someone tried to cut off her face!” When she noticed her sister’s Mother’s Ring with Jessica’s birthstone she began to sob, “Oh, no, she wanted that ring for so long and Johnny just gave it to her on Mother’s Day.” Her sobs became uncontrollable and could be heard throughout the E.D.

Sandy and Monique lead the sobbing Bridgett away while Alex and Commander Françoise stayed by Angie’s bedside, continuing to observe her injuries. Alex, numb with shock, turned away, attempting to control her emotions. Jack gently touched her on her shoulder, “Alright, Alex, we can go. You’ve seen enough.”

“No, just give me a moment.” Alex drew a deep breath and turned to face Angie again. As she worked hard to dissociate herself from the body of her friend, she noticed some funny shaped marks on Angie’s left shoulder, visible where her hospital gown had fallen to the side. She eyed them curiously and looked at the Commander. “Jack, what are these? They look weird.”

Commander Françoise shuffled uncomfortably. “It’s a damn bite mark, Alex. The SOB bit her at least three times. He’s a sick son of a bitch. I’d like to kill him. I will kill him when I find him,” Jack hissed, as he felt for his holstered gun under his coat.

Alex looked at Jack Françoise with alarm. He was working himself into a frenzy. Not good, she thought to herself. Ever since the spring, when Jack had finally gone to Dr. Robert Bonnet complaining of chest pain, Alex had been afraid that Jack’s stress level and stressful job would cause him a heart attack or stroke. He’d done absolutely nothing Robert had recommended. Typical, stubborn Jack. He was still overweight, had high blood pressure, and had high cholesterol. He drank gallons of black coffee every day, and his diet was horrendous.

Jack had spent his life living on the edge. He had been a football star in high school and at Tulane University, where he had played linebacker. Shortly after graduation, Jack had joined the service and gone Army Spec Ops. Alex assumed Jack had been engaged in Black Ops, but didn’t know for sure. Jack didn’t talk about it much, but she knew that he had been everywhere in the world where there had been a skirmish in the last 25 years. He finally retired from the reserves about 10 years ago.

Of course, now, he was a police Commander in New Orleans working in the city with the highest crime per capita of any city in the U.S. Plus, he now was Commander over the district with the most crime. This was further complicated by the fact that Jack was an honest cop and still clung to his ideologies, even after all of his years of investigating murders, assaults, drugs, and abuse. Jack didn’t even need to be in the trenches anymore. He was a Commander, for God’s sake! But, Alex knew that Jack would never leave the trenches. It wasn’t in his genes. He didn’t go to meetings, ever if there was a way he could get out of them. He cared about victims and worked endlessly to avenge the dead and maimed. Besides, Jack liked to get even, and Jack liked to get back at the perpetrators. It was who Jack was and what had earned him the nickname of “Get Back Jack.”

For a fleeting moment, Alex considered calling Dr. Robert Bonnet, the chief of surgery at CCMC. Robert and Alex were close to Jack and shared concerns about him. Six months earlier, Jack Françoise had saved both of their lives as they were being pursued through the French Quarter by an assailant intent on murdering them. Consequently, a short while later, Robert had overseen Jack’s surgery after he’d been shot by that same man. Robert had been injured as well, by a gunshot injury to the medial nerve in his right arm that could still cost him his career as a surgeon.

Robert couldn’t operate. The verdict was still out on his injury. Additional surgery and physical therapy would render a determination of Robert’s future in a few months. Hopefully, he would be able to operate again. If not, he’d be an excellent medical doctor, as Alex had told him repeatedly. Robert was a natural healer but he was NOLA’s most outstanding surgeon. The police Commander, the surgeon, and the lawyer had become close at that time and forged a bond that would never be broken. The three had traveled to Alex’s home in Virginia with her grandfather, Congressman Adam Patrick Lee, and her grandmother, Kathryn Rosseau Lee, for a well earned vacation and deserved respite. Alex and Robert had been married while attending the University of Virginia. Later they divorced, but had begun to build a new relationship in New Orleans.

Alex’s thoughts briefly returned to her relationship with Robert Bonnet, back when the two were still married. Alex had loved Robert without reservation. They met when Robert was a surgical resident and Alex was a doctoral student in clinical nursing. They dated for over a year, became engaged, and married at the University Chapel on the Lawn in Charlottesville in a very proper circumspect ceremony. The marriage had merged two of the most powerful political families in the South: the Bonnets of Louisiana and the Lees of Virginia. Robert’s family had been prominent in the social, cultural, and political fabric of the state since the French had discovered Louisiana in 1769 and his ancestral grandfather had been the first governor of French Louisiana. Robert’s father, a former governor, presently served as a United States Senator for the great State of Louisiana.

Alex’s Virginia heritage was equally impressive. She could trace her ancestry to Richard Henry Lee, father of Robert E. Lee, Commander and Chief of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Her uncle still owned the ancestral family home, Stratford Hall, in Westmoreland County. Another relative owned a historic plantation on the James River near Richmond. Alex’s grandparents, Congressman Adam Patrick Lee and his wife, Kathryn Rosseau Lee, owned a large estate in Hanover County, Virginia — not far from Scotchtown, the home of Patrick Henry.

Congressman Lee, a diehard law and order politician, had been overwhelmed with respect for the then Captain Françoise’s integrity, character, and investigative skills. He had tried unsuccessfully to lure Jack into a high-level position with the FBI in Washington, D.C., but Jack was resistant. He had told the Congressman quite bluntly, and on several occasions since then, that he “wasn’t working for no damn bureaucrats,” that he was not for sale. Congressman Lee had loved the response and had tried even harder to recruit the burly, fearless New Orleans policeman. In fact, the Congressman was still trying to get Françoise to come to Washington and work on some special law enforcement projects, particularly anything related to terrorism, but Jack still refused. Alex knew Jack would never leave NOLA. Alex felt an arm on her shoulder that halted her daydreaming. She turned and looked at Jack Françoise.

Alex’s mind returned to the grim situation at hand. She stared again at Angie’s battered body. Alex noted how pale, almost waxen, Angie’s face looked and turned to Jack.

“Jack, she is so pale. She looks like a corpse. Feel how cool she is.”

“Yes, I see.” Jack was thinking back to the pale young corpse he had seen at Dr. Jeanfreau’s morgue last week. She had looked just li

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Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:

It’s Mardi Gras season in post-Katrina New Orleans. With only one week until the big day, thousands of tourists have flocked to the city, paralyzing traffic and jamming the French Quarter with drunken crowds and garbage. City officials are hoping for record crowds and record revenues to generate the biggest boost to the Crescent City since the “big storm.”

Alexander Lee Destephano, legal counsel for Crescent City Medical Center, a world-class hospital, is excitedly anticipating her third Mardi Gras Season and most of all, her date with dashing art historian Mitch Landry. The couple has tickets to the Endymion Extravaganza, the biggest Mardi Gras Ball in New Orleans at the Super Dome on Saturday evening. After many months, life is good again and Alex is determined to experience and appreciate everything it has to offer. She can hardly wait until Saturday evening.

But, things change. Alex is stat-paged to the Medical Center at 6:00 am on Monday morning only to learn from her boss, Don Montgomery and her former husband, Dr. Robert Bonnet that Grace Raccine, a cancer patient at CCMC and the first lady of Louisiana has been found unconscious in her room covered with blood with no visible injury. To compound matters, patients are leaving CCMC against medical advice and staff are refusing to work creating crisis and chaos in the Obamacare hospital environment. By the end of the day, the night with Mitch at the Endymion Ball is the last thing on Alex’s mind…

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an excerpt from

Chaos at Crescent City Medical Center

by Judith Townsend Rocchiccioli

Chapter 1

The pungent smell of Cajun spices permeated the February New Orleans air. With only one week before Carnival, the French Quarter was blazing with activity. Ornate iron balconies bowed under the weight of dozens of people, pressed together tightly for a better look at the street below. Being “up” on a balcony during Mardi Gras was prestigious, giving one an immense sense of power and control over the crowd below. You could get people in the streets to do just about anything for a Mardi Gras “throw” — a string of plastic beads or an aluminum doubloon.

Raoul Dupree, a waiter at Tujague’s Restaurant, was smoking outside the door of the European-styled bistro. His eyes were riveted on a gorgeous man hanging over a balcony a few doors down. The man was teasing a lovely but drunk young woman in the street. The man fingered a string of gold beads in front of her and repeated “show your tits” continuously. Others on the balcony picked up the chant, and it became louder and louder, almost deafening. The young woman kept reaching for the gold beads, just to have them snatched from her grasp each time. She looked around and smiled drunkenly and benignly at the large crowds gathered nearby and above on the balconies. The man was smiling at her, taunting her and luring her to grab the beads. The chant had become louder and frenzied. Crowds on the street and adjoining balconies were wildly excited and picked up the rhythm, hollering, clapping and stamping their feet. Finally, in the flick of an instant, the young woman pulled up her white T-shirt exposing her perfectly shaped breasts. The crowd went wild, clapping and shouting with approval. The woman grabbed her beads held them up for the crowd and quickly disappeared into an alley.

Raoul smiled to himself, shaking his head. Mardi Gras still amazed him. After a lifetime of Carnival seasons, he still wasn’t used to the heavy partying, drunken and lewd behavior so common during the season. People would do anything for a Mardi Gras trinket. He shook his head and shrugged his frail shoulders as his eyes again located the handsome man just as a hand reached out and roughly grabbed his blonde hair and shoulder. Raoul startled and looked around quickly and saw the flushed face of the frowning Tujague’s maitre d’/bouncer.

“Your boys in the private booth are getting anxious, Raoul. Better get your skinny ass up there and keep ‘em happy. We don’t want any of those sons of bitches on our bad side,” said the burly maitre d’ said as he gestured toward the door.

Raoul stamped out his cigarette butt, grimaced and ran up two flights of steps to a private dining room where three men sat smoking after a long lunch. Tujague’s, the oldest restaurant in the French Quarter, had a reputation for privacy and discretion and was a meeting place for prominent New Orleanians engaged in all sorts of business legal and illegal. Privacy, circumspect service and seven-course prix fixe dinners made the restaurant a favorite.

The men were talking quietly as Raoul loitered outside the dining room.  One glance at the group convinced him not to interrupt. He recognized one man, but he’d never seen the others and wondered how they were connected. From what he’d observed, he didn’t think they knew each other well and doubted if they’d ever been together before. They didn’t seem to mix. After cocktails and several bottles of wine, the tone of their conversation had moved from strained politeness to menacing. The maitre d’ had wasted no words when he’d told Raoul to stay out of the room except to serve. Each time he’d entered the private booth conversation stopped.

The man Raoul recognized was Frederico Petrelli, better known as “Rico”, reputedly a mob boss from Chicago who’d recently moved to New Orleans to oversee the “Dixie Mafia’s” activities in the Riverboat and land gambling operations. Raoul knew Rico because he often dined at Tujague’s and usually had his special waiter, Matthew. Unfortunately, Matthew was off today due to injuries he’d received last week.

Raoul kept his distance as he eyed the group and decided he never wanted to run up against Frederico. He was in his mid-fifties, balding and at least 40 pounds overweight. He had a long irregular scar on his right forearm, and dark beady eyes. He glared at his companions with distrust and impatience. His thick pursed lips moved back and forth over a wet cigar in his mouth. Frederico was a classic picture of a vicious Chicago mafia boss.

The second man was also distinctive but in a different manner than the gangster. This man was tall, with a swarthy complexion. His dark oiled hair was pulled back into a ponytail. He had a long face with an aquiline nose and thin lips that seemed to curl in a permanent smirk. His eyes were strange, the color somewhere between a blackish-yellow, and they gave the man a sinister appearance. It was impossible to tell his age. He could be anywhere between 30 and 60. His body was big, well-proportioned and in perfect shape. Raoul was pretty sure about this because he spent most of his time visually undressing men and he could easily imagine the man’s six pack abs. His clothes were expensive, as was the gold medallion hanging around his neck. He wore dark trousers and a custom-designed dark shirt opened at the neck. He caressed a leather strap in his lap as if it were his lover as he alternately tapped his well-manicured nails against the hand-rubbed walnut table. His dark eyes moved side to side as he followed the conversation between the other two men. His eyes were unreadable and gave him a menacing and evil appearance. Raoul’s attention was drawn again to the leather strap in the ponytailed man’s lap as he continued to stroke the strap. The ponytailed stranger said little, instead following the conversation between Frederico and the third man. The ponytailed man gave Raoul the creeps, and Raoul rubbed away the chill bumps that had appeared on his arms. Raoul shuddered, thinking the man looked like the devil with those yellow-black eyes and dubbed him “the evil one”.

The third man was less distinctive. Raoul wouldn’t have paid much attention to him had his companions not been so macabre. The third man was about 40 years old with brown hair and an honest face. He spoke with a Midwest accent and seemed ordinary. The ordinary man was speaking when Frederico summoned Raoul into the dining room. Frederico rudely interrupted him.

“Give us sambukas all the way around. Also, a pot of  espresso, and get the fuck out of here,” Frederico barked at Raoul.

Raoul left quickly but heard the ordinary man say, don’t care what you do. I want Robert Bonnet ruined and dead. I don’t know what your interests are in the Bonnets and the medical center, but I want the man dead. He killed my wife and baby three years ago. Kill him. He had a wild look in his eyes, and was shaking. He appeared unstable.

Raoul’s ears picked up at the mention of Robert Bonnet. He knew Dr. Bonnet from the medical center where he worked as a volunteer on the AIDS floor. Dr. Bonnet had operated on his lover last year when no other surgeon had been willing to. Dr. Bonnet hadn’t cared that Josh had AIDS and would probably die anyway but had pulled strings to give Josh a chance to get a new liver and live longer. He’d given Josh a lot of comfort before he had died. Hearing threats against Dr. Bonnet encouraged Raoul to take a risk, and he paused for a moment, eavesdropping outside the room.

Frederico glared at the third man with a bored expression and said harshly, “Shut up, choir boy. No time for emotions. They get in the way of business and cause mistakes. No mistakes, you hear?” The gangster’s voice had become low and threatening as he glared at the ordinary man. “You make a mistake, you pay.”

The ordinary man, frantic, stared at him. The evil one with the ponytail simply nodded his head, said “Salute” and raised his cup in a toast.

Rico continued to glare at the ordinary man and said “Get it choir boy, no mistakes. You know what to do.”

The ordinary man nodded.

Raoul returned to the serving area, his heart thudding heavily in his chest.

                                   Chapter 2

“You’ve got to handle this, dammit, Alex. You do treat Robert Bonnet differently from the other staff physicians. This is the third complaint we’ve received against him in less than six months. Something must be done. That, as lawyer for this medical center, is your responsibility.”

Alexandra Lee Destephano sat on the edge of the sofa as she listened to her boss rant and rage. Don Montgomery was the chief executive officer at Crescent City Medical Center. Dissociating herself from his tirade, she glanced around the executive office. The office was stiff, formal, and uncomfortable and the décor mirrored the pretentious nature of Crescent City Medical Center’s haughty CEO. If fact, there was a likeness between the man and the office. Don Montgomery was tall and stiff in his Versace suit and Louis Vuitton watch. His thinning brown hair framed his cold unsmiling, face.

Alex likened her boss to a fish, but she was brought back to reality as he closed the distance between them and entered her personal space. Alex rose from the sofa and backed away from him. Overlooking the sarcasm in her boss’s voice, she prayed for patience and remembered the advice of her maternal grandmother, Kathryn Rosseau Lee of Virginia. Alex struggled for control and responded, “Why don’t we take a few minutes to review these claims and see if we do have anything serious against the hospital?  I am not convinced that we do.” Alex watched the frown flicker across Don’s impassive face.

The CEO stood up, walked to his office door, and opened it. “I don’t have time and that is not my job. I’m up to my ass in Obama Care bull shit regulations that are going to cost us millions, absolute millions, and I don’t have time to discuss your ex-husband’s inability to practice safe medicine. If you’re going to play ball with the big boys, you’ll just have to figure out how or get out.”

Alex could feel anger seeping through her brain and tried hard not to roll her eyes as Don continued his self-aggrandizing, “Don’t forget that I run this hospital. The financial success, image and future of this place are my responsibility. I have to second guess our competition and keep our market edge. No one here has any of the skills needed to assist me. Weren’t for my leadership, the board of trustees would have voted for that Health Trust merger six months ago.”

Alex was sick to death of Don’s proclaimed “Savior Behavior” and wondered if he lived in a vacuum. She doubted he realized the efforts of the physicians, staff, and volunteers were part of the success of the world-class and prestigious Crescent City Medical Center. Don consistently took credit for all accomplishments at CCMC and cast blame on others when things went wrong. She sighed as the CEO continued eulogizing himself.

“If I didn’t have a handle on internal and external sabotage we encounter daily, we’d be history. Only strong hospitals and medical centers with strong leadership will survive these times, but I can’t do it all.” Don paused his sermon for a moment and then shook his finger in her face.

“Now, take care of this problem immediately, dammit. I expect a report from you within twenty-four hours about how you’re going to handle the malpractice claims against Robert Bonnet.”

Alex was angry at the CEO’s disrespect and patronizing superiority but held her temper. “I’ll meet with Dr. Bonnet and the staff involved this week.”

As she left the office, her self-control barely intact, Alex wondered how many executives she was going to have to train. Don Montgomery was already the second CEO in her two-year tenure as in-house legal counsel for Crescent City Medical Center. She was beginning to wonder if she’d be able to stand it for another two years. Alex constantly wondered if she’d made the right decision in moving to New Orleans to practice hospital law. In all honesty, she wondered did she treat Robert Bonnet, her ex-husband, differently from other CCMC physicians. Sometimes feelings of uncertainty and guilt clouded her mind; she hoped it didn’t cloud her professional judgment as well. Alex’s thoughts returned to Robert as she left the executive offices and headed toward her own, continuing to think about Robert along the way.

Robert Henri Bonnet, M.D., was the chief of surgery at CCMC and a favored son of New Orleans. Alex knew that Robert was a skillful physician. They’d met over ten years ago at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, when Robert was a resident in general surgery, and she was a doctoral student in clinical nursing. They dated less than a year before they married in a very small but circumspect ceremony at the UVA Chapel on the Lawn. Their union melded two of the most powerful families in the South — the aristocratic Bonnets’ of Louisiana and the powerful Lees’ of Virginia.

Her musings led her through the opulent atrium of the world-famous hospital into the Hospital Café where she ordered a Latte and continued to think about her failed marriage. The marriage to Robert had been perfect in the early years, and she still wondered when things had gone wrong. In truth, Alex rarely saw Robert at CCMC and knew little about his personal life. She was curious about Don’s angst towards Robert. Her intuition suggested that something was involved but she wasn’t sure what it was.

Alex reflected on her meeting with Don as she slowly sipped her coffee. Other physicians at CCMC presented greater legal risks than Robert. For instance, her greatest concern was the hospital’s internationally famous vascular surgeon who allowed his physician’s assistant to perform complex aspects of cardiac surgery. Another concern centered on CCMC’s nationally known cancer physician whom Alex suspected of practicing active euthanasia. She considered these physicians much more dangerous than a few complaints about Robert.

Alex had considered her former relationship with Robert prior to accepting employment at CCMC. Their divorce had been final for four years, and their parting had been amicable. Much of their difficulty had centered on Alex’s decision to go to law school and postpone having children until she established a law practice. Robert, a product of a traditional home, didn’t like the idea of a professional wife who worked outside the home. Over the duration of their marriage, their individual lives took separate paths — Robert’s in medicine and Alex’s in law.  The decision to end the marriage was mutual although Alex believed two miscarriages, during her third year of law school, were the major reason Robert divorced her. Robert had wanted her to quit school at the onset of the second pregnancy, but Alex had refused, noting that she was healthy and too close to graduation. Robert had become extremely depressed at the loss of the second child and declared they’d grown too far apart to continue their marriage. He had moved out of their home shortly afterward and filed for divorce.

She’d been hurt by the separation and divorce but knew it would have been difficult to build a life with Robert. After the divorce and her graduation from UVA law school, she’d accepted an offer from a chain of Catholic hospitals in Houston.

Alex’s tenure with the Catholic hospital group had provided her with experience and practice. Her nursing background added considerable depth to her ability to determine high risk and analyze potential malpractice cases.

Alex continued to mull over Don’s curious request as she looked around the glass atrium. Why did Montgomery want her to fix Robert? Her intuition nagged at her and suggested there was more than was apparent in the CEO’s behavior. She made a mental note to call Robert and speak with him soon.

As Alex entered her office suite, she noted that her secretary was late. Just as she finished checking email, her striking blonde-headed bomb shell Cajun secretary, Bridgett, almost six feet tall in red spiked heels, knocked on her door and came in.

“Happy Monday, Alex,” Bridgett sang. “We’ve got a new unbelievable complaint for the book. You’re gonna love it.”

Alex looked up and smiled as she waited patiently waited for Bridgett to continue her story.

Bridgett combed her long blonde hair back with her fingers and grinned. “Well, patient’s probably a nut bunny, but then what’s new?? Anyway, for the purposes of our book, she’s got a great story.”

Bridgett was dancing with excitement, dying to tell Alex about the new patient complaint. Her blue eyes sparked with the anticipation of her newest adventure in the legal advisor’s office. Bridgett loved her job, and she was good at it. She could sell ice to Eskimos in December and had prevented many lawsuits at CCMC simply by listening and being supportive of families in crises.

Alex laughed. “Is it better than the guy who came in for the penile enlargement but refused to wear his weights?”

Bridgett burst into renewed laughter again. “Unbelievable. Yeah, that thing never did work, did it? The surgery would’ve worked if he’d worn his weights, right? I mean, you gotta pull that old thing up and out to make it larger, right?” Bridge dissolved once again into laughter.

Alex shrugged her shoulders and grinned, “Who knows? To be honest, I don’t know much about penile implants, don’t really want to but I do believe that obeying laws of physics would have made the surgery successful.”

Bridgett, still laughing, thumbed through the book as she contemplated her answer. The Crescent City Medical Center book of The Craziest Patients Ever was a compilation of the most colorful, unusual and creative patient complaints known to the medical center. The addition of a new entry to the coveted notebook was a spectacular event made known only to a few individuals. Favorite entries to date included complaints from the penis man, another man who’d forgotten he’d agreed to have his foot amputated and complained later when he found it was missing, and the woman who had committed her husband to The Pavilion, CCMC’s psychiatric facility, and later sued the hospital for negligence after she signed him out against medical advice. And of course, there was the New Orleans Voodoo Queen who swore that the hospital had “taken” her magical powers after surgery. The suit had still not been dismissed and was being handled in the city court.

Bridgett continued to string Alex along, not telling her the new story until Alex erupted into a fix of impatience. “Tell me. Don’t keep me waiting.”

Bridgett hesitated a few more seconds. Finally she began,

”Well this one is straight out of the Emergency Department…”

“Yeah and….hurry up! You never know when we’re gonna be interrupted around here,” Alex said, as she scanned the outer office furtively.

“Well,” Bridgett continued, “This man came into the ED and told the admitting clerk that he had to see a doctor right away because he couldn’t talk…”

“Who was taking for him?”

“He was talking for himself.”

Alex stared at Bridgett uncomprehending. “I don’t get this. What am I missing? How could he not talk if he was talking?”

“That’s probably a good question. Well, I guess the clerk didn’t even pick up on it and sent him back him to see a doctor. Then they called in a throat specialist.”

“Terrific,” Alex said sarcastically, shaking her head and smiling. “We really have a bunch of rocket scientist clerks over there, don’t we?”

“Yep,” Bridgett replied, “but there is no new news there.”

Alex nodded agreement, “Then what?”

“He saw a doctor, some new guy to the CCMC ED who kept insisting to the patient that he could talk until the patient just sort of went bonkers, screaming and yelling and holding his head.”

“And then..?”

“The doctor left him alone and went out front, raging at the ED admitting clerks and then went to order a psych consult. About that time, the new throat surgeon came in and not knowing, saw the patient. Then a short time later the nurses heard a bunch of screaming and the sounds of stuff breaking coming from the guy’s room. When they went to check, the patient had broken all the IV bottles and equipment he could find, pulled all of the equipment out of the wall and jumped up on the wall-mounted TV and swung back and forth on the TV while it was still on the wall. The Price is Right was on.”

Alex looked at Bridgett, dumbfounded at the new story and at people in general. “What’d did the nurses do?”

“Called security but before they could get there, the man jumped down from swinging on the TV and ran out of the ED into the lobby where he turned all of the green plants over on the new oriental carpeting. If that wasn’t enough, he turned the water fountain machine upside down on the carpet making an enormous mud slide.”

Alex covered her mouth with her hand, “OMG, Don’s gonna have a shit fit. He just had those carpets installed…”

“You haven’t heard the end of it yet, Alex.”

Alex stared at her secretary, her eyes huge, “What else?”

Bridgett was now reporting at full capacity, her long red nails clicking against the desk. “Well, he pulled down all of the framed art in the foyer too and smashed all of the glass all over the marble floor.” Once again Bridgett dissolved into peals of laughter. “I heard Don almost had a heart attack when they called him.”

“Wow. I bet he just about pooped his pants,” thinking this must have occurred just after she had met with him.

“Probably. Anyway, the guy was apparently acting pretty crazy and people were afraid of him and ran away. When the area was clear, he ran over to the coffee kiosk and turned all of that over too. The newly opened marble foyer now looks like a black, gritty hell.”

“And the art collection is smashed to smithereens. Good Lord, how long did it take CCMC security to get there?”

“All of this happened very quickly, probably 3 or 4 minutes at tops. The guy was fast! The staff is calling him the “Monkey Man” based on his ability to swing from the TV in the ED. He’s also pretty good at slinging coffee and art.” Bridgett was laughing so hard her big blonde curls were dancing and tears and mascara were streaming from her eyes. “We’ve got some great pictures from cell phones and digitals. Don is going to have a shit-fit.”

“You got that right, if he hasn’t already.” The look of disbelief on Alex’s face was mingled with humor. “Pretty incredible. He spent millions on that renovation.”

Bridgett looked at Alex sideways. “Well, serves him right. Maybe he should spend that money on his staff and patients.”

Alex nodded and asked, “Does Monkey Man have a regular doctor?”

Bridgett looked at Alex sheepishly, “Yep, Dr. Bonnet.”

Alex raised her eyebrows and said sarcastically, “Huh, oh great. But why? Robert’s a surgeon. Why would he have a medical patient? Well, I need to see him anyway.”

“I think the guy is a charity case, from the clinic where Dr. Bonnet volunteers. Al,” Bridgett began and then hesitated for a moment, “There are a lot of rumors about Dr. Bonnet among the nurses and the administrators. I know people aren’t comfortable talking with you about him since he’s your ex and all….”

“What kind of rumors?” Alex’s voice was sharp, her former good mood gone. She knew Bridgett had good connections on the grapevine, particularly from her twin sister, Angela, a nurse in the operating room.

“Just that he’s been irritable and unpredictable lately, and some of the nurses think he’s been drinking when he makes rounds.” Bridgett looked at Alex’s face and was instantly sorry for repeating the rumor.

Alex’s face darkened. “That’s news to me. Keep me posted about our new complaint. Alex jerked her head toward the door, “I guess I better get to this pile of work.” She tried to sound noncommittal, but Bridge could tell she was concerned.

Bridgett walked towards the outpatient surgery department and thought about the ongoing battles between Alex and Don Montgomery. Bridgett couldn’t understand how someone couldn’t get along with Alex. Alex was great, a regular person. She was patient and kind and a bunch of fun.  Part of Alex’s beauty was she didn’t know she was beautiful. Besides that, she was really nice, a real down to earth person. Not snotty like that uppity female lawyer before her.

She hoped she hadn’t upset Alex. She felt a pang of guilt for talking to Alex about Dr. B. She doubted Alex even thought of herself as exceptional. She never seemed to notice how people looked at her when she walked into a room. If anything, Bridgett thought, her boss seemed a little shy and unsure of herself. Guess it takes a long time to get over a bad marriage.

Besides, losing Dr. Bonnet would be hard. He was so good-looking and kind, a real hunk. Her cousin told her he ran a free surgery clinic in the bayou. A couple months ago her cousin told her he’d saved the arm of a little boy who had been bitten by an alligator. He didn’t even charge the family. He was really good to the Cajun community. Bridgett flipped her blonde hair back and decided she didn’t believe the rumors about the handsome Dr. Bonnet.

After Bridgett left, Alex sat at her desk and pondered her secretary’s remarks about Robert. She valued her rapport with the nursing staff and was pleased that they, in spite of her law degree, still perceived her as one of them. Her relationship with them had come in handy more than once.

Alex reflected back to the times Robert had drunk more than she thought he should. She’d attributed it to the pressures of hospital life and hard work, although there were a few times when their own personal difficulties had seemed to cause bouts of heavy drinking, particularly after the miscarriages. She specifically recalled an episode concerning her refusal to quit school. It depressed her a bit to hear the rumors. Hope they’re just rumors, she said to herself. I don’t need this.

Several hours later Alex was immersed in a slip and fall case, when Bridgett buzzed her to say that Dr. Bonnet wanted to see her. Within moments Robert was in her office.

“Alex, how good to see you. How are things going?”

Alex looked up as she felt a blush creeping up her neck. At 42, Robert was an astonishingly attractive man. He was tall with sandy blonde hair and had the slight build of the New Orleans French population. His voice was deep and soft with a subtle Creole accent. His eyes were brown and expressive, kind eyes, she had always thought. Alex immediately stood and offered her hand. “Robert, how good to see you. It’s been a while.” Alex was stunned by her formality.

Robert’s eyes appraised Alex critically. “It has. This hospital is so big; months go by before I see many of my colleagues. Alex, you look beautiful! New Orleans agrees with you. Tell me about your family. How are Grand and the Congressman? I read in the morning paper that he’s here in New Orleans. Business?”

Alex felt a flush come over her again and she could feel the warmth as it moved all the way up and down her body. I can’t believe that I’m feeling like this about seeing him. I must look like a teeny bopper to him. She was breathless and a little nervous as she responded. “Yes, Granddad’s here. Some big political pow-wow, coalition building thing with Governor Raccine. Grandmother’s doing fine. She broke her hip last September, riding her horse. Fortunately, her fall didn’t slow her down much. Still rides every day. She’s still managing the family, the Washington house, and the horse farm.”

In truth, Alex’s grandmother, Kathryn Lee, was the strongest force in her life. Unlike her shy, reclusive daughter, she had an interminable strength, yet she was gracious and pragmatic. She had the patience of a saint and the soul of an angel. Grand had served as a role model for Alex all of her life and much of Alex’s strength of character and integrity had been inherited from Kathryn. Her grandfather often joked that Alex had inherited her grandmother’s bad points as well. Congressman Lee insisted that both women were the most stubborn and willful women on earth.

Robert smiled and said, “I miss seeing her. She’s quite the lady. How’s the Congressman?”

“The same. You know him — still serving the conservative people of Virginia. He’s actively drafting crime, drug, and immigration legislation. He’s totally opposed to Obama Care and voted against it. He’s convinced that it is going to ruin healthcare as we know it in this country. And, of course, he has his own ideas about health reform — and they don’t, as I’m sure you can imagine, complement those of the present administration.”

“I can imagine,” Robert replied wryly. “I’d think our views probably wouldn’t match but would serve for some lively conversation. I miss seeing them. You seen your grandfather yet?”

“No. He’s busy tonight. We’re planning to get together tomorrow afternoon. He’s taking the red-eye back to Virginia tomorrow night.”

“Give him my best. Get to the farm much?”

Alex nodded as her blue eyes took on a faraway look as she visualized her grandparents’ farm, “Wyndley,” located half-way between Richmond and Washington D.C. in Hanover County, Virginia. After her parents had divorced when she was three years old, Alex had spent most of her childhood at Wyndley with her grandparents and her reclusive mother.

“No, I’m hoping to get up for a long weekend in April or May. Virginia’s beautiful in the spring and Grand just purchased a new Arabian brood mare. Wyndley’s becoming a well-known thoroughbred farm. I need to get back there more often. It grounds me and helps me sort through things and get them into perspective.”

Robert nodded in understanding. “Yeah, I understand that. That’s why I often go over to my summer home in Gulf Shores. I went last weekend and, as a matter of fact, I’m going this weekend for that very reason to escape Mardi Gras. The ocean, sun, and a few nights at the Floribama bar will allow me to relax.”

Alex’s thoughts immediately returned to the rumors of Robert’s drinking. They’d spent many evenings “wasting away “in Gulf Shores, Alabama at the coveted Floribama Lounge, the legendary home of Jimmy Buffet where very few people left alert. Of course, the Floribama was gone now, washed away by Hurricane Katrina. “Be careful.”

“Will do. By the way, Don Montgomery said you wanted to see me. What’s up?”

Alex looked at him sharply, her paranoia kicking in. “That why you’re here? When did you see Don?” Alex was suspicious.

“Last week at a medical staff meeting.  He mentioned on the way out you wanted to see me. You never called, and today my morning OR schedule got canceled, so I just came by on the chance you’d be in.

Alex tingled with anger, and then suspicion set in. She felt ambushed.

“Did Don give you any idea about why we needed to meet?” Alex’s voice was distrustful.

Robert picked up on the suspicious edge to Alex’s voice. “No. Why? What’s going on?”

Noting the flush in her check, his voice raised, “What! Alex, no games. We go back too far to play games with each other.” His voice had a ring of concern in it.

Alex’s intent was to be professional, and she chose her words carefully. “Don’s concerned because we’ve received three complaints about you in less than six months. One will end up as a malpractice action. He thinks three complaints are too many for that period of time. Besides, Don really likes to micro-manage,” she added quickly, shrugging her shoulders.

Robert ignored Alex’s dig at Don Montgomery. He scowled at her and replied, his voice was reserved and formal. “I want to be clear here. I assume the action you’re speaking of is the one where the elderly gentlemen with cancer developed a post-operative infection and died following colon surgery.”

Alex nodded and Robert continued, “I warned the patient, the family, and the oncologist of this risk. He was a poor candidate because of his battered immune system; he was a sitting duck for a massive infection.” Robert stopped for a moment and reflected. He shook his head sadly as he thought about the man’s prolonged and painful death. “I’m not the only physician named. You should be able to defend that claim. After all, you are a UVA lawyer! What else?”

Alex flinched at Robert’s sarcasm, and her own stress began to increase as she felt her heartbeat pick up. “Let me pull the files. I can’t recall the other two off the top of my head.” As she left her office, her gut tightened and the nausea began to mount. She had a sick feeling. Something’s going on, she thought. What the hell is going on? He’s freaked. This isn’t the confidant, brilliant and self-assured surgeon I used to know. Alex took several minutes to compose herself and review the files before returning to her office.

Robert paced in Alex’s office. As he waited for her to return, he could feel his own anxiety rising. He couldn’t understand Montgomery’s behavior towards him either, and, combined with the other things that were happening, he was feeling unnerved. He was constantly getting bumped from the OR schedule for no good reason. Several people he’d worked with for years were acting strangely, some were actually avoiding him, and he’d been greeted frostily this morning by another surgeon. Something was definitely stewing. But what? Robert shook his head but continued to think as he felt a darkness descend upon him.

Alex found Robert deep in thought when she returned. He looked at her expectantly, his voice reserved as he addressed her, “Well, what are they?”

Alex turned papers in the file. “In November you did an abdominalplasty and a breast augmentation on Elaine Morial Logan. Now she’s complained that her new belly button’s disfigured, and her breasts are too large. She’s also complained that you were short-tempered and angry with her when she came in for her follow-up visit. Several weeks ago her lawyer called and threatened a malpractice action because his client maintains she never knew that her ‘new’ breasts were silicon and could possibly cause cancer.”

Robert face flushed with anger. “That’s a pile of crap. What bullshit.  We discussed the silicon controversy in great detail. Elaine Logan will never be satisfied with herself or her body. I didn’t want to do the surgery anyway because I knew there’d be trouble, and her psychiatrist, Dr. Demonde, agreed with me. All of this is noted in the medical record.” Robert gestured angrily towards the file on Alex’s desk.

“Why’d you do the surgery, Robert?” Alex gave him a curious look. She saw another flash of impatience as he responded, his voice disgusted and terse.

“It was political. I got a bunch of pressure from the hospital diversity committee. Apparently, she complained to some of the black physicians that I refused to operate on her because she was black. Of course that’s BS as well. Consequently, the committee and Don insisted, pressured me to do the surgery. They wanted to avoid any negative publicity from the Morial Logan family.”

Alex rolled her eyes, but she believed Robert’s story. She continued, “Well, according to Don, Elaine Morial Logan is causing us considerable negative publicity in the black community. I don’t need to remind you of her social standing or her network in New Orleans.”

“Hell yes, I know their standing. I am from here, remember?”

Alex grimaced at his response. “Robert, be careful what you say. This woman and her family are potentially dangerous to us, both politically and economically. Her husband represents St. Bernard’s Parish in the legislature. We’ve trying to get approval to build a new facility there. If her brother succeeds in his bid for mayor, CCMC will need him as a friend. We don’t need the Morial and Logan families as enemies.”

Robert shrugged it off, resigned, “Okay, Alex. Sorry. I still think you should be able to defend this. Where’s the complaint now?”

“Well, it comes before the hospital risk and medical malpractice committee in two weeks. If Logan files, we’ll settle out of court.”

“That’s bull-shit. You can’t be serious. I’ve done nothing wrong.” Robert, clearly angry, stopped for a moment. “If anything, I exercised extreme prudence by not even wanting to operate on this lady. I knew she was a problem. As far as I’m concerned, administration got me into this. They can damn well get me out. It’s a set-up, and I’m furious about it. That’s the last time I’ll be their damn patsy. What else?” Anger was clear in Robert’s voice as he slammed his fist on the table.

“The other complaint is an internal one lodged by several operating room nurses and techs who, at this point, must remain anonymous. They complained your behavior in the operating room is erratic and unsafe and that you are always short-tempered.”

“This is preposterous.  I have great rapport and working relationships with the OR staff. Who filed this? I don’t believe it.” Robert’s face was suffused with anger.

“Robert, you know I can’t tell you.”

“Tell me what you can, please.” He gave her his pitiful look she remembered from way back. She relented some.

“Well, mainly they complained of emotional and profane outbursts when you couldn’t schedule your surgeries to meet your time constraints. You exhibited some, and I quote, ‘acting out’ behaviors. They also report that you yelled at them when a sterile field was set up incorrectly.”

“Hell, yes, I was angry when they set the sterile field incorrectly the third time. That idiot, Bette Farve, keeps hiring these incompetent OR techs instead of RNs. Setting up the sterile field incorrectly delayed the surgery for forty-five minutes. Has anybody calculated what that cost the hospital in lost time and money? Besides, the patient had an additional forty-five minutes of anesthesia he didn’t need — that could have caused problems for him and us.” Robert shook his head disgustedly. “What’s the unsafe practice complaint?”

“It’s unclear. Apparently one of your patients died during surgery and one OR staff member maintains the reason he died was because you incorrectly hooked him up to the heart-lung pump.” Alex set the file down and looked hard at Robert.

His mouth flopped open. He was shocked. “That’s absurd. I don’t even do that, the cardiac techs do.”

“This OR staffer says you rarely, if ever, check the settings on the pump. That’s the unsafe practice complaint.”

“Dammit, that’s their job. They’re licensed to do it.” Robert stood and began pacing around Alex’s office. “Something’s wrong here. This is a witch hunt. Has to be. I don’t understand it. I need to go, Alex, and think these things over. I’ll talk to you later.”

As Robert left her office, all his attention was focused on the barrage of complaints against him. He didn’t see the tall dark-haired man with the swarthy complexion outside of Alex’s office.

Alex decided to pack it in. It had been a really long day.

Chapter 3

Alex walked home from the medical center. She lived in the Riverbend area of the city, less than a mile from the hospital. Crescent City Medical Center was located on Prytania, between St. Charles Avenue and the river, in the shadow of Interstate 10. The location allowed easy access to its hundreds of patrons. Alex’s home was a few blocks off St. Charles and she could, weather permitting, easily walk back and forth. The horrendous New Orleans traffic made walking preferable to driving and the exercise benefits were another boost.

As Alex reached home, she smiled at how well the restoration of her house had turned out. She’d decided to live in the Riverbend area of New Orleans because the neighborhood was convenient to work, and she loved the architecture. She’d purchased a large town house shortly after arriving in New Orleans, and divided it into two apartments, renting the lower flat. The house was built in 1875 and could be easily hailed as “Old New Orleans.” Many of her favorite restaurants and shops were within walking distance.

As Alex reached her front courtyard, she was jarred out of her daydreaming as her cell phone began ringing. Searching for it in her purse, she opened the front door only to note the obviously loud ringing of her house phone. She immediately felt a pang of guilt as she heard the deep voice of Mitch Landry on the other end. She answered the phone and smiled as she heard Mitch’s anxious voice on the other end of the line.

“Alex, you haven’t forgotten our dinner plans have you? I’ve been calling and calling for an hour.”

Alex smiled into the phone. “No, of course not. I’m sorry, I should have called you. I just walked in. It’s been a long day, and, to be completely honest, I’ve been tied up all day. But, I’m starving, ready and willing. What’s the plan?” Her voice was light-hearted.

Mitch checked his watch. “Well, it’s now about six-thirty. Pick you up at eight? I’ve reservations at the Cafe Degas for eight-thirty.”

“Sounds great. See you then.”

As Alex hung up the phone, she felt guilty about forgetting her date with Mitch. Most people would die for a male companion like him. He was handsome, intelligent and well-connected. As an architectural historian and preservation consultant, he’d never be wealthy, but money seemed unimportant to him. Mitch was a pleasant escape from her day-to-day grind at the hospital and offered refreshing company. Besides, Alex smiled to herself, Mitch was very sexy, and she really liked him.

Her spirits brightened as she showered, dressed for her dinner date, and found herself mentally comparing Mitch with Robert. They were entirely different, she thought, in appearance and personality. Mitch was tall and dark with a muscular build. Robert was of slighter stature with much lighter coloring. Both men had a fervent passion for their work and both men were self-absorbed in their careers.

This is ridiculous, she chided herself. Why should I compare these two? My marriage to Robert has been over for years. It’s crazy for me to even be thinking this way. Robert’s completely out of my life. But, in all honesty, Alex had to wonder about her reaction to him today in her office.  She heard the door bell ringing and saw Mitch standing between the two Grecian Columns in her courtyard. She answered the door, her heart beating rapidly.

Mitch looked devastatingly handsome as he stood in the door frame. He was perfect, too perfect Alex sometimes thought. He had on dark trousers and a white shirt open at the neck. He was in excellent physical shape and Alex knew he worked out most days. His wavy dark hair was combed back from his face. He was tall, dark, handsome and exciting.

Alex’s heart began beating a little faster at the sight of him. Once again she wondered why Mitch, whom she’d been seeing exclusively for over four months, was reticent to start a physical relationship with her. At first, Alex had been relieved that Mitch hadn’t pressured her into intimacy. Yet, several times she’d found she feeling vulnerable and rejected at the end of the evening. It was probably residual feelings that stemmed from her father’s and Robert’s rejections of her.  More recently, Mitch seemed to be moving towards intimacy again, although his usually warm and inviting conversation often became stilted and aloof at the close of the evening.

Mitch’s eyes lit up at the sight of Alex, and he appraised her admiringly. “You look great… That teal color of your dress sets off your eyes, and I like your hair down. You look so carefree and comfortable.” Mitch groped for the proper words.

“I know, relaxed and casual. Bridgett tells me the same thing. I guess I must look like an old maid at the hospital. To quote my idiotic boss, ‘I have to dance with the big boys, so appearance is important.'” Alex paused for a moment and inhaled the fragrance of the spring flowers. “These flowers are beautiful. How about a glass of wine?”

“Sure. I told Andre at the Cafe we may be a little late.  Do you have any of that Virginia Chardonnay we enjoy so much? I’m pretty impressed with Virginia wine.”

“The Chardonnay is from Barboursville Vineyards, near my grandparents’ farm. Help yourself. I also have some Brie, heated with honey and almonds, on the coffee table in the living room. I’ll be in as soon as I arrange these flowers.”

Mitch poured two glasses of the Chardonnay in Alex’s wine glasses and gazed appreciably around her living room. The furnishings were impeccably beautiful, simple, and elegant, just like Alex. It’s funny how people reflect their homes, Mitch mused, as he studied the lovely walnut library cabinet on the wall opposite the sofa. As his eyes continued to survey the room, Mitch again noted the architectural design of the flat. The heavily carved mantels and decorative woodwork in the living and dining rooms were left natural, and pale blue silk wallpaper pulled together the pastels in the living room.

Alex returned with the fresh flowers in a cut-glass vase which she placed on the dining room table. She seated herself on the sofa next to Mitch.  After reaching for her wine and taking a sip, she asked, “How’s your newest project going? Did you get your historical foundation funding for the Acadia Village Project?”

Mitch’s face showed the animation he felt for his newest project. He’d been chosen to plan the preservation and restoration of a small settlement of historical structures in southwest Louisiana. He was delighted at the opportunity to finally pursue rural preservation. Since most of his work had been done in the French Quarter and in the Garden District, the opportunity to work on rural preservation would showcase his knowledge and ability in the areas of Creole and Arcadian architecture.

Mitch smiled and answered her question. “Yes. It’s great. Next week I begin the Arcadian Village in Lafayette. Would you like to visit the project? It’s a nineteenth-century Cajun settlement and it represents rural Louisiana.” He continued, “Let’s plan a weekend soon so you see the work as it unfolds.” He looked at his watch.

Alex warmed at the possibility of a field trip to Mitch’s architectural projects. “So I can have a full appreciation of your talents,” Alex teased. “I would love to. When can we go?”

“Soon, but I haven’t done anything yet.” Mitch glanced again at his watch and said, “We had better get going. We don’t want to keep Andre waiting too long. I’d hate to lose our table.”

As they left her apartment and walked toward Mitch’s car, Alex again savored the New Orleans night, and the fragrance of lilac and wisteria created an aura of romance. As Alex slipped her hand into Mitch’s, she felt him stiffen slightly. She felt rebuffed and wondered why he continued to see her. He doesn’t seem to have any sexual interest in me, so what’s this all about, she thought to herself. She didn’t understand his reticence. They seemed to go well together and had similar interests. He did seem to care for her and was warm and generous with his time and his gifts.  Besides, she liked him better than any male companion she’d had since her divorce. That made it even harder to accept.

The ambiance at the Cafe Degas was perfect. Like many fine restaurants in New Orleans, it had an eclectic decor. There were no side walls, only louvered shutters in case of extreme cold or rain. The evening was almost warm enough for al fresco dining, but Mitch, fearing the night would turn cool, ushered Alex to a table in the corner.

The cuisine at the cafe was excellent. After listening to the specials, Alex choose beef and Mitch selected crepes.

Their dinner conversation revolved around various topics.

“Your grandfather’s in town. Read about it this morning in the paper. How’s he doing?”

“Great. I talked with him earlier. He has a meeting tonight and he’s leaving late tomorrow. We’re having drinks tomorrow afternoon.”

“Are he and your grandmother staying with you?”

“My grandmother isn’t here. He’s alone and staying at Palm Court. It’s a quick trip. Some political brouhaha, I’m sure. He’s especially good at those.” Alex smiled, thinking of Adam Lee’s particular talent of making people see things his way. “My grandmother swears the Congressman could make a leopard change his spots if given enough time.”

Mitch picked up on her smile. “You’re close to them, aren’t you? Any chance I’ll ever get to meet him?”

Alex, surprised, was taken back. “Umm,no. I doubt it, at least not this visit. He’s tight for time. I’ll introduce you to both of them later. They’ll be here in June for another meeting.” She could feel a warm flush come over her face. She felt a little guilty about denying him the chance to meet her grandfather. She hoped Mitch wasn’t put off by her response.

Recognizing her embarrassment, Mitch reached for her hand. “Sounds good to me. You ready for the Extravaganza Saturday night?”

Mitch had invited her to the costumed ball sponsored by the Krewe of Endymion. The Endymion Extravaganza was this weekend and was the largest and most lavish ball in New Orleans.

Alex had been anticipating the ball for weeks. She’d gone overboard in having Yvonne LaFleur design a sumptuous gown for her, justifying the purchase with the idea she could wear it again in a few years. Alex was hoping the Endymion Extravaganza would be the beginning of an intimate relationship between her and Mitch. They’d decided to stay overnight at the Fairmount Hotel, the night of the ball, and had plans to spend the weekend in the Quarter. She smiled in anticipation.

“Alex, am I boring you? What are you smiling about? You’re in another world.” Mitch’s eyes were warm over the candlelight.

Alex was immediately apologetic. “Sorry. I was thinking about the Extravaganza and how much fun we’re going to have. I’m looking forward to it. What were you saying, Mitch?”

“Nothing important. How about some cafe au lait and cheese cake? Buy the whole thing and you can take it home. I know how much you love it. It’ll be the perfect ending to our meal.” Alex nodded in agreement.

“How are things going at the hospital? You seem a little distracted tonight?”

“Busy. Health care’s changing everywhere, and we are trying to prepare for Obama Care, which none of us truly understands. Nobody understands the health care bill. Not even Obama. The legislation is over 1,000 pages! There are all kinds of fears and concerns over health reform and the whole health care environment is fiercely competitive and focused on cheap care but good results.  I know it’s going to cost us millions and we will see significant job losses in health care providers, especially nurses, because reimbursement will decline. Most small to medium size hospitals are estimated to lose at least a million dollars a year in Medicare reimbursements.”

    Alex noticed that Mitch was paying rapt attention and continued, “Obama Care includes $575 billion in cuts to Medicare to pay for a Medicaid expansion to provide health care for the poor, but these cuts are going to hurt those of us in acute care. The elderly are our most expensive and costly patient population. It’s real competitive here, more than in most places, or at least that’s what I hear from my colleagues. Look what’s happened here in the past few weeks. American Hospital Corporation bought 80 percent of Tulane for $180 million. Then, they immediately merged with Health Quest and formed another huge conglomerate. Health Trust, as it’s known, now owns twenty-five hospitals in Louisiana. It’s going to be difficult for smaller hospitals to compete with these big boys.”

     Alex paused for a second, thinking to herself and continued, “Health Trust even has international holdings, and, when you factor national health insurance programs into it, the times will be dangerous at best and the outcomes and quality of care uncertain, mostly like substandard to outcomes now. These huge conglomerates are buying up hospitals in Europe, specifically in England and Switzerland, and I understand they’re even negotiating with hospitals in South America.  Makes you wonder who’ll still be in business in a few years with the fierce competition. It’s a turbulent time for healthcare.”

Mitch was listening closely and responded, “How many hospitals can they buy without it being a monopoly?”

Alex looked speculative. “All but one, I suppose. I’m not as worried about monopolies as I am about legal risks and cost-cutting to save money on patient care. Hospitals are struggling to survive.  These mergers and buy-outs affect a hospital’s credibility and image. Obama Care is going to make things even harder and more expensive. Look what’s happened recently in Florida and in Boston, especially the hospital that gave 10 times the amount of chemotherapy drugs and killed the patient. These errors are tragic and have long term consequences. It’ll take those hospitals years to recover from the negative publicity.”

“Yeah. You would think a cancer center would know how to calculate the correct chemotherapy medicine. Those patients’ families were really angry and the press had a field day with it.  People pick hospitals because of their doctors, don’t they?”

“Used to, but now they have to go where their insurance company will pay. Big business and insurance companies run health care now. They control health care and who gets it. Obama Care will only make it worse and more costly.  Remember when hospitals first started advertising and using slogans like, ‘the best care in town’ or ‘caring made visible’ or ‘the finest doctors in the country?'” Mitch nodded, and Alex continued.

“These slogans have come back to haunt us, becoming the basis for malpractice suits. Sometimes patients don’t believe they got the best care or the finest doctors.”

“Are these claims defensible?”

“Many are, some aren’t, depending on the facts of the case. Information systems make it possible for patients to search data bases kept on health care practitioners. For instance, a patient can find out whether a practitioner has ever been sued.”

“Sounds like the medical information explosion to me. Pretty scary for doctors and nurses, I would imagine.”

“It is. Patients can even learn how much money the physician earns. That adds even more fuel to the fires of malpractice actions. It’s all part of the consumer rights movement.” Alex was pensive as she stared into her water glass.

“You mean that if patients experience bad results from surgery or medical treatment, they can do their own research to build a malpractice claim?” Mitch looked surprised.

“Sure. Even more disturbing than the actual malpractice actions is the amount of publicity they receive, and how that publicity impacts the image and reputation of a hospital. I predict those hospitals in Boston and Florida will lose millions in revenues in the next couple of years. Times are tough. Many smaller and less powerful hospitals will be bought and closed by big corporations to decrease competition and costs. Others’ll be forced out of business.  We’re already seeing that in New Orleans.”

Mitch set his coffee cup down and pondered her remarks. “Many people think physicians make too much money anyway.” He looked at Alex sheepishly. “Of course, people say the same thing about lawyers. You think the Obama Care will remedy any of these problems?”

Alex was quick to reply. “Nope. It will make it worse. CCMC is currently in pretty good shape financially because of our large international population. They represent a significant portion of our revenues.”

“How do you think CCMC will do in the long run? You think anyone will buy them?”  Mitch looked at her intently.

“Don’t know. Someone tried a few months ago, but our board of trustees voted it down. They’re adamant we remain independent.  I know we’re in for a long haul.” Alex sighed, “I can’t even predict what’ll happen tomorrow. Another huge problem is the loss of Charity Hospital during Katrina. The city and hospital community has been struggling with how to care for Louisiana’s poor, and disenfranchised population. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride, no question about it.”

Mitch stifled a yawn and looked as his watch. “It’s getting late. Best be getting home. I don’t want to keep you out too late.” Mitch stood and helped her with her chair. Then the handsome couple walked hand-in-hand through the balmy New Orleans night.

At her door Mitch tentatively kissed Alex good night. “Call you soon. Sweet dreams.”

“Thanks, Mitch. It was a lovely evening.”  Alex entered her flat and returned to the living room to clear away the wine glasses and cheese tray. After straightening the kitchen, she returned to the living room to close the French doors leading to the roofed balcony. She stepped outside again to enjoy the fragrant New Orleans night.

Once outside, she was surprised when she noticed Mitch on the opposite side of the street talking to a short stocky man with a cigar in him mouth. Strange, she thought to herself. It’s after midnight. I’ll have to ask him who that was. She watched the pair several minutes. After a few minutes the men parted ways, and Mitch headed towards his car.


Congressman Adam Patrick Lee sat impatiently in his room at the Palm Court Hotel. For the tenth time, he dialed Alex’s number. No answer. Where in the hell is she, he thought to himself. It’s almost midnight. Damn, I wish she didn’t live here. This city’s full of creeps and perverts. He had hated New Orleans for years, and was convinced that the city had robbed Alex’s mother of her youth and her sanity. He still blamed New Orleans for her final, anguished mental break and the silence she had lived in for over 30 years.

Fucking nasty city, he thought as he impatiently redialed Alex’s home phone. His hand still stung from where he’d cold-cocked some kid trying to pick his pocket