Medical examiner Dr. Annabelle Schwartzman was not meant to be idle, which is why she's back at a murder scene even while reeling from recent chemotherapy treatments. Having undergone a double mastectomy, all she wants to do is dive back into her medical examiner job. It's a gruesome world, yet Schwartzman takes comfort in its science and precision.
But the crime she's dealing with brings her right back to the cancer ward: the victim is her own oncologist, dead from ingesting the very chemical used to fight her disease. Now, Schwartzman and homicide inspector Hal Harris must figure out why and stop the culprit before he can act again.
For Schwartzman, the case becomes even more personal. Her abusive ex, Spencer, who's in prison and seemingly out of the picture, is never far from Annabelle's mind. But to solve the mystery behind the death of the doctor who saved her life, she's got to put aside everything else.
Release date: August 22, 2017
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Print pages: 353
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The victim was a white male, late thirties.
That was all she knew so far. It was enough.
Dr. Annabelle Schwartzman arrived at the crime scene and parked in the farthest corner of the lot. Hal would be waiting. He’d called her almost an hour earlier to give her the address of the crime scene and the basic vitals. She preferred to draw her own conclusions, so he’d avoided any insight that might prevent her from processing the scene on her own.
Nausea and lethargy from chemo meant it had taken her longer than normal to get to the scene. She opened the driver’s side door even before she had turned the engine off. The car air felt stagnant and too warm.
Her fingers found the release on her seat belt, and she slid off the driver’s seat. She hadn’t gotten used to the new car. It was higher off the ground than her last one. What the ads called a small SUV, as if there were such a thing. She’d gotten it so she could see around all the other massive cars and because the hatchback offered a spacious rear to carry her equipment and easily load and unload her kit.
But it felt . . . massive.
She stopped at the edge of the asphalt. Somewhere nearby was a construction project echoing with the ramming of pillars and the clang of metal on metal. The shriek of heavy machinery and a smell like burning electrical wires made her feel even worse. Bent at the waist, she wrapped her arms across her stomach and drew air slowly through her nose, then blew it out her mouth.
The temperature today would get up to the seventies, but for the moment the air was cool, and she was grateful for the moisture from the morning fog.
Saliva collected in her throat, pooled in her mouth. In, out. In, out. The breathing wasn’t working. She was going to vomit. Again.
It would be the fourth time in two hours.
She was angry and frustrated. This was a crime scene, and she was needed inside. Given how close she lived to the victim’s house, she should have been able to get there in thirty minutes.
Three and a half months ago she could have done it in twenty. But that was before the mastectomy, before the start of chemo. Between the pain from the injections and the nausea, the experience was like having a nasty case of food poisoning after being run over by a truck.
These past seven weeks, everything took longer. There was no rushing the side effects of chemo. And the side effects meant there was no rushing at all.
Another wave of nausea rose into her throat. She took a slow breath. Waited.
“Be patient,” her oncologist had told her. “Take a minimum of four weeks off work,” the surgeon had directed.
Four weeks out of the morgue had felt like a year. She was not born for inactivity. She liked structure and work, and she thrived on the interactions of the job. Being in her condo that long had served as a daily reminder of how empty her place was, how little like a home.
She drew another breath in through her nose, but it wasn’t working. Too much saliva. The next wave of nausea rolled in her stomach and rose into her throat. She ran the few feet past the pristine landscape and vomited. Pitched forward, hands planted on her knees, she was grateful for the low fog and the bit of empty parking lot that offered some privacy.
Schwartzman drew a slow breath and knew from her overproductive salivary glands that she wasn’t done being sick.
“There you are.” Hal’s voice.
Without turning to look at him, Schwartzman raised her palm to keep him from coming closer. Hal had been the one to drive her home post-op, to get her set up for those first couple of days when she could barely make it from bed to the bathroom and back. Since then he’d been watching her like a hawk.
“I’m almost done,” she said as another wave of nausea filled her throat, and she retched again. Nothing came up but a thin string of stomach acid. She shuddered.
With a couple of deep breaths, she tested the nausea. Maybe it had passed. She shifted the waist of her slacks so that it didn’t press against her stomach. She was wearing her loosest pants—they were all loose now—but the sensation of anything against her skin made the nausea worse.
Maybe she could show up to a scene in her pajamas. At least she might get there quicker.
“Take this.” Hal pressed a travel package of tissue into her palm.
The pressure in her stomach was gone. She pulled a tissue free of the pouch and touched it to her mouth. “Much better.”
“Take your time.”
She took a few slow breaths and stood upright. When she felt confident she wouldn’t vomit on the homicide inspector, she turned toward him. “How’d you know I was here? Someone hear the sound of retching?”
Hal grinned, his teeth bright against his smooth, dark skin. “I think they heard your car, but it might have been the vomit that tipped them off.” He wore a gray button-down and a black blazer, more formal than usual. He looked sharp.
“I can’t believe you can just stand there and watch me.” She returned to the car for the tin of mints and put two in her mouth. “It doesn’t make you sick, watching someone throw up?”
“Nope,” Hal said a little proudly.
“It does me,” Schwartzman admitted. “I watched a patient throw up in the OR in med school. The anesthesia made her sick. She’d had chicken salad for lunch, and it came back up—you could see the red peppers and the asparagus.” She stopped herself before the image filled her mind. Even the thought of it made her gag. “I had to leave the room. Ran across the hall, looking for a bathroom, and ended up in an empty OR. Vomited all over the floor in a sterile room.”
Hal’s booming laugh made her smile. “I’ll bet that made you popular with the cleaning crew.”
“You spend enough years in homicide, and you lose your gag reflex,” he said. “Anytime we get a new inspector, I end up watching somebody vomit. At least the first few scenes.”
“I hadn’t thought about that,” she said. It took time to get used to dead bodies—the sight of them, the smells. Dead bodies didn’t make her gag. Even the particularly smelly ones. She was accustomed to rotting flesh and decomp. But someone else vomiting—that was gross. Better, then, that she worked with dead patients rather than the live ones.
The dead didn’t vomit.
She folded the tissue inside out, used it to dab the moisture from her eyes, and handed the package back to him.
“Keep it,” he said. “I borrow them from Hailey’s desk.”
Schwartzman smiled, and a beat passed between them.
He scanned her face, examining her. She knew he was wondering, How bad does she feel? How much energy does she have? He was going to tell her to go home, to rest.
She lifted her hand. “Don’t say it.”
“You don’t have to be here,” he said at the same time.
“I’m here.” She opened the trunk of her car with the key fob for her crime scene kit. Hal stepped in and picked it up for her.
It was awkward to stand aside and let him take it. After her first chemo treatment, she had argued about carrying her own case. She must not have been that convincing, because Hal didn’t listen. And she didn’t fight him. Before, she would never have allowed someone else to carry her equipment.
But this was after.
Today, she was grateful. She had read all the warnings about how the chemo would make her feel—the exhaustion, the nausea, the sores—but she had sworn she would make it through. “I won’t barf on your scene.”
“You might. You haven’t seen him yet.”
Hal carried her case toward the entrance.
Schwartzman looked up for the first time, taking in the swanky structure. It was maybe thirty stories high, and the building had a rounded roofline and huge semicircle windows on the top level. The penthouse. Where their victim was.
The residential building was one of the new projects that ran along the Bay Bridge, condos that started at a few million for the basic model and rose quickly in amenities and faster in price. Full of Silicon Valley millionaires whose companies had migrated up to the city. She was ready to move out of the condo she was in, which held memories of the deaths that Spencer, her soon-to-be ex-husband, had brought to its doorstep.
Hal hit the “Handicap” button with his hip and nodded for her to go first. As soon as they entered the building’s bright foyer, he whistled. The place was dense with foliage—as though they were entering a lush greenhouse. It smelled of wet jungle, and she imagined it would have been a peaceful place to come home to, if you weren’t already nauseated.
Schwartzman swallowed, hoping that she wouldn’t be sick again. “Who’s the victim?”
“Todd Posner. He’s—”
“The oncologist?” Schwartzman halted.
“You know him?”
How many times had Dr. Fraser assured her that Todd Posner was the best surgical oncologist in the city? Breast cancer wasn’t his specialty. He was normally sought after for more involved procedures. Despite that, he had ended up taking her case. She’d met him once, for ten or fifteen minutes, before he’d performed her double mastectomy.
“Posner did my surgery.” Nausea rose in her throat again. Another connection to her. Another person dead. Spencer. But he was in prison, awaiting trial.
That didn’t mean he couldn’t get to her. He could have someone else doing his bidding. Just like before.
Hal shook his head firmly. “No. You’re not thinking of him.”
But she was. Hal had obviously thought of him, too. How long would it be before his name wasn’t the first to enter her mind when someone died?
“No way, Schwartzman,” Hal went on before she could answer. “No way Spencer’s got anything to do with this. The DA down there is on every conversation, every interaction. When that bastard flosses, they know about it.”
“You’re right,” she said. Spencer was safely behind bars, and so was his accomplice. There was no way either of them could have killed Posner. “Posner’s not my oncologist anyway.” Spencer wouldn’t want him dead. There would be no reason. “He was my surgeon, and the surgery is already done.”
“Right,” Hal agreed as though that was all it took. But the words weren’t convincing in her own head.
They continued through the foyer and rode the elevator to the thirtieth floor. Hal hovered in the corner and watched the numbers above the doors. She knew he hated elevators. She wanted to distract him—it was the least she could do—but she couldn’t shake thoughts of Spencer. She started to tell Hal but stopped herself. Get a grip.
The elevator doors opened with a ping, and Hal exhaled as though he’d held his breath the whole way up. They passed two patrol officers who stood guard in the hallway. She scanned their faces, nodded.
The men nodded in return. They were familiar, but she didn’t know them. There had been some changes while she was gone. They included a new group of patrol cops, fresh from the academy. A new lab assistant, a new custodian. She missed the old faces.
In particular she missed seeing Patrol Officer Ken Macy at her crime scenes. Still limited to desk duty after the stabbing, Ken would not be there. She and Ken had seen each other regularly since her return from South Carolina, usually in the evening, for a dinner at whatever new ethnic restaurant Ken had discovered. Occasionally on the weekend. Despite knowing he wasn’t back on patrol, Schwartzman looked for him at every scene.
She and Hal stepped from the dark entryway into a brilliant-white apartment. Floor-to-ceiling windows without shades added to the feeling that the sun shone directly in from all sides. Sleek furniture in oranges and reds was carefully placed around a room that otherwise seemed stark and bare. The furniture was strangely uninviting, as if it was meant as an artistic statement rather than something to actually sit on or use.
A modern metal sculpture—red and gold geometric pieces soldered together—moved in a quiet circle in the center of the main room. On the opposite side, a spiral staircase painted in gold led to a loft that filled one corner. She could just make out a grand piano sitting in the center of the raised space. She wondered how they’d gotten the piano up there. Or how someone would get it down.
“What do you call this style?” Hal asked, pausing to stare into the living room.
“No idea,” Schwartzman said. It appeared expensive in the way of things that were designer one of a kinds. Like the bizarre dresses that came down the runway. Nothing you would ever buy. Except Dr. Posner had.
“Nouveau ugly,” Hal muttered.
Hallways led off in both directions from the main room. Around the corner was an expansive kitchen in the same gleaming whites. White cabinets, white slabs on the counter surfaces—marble or maybe some new composite material. An oversize Sub-Zero refrigerator in stainless steel sat beside a floor-to-ceiling wine cooler. This was beyond a nice house. Posner was rich.
“He must have done well,” she commented.
“We’re doing a check on his finances, but he was a doctor.”
Few doctors these days were rich—not in the way of corporate CEOs and those in the financial or tech sectors. And certainly not the doctors forced to negotiate with the insurance companies. As an oncologist, Posner didn’t have the luxury of being paid cash. That was for boob jobs, not for mastectomies. But maybe he did other types of surgeries. If what she’d heard was true, he was certainly talented enough. “A surgeon,” she clarified. “These days the rich ones are almost all surgeons. Where’s the body?”
“Den.” Hal led the way. “You think he had another source of income?”
“I doubt I’ll get any sense of his bankbook from the autopsy,” she said.
“Maybe he’s got gold teeth.”
“Good point. I’ll let you know.”
Hal stopped in a doorway and motioned inside. The decor in the den was more subdued than the other areas of Posner’s house, unless you counted some truly odd wall art and a floor-to-ceiling window with a stunning view. From his desk, Posner could see out across the San Francisco Bay to the rainbow of shipping containers stacked at the Oakland Port.
Quietly watching the scene, an Australian shepherd lay in the corner of the room under an enormous three-dimensional steel-and-wire sculpture that stuck out from the wall maybe eighteen inches into the room. The sculpture was the kind of thing no parent would own for fear a kid would run into it and impale himself. But Posner didn’t have children.
Schwartzman watched the dog a moment. He didn’t look like a threat, but dogs were protective. She’d come close to being bitten once by a German shepherd for examining his dead owner. She would keep an eye on Posner’s dog.
Posner lay about three feet from the dog. He was facedown on a rug with a Native American print in reds and blues. The rug covered the room almost in its entirety.
Most of the right side of his face was visible, but the area below his nose was obscured by his right hand. He wore dress slacks and a button-down shirt. On his feet were short athletic socks but no shoes. He looked dressed for work.
Hal set Schwartzman’s kit down on the carpet.
“Has he been moved?” she asked.
“No, ma’am.” An officer stepped forward. “My partner and I were first on scene. He—that is, my partner—checked for a pulse at the throat and the wrist. There was none, so we contained the scene and called you.”
Hal reached out a hand. “That was excellent work.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Have you seen the crime scene guys yet?” Hal asked.
Hal drew out his cell phone and stepped from the room.
Schwartzman opened her kit and pulled on a fresh Tyvek suit and a facemask before replacing her boots with the navy Crocs she wore at scenes. She spent the first few minutes photographing. Roger Sampers, head of the Crime Scene Unit, normally had his people take the photographs since they usually beat her to the scene, but Schwartzman enjoyed the process of cataloguing the space. It kept her initial focus broad. Normally her inclination was to go straight to the victim. Taking photographs made her slow the process.
The victim’s legs were splayed slightly, his head toward the far side of the room. There were no obvious contusions on the back of his head, which implied he might have been facing his attacker. She took a series of images of the sculpture and additional images of Posner until she was certain she had captured everything Roger’s team would want from around the victim.
The camera in her hands, she spent a moment studying the distance from Posner’s head to the wire sculpture. If he had been facing his killer, that person had to have been standing close to the bulky fixture. Although much of the sculpture’s motion was horizontal, it also jutted out into the room—forward and sideways—in a series of wired knots and waves.
Schwartzman set down the camera and pulled her white light from the kit, approaching the sculpture and examining the sharp wire ends. She moved across the statue’s sharpest points, aiming the wand’s light at the metal and searching for any signs that someone else had gotten cut.
No sign of blood on the wire. It was possible someone had wiped it clean. She would mention it to the crime scene team. She put the light and goggles away and turned her focus to the body.
Gloved up, she began with the skull, palpating for contusions and finding none. There were no visible tears in his clothing, no obvious signs of struggle. Posner’s left hand was palm up, and the skin was raw and inflamed, especially along his fingers. She’d seen this type of injury, most commonly in younger physicians. The constant washing of hands—especially with the antibacterial surgical soap the hospital supplied—dried the skin and sometimes caused irritation. She took several close-up images to document the finding.
The irritation tended to happen along the knuckle line, not the fingers. Finger tissue was thicker and tougher than the skin on the knuckles. She turned the hand in her own and looked at the knuckles, but they didn’t have the same raw appearance. It seemed limited to the fingers. Perhaps some sort of burn. She made a note of it.
Shifting to the other side of his body, she noticed no irritation at all on his right hand. She photographed that one, as well, front and back.
As she touched his neck for signs of injury, she found only a bright-red liquid on the skin and the carpet beneath him. She took several swab samples and put on fresh gloves.
“I want to turn him over,” she told patrol. “Let’s watch the dog. If he reacts, we’ll have to call animal control.”
The officers gave the dog a cautious glance as they approached the body. She handed each man a pair of gloves. “They’ll be small, but they’ll do.” The dog didn’t even lift his head.
The officers pulled on the gloves and then positioned themselves on either side of the body, one at Posner’s shoulders and one at his thighs.
“On three, we roll him toward me,” Schwartzman said. “One, two, three.”
Schwartzman watched the dog as they rolled Posner. No reaction. As the victim’s back touched the floor, his hand dropped to his side.
The whole of his face came into view.
“Oh, God,” one of the patrol officers gasped, reeling away from the body.
Like the fingers of his left hand, the side of Posner’s face was an angry, mottled red. The center of the affected area was a deeper crimson, as though something had burned through the epidermis to the layers beneath.
“It looks like someone took a blowtorch to his face,” the other patrol officer said, his voice a raspy whisper.
The wound stretched across his lower lip and down his chin to his neck, where it eventually disappeared under his white button-down shirt. It looked like a chemical burn. The injuries around his mouth and down his chin suggested that before he’d died, he had been drinking something highly acidic. The wound glistened with blood that hadn’t dried.
His collar was stained with the same bright-red liquid.
The chemical burn wasn’t enough to kill him. But it was almost certainly enough to make him want to die.
The sound of the officer gagging brought back the taste of vomit. She’d thrown up much too recently to listen to someone else get sick. Schwartzman lowered her head and closed her eyes. Breathing slowly, she shut out the noise.
She would not vomit on a victim.
“Go on. Get out.” Hal’s voice was urgent. “Don’t puke in here.”
He was right. She would destroy the evidence. She pushed herself back from the victim to stand as Hal ushered the patrol officer from the room.
He hadn’t meant her.
Because she was not going to be sick. She took a tentative swallow and drew another slow, deep breath. Then one more.
Hal returned to the room and knelt beside her. “What the hell happened?”
“Looks like some sort of chemical burn,” Schwartzman said, turning to her kit.
“That had to hurt like hell.”
“Yes,” Schwartzman agreed. She studied the burns. Even in the areas with the most damage, the chemical didn’t appear to have penetrated the basal layer, the deepest stratum of the epidermis. Not enough damage to be fatal. “But the burns didn’t kill him.”
“What do you think it was, Doc?”
It was too easy to look at the human exterior and guess at how someone died. And sometimes she was right—maybe more often than not. But she didn’t like guessing. Any speculation meant sending Hal’s investigation in one direction. Being wrong meant a waste of time and energy for him. Time they didn’t have to waste. Hal knew all this.
“Just tell me what you’re seeing,” he said as if reading her mind. Something he did more often since she’d returned from South Carolina.
Schwartzman pointed to the bluish tint of his lips. “Looks like he was suffering from respiratory failure. It’s possible the toxin affected his lungs. But it’s equally possible that something else killed him before that. I won’t know—”
“Until the autopsy,” he finished for her. “I hear you. What about those lines in the wound? On his cheek.”
Schwartzman studied the three horizontal lines on the left side of his face. “You want to know if they’re scratch marks.”
“I want to know if they’re defensive scratch marks.”
“More likely he was scratching at the skin himself. The burns would have made the skin more fragile, easily damaged.” She showed Hal the irritated skin of Posner’s left hand. “The chemical burned his fingers, too.”
“Makes sense if he’s left-handed,” Hal agreed. “I’ll find out. I can’t imagine he drank this stuff on his own.”
Schwartzman bagged the victims' hands for transport and then examined the victim’s eyes. No burns there. His pupils were enlarged black disks ringed in a thin circle of brown iris. Pupil dilation was a common response of fight or flight. She studied the burns again.
“No. If I had to guess, I’d say he was coerced.” She checked his wrists. “No ligature marks.”
“Maybe someone held a gun to his head,” Hal suggested.
She studied his temples. No impressions in the skin. A gun wouldn’t necessarily leave a mark. “It’s possible.”
“On second thought,” Hal said, “maybe I’d risk the gunshot.”
It was true. The pain of the chemical in his throat had to have been excruciating. What threat would have been strong enough to compel Dr. Posner to drink poison? Schwartzman considered what it would take to convince her. A threat to her family, perhaps? Would she have swallowed poison to save Ava? She wasn’t sure.
Her father? Probably.
It was human nature to fight, to survive. Unless someone had convinced Posner that it wouldn’t kill him? But the burning. He must have known that the liquid was a strong chemical. He was a doctor.
“I’ll use alternate light sources to check for evidence of restraints in the morgue,” she said. “And I’ll swab the wounds. The presence and density of white blood cells will indicate how long before the death the injuries occurred.” Using what looked like a long Q-tip, she took two samples from the center of the wound on Posner’s chin. “You ever seen this kind of red chemical?”
“Sure,” Hal said. “Transmission fluid, motor oil—they’re both red.”
“But darker than this.”
“Generally,” he agreed. “And more viscous. This is more like tropical punch.”
She gave him a look.
“Well, it’s not, obviously. I’m sure there are plenty of red chemicals around.” He studied the stain on Posner’s shirt. “But you’re right. It doesn’t look like automotive chemicals—at least not the ones I’ve seen.”
“Plus, those chemicals shouldn’t create these kinds of burns,” Schwartzman said. “Not on their own and not so quickly.” She studied the bright color on his white shirt. Hal was right. It was the color of fruit punch.
“Maybe he didn’t realize it was a poison?”
“Like he thought he was drinking a Gatorade?” she asked.
“Is it possible?” he asked.
She leaned in and smelled the chemical. The scent was pungent. Posner would have known it was dangerous by the smell. “I don’t think so.” She studied the depth of the burn. Assuming the poison didn’t take hours to kill him, the burn had been rapid. “It would have hurt almost immediately.”
“Burned his mouth,” Hal clarified.
“I think I got some of that on my hand,” the patrol officer said from the corner of the room.
“Go wash it well—for two minutes at least,” she told him. “Use a mild soap.”
The officer hurried from the room as his partner, the gagging one, returned.
Across the room, the dog lifted his muzzle off his front paws and whined. “He’s been doing that since we arrived,” the officer said. The rug was dark in front of him where a puddle of drool had accumulated. The dog yawned, and his tongue uncurled. More drool dripped from his mouth.
Schwartzman changed to a fresh pair of gloves and patted her leg. “Come here, boy. Come on.”
The dog lifted his head as if preparing to stand but, within seconds, sank back onto the rug.
“Anyone know his name?”
When no one answered, Schwartzman crossed to the dog and checked the collar. “Buster Posey.”
“Great name,” one of the officers said.
She stepped back a few feet and called the dog. “Come here, boy. Buster, come.”
The dog swung his snout into the air and lifted himself onto his front legs, took two tentative steps, and collapsed.
“He must be old,” the officer said.
“I don’t think so,” Schwartzman said, opening the dog’s jaw to peer into his mouth. The gums around the front teeth looked swollen and inflamed. “I think Buster ingested whatever killed Posner.” Schwartzman turned to the patrol officer. “We need to get the dog to an emergency vet.”
“Call animal services,” Hal said to the officer. “Tell them what we’ve got.”
Schwartzman replaced her gloves with a new pair and shined her flashlight in Posner’s mouth. His tongue was raw and red, his gums inflamed. There were several areas that were raw enough to bleed. Not unlike her own. As she worked, her tongue automatically explored one of the small red wounds in her mouth—a condition called oral mucositis. The chemotherapy damaged the fast-growing cells of the soft tissue, making it difficult for the mouth to fight off germs and heal itself. The result was sores—on the tongue, along the gums, the roof of the mouth, down the esophagus . . . another side effect of the treatment.
She pushed aside his tongue and spotted something white in the corner of his mouth. Most likely it was sputum, a mixture of saliva and the mucus in the respiratory track. Not uncommon in poisoning victims.
She reached farther into his mouth to touch it.
She jumped at the sharp voice.
Roger entered the room, followed by one of the Crime Scene Unit’s junior techs, Naomi Muir. They were winded, and Roger was frowning.
Something was wrong.
“What is it?”
Roger nodded to Hal. “Your patrol officer found this in the kitchen trash can.” He lifted a plastic evidence bag. Inside was a clear medicine bottle, like the kind that might be filled with cough syrup. At the bottom were dregs of a bright-red liquid. Roger handed the bag to Hal. Schwartzman pulled her gloves off, balling them up inside out.
“What is it?” Hal asked.
Schwartzman scanned the label.
The bright-yellow label read, “Doxorubicin.” Below that in a red box were the words “For Intravenous Use Only. Cytotoxic Agent.”
Schwartzman was on her feet in seconds. She knew that drug. “Doxorubicin. That’s another name for the drug Adriamycin.”
“What is that?” Hal again.
“It’s used for chemotherapy.” She stepped away from the body, motioning the others back. “We need to clear this room until we can mitigate the spill.”
“She’s right,” Roger said. “We’ll need something alkaline.”
“Baking soda?” Hal suggested.
“Not strong enough,” Roger said. “Naomi, see if the victim has any ammonia; then call for a hazmat team. We’ll need full protection and proper disposal equipment.”
“They call that stuff Red Devil,” Schwartzman added.
“Red Devil,” Hal repeated, holding up the plastic bag to examine the bottle inside. “It looks like whoever killed him used all of it.” He turned to Schwartzman. “How did you know what it was?”
“It’s the chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.”
“You can’t examine the body without full protective gear,” Roger said.
Roger was right. There was clear protocol in cases of suspected toxic poisoning. She would follow it, of course. But it was ironic that she would be jumping through bureaucratic hoops to avoid exposure to the same drug that was pumped into her body every three weeks.
She looked back down at Posner. Some of the sputum in his mouth settled away from his teeth, and the white thing in his mouth took shape. It was not sputum but something small and balled.
Using a small set of surgical clamps from her kit, Schwartzman extracted the white bolus and laid it on a clean paper evidence bag. There, she used the end of the long tweezers to stretch it out.
It was blank on one side, but when she flipped it over, it read, “For Sandy, acute myeloid leukemia.”
Hal squatted beside her so that their shoulders almost touched. “What’s acute myeloid leukemia?”
“I’m not familiar with it, but myeloid relates to bone marrow or the spinal cord. And leukemia, of course, is a cancer of the blood-forming tissues.”
Hal put a palm on her shoulder. “Let’s get out of here. You don’t need any more exposure to this Red Devil than you’ve already got, and I need to try to find Sandy with acute what-you-call-it.”
“Myeloid leukemia,” she said.
She stood up and stepped back. As far as she knew, Red Devil was used only for breast cancer. There was no connection between Red Devil and the treatment of other types of cancer. No connection between myeloid leukemia and Red Devil.
She had cancer.
Spencer knew that.
Her cancer was being treated with Red Devil, and Posner had performed her mastectomy.
Would Spencer connect her to her surgeon? Because he’d performed the surgery to remove her breasts? It sounded absurd. But Spencer’s logic was nothing if not twisted. Then why leave a note about a woman with acute myeloid leukemia, a completely different cancer from her own?
Was there some connection the killer wanted them to make? Or did the killer not know as much about cancer as he—or she—wanted them to think? That thought brought a brief breath of relief. Spencer was not careless. He would not make a mistake like this.
Spencer had nothing to do with Posner’s death.
She followed Hal from the room, glancing back at Posner’s body.
Spencer remained at the front of her mind. Her surgeon dead. On her watch. From the drug being used in her chemo treatments.
Was that really just a coincidence?
God, she hoped so.
But coincidences were for other people. Lucky people. And she wasn’t lucky, not with Spencer still in her life.
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