A killer it out there.
A serial killer who appears to have a personal grudge against Kenzie Kirsch.
The Assistant Medical Examiner has enough on her plate dealing with a personal crisis and doesn't need the added challenge of FBI Agent Menendez's unrealistic expectations and trying to identify the killer herself.
As Christmas approaches, things are getting more and more complicated and it feels like everything is coming apart.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Every book by PD Workman that I've read has been a gripping one, however different the genres are, going from lighter mysteries to really dark ones... this is one of my favourite, most dependable authors.
If you are a reader of the Zachary Goldman Mysteries series, you have already met Kenzie Kirsch. This series is a spinoff from Zachary Goldman Mysteries, giving Kenzie a front-and-center position in solving medical mysteries.
Looking for a strong female lead in an engaging medical mystery? Award-winning and USA Today Bestselling Author P.D. Workman brings you an up-and-coming Medical Examiner's Assistant who is right up your alley.
Join Dr. Kenzie Kirsch as she uncovers mysteries, conspiracies, and thrills!
Release date: December 17, 2021
Publisher: pd workman
Reader says this book is...: female sleuth (1) realistic characters (1) satisfying ending (1) suspenseful (1) terrific writing (1) unputdownable (1)
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It felt good to be back in the morgue.
It might sound strange, but after their stressful vacation in a mountain resort, Kenzie and Zachary were both glad to be home and back into the usual daily routines—Zachary running his private investigations business and Kenzie returning to the Medical Examiner’s Office where none of the bodies she dealt with were people that she had known personally. Most people consid- ered the work of a medical examiner to be gross and depressing, but Kenzie was fascinated with the work of uncovering what the deceased had died of and found it life-affirming rather than discouraging.
Dr. Wiltshire and the part-time staff had let a number of things slide while she had been gone. She had been prevented from coming to work first due to a virus she had contracted and the antiviral protocol to kill it, and then on a short holiday that was supposed to be a chance for her and Zachary to recover their health and rest before getting back to work. It hadn’t exactly turned out that way.
There were a lot of requests and reports to be processed in Kenzie’s physical in box as well as in her email queue.
A couple of bodies had been transported from the hospital, and Kenzie reviewed the intake forms to find out the details and make sure that everything had been filled out correctly. She opened new files for each of them and checked the bodies them- selves to make sure that the names and numbers matched the forms that the hospital had sent with them. Always better to catch any clerical errors early. Families tended not to like it when bodies got mixed up.
She was back at her desk printing reports when Dr. Wiltshire got in. The idea of the ME’s office being paperless was a joke. They went through reams of paper.
“Morning, Kenzie,” Dr. Wiltshire greeted.
“Morning, Doctor. Got a couple of intakes from the hospital today.”
He nodded and took a sip of his coffee. “Anything of note?”
“One from a single-vehicle car accident. And one a request from a doctor.”
Neither was particularly out of the ordinary. A doctor- attended death did not automatically go to the Medical Examin- er’s Office, but if the attending physician had any doubts about the cause of death or deemed it suspicious in some way, he could request that the medical examiner perform an autopsy.
“What is the doctor’s name?”
Kenzie hadn’t made note of it, so she brought the form up on her computer to check. “A Dr. Philemon?”
“Philemon...” Dr. Wiltshire pondered this for a moment. He frowned. “He’s in geriatrics, isn’t he?”
Kenzie went to the Vermont Health Network website and searched Dr. Philemon in the directory. “Yes, looks like that’s his specialty. Does some general practice as well.”
Dr. Wiltshire nodded. “Okay. I’ll look at them today. How is your workload?”
“Still trying to get caught up. Lots of printing and filing to be done.”
“Yeah... we might have let that slide a little.”
“A little,” Kenzie agreed. She wasn’t sure anyone had done any filing during the weeks she had been gone. And since no filing had been done, she couldn’t be sure what reports had been printed already. She had to keep going back and forth between the computer and the piles of printouts and the files to try to make sure everything was accounted for and that they could put their hands on what they needed immediately. It wasn’t any good if there were lab results floating around that hadn’t been reviewed or if they were holding on to bodies that should be moved on to funeral homes because they hadn’t been cleared yet.
“Sorry about that. But we didn’t want to mess up your system...”
Kenzie laughed and shook her head. “Good excuse!”
He smiled and took another sip of his coffee. “Well, we had to come up with something to explain this mess.”
Maybe they could have put some of the time that had gone into thinking up an excuse into actually getting the work done.
“I’ll do what I can to get it all whipped into shape... but I’ll be ready for a break from the paper this afternoon, if you don’t mind me scrubbing in on one of the autopsies.”
“Sounds good. I’ll be sure to start early enough that you can get through it and still get back to Zachary in good time.”
Dr. Wiltshire knew Zachary from a couple of previous cases that he had been involved with. And he knew a little bit about the challenges that Zachary faced.
Only someone who lived with Zachary or was close to him could know the real extent of his difficulties, but Kenzie appreci- ated Dr. Wiltshire thinking about her and her home situation in setting his schedule for the day. Despite the amount of work she had to do, Kenzie didn’t want to be there too late. She would get caught up over time. Being able to spend time with Zachary and keep an eye on his health was important too.
Kenzie was a little disappointed that the autopsy she was able to scrub in on was Dr. Philemon’s patient rather than the accident victim. The accident victim would have been more interesting. She suspected that a geriatric patient who had died at the hospital wasn’t going to be a particularly intriguing case. Although she couldn’t make that judgment. They had recently autopsied a nursing home patient whose death had turned out to be anything but routine.
George had already prepped the remains for them, gathering any forensic evidence and washing the body off. The old man’s body lay on the table with a drape over it, awaiting their investiga- tion. Dr. Wiltshire tapped the button on the floor with his foot to start recording, and dictated the patient’s name and file number, the date and time, and his and Kenzie’s names. He began as usual, making note of the patient’s height and weight and his appearance on gross examination. Nothing remarkable. He didn’t look any different from any other geriatric patient who had passed away in his sleep.
They checked for any cuts, bruises, or needle marks, as well as making notes of livor mortis. Time of death had been noted by Dr. Philemon, and Kenzie didn’t see anything that would indicate that the timing was off.
“Bruising to the chest and ribs,” Dr. Wiltshire commented. “Let’s get some films and have a look.”
He and Kenzie donned the appropriate radiation shields and took several x-rays of the body. The images were processed and ready for their review immediately. Dr. Wiltshire called them up on the screen.
“Some inflammation and fractures,” he commented. “What does that look like to you, Dr. Kirsch?”
Kenzie was the student, and Dr. Wiltshire preferred the Socratic model of leading her with questions rather than lecturing. Kenzie had seen the victim’s injury pattern in textbooks and didn’t have a problem coming up with the answer.
“Looks like CPR was performed.”
“Would you perform CPR on an elderly patient like this?”
Kenzie looked at him. “Probably not. He’s very frail and what would be gained by reviving him? Even if he could be revived with CPR, chances are he would have brain damage or his quality of life would not be good. Not with broken ribs at his age. I’m surprised there was not a DNR.”
“There might have been. If it’s not properly recorded and flagged, they might proceed with CPR anyway. Although with a patient of this age,” he shook his head, “I’m not sure why.”
“I don’t remember there being anything on the records we got from the hospital about CPR being performed. They should have noted it.”
“Unless this was from a previous incident. If he had a cardiac event earlier, we might not have all the relevant records. We’ll need to follow up on whether there was a DNR or a previous incident that required resuscitation.”
Kenzie nodded her agreement. She couldn’t stop and make a note in the middle of the autopsy, but it would be on the tran- script she got back from the recording. She moved the magnifier over the deceased man’s arm and examined the IV catheter and tube.
“See something?” Dr. Wiltshire asked.
“No. I just wondered whether I would be able to tell whether anything was injected into the IV.”
“Doubtful,” Dr. Wiltshire shook his head. “Sometimes there is trace evidence. Crystals, bubbles, things like that. But if it was meant to be injected, adrenaline or some other lifesaving measure, then no. It would just mix with the IV fluid and not leave any visible traces.”
Kenzie examined the tubing for another minute, but couldn’t see anything unusual.
“Okay. What’s next?”
It was a little later than Kenzie would have liked when she got home, but considering how late she had worked other days, it wasn’t really bad. She hadn’t had to eat a sandwich from the vending machine, but she was more than ready for her supper. She pulled her baby—a cherry red convertible—into her garage and walked in through the kitchen door. Zachary was sitting on the couch with his computer table in front of him, but he looked up when she opened the door, not so focused on his work that he failed to notice her.
“Home, sweet home,” Kenzie declared.
Zachary smiled. “How was it today?”
“Still getting caught up. But Dr. Wiltshire understands that I can’t get through three weeks of backlog in a couple of days, so I’m not going to kill myself trying.”
“That would sort of defeat the purpose. Then you’d never get out of the morgue.”
“Well, I would eventually, but it would be on a gurney.”
Zachary chuckled. He pushed his table away from him and stretched. “Do you want me to order something?”
“I’m too hungry to wait for delivery.” Kenzie put down her bag and opened the freezer door to see what supplies they had. Even a pizza would take half an hour to heat, and she wasn’t in the mood for frozen burritos. She closed the freezer and opened the fridge but, as she had expected, there wasn’t much to eat there. Some fruit, a salad that she’d made with perfectly good intentions but then not even touched. Some leftovers from Sunday that she should probably throw out. Kenzie sighed.
“You could have a snack while we wait for delivery,” Zachary suggested.
“Well… maybe.” Kenzie considered the fruit. She could have an apple with some cheese while she waited for something better to be delivered. That would hold her over and help to keep her calm and relaxed to visit with Zachary but wouldn’t take the amount of effort that actually coming up with something and preparing dinner herself would.
Her mother would despair over the lack of culinary and homemaking skills her daughter possessed. But then, Lisa Cole Kirsch had employed a cook for most of Kenzie’s childhood. Granted, she’d had a sick child to take care of, which was far more important than making sandwiches. Or mini quiches.
Kenzie removed an apple from the crisper drawer. She decided she didn’t have the energy to get out the cheese and cut herself a couple of slices. She sat down on the couch with Zachary.
“Go ahead and order us something.”
He nodded and picked up his phone. “What do you want?”
“I don’t really care. As long as it isn’t something that I have to make.” Kenzie bit into her apple. It had been a long time since lunch. While Zachary poked through his phone and decided what to order in, she picked up the remote control and listened to the news headlines as the local news began. As she had come to expect, there wasn’t much in the way of good, uplifting news. Negative headlines garnered more attention. When they switched to a story about Brittany “the Bombshell” Blake and her recent close-encounter with a possible killer, Kenzie quickly turned it off.
She turned her attention to Zachary. “So, tell me about your day today.” Kenzie mentally reviewed what she remembered of his schedule for the day. “You got in to see Dr. Boyle for therapy today?”
Zachary nodded. He suppressed a smile, looking down at his hands. “It was good. I caught her up on… some of the stuff that happened while we were on vacation.”
“I guess you kind of left her hanging before, when we lost cell coverage.”
“Yeah. So she’s been wondering how everything turned out, but I guess since she didn’t get any reports that I’d had a breakdown and was in hospital somewhere, she figured that everything was okay.”
“Well, I hope you told her that you did more than just okay. For you to be able to deal with the fire at the Lodge was huge.” Kenzie smiled at him encouragingly. “I hope you really bragged it up.”
His pale face was turning pink. He smiled again, nodding, but not raising his dark eyes to look into hers. It was nice to see him smile, especially as they approached Christmas, the worst time of year for his depression. He ran a hand over his short, stubbly hair.
“She was impressed. She said that she knew I could do it.”
“I guess it’s pretty amazing what we can do if we have to,” Kenzie said. “We think we know what our limits are, but then something comes that pushes us out of our comfort zone… and we don’t know until we face it if we can handle it.”
“I told her…” Zachary licked dry lips, speaking hesitantly, as if worried how she might react, “that I’m worried… that nothing has changed. That the next time I remember the fire again… the flashbacks will be just as bad. That I won’t have progressed at all.”
Kenzie wanted to jump in and reassure him that of course he had made huge progress, and he wouldn’t fall right back to where he was before. But psychology was not her area and, even if it were, she knew better than to counsel someone so close to her. She was too close to Zachary to have an unbiased opinion. “So… what did Dr. B say about that?”
Zachary picked at a thread in his jeans. “She said that… I’ll probably still have some anxiety around it, but now that I know I can get through it, that she doesn’t think it will be that bad. She’s done exposure therapy with patients before, helping them to get over phobias or anxieties.” He shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess… we’ll find out.”
“We could go to a restaurant with candles or a fireplace. See how you feel.”
Zachary shook his head immediately. “No way.”
“Are you sure? You don’t want to take some time to think about it?”
Zachary started to protest again, then looked at her and realized that she was teasing him. He ran his hand through his dark hair again, chuckling. But it was forced. Kenzie might have pushed it a bit far.
“Sorry,” she apologized. “I’m a little punchy. Long day.”
He laughed again. “No, it’s fine. Sometimes… I don’t realize when you’re joking.”
“I shouldn’t do that. I’m glad things went well with Dr. B. And if you didn’t brag enough about how well you handled the situation out there, I’ll tell her at our next couples session too. Because what you did out there was… remarkable. It really was.”
“It’s not such a big thing for anyone else.”
“You were the one who took charge. That would be impressive by itself. Add in the fact that even a candle flame is usually enough to break you down, and that you faced a blazing house fire…?” Kenzie shook her head. “I can see I’m going to have to brag you up more. If that’s how you told her about it.”
He looked away from her, but not fast enough that she didn’t see his smile of pleasure over her insistence that he deserved praise for having faced his biggest fear.
Kenzie had nibbled away most of her apple. She looked down at the core. “How long before dinner is here?”
He checked his phone screen. “Fifteen minutes.”
“Okay. I’m going to go get changed. I’m not wearing grown-up clothes for the rest of the day.”
She disposed of her apple core and went to her bedroom to change into a pair of comfortable pajamas. It wasn’t so much that she hated her work clothes or that they were uncomfortable. She just needed a transition from “work Kenzie” to “home relaxing Kenzie.” She would put away any worries from the office and just focus on herself and Zachary for the evening.
She had hoped, with the holiday to the mountains, that she would be able to boost his mood and help him to get to a better place before December. He had already been sliding into depression in October, before the two of them had to endure the antivirus protocol, and his physical decline during the treatment had been much worse than hers. Maybe because she kept herself in good condition, eating and sleeping well, and he had difficulty with both. His viral load had ended up being much higher than hers, even though he had contracted it from Kenzie. And that meant that they had also hit him a lot harder with the drugs they hoped would wipe out the virus before it could affect him as it had the nursing home victims.
The holiday had not gone as expected, but she didn’t think he had lost more weight at the Lodge, and he had returned knowing that he had handled one of the things he had feared the most in life. If he could beat his fear of fire, maybe he could beat the depression and some of the other challenges as well. She hoped so.
“Food’s here,” Zachary called out.
“I’ll be right there.”
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