H Is For Homicide Page 68

When my turn came, I checked her name tag, but all it said was Martha. She walked me down a short corridor, past the open door of what must have been Dr. Howard's office. I caught a glimpse of a scarred oak desk covered with stacks of charts and small standing picture frames, probably showing him with loving family members, thus establishing his marital status and firmly declaring him off limits to women patients with designing minds. I was ushered into the adjoining examining room, noting with interest the door between the two rooms, which stood ajar. I could see through the doctor's office right back out into the hallway, where a passing patient turned and looked at me with curiosity. Martha opened a cabinet and removed a print smock that seemed to be made of two oblong cotton panels stitched together at the side and secured with elastic at the neck.

’’Take your shoes off and strip down to your panties,’’ she said, handing me the gown. ’’He'll be with you in ten minutes.’’

’’Thanks. Uhm, could we close that other door?’’ I asked.

’’Certainly.’’ She moved through the doctor's office to the hall door, closing it as she went out.

I could feel my fingers start to itch.

My, my. All by myself and the office records of a scofflaw, insurance-defrauding bone cracker not ten feet away. I checked the door to the examining room, which had a thumb button on the knob, which I pressed, locking it. I stripped my clothes off in haste and pulled the gown over my head, then padded barefoot into the doctor's office, locking his door, too. The walls were so thin and so poorly constructed that it wasn't hard to run an auditory check of what was going on around me. I heard the doctor enter the room across the hall, greeting the patient by name as he closed the door behind him. Their murmurs were audible, though the content of the consultation was lost as he proceeded to his adjustment. I kept one ear cocked while I searched as thoroughly as I could in the eight minutes allotted me, uncovering a drawerful of claims that were a cursory match to the insurance forms I'd seen at Raymond's. I heard the door across the hall come open, the doctor's voice growing more distant as he gave a few final words of counsel and advice. I closed the desk drawer and crossed rapidly to the office door, grabbed the knob, and twisted. The button popped out. I was heading toward the examining room again when one of the little framed family photos on his desk caught my eye.

I stopped and squinted, peering at a bridal photo of a young woman I could have sworn I'd seen before. I snatched up the double frame, quickly rearranging the remaining frames to conceal the sudden gap. I eased into the examining room and had just tucked the picture frame in the handbag I'd borrowed from Bibianna when I heard the doctor try the door.

’’Just a minute,’’ I called. I popped the lock and opened the door for him with a sheepish smile. ’’Sorry,’’ I said. ’’I didn't realize it was locked. Are you Dr. Howard?’’

’’That's right.’’ He came into the room, closing the door behind him.

I resisted the impulse to shake hands with the man. It seemed inappropriate since I'd just burgled something from his desk. He was in his sixties, very clean looking. He wore white pants and a white jacket, with a snowy dress shirt underneath, starched shut collar standing up so high it seemed to pleat his neck. His dark hair looked soft on top. His hairline was receding, which left him with a long expanse of unlined forehead. He had cold eyes, a mild brown, behind square tortoiseshell frames, a humorless mouth that turned down slightly at the corners. He managed a perfunctory smile with his lips while the rest of his face remained fixed. His gaze was intense, giving him the look of a man capable of seeing straight from his own felonious heart into mine. The fragrance of crushed spices wafted into the room behind him, some faded Oriental blend of musk and sandal wood.

He glanced at my chart. ’’Miss Moore. What seems to be the trouble? Why don't you hop up on the table.’’

’’It's my neck,’’ I said as I hiked myself onto the table. ’’I was in a little accident and Raymond Maldonado suggested I have you check it.’’ He crossed to a corner sink and washed his hands with a virulent-looking red liquid soap from a wall dispenser. The gaze he turned on me was brief, but sharply focused. ’’You should have mentioned that to Martha. We'll need an X ray,’’ he said. ’’I'll have my assistant take it. You can come back here when you're done.’’ He moved to the door and held it open for me. Instinct told me to take my handbag, which I picked up and tucked under one arm, a gesture of distrust not lost on him.

’’Your purse is safe, if you'd care to leave it,’’ he said.

’’It's no trouble,’’ I murmured, not volunteering to put it back. I had visions of his searching it in my absence, discovering the photo I'd swiped before he arrived. My memory warbled a little tune, too faint to identify. I was certain I'd seen the woman in the picture, but I had no idea where.

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