Those trained to save lives might be the most skilled at taking them.
Paramedic Anneliese Ashmore's routine shift takes a startling turn when she answers the call she was never meant to hear--a call to a crime scene where her sister, Sydney, is the victim of an overdose suicide.
The evidence says otherwise.
In the midst of a heated divorce, motive implicates Sydney's soon-to-be ex-husband. While the police focus on the single lead, Ana makes her own discovery.
A chain of e-mails between Sydney and her surgeon's office sets Ana on a search for answers about her sister's recent diagnosis and the life-altering treatment that saved her. The body count rises as Ana closes in on the truth and on the man of her dreams.
With the help of Dr. Jared Monroe, an unhappily married physician with a bit of a crush, Ana uncovers a ring of greed and corruption and exposes the fact that Sydney's medical treatment may have been the catalyst for her murder.
Unfortunately for Ana, she may be next.
Paramedic Anneliese Ashmore blasted the heat in the First Responder Jeep and waited at the drive-thru window for her fifth cup of black coffee. Working twenty-four hours straight had her fighting exhaustion and the boredom that came with a relatively quiet shift.
The unpredictable New York winter had settled in and the temperature was well below freezing. It was snowing out—the kind of heavy flakes that made it hard to see past the immediate glow of the headlights, and that high beams made worse.
A gauntly thin clerk with dyed hair tamed only by her uniform visor, reached through the drive-thru window and took two singles from Ana.
“You can keep the change.” Ana smiled and tucked her auburn hair behind her ears.
The woman smiled back, handing her a bitter-smelling cup of coffee that was undoubtedly hours old.
Ana tossed an empty onto the passenger’s side floor and replaced it with the full one. The Jeep lurched forward and crushed the freshly fallen snow beneath its tires. A police cruiser sped past her and pulled into the Aquarian Motel parking lot, a block down the road. An ambulance from her station followed.
Ana checked her radio, and finding it operational, wondered why a call never came. Anxious to break the monotony, she went to find out.
* * * * *
Police cruisers filled the Aquarian’s parking lot. A rectangle of yellow crime scene tape flapped in the icy wind, quarantining a single motel room. Camera flashes pulsed behind the ratty, orange curtains, signaling the collection of evidence. All signs pointed to the fact that whatever had happened, it wasn’t good.
Ana got out of the Jeep and walked with her head down toward Room 11.
The wind made her brown eyes water and she was halfway through the crowd when the door opened and Sergeant Mike Richardson stepped out into the cold. His face was blotchy red and he appeared to have been crying. He sniffled, wiped the tip of his slightly crooked nose, and headed toward the rental office.
“Mike, wait.” Ana waved her hand in the air. Mike seemed too lost in thought to hear her. “Mike, hey.”
Jim Moore, Ana’s shift supervisor, rushed out of an ambulance parked on the outskirts, and headed straight for her. “Ana, stop.” His frantic shouting caught both her and Mike’s attention. “Mike, stop her.” A pair of emergency shears hung from a loop on his uniform and flapped against his leg as he ran. Tufts of sandy blond hair stuck out from beneath his knit cap and his expression held a mix of urgency and sadness.
Mike doubled back toward the motel room.
Ana began to suspect that her not getting the call was intentional. Her heartbeat raced and her palms grew damp inside her gloves as she waited for either Mike or Jim to explain their panic. When neither did, she said, “What’s wrong?”
Jim grabbed her right bicep hard enough that she couldn’t easily pull free. “You shouldn’t have come here.”
“Let her go.” Mike pushed Jim’s hand away. “Let me handle this, please.” He steered Ana down the crumbling sidewalk toward the snowy parking lot. “I told Jim not to call you.”
“He didn’t,” Ana said. “I saw the cruisers and the ambulance and since nothing else was happening, I came to help. What’s wrong? Why won’t anyone answer me?”
Mike steadied his quivering bottom lip. “You have to leave. I’ll explain everything as soon as I can, but you can’t be here now.”
Ana’s inner voice insisted that here is exactly where she belonged. She looked around the parking lot at the cars, the ambulance, and the approaching coroner’s van. A camera crew struggled to set up their shot in the heavy snow. Terri Tate, Capital News 9’s lead reporter, powdered her face by the van’s dome light. The Aquarian’s sign flickered in Ana’s periphery and drew her attention. There, in the shadows of an overflowing dumpster, was her sister’s metal-flake blue Honda Civic. A lump rose in her throat and tears streamed down her wind-burned cheeks.
“Sydney!” Ana broke for the motel room door, elbowing her way through the crowd and catching Mike off-guard enough to get a small lead on him. He rushed after her, but she was through the motel room door before he caught up.
“Ana, stop.” Mike shouted for Coop to grab her, but the encroaching mob, including the persistent Terri Tate, kept him from doing so.
Time moved in slow motion as Ana took everything in, ignoring the chatter of the crowd outside as they tested the limits of crime scene tape.
Labeled plastic bags held pieces of evidence: an empty vodka bottle and some kind of prescription. Black fingerprinting dust covered every surface, and two investigators worked at collecting samples. A third snapped pictures of a folded piece of paper on the weathered nightstand whose finish bore ring watermarks from decades of glasses left to sweat upon it.
Across the room, Julian Blake, a seasoned investigator, jotted down notes in a small notebook. He wore jeans, a department sweatshirt, and a navy blue jacket with the name “Blake” embroidered on the right side. His black hair sprouted in patches along the back of his head, and his hazel eyes, red from a lack of sleep, indicated he’d been called in from home.
Elsa Russell, Julian’s new partner and the only female investigator with the Marion PD, looked up when the wind blew her curly red hair. She lunged to grab Ana’s arm, but quickly lost her grip. “Ana, you can’t be in here.”
Ana collapsed to her knees, interlaced her fingers, and started chest compressions. “No. No. God, no.” Rainwater tears blurred her vision. “Sydney, come on.”
“You’re contaminating the scene, Ana. Stop.” Julian tried to pull her back, and Ana threw her elbow as hard as she could into him.
Everything she knew about crime scene processing, and about death, was gone from her mind.
“Get out of my way.” Mike shoved past Julian and wrestled Ana into a crossed-leg seat. She fought him, squirming and screaming, but he didn’t let go. He pulled her arms across her chest and used his body like a straightjacket to hold her. “Ana, stop it. Please, she’s gone. Sydney is gone.” He was crying, too.
“Let me help her,” Ana wailed. “It’s not too late.”
Mike set his stubbled cheek against the top of her head and rocked her.
“Please, let me go,” she whispered.
Julian mumbled something under his breath as he assessed the compromised scene. “Mike, I’m sorry. You have to get her out of here.”
Mike dragged Ana from the stench-filled room into the frigid morning.
Julian slammed the door and Ana fixed her eyes on the number eleven, irrevocably burned into her memory.
Jim knelt in front of her and she stared right through him. “Ana, listen to me, you need to go home.” He looked at Mike. “She can’t drive and I can’t have her back on-shift. I need the Jeep keys.”
“Give me a damn minute, Jim, would you?”
The crowd parted for the coroner who wheeled a gurney through a fresh inch of snow, an empty body bag secured under the strap.
He knocked on the door and Julian let him in.
“Ana, can you hear me?” Mike brushed the hair back from her face. “Can you give me your keys, honey? I’m going to take you home.”
Ana fished the keys out of her pocket and handed them to Mike who, in turn, handed them to Jim.
The heavy, wet snow soaked through Ana’s clothes and though she knew she should be freezing, she was physically and emotionally numb.
Mike hooked his arms under hers and lifted her. She shuffled her feet in the direction he pulled her, eluded by an act as simple as walking. Had Mike not taken her away, she wasn’t sure she would have ever left.
The whispering crowd silenced as the coroner emerged from the motel room. Two young men forced the gurney’s wheels through the accumulating snow, loaded Sydney’s body into the back of the ambulance, and tapped the rear door, signaling it was all-clear to go.
Ana watched the ambulance drive away.
Shock interjected someone else as the victim: some faceless, nameless person Ana didn’t have to grieve for.
Anyone other than her sister.
After fifteen years of working in healthcare, Belinda Frisch's stories can't help being medicine influenced. A writer of dark tales in the horror, mystery, and thriller genres, she is a storyteller at heart, and has been writing since her teens.
Her fiction has appeared in Shroud Magazine, Dabblestone Horror, and Tales of Zombie War. She is an honorable mention winner in the Writer's Digest 76th Annual Writing Competition. Her novel, CURE, is the runner-up in the General Fiction category of the 2012 Halloween Book Festival and was optioned for film.
She is the author of CRISIS HOSPITAL, CURE, AFTERBIRTH, and FATAL REACTION.
She resides in upstate New York with her husband, sons, and a small menagerie of beloved animals.
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