Happy Monday! A few things--thank you to everyone who has asked about Alex. We are home and he is doing very well. His sister and I baked him a batch of chocolate chip cookies yesterday, which I think eased the pains some. Nothing like homemade cookies to put a smile on the face. I just downed two cookies myself and now my stomach is saying, "Um excuse me--that will go to your ass, you know?" Whatever. I will exercise more. Sure I will.
One Leek stalk washed and chopped
Three cans of diced tomatoes
One packet of Chili seasonings (Schillings or Lawrys)
One red bell pepper diced
One green bell pepper diced
2 pounds stewing beef
4 slices of bacon
2 boxes of beef broth
One cup of red wine
Dash of chipotle powder
Dash of ancho chili powder
Emeril's hamburger seasonings
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 cup cilantro
tablespoon of olive oil
Season and brown beef in olive oil over medium high with Emeril's seasonings (a few shakes) in chili pot. Dice the bacon and cook until crisp in separate pan, scoop bacon bits into chili pot. Pour in red wine, tomatoes, and broth. Sautee peppers and leek in bacon drippings until soft. Once veggies are soft (about 8 minutes), place into pot. Toss in chopped herbs and dashes of chili pepper powders. Blend and bring to a boil. Turn to low and simmer for two hours. Serve in bowls, squeeze a lime slice in the chili, top with a spoonful of sour cream and sprinkle with shredded cheese. It's even tastier the next day. This one is full of flavor.
Now here is Chapter Four of COVERT REICH. Sorry to say the book release date has been postponed by one week but that gives you a little more time to read on and decide if you want to continue when it comes out.
The elevator doors opened silently and Kelly stepped out. The stale, cool air hit her abruptly. She shivered.
In spite of the charming Dr. Hamilton, this was not one of her favorite places to visit. She generally tried to avoid it if at all possible. She was all about saving lives. Dead bodies were a grim reminder things didn’t always work out.
The morgue hallway was long and dim. Four doors on either side led to various offices. Jake Hamilton’s was the last on the right. Kelly tapped lightly, but there was no answer. She turned the handle. It was unlocked, so she went in and waited.
The cramped office was cluttered with stacks of files on the floor and half-opened cabinets. UCLA and Stanford degrees hung on the wall. The combined smells of mothballs, formaldehyde, and coffee stung her eyes. A photo of Jake’s teenage daughter in a cheerleading uniform stood on his desk. All photos of his wife had been discretely removed, due to their recent divorce.
Jake stepped into the room. “Hey, you!” His green eyes sparkled. Those eyes, nice smile, and sun-kissed blonde hair gave him the air of a pretty boy. But there was a definite edge to Dr. Hamilton. A slightly crooked nose, the scar above his right eyebrow—they were just enough to make a woman wonder what sort of trouble he got into in his spare time. If Kelly had to guess, the scar was an old one, probably from a fall off of his bicycle when he was a kid. “I didn’t expect you down here, but I’m happy to see you. What’s up?”
“What isn’t? Up, I mean.” Kelly smiled, aware of the chemistry growing between them. They’d been colleagues and good friends for years, and it was becoming pretty clear he was interested in her. But at the same time, he was fresh off a divorce and Kelly didn’t want to rush into anything just yet.
“Oh now you’ve piqued my curiosity. What brings you down to the depths of despair?”
“Oh, yeah? About what?” He crossed his arms and leaned back against his desk, his eyebrows raised.
“You received a patient down here in the past hour. Lupe Salazar?”
“I did. I haven’t had a chance to process her yet. Ty is in with her right now prepping the body. I’m backlogged though. It’s been a crazy week.” He paused, tapping his fingers on the desk. “Why the interest in this girl?” He stood and walked over to his coffee machine and held up a cup. “Want some? I splurged and picked up one of those instant espresso machines. Delicious.”
“Yes, thanks. Some liquid fuel would help right now, I think.”
He fiddled with buttons and after 30 seconds of hissing, a freshly brewed cup of espresso streamed into a waiting cup. Jake deftly scooped a heaping spoonful of sugar into it, stirred, and then handed it over. She studied him for a second.
“You wondering how I knew how you liked your coffee?” She didn’t respond. “Because I pay attention, Kel. We’ve had coffee together a few times. When you like someone, you notice things, file them away for future use.” He smiled and raised his cup to her.
Kelly felt heat rise to her cheeks.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
She smiled and took a careful sip of her piping hot, and perfectly sweetened, espresso. “No. Not at all. We’re friends.”
“Yes we are. So before I dig myself in any deeper, let’s talk about this patient.”
“She delivered one of my babies.”
“Tough stuff, I take it?” He took another sip from the small cup.
“Yeah. Strange. She came in here not even three hours ago, and now she’s dead. No family that we can locate. No boyfriend. Nothing. Of course, I start with the stereotypical train of thought, and I’m thinking she’s a runaway and is caught up in some bad things. Brightman was the attending, and he gets on the scene and tries to go chief on me. We were losing the girl, and the baby’s time was running out. I had no idea what we were dealing with since it all happened so fast the labs hadn’t even come back yet. My gut was telling me she’s addicted, got something running through those veins. It was the only thing that made sense.”
“You’re skilled, Kelly. If that was your guess, I’m sure it was a good one.”
“I know. But I’m watching this girl, looking into her eyes, and all I can think is something is off. Lupe wasn’t drugged out, Jake. It would have made sense based on the way she was acting, but she wasn’t. So the girl seizes, codes, and dies. Nothing was going to save her. I’ve never seen anything like this. From everything I can tell, we were dealing with a healthy teenager. Anyway, baby was failing. I had to get her out. We couldn’t bring the mom back. She was gone, so I took over and did a C-section. I’ve got the baby now in NICU with all sorts of problems. I don’t know what to make of any of this. I need that autopsy. Something is wrong here.”
“What are you saying?” Jake asked.
“That so far all of her labs have come back inconclusive for drugs, which makes me wonder if there is something new on the streets we don’t know about. She had no alcohol present either.”
Jake’s eyes widened. She noticed a tic in his left hand that caused his coffee to nearly spill over. He walked around to the back side of his desk and sat down in his chair.
“Are you all right?” Kelly asked.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. It’s just that what you’re telling me sounds, well, unusual.”
“Tell me about it,” she replied.
“I’m not sure what I can do. I won’t have a report ready on this girl for at least forty-eight hours, maybe longer. And you know how long tox can take.” He absentmindedly picked up the photo of his daughter.
“Rumor has it this girl isn’t the only one. In the last week, it’s my understanding that two other women came in, delivered, coded, and died. Both had stillborns. The baby I have upstairs is the only one to survive so far. I haven’t had a chance to look into the mothers’ backgrounds or anything, so I’m only going off what I’ve been hearing in the hallways. I need your help here, Jake. Did you find anything in the autopsies on those other women? It might help me with the baby in the NICU.”
Jake didn’t say anything for a moment. He turned his head to the side as if trying to figure out what to say. He brought his fist up under his nose and looked at her. His eyes closed for a second and then he sighed. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t think I can help in any way.”
He was quiet for a moment. “There was nothing odd about the autopsies. I mean, no strange chemical makeup or anything. I don’t know. I wish I could help, but…”
“But what? You’re telling me you don’t know how those girls died? Come on. Of course you know. Natural causes? Is that what you’re saying? How can the hospital get around that? Were the mothers healthy or not, Jake? That’s all I’m asking.”
“I can’t…I don’t…”
Kelly didn’t like the evasive tone in his voice. “Jesus, Jake. What is it? What the hell is wrong? You’re freaking me out.” She had asked him a simple question, and he was acting like this?
He grabbed her by the hand. Out of instinct she pulled back. He held on tighter and pulled her close to him, lowering his voice to a whisper. “You have to drop this. Leave this alone, Kel.”
She pulled back again, and this time he let go of her hand. “You’re scaring me. What’s going on?”
He put his hand to his forehead. He was visibly perspiring. “I can’t talk to you about these cases. They’re classified.”
“Classified? Classified?! I’ve got a baby in my unit with a slim chance of surviving, but I certainly can’t help her if I don’t know what I’m up against. If you know something, you need to tell me. I will take this to the chief and the board if I have to.”
He shook his head. “No. You can’t do that. Please. I’m begging you to drop this. You could get hurt.”
“What?” She was furious. And confused. And beyond disappointed. What the hell was wrong with him? He knew damn well she needed information from the autopsies in order to help the baby. It was his duty to tell her. This conspiratorial attitude of his was ridiculous. Not in a million years would she ever have imagined Jake acting like this. “This is insane, Jake. I’m going to save that baby’s life, and you’re going to help me do it. You know that’s the right thing to do, rules or no rules.”
He paused, breathing deeply. “OK. I’ll discuss this with you. Tell you what I know. But not here. It’s dangerous.”
Now Kelly held his stare. She saw genuine fear in his eyes. Oh my God. He’s really serious. There was something going on here, and it obviously involved the death of three pregnant women. But clearly she wasn’t going to get any more information out of him here.
His assistant, Ty, tapped on the door. “Dr. Hamilton, I need a hand. Can I get some help?”
“Sure. Be right there.” He looked at Kelly. “Tuscany’s at seven-thirty. I really wish you would drop this. Trust me.”
“I’ll be there. And you should know me better than that.” She walked out of his office toward the elevator, baffled by what had just taken place. Jake wasn’t just afraid, he was terrified.