Read Palindrome Online

Authors: Stuart Woods

Tags: #Mystery, #Serial murders, #Abused wives, #Fiction - Espionage, #American Mystery & Suspense Fiction, #Woods; Stuart - Prose & Criticism, #General, #Romance, #Suspense, #Crime, #Romance & Sagas, #Fiction, #Thriller

Palindrome

Palindrome

WORKS BY STUART WOODS

FICTION:

Palindrome

Grass Roots

White Cargo

Under the Lake

Deep Lie

Run Before the Wind

Chiefs

MEMOIR:

Blue Water, Green Skipper

TRAVEL:

A Roman Guide to the Country of Britain & Ireland

Harper Collins Publishers

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

This book is for Dick and Maud Hedger

Prologue

Miller was wakened from his doze by a puff of hot air, redolent of freshly cut grass and newly disturbed dogshit. Someone had let in the July night. He tried to lift his head from the examination table, but his stethoscope caught and snapped his head back onto the cushion. He freed himself, swearing under his breath; some unthinking person had disturbed his quiet evening in the Trauma Center Of Piedmont Hospital.

Miller froze when he saw who had opened the door. A young woman-he thought she was young, anywaystood in the hallway, dressed only in khaki shorts and a badly torn T-shirt. Her left hand was partly raised, and she held her elbow tightly against her ribs, making her left breast seem larger than the right, which was exposed. Thick brunette hair spilled down to her shoulders. Her face was nearly unrecognizable as human.

Both eyes were swollen nearly shut, her nose was flattened, and her cheeks were the color of rotting meat. She shuffled forward a step, then stopped. She did not turn her head or speak. Miller got off the table and moved quickly toward her, snagging a gurney as he approached her.

"It's all right," he said, taking her right elbow and steering her onto the stretcher. He turned toward the admitting desk and said emphatically, but not loudly, "Nurse!" A young woman holding a cup of coffee looked up from the desk, then quickly moved toward the gurney.

"In number two," Miller said, pushing the stretcher toward an examination room. Once there, he took a pulse while the nurse worked on a blood pressure. "Pulse is thready, hundred and ten," he said.

"Blood pressure is one twenty over seventy," the nurse recited.

"We need to get her clothes off. Can you move that much?" he asked his new patient.

"No," the woman said, without moving her swollen lips.

"Cut them off," he said to the nurse, who immediately went to work with the scissors.

Miller switched on a tape recorder. "She's got a fist-sized hematoma of the left breast; it's twice the size of the right; multiple bruising of the abdomen; pain in the left chest."

He listened with the stethoscope.

"Both lungs good. Can you lift your left arm?"

"No," the woman said. "Hurts."

"Let's get stat chest, facial bone, and skull X rays; I want a CBC, blood typed and crossed; I want four units of whole blood ready. Start an IV with one thousand cc's of normal saline."

While these things happened the woman lay perfectly still. Another nurse came in with a clipboard. "I need to get some information and a history," she said to the woman. "Name?" There was no reply. "Ma'am, can you tell me your name?" Still no reply. "Is she conscious?" the nurse asked Miller.

Miller moved to his patient's head. Gently, he opened her mouth, took hold of her upper teeth and manipulated them. "The maxilla is movable," he said. He bent close to her ear. "Can you hear me?"

"Yes," the woman replied.

"How did this happen? Did someone beat you up?"

"Yes."

"Were you sexually assaulted?" Silence. "What were you beaten with?"

"Fists."

Miller took a deep breath. "Do you know the man who did this?" Silence.

Miller turned to the nurse. "Call the police."

"No!" the woman said with unexpected vehemence. "No."

"The police should be looking for whoever did this to you."

"No."

Miller shook his head at the nurse.

"Car," the woman said.

"Have a look outside," Miller said to a nurse. He conducted a pelvic examination and found vaginal bruising and tenderness. There was semen in her pubic hair, and he took a sample for a slide.

The nurse returned. "There's a Mercedes convertible out there. The motor was running. I parked it." She hung the keys on her clipboard and made a note of the license number. Someone came in with the X rays. Miller clipped them to a light box and peered at the chest.

"Good lungs. Two broken ribs." He looked at the head shots. "Mmmm," he said. "I want a plastic surgeon to see her. Who's got the duty?"

"Griffin," a nurse said.

"No!" the woman on the table said.

"Griffin's good," Miller told her.

"Harry Estes," she said.

"He's good, too. You know him?"

"Yes."

"Can I tell him your name?" The woman said nothing.

Miller went to the desk, looked up a number, and dialed. "Hello?" a sleepy man's voice said.

"Dr. Estes? This is Martin Miller in the Piedmont ER. I've got a woman here I'd like you to see."

"Dammit, I haven't got the duty! Can't you read the list?"

"She asked for you. Says she knows you."

"What's her name?"

"She won't say."

"What's her condition?"

"She's been raped and badly beaten; the eyes are swollen shut; there are lacerations about the cheeks and eyes; the nose is flat. X rays show the maxillary sinuses are full of blood. The maxilla is movable; I think she's got a Ce Fort three fracture."

"What did you say she was beaten with?"

"Fists."

"A Ce Fort three is impossible."

"When you've seen her you can tell me that."

"I'll be there in fifteen minutes." Harry Estes lived near the hospital; he made it among his patients this could be. His main practice was in Northside Atlanta, the most affluent part of the city. The women he treated came to him for breast implants or reductions, nose jobs, facelifts—the gamut of elective cosmetic procedures; occasionally, one was injured in a car accident. In his Northside practice he had never dealt with the results of a beating; no patient of his, to his knowledge, had ever been raped.

He also consulted at Grady Hospital, the huge publicly operated facility on the south side of town. There, he could catch anything, and did. But Piedmont Hospital was the richest, most fashionable in the city. Who could this woman be? Estes parked his car and walked into the hospital.

Miller met him in the lobby. "Who is she?" Estes asked.

"She still won't say."

"Is she sedated?"

"No, I wanted you to talk with her, first." Estes entered the examination room and stopped short. He did not recognize the woman; her mother would not have recognized her. He had never seen anything like this. He bent over the table and spoke softly to her. "It's Dr. Estes," he said, soothingly. "I'm going to take care of you, now; don't worry."

"Thanks, Harry," the woman said thickly.

Harry Estes was a rather formal man; only those patients who were his friends addressed him by his first name. He began to dread learning this woman's identity. On pretense of taking her pulse, he took her left hand from under the sheet. The woman gasped. "Sorry, I know those ribs are sore. We'll get them taped in a little bit."

She was not wearing a wedding ring, but there was a faint mark. She may have been wearing one until recently. Estes peeled back the swollen eyelids. Green. The pupils contracted. "Did you conduct a neurological examination?" he asked Miller.

"Yes. Normal. I didn't think it necessary to call in a neurologist. Do you want one?"

"Not if you're satisfied."

"Manipulate the maxilla." Estes opened the woman's mouth, took hold of her upper teeth, and worked them back and forth. Her face moved with them. The woman's whole facial structure had been separated from her skull. He tried to keep his voice low and calm.

"You're right, it's a Ce Fort three fracture. I'll suture now." He injected Xylocaine into the woman's cheeks and left eyelid, then carefully closed four lacerations. "There," he said. "You're going to be just fine."

The woman's face showed something like a smile. "Not bad work for somebody with no forehand," she said.

Estes's mouth dropped open. He knew in a rush who this was. He waved at a nurse. "Give her one milligram of morphine intravenously."

"Wait!" his patient said.

Estes bent over her. "What is it?"

"I want to see Al Schaefer. Nobody else. No name here."

"Did you say Al Schaefer? Are you sure you don't want Walt Hopkins?" Schaefer was a hotshot trial lawyer who specialized in big criminal cases. Hopkins, he knew, was her lawyer.

"Schaefer," she said. "Nobody else."

"All right," Estes said. "Are you sure you don't want anyone else?"

"Nobody else."

Estes nodded at the nurse, who stood by with a syringe. She inserted it into the IV tube.

"You sleep, now, darling'," Estes whispered to her. "I'll see you tomorrow." His patient immediately relaxed. Estes straightened.

"Get some ice on her face and that breast, tape the ribs, then I want her in intensive care. Note on her chart that she's to have nothing by mouth. I want her to have a cranial CAT scan first thing in the morning; I'll schedule her for surgery when I've seen that."

"What's her name?" the nurse asked.

"Admit her as... P. I. Clarke," he said, reciting the first name that popped into his mind. He'd had dinner at the New York bar the weekend before. "Tell admissions not to badger her for insurance information or anything else. All her charges to my account, for the time being."

"Whatever you say, Doctor," the nurse said, scribbling on her clipboard.

The other nurse applied ice packs, then the patient was wheeled out of the examination room toward the elevators.

"Let's look at her X rays again," Estes said to Miller. Miller switched on the light box. "She's got a very hard head," Estes said, peering at the film. "It's a miracle she hasn't got brain damage or, at the very least, a skull fracture, getting hit that hard."

"I wouldn't have thought a Ce Fort three was possible from a blow with a fist," Miller said.

"Neither would I. Neither would anybody," Estes replied, staring at the X rays. "But it was no ordinary fist."

CHAPTER 1

Schaefer presented himself at the main reception desk of Piedmont Hospital and was directed to the room. He walked to the elevator bank, pressed the button, and waited, standing ramrod straight. He was only five feet seven inches tall in his shoes, and he made every inch count.

A large man in an ill-fitting suit stood outside room 808, looking bored. Schaefer presented himself, and the man cracked the door and said something to someone inside. "The doctor wants you to wait a minute," the man said to Schaefer. Schaefer, who was incapable of standing still, paced until a man came out of the room. Schaefer immediately placed him as one of several hundred Atlantans whom he thought of as the city's establishment—and with whom he had few dealings, unless their sons or daughters got into trouble.

"I'm Dr. Harry Estes," the man said. "May we sit for a moment?" He herded Schaefer toward a bench. Schaefer arranged himself and made a point of not showing deference. 

"I have to be somewhere at six," he said.

"I understand," the doctor replied. "It was good of you to make a house call, as it were."

"Tell me, Doctor," Schaefer said, "is your patient's name really P. I. Clarke?"

The doctor smiled slightly. "I'm afraid that was a moment's whimsy on my part. She did not want to give the hospital staff her name."

"What is her name?" Schaefer asked. "That seems like a good place to start."

"Yes, of course," the doctor mumbled, rearranging his white hospital coat. "Her name is Elizabeth Barwick. In the wee hours of this morning she walked into the emergency room downstairs. She had been badly beaten and, apparently, raped. She declined to say who had beaten her, only that it had been done with fists. During the course of the emergency she asked for me." 

"Had she been a patient of yours?"

"No. I knew her socially. She and I were members of a group who used to play tennis at a mutual friend's house. I am a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. I think she knew she would need the services of someone like me at an early stage."

"What was the extent of her injuries?"

"She had received extraordinary trauma to the face and head; she had two broken ribs; there was extensive bruising of the breasts and upper body; the vaginal area showed bruising and superficial bleeding. The emergency physician took what turned out to be a semen sample from her pubic hair."

"Excellent. What treatment has she been given?"

"Very little. She was X-rayed; her ribs were taped, and ice packs were applied to her face and left breast; I sutured four lacerations of the cheeks, eyelids, and forehead; she was sedated. She was X-rayed last night, and this morning she had a CAT scan."

"Was there any neurological damage?"

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