THE HANDCUFFS CUT into Doctor Cooper McKay’s wrists each time he shifted in the back seat. He kept his mouth shut, swallowing the pain that ripped through his shoulder.
Nashville Police Officer Lance Pennington glanced in the rearview mirror, a smirk flickering in his gaze. Doctor McKay purposely ignored the man.
McKay’s thoughts raced. Fast. Frantic. He struggled to regain his composure and his wits. Don’t react, he cautioned himself. Just think. His surgical training had prepared him to stay cool in a crisis. Thirty years in operating rooms had honed those skills, but calm was easier to produce when someone else’s family was in crisis.
He continued to ignore Officer Pennington, staring out the window at the hospital entrance instead. On any other Friday morning, the police would still be waiting for him, after being informed that Doctor McKay was halfway through his first surgical case. Last week, all of that had changed with his long–awaited retirement. His heart hammered with anxiety when he considered all that he had left behind. And what remained.
“Has anyone told Reagan?” he asked.
Officer Pennington flicked a glance at the rearview mirror. “Reagan?”
“My daughter.” McKay swallowed, mouth dry with dread. “Our daughter. She’s in her junior year, but she’s studying abroad this semester.” He stared, not really seeing the entrance to the hospital. “This is going to kill her.”
Pennington cleared his throat. “You are aware, Dr. McKay, that anything you say can and probably will be used against you in a court of law. Until your lawyer arrives, you may want to sit back and shut the hell up.”
For the first time since the police had shown up at the hospital, McKay sat back and followed orders. His fly–by to see his pals in the doctor’s lounge now seemed ill–advised. But the police would’ve come to his home next, he guessed, and that had its own set of problems.
He needed to personally break the news to Reagan, but right now that seemed impossible. Italy was an eight-hour flight away once the wheels left the tarmac. Not counting the time it would take to organize the damn trip. And assuming the police would even allow him to leave. The prospects of a face–to–face discussion would also be awkward in so many ways. Between McKay’s retirement and divorce, Reagan was all he had left. The only thing permanent that mattered, anyway. Truth be told, he’d lost his relationship with his ex–wife years before the divorce. Like many crumbling marriages, they’d kept up appearances, in part for business purposes. And for their daughter. Christ, he thought, would Reagan even want to see me? She had ignored his emails and phone calls for much of the last year, blaming him for the divorce. And now it looked like others wanted to blame him for her mother’s death.
Not the retirement he had expected.
The font passenger door opened. A plain–clothed cop slid into the front seat. “They don’t know anything else about the car,” she said to Officer Pennington.
To McKay, the words sounded more like cah. He studied her profile as she spoke. She hadn’t been in the room when Pennington had interrogated him earlier. Her pinned–back black hair exposed wide cheek bones as she focused on Pennington and ignored the cuffed doctor in the back seat. McKay didn’t ignore her, though. She looked Asian, maybe Vietnamese, but her accent said northeast. Maybe Boston. Fish out of water in Nashville.
She didn’t wait for Pennington to respond. She hooked her elbow over the front seat and pivoted toward the back. “Dr. Cooper McKay,” she said, allowing the accent to seep in. Scooping the o’s and dropping the r’s like his grandmother from Massachusetts. Coop–uh. “I’m Detective Libby Pham, Nashville Police Department.”
He forced a smile, trying to avoid any further tension. “Mackie McKay,” he said.
“Pardon?” It came out pah–duhn.
“Mackie McKay,” he said. “Nick name.”
Detective Pham fixed her gaze on him for a beat, then continued. “When was the last time you talked to your ex–wife?”
Mackie clenched his jaw. “Are these cuffs necessary?”
“Have you calmed down?”
“We’ll see.” She repeated her question.
Mackie searched Pham’s face for compassion, but he saw only her impassive expression. If she was a day over thirty–five, Mackie would be surprised. “We don’t speak much,” he said, then corrected himself. “Didn’t. Stuck to email and texts. More civil that way.”
Pham stared at him, a laser–like probing that made him feel uncomfortable and exposed.
“I did see her this week,” he finally said. “She came by to pick up some papers that had been sent to my house by mistake. Work related documents.”
Mackie did not like being on the receiving end of an interrogation. Most surgeons didn’t. “Look, I didn’t share the whole truth inside.”
“Was that before or after you took a swing at Officer Pennington?”
“He accused me of murdering my ex–wife.” Mackie fought to control his tone.
“We found her body in the trunk of your car,” Pham countered.
“Which I’d reported stolen the day before,” Mackie said.
Pennington chuckled like he’d heard that before, and often. “You’re fighting skills suck, Doc.”
Mackie ignored him, focusing on Pham instead. “Sarah and I had several mutual interests. Business related, mostly.”
Pham nodded. “So even after the divorce, you and your ex kept up civility?” She turned around even more, unencumbered by a seatbelt.
“We owned several joint patents for a synthetic blood product.”
“You just said you didn’t share the whole truth,” Pham said.
He paused. “I saw her last night.”
“Where else would I be?”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” she said. “Were you alone?”
Mackie averted his eyes, glancing out the back window of the police cruiser. The blue lights pulsed off the parked cars at the curb. Patient families gave the cops a wide berth as they walked into the hospital lobby, stealing an occasional glance at the man in the back seat. What was the point of all this? He needed to get out of here and work on contacting his daughter. Mackie preferred not to mention the previous night, but Sarah’s death forced his hand. “I was with a friend. An acquaintance, really.”
Pham nodded again. “A friend with special privileges?”
“Ah…you’ve been there.”
Pham smiled faintly. Naturally straight teeth, accented by the hint of misalignment in the front. An orthodontist would wring his hands at the subtle imperfection, but it gave her a look of authenticity. Unaltered beauty. “What’s her name?”
“Hollie Blanton,” he said. “Call the house. She’s probably still there. I wasn’t supposed to be gone this long.”
Pham digested the information. “Did Sarah know about Hollie?”
Mackie held her gaze. “We were long divorced, Detective.”
“Sarah lives—lived—in a downtown condo for the last two years.” Mackie’s reticence yielded to defensive explanations. “She’d had it during the last year of our marriage, going there for God–knows–what. Closer to her law firm…and her new man at the time.”
“She had more than one relationship?”
“I lost track.” Mackie took a deep breath before blowing it out. “When she dropped by last night to get those papers, she ran in to Hollie. Suffice it to say, she wasn’t happy.”
“Jealousy, I’m sure. She had a low tolerance for happiness.” Mackie repositioned his body. “These cuffs are killing me.”
“Effective, aren’t they?”
Officer Pennington, still smirking in the driver’s seat, asked, “Did you ask your ex about your car last night?”
Mackie sized up Pennington. Half an hour earlier, he’d hustled a manacled Mackie through the lobby of Nashville Memorial Hospital, all because of a misunderstanding. Now, Pennington pretended to be chummy. Mackie said, “We didn’t get around to it.”
A tap on the hood of the cruiser interrupted him.
Pham straightened in the front seat. She stepped out of the cruiser to speak to the uniformed officer standing there. They moved to the sidewalk so Mackie couldn’t hear.
From Mackie’s perspective, cuffed and stuffed in the back seat, Detective’s Pham’s demeanor shouted new responsibility. Like she didn’t want to mess up this interrogation. Probably a new promotion, he guessed. Maybe even her first such encounter as a detective. As he tried to figure his way out of the back seat and on to connecting up with Reagan, Pennington spoke again.
“I once saw a Discovery Channel feature on medical breakthroughs. They covered synthetic blood. It doesn’t look like real blood, does it? More like cloudy water or skim milk.”
Mackie looked at Pennington. “You wouldn’t have struck me as the Discovery Channel type.”
“And you wouldn’t have struck me as a guy who would swing at a cop.”
Mackie didn’t respond to that.
“They said, used wrong, synthetic blood can be deadly.”
Mackie considered his response. Pennington’s role of agreeable cop didn’t sit well with him. “It saves lives, Officer. With the proper training, it’s as safe a saline.”
“To use in the operating room?”
“Or a trauma.”
Pennington smiled. “Like a head wound in a brutally–beaten middle–aged woman who’s been shoved into the trunk of a car?”
Mackie’s ears heated up. Was that where this conversation was heading? To a confession of a crime he hadn’t committed? His rebuttal caught in his throat as the front passenger door opened once more. Detective Pham leaned into the car. Her right hand gripped the door frame. “There’s something you need to see, Dr. McKay.”
Mackie scooted toward the door, trying to stretch his legs and reposition his hands. “Am I being arrested or not?”
“Depends,” Detective Pham said. “Right now, all I’m asking for is a little cooperation.”
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