Lethal Injection

Hannah Kline Mystery Series Book 2

Obstetrician Hannah Kline and her recent lover, Los Angeles police detective Daniel Ross are taking a well-earned, romantic vacation when their idyll is disrupted by an encounter with Dr. Wesley Templeton, Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, and ex-husband of Hannah’s college roommate Sara. Two weeks later, Templeton is found brutally murdered in the operating suite of exclusive West Beverly Hospital. Everyone with opportunity appears to have no motive, and the long list of people with motives, lack opportunity. Sara is definitely on the suspect list, but Hannah knows her old friend isn’t capable of murder and decides to do some investigating on her own. In the meantime, an increasingly desperate killer is killing again, and again.

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Excerpt

Lethal Injection
Chapter 1

It was three o’clock in the morning and I was drenched in blood. It had spattered uncontrollably over my shirt, dripped down my pants and soaked through the thick white socks I’d worn under my rubber-soled sandals. I eyed myself with distaste. The fluorescent light in the deserted women’s locker room gave a sallow cast to my light skin and emphasized the dark circles under my green eyes. I wondered if I was getting too old to keep doing this. I removed the bloody scrubs and tossed them into the laundry bin. There were stains on my new, peach lace, Lily of France brassiere. I stepped out of my underwear, wrapped myself in two skimpy hospital towels, turned on the shower and retrieved the shampoo and conditioner I kept in my locker for nights like this. The hot water felt soothing and reminded me of how exhausted I was.

Strictly speaking, I didn’t even have to be here. Ruth, my partner, was on call this weekend and for the rest of my well-earned week of vacation. But when Esther Lieberman had gone into labor with her sixth child that morning, I couldn’t bring myself to leave in the middle. I’d taken care of Esther since her marriage at the age of eighteen and had delivered all of her previous children. She held the record in my practice for the largest number of births and considered me her good luck charm. She swore she couldn’t have a baby without me. For my part, I’d always considered her one of my favorite patients, and besides, how long could a sixth baby take?

Unfortunately it had taken fourteen hours and had resulted in a bouncing ten-and-a-half pound baby boy followed by a massive postpartum hemorrhage. I’d massaged Esther’s uterus, given her a shot of prostaglandin and a lot of IV fluid, and had stayed with her for over an hour just to be certain she was really stable and wasn’t going to hemorrhage again.

I dried off, ran a comb through the tangles of my curly red hair, stuffed my bloody underwear into my giant purse and put a clean set of scrubs on over my braless, middle-aged body. I doubted anyone would notice, and I didn’t have the energy to get back into my office clothes for the fifteen-minute drive from Los Angeles Memorial Hospital to my Brentwood condominium. The physician’s parking lot was deserted at this hour. Only two other cars, besides my own, bore witness to the hours doctors keep. I could feel my heart starting to pound as I looked for intruders lurking in corners and, car key in hand, achieved the safety of my locked vehicle. Why hadn’t I thought about calling hospital security to escort me to my car? Just a few weeks ago, one of my colleagues had been mugged in this very spot. Another had been shot and almost killed in his driveway by thugs who had followed him home from the hospital after a delivery. I, of all people, knew that no one was safe from the escalating crime wave that had hit Los Angeles in recent years. I’d had far too much experience with crime close to home.

It had been a little over a year since my life was shattered for the second time by death. The first loss was my beloved husband Ben who passed away five years ago, shortly before the birth of our daughter Zoe. Last year, I’d dealt with the violent murder of my sister-in-law, Beth. I had been devastated and obsessed by her death, functioning like an automaton and spending all my spare time and energy searching her past rather than attempting to get on with my own present. Daniel Ross had been the investigating officer on her case and it had been a combination of his patience and kindness, along with the final conviction of Beth’s killer that had allowed me to finally begin to let go. Just a few months ago, Daniel and I had become lovers, and we were leaving together in the morning for a well earned and badly needed joint vacation.

I pulled out of the parking lot and headed for Brentwood, glancing frequently in my rear view mirror to be certain no one was following. When I reached home, everything seemed quiet. I could hear Emilia, my housekeeper, snoring gently, on the fold out sofa in the den. She didn’t live with us fulltime any longer, but she always made herself available to stay with my daughter Zoe when I was on call or had to go out of town. I tiptoed through the living room, careful not to wake Emilia, and up the carpeted stairway to my bedroom.

The room smelled of lemon oil and fresh laundry with an overlay of night jasmine wafting in through the open window. I turned on the soft light of the Tiffany reproduction lamp on my bedside table. The bed had been made with my favorite cream-colored Egyptian cotton sheets and piles of fluffy large decorative pillows. The down comforter was turned invitingly down. The wood on my antique French desk, the one my late husband Ben and I had found on our honeymoon, gleamed in the soft light.

With a sigh of contentment I shed my clothes, set my alarm for six-thirty so I wouldn’t miss my plane the next morning, and crawled under the covers. Within minutes I was sound asleep.
Daniel arrived promptly at seven to drive us both to the airport and I heard Emilia let him in. I was still in the process of getting dressed and putting on enough make-up so that I didn’t look half dead.

“Hurry up, Hannah,” Daniel called from downstairs.

“Okay, okay.” I searched my voluminous carry-on one more time to be certain I’d remembered everything; tickets, itinerary, reservations, make-up, hair dryer, sunscreen, I-Pad, antacid, smart phone and beeper. After some consideration I removed my beeper. Where we were going I wasn’t supposed to need it. Daniel thought I’d lost my marbles when I’d completed all my vacation packing a week ahead of time, but I’d known better. In my line of work you could never count on having time when you needed it. Finally, dragging my luggage, I made an appearance.

“Have a great trip, Mommy.”

Zoe, my adorable five-year-old, reached up for another hug and I almost cancelled the reservations. I hadn’t gone anywhere without her since she was born and I was feeling a little guilty about leaving her behind. I had tried to explain to her that Daniel and I were going somewhere that would be pretty boring for kids and that she couldn’t miss school. She seemed okay with it.

“We’ll be just fine. Don’t worry,” said Emilia.

“Remember,” I said. “She is not allowed to eat at McDonald’s every night while I’m away.”

“I won’t, Mommy. I’ll have pizza too,” Zoe said.

“Great. That really eases my mind.”

Daniel bent down and planted a kiss on Zoe’s cheek.

“Don’t worry, Princess. I’ll take good care of your mother.”

“I’m not a princess, I’m a Ninja Turtle,” Zoe said.

“Cowabunga, dude,” Daniel said, assuming a karate stance.

Zoe reached for the nearest weapon and backed him into a far corner of the living room. “Take that, Shred Head.”

I kept a careful eye on my contemporary art glass collection. Zoe knew better than to damage it but I had some trepidation about Daniel. “I’m ready,” I announced.

Daniel extricated himself and lifted my suitcase. “Boy, are you lucky I work out.”

I just smiled and opened the front door.

As it turned out we got to the airport in plenty of time and I settled myself comfortably in the window seat with a cup of coffee and my e-book. Daniel ordered orange juice, leaned over and dropped a kiss on my forehead. I’d only had two significant relationships in my life; Ben my husband, and Daniel, who helped me end a five-year period of celibacy after Ben’s death. Our romantic relationship was still pretty new and I wasn’t sure where it was headed but for the moment I was just grateful to have him beside me. I’d actually initiated the vacation for two when I realized how emotionally depleted I was. My feelings for Daniel were a combination of warmth, gratitude and a sexual attraction powerful enough to occupy my fantasy life every waking moment. I daydreamed about him when I drove to the hospital every morning, imagined his hands on me when I sat in my consultation room between patients, and forced away memories of our lovemaking when I had to concentrate in the operating room. My brain was still cautious about this new relationship, but my body was not ambivalent.

I was smart enough to realize that if I wanted to nurture this relationship, Daniel and I needed some quality time together, uninterrupted by the demands of work and of my beloved daughter who had first priority in my life. To accomplish this I announced to him that I desperately needed a beach, sunshine, a mystery novel and good company, not necessarily in that order. He’d arrived at my house the same evening loaded with travel information. We’d settled on an island called Marianne’s Key that was off the coast of South Carolina. Among the locals the island was a popular honeymoon destination because there was nothing to do there other than lie supine on the beach or in the bedroom. The concept appealed to me.

We landed at Charleston only ten minutes behind schedule and rented a small American car with a giant air conditioner. The temperature was about eighty-five degrees with humidity to match, and it was only the beginning of May. My red hair, which usually hangs halfway down my back, frizzed to shoulder length and my sunglasses fogged.

“Don’t worry,” Daniel said as he rubbed a thumb over my lenses, “it’s not like this at the beach.”

“I’m counting on that,” I said.

We meandered our way up I-95 in the direction of Beaufort where the ferry was. We made it a few minutes early, bought our tickets, and drove the rental car onto the lower deck.

The sun was just setting as the ferry took off. The clouds over the shore had a rosy glow, the water lapped quietly at the prow of the ship, and a soft, salt laden breeze promised a cooler evening. I leaned against the rail, watching the lights come on in Beaufort. Daniel stood behind me and slipped his arms around my shoulders. “Is it starting to feel like you’re on vacation yet?” I shifted my weight and relaxed against his chest.

“Pretty close,” I said.

We watched in silence for a while longer until I started to get chilly. Then we went inside, ordered two cups of hot chocolate, and kept an eye out for signs of the island.

It took about half an hour to get to Marianne’s Key, a long flat island that appeared to be forested on the leeward side. We caught a glimpse of lights through the trees and then the ferry pulled up at a long wooden jetty. We disembarked and drove our car onto the island’s only road.

We were staying at the Sandpiper Inn, once an original Vanderbilt cottage. According to the brochures it contained twenty bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, a full service dining room specializing in southern cuisine, and a private beach. We found it at the southern tip of the island, a large house of weathered wood with one of those wrap-around porches that seem to be a mainstay of southern architecture. I could see several rope hammocks suspended from the porch ceiling.

We rang the bell and, receiving no response, tried the front door. We entered a large hallway where a curved staircase with an elaborately carved mahogany banister led to the second story. To the right was a parlor with a marble fireplace, an oriental rug and a profusion of English antique furnishings. To the left was a dining room with a mahogany table, exquisitely set for twenty with Wedgwood china and cut crystal.

“I’m not sure I can eat here,” I said to Daniel. “I’d be afraid of breaking the antique china.”

“Oh, we don’t eat here. That’s the Vanderbilt’s’ original dining room. The guest dining room is in back.”

I turned and found myself face-to-face with a smiling elderly lady. She had teased gray hair and was wearing a frilly pink blouse with pearl buttons and a white apron.

“You must be the Rosses,” she said. “I’m Mrs. Smithers, the housekeeper. Let me show you to your room. Charlie will bring up your luggage.” Charlie was apparently the surly looking teenager standing behind her.

I didn’t bother to correct her misapprehension. I found it difficult to tell someone my mother’s age that I was traveling with a man I wasn’t married to, and besides, it was none of her business. We followed her upstairs.

“Your room looks directly out at the beach,” she said. She opened the door to a large bedroom. Pale green carpet covered the floor. Green and white sprigged wallpaper with matching drapes covered the walls. A mahogany four-poster bed with a white eyelet cotton canopy and comforter stood in the center. French doors led out to the second floor balcony. I stood outside for a moment and listened. It was too dark to see the ocean but I could hear the waves breaking against the dunes.”

“It’s lovely,” I said.

“Dinner’s from seven to nine-thirty. The dining room’s in the back. Just follow the hallway at the foot of the stairs.”

“Are you busy this time of year?” Daniel asked.

Mrs. Smithers shook her head. “The season doesn’t begin until mid-June. We’re full on the weekends but there are only two other couples staying here now.”

Charlie brought up our suitcases and deposited them on the floor. Daniel handed him a tip and Charlie flashed us a grin as he escorted Mrs. Smithers out of the room.

“Private enough for you?” Daniel asked.

“As long as we don’t have to talk to the two other couples,” I said.

“I’ll try and arrange that.” Daniel drew me into his arms and started to kiss me. I felt a sharp stab of desire and eyed the four-poster. On second thought, wonderful smells were emanating from the kitchen and I was famished. I always made passionate love better on a full stomach.

“Do you think we should change before dinner?” I murmured.

“Probably.” Daniel released me and lifted both suitcases to the bed. “You’d better change in the bathroom. If I see you without any clothes on we’ll never make it to dinner.”
Dinner was served in a charming room that was part indoors and part screened-in-back-porch. French doors divided it in half and could be closed in unpleasant weather. A young waitress greeted us at the door and showed us to an outside table. There was a warm breeze laden with the scent of orange blossoms. The dining room was empty when we got there, the evidence suggesting that the other two couples had eaten and left. I spotted one of them taking a stroll down toward the beach. There was something vaguely familiar about the man.

Daniel looked through the wine list and ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. The waitress brought it along with a basket of hush puppies and biscuits. There wasn’t any menu.

We clinked our glasses and waited to be served, savoring the cold taste of white wine in our mouths. I wondered what it would be like to spend a whole night with Daniel. Up to now I’d been unwilling to do that. I couldn’t stay at his place, leaving Zoe alone, and I was uncomfortable with the idea of my daughter finding him in my bed in the morning. I had no idea if Daniel was going to wind up as my second husband, or if he’d be only the first in a series of relationships with men that would lead nowhere. I was both pleased and concerned about the fact that Zoe had become attached to him. I didn’t want her to get hurt if things didn’t work out.

The waitress arrived bearing two huge plates of king crab legs with fluffy mashed potatoes and tubs of melted butter. She put a bucket on the floor between us for the shells and handed us two bibs. I cracked a leg between my fingers and dipped it in the butter. The sweet white meat dissolved in my mouth and the butter dripped down my chin. Eventually I gave up on my napkin. Dessert was a dense chocolate mousse, rich to excess even for a chocoholic like myself.

After dinner we slipped our arms around one other and braved the stairs to our bedroom. I was feeling sated, relaxed and completely happy for the first time in over a year. Daniel opened the door and kissed me as soon as it closed. Only one of my appetites was truly sated. The other was ready for more.
I woke late the next morning in a shaft of sunlight that illuminated the sheer white canopy of the four- poster. The shower was running in the bathroom. I rolled over and stretched, luxuriating in the feel of the soft cotton sheets against my body. I was surprised at how rested I felt.

I had been significantly worried that all the romance in my affair with Daniel would evaporate if I discovered that he snored or thrashed around during the night. Fortunately neither seemed to be the case although our mutual sleep habits still needed a little negotiation. Daniel was a cuddler. I kept waking up to find him wrapped around me and found myself afraid to move for fear of disturbing him. It took me until at least two A.M. to realize that I could roll him over without his even noticing. After that I must have slept like the dead because I was feeling great.

Daniel came out of the bathroom looking irresistible in white cotton shorts and no T-shirt. Looking at him never failed to take my breath away. His body was fit and tan. He had curly dark hair with a touch of gray, blue eyes with laugh lines at the corners, and sharp cheekbones on a narrow face with a gentle mouth. His eyes as he caught my glance were mesmerizing. I debated the merits of not getting out of bed.

“Come on sleeping beauty, the dining room closes for breakfast in half an hour.” Daniel pulled the covers off me and extended a hand. “I’ll be ready in five minutes,” I said.

“It is constitutionally impossible for any woman to be ready in five minutes.” I can never resist a challenge so I looked at my watch. I took a two- minute shower, twisted my hair into a bun, slathered sun block all over, and slipped into a bathing suit and a coverall; four minutes, twenty-three seconds. This time the dining room wasn’t empty. We sat down, ordered waffles, coffee, ham and eggs and made our plans for the day. Those consisted primarily of debating how long we could safely lie in the sun and deciding which novels to start first.

“Hannah?” A male voice was coming from behind my left shoulder and I turned. The man who was standing behind me was over six feet tall and suntanned. Once dark hair, now liberally sprinkled with gray, brushed his collar and receded precipitously from what used to be his hairline. A luxuriant mustache compensated for losing the battle with baldness. Wire rimmed, round glasses perched on his nose and a heavy, gold link bracelet adorned the hand he extended in my direction. For a moment I didn’t recognize him. “Wesley?” I accepted the hand. He smiled. So much for my lovely vacation. “Daniel, this is an old acquaintance of mine, Dr. Wesley Templeton. Wesley, my friend Daniel Ross.”

“It’s been too long, Hannah,” Wesley said. “What an extraordinary coincidence running into you here.”

There was something almost feral about his smile and I wondered how long he was staying here.

“Let me introduce you to my wife.” He motioned to a woman seated at the next table and she rose to join us. She was tall, at least five-foot-ten, with one of those lean, flat-chested bodies you see in runners. Her face was long and horsy with prominent teeth, a square jaw and olive skin. Black hair was pulled back into a short ponytail.

“My wife, Erica,” Wesley said. He slipped an arm around her shoulders. “Darling, meet Hannah Kline and her friend Daniel Ross. I’ve known Hannah since medical school.”

“Oh,” she said, “are you a nurse?”

“No,” I said, “are you?”

“Hannah was a year ahead of me at Harvard,” Wesley said. She offered a thin smile. “Pediatrics?”

“Obstetrics and Gynecology.”

“How interesting,” Erica said, managing to look completely bored. “Well,” she said, “it’s nice to meet you both. I hope we’ll see you on the beach later today.”

It was a large island. Hopefully we could avoid that less than enchanting prospect.

“Old boyfriend?” Daniel asked as soon as they’d left the room. “Should I start getting jealous?”

I grinned. “What makes you think he’s an old boyfriend?”

“Your mouth looked like you’d accidentally swallowed a whole lemon.”

“Sloppy detective work, lieutenant. You’ve just been introduced to a genuine Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon. He used to be married to my old Vassar roommate, Sara Hellman. Revolting divorce about five years ago. I’ll spare you the details.”

“And the new wife?”

“The old bimbo apparently. I gather he actually married the other woman.”

“Sounds interesting,” Daniel said. “Are you going to tell me about him?”

What could I tell him about Wesley Templeton?

Excerpt from Lethal Injection, by Paula Bernstein
© 2014

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