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«Palindrome», Stuart Woods

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В© 1991

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?"


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