The woman in the stingy hospital bed wasn’t dead. The question for Detective Jesus De La Cruz: did the comatose patient narrowly survive suicide or murder?
Faithful friends paint a picture of a guileless young woman, a victim of both crime and society. Others describe a cold woman with a proclivity for icing interested men with a single look.
Beneath the rhetoric, Cruz unearths a twisted knot of reality and perception. A sex scandal, a jilted lover, a callous director, a rainmaker, and a quid pro quo have Cruz questioning if there is such a thing as an innocent man. Truth is a strong rope, tied in a noose. As he closes in, the knot tightens, but who will pay the price? A killer or a member of Cruz’s own family?
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“She’s not dead.” Cleveland homicide Detective Jesus De La Cruz stood beside the hospital bed, watching the sheet over the woman’s chest rhythmically rise and fall.
“I know she’s not dead. I wouldn’t have ‘MD’ after my name if I couldn’t tell a comatose patient from a dead one.” Dr. Oscar Bollier had the ruffled look of a man above caring what society thought. He normally spoke in a tone underwritten by arrogance. Today, superiority was replaced with something Cruz couldn’t read. It was more than sad; less than desperate.
“So why am I here?”
“Because she shouldn’t be.”
The cop and the doctor met by chance, a wrong room number left on a message. Cruz had been in the bed, the right side of his face doing an imitation of dog food after the bloody night that ended his undercover narcotics career. The doctor took an interest in the cop suffering through alcohol withdrawal. He had been patient, returning daily, throwing a life preserver to the drowning man. Eventually, Cruz grabbed on.
And so, he waited with equal patience for the story of the not-dead woman to unfold.
“Her name is Sophie DeMusa. She’s a senior at Case Western Reserve University and works as a waitress at Three Witches. Do you know it?”
Cruz shook his head.
“It’s one of those hip places on Murray Hill, close to campus. She lives in the apartment below. She was found in her bedroom, nasty cut on her head, and a handful of pills in her stomach.”
The richness of the girl’s Mediterranean heritage showed through the pallor of unconsciousness. Her heart-shaped face featured the sculpted contours of a Greek or Roman maiden. Her eyes tipped up, though, nearly cat like. Exotic. Objectively beautiful.
Beauty was what it was. Not necessarily happy or healthy or stable. Beautiful people killed themselves just as often as the rest of us.
“She didn’t try to kill herself,” Bollier added, reading his mind.
Cruz mentally rolled his eyes. Maybe physically, too.
“She wasn’t the kind to take pills,” Bollier said quickly, a bite in his voice now.
“Pills didn’t cause that wound.” The side of the woman’s head was shaved, the short stubble disrupted by a line of stitches.
“She hit her head on her nightstand.”
When no further explanation came, Cruz waded in. “Since you called me, I assume you think someone other than her put those pills in her belly?”
“Someone had to at least help. She wouldn’t turn to suicide.”
Cruz exhaled slowly, searching for solid footing. If he heard it once, he heard it a hundred times. He wouldn’t do this or she would never do that. Denial was a slow, deep river. “Good people make bad decisions, Oscar. We both lived that truth. I’m sympathetic to the woman’s situation but not hearing anything needing my attention. I’m sorry she did this, but she needs a counselor, not a homicide detective. Call Dr. Edna,” he suggested, referring to Bollier’s psychiatrist friend who had been helpful to him during the Drug Head case. “She’s your better bet.”
“You’re my better bet.” Bollier turned a hundred-thousand watts of ill-tempered doctor on him. “I said she wouldn’t kill herself, you’ll have to take that as fact, and since she wouldn’t, somebody else tried to. She lives in Cleveland, she was found in Cleveland, she’s in the hospital in Cleveland. You, a Cleveland detective, need to do your damn job and find her killer.”
Cruz stood his ground, stamping out the temptation to go toe-to-toe with Bollier. Instead, he probed the reason behind the temper. “Who is she to you?”
“She’s just a girl.” His gaze dropped to her face, his expression softening. “An acquaintance.”
A lie. If anything got to him about his job, it was the number of lies. Big ones, little ones, lies of omission, of exaggeration. The lies were so old, they had their own AARP card.
“Why are you looking at me like that? Stop it. You’re thinking too hard. You’re going to help her.” It wasn’t a question.
First the lie, now an order. Cruz fought the instinct to push back because he respected the asshole doing the pushing. “Look, Oscar, I know you don’t want to hear it, but many suicides or attempts come with a plethora of friends and family who didn’t see it coming. Mental health issues can be overlooked and explained away by the people closest. At least now, you can get her the help she needs.”
“I’m a doctor, you twit. I’ve forgotten more about suicide than you’ll ever know. One five-minute conversation and you’ve made up your mind. You’re not even going to look into the circumstances.” Bollier lifted his chin, exuding dominance and superiority. “In the years we have known each other, I have never asked for you favors or to use your position in anyway. Conversely, you have ‘picked my brain’ on your cases and asked me for connections to help you find the answers. You owe me. The entire department owes me. I’m calling in my marker. You won’t honor your obligation; I’ll call Montoya direct.”
Cruz couldn’t think for the insult coursing through his veins. His mentor, his AA sponsor, was keeping a tally? Threatening to go over his head to homicide’s commander?
“You son of a bitch, you can—” Words flooded him now, articulating where the arrogant fucker could shove his threats. Except, some infinitesimal part of his brain told him anything he said now, he would regret. Or worse, he wouldn’t. “No. I’m not doing this with you. I’m walking away and if you’re as smart as you claim, you won’t follow.” He stalked out the door into the busy corridor.
“She doesn’t have another option.” The pompous, white bread voice followed him down the hall. Nurses and orderlies stared as the words fell on deaf ears. “If you don’t step in, her killer gets away. I know you Jesus De La Cruz. You won’t let that happen. You won’t—”
The doors to the floor closed behind him, cutting off the sermon.
Cruz seethed as he stalked the circuitous route out of the hospital. Never in his thirty-three years on this planet had he so misjudged someone. He’d known from day one Bollier could be an asshole. He’d witnessed it, was entertained by it. Over the years, he fell into the delusion that he was immune from the tirades, that their relationship went deeper than superficial shit. He played the sap, short and simple, sitting bright-eyed and bushy-tailed waiting for the almighty Dr. Oscar Bollier to dispense bits of wisdom.