The cove, p.36
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       The Cove, p.36
 

         Part #1 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter

  He was a moron. And now this.

  Luckily for him and the other drivers on Highway 50, snow didn’t start falling again until Griffin pulled into the Henderson County Hospital parking lot. He’d made it here in fifty-eight minutes.

  Henderson County Hospital

  Maestro, Virginia

  Late Saturday morning

  Griffin ran through the hospital lobby, saw a dozen people staring up at the three stationary elevator arrows, and took the stairs two at a time to the third floor. He’d spoken to Ruth two more times on his wild drive through the mountains to the hospital. There was no change in Delsey’s condition; she was still in and out, still groggy when she was in.

  He ran down the corridor, ignoring a nurse’s voice behind him, and opened the door to room 315 to see a tall woman in a white blouse with a black cashmere V-neck sweater, black pants, and boots standing close at the foot of Delsey’s bed. She was fit and slender, her short dark hair waving around a strong, intelligent face. She looked over when he came in, and smiled. “You must be Griffin Hammersmith. You didn’t let any snow melt under your tires—that was fast.”

  Griffin realized she had to be Agent Ruth Noble, but all he could do was nod. He felt frozen, not from the cold but from gut-wrenching fear for his sister.

  He said, “Yes, I’m Griffin Hammersmith. You’re Ruth Noble.”

  He shook hands with her even as he looked to the bed. Delsey looked to be asleep, or out of it. There was a large bandage on her head. “How’s my sister?”

  Ruth said in a calm, steady voice, “Dr. Chesney’s telling us Delsey will be all right.” She knew she sounded mechanical, words spoken to a family member scared out of his mind, and not a fellow agent, but still, they were true and they calmed him.

  Ruth had seen Griffin Hammersmith’s photo, but she doubted she’d have recognized the wild-eyed man who burst through the door still wearing a fur-lined parka over jeans and boots. Ruth looked at him again when he tossed the parka on a chair, and was surprised at her next thought. Wowza, your photo doesn’t do you justice, señor.

  His attention turned immediately to the doctor who walked into the room, an older woman wearing a white coat, a stethoscope around her neck. She was plump and pretty, a pile of curly white hair thick on her head. She smiled at him, patted his arm. “I’m Dr. Chesney.”

  Griffin said, “I’m Griffin Hammersmith, Delsey’s brother. What’s going on with her? Agent, ah, Ruth said you believed she’d be okay, but she’s not awake.”

  Dr. Chesney automatically lowered the pitch of her voice. “We’ve done a CT scan. She has no evidence of a skull fracture or of any bleeding or contusions in or around her brain. She had a laceration of her scalp that required stitches, and she’s suffered a rather severe concussion.”

  Dr. Chesney saw he’d taken it all in, and added, “We gave her some medications for her pain, though we have to be very careful with that. She’s still groggy, not completely oriented. It’s hard to predict how long that will last, after the severe blow she had. Maybe hours, maybe days, even weeks.”

  Griffin knew all about concussions, since he’d had his own bell rung more than once when he’d played high school and college football. Mostly he remembered having nagging headaches and just not feeling quite right. Griffin looked down at Delsey’s face, leached of color, winced at the large white bandage. His fingers hovered over her cheek, then touched her warm skin, maybe to reassure himself she was alive. He closed his eyes as his fingers lightly pressed against the pulse in her throat. Slow and steady.

  Dr. Chesney lightly touched a spot above her left ear. “As I said, the wound required stitches, but it looks a lot worse with this big bandage than it really is. We’ll change it out tomorrow for something smaller. The blow jarred her brain, of course, so we can expect short-term symptoms even after she’s fully awake, like difficulty concentrating, dizziness, nausea, and balance problems.

  “But she will recover nicely in time, Agent Hammersmith. Right now, she’s still confused. Having you here will help her. I understand she’s a student at Stanislaus. I doubt she’ll be up to performing for a while. What is her instrument?”

  “She plays both the guitar and the piano, but she’s mainly a singer and a composer,” Griffin said.

  “An opera singer?”

  Griffin smiled, hearing Delsey say as she rolled her eyes, The Good Lord save me from climbing to high C every other note, except for the National Anthem. Hey, Griffin, wouldn’t it be great to sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl? I wish I knew who to kiss up to to wrangle that.

  He said to Dr. Chesney, “She could have been an opera singer, but what Delsey really likes is to compose and perform popular music. She’s already had some success. She’s at Stanislaus because she wants to learn everything she can about composition and instrumentation, ah—” Griffin’s voice fell away, and he swallowed. “She’s very talented. She’s like our grandmother.”

  Dr. Chesney smiled, showing a wide space between her front teeth. “Your grandmother? Freestone?”

  “No, Hammersmith.”

  “Hammersmith? Goodness, Aladonna Hammersmith is your grandmother? Oh, how I wanted to be an opera singer after I first heard her perform at Carnegie Hall, but alas, even the shower water turns cold when I try an aria.”

  Griffin smiled. “She was Miss Aladonna to all of us grandkids. She made the best chocolate-chip cookies in the world.”

  Children, Dr. Chesney thought, had their own criteria for what was important. She remembered Aladonna Hammersmith had died of heart failure in the early nineties. In the years that followed, she’d seen a good half-dozen retrospective shows about her life. “I look forward to hearing Aladonna Hammersmith’s granddaughter perform when she’s up to it. If we’re lucky, she’ll be back to normal before you know it, so please don’t worry too much. I’ll be back in a couple of hours, unless she needs me. They can reach me on my beeper.”

  She turned to Ruth. “I hope Dix can figure this all out. We sure don’t want a repeat of anything like last year in town. Talk about horrific. At least she won’t die like the others did.” Her eyes flicked again to Delsey. Dr. Chesney left the room, leaving dead silence in her wake.

  Ruth shook her head. “Talk about a klutz thing to say, but that’s Dr. Chesney. She was probably still so excited to hear her patient is the granddaughter of her opera goddess she forgot you were here.”

  He said, “What did she mean, a horrific time last year? Was another Stanislaus student hurt? Killed?”

  “There was a murder—well, several actually—but that’s all over and done with. If you want to know more about it, I’ll fill you in later.”

  Murders at Stanislaus last year? Did Delsey’s being struck down have anything to do with that old trouble? Had she somehow managed to start up with the wrong person? He wouldn’t doubt it. The Trouble Magnet could sniff out a bad apple in a sealed barrel.

  “Tell me, Ruth, that the murders last year were neatly solved and the killer sent to prison.”

  “Well, all of them were resolved except the last one; well, there are still some questions in my husband Dix’s mind and the primary suspect is in the wind, but far away from here, we think. Trust me, it has nothing to do with this.”

  Griffin realized he was probably being paranoid and tried to turn it off. But a cop is a cop, and he wanted to hear all about last year’s murders. But now wasn’t the time. He pulled up a chair and sat beside his sister. She was sleeping, her breathing slow and regular. He pulled her hand from beneath the hospital blanket, looked at her long white fingers, magic fingers that made such beautiful music the angels wept, and when she sang you wept along with them. He slowly began to rub the back of her hand. “My mother told me when a person is down and out Miss Aladonna had told her it helps if you can hold their hands, that they somehow know, and she did that for my grandmothe
r when she was very sick. I haven’t any idea if it’s true.”

  Ruth pulled up the only other chair and sat on the other side of the bed, picked up Delsey’s left hand and began rubbing it. She looked over at Special Agent Griffin Hammersmith. She imagined that when he walked down the street women nearly got run over staring at him. He’d rolled up the sleeves of his blue shirt to his elbows, and his jeans were old and fitted him very nicely. He looked, she thought, very fine. He was as pretty as his sister, with all his thick blond hair, his eyes as green as wet grass, a small hollow in the middle of his chin, and cheekbones sharp enough to slice a lemon. He was saved from being too pretty by a nose obviously broken a couple of times when he’d been younger, and which now sat a bit off-kilter. He and Delsey looked nearly the same age even though Delsey was six years his junior. According to her driver’s license, Delsey had turned twenty-five the previous week.

  She said quietly, “You know, Griffin, Dillon described you as the real deal. I’m glad you’re here, for Delsey’s sake.”

  Griffin arched a perfect eyebrow at Ruth and continued rubbing his sister’s hand. He said, “Delsey told me she wanted to learn everything in the known universe about how to put together a multi-instrument score, and this was the place. She never wanted to go to Juilliard, said New York was too big, too noisy, too claustrophobic.

  “I haven’t seen Delsey since she moved here last September to attend graduate school. I didn’t make it home for the holidays because there were three bank robberies right before Christmas that had the police chief and the mayor screaming at us, and so I volunteered to head it all up, since, unlike most of the other agents, I’m not married with kids whose stockings needed stuffing.”

  “Did you catch the bank robbers?”

  Griffin nodded. “Two brothers, both two-time felons, neither very bright. We cuffed them while they were sleeping off a drunk in a Napa Valley motel.”

  “I’ll bet they bragged about their big score in a bar.”

  He gave her a grin that would smite female hearts from twenty paces. “Yeah, something like that. The bartender called us.”

  A tech appeared in the doorway. “Dr. Chesney said to bring this to you right away, Agent Noble.”

  Griffin said, “The results from the blood in Delsey’s bathtub?”

  “Looks like.” Ruth took a piece of paper from him.

  • • •

  For a complete list of this author’s books click here or visit

  www.penguin.com/coulterchecklist

 


 

  Catherine Coulter, The Cove

  (Series: FBI Thriller # 1)

 

 


 

 
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