For disclaimers, see Part 1
It was a couple of hours before sunrise but Alex was lying in bed awake, thinking. The past couple of days had been a welcome respite from the troubles of the outside world. Alex turned her head and gazed down at the peaceful smile that graced Reginaís face as she slept.
Reginaís question about there being room in Alexís heart for her, had shocked the older woman into recognizing how much she was still keeping Regina at armís length. She wasnít doing it intentionally, but the fear of being that open and vulnerable to anyone, was getting in the way of showing Regina how much she truly needed and wanted their relationship as a part of her life.
She made a very conscious decision to set aside her fears and let Regina past those final defenses. After all her experiences, she didnít expect to feel this way or to fall so deeply into something that made her willing to risk her heart again, but despite everything, she had.
So much had changed between them over the past couple of days. Their conversations, at times, were poignantly uncomfortable but in the end, Alex realized that they both gained an insight into each otherís closely guarded fears and insecurities. Last night, sheíd fallen in love all over again as she held Regina in her arms. There were moments where she felt like their two bodies had been one person, sharing the same soul.
Alex reached out and stroked Reginaís hair, brushing a few strands off her face. A rush of emotion, made her heart clench and she closed her eyes to fight back the tears that welled up and brimmed her eyelids. I donít know why or how you came into my life, but whoever might be up there looking over us, thank you.
Beside her, Regina stirred and opened her eyes, blinking as she focused on Alexís face. "What are you doing up?" Her voice was a bit gravelly and she cleared her throat. "Itís early."
"Watching you sleep." Alex gave her an appreciative smile.
Regina exhaled softly while she curled her hand around Alexís upper arm and settled her face against the warm shoulder. "Thank you." Regina kissed Alexís collarbone and smiled, closing her eyes.
"For what?" Alex covered Reginaís hand with hers.
"For making last night so special."
Alex slipped her hand beneath Reginaís and intertwined their fingers. The rest of the world could wait she decided, as she closed her eyes and let Reginaís quiet breathing lull her back to sleep.
Later while she finished with her own packing, Regina regarded Alex curiously out of the corner of her eye, as the taller woman stuffed her clothes into her canvas duffel bag. She could see the rigid set of her partnerís shoulders and the subtle tensing of the muscles along her jaw line, her suspicions about the unsettled feeling she sensed growing in Alex confirmed.
She guessed at a couple of things that might be causing Alexís upset but, Regina knew her partnerís stubbornness would keep her from initiating the conversation so she decided to find a tactful way to open a door for her.
Regina closed her suitcase and then walked over to the small kitchen to retrieve the leftovers from the refrigerator. She filled a bowl with the stew, then, set it inside the microwave and turned it on. Wiping her hands on a paper towel she pulled off a roll, she turned around and watched as Alex walked around the corner.
Anxious, blue eyes met Reginaís and Alex slowed to a halt a few feet away from her. She tucked one hand into her pantís pocket, hooking her thumb through her belt loop. "Good idea." She motioned with her other hand indicating the leftover food. "We can eat something now and not have to stop on the way home."
"I thought so," Regina replied as she glanced at the microwave, waiting for the timer to go off. When it did she pulled the bowl out and carefully set it on the table with a fork. "You donít mind sharing, do you? Itíll be less to clean up." Regina smiled and patted Alexís side affectionately.
The motion became a caress and she moved closer, wrapping both arms around Alexís waist. She looked up and met Alexís gaze, matching the taller womanís smile with one of her own as strong arms enveloped her in a hug.
"Are you okay? You seem kind of quiet." Regina slipped out of the embrace, asking the question in a casual voice.
Alex simply nodded and claimed the chair beside Regina, smiling as a thigh pressed against hers and remained there.
Obediently, she accepted the spoonful of food from Regina and chewed absently. She rested her elbows on the table while her gaze wandered outside the window to the trees that were still several weeks off from setting their buds.
Admittedly, sheíd been restless since sheíd woken up, an uneasy, edgy feeling filled her gut. Knowing she was going back to work tomorrow had set her mind into overdrive about all the unfinished business waiting for her at the hospital.
Alexís eyes narrowed as she thought about the upcoming deposition. When she first discovered what was happening, the whole thing seemed like it was a simple case of greed; one doctorís own ambitions gone awry. Since her return, sheíd come to realize her first impression was most likely wrong.
"Here eat some of this." Regina pushed the bowl in front of Alex, interrupting her thoughts.
Alex pulled her eyes away from the window and glanced at Regina. "Thanks." She took the fork and speared a hunk of meat. There are too many unanswered questions and nothing seems to be making sense. Why would someone pull all of those charts out of medical recordsÖunless theyíre trying to hide something? There must be information in those charts that they donít want legal to see. Why take the risk, now? Desperation?
"Whatís going on inside that head of yours today?" Intense green eyes regarded her solemnly from close range.
Alex stopped mid-chew and stared at Regina, caught awkwardly between deflecting her concern and allowing the younger woman in on a hunch that she hoped to hell she was wrong about. A chagrined expression crossed her features when she acknowledged to herself that she couldnít just pretend that everything was okay anymore and expect Regina not to question her.
It wasnít fair to either of them. They knew each other too well and had come too far, to go down that road again.
Alex wasnít sure exactly what Regina was thinking, but she didnít have to. The expression on Reginaís face said it all. There could be no more half-truths between them, not if she wanted what they had built together to work.
It was a simple decision once she took a few seconds to look at her priorities. The tension eased in her shoulders as she gazed back into Reginaís eyes. "How did you know something was wrong?"
Green eyes twinkled back at her in what looked like amusement and Regina ducked her head before she answered. "Mm, letís see, you furrow your brow and wonít make eye contact when youíre hurting. When youíre nervous you fidget more and when youíre deep in thought you stare out the window for long periods of time. Take your pick."
Regina reached out and laid her hand over Alexís forearm, squeezing it gently. "You forget, I got plenty of practice reading all those little signs when you were hurt. Lord knows you didnít verbalize it to me."
Alex pressed her lips together and averted her eyes. "Sorry I gave you such a hard time through all that. You didnít deserve it." She snorted derisively and shook her head. "Itís a wonder you just didnít kick me out on my butt some days."
"I wouldnít have done that to you." Regina edged closer and tucked dark strands of hair back behind Alexís ear. "I knew some of what you were feeling would get better with time, the restÖ" her voice trailed off as Alex met her concerned gaze, "you have a hard time letting people take care of you. Just remember, I want to be able to do that for you if I can."
Regina studied Alex for a moment longer as her thoughts revolved around one of their earlier conversations. She smiled when Alex tilted her head and leaned into her touch. Regina pressed her lips against Alexís head and sighed, deciding not to bring up the topic of Alex talking to a psychologist just yet. Later, weíve had such a good time. I donít want to mess it up. "So, what were you going to tell me?"
Alex exhaled, collecting her thoughts before she answered Reginaís question. Truth time. "Someone at the hospital is covering up whatís really going on with the drug trials. I think Dr. Jameson is just the tip of the iceberg."
Regina straightened in her chair, releasing Alex from her embrace. "Why do you think someoneís covering up?"
Alex watched the limbs outside the window sway in the breeze for a second before she turned her serious gaze to Regina and took in the startled expression. At that moment, she cursed herself for admitting her suspicions and hoped she wouldnít regret her decision later.
Alex toyed with the fork in her bowl, as her appetite suddenly vanished, replaced with an annoying sense of nausea. "All the patientsí charts that we found who were involved in this supposed study were taken from medical records."
"WÖwell, maybe the hospitalís attorneys requested them for the deposition?" Regina offered hopefully.
"I donít think so." Alex shook her head. "I got paged before we left on Friday. The attorney doesnít have them and wanted to know if I knew where they were."
"Do you think it might the case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing? I mean weíve seen that happen before."
"No. I keep thinking there has to be a reason why these patients were picked to be in the study." Alex pressed her lips together and stared down at her hands. "You read those charts, tell me what you remember."
Regina frowned and spread her hands out on the table, trying to pull together fragmented memories during what had been an incredibly stressful time in her life. "They were all cardiac patients."
"Right, I remember that, but there was something else. Let me think for a minute." She stopped and closed her eyes, pulling up details she hadnít thought about since sheíd been shot. The answers were there if she could just remember. After several minutes, Alex slammed her hand down on the table as she got a clear picture in her mind of the admission sheets. That was it! "Not one of those patients had insurance."
"What?" Regina eyebrows rose in surprise as she digested this new information. "I guess thirty patients with no insurance is outside the realm of coincidence."
"I think whoever was running this scam was specifically targeted indigent patients. They knew they couldnít afford the medical care they needed and would jump at the chance of trying a new medication depending on their individual situation."
"Why would they do that?"
"Normally, the hospital would eat the cost of treating indigent patients. Itís how we maintain our tax-exempt status." She formulated her thoughts as she answered Reginaís question. "If what Iím thinking is right, then, the hospital has stepped up its drug research program because theyíve found a way to offset the financial losses by entering patients into the drug studies instead of treating them with what would normally be the standard of care."
"I just donít understand why someone would do that."
Alex shrugged. "Maybe whoever decided to do this, wanted the financial gains so badly that they donít care about the consequences anymore. They had a good thing going for them. No one would have ever found out what was happening if Dr. Jameson hadnít gotten sick."
"Youíre pretty sure someone else higher up knows whatís going on."
Alex nodded her head. "Dr. Jameson was never very organized and he could barely put together a budget without help. Thereís no way he devised this whole thing himself. Someone else was calling the shots."
"Any idea about who that might have been?"
Alex tilted her head and pressed her lips together. "I donít know."
Regina leaned forward and rested her forearms on the table. "I hate to even ask this, but what about Dr. Mitchard."
Alex pressed the bridge of her nose with her thumb and index finger. "Anything is possible at this point." One thing is for sure. I have to find out whoís involved and make sure theyíre stopped before this gets any worse than it already is. She smiled half-heartedly at Regina and stood up. "Letís head out."
The taller woman looked up at the façade of the large medical center after she stepped out of the Jeep in the Emergency Department parking lot. She stretched her arms over her shoulders and shook her head, grateful that after the six-hour drive home the evening before, Regina insisted that she stay the night. I think she was surprised that I agreed so easily, Alex mused.
A moment later, she heard the passenger door shut and watched as Regina walked around the vehicle to stand beside her.
"Are you going to talk to her today?" Regina looked up at Alex and shielded her eyes from the early morning sun.
"Yes. Thatís the first thing Iím want to do today," Alex replied as she started to walk towards the entrance of the medical center.
Regina took a breath, forcing her voice to remain calm, despite the nervousness in her gut. "Please be careful."
Alex turned her head and smiled at Regina. "I will be, donít worry. Iíll page you after I finish talking with her." She slowed to a halt and pulled the glass door open, waiting for Regina to precede her into the building.
"Good, because I donít want to worry about what youíre up to all day." Regina reached out and touched Alexís arm as she walked through the open door into the lobby. "Good luck."
Regina stepped out of the way of a woman being wheeled toward the door in a wheelchair. A smile crept over her face when she saw the newborn baby, swaddled in blankets, being cradled in its motherís arms. The baby reminded her of what her nephew might have looked like at that tender age. That has to be the most incredible thing a woman can do in her life. Regina shook her head and looked at Alex.
"Well, I better go or Iíll be late for rounds on the unit."
"See you later." Alex winked at her and enjoyed the warm smile she received in return.
With a wave, Regina trotted down the hallway and disappeared around a corner.
Alex turned and strode down the corridor, weaving her way through the steady stream of staff members and visitors who were walking in the corridor.
At the end of the hallway, Alex bypassed the elevators and took the stairs, climbing them two at a time until her legs began to burn. The fatigue irritated her and she pushed herself up another flight to the third floor where her office was located. She came to the decision over the weekend that her body was healed enough to start returning to her normal routine of working out on a daily basis. This, she thought, would have to do for now.
At the top of the stairs, she stopped for a moment to catch her breath and collect her thoughts about her impending discussion with Cassandra Mitchard. She needed information and hoped that the Vice President would be a good place to start.
After entering her office, Alex cast a cursory glance at her desk, noting with a combination of irritation and disappointment that no charts from medical records were there. She picked up the phone on her desk and punched in five numbers. She sifted through several pieces of mail while the phone rang several times.
"Medical Records, this is Robin DeSimone."
"Robin, itís Alex. Where are those charts I requested last Friday?" Alex pulled out her chair and settled into it as she waited for the womanís response.
"Not even a good morning or how was your weekend?" Robin asked, her voice taking on a hurt note.
Alex opened an envelope and glanced at a memo before she set it down. "Good morning Robin, now where are the charts?" She heard a sigh on the other end of the phone before the director finally answered her question.
"I have a faxed response from the company that converts our charts to microfilm format. It says that those charts were picked up three weeks ago."
"Youíre kidding me? Why would they be microfilmed if we need the originals for a deposition now?"
"I donít know but, I can have them recalled if you need them," Robin offered.
"No. Fax that letter over to me now. I want to read it myself," Alex ordered and then rattled off the number to the fax machine in her office.
"Hold on." A minute later, she heard Robinís voice again. "Itís on the way. Does this have to do with Dr. Jameson?"
"Why do you ask?"
"No reason. I just like to know whatís going on. Thatís all."
"Thanks for your help, Robin." Alex hung up before she could hear the womanís response. No sense in feeding the grapevine. She swiveled her chair around and plucked the paper out of the fax machine. Her eyes quickly scanned the document and then she picked up the phone again and dialed another number.
The phone was picked up after two rings. "Microdoc, this is Melanie. Can I help you?"
"Yes, this is Doctor Margulies from Saint Xavierís Medical Center. I need to know if you have some medical records of ours and how quickly I can have them recalled for a deposition."
"Give me a second to bring that screen up on my computer," the woman told her on the other end of the phone. "Okay, read me the medical record numbers."
One by one, Alex read the numbers off to the woman. She heard the tapping of fingers on a keyboard as the numbers were inputted into a computer.
The tapping stopped and then Alex heard the sound of the person clearing their throat. "Are you sure those are the right numbers?"
Alex double-checked the numbers. "Yes, theyíre the right ones. Whatís the problem?"
"None of those charts appear in our system."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, as far as I can tell, they were never picked up from the hospital."
In response, Alex closed her eyes and pressed her fingers against her temples. "I have a copy of a letter on your companyís letterhead, stating that these charts were picked up three weeks ago by your company."
"Yes, itís a form letter the computer generates when the charts are processed. We scan the numbers into our system at the pick up site so we can track them from start to finish. I donít know how a letter got sent out without the charts being processed in the first place."
"Is there a supervisor there I can speak to?" Alex pulled a pad of paper over to her.
"Not at the moment, but I can have him call you later."
"All right, but I want his name and number now." Alex reached for a pen.
"His name is Edward and this is his direct line."
Alex quickly scribbled the information down on a piece of paper as it was given to her.
"Thanks," she replied and hung up the phone.
Alex stood up and stared out the window as she tried to make sense of what she had just learned in the last few moments. Someone was lying, that was clear enough. What she needed to find out was, who and why. With a growing sense of concern, she left her office, locked her door, and walked up three flights of stairs to the fifth floor.
She stepped out from the stairwell and walked down the hallway towards Cassandra Mitchardís office. Her steps carried her past a secretaryís desk that was, for the moment unoccupied. Good, she thought to herself, relieved that she didnít have to talk her way past the woman.
Alex hesitated at the door and glanced in to see Cassandra sitting behind her desk talking on the phone. What she heard sent a chill up her spine.
"No, tell them everything is under control. Thereís no need to get cold feet. Weíre ready to go ahead with the next to studies as planned." Cassandra looked up and her eyes widened when she saw the doctor standing in the doorway. She immediately lowered her voice and abruptly ended her conversation.
As she hung up the phone, Alex stepped into the office and shut the door firmly behind her. "Morning, Cassandra." The dark-haired woman lowered herself into a leather chair opposite the Vice Presidentís and graced her with a cool smile.
"I have a meeting. Youíll need to talk with my secretary to set up a meeting." Cassandra started to collect a few folders on her desk, pointedly avoiding Alexís gaze.
"This wonít take long," Alex assured her. The doctor sat back and folded her arms across her chest. "I want the truth about the drug trial that Dr. Jameson was conducting and I want to know where the medical records are for all those patients."
Cassandra leaned back in her seat and gazed at the far wall. "Iím not discussing this with you."
"Robin DeSimone in Medical Records told me the charts were sent out to be microfilmed. I called the company to recall them and found out that they have no record of them ever being picked up. Whatís going on?"
Cassandra paled slightly and moistened her lips with her tongue. "Alex, this is something our legal counsel will deal with. Thatís why we have them - to protect the hospital."
Alex shook her head in disbelief. "Theyíll make sure the hospital is protected! What about the patients? Who the hell protects them?"
The sharp sound of the Vice Presidentís hands slamming down on the desk punctuated the silence that followed. "This has nothing to do with you. Stay out of it!"
"Donít give me that line. Iím already involved in the deposition for this whole mess. Why do you think Iím trying to find the charts?"
"Donít worry about the deposition. Itís simply to tie up any loose ends with Dr. Jameson. Your predecessor didnít play by the rules and for that he was terminated. With any luck itíll be a distant memory for us all soon."
Alex crossed her legs and glowered at Cassandra. "Arenít you worried about the kickbacks he got, putting the hospital in jeopardy?"
Cassandra snorted, picked up a pile of charts, and walked around her desk. "No, the hospital wonít let that happen. Besides all weíve done is offer patients an alternate treatment regimen."
Thatís why the charts are missing, Alex thought. All right, time for a little damage control before I really get myself in over my head. "Well, thatís comforting to hear."
Cassandra studied the doctor, weighing the truthfulness of her words. "So, I take it youíre still on the team then."
"Thatís why I came up here." Alex met her steady gaze and held it until the Vice President looked away and cleared her throat.
"Well, Iím glad we finally came to an understanding on this. Iíd hate to lose you, Alex. Youíre a good doctor," Cassandra replied, pulling herself up straighter. "Thereís a black tie affair on Friday night. Itís to kick off the fundraising campaign for the new cardiac wing." She pulled out a square envelope from her desk drawer and handed it to Alex. "As the new medical director of the Emergency Department, you should be there to demonstrate your support."
This is a command performance, no doubt. "I wouldnít want to miss it," Alex replied.
"Good, Iím glad we got things cleared up between us. I was beginning to worry that we might lose you as well." Cassandra walked to the door and opened it.
Alex smiled. "You wonít lose me."
"Let me know if thereís anything that you need for the clinic downtown. We all want it to be a big success."
I bet you do. Alex fought the urge to shiver in revulsion as she listened to the drivel. "Iíll be sure to let you know," she replied over her shoulder as she walked towards the stairwell. Suddenly feeling like she put in a ten-hour shift already, Alex rubbed her eyes and stifled a yawn before she headed down the stairs to the Emergency Department. She wondered briefly Reginaís day was going any better and hoped that it was.
Thanks for all your support and patience. I know the updates have been a little slower this time around. Work and home have been demanding more of my attention so Iím writing whenever I have a few spare minutes. With Second Chances I had these chunks of time where I could bang out a chapter over a weekend and send it out to be beta read.
Raven, if youíre reading this Ė Thank you for all your help. Youíve been awesome!
Not so this time around. Speaking of Second Chances, I just finished the last edit on the manuscript and sent it back. Thereís one final read through and then it gets sent out to be type set! J
Anyone wanting to send comments or feedback; please send them to Lynnenorris@msn.com from now on. My other email address seems to have a black hole and messages I send or receive keep getting lost.
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