Fatal Justice (Chapter 27)

Sam and Malone worked the street for an hour but found no one who had seen or heard anything that could help them.

"I hate middle-of-the-day shit that happens when everyone is at work," she said, rubbing the back of her neck as she tried to regroup.

"Devon Sinclair and his roommate would've been at work, too, if his uncle hadn't been murdered," Malone observed.

"True. So who knew he'd be at home?"

"His family, friends, the pizza guy, co-workers, the roommate's co-workers. What'd he do?"

"He was a chef," she said, her stomach pinging when she remembered she still had to call Tucker's parents.

"Worth looking into."

"Let's see what ballistics gets us. I'd bet all the dough I have that it's going to be the same gun that did Julian, which rules out anything random." Sam's cell phone rang, but she didn't recognize the ring tone. "What the hell?" She glanced at the LCD. "Goddamn it."

"What now?" Malone asked, grinning at the expression on her face.

"I forgot about this freaking doctor's appointment. Nick programmed a reminder alarm into my cell. What a pain in the ass he is!"

"Sneaky bastard."

"I know!" Jamming the phone into her pocket, she took a long measuring look at the deserted neighborhood. "I'll have to reschedule. I need to get over to GW to check on Devon's condition. Hopefully, he'll wake up and tell us who the shooter is. That'd save a whole lot of time."

"I'll go to GW. You're going to the doctor. You can meet me there after."

She stared at him. "You can't make me go!"

He raised an eyebrow, daring her to defy him.

"You can't! It's my personal business."

Scratching at the gray stubble on his chin, he sized her up. "I could take you off Sinclair if I wanted to."

"You wouldn't do that."

"Bet?"

"I can't believe this! We've got two homicides going here, and you're gonna pull rank on me over a doctor's appointment?"

"Whatever is taking you to the doctor must be significant enough for Nick to program a reminder into your phone. So you're keeping the appointment, and you can rejoin the investigation when you're done." He checked his watch. "You'd better get going."

"I should've left you where you belong – on desk duty." With one last furious glance at his laughing face, she stormed off to her car, leaving him to find his own way to GW. "Goddamned bossy men," she muttered. "Why can't they mind their own freaking business? It's my stomach. They don't need to be all up in my grill about it." Her cell phone rang again, and this time it was Nick. ""

"Hello to you, too, babe. Where are you?"

"In the car."

"On the way to?"

"I'm going! For Christ's sake, will you back off and leave me alone?" He laughed, and she saw red. "What the hell is so funny?"

"You are."

"I'm too busy for this shit. I've got two bodies to contend with and no time for doctors."

"You'd better keep that appointment, Samantha. I mean it. You've put this off long enough."

"Stop bugging me! I don't need a freaking keeper!"

"Clearly, you do or you would've taken care of this a long time ago."

"It doesn't bother me. It only bothers you."

"Yeah, you're right. It does bother me to see the woman I love crippled with pain on a regular basis."

"It's not that often," she said, ignoring the ache circulating in her gut as the conversation escalated into a fight.

"It's often enough. Now, stop bitching and drive. Call me when you're done. I want to know what he says. Oh, and tell Harry I said hi."

"Screw you. Tell him yourself."

"Love you, too, babe."

Harry made her wait thirty minutes in a cold exam room wearing nothing more than the stupid paper gown they'd made her put on – with nothing under it. God, she hated doctors. Due to all the crap she'd been through trying to get pregnant and then the miscarriages, one of them an ectopic pregnancy that had nearly killed her, she had stayed far away from doctors the last few years. And for good reason: they kept you waiting when you had more important stuff to do. Like hunting down murderers.

Maybe she'd send good old Harry a bill for her time. She smiled. Yes, that would make her feel much better, and it would piss Nick off, too. Sam loved a plan that killed two birds with one stone.

After a brisk knock on the door, Harry came in a few minutes later, full of apologies for keeping her waiting. Of course he was totally hot. Wasn't that just her luck? Why couldn't he have been homely? Then she wouldn't have cared about him poking around in her parts. That he was also Nick's good friend made this even more uncomfortable and embarrassing. Why in the world had she agreed to this? Because Nick asked you to, she reminded herself. Yeah, well, right now I hate him.

"It's so great to meet you." Harry shook her hand, his brown eyes sparkling with warmth. "I was sorry I couldn't make it to your New Year's party, but Nick's told me all about you."

"Oh really?"

"Yep, and of course I've read about you two in the paper."

Sam scowled. "Hasn't everyone?"

He laughed, and she realized he had dimples. Cute dimples. Great.

Harry sobered, but his eyes continued to dance with delight. "I suppose I should call him 'Senator' now."

"If you do, I'll shoot you. I'm trying to keep him humble."

"Nick said I would like you, and he was right." He washed his hands and pulled up a stool. "So what brings you here today?"

"Just this deal with my stomach," she said as the organ in question took a nasty dive.

"What kind of deal?"

She took a deep breath to counteract the surge of pain. "It, well, it kind of runs my life. Whenever I get nervous or anxious about something, it acts up."

"Are we talking reflux or heartburn or pain?"

"Pain."

"On a scale of one to ten, where's it at?"

"Um, twenty?"

"Huh. Well, that's no fun." Sam laughed. "Not so much. Nick's all freaked out by it."

"With good cause, I'd say."

"Figures you'd side with him. You guys all stick together."

"We have to. It's us against you. Let's go over your history, and then we'll take a look."

Despite her best intentions to hate him as much as she hated Nick at the moment, Sam liked him, so she decided to level with him about everything – from the miscarriages to the endometriosis that had stolen her fertility, she laid it all out there.

"Huh," he said again. "How long ago did you hear that you were unlikely to conceive again?"

"Three years."

"And have you been seen since then?"

"No."

His eyes widened. "For anything?"

She shook her head. "I basically swore off doctors after that last episode."

"I don't have to tell you that's kind of dumb, do I?"

"It's not like I planned it or anything. It's just that one year became two and then two became three…And here we are."

"Well, I'm glad Nick made you come see me. We'll fix you right up. You might be glad to know that since you began boycotting me and my kind, they've made some great strides in treating endometriosis-related infertility. Women who were told exactly what you were are now having healthy babies after some minor laser surgery."

Sam refused to allow her hopes to rise for even one second. "I think that ship has sailed for me. I'm happy with my life the way it is."

"What're you doing for birth control?" She looked at him, wondering if he'd heard her say she was infertile. "Nothing. There's no need."

"As long as you still have all your parts, there's always a chance of conception."

Sam pondered that, feeling a surge of hope for the first time in years. But then reality returned, and she pushed the idea from her mind. "It's not something I worry about. I've resigned myself to remaining childless."

"You don't have to decide anything today about the surgery. It's just something to consider." He stood up and encouraged her to lie back on the table. "Since you've been so neglectful of your health," he said with a teasing scowl, "I'm going to treat you to the full deal."

"That's what I was afraid of," she said, swallowing hard. "You're not  kind of doctor, so you don't need to worry about the 'down there' stuff."

He replied with a charming smile as he very unobtrusively gave her a breast exam. "I'm a general internist, so I can worry about all your stuff."

"Fabulous."

"Do you want a nurse in the room for the pelvic exam?"

She swallowed hard, again. "No, that's okay. I guess if you're Nick's friend, I can trust you." Grimacing her way through a thorough check of her abdomen, she added, "Isn't it weird to be poking and prodding your friend's girlfriend?"

"Nah. It's just like a mechanic looking at a car engine – you've seen one, you've seen'em all." Sam's mouth fell open. "Surely some are better than others."

"Oh, yeah, definitely. Now be quiet so I can listen to your heart."

He kept up a steady stream of chatter as he poked and prodded everything. She learned that Nick was a menace on the racquetball court, that he still played hockey whenever he could and that he was a regular chick magnet in the bars. She'd have to discuss that with him after she punished him for making her go through this exam in the first place.

"It's not the same since you took him off the market," Harry lamented, as he performed a Pap smear and pelvic exam. "The rest of us have to work a lot harder to get the women to notice us without him there."

She stared at the ceiling and prayed for mercy as he prodded her in places no man had ever gone before. "Sorry to interfere in your conquests," she said through gritted teeth. She was going to beat the living daylights out of Nick for this.

"He seems really happy, though. After his friend John was murdered, we were so worried about him, but then he started seeing you and things seemed better."

"It's been a tough month for him," she managed to say. "Julian Sinclair was a close friend of his, too."

"I know," he said, probing deeper.

How was it possible to go deeper? First, she planned to punch Nick square in the face. Then she would kick him right where he lived. Next she would stab him in the heart with a rusty steak knife.

Harry finally finished prodding, took off his gloves and told her she could sit up. "Everything checks out well, Sam, so let's talk lifestyle and diet. Are you getting enough sleep?"

She thought of the long hours she kept at work and the late nights she'd had recently with Nick. "Sometimes."

He frowned. "Diet?"

"I try to eat healthy, but it's hard sometimes with my job."

"How do you manage the stress?"

"I focus on breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth."

"Well, that's one way to cope." Running through a checklist on his clipboard, he asked a bunch of questions. "Caffeine intake?"

"Some," she said tentatively. Her last doctor had freaked out about her diet cola addiction.

"What's some?"

"A few diet sodas every day. No biggie."

"How many is a few?"

"I don't know. I don't keep count."

"Guesstimate – two, three, six, ten? What do you think?"

"Six maybe."

His eyes widened. "Six cans or bottles?"

"Um, bottles usually."

"You drink six twenty-ounce bottles of diet soda a day? "

Sam squirmed under the heat of his stare. This was worse than when he'd had his hands in her unmentionables. "I don't always finish them."

"Six twenty-ounce bottles is one hundred twenty ounces of soda. In other words, a gallon."

"Wow, all this and you can multiply, too."

"I'd say we've found our culprit. The acid in the soda is no doubt eating away at the lining of your stomach. If you don't already have an ulcer, you're probably well on your way to one."

"I need the boost. I can't function without it."

"Sure you can. You've just convinced yourself you can't. It's all psychological."

So now he was calling her crazy? Nick would get another punch for that.

"Here's the deal – I can do a series of invasive tests to rule out anything sinister, or you can give up the soda for a couple of weeks and see if that solves the problem."

"Define invasive," she said, swallowing a gulp.

"Down the gullet, up the kazoo – we'd come at you from both ends."

Sam narrowed her eyes, using her best cop stare to intimidate him.

He never even blinked, the bastard.

"I can see why you and Nick are such good friends."

Laughing, he said, "I take that as a compliment. So what do you say?"

"Fine! I'll give it up! But when Nick calls begging you to assist in his suicide, you'll have only yourself to blame. I'm a total gorilla without my caffeine."

"You'll just have to replace it with something equally stimulating, such as exercise or more sex."

"Not possible," she grumbled.

Harry flashed her a dirty grin as he typed something into the computer. "No wonder why my buddy is looking so…What's the word? Satisfied lately."

Sam glared at him. "I hate you. Almost as much as I hate him – and that's a lot."

"You'll thank us both when you stop having crippling stomach pain." Before he left the room, he handed her his card. "If you want some more information on the endometriosis treatment, call me. Otherwise, come back in a month so we can see how the soda famine works out. If you have any problems in the meantime, or if the stomach pain continues to be bad, call me. You'll get the Pap results in the mail."

"Thank you. I think."

He left her with one last charming smile. "I can see why Nick loves you."

Now that wasn't fair! Just when she was starting to seriously hate him he went and said that! She got dressed while pondering life without soda.

This was not going to be pretty. Not one bit.