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Notorious D.O.C.

Eight years ago, someone ran over a young doctor who asked too many questions.  Today, at the still-grieving mother’s request, Dr. Hope Sze untangles the cold case before the killer silences Hope, too.

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Notorious D.O.C., by Melissa Yi

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NOTORIOUS D.O.C.

by Melissa Yi


Chapter 1

I’d avoided St. Joseph’s emergency room for the past week, but it hadn’t changed.  Stretcher patients lined the wall and spilled into the hallway.  Fluorescent lights turned everyone’s skin yellow, even though most of them weren’t Asian like I was.

I smiled at a nurse who squeezed my arm and said, “Welcome back, Hope!” just before a patient’s wrinkled mother waved me down.  “Miss.  We need a blanket!”

Home, sweet home.

Well, sweet except for the smell of stool drifting from bed 12.

I nodded at a few fellow medical residents.  Officially, we’re doctors in our first post-graduate training year, formerly known as interns.  Unofficially, we’re scut monkeys rotating from service to service.  Last month, I’d done emergency medicine and tracked down a murderer; this month, I was on psychiatry and opting out of any drama.

I just needed to see one scut monkey in particular.  A blond dude.  A guy who appreciated sausages and beer and me, not necessarily in that order.  A guy I’d overlooked when I first came to Montreal for my residency, but I wasn’t about to make that mistake again.

Sadly, no matter how casually I glanced out of the corners of my eyes, John Tucker did not appear.

Since I was officially starting my psychiatry rotation a week late, duty called first.  I perched on the chair in the psych corner of the nurses’ station, near the printer, and grabbed the chart lying on the table.  Normally the psych nurse would occupy this chair, but she was probably talking to the patient whose chart I was holding:  Mrs. Regina Lee.

I pretended to read the triage note, my skin still electric at the possibility of seeing Tucker.  Was that high school or what?  I might be 26 years old, with an M.D. behind my name, but I still got rattled thinking about A BOY.

My favourite emerg nurse, Roxanne, paused beside me and shoved a pen behind her ear.  “Hope!  Nice to see you.  Are you doing okay?”

I nodded.  We hugged. She smelled like Purell and she was built like me, skinny but strong.  Once she told me her Italian grandmothers practically cried when they saw her, they found her so emaciated-looking. Of course, that didn’t stop me from complaining about my thighs on a bad day.

Roxanne glanced at the blue plastic card clipped to my chart.  “Oh, no.  You got Mrs. Lee.  Is it Fall already?”

I frowned.  “August fourteenth?” After sitting in school 20-odd years of my life, including most summer vacations, I hate when people call autumn prematurely.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s still summer until the snow hits the ground.  I don’t even like to see the leaves change colour.  Call it denial if you want.  Whoa–I was in psych mode already.

Roxanne shrugged.  “Close enough.  She always comes here.  Especially around now.  It’s very sad.”

“Why?”

“Did you know Laura Lee?”

I hesitated.

She shook her head.  “You’re too young.  Anyway.  She was a resident here.  Star of her year.”

A resident, just like me.  “What does that have to do with Mrs. Lee?  Are they related?”

Roxanne pointed to the clipboard.  “I’ll let Mrs. Lee tell you.  It’s her favorite story.”

Strange.  I strode through the open door of room 14, the designated psych room.  The stretcher and its five-point restraints stood empty, but a woman sat in a chair by one indented white wall.  “Mrs. Lee?”

She clutched the clunky leather purse in her lap as she turned to face me.  Her permed black hair was streaked with white, but I noticed her strong cheekbones and her skin, still enviably smooth considering her 64 years. Although her lips parted, no sound emerged.

“Hi.”  I held out my hand.

She didn’t take it.  My hand hovered in the air until I shoved it back in my lab coat pocket.  I belatedly remembered I was trying to improve my body language and dropped my hand to my side instead. The smell of bloody stool wafted toward us from room 12 and we both winced before I changed the subject.  “My name is Dr. Hope Sze.  I’m a resident from psychiatry.  Could we–“

She was staring at me with such intensity, I faltered.

Her eyes filled with tears.

Oh, dear.  She really was depressed.  The psychiatric patients who come to the emergency room are usually depressed or psychotic.  I set her file down on the desk and scanned the room for tissues.  They always kept a box handy on psych.

She said something in Chinese.

“I’m sorry.  I don’t speak Chinese.  But I could get a translator if you like.”  My parents thought we should be Canadian and always spoke English to us.

She reached a hand toward my face, gazing at me like she was in a dream.

I flinched, not wanting to jerk away, but mildly freaked.  Who was this woman?

She checked herself.  Her hand dropped to her side and she tried to smile.  “Excuse me,” she said, in perfectly good English.  “It’s just that you look so much like my daughter.”

I relaxed a little.  “Oh.  That’s nice.  Is your daughter, ah, here with you?”

“Not anymore.”  Her brown eyes met mine, direct and level.  “She’s dead and somebody killed her.”

My shoulders tensed.  It’s an answer you never expect.  And, even though I tried not to be superstitious, I found it eerie that her dead daughter was a resident who looked just like me.

She blinked.  The tears already shining in her eyes dripped on to her cheeks.  She ignored them, still staring at me.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “You must think me very foolish.”

“Not at all.”

She dabbed her eyes with a tissue she extracted from her purse.  “I know you’re not Laura.  I know she’s gone.  It’s just that I’ve been without hope for so long.”

I twitched.  My name, Hope, is a constant sore spot for me.  When people mention the concept, I always feel like they’re talking about me, although Mrs. Lee was the most poignant example.

She shook her head.  “I know what they say about me, that I can’t accept my daughter’s death. They think it’s tragic but I should move on after eight years.”

Although the emerg nurse, Roxanne, hadn’t rolled her eyes, I could certainly imagine others would and Mrs. Lee knew it.  To use psych lingo, Mrs. Lee had insight, meaning that she understood her condition.  A lot of psych patients don’t.  They think you’re the nutbar who doesn’t receive the secret messages from the Cadbury commercial and they’re perfectly sane.

So far, Mrs. Lee didn’t seem crazy, just sad.

Somehow that was worse.

Her mouth twisted with what might have been humor under different circumstances.  “They even think I should move ‘so I’ll make new memories’ and, not coincidentally, remove myself from their sector.”

I nodded.  I only knew about sectors because Tucker, who did psych last month, had explained them to me.  The Island of Montreal was carved into psychiatry “sectors” according to postal code.  If you had mental health issues, you had to go to whatever hospital sector you belonged to.  No exceptions, even if it made no sense.  We had patients who were literally born at St. Joe’s and lived across the street, but they had to get downtown to the Montreal General for their psychiatrist.

Mrs. Lee already knew this, which was a little scary.  She was a highly intelligent woman who’d been grieving for eight years.  What was I going to do for her?  I’d better steer her away from the subject of her daughter’s death, even though I really wanted to know how she’d died.  Curiosity not only killed the cat, it lured me into medical school and into fighting crime, although I was hanging up my magnifying glass after my first and only case last month.  “I’m very sorry for your loss.  Maybe we should start at the beginning.  How would you describe your mood, on a scale of one to ten–“

She waved her hand, cutting me off.  “I already have a psychiatrist.  Dr. Saya is happy to prescribe me medication or let me run off at the mouth, but I don’t want to talk about it anymore.  I want justice.”

Justice.  I knew I should get back on track, asking her about depression, but I couldn’t resist.  “Have you talked to the police?”

She laughed and tossed her tissue in the garbage.  Two points.  “They know me well.  They say I don’t have any proof it wasn’t an accident.  It was a hit and run, you see.”

Well.  Maybe it really was an accident.  I crossed my legs.  “Do you have any proof?”

She leaned forward and placed her hands on her knees, eyes suddenly sharp.  “You believe me, don’t you?”

I hesitated.  I yearned to say yes, even though my logic and medical training shied away from her.

She shook herself.  “How silly of me.  Of course you don’t, yet.  But I could show you what I have.  I have an entire file on Laura.”

I had to draw the line at sorting through Laura’s gap-toothed elementary school photos and stellar report cards.  “I’m sure you do, Mrs. Lee, but–“

“Not that kind of file.  Evidence.  The police reports.  The autopsy.”  She paused.  “I used to carry it with me, but most people here have seen it already and don’t take it seriously.  I couldn’t bear that.”

How many mothers could say “autopsy” without breaking down?  On the other hand, she’d had eight years to acclimatize to the word.  I had to admire her drive, still searching for justice.

But it wasn’t my place.  The fact that I reminded her of Laura made it even more unprofessional.  “I’m sorry, Mrs. Lee.  I do know one or two people at the police department.  They might be able to help you with…justice.”  The word tasted foreign in my mouth.  I hurried on.  “In the emergency room, we deal with medical problems.  You seem quite stable.  Are you feeling more depressed lately?”

She shook her head.  “I feel much better now that I’ve met you.”

I closed my eyes.  I couldn’t save this woman.  I could hardly save myself.

“Please, Dr. Sze.  Just have a look at her file.  That’s all I’m asking.”

I had to say no.  I took a breath.

One of the things I never liked about psych was, when you interview a patient, you’re not really an ally.  You’re mentally critiquing what they say and how they say it while trying to categorize them.  It sounds harsh, but a gazillion people came to the ER and said, “I’m depressed.”  Very few of them were truly suicidal.  Some of them were trying to manipulate you.  Some of them just wanted attention.  Of course, this happened in emergency medicine too, which was what I planned to specialize in, but I generally wanted to be on the patient’s side instead of inspecting them from behind glass.

This time, though, I should keep her behind glass.

I knew what my supervisors would say.  I knew what I should say.  I forced the sentences into the air, creating a barrier between us.  “Mrs. Lee, please, let’s concentrate on you.  Have you thought about hurting yourself?”

She sighed.  “No, I am not suicidal.  Naturally, after Laura was killed, I had days of despair, but I never attempted to kill myself.  I have never tried to hurt anyone else.  I am not hallucinating.  I do not have a special relationship with God or Satan.  I do not drink or take any drugs except an occasional Ativan to help me sleep, and even then, I only take half a milligram.  I know I am at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and that it is August fourteenth in the year 2012.”

I stared at her, wide-eyed.  She’d just encapsulated a psych interview better than I could have done.

She smiled.  “It’s just practice, Dr. Sze.  I’ve had many, many of these interviews.  I could go on if you like.  But I am not crazy.  I am not going to hurt you or anyone else, including myself.  I already have a doctor and I’m not asking for any special treatment.  All I am asking is for you to read my file on Laura.  You don’t even have to meet with me.  I could leave a copy in your mailbox.”

“Mrs. Lee.”  I should say no.  I should concentrate on medicine or even on Tucker.  Curiosity killed the cat.

Satisfaction brought him back.

At last, I looked into her steady brown eyes and said, “All right.”

Chapter 2

Half an hour later, after I’d finished the rest of the interview and written a note, I paged the psychiatrist on call for the emergency room.

Dr. Gatien answered promptly. “I’m teaching the medical students.  I’ll be down in a minute.”

“Great.  See you then.”  I wondered why I hadn’t gotten called to the teaching too, but I couldn’t complain since I was starting the rotation late.

Twenty minutes later, I was still waiting for Dr. Gatien.  Nancy, the psych nurse, wandered out of the psychiatry office.  She was a freckled blond woman, the kind that you imagine playing tennis and drinking lemonade instead of hanging around in a windowless emergency room, talking to psychos.  Still, the psych office was the only place in the emergency room that looked like an actual office, with an L-shaped desk and a rolling chair, so maybe she felt at home.  She closed the door behind her and said, “There’s another patient for us to see, a frequent flyer.”

“Okay.”  I checked my watch.  “Dr. Gatien said he’d be right down.”

She nodded.  “He’ll be here before lunch.”

Nice life.  Why did I want to be an emergency doctor again?

The automatic emergency doors flew open and a medium built man with a light French accent said, “Hello, Nancy.  Dr. Sze, I presume?”

I turned to meet Dr. Gatien.  My eyes widened.  He looked like Face Man from the A-team, all tan and white teeth.  In other words, younger, more handsome and probably more conceited than I’d expected in a shrink.

I shook his hand and nodded hello at the medical students flanking him.  Dr. Gatien introduced the two guys, a plump one named Robert and a medium one named Gary, plus a thin girl, Marcella.  Then Dr. Gatien crossed to the nursing station and picked up the chart.  “You’ve met Mrs. Lee.  So what’s your diagnosis, Dr. Sze?”

Some staff doctors make a point of calling you “doctor” once you graduate from medical school and get your Doctor of Medicine degree.  Sometimes it’s a sign of respect.  Sometimes it’s to up your status in front of the patient.  And sometimes, like with Dr. Gatien, you get the feeling it’s just because they’re more formal in general.

I cleared my throat. Time to improvise.  After all the talk about justice and murder, I didn’t really have a diagnosis for Mrs. Lee, but I couldn’t let that show.  Medicine can be like a circus performance.  You have to bark out the right answers and demonstrate the right tricks (intubation, IV insertion), often in front of an audience.  You never get applause, mostly just nods of approval, but the criticism never stops. “Ah, some sort of adjustment disorder–“

“After eight years?”  He smiled at the medical students.  The three shiny, happy white young’uns in white lab coats beamed back at him.  I felt a pang.  They were only two years behind me in training, but I wished I could be innocent like them again.  Even before I solved a murder last month, the patients’ suffering, the staff attitude, and the sleep deprivation had sucked the naiveté out of my marrow.

My smile tightened.  I didn’t do psych well.  I wanted to be an emergency doctor, not a Face Man.  “I know adjustment disorders are usually due to a short-term stress.”

“Within three months, not more than six months, and not representing bereavement, if you read the DSM-IV,” Dr. Gatien supplied.

Gary whipped out his notebook and wrote that down.

Dr. Gatien pretended not to preen.

“She’s definitely suffering from bereavement,” I said, annoyed.  “There’s no question.  Her daughter, a former medical resident, died in a hit-and-run accident eight years ago.”  I hesitated, then plunged ahead.  “Mrs. Lee believes it was deliberate.”

“Ah.”  Dr. Gatien’s index finger stabbed the air.  “There you have the heart of the matter. She has a delusional disorder.”

I shifted from foot to foot and glanced at the medical students.  Gary was nodding, fascinated.  The other two looked blank.  I said, “I thought delusions were based on paranoia or erotomania, that sort of thing.”  Everyone knows paranoia, but erotomania means you have delusions that your partner is in love with someone else.  I know a lot of girls like that.

Dr. Gatien nodded.  “Arguably, this is a sort of persecutory delusion.  The patient thinks she–or in this case, someone close to her–is or was persecuted.  Did you read her chart?”

“Her old chart hasn’t arrived.  Medical records are backed up today.”  I brushed imaginary lint off my white coat while I debated whether to fall into party line or not.  I’d started this rotation one week late.  I wanted a good evaluation at the end.  But Mrs. Lee’s intelligent brown eyes pricked my conscience.  “Are you saying that for sure, the hit-and-run was an accident?”

He sighed.  “We all miss Laura Lee.  She was an excellent doctor.  But as far as we know, which is as far as the police know, it was an accident.  Or at least, there is no proof otherwise.”  He stopped.  His eyes narrowed and he smiled, showing a quick flash of his teeth.  “Ah.  That’s right.  You’re the ‘detective doctor!'”

My cheeks flushed.  I was still getting used to my fifteen minutes of fame.  In the olden days, after I introduced myself, people stared at me in confusion, as if I’d sneezed instead of saying my name, but now that I’d gotten some notoriety….

“That’s right.  I recognize you from the Gazette,” said the chubby med student, Robert.  Both local papers had done an item on me after I solved the murder.

Dr. Gatien said, “Well, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with detective work.  You need to be a detective in medicine, putting all the clues together.    A patient comes in complaining of abdominal pain, you need to check the constellation of symptoms:  location, radiation, nausea, vomiting, blood in the stools, as well as reviewing the systems–“

I knew that already.  A wave of fatigue sideswiped me.  I clenched my teeth, bit my inner lip, and widened my eyes, trying to fight it off.

“–because it could turn out to be something completely unrelated to the abdomen, such as diabetic ketoacidosis.”  He stopped and winked at me.  “I imagine you thought I had forgotten my medicine, being a psychiatrist and all.”

Gary chortled on cue.

I forced a smile.  “Dr. Gatien, about Mrs. Lee–“

“Yes, of course.  What I was going to say is, you should indeed investigate all avenues, as we have done over the past eight years.  But be careful.  We have a saying.  If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  If you want to be a detective, everything looks suspicious.  Be careful not to fall into any delusions yourself, Dr. Sze.”  He smiled.  “You know what we call that in psychiatry?  Folie à deux.”

Charming.  After more talk, we ended up discharging Mrs. Lee and retreating to the psych office.  I wrote another page in her chart while Dr. Gatien pontificated to the medical students.  Then I felt someone’s gaze land and lock on my right cheekbone.

I swiveled in my chair to see who it was.  My breath seized up and blood rose in my face.

It was John Tucker, staring right back at me.  He was in the nursing station, behind Plexiglas, so he must have been 15 feet away, but I could still feel his presence.

I forced myself to smile and nod at him like he was just another resident or friend or comrade.  So what if he liked sausages and beer.  So what if I’d scanned the emerg a dozen times, checking for his profile.  So what if I had to fight the urge to lick my lips and straighten my collar.  It don’t mean a thing.

But now that he was here, with his intense brown gaze, crooked mouth and eyebrows lifted with a combination of humor and disapproval, I couldn’t lie to myself.  All day, I’d been waiting to see him.

He shook his head at me from across the room.

I knew why.  He thought I’d come back to work too soon.

He shoved his hands in his pockets, but in my mind’s eye, I could imagine his strong, capable fingers, his short nails and the slightly tanned skin.  Not to mention his lean yet muscled body…

Down, girl.

I forced myself to concentrate on his flaws, like his spiky blond hair.  It looked as if he’d been attacked by ’80s hair gel this morning.  But who was I kidding.  Even that was endearing.

“Dr. Sze?”  a man drawled.

If guys are too perfect-looking, you have to wonder if they’re gay or at least narcissists.  And anyway, I like a hint of non-conformity, that little F-U to the world of fashion police and humorless internists.  Bring on the hair gel.  Bring on red socks.  Bring on the sausages and beer.  When you’ve been in school all your life, even a tiny soupçon of revelry is a heady thing.

“Dr. Sze!”

Finally, I snapped my head around to focus on Dr. Gatien and the grinning group of medical students.  “I’m sorry.”  I tried to hold my head up with dignity.  No doubt he was about to interrogate me on the symptoms of Rett’s syndrome or some other rare disease and make me look even more idiotic.

Instead, Dr. Gatien gave an almost imperceptible smile.  “Never mind.  I’ll send one of the medical students to see the other patient, detective.”

The girl, Marcella, giggled.  I mentally crossed her off my friend list.

Dr. Gatien waved over the psychiatry nurse, Nancy, to tell us about the next case. By the time we finally emerged from the office, Tucker had disappeared.

And a good thing, too.  We were just friends.  I was on a strict man-free, post-Alex diet.  The fact that I couldn’t stop scanning the emerg like a rabid security guard meant absolutely zip.

Then Marcella pointed to a note affixed to the Plexiglas above the psych counter.  “Is that for you?”

I glanced at the note.  DR. HOPE SZE.  I snatched it and unfolded it to read Tucker’s spiky handwriting, scrawled with his signature blue fountain pen.

5-7?  Page me.  T.

Chapter 3

 

Eight years ago

 

She knows too much.  She’s dangerous.

So I think,  Fine.  I’ll leave

But why should I run away again?  I like my apartment.  I like my girlfriend.  I like this corner of Montreal.

Then I think,  blackmail.  She knows some shit about me, I’ll find out shit about her.  If she coughs up some money to keep it quiet, I’ll get some cash flow out of it too.  Chinese doctors always have money.

Only problem is, I can’t find any good shit about her.  Her biggest sin is probably picking her nose on Sundays, and I can’t even catch her doing that.

So I go with plan C:  kill her.

***

Cinq à sept.  Five to seven.  Before I came to Montreal, I used to call it Happy Hour.

Actually, I didn’t call it anything because I never went out.  When I did med school in London, Ontario, we never seemed to take the time.  For the first two years, I was in lectures forty hours a week and making love to my books when I wasn’t sleeping.  The last two years, I rotated through the hospitals as a clinical clerk, doing everything from trauma to mole removal.  At the end of the year and each major rotation, everyone partied, but it wasn’t the same as taking the time to hang out in a group as a part of life.  So this was part of the joie de vivre I’d missed before I moved here.  And if you think about it, isn’t it cool that in Montreal, you get happy for two hours instead of one?

So when Tucker’s note said “5-7,” I knew exactly what he meant.  Even though he was probably going to lecture me–again–about coming back to work too soon, I was looking forward to seeing him.  And, well, since no one else had mentioned a cinq à sept, it could be just the two of us, sipping drinks under a patio umbrella.

Could be, but it wasn’t.  When I paged him, he told me, “Tori and I are throwing you a welcome back party.”  Sigh.

Still, after work, he was the only one waiting for me at a picnic table beside St. Joe’s main hospital building.  He waved as soon as he spotted me.  I blushed and tried not to rush over to him.  Usually, the smokers commandeer the picnic tables, which offer a fine view of the parking lot and the Family Medicine Clinic building, which is an old brick nurses’ residence, but at the end of the day, most non-doctors had taken off and it was just me and Tucker.

He stretched out his long legs and grinned at me.  His blond hair caught the sun like a white halo.  I never thought I’d end up with a blond dude.  Even if my sig other didn’t end up being Chinese, I thought he’d have dark hair.

“How was your first day back?”  he asked.

I considered several responses, at least one of them lecherous, but settled on, “I could use a drink.”

He laughed.  “Thought so.”  He quirked an eyebrow at me and I knew he wanted to ask about the big P.

In my case, that P stood for the panic attacks I’d suffered since a murderer nearly strangled me just over a week ago.  I could have ignored his hint, but I felt compelled to say, “Don’t worry, I didn’t get triaged as a psych patient myself.”

“Good.  I wouldn’t want to have to see you.”  He meant as a patient.  Like I said, Tucker did psych last month.  Now he was doing psych combined with family medicine while I rotated on to pure psych.  Tucker hesitated and added, “Like that, I mean.”

Our eyes met and I looked away first.  In July, when he was interested and I wasn’t, it was so straightforward.  One month later, we didn’t know what to do with each other.  He’d visited me lots of times while I was off last week, but usually with another friend, like Tori Yamamoto, in tow.  Now, it was just us.

We sat in silence.  The sun warmed my face and arms.  For once, I hadn’t reapplied my sunscreen and I didn’t care.  I closed my eyes and basked in the warmth.  When I opened my eyes again, Tucker was staring at me with a mix of confusion and tenderness before his gaze slid away.

“You want to keep waiting here?  We could always get a drink by ourselves and tell Tori and Stan to meet us there,” I said, trying to sound off-hand.

“Probably not a good idea.”

My heart dropped before I caught the look in his eyes and he added, “You, me, alcohol.  I’d have you pinned to the floor before you could say ‘Uff-da.'”

I let the Norwegian or whatever slide.  “Tucker–“

He stood up and shoved his hands in his pockets.  “Just friends, remember?  It’s only been a few weeks since you and Alex.”

I stubbed the toe of my shoe in the grass.  I’d only been with two guys, in the carnal sense, in my entire life, but right now, I felt like I had a scarlet letter shining on my forehead.  How ’bout a great big W, for Whore.

He bent over so he could look me in the eye.  “Hope.  Whatever you’re thinking, forget it.  I’d love to have a drink with you.  Hell, I’d love to have a drink off you and bend you over this bench–“

My thighs tightened.  Oh, he was nasty in a good way.

“–and God knows, I’m no saint myself.  But I’m trying.  You’re worth waiting for.”  He stopped short and ran his hand through his hair.  Even with the hair gel, the top strands ended up endearingly askew.  I reached my hand up to touch them before I caught myself.

He was saying the things I longed to hear.  Before Alex, and maybe before my ex-boyfriend, Ryan, I would have jumped him.  But now we were both gun shy.  Part of me wished we could just go back to flirting without consequences or any possibility of a future.  I cleared my throat.  “Thanks.  I’ll put that on my c.v.”

He leaned close enough to kiss me.  I caught my breath.  He said, “Hope–“

There you are!”  Stan Biedelman hollered from across the parking lot, hands cupped around his mouth.  “Did you turn off your pagers or what?”

I checked mine, but it hadn’t gone off.  Sometimes, the incompetent operators couldn’t figure out how to page me.  Tucker didn’t bother to check his.  “Saved by the Stan,” he murmured.

I pretended not to hear.  I waved at Tori, who popped out from behind Stan and frowned like she knew what I’d been thinking.

Within the hour, the four of us were ordering drinks on a café térasse under a striped umbrella on St-Denis Street.  I marveled how a café managed to cast a spell negating the exhaust fumes and rumbling car engines.

When Tucker’s legs bumped into mine, I edged my chair closer to Tori.  He grinned at me like he could read my impure thoughts.

I turned away from him to sip my water and mop up a circle of condensation on the green plastic table.  I glanced around to make sure no one else was within earshot before I said, “I can’t wait for my drink.  I deserve one after Dr. Gatien.”

Stan snorted.  “What about me?  I did ICU today.”

“How was that?”  asked Tori.

“Same old.  Saved some lives,” he said.

I refused to be impressed.  “Yeah.  It must have been so taxing, you were out of there almost before I got out of psych.”

He shrugged.  “When you’re good, you don’t have to write five pages of notes.”

“You do when you’re on psych.  At least if you’re trying to make up for missing the first quarter of the block.”  If I missed one more week, I’d have to make up this rotation.”

Tori made a disapproving noise low in her throat.

I balled up my wet cocktail napkin.  “C’mon, Tori, you promised me no more guff when I came back to work.  It was my decision.”

“Yeah, but we can still make you feel guilty about it,” said Tucker.

“No need.”  I flicked the wet napkin at him with my thumb and index finger.  He caught it and slapped it on the table while I said, “I’m already being punished.”

“Yeah, you got Mrs. Lee,” said Stan.  “I saw you guys in emerg.  That poor woman.”

I straightened in my seat.  “You know her?”

He laughed.  “Since I was a med student.”

Right.  Stan was from Montreal, born, bred, and trained, so of course he knew Mrs. Lee after nearly a decade of ER visits.  “Did she ever tell you about Laura?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t really know her.  She was a few years ahead of me.”

My jaw practically dropped open.  “You knew Laura Lee?”

“Well, she played the piano in an end-of-year play in med school.  She was pretty good.  Back then, I was doing accounting and thinking about going medical.  I didn’t know her.  But after she died, if Mrs. Lee came in when I was doing psych, we talked about Laura playing the piano and it made her feel a little better.”

I don’t know why, it hadn’t occurred to me until then, that Laura had been a flesh and blood presence at McGill until she died.  “How about you, Tori?  Did you know Laura too?”

She shook her head.  “I’m from Alberta, remember?”

I laughed.  Some detective I made.  It wasn’t that small a world.

Tucker’s dark blond eyebrows drew together into a single line before I could ask him.  “Oh, no.  Don’t tell me.”

“What?”

He sighed.  “I didn’t know Laura.  But I know Mrs. Lee and I know you.  You believe her, don’t you?  That someone killed her daughter?”

It sounded so unscientific, like I believed in Ouija boards and spirits rapping the table, once for yes, twice for no.  “I don’t know.  I don’t have any evidence to the contrary yet.  I’m just keeping an open mind.”

He narrowed his eyes.  “But you’re not going to see Mrs. Lee again, unless she comes in–oh, my God.  Did you offer to help her find out if Laura was run down on purpose?”

Instead of answering, I turned to Tori.  “Have you ever met Mrs. Lee?”

Something about Tori is an oasis of calm and precision.  She’d started drawing on her (dry) cocktail napkin with a black felt tip pen while we spoke.  Now we all shut up and watched her.  She finished a few strokes before replying.  “I know who you’re talking about.  I saw her in the emergency room because she’d cut her hand.”

“And did she talk about her daughter?”

She shook her head and picked up her pen again.  “I just sutured her up and updated her tetanus shot.”

“It didn’t look like a suicide attempt, did it?”

She raised her eyebrows.  “No, just a cut in the web space between her thumb and index finger.  She was washing a glass and it broke.”  She added a few lines.  It looked like a bird’s wing.

“So how did you know it was Laura Lee’s mother?”

“One of the nurses told me the story.”

The emergency room was a cauldron of gossip.  Not that our foursome was any different.  But she told me what I needed to know.  Mrs. Lee was lucid then and now.  She did not go around telling all Asian women they looked like her daughter and must read her file.

Tucker threw up his hands.  “So you did offer to help her.  God, Hope.  You want to give yourself an MI before you’re 30?”

“I didn’t offer.  She asked,” I replied with dignity.

“You didn’t have to say yes.”  He stared at me, and I could see his thoughts marching across his face.  The same things he’d said when he told me to take a longer stress break:  you almost died.  Look after yourself.  There’s only one you.  The patients will take care of themselves.  I found his transparency refreshing, but I didn’t need his bossiness.

“I’m not doing anything,” I told Tucker.  “I’m just reading Mrs. Lee’s file.  If it doesn’t go anywhere, neither do I.”

“And if you do find a lead, or think you do?”  Sarcasm laced the last part.

I hesitated.  He had a point.  I hadn’t thought it all through.  But I knew the right answer.  “I’ll talk to the police.”

“Bullshit,” said Tucker.

Just then, the waitress arrived with our drinks, so he got to look like a cursing barbarian while I smiled sweetly.  Still, he was right in that I might not leave Laura’s case in the police’s hands.

The waitress set down a martini for me, the first in my life.  I took a sip.  Yuck.  Not sweet at all.  Well, at least the olive should be good, and the triangular glass was amusing.

Stan held his beer mug up in a toast.  “I guess you’re taking that ‘detective doctor’ thing seriously.  Well, à chacun son goût.”  His French was terrible, but at least he wasn’t giving me a hard time.  I clinked my glass against his and he gulped his Guinness.

Tucker muttered under his breath.

Stan turned to him.  “What’s it to you, bud?  She’s a grown-up.”

Tori said, “He’s worried about her.  We both are.”  She laid down her pen.

I glanced at her drawing.  It was a bird in a cage.  Was that supposed to be symbolic or something?  I suspected as much from the way she refused to meet my eye.  I made a face.

Meanwhile, Tucker was so mad, his nostrils flared.  “Look.  We all go into medicine thinking we’re going to save the world, but most of us figure out it’s not worth grinding ourselves into powder.  Especially if you’re already–“

Do not mention the panic attacks.  I will kill you.

He caught himself, glanced at Stan and finished, “–in a vulnerable state.”

“You’re in a vulnerable state?”  Stan said.  “Let me guess.  The Gaza strip?”

I hardly heard him because I was so busy staring Tucker down.  He blinked at the venom in my glare, but he didn’t back down.

Neither did I.  I’m old-fashioned enough that I like guys looking out for me.  But that doesn’t mean patronizing me.  Tori and Tucker were the only people who knew about my panic attacks.  Now that Tucker had almost told Stan the Mouth, I could see my secret spewing forth into the halls of St. Joe’s.

Forget about the detective doctor.  I’d be the defective doctor.

Tori put her hand on Tucker’s arm, but it was too late.

“I’ll put you in a vulnerable state,” I said to Tucker.

“Hope.  Tucker,” said Tori.  “We’ve probably all said things we regret.  Let’s try and enjoy our afternoon.”

I fixed my eyes on Tucker and enunciated very clearly.  “I haven’t even gotten started.  For the past week, I’ve been listening and listening to you guys while I tried to get my head together.  Well, I decided to come back to work.  You don’t have to agree with me, but for Chrissakes, if you’re my friend, just support me.  Don’t tell me I’m wrong, I’ve screwed up, or I practically belong in a psych ward myself.  I’m 26 years old, okay?  I’m a medical doctor.  I survived this long without you mapping out my every move.  Lay off.”

He opened his mouth.  “It’s just–“

I stood up so fast, I rocked the patio table.  The others grabbed their drinks, but my martini stayed standing without me laying a finger on it.  “Save your prescriptions for your patients.”

Tori reached out as if to lay her hand on my arm, but hesitated and let her fingers flutter back into her lap.

Stan banged his mug on the table.  “Hey, I don’t have a problem with you investigating Laura Lee.  It probably won’t do any good, it’s been what, almost ten years?  But who cares.  It’s your funeral.”

Funeral.  Yep.  I could have died last month.

I didn’t say anything.  Neither did Tucker or Tori.

After a frozen minute, even Stan figured out he’d just said something inappropriate to a woman who’d had a near death experience.  “Sorry.  I’m an ass.”

“Me too,” said Tucker, mouth twisting.

“Me three.”  I sat back down.  Tucker handed me my glass.  I took it, careful to avoid brushing his fingers.  I wanted him.  I hated him.  And I hated him even more for pointing out I was more out of control than I’d thought.  In my mind’s eye, I saw myself writing a psych note on Dr. Hope Sze.  Judgment:  impaired.  Insight:  poor.

“So how about them Expos?”  said Stan.

“They don’t exist anymore,” I said.  I’m not a baseball fan, but even I knew that.

“Sucks, huh?”  he said brightly.  And conversation sort of turned back to normal, but after half an hour, I threw my money on the table.  “Thanks.  It’s been a slice.”

Tucker said, “Do you want–“

I cut him off. “I have to grab a few things before I head.  Feminine hygiene products.”

Oldest trick in the book:  invoke menstruation and the men will melt away.  It even works on doctors.  Tucker sank back into his chair.  I marched away to the sound of Stan’s laughter.

I had to think.  Thinking was easier without Tucker around.

Should I have stayed off longer?

Should I tell Mrs. Lee to forget it?

While these thoughts buzzed through my head, a man walked by with a brown dachshund strapped to his chest in a carrier.  It doesn’t get more metrosexual than that.  I had to laugh.

Montreal was a lot different from London, Ontario.  On St-Denis alone, I could hardly count the number and type of restaurants.  Vegetarian Thai.  Afghan.  Vietnamese.  A gelato shop.  Plus cute clothes and stores selling mainly French CD’s and books.  If I had money instead of our resident’s slave wages, I’d be in heaven.

Maybe literally.  A cyclist nearly mowed me down as I crossed the street.  He didn’t say sorry or even turn around, just kept speeding down the street in his helmet and Spandex.  I thought about giving him the finger, but what was the point?

I’d rather window shop.  Tori had mentioned a medieval clothing store.  I felt like surrounding myself in brocade and satin and fantasy instead of real life.

“Hope!”  called a male voice.

Was that Tucker?  I spun around, already gritting my teeth, ready to face him.

But it wasn’t Tucker.  Or Stan.  Or any guy from my residency program.

The guy walking toward me was one I’d know anywhere, any time, even though I hadn’t seen him in almost two years.  My breath froze in my throat.

His face seemed almost as familiar as my own, maybe more so, since I’d spent hours, days, years memorizing it, from his gentle eyebrows to his well-shaped lips.  I missed his hair, though.  It was still crisp and black, but he’d pared it down to a crew cut instead of letting it touching his collar in the back.

Ryan Wu, my first love.  My first lover.  My only real boyfriend.  Live in Montreal.

He was breathing a little faster from chasing after me.   That made me think of other, more intimate times I’d seen him breathless.

We stared at each other.  I couldn’t believe how little he’d changed.  I could see the same laughter in his brown eyes.  He’d retained his slim build and long runner’s legs.  A few times I’d wished him fat and bald after we’d broken up, but now I was so glad he looked almost exactly the same.  I could almost rewind the clock three, four years, before it all went sour.

I said, stupidly, “You cut your hair.”

“So did you.”

True.  My hair used to spill past my shoulders, but I’d tried a chin-length bob and liked it.

He smiled.  I smiled back.  Then, suddenly shy.  I glanced back at the café I’d just left.  We were a few blocks away, so I could barely make out our table, let alone Tucker.

Ryan nodded at me.  “You look good,”

He said it first, thank goodness, which let me admit, “You too.”

Ryan sticks to the truth.  He was brutally honest, annoyingly  Christian sometimes, but not a liar.  Such a tonic after Alex, the first Montreal bad boy I got mixed up with,

I wanted to eyeball every detail of Ryan’s body.  Part of me wanted to make sure he was really here and now, within licking distance.  The other part of me wanted to sprint far away from him.

I exhaled.  “So what are you doing here?  I mean, I didn’t know you were in town.”

His smile hitched up at the corner and he glanced over his shoulder.  A girl in a miniskirt marched toward us on coltish little legs, black hair swinging with every step. She was pretty and she was pissed.  I’d never met her, but her expression told me exactly who she was with respect to Ryan.

“Sorry, Lisa,” he said.  “I didn’t want Hope to get away.”

“No, we wouldn’t want that,” she agreed in a high-pitched voice.  I looked down at her.  She wasn’t just short, she was made miniature all over.  In other words, the stereotypical Asian doll-like build that made even me feel like a tank even though I was just as Chinese as she was.

“Hi, Lisa, I’m Hope Sze.”  I tried to smile.  I hadn’t so much as glimpsed Ryan in over a year and a half, so why did I feel so bereft, meeting his girlfriend?

To my surprise, she held out her hand and pumped mine.  She had a good grip for someone sparrow-sized.  She said, “Pleased to meet you.  I was just taking Ryan on a tour of Montreal.”

He smiled.  “I’m here with some buddies.  I gave Lisa a call.”

Well, that didn’t sound too lovey-dovey.  Neither did their stance, side by side but not touching.  Not to mention him racing after me.  My heart lifted, even as I scolded it.  No men.  Not even ex-boyfriends.  Especially not ex-boyfriends.

“We’re having a great time,” she said.

He smiled.  “Yeah, Lisa’s an awesome tour guide.  Listen, Hope, I’m here two more days.  Maybe we could catch up sometime?”

I knew the mature, responsible, Lisa-friendly thing to do.  Instead, I gave him my phone numbers, home and pager, with my best smile.  “Definitely.  Call me.”

Copyright Melissa Yuan-Innes, 2011

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3 Comments

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  1. melissayuaninnes / Jan 27 2011 4:58 am

    I did my 4 years (with no time off for good behavior) at the Mid Victorian Hospital in Montreal.
    Mcgill in the 60s was a strange place, an Anglo ghetto in Montreal— I almost NEVER heard a word of French at the Vic. The Mtl Gen, St M and the Jewish were a little more realistic .
    In my 2nd year I had a special job, admitting the patients of the retired professor, who did a couple of hysterectomies every Wed, I admitted them, scrubbed on surgery, did the post-op care and wrote the discharge summary—after 12 months of this—He did not know my name– “Get the English boy to see my patient” he would say

    I used to say about McG–I was British, I thought I new everything there was to be known about arrogance, but McGill taught me a few extra tricks

    Dr Michael Moreton M.B.Ch.B.(UK) FRCS(Canada)
    Boards in OB/GYN (US & China)
    International Medical Coordinator
    Bangkok Hospital, Bangkok, Thailand

  2. Mai-Anh / Feb 2 2011 10:47 am

    I love the fact that the Asian girl has two guys going for her! Yay :)
    Great writing Melissa, and fun to guess who’s who and where’s where… your depictions of the now-defunct Annex and the picnic tables in the parking lot just made me jump back there to the good ol’ days.
    Can’t wait to read the whole thing… Kudos!

    • melissayuaninnes / Feb 2 2011 10:50 am

      Yesssss. In my world, Asian girls can pull. Fortunately, that happens in real life too–although maybe 3 guys in a month is a lot. Or maybe not!

      What? The Annex and picnic tables are dead? No way! I’ll have to nip back and see.

      Thanks for reading!

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