Novel Excerpt: The Secret She Kept
Rich people love their private parks with huge trees and smooth paths where they can go for long morning runs. Just the fact they have time to run for miles proves how they live in a different world from everyone else. Normal people don’t have time to put on silky leggings and tops the color of ice cream, plug Sci-Fi buds into their ears that cost half a month’s rent, and breathe in the clean air of suburbs protected by comforting foothills.
Normal people have to drag themselves out of bed when the alarm goes off and get dressed for work and show up on time, so their paycheck is the full amount at the end of the month. Even working from home, providing customer support, I’m controlled by clocks and apps that track when I’m using my keyboard. If I’m not already logged in at six a.m., points are deducted from any positive ratings I get from customers. And with plenty of customers giving one-star ratings just because they don’t like my truthful answers to their crazy questions, I can’t afford that.
Dr. Flaherty went for her run at five in the morning. I knew this because I’d watched her leave her house every weekday for three weeks. While I waited for her, my phone said 4:58 then 4:59 then 5:00, and her front door opened. Every day.
Then I followed her along those peaceful, curving paths.
Sometimes there were other runners, but never more than two, maybe three, because in February it was pitch dark at five a.m. I also picked a day when it was raining, which wasn’t hard to do in the Pacific Northwest in the winter. Watching her had told me that rain didn’t keep her from her run, but I figured it kept other people snuggled under the blankets, and I was right.
She was the only person, the only living breathing thing I saw at all that morning. Even the birds and squirrels were smart enough to take shelter from the water that still dripped from the trees when the rain paused to take a breath.
This would be Dr. Flaherty’s last day running. It would be her last day getting into her shiny white Mercedes. It would be her last day driving to the medical center. It would be her last day lying to her patients and telling them they didn’t need a follow-up until six months later—if the problem persisted. It was the last day she would give that condescending smile and say, “But truthfully, if you ate a healthier diet, you wouldn’t have so much abdominal distress.” That’s what she called it—abdominal distress.
It would definitely be her last day telling someone that working with insurance companies was too much trouble. She would provide better care—boutique care—if they could pay for it. Only seven thousand dollars up front, and then pay for everything yourself. A doctor for rich people.
When cancer cells are eating away inside your abdomen, but they aren’t attached to a specific organ, doctors don’t always notice right away. Or something. Flaherty never made it clear why she didn’t look harder to figure out what was wrong with my mom. I guess she was too busy setting up her boutique medical services. Because then it turned out my mom didn’t have enough money to deserve to be her patient. The doctor didn’t say it that way, obviously. She said that with fewer patients, each one would get more attention; they would get better quality care.
When my mom finally found a new doctor, and the diagnosis was finally made, and treatment finally started, it was way too late. Way, way too late.
This was the last day that dedicated doctor would sleep peacefully in her enormous Mediterranean home.
My mom was nothing but a pile of ashes in a ceramic jar, waiting to be scattered in a forest. No more soft pillow and downy comforter for her. I had no idea when her ashes might settle into the woods, because my dad couldn’t manage to drag his own tired, broken self out of the easy chair in our living room.
Dr. Flaherty was going to pay for what she’d done.
I increased my speed, moving closer to Dr. Flaherty in the thick, soupy rain. The sound of my footsteps was drowned by the splash of water. Besides, with those white buds in her ears, she was oblivious. She felt safe. I didn’t even need to get that close.
I raised the gun and fired at the back of her head. I was close enough, and steady enough, that she collapsed instantly. But more than the reverberation of the gun through my bones, I felt the shock of what I’d done. The sight of her collapsed on the ground, blood turning her hair into something ugly and disgusting, made me feel sick. I bent over, trying to breathe. I thought I might throw up, but the feeling evaporated the minute I remembered how far the sound of the gunshot must have carried.
Shoving the gun into the pocket of my hoodie, I ran, following the same path she always took until I reached the edge of the park. I ran the extra half mile to my ten-year-old car parked alone in a small lot.
Dr. Flaherty was the first person I needed to punish. The next was Ruth Monroe. But Ruth was different.
Death would be too merciful for Ruth.
An excerpt from The Secret She Kept, now available on Amazon.