Paula Jackson hummed as she slowly shuffled down the hospital's third floor corridor. Her routine cleaning duties at Valley Presbyterian Hospital were nearly completed. She was looking forward to her much needed break and a cup of hot coffee. Maybe just this once, she chuckled to herself, she'd help herself to a piece of the cafeteria's hot apple pie.

       Paula shook her head slightly. "Mmm, mmm, mmm! A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips!" she mocked. "Lawd, help me put these linens away and I'll praise your name forever! I'm tired, now. So tired! It's been a long day, a long day. And I'm gonna go ahead and have me a piece of apple pie."

       Paula absently opened the linen closet door and screamed. She turned and ran toward the nurse's station. "There's a man tied up in there." She shrieked to the ward secretary as her ample body jiggled and bounced in the sprint. "He ain't wearing nothing but shorts and a tee shirt."

       "Calm down." the ward secretary jumped to her feet. "Now, what are you saying?"

       "Got a gag in his mouth and ropes on his hands and feet! Call security, Jessie! Call security!"

       The ward secretary quickly dialed Security and within minutes, a Security officer dashed to the third floor. "How did this happen?" he asked as he untied the angry and flustered Marshall.


       The Marshall swayed on his feet. "Some guy stuck a gun in my back, forced me into this closet, tied me, took my clothes and ..." He sucked in his breath. "Lansing! Is everything all right in the Lansing room?"

       "Whose room?"

       "I'm with the U.S. Marshall's office. We're keeping Philip Lansing under twenty-four hour surveillance. Well, don't just stand there, call the agency. Give me a pencil. I'll jot down the number. Tell them to send clothes, and a replacement to guard the room..."

       "Yes sir, I'll have the ward secretary call. Wait here until we can get you some clothes while I check the room." The security officer turned at the door. "Do you know what the man was after?"

       "Looking for something in Lansing's room, no doubt. Hurry over there. I can't leave until I get some clothes."

       The security officer sprang into action. In all his years guarding the hospital, he'd never had anything exciting to report to his family and friends. Now, here he was, untying a U.S. Marshall and racing to the aid of a patient. He pushed open the door and abruptly stopped.

       He knew the moment he saw the girl that she'd been drugged. Her head had flopped to the side and she was breathing heavily. He poured water into a paper cup and put it to her lips.

       "Missus." He shook her shoulder. "Wake up. Here, open your mouth, try to swallow this."

       Jenny moaned and opened her eyes. "Who are you?" She stared at him.

       "Take a sip of water. You've been drugged, but you'll feel better in a minute. Who was here? Do you remember?"

       She took the paper cup and brought it to her lips. Her head was throbbing. Shaking her head to bring her eyes into focus, she stood and would have fallen if the officer hadn't reached out for her.

       "Do you remember what happened?" he asked.

       Jenny nodded. "A Marshall brought me coffee and a sandwich. That's all I remember.


       "He wasn't a Marshall. Whoever it was knocked the U.S. Marshall out, took his clothes and snuck in here. Drugged your coffee is what he did. The real Marshall is waiting for the agency to bring his clothes. Are you okay? Can you walk?"

       "I'm a little groggy, but I'll be fine." She looked over at her father. He hadn't moved. "My dad wasn't harmed, was he?"

       "I don't think so. If you're okay, I'll just step over here and call for a nurse." He moved toward the call button on the wall. "Do you know what this fraud was looking for?"

       Jenny nodded and sank back into the chair. Rubbing her pounding temples, she thought of the briefcase. The intruder was looking for her briefcase. She heaved a relieved sigh. There was no real security anywhere, she thought wearily, whether in the Witness Protection Program or with a Marshall at the door. If a mobster wanted someone, there seemed no barrier high enough to stop him.

       She looked at her watch. She desperately hoped that Alex had found the briefcase and would bring it with him.

       Glancing again at her dad, her throat filled with tears at the sight and sounds of bleeping machines by his bed. She welcomed the moment Alex would return so they could open the briefcase together. Then they'd prove there was nothing that gave evidence of any wrongdoing by her father.

       And then, she thought as a nurse stepped into the room, she could get her life back. She'd welcome her normal world of work, of small pleasures and mostly freedom from fear.

Chapter 24  ||  Table of Contents