Lucien had given his statement to the police the day before, when authorities were still investigating the scene of the crime. He was completely candid with the investigators except for any reference to Murphy’s deliberate trespassing into Cyrus O’Malley’s apartment.
He immediately leaned toward the explanation that they had been keeping a close eye on Cyrus for many months, having suspected that he was directly involved in Hunter’s disappearance. They had confronted the man and, sensing that they were coming close to the truth, attempted to silence them for good.
The police were rather frustrated when they attempted to question Murphy because by the time he was brought to the emergency area, he had already been heavily sedated and was not able to talk. Murphy received seventeen stitches that day and while the medical personnel considered him to be out of immediate danger, he was not in the right state to be interviewed and questioned.
The following day, it was already after five in the afternoon when a small group of investigators finished taking statements from Murphy. Lucien had just come from work when he bumped into them at the hallway.
His heart skipped a beat. He wondered if his statement corroborated with Murphy’s. Otherwise, they’d be in deep trouble.
Two men and a woman he recognized from yesterday moved past him, eyeing him as he gulped in air and loosened his tie. “Good afternoon, officers,” he greeted, trying to be as cool and relaxed as possible.
The men regarded him emotionlessly, while the woman in dark suit approached him with a faint smile.
Okay, they don’t seem to be suspicious of me at all. That’s a good sign.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Salverson,” greeted the lady in the suit. Lucien remembered her name now – Sara Paige.
Lucien reached out his hand to shake hers. “Good afternoon, Detective Paige. Everything okay with Mr. Odenkirk?”
“Yes. We just finished taking his statement. He, uhm…” She paused and glanced at her colleagues before looking back at Lucien, “The bottom line is that he was afraid the investigation would somehow lead to him and eventually tie him into the murder.” She said it in a blunt, matter-of-fact way that unnerved Lucien.
“D-Does that mean he’s a suspect now – that we’re both suspects?” asked Lucien, unconsciously biting the tip of his thumb.
The lady shook her head, smiling reassuringly. “The best evidence clearly indicates that the murderer is Cyrus O’Malley. There’s strong evidence against him, and he’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The man basically has no defense though at this point, we could only wish he would not plead insanity. We should at least give the jury something to hang their hat on, right?”
One of her colleagues faked a cough – a sign that told Sara Paige she should stop divulging any more information to Lucien.
She placed a hand on Lucien’s shoulder and gave him a gentle pat. “Don’t worry if you feel the questioning is going against you and Mr. Odenkirk. Getting the most out of a witness is standard procedure, after all. But you guys will definitely have an opportunity to defend yourselves after the cross-examination. You just have to tell them what they need to hear from you: The truth.”
Lucien gave a lopsided grin. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
Sara Paige lowered her hand and turned to join her colleagues, who were already heading towards the elevator. “I may not be able to define a criminal, but I know one when I see one. I’m sure you’ll be just fine, Mr. Salverson.”
Lucien waved absently at the detective before reaching to open the door to Murphy’s room. But he came to a fast halt as the door burst open.
Stepping out of the room was a visibly furious Audra Breslin. For a moment she stood frozen in the doorway, face to face with Lucien, a little too flabbergasted to think or move. And then, she stood straight and gave the other a stiff look – one that failed to hide her displeasure.
“Speak of the devil,” she said, tilting her chin and raising a mocking eyebrow. She crossed her arms over her chest, letting the door close behind her. “What are you doing here?” She made no attempt to hide her irritation.
Lucien coughed to hide his own displeasure. Typical Audra Breslin and her misdirected display of hostility.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Breslin. I’m here to see Mr. Odenkirk.”
“What business do you have with him?”
“It’s about Hunter Parslowe’s case – “
“Tell me what it is, and I’ll relay the message to him.”
Lucien’s face scrunched up in a frown. “This is something I need to talk to him about personally.”
She spread her fingers, studying her fresh manicure. “He’s resting right now and shouldn’t be disturbed.”
Lucien angled to see past her shoulders and raised his head up to look inside the room. “I’ll see it for myself then. If he’s asleep, then I’ll just – “
Audra quickly moved to block his view. “You’ve already stirred up so much trouble. You know that, right?” Her lips curved in contempt. “If the press gets wind of Murphy’s identity, it’ll ruin his reputation and the company’s. Seriously, getting involved in some fucking murder case? Are you two insane?”
Lucien’s eyebrows knitted together. His patience was wearing thin surprisingly fast. “If you’re concerned about the company’s reputation then rest assured, I will handle the damage control myself. You and Mr. Odenkirk don’t even have to lift a finger.”
At this, Audra’s eyebrow went up even higher. “Oh, getting all high and mighty now, are we? Just where are you getting this unwarranted confidence from?”
Lucien could not help but frown after hearing her words. “You make it sound as if I’ve already caused a ton of trouble to Mr. Odenkirk. We’ve barely known each other for a month!”
Having heard the commotion outside his room, Murphy got up and poked his head out into the hallway. “Lucien? Audra?” Lost in the argument, Lucien and Audra did not notice him stepping out of the room, holding an IV pole in one hand. “What’s going on?”
Audra laughed humorlessly. “I’m keeping a close eye on you, Mr. Salverson. There’s a reason you’re forcing your way into M’s life. You always do.”
“Just… what’s your deal? What are you yapping about? You’re clearly barking up the wrong tree. I’ve no ill intentions towards Mr. Odenkirk.” Lucien pursed his lips somewhat bitterly. “Listen, if you want to put this thing under the rug, then let me do it. Stop making me look like the bad guy here.”
“Because you are!” Audra snapped.
Finally, Lucien’s patience snapped. “What did I do to you to make you treat me like this? I don’t know shit about you, and you certainly don’t know shit about me!”
Another laugh from Audra, this time laced with mockery. “Oh, yeah? Don’t you worry your pretty little head. It will all come back to you sooner or later – “
“Audra!” Murphy burst out, his voice resonating with anger. All of a sudden, his body posture was tense, his shoulders stiff, jaw tight. Every aspect of his body language was screaming shut your mouth!
His outburst finally silenced Audra.
“One more word out of you and I swear I’ll…!” He didn’t finish his sentence. He bit his lips angrily, shaking his head. “Go.”
“I told you countless times, M, you can’t get yourself involved in –“
Audra pursed her lips. She looked as if she was about to cry, but her pride didn’t let her. She glared at Lucien as she mumbled to herself. “… Never changed. Always bringing bad news and trouble.” She flipped her hair as she forced herself to walk away and bumped Lucien in the shoulder so hard that he hit the wall.
Murphy and Lucien watched her walk away in silence and remained so some time after Audra had finally disappeared into the elevator.
Then Lucien spoke. “God. She’s insufferable.”
Murphy’s eyes were suddenly on Lucien, focused and sharp, as if realizing he was there with him. The tension in his shoulders finally relaxed. “She often does the most unthinkable things. Always letting anger get the better of her.”
“What’s her deal, chewing me out like that? I’d totally understand if the problem’s work-related, but –“ He scowled at Murphy. “With that kind of temperament, I’m surprised how she’s able to hold up such a demanding job as CEO.”
Murphy heaved a sigh as he towed his IV pole closer to him. “Forget it. She’s been getting on my nerves the moment she walked in. I don’t want to talk about her right now.”
Lucien’s eyes landed on the other’s injured arm which had been placed in a sling and was tucked securely under his body. “Oh. How did the surgery go?”
Murphy cleared his throat and adjusted his arm in the sling, still not used to the contraption, causing him to wince in pain. “Nothing major. Just a few stitches here and there.”
“How many stitches did they give you?”
Lucien gritted his teeth at this, though he was suitably impressed. “Ouch. That’s got to leave some scars.”
Murphy shrugged. “I don’t mind. They’re like… medals of valor, you know. A stark reminder that I’ve faced danger and survived it – that I’m still alive.”
Lucien nodded and smiled softly. “I haven’t had the chance to tell you this but, you were really brave back there,” he told Murphy.
“You were pretty brave yourself,” Murphy said.
Lucien ducked his head, his ears going red. “I didn’t… do anything at all.” Though it felt good to hear that coming from Murphy.
Then he went all quiet. Seeing as the other was struggling with his injured arm and the IV line hanging in his other hand, Lucien reached out to push the door open for Murphy. “Should you even be out here? You need to get back inside right now, Mr. Odenkirk.”
“No. Actually, you’ve come at a perfect time. I was planning on paying Mr. Gao a visit.”
“Oh, right. Me too. I was meaning to give him something. It’s one of Hunter’s stuff from the box.” He tapped his leather briefcase. “Which floor is he on?”
Murphy pointed a finger upwards. “Two floors up.”
Lucien took hold of the IV pole and escorted Murphy down the hallway towards the elevator. “Are you sure it’s okay for you to leave your room?”
“I won’t be long,” he replied vaguely, shrugging his shoulders. “I just need to hand over something of Hunter’s, too.”
Samantha Gao was sitting down in one of the chairs outside Room 716, with a phone pressed to her ear. When she saw Lucien and Murphy emerge from the elevator and into the hallway, she quickly hung up to greet them.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Odenkirk, Mr. Salverson,” she greeted with a mellow voice. She looked visibly stressed but managed to give a weary smile.
Lucien beamed. “Hello. We’re here to see Mr. Gao. Is this the right time to talk to him?”
“Uhm…” Samantha glanced over her shoulder towards the door. “Blake’s a little indisposed right now, you see.”
Lucien and Murphy peered through the small window in the door. They saw Blake sitting by the side of the bed, his back facing them. He was staring out the window, motionless and seemingly distant, lost in thought.
“He’s running a fever right now. The physician said he has anemia and chronic gastric ulcer, quite possibly exacerbated by stress and fatigue,” Samantha announced, absently rubbing her temple as she peered into the hospital room. “He found joy in overworking himself, but now it’s taking its toll on his health. The thing from yesterday only worsened his condition. He’s advised to stay in the hospital for a few days until the fever subsides.” There was a moment of silence before she continued. “He’s been like that all day – quiet and withdrawn.” And then, her voice cracked. “He’d wake up and start crying. And then he’ll go into that almost-catatonic state, just staring off into space…”
Looking at Samantha closely, Lucien could see that her eyes were a little swollen and tinged with red from tears and exhaustion.
“He’s not willing to talk to me. He’s been so distraught and inconsolable since yesterday…” Lucien handed her his handkerchief. She gave him a muffled “thank you” as she sniffed and dabbed at her eyes. “I couldn’t get anything out of him. I had to go and ask the detectives to find out what exactly happened.” She gave another sniffle and reluctantly continued. “Is it true? That – That they found Hunter inside a…” Her voice trailed off in a hushed sob.
Lucien squeezed her shoulder gently in a consoling gesture, and then let go.
With tear-stained eyes Samantha looked up at him and then to Murphy. “Let’s talk over a cup of coffee. There’s a coffee-maker just around the corner.”
Lucien gave Murphy a searching look, then nodded politely. “Sure.”
While they were sitting quietly and drinking their coffee, Murphy finally spoke to break the ice. “I was meaning to give something to Mr. Gao today.”
“Oh, uhm, me too,” Lucien seconded.
Samantha’s face lit up, as if just remembering something. “Did you two get to find what you need in that green box?”
“Yes,” Lucien responded. “Thanks again for choosing to keep that box, Mrs. Gao. What I found in it was…” A melancholy smile hovered at the corners of his mouth. “I’d like to think of it as Hunter’s will and testament. I could only hope it would give Blake the proper closure he needs.”
Lucien stood up and peered back into Blake’s room. His eyes widened in surprise when he saw that Blake had already gotten out of the hospital bed and was standing next to the bedside table, helping himself to a glass of water. ”Mrs. Gao, I think you need to go back inside. Mr. Gao’s out of bed and might need help.”
“What?” Samantha got up and dashed back inside the room.
Lucien and Murphy could hear Blake saying, “I’m fine,” repeatedly, in a deadpan voice.
“Honey, Mr. Odenkirk and Mr. Salverson are here to see you.” Samantha turned to the door and motioned for them to enter.
“So sorry to intrude,” Murphy said awkwardly, entering the room before Lucien, who was towing the IV pole for him.
Glass of water in one hand, Blake sat down on the edge of the bed and looked up at Murphy. His dark brown eyes were weary and bloodshot. “’You sure you’re supposed to be here, Mr. Odenkirk?”
“Well, no. I’ll be back in my room before you know it.” Murphy reached into his pajama pocket and pulled out a folded piece of white paper.
Samantha sat down next to Blake and gently rubbed his back. “They’ve come to give you something.”
Blake took the paper Murphy handed him, unfolded it, and started reading the note. He frowned with concentration as he tried to make sense from the scribbled yet all-too-familiar writing. He’d seen it a million times before, written across small sticky notes which hung on the refrigerator and on the many letters he had given Blake. Gradually, his face went stiff. “This is Hunter’s handwriting.”
“Yes. It was in his wallet. It looks like he already planned an extensive itinerary for your trip to Taiwan.”
Blake’s face offered no reaction as his eyes scanned over the words written on the paper. “So elaborate. Does this mean he already had the money for the trip?” He ran a finger beneath each word as he read. “Kaohsiung. Tainan. Taichung. The Sun Moon Lake. And then, Taipei.” He let out a small laugh. “These places are miles apart. Was he planning to stay there for over a month or what? Such a dreamer…”
“He did,” Murphy said abruptly. “I mean, he did have the money for it. He saved up for almost a year.”
Blake looked up at him, looking a little dumbfounded. “W-What? When was this? He… He never mentioned anything about this. I thought this was just one of his silly plans.”
“He was meant to surprise you.”
“Was he now?” Blake’s finger suddenly stopped on the final line dense with cramped writing. Hunter appeared to have crossed out a couple of words and replaced it with something else, which Blake read aloud: “… Break up with Chen-hong.” He looked up at Murphy with an expressionless stare. “Quite the surprise indeed.”
Murphy’s mouth went dry at this.
“Uhm, are you sure that’s what’s written on it?” Lucien cut in as he moved closer to the bed to get a better look at the paper. “Hunter doesn’t exactly have the most readable handwriting, you know.” He read what was written on the note.
There it was, written as clear as day, were the words ‘Break up with Chen-hong’.
They watched as Lucien’s Adam’s apple bobbed, swallowing whatever words he wanted to say. He looked up at Blake, pain and distress clearly written on his countenance.
Blake brought the paper close to his chest and crumpled it. “Why would that bastard go through so much trouble just to break up with me? Why bother saving up money just to end things between us? Until now, I still don’t understand him…” His forehead blushed pink as he slapped the heel of his palm repeatedly against it. “I’m so tired… So fucking tired trying to figure him out.”
Murphy placed his fingers on his lips, staring blankly at the ground as he tried to make sense of it. “I still think there’s something we’re missing here…”
“Mr. Salverson,” Samantha called out to him. “You mentioned something about a token from Hunter?”
Lucien rubbed his nape, giving Samantha an uneasy, did-you-already-tell-him-about-the-box look.
Samantha blinked, confused, and then realized her slip of the tongue. She clapped a hand to her mouth, giving her husband a remorseful look. “Blake, honey… I have a confession to make.”
Blake said nothing but his eyes spoke volumes.
Her eyes cast downward as she stared at her hands. “I… I kept that box, that one you shared with Hunter. I thought – I thought it would be such a waste to just throw it away… Whatever’s in it, I’m sure they’re not just odds and ends that hold no meaning.” She rested a hand on Blake’s knee. “They’re precious memories you’ve shared with Hunter.”
Blake bit his lip to push back his brewing frustration. “It’s – It’s okay,” he replied, trying not to choke on the words. He patted Samantha’s hand and nodded. “I’m glad you did. Thank you.”
“It’s a good thing she did, Mr. Gao,” said Lucien. “Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to read this.” He slung his briefcase to his lap, snapped it open, and pulled out a light-blue envelope. “It’s from Hunter. His last letter to you.”
Blake stared at the envelope warily but accepted it from Lucien’s outstretched hand. “Well, it can’t get any worse than it already is, can it?” he inquired in a dry and monotonous voice.
His eyes immediately fell on the words written on the face of the envelope. Hands shaking, he read the words silently to himself:
“To My Chen-hong: To be opened only after my death.”
Turning the envelope over, he ran his fingers across the flap. And as he fumbled to unseal it, a battle waged between his heart and his head. To open or not to open.
They say that leaving behind a will and testament involves writing down words for the rest of your life, culminating in your final letter – the most important of all letters. It’s your final chance to say the things hidden deep in your heart.
The letter was old, yellowed and a little brittle around the edges. It had no date, but Blake was confident Hunter had written it long before a crack had appeared in their relationship. He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them and took a deep breath. As he began to read, everything in him gradually came undone.
There was dead silence in the room as Blake read it. At first, there was a detached, emotionless expression painted across his face. But as he continued to read the letter, they saw his face gradually cloud over. There seemed to be a hint of confusion, followed by shock, and then bewilderment again.
And then, his shoulders and hands began to shake uncontrollably. His face crumpled, much like the paper in his hands. “No… No…” He shook his head as tears began to well up in his eyes. “Oh god, no…!” His entire body began to tremble now, and the tears turned into sobs.
It can’t possibly be true. There’s no way it’s true. Please god, not Hunter!
Blake was overwhelmed with shock, pain, and sorrow. His head dropped forward to his knees as he buried his face in his hands. He began to cry so hard but failed to identify the grief-stricken wails as his.
Samantha, who wound her arms around Blake, began to panic. “Blake, what’s wrong? Pull yourself together, come on…!” She, too, began to cry helplessly.
Blake clutched the letter tightly in his hands, the dam of tears finally crumbling and breaking. “I didn’t know. I wasn’t aware…!” Samantha gathered him into her arms and let his sobs heave noisily against her chest. “I should’ve known… I should’ve seen the signs. I was blind and stupid. It’s my fault all along!”
He was crying so hard that he gasped for air. And then, he collapsed against Samantha. She struggled for a moment before realizing that Blake was already hyperventilating.
“Blake, pull yourself together. Please!” She shook him, tried to calm him down.
Lucien and Murphy straightened up, knowing something was wrong.
“S-Should we call an attendant?” Lucien asked, a little panic-stricken at the sight of Blake’s face which had turned completely pallid.
Samantha was quick to press the emergency button on the wall behind Blake’s bed. Help arrived within moments as a couple of nurses entered the room.
The nurses requested both Lucien and Murphy to step out of the room as they placed Blake on oxygen and hooked him up to a portable monitor. One of the nurses noticed Murphy, gave him a scolding, and asked that he return to his room right away. But the two waited anxiously outside Blake’s room the whole time.
Lucien’s hands were clasped tightly together. “Fuck. This was a bad idea. I should’ve just come much later. I didn’t know he’d react like this.”
But Murphy was lost in his own thoughts. Something was definitely amiss. What was in that letter?
He tried, failed to identify precisely what it was, but knew that there’s still a missing piece to the puzzle.
“Hunter,” Murphy called out, “I know you’re here. We need to talk to you. Right now.”
The ghost appeared in front of them as fast as he was summoned.
Looking at Hunter now, Murphy tried hard not to think about the things he had seen from his memories. His demeanor just minutes before his death. The way he fought for his life. The manner of his death. The feeling of helplessness and isolation.
Hunter noticed his uneasiness and gave him a pitiful look. “Come on, man. You should at least pretend to be happy to see me.”
A challenging gaze met his. “Forget about me. Let’s talk about you. There’s still something else that’s keeping you here,” Murphy said to him.
Lucien’s mouth hung open. “Wait. You mean to say it’s not over yet?”
Murphy looked away from Lucien and back at Hunter. “ I saw flashes of it in your memory. They were vague, almost trivial. But the fact you’re still here means you still have some unfinished business.” He inhaled deeply, let the air out through his nose, and continued, “Am I right to assume there’s a third person you want us to go and see?”
Puzzled and feeling completely left out, Lucien looked back and forth. “Uhm, hello? What’s going on here? This is the millionth time I’ve gotten the feeling that something isn’t being said. Can someone fill me in, please?” he demanded, scowling.
Murphy glanced at him before heaving a sigh. “I saw another person in his memories. That person probably holds the final missing piece to complete this puzzle.” He gave Hunter a searching look. “Am I right, Hunter?”
Hunter shifted on his feet and looked at the floor, blankly, as he avoided the other’s stiff gaze. “I… I know I’m already a huge burden to you guys. I didn’t want to make things any more difficult than they already are.”
Murphy shook his head and placed a hand over his forehead. “Stop. Just stop this foolishness. At this point, the best thing you could do is to tell us everything. If you don’t, all our efforts would go in vain.” His eyes turned dark. “You need our help, Hunter. You know all too well nobody else can help you get to where you need to be.”
As Lucien gradually tried to make sense of the situation, he let out a sharp breath and turned to Murphy. “You’re being a little too harsh on him, Mr. Odenkirk.” And then he looked at Hunter. “Come on, let’s get this through to the end. Tell us what else we need to know.”
Sadness clouded Hunter’s features as he struggled to fight back tears. “I’m sorry I had to put you through this…”
Murphy had worn himself off too much for the past few days, and so he tried to calm himself down. “There was a woman in your memory. You two seemed to know each other quite well. Who is she, Hunter?”
Still averting his eyes from Murphy, Hunter pursed his lips, refusing to answer. And then, after what seemed like the longest ten seconds in life, he finally said, “It could just be a stroke of luck but, that person, she’s actually here right now.”
Their faces were suddenly blank with subdued awe and astonishment.
“She works here, in South Miami Hospital. Her name’s Tonya Baker.”
The moment he got the name, Murphy strode towards the elevator; Lucien following him close behind. “Quickly. Where can we find her?”
Hunter remained rooted to the spot, standing in front of Blake’s room. “You can find her name in the hospital directory. She’s a physician.”
Murphy pressed the elevator button for the ground floor, paused, and then gave Hunter one last look. But his eyes were softer now, uncertain yet concerned. With a smile he said, “You’re my friend. I gave you my promise and I’m here to fulfill it.”
The elevator doors opened with a ding, and Murphy and Lucien stepped inside.
The two walked toward the far end of the lobby and when they reached the far wall, they quietly stood in front of the hospital directory, searching through the long list of resident and visiting physicians along with their respective specializations.
After no less than five minutes, they found a listing for one Tonya J. Baker, M.D., F.A.C.S., on the west annex of the ground floor.
Arriving at the annex, Murphy was already breathing hard. The arm sling was getting increasingly uncomfortable, and he was in no condition to be moving about for long periods after having been sedated.
They found themselves in a waiting room partitioned with glass. There were two people sitting on a long metal bench - patients waiting to be seen by the physician. Department of Oncology, the big sign on the smoked glass door said. Murphy decided they’re in the right place.
The receptionist at the counter gave Murphy a probing look, her eyes darting towards his pajamas and IV line. “Next time, you should phone in first before coming over, so an aide can assist you to a wheelchair.” She slid them a sign-in sheet and a black pen as she cracked her gum.
Lucien leaned close to the receptionist. “Actually, we’re not patients. We simply wanted to talk to Dr. Baker.”
This confused the receptionist greatly. She replied with a shrug and dropped her gaze back on her desk. “Sorry. You’ll have to wait,” she said as she pointed to the metal bench.
Lucien helped Murphy to the bench and gave him a worried look. “Will you be okay? They’re probably already looking for you by now. You should go back.”
Murphy shook his head. “Audra arranged for a private nurse to take care of me.” He rolled his eyes as he saw Lucien’s eyebrow shoot up. “Totally unnecessary and stupid, I know. But thanks to that, someone will cover for me. It’ll be okay, as long as we don’t keep this dragging for too long.”
They waited a solid fifteen minutes before the receptionist called for them to enter the doctor’s office.
In any other clothes, Dr. Tonya Baker would appear too young for the job. She had the posture of an athlete. She had on a pristine-white smock gown, her jet-black hair tied low in a ponytail, not a single strand out of place. She has Eastern European features and skin tone, with large hazelnut brown eyes.
Lucien and Murphy planted themselves on the chairs next to the doctor’s desk.
“Good evening,” she said, her voice low and soft. Unlike the usual cold and distant smile of a professional, Dr. Baker gave them a warm and friendly one. Lucien and Murphy visibly relaxed at this, and they both broke into a smile, almost mirroring the doctor’s. “So… who’s my last patient for today?”
The two exchanged glances before looking back at the doctor. “Actually, we’re here for a more personal matter,” Murphy declared. “My name’s Murphy Odenkirk, by the way. And this here is Mr. Lucien Salverson. We’re, uhm… we’re friends of Hunter Parslowe.” He gave the physician a searching look. “Does that name ring a bell to you, Dr. Baker?”
The doctor rubbed her chin in thought. She tried to rack her brains for the name Murphy had tossed on her, and then put a face to it.
And then, after less than ten seconds, a small gasp escaped her lips. A hand flew to her mouth and her eyes widened in shock. “Oh my god, yes. Yes, I do remember him. Mr. Parslowe. Oh goodness, I heard what had happened to him. It’s all over the news right now.” She had a horrible time processing the grisly news. “Are you here to gather information for the upcoming trial?”
“Not exactly. No,” replied Murphy. “The thing is, we’re trying to figure out what was going on with him during the months following his death.” He dropped his gaze and bit his bottom lip before adding, “Sadly, none of his friends and family had any idea of his whereabouts the past few years. His… His long-time partner had been kept in the dark about some things, as well.”
Dr. Baker listened intently as she leaned back in her chair. She didn’t say a single word as Murphy tried to explain the situation as best he could.
Murphy cleared his throat. “So now, we’d like to know why Hunter had been coming over to see you without his partner’s knowledge. At this point, it would really give them peace of mind and closure to know what was really going on with Hunter.”
The doctor gave another soft “Hmm” as she leaned her elbows against her desk and clasped her hands together. “You probably already know why people come to see me. Right?”
Murphy’s eyes fell from the physician’s face to the narrow gold-colored name plaque at the front of her desk. He already had an idea the very moment he saw her name and her medical specialty, in the hospital directory.
She’s an oncologist. A doctor who provides medical care to patients diagnosed with cancer.
Noticing Murphy’s brewing distress, Lucien reached a hand to the other’s arm and pressed it lightly. “Hunter’s partner is currently confined here, in this hospital. He collapsed after finding out about Hunter’s death. What we’d like to ask from you now is that…” He trailed off when he saw the recognition on the doctor’s face.
“I understand. I really do,” said the doctor as she stood from her chair. “You’re probably also concerned that I might be summoned to court to report this. It’s a good point. But before I obey the authorities - before anything else - I should always abide by the oath I’ve taken. It’s my obligation to maintain patient privacy and confidentiality.”
Well. Can’t argue with that. Lucien failed to hide the look of disappointment on his face. He almost wanted to hypnotize the lady right there and then so they could squeeze out the information they needed. But he tried his best to fight the urge. And anyway, as he glanced over Murphy, he could see that the guy had caught on to his train of thought. He knitted his brows as he lightly shook his head, warning Lucien not to do anything drastic.
Lucien pushed on as he turned back to Dr. Baker. “How secret should it be?”
“How secret? Well… all medical records should be confidential.”
“Yes but, if it could help ease the burden on Hunter’s partner, can it just stay between us and no one else?”
“I understand, but…”
“We really don’t want him to carry over this sense of guilt and remorse for the rest of his life, Dr. Baker. He has his own family now. A successful career. Hunter’s disappearance, these things he had kept from his partner prior to his untimely death… It’s been haunting him for nearly a decade now.”
Lucien figured that if logic and reasoning won’t work, he just had to tug at her heartstrings.
Dr. Baker hesitated, and then replied cautiously. “You’re putting me in a real bind here. As a medical professional, it’s my duty to stick to my oath. But…” She ran her fingers through her hair and let out a huff of frustration. “… If I don’t help, it’ll be a serious blow to my conscience.” She was obviously torn between duty and desire; Lucien almost felt bad for pushing her into a corner.
And then, a hint of victory flashed in Lucien’s eyes as he watched the doctor walk towards the short row of file cabinets in the corner of her office. “It’s been almost a decade. I have hundreds of patients under my care, but Mr. Parslowe is one such person who left quite a strong impression.” She bent to check the labels on each cabinet. There were letters written on each drawer and Lucien guessed that she had indexed her patients’ medical records in alphabetical order.
Dr. Baker went over to the third cabinet and unlocked the second drawer labeled with an ‘M - P’. She pulled the drawer open, which had patient names listed on the dividers. “It’s really hard to forget someone like Mr. Parslowe. He had such a bubbly personality. I rarely get to meet patients like him. After all, who would be happy to see me, who’s almost always the bearer of bad news?” She paused for a moment and Lucien could see her eyes turning red and wet with tears. “He loved to talk about his partner more than himself. He was such a nice person with a beautiful soul. He… He didn’t deserve to die in such a gruesome way. Nobody does. Any person who could kill in a grisly manner already has something wrong deep inside.” She sniffed and rubbed her nose, trying to stop herself from crying.
A moment of silence. Dr. Baker flipped through each folder carefully, until her fingers stopped moving. Hunter’s folder was there, almost jumping into Dr. Baker’s hands. It was much thinner than expected. She pulled it out of the drawer, returned to her desk, then slid it towards Lucien and Murphy.
Murphy muttered a soft ‘thank you’ as he took the folder. He flipped through several pages, finally stopped at one, and offered it to Lucien. It appeared to be a biopsy report and to the both of them, it was pretty much as enlightening as a Chinese textbook.
The biopsy report read:
CARCINOMA OF THE COLON OR RECTUM
Patient Name: Parslowe, Hunter N.
Date of Test: 04-07-11
Specimen: Terminal ileum, cecum, ascending colon
Procedure: Right hemicolectomy
Tumor site: Cecum
Tumor size: 9.2 x 4.7 x 4.2 cm
Histologic Type: Adenocarcinoma
Histologic Grade: High-grade (poorly differentiated)
Microscopic Tumor Extension: Tumor penetrates to the surface of the visceral peritoneum (serosa)
Margins: Mesenteric: Involved by invasive carcinoma
Lymph-Vascular Invasion: Present
Tumor Deposits: Present
No. Of Tumor(s) Identified: 4
There were several more lines of seemingly random letters and numbers below the report, that Lucien was already inclined to hand it to Dr. Baker. “This looked to be the last medical report you had of Hunter. Would it be okay if you interpret this for us, Dr. Baker?”
“Of course.” Dr. Baker looked over the test result.
After a minute or so, she slid the paper back in the folder and raised her eyes to look at Lucien. With a sigh she said, “When he came to me back in September…” She nodded to herself, trying to confirm her memory. “Yes… I remember it was in September of 2010. Well… To begin with, the news already wasn’t looking good for Mr. Parslowe. When that biopsy report came out, it was also the last day I’d seen him. He didn’t come back to see me afterwards. His health just… deteriorated much quickly than I initially expected.”
Dr. Baker hesitated, pursed her lips, then clasped her hands in front of her mouth. “It was colon cancer,” she said. “Stage 4.”
Lucien looked at the doctor, then at Murphy, who had an expression of shock and absolute disbelief on his face.
This, as it turned out, was the final missing piece of the puzzle.