Maura was immeasurably relieved when the day finally came to leave the hospital. She was still tired, her body siphoning much of her energy into healing, but thankfully she was off the heavy pain medications and there were no signs of infection or any other complications. Angela insisted on picking her up and driving her home, which Maura greatly appreciated.
The journey to Maura’s house felt awkward to the wounded doctor, as Angela tried to fill the silence with irrelevant small talk and she responded with monosyllabic replies. Angela had visited her every day that she’d been in hospital, but her manner had become noticeably colder since Frankie’s visit. Maura suspected that Frankie had conveyed the gist of the conversation to his mother, and she had naturally been affronted that Maura could imply any guilt on Frankie’s part. To Angela’s credit she hadn’t taken sides, but the new distance between them was still painful.
As she crossed the threshold, Maura couldn’t help looking furtively around the room, expecting to see some sign of the confrontation that had taken place. However, someone had gone to a lot of effort to remove all traces of the violent encounter. The site where she fell after being shot had obviously been vigorously cleaned. The room had been tidied. Maura tried not to speculate whether it had been done by a friend trying to make her homecoming easier, or by someone with more sinister motives for removing all evidence.
Angela got Maura comfortably situated on the couch before moving to the kitchen to make them both lunch. Maura listened to the clattering of pots, smiling at the familiar sound, before letting her head drift back tiredly. Fatigue was dragging at her, with the trip from the hospital taking more out of her meagre reserves than she’d hoped it would.
Closing her eyes briefly, she thought about the last couple of days. She’d had very little to concentrate on besides healing, so had taken every opportunity to rest and recuperate. Her only links to the outside world had been Angela’s brief visits and Susie’s texts. Susie had been keeping up her covert surveillance of Jane and Frankie, with nothing unusual or suspicious yet. Lucas didn’t seem to have gotten anywhere near Jane, which was a huge relief to Maura and Susie.
Maura suddenly snapped back to consciousness, not realising she’d drifted off until she felt Angela’s hand shaking her awake. “Angela, sorry. Was I asleep long?”
Angela just smiled knowingly. “No, maybe half an hour. I didn’t want your soup to get cold. If you like I can take you to your bedroom after you’re done with lunch?”
Maura looked at the offered soup, and smiled at the sight of the homemade vegetable mix. “No, I need to try to get my sleep cycle back to normal. If you can just put a movie on for me and bring me some of my journals to read, I’ll be fine.”
Nodding, Angela moved back to the kitchen and started cleaning up. Maura savoured the soup, having missed real food while she was in hospital. After the first batch of lasagne and salad, Angela hadn’t had time to bring more. Frankie had caught a big case at work, so Angela had needed to spend more time with Jane. She hadn’t told Maura much about their interactions, but the impression she’d gleaned was that Jane still wasn’t acting like herself, and she hadn’t claimed to remember anything else.
Finishing the last drops of soup, Maura looked up to see Angela already hovering, ready to snatch the bowl. After a bit more clanking, Angela bustled around the room, retrieving books and stacking them carefully on Maura’s good side.
Heading for the movie collection, Angela paused to glance over her shoulder. “So, what sort of movie would you like? Action, thriller, science fiction?”
Maura realised her life had contained too much of all those genres lately. “Actually, I changed my mind about the movie. I’ll just read.”
Angela nodded, her eyes sweeping over the little nest she had made for Maura on the couch, complete with blankets, drinks, books and healthy snacks. “Do you need anything else before I go sweetie?”
Maura shook her head gratefully. “I’ll be fine. You’ve done so much for me. I don’t just mean today, you’ve been looking after me so well since I got shot, and for a long time before that. Please, go look after your family.”
Angela smiled warmly, moving over to carefully hug Maura. “You’re my family too, you know that.”
Maura smiled in relief and happiness, her good hand returning the hug with enthusiasm. After she had noticed the icy distance appearing between them, she hadn’t been entirely sure if Angela still felt that way. To hear the words spoken with such sincerity meant a lot.
Angela took a deep breath, and Maura heard frustration and anguish in her voice as she spoke softly. “Janie was always the child who caused me the most worry. If I ever got a phone call in the middle of the night, I would assume it was someone telling me she was hurt, or worse.”
Angela pulled back so she could look Maura in the eye. “You seem to be determined to take her title lately. Please, do an old mother’s heart some good, and stop ending up in the hospital? It would break so many hearts if anything happened to you, mine most of all.”
Maura felt the prickle of happy tears in her eyes as Angela pulled her in for another loving hug. She felt a gentle kiss on the top of her head as Angela got up to leave. Maura considered that possibly what she had interpreted as an air of indifference from Angela was actually a mother pulling back in grief and pain after her child had scared her by getting injured again.
Angela paused at the door to yell back some last minute instructions, breaking the sentimental mood. “You call me if you need anything, understand? Stay out of trouble!”
Maura nodded with an amused smile. She definitely felt like one of Angela’s kids when she was being coddled and nagged.
As she had been bereft of academic stimulation, Maura decided it was an excellent time to catch up on her favourite scientific journals. She had been unable to concentrate on anything serious for almost a week before the anniversary of Jane’s disappearance, and since Jane had turned up on her doorstep all her stimulation had been without facts and answers. A few hours of logical and peer-reviewed science was just what she needed.
Maura had been reading for around two hours when her phone buzzed, alerting her to a new text message. Carefully putting the journal she was reading down, she discovered the message was from Susie.
Angela is back with Jane. Are you at home? I need to talk to you about a few things.
Maura quickly sent back an affirmative reply. Fortunately Susie had her own key to Maura’s house, so Maura wouldn’t have to move off the couch and jostle her arm. Susie had demanded a key after the fifth time she’d almost broken down the door, checking if Maura was alive after a non-appearance at work. Maura suppressed another sigh at the direction her life had taken over the past four years, but reminded herself that at least she still had friends who cared. She hadn’t burned all her bridges yet, and hopefully she would never again reach the same lows she had experienced.
Settling back into the couch, Maura readied herself for the coming conversation. Now that she was out of the hospital, she couldn’t stay on the side-lines anymore. She needed to do something to help Jane, and since she would still be limited physically for some time her contribution would need to be investigative.
Fortunately it didn’t take Susie long to arrive. Maura heard the tumblers in her door locks turning, then the familiar brisk steps of her friend. Susie looked better physically than the last time Maura had seen her, with the swelling and bruising on her face well on its way to healing, but the criminologist looked ragged and worn out.
Maura patted the couch next to her, pulling her book out of the way. Susie sat down with an air of exhaustion and defeat, her body instantly sagging back into the soft cushions.
Maura frowned at the uncharacteristic behaviour. “Susie, what’s happened? What’s wrong?”
Susie let out a sad sigh, before turning a regretful gaze on Maura. “I suspect Lucas has been busy. I’ve been suspended from work, pending an investigation.”
Maura had to restrain her impulse to jump up and yell, managing to moderate her response to an outraged exclamation. “What? On what grounds? And who suspended you, I’m your boss!”
Susie winced. “You’ve been removed from your post too. Since you’ll be off for a few weeks at least with your injury, the governor was persuaded to appoint an interim Chief Medical Examiner, a Doctor Peterson.”
Maura frowned. “I’ve never heard of him. Where is he from?”
Susie shrugged sadly. “I don’t know. I tried to find out, but I was escorted out of the building about an hour after he started, so I didn’t have time to find anything.”
Maura carefully reached out to grab Susie’s knee, trying to snap her out of the melancholy she seemed to be stuck in. “Susie, why have you been suspended?”
That got a bit of the fire back in Susie’s eyes. “For inappropriate use of work facilities during non-working hours. Basically for using the lab to run the tests on Jane’s samples. I couldn’t really explain why I was running the tests, and they didn’t buy my story about creating and testing a new filing system. So, I’m suspended indefinitely.”
Maura’s eyes flashed with anger. “I agree that this is most likely Lucas’ doing. Nobody else would know or care that you were in the lab.”
The pair sat in thoughtful silence for a few moments before Maura continued. “I’m worried by the implications of this. Lucas doesn’t seem to be intelligent enough to pull the kinds of strings needed to orchestrate this by himself. He must have some support from a high level official in the governor’s office. Possibly more than one. Not to mention this Doctor Peterson.”
Susie nodded miserably, obviously having come to the same conclusion herself. “I’ve been keeping an eye on Jane and Frankie for the last couple of days. I haven’t managed to find out anything new. I haven’t seen Lucas. I don’t know what’s going on at the precinct. I have no new information whatsoever.”
Somehow Susie managed to slump even further into the couch. “I’m sorry Maura. I don’t know what else to do.”
Maura cautiously shifted closer to Susie, managing to grab her hand and squeeze it tight enough to make the young scientist’s eyes snap up in surprise. Maura’s voice was stern and sure as she responded to Susie’s despair. “Listen to me. We aren’t beaten yet. We still have options. They, whoever they are, are trying to demoralise us and cut us off. We might not have samples or a lab, and we might not have access to people through official channels, but that doesn’t mean we’re helpless. Understand?”
Susie nodded while doing an impersonation of a deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck. Maura hadn’t spoken so authoritatively to Susie in quite some time, and she seemed galvanised by the certainty coming from the damaged woman.
Maura nodded back assertively, ensuring Susie was hearing her before she continued. “Now, I still have some contacts that we can use to look into Lucas, but it would be better if we could get Nina on our side. She’s inside the BPD and can get access to their records without drawing attention. We just have to find a way to talk to her without looking suspicious.”
Susie sat up straighter, finally coming out of her funk. “I know where she gets coffee. She always goes to this place about a block from BPD. Apparently they have a special flavour that the café refuses to carry. We can accidentally bump into her there!”
Maura felt a genuine smile spread over her face. “See, you do have new information!”
Susie grinned excitedly, pleased to be able to help.
The pair finally relaxed, the prospect of an actual plan lightening the tension considerably and allowing them to catch up. Maura explained her condition, outlining the expected timeline for her recovery and adding the hope that she would be up and around with only a sling within two days. Susie looked relieved to be getting some backup, although they both knew Maura wouldn’t be up for any heavy physical activity for a few weeks. At least, not if she wanted her shoulder to heal properly, unlike the previous old injury to her leg from the building collapse.
Susie left after a few hours, with Maura insisting she go home and rest since Angela was still with Jane. They agreed to meet again the following day to discuss how they could get Nina to believe them. In the meantime Maura would contact her resources and get as much information as she could.
Maura had just decided to try moving off the couch to heat up some dinner when she heard a knock on her front door. She felt a moment of panic, since she wasn’t expecting to see anyone for the rest of the day.
Carefully pulling herself upright and ignoring the twinge in her shoulder, Maura considered her options. She quickly readied a text to Susie, letting her know someone was at the house, before moving to the door. “Who is it?”
Maura sighed in relief when she heard a familiar voice. “It’s Angela sweetie. Sorry to make you get up, can you open the door for us?”
Maura was already turning the door handle when she heard the last word. Us?
She had to swallow a frightened yelp when she saw who was on her doorstep. Angela was standing on the threshold, her arms full of frozen food containers. As she bustled past, Maura was left frozen in fear as she looked at her other guest, who was holding more food and staring back at her disinterestedly.
Jane was here.
On her doorstep.
Expecting to be invited in.
Maura felt herself start to panic.