Hide and Seek
Page 24

 Sara Shepard

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Thursday afternoon, Emma steered Sutton’s car into a parking space in the visitor lot of the University of Arizona Hospital and Medical Center. Sweat instantly prickled her temple, but whether it was from the blazing sun overhead or the fact that she was about to break into Mr. Mercer’s office, she wasn’t quite sure.
A doctor dressed in sea-green scrubs emerged from the front door, talking on her cell phone and fidgeting with the stethoscope around her neck. As she passed Emma, she gave her a small smile. Emma ducked her head and didn’t smile in return, feeling like a spy.
Could she really do this? Sneak into Mr. Mercer’s office and look through his stuff? Even though Emma and Ethan had agreed it was the best thing, she’d wrestled with the prospect. She might have shoplifted, participated in Lying Game pranks, and even ransacked Laurel’s and Thayer’s rooms all in the name of hunting down Sutton’s killer, but something about going through Sutton’s father’s office felt way more dangerous. Maybe because it was a hospital, a place with tons of video cameras and security. It would be so easy for Mr. Mercer to find out what she had done.
Steeling herself, Emma swallowed hard and strode toward the elevator bank, pressing 3 with her index finger. That was where Mr. Mercer worked—she’d seen it on his business cards.
Orthopedics was to the right of the elevators, and Emma strolled there as casually as she could. The place looked like any other hospital she’d ever been in: greenish walls, tall windows, and linoleum floors. The eerie smell of antiseptic and sickness hung heavy in the air, and there were drawings on the walls done by patients from the children’s wing, most of them colorful, oblong dragons or sad-eyed dogs.
I scanned the halls, too, waiting to find something familiar, some object that would spark my memory. Had my dad brought me here after he killed me? I couldn’t help but picture him carrying my body through the corridors and down to the hospital’s incinerator.
Emma turned a corner and entered the surgery waiting room. A receptionist in a feather headband regarded her warily from behind the front desk. “Excuse me, miss? Can I help you?”
Emma froze. The woman’s eyes scanned her without a hint of recognition, which was probably a good thing. “Yes, actually, I’m here to see Dr. Mercer. I’m a patient of his.” She tried to look distraught, like she had a serious problem that merited Mr. Mercer fitting her in at the end of the day.
The receptionist narrowed her eyes. “Dr. Mercer isn’t in today. He’s at a conference.”
Shit. Emma realized she should have planned her cover better—of course the receptionist knew where Sutton’s dad was. Suddenly, though, a small man in a hospital gown and with white bedhead hair wandered down the hall. Clutching a bag of potato chips, he peered around the room as though looking for someone.
“Grover?!” he called. “Grover, are you here?” Then, grumbling, he continued down the hall, sliding in his socked feet across the linoleum like he was ice-skating.
The receptionist stood and moved away from her post. “Mr. Hamilton!” she called. “Now how did you get all the way out here?” She rested her hand gently on his bare arm and led him through a bank of doors.
Emma seized the opportunity and took off down another long hallway marked OFFICES. She eyed the room numbers hungrily. 311. 309. 307. Bingo.
Be unlocked. Please, be unlocked. Emma pushed the silver handle down and used her elbow to shove the door open and shut behind her in one fluid motion. She was in.
Mr. Mercer’s office was a perfect square and smaller than she’d imagined. A single window looked out to a man-made pond and garden. Four framed diplomas—all of them from schools in California—hung on the white walls, and a calendar with a photo of Drake romping in snow at some rustic cabin hung next to the wood desk. A leather chair was pushed back, like Mr. Mercer had abruptly shoved away from his desk and bolted from the office.
Emma heard footsteps and instinctively threw herself against the door. Do not come in! Her heart thudded in her ears until the footsteps receded.
Then she looked at the desk itself. It had three drawers, plus a file cabinet. An appointment book sat atop a blotter, and a Mac laptop was positioned near the lamp. Slowly and carefully, she opened the top drawer, not quite sure what she was looking for. A bloody knife? A bra belonging to his paramour? A signed confession? But all the drawer contained was a prescription pad, a bunch of pens, and a pocket guide of medications and symptoms.
In the next drawer she found a mountain of paper clips, yellow highlighters, and a solar calculator. Manila folders packed with medical records sat on top of notepads marked with pharmaceutical drug names. She yanked open the third drawer to find an opened box of ballpoint pens and a checkbook. She flipped to the back where the log was kept. Score. Mr. Mercer was one of those types who still balanced his checkbook by hand instead of online. She scanned his messy handwriting, which had documented checks for a gas bill, the mortgage, several hundred dollars to a Tucson catering company called Let’s Bake Bread!, a Visa payment, Internet, and cable. Then there was a check for two hundred dollars paid to someone named Raven Jannings.
Emma didn’t think much of it—she could be a massage therapist or one of those people who do deluxe men’s shaves. But then she flipped the page to find another check, this time for five hundred dollars, made out to Raven again. And then another, and then another. They were always varying amounts, always round numbers, and always on a Monday.
Pulling Sutton’s phone from her pocket, Emma googled Raven Jannings. But nothing came up besides Google’s suggestion to redirect her search to Raven-Symoné.
The black phone on Mr. Mercer’s desk rang, and Emma jumped. The caller ID flashed on the screen. Super 8 Motel, it said, showing a local Tucson number. Emma wrinkled her nose. What kind of surgery patient stayed in a seedy highway motel?
The call ended. Emma waited a moment, staring at the small triangle at the corner of Mr. Mercer’s phone. She’d worked at the front desk of a Vegas motel once, and they’d had a phone just like this one—the triangle lit up green when a voicemail was left.
The phone rang again, and the same number appeared on the caller ID. Emma stared at the receiver. Something was telling her to pick it up.
Me, maybe? I was screaming it as loud as I could.
Cautiously, Emma lifted the phone. “Hello?” she answered, her voice unsteady.
Ragged breathing sounded on the other end.
“Hello?” Emma asked again. “Is anyone there?”
More breathing. “Uh, wrong number,” a woman’s voice said. She hung up fast.
Emma’s heart pounded, a new idea taking form in her mind. Was that her? Mr. Mercer’s mistress? And was her name Raven?
My mind swirled. Was my father seriously having an affair with someone named Raven? Gross! And did they rendezvous at a Super 8? Maybe he figured no one would run into him there—my mom clearly wouldn’t be caught dead at a seedy motel. The whole thing made me feel like I was covered in ants.
Emma slammed the phone down just as the door handle to Mr. Mercer’s office turned. Shit. She dropped beneath the desk, crouching into a tiny ball in the space where the chair normally went, and pulled the chair in close to mask her. Please, please don’t be him, she thought frantically.
A female voice started to hum softly. Emma’s fist slowly unclenched. A heavy stack of papers thudded on the desk above her head, followed by the sound of something being dropped into a tin box. Emma held her breath as the woman shuffled around the office, her footsteps muffled by the industrial carpeting.
When the door clicked closed again, Emma heaved a huge sigh and crawled out from beneath the desk on shaky legs. She shoved the checkbook back into the top drawer, then pushed the chair back a few feet, just as Mr. Mercer had left it. She was just out the door and around the corner when she heard a voice behind her.
“Dr. Mercer!”
Cautiously, Emma peeked back around the corner and saw a nurse in pink scrubs handing a file to a doctor just out of view. “Thanks very much,” a familiar voice said. Emma’s blood ran cold. It was Mr. Mercer. Why was he back so early from the conference?
She watched in horror as Mr. Mercer strolled to his office, files in hand, and shut the door behind him. Her heart was rocketing so fast she could barely breathe. She had just been in there. She had just missed him.
It was like divine intervention. I’d say I had something to do with it…only I didn’t.
Emma bolted into an open elevator and pounded the button for the ground floor. As the doors clanked shut, she leaned against the back wall and tried to catch her breath. That was way too close a call.
Anger swelled within me as the elevator descended to the ground floor. Emma wasn’t the only one making lists now: I’d started one called Ways My Father Lies. Dutiful husband? Caring father? Ha. I thought about the checks he’d written to Raven, whoever she was. The breathing on the other end, the seedy motel she was staying at. I thought about them meeting there, doing things I didn’t dare consider.
And then, finally, I thought of my dad operating on his patients, his hands steady, meticulous, and precise. I could only imagine that they had been just as capable as they forced the light from my eyes, and the life from my body.
When Emma pulled into the Mercers’ driveway a half hour later, she was relieved that Mr. Mercer’s SUV was nowhere in sight. She dreaded coming back, but she dreaded more what might happen if she didn’t. She opened the front door and dumped Sutton’s keys next to a stack of envelopes on the shiny black table in the foyer. Then she padded past the photographs that lined the hallway—Sutton and her father posed on vacations and family outings, always smiling. What a crock. Had he been thinking about Raven the whole time? And what had the checks he’d written her been for? Jewelry? Hotel rooms?
Or was it hush money to keep Raven quiet about what he’d done to me?
“Sutton?” Mrs. Mercer called from the kitchen. “Is that you?”
Emma stopped in the hall, trapped, as Mrs. Mercer emerged from around the corner. Emma ducked her head, feeling like everything she’d just found out was written all over her face.
“Hi, Mom,” she said, her voice way higher than usual.
Mrs. Mercer’s hair was piled on top of her head with bobby pins holding up the pieces near her ears. Other than a streak of blush on her high cheekbones, her face was free of makeup. She’d changed from work clothes into black jogging pants and a fitted zip-up sweatshirt with an Adidas logo on the chest. Tiny pearl studs still dotted her earlobes. She’s so beautiful, Emma thought sadly. And such a good mom. Why would anyone want to cheat on her?
That was the question I kept asking myself, over and over.
“Are you okay, sweetie? Dad says you’ve been studying hard with the girls all week,” Mrs. Mercer said, the smile melting from her face. “You look pale. The stomach bug didn’t come back, did it?”
Emma’s cheeks hurt from smiling so hard. “Oh, I’m fine. I just have this German test tomorrow. It’s going to be really tough. And so much of my grade is riding on it.” She tapped a fingernail against the railing. “I just need to lock myself in my room tonight and study. Do you mind if I eat upstairs, just this once?”