A little boy, beaten and left to die in an alley. A cop with a personal life out of control. When their worlds collide, God intervenes. Detective Ellie Saunders's homicide investigation takes a dramatic turn when a young victim "wakes up" in the morgue. The child has no memory prior to his "rising" except walking with his father along a shiny road. Ellie likes dealing with facts. She'd rather leave all the God-talk to her father, a retired minister, and to her partner, Jesse, a former vice cop with an annoying habit of inserting himself into her life. But will the facts she follows puts Ellie's life in mortal danger? And will she finally allow God into her heart forever?
Awards & Other Kudos
2013 Grace Award for Mystery/Romantic Suspense/Thriller - 1st Place
“The kid’s not dead.”
Despite the middle-of-the-night grogginess, Ellie Saunders bolted awake at Sergeant Jack Walker’s announcement resonating through the telephone. She adjusted the receiver cupped to her ear and shoved away the comforter. “How can he be not dead?” She swung her legs over the side of the bed.
“The hospital just called. They said we might want to come down there. Our homicide victim isn’t a homicide victim after all.”
Ellie brushed the tangled hair from her eyes. “What did he do, come back to life?”
She had meant it as a joke, but by the tone of Jack’s voice, her boss was dead serious.
Ellie’s back straightened. A sudden chill wrapped itself around her, and it had nothing to do with her freezing cold bedroom. The dead kid had been found in an alley, no identification. From the looks of him, he had been beaten to death. Blood matted his blond hair into sharp clumps, and purple bruises the size of Ellie’s fist covered his little body. About four or five years old, maybe thirty-five to forty pounds, he was wearing a blue t-shirt with a red Superman emblem and green nylon shorts, no socks, and untied sneakers that were too big for his tiny feet. The brutality of his beating was hard for Ellie to comprehend—or forget.
“Ellie? You there?” Jack asked.
“Uh…yeah, sorry.” Her mind was reeling. That kid was dead. There was no way he could suddenly be alive.
“Meet me at the hospital in thirty.”
She started to ask for forty-five, but he had already hung up. She sat for a minute, trying to make some sense of what Jack had just told her. There was no way. The kid was DOA. At least he had been thirty-six hours ago. She’d worked a thirty-hour shift gathering what little information and evidence she could before falling into bed sometime after midnight.
Ellie forced herself to stand and then padded to her closet. She took out a white linen blouse and a pair of dark colored jeans. She tucked her blouse into her jeans then pulled on her navy blazer. Jack would probably fuss about the jeans, but at four o’clock in the morning, this was the best she could do.
She returned to the bed and pulled her holstered Glock and badge from the nightstand drawer. She wrapped the holster around her waist then instinctively touched the butt of the Glock resting at her hip.
A few minutes later, she was speeding through town on her way to Burkesboro Regional Hospital. The town tucked into the foothills of the North Carolina mountains was dead at this time—much the same way the kid was hours ago.
How could this kid not be dead? There was no pulse, no heartbeat. Nothing. His little body had already gone cold and stiff. And now she was supposed to believe he wasn’t dead? She’d believe it when she saw it. Maybe.
Perhaps there’d been some confusion. Maybe they had her little blond-headed, blue-eyed kid mixed up with some other kid. It wasn’t like blond-headed, blue-eyed kids were a rarity.
That was probably it. The kid was still dead and some other little kid who looked like him was alive and well.
She whipped her Ford Taurus into the hospital parking lot and parked beside Jack’s Crown Vic outside the emergency room.
Jack stood at the admitting desk, dressed in coat and tie even at this awful time of morning, tapping his foot in a heavy rhythm, glancing first at his watch then at the clock on the wall then back to his watch. Tap, tap, tap. Glance. Tap. He was fifty years old with a slight paunch and high blood pressure, and Ellie wasn’t looking forward to the day he dropped dead of a heart attack. She knew of no other supervisor that would put up with her.
“Sorry,” she said as she hurried to the desk. “I was—”
“Save it.” He motioned for the admitting nurse to buzz them through and then took Ellie by the elbow and guided her through the door to the treatment area.
She had to work to keep up as he marched ahead down the near-empty hall.
“I must have missed the memo that they changed the dress code.” He cut his eyes toward her jeans then shook his head.
She let the remark slide. “How can the kid not be dead?”
“According to Cynthia Terry, he’s alive and well.”
“That’s impossible. I know dead when I see it, and this kid was dead. Remember? I even called you and asked if I needed to follow them to the hospital. You told me no. You told me—”
“Ellie—” Jack stopped and turned to her. “Calm down. You did your job. Whatever’s happened here isn’t your fault.”
Although she knew that in her heart, she wanted to hear Jack Walker say it. She’d been under his supervision in the Criminal Investigations Unit for over a year, but with the rest of the unit being seasoned veterans, she still felt the need to prove herself. The fact she was just twenty-nine and the only woman in the unit didn’t help matters.
“He was dead, Jack,” she said again.
Jack sighed. “And now he’s not. Probably just a mix up.” He returned to his break-neck pace toward the treatment area.
The hub of the ER was a circular corral of desks, computers, and medical monitors. Treatment rooms were located around the corral, some with curtains pulled for privacy, others wide open for public viewing. The smell of vomit hung in the air like a toxic cloud. A man from housekeeping was mopping up what appeared to be the source of the odor as a cluster of nurses and doctors in green scrubs gathered around the main desk. They were so engrossed in conversation—Ellie heard words like kid and dead and morgue—they barely noticed Jack and Ellie.
“Hey! I need something for pain!” a scraggly looking man in treatment three yelled. He stared at Ellie through glazed eyes.
Ellie and Jack stopped at the corral and smiled at the doctors.
“Ah, the troops are here,” Peter Bryson said. He was a third year resident and it seemed every time Ellie had a case that involved a trip to the emergency room, Bryson was on call. “Guess you’re here about the Lazarus kid.”
The doctors and nurses focused on Jack and Ellie, their eyes anxious and excited.
“The Lazarus kid.” Jack half-smiled. “Could you keep that title in-house for a while? The media’s going to be all over this as it is.”
Bryson handed Jack a manila folder. “They’re still running with the idea we had a DOA. Our services are no longer needed in their books. It’s all you guys from here on out.”
“We’ll return the favor one day.” Ellie smiled and peered over Jack’s shoulder at the file.
There were several photos stapled to the inside cover. Ellie took in a deep breath and pulled her blazer tighter around herself, warding off the chill. The pictures were similar to ones she took in the alley. Same Superman t-shirt and green shorts. Same bruises, same matted blood-soaked hair. The only difference was in these snapshots, the kid was lying on a gurney with fluorescent lights beaming down on him; in Ellie’s pictures, he was lying among discarded needles and broken beer bottles, with the flash from her camera and red and blue strobes punctuating the approaching darkness.
“Leon’s got some current shots of him,” Bryson added.
“Leon as in wild-man Leon?” Ellie asked. Leon’s reputation preceded him.
“It had to happen on his watch.” Bryson shook his head. The doctors and nurses gave a collective chuckle.
“Where’s the kid now?” Jack asked.
Jack raised his eyebrows. “The kid’s still in the morgue? Has he been examined?”
“Oh yeah. We brought him back up here and checked him out thoroughly.”
“And?” Ellie asked. She glanced at the photos again. There was no way this kid could be alive.
Bryson slowly shrugged his shoulders. “The kid is... fine. There’s not even a bruise on him.”
Ellie stared at Bryson, wide-eyed. “I saw the bruises. That kid was beaten to death.”
“Or so we thought,” Jack said. He handed the folder back to Bryson.
“No. That kid was dead,” Bryson said, matter-of-factly.
“Why’d you send him back to the morgue after you examined him?” Ellie asked. The morgue wasn’t exactly the best place for a child to hang out, and Leon wasn’t exactly someone you’d want babysitting.
“We had a pretty bad accident with a carload of teenagers come in. A lot of hysteria. Screaming kids, crying parents. Dr. Terry thought it would be best if we got him out of the middle of it.”
“Why didn’t you just take him upstairs to the pediatric unit?”
Bryson shrugged. “For some reason, he really bonded with Leon.”
That was understandable, Ellie thought. Leon was fun, if nothing else. “Who examined him when he was first brought in?” Ellie asked.
“I did. There was no pulse and no respiration. We checked for brain activity and, well...” Bryson arched his brows and scrunched his face. “When there’s no brain activity, there’s not much use in attempting resuscitation.”
“Who called it?” Jack asked.
“Was she assisting?” Ellie asked.
Bryson shook his head. “No, but she makes the call on all DOA’s. Standard procedure.”
Ellie jotted the information in her notepad then asked, “What time did he arrive and what time was he pronounced?”
Bryson referred to the folder. “Arrived at six-thirty and was pronounced at seven o’clock. I called Leon and it looks like he signed off on the transfer at seven twenty.”
“There’s a thirty-minute time lapse between the time he was brought in and the time he was pronounced.” Ellie had her pen poised and ready to jot down the explanation. When no explanation came, she glanced up at Bryson who looked as though he didn’t understand the statement was a question. “What happened during those thirty minutes?”
Bryson glanced around at the other doctors. He was at a loss for words. He finally turned his attention back to Ellie, still with a puzzled expression. “Well, about fifteen minutes of it was spent checking for a pulse, any respiration, brain activity. Once we knew there wasn’t anything we could do, he was covered; we pulled the curtain and…went on to other patients.”
“Did anyone check on him?” she asked.
Bryson pursed his lips and shrugged. “Not that I’m aware of.”
“So he was left alone?”
Bryson glanced around at the other doctors and nurses again for confirmation. “Sure, he was left alone. I mean...there was nothing else we could do for him. We moved on to other patients.”
And that was that, Ellie thought. Poor kid. Left alone to die in a stinking, muck-filled alley then left alone in the ER. It didn’t seem right for even an adult to die that way, let alone a child.
“Were there any other children in the ER during this time?” Ellie asked.
Bryson again turned to his colleagues. One of the nurses spoke up. “We had a Hispanic kid with a fever and cough and a little girl that needed sutures. There was one white male—I think he was around twelve. Snow skiing accident, broken collar bone.”
Ellie scribbled the information in her notepad then looked at Bryson. “Can I get a list of everyone who was seen in the ER in the last forty-eight hours?”
He gnawed on his bottom lip with a look of regret.
Ellie sighed. “I know. Court order.”
“Honestly, there hasn’t been that many kids in here in the last few days. And when we get one in the condition little Lazarus was in, it kind of sticks out so we tend to remember them.”
“What about general admitting?” Jack asked.
Bryson shook his head. “You’d have to check with them.”
Jack nodded. “Thanks for all your help. Is Dr. Terry in her office?”
“Should be. If she’s not, let me know and we’ll page her.”
Jack and Ellie turned away from the corral and headed down the hall to Dr. Cynthia Terry’s office. “Go ahead and get a court order for the general admitting list for the last ten days. And get one for the ER while you’re at it,” Jack said.
“You don’t trust Bryson?”
“Just covering our butts, dear.”
The door to Dr. Terry’s office was open so Jack poked his head in. “Good morning.”
Cynthia Terry was a bone-thin, take-no-prisoners woman who looked harder than a high school principal ready for retirement. “Jack. Detective Saunders. Come on in and have a seat.” She motioned with a skinny hand toward two mismatched chairs in front of her desk. “Have you spoken with Peter Bryson?”
So much for small talk. “Yes. He was very helpful.” Ellie smiled at the doctor who returned the gesture with a stoic glare. Maybe it was four o’clock in the good doctor’s morning but it was four o’clock in Ellie’s morning, too. Maybe the woman just needed a strong cup of coffee.
Jack cleared his throat. “Peter said you make the call on all DOA’s. Do you personally examine each one?”
Dr. Terry shook her head. “Not usually. It depends on the doctor, but Peter’s one of our best. When it comes to DOA, I trust his call.”
“Is there any possibility–even a remote possibility –that Leon picked up the wrong body?” Ellie asked.
Again, Dr. Terry shook her head. “I reviewed the admitting list and the charts of every person that was seen in the ER in the last thirty-six hours, and he was the only DOA.”
“Were there any other deaths during that period?”
Dr. Terry leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “You mean did we lose anyone? An eighty-three-year-old heart attack victim and a sixteen-year-old female in a car wreck.”
“Was this the carload of teenagers?”
“Yes. As you can expect, things were a little chaotic, and I thought it would be best if the child wasn’t right in the middle of it.”
“That’s when you sent him back down to the morgue?”
She nodded. “Probably isn’t the ideal place to send a child, but he was comfortable with Leon.”
“Dr. Bryson said when he was examined, there were no... injuries, or—” Ellie began.
“There was nothing. No bruises, no scrapes. His heart rate was normal. His respiration was normal, no indications of internal injuries. We even took him down to X-ray, and there were no broken bones. There was nothing out of the ordinary.” She sat up and leaned into her desk.
“What about signs of previous abuse,” Ellie asked. “Any old fractures in the X-rays?”
Dr. Terry shook her head. “None.”
At least that part of this whole ordeal was a blessing.
“There has to be some medical...” Ellie struggled to find the right word.
“Explanation?” Dr. Terry shook her head. “Trust me. I’ve been racking my brain since Leon called and... well, I’ve never seen anything like it. There is a rare... phenomenon... called the Lazarus Syndrome. But in the brief research I’ve been able to do so far, I haven’t found a documented case of this nature.”
Ellie wrote the words Lazarus Syndrome in her notes. She stared at the words wondering if there really was a clue in the name alone. She quickly dismissed the thought. It couldn’t be. Things like that just didn’t happen. Outside of the New Testament, anyway. And she had her doubts about those. “What do you mean of this nature?” she asked.
“The length of time between when the patient was pronounced dead and when there were signs of life. It’s usually just a brief period of time. Not two days.”
“What time did Leon notify you he was... alive?”
“It was a little after midnight.”
“And you’re positive there wasn’t some kind of mix-up? A patient misidentified, perhaps?” Jack asked.
“I’m certain, Jack. I can’t really speak for Leon’s department, but I did go over his procedures and reviewed the files on everyone that had been transferred to the morgue and there’s still no explanation. Trust me—I’m a stickler for efficiency but I was hoping to find an error, a mix-up, something that would explain this.” She leaned back again and rubbed her forehead like she was rubbing away a headache. She sighed then continued, “Although there appears to be nothing physically wrong at this point, we’d still like to admit him to the pediatric ward. Maybe they can come up with something.”
“What about his emotional state?” Ellie asked. “Is he agitated or distraught?”
Again, Dr. Terry shook her head. “He’s... fine. A little quiet, but considering he woke up in a morgue, I’d say he’s your average kid.”
“Can we see him now?” Jack asked.
“Sure. I’ll walk you down.”