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ACCLAIM FOR RICHARD L. MABRY, M.D. “A riveting medical suspense tale from an author at the top of his game. If you love thrillers then you must be reading Richard’s books.” — Jordyn Redwood, author of the Bloodline Trilogy

“Packed with thrills, Stress Test is a lightning-paced read that you’ll read in one breath.” — Tess Gerritsen, New York Times best-selling author of Last to Die

“Original and profound. I found the Christian message engaging and fascinating, and the story a thrill a minute.” — Michael Palmer, New York Times best-selling author of Oath of Office, regarding Stress Test

“Sirens, scalpels, and the business end of a revolver—Stress Test offers Code 3 action and a prescription for hope.” — Candace Calvert, best-selling author of Code Triage and Trauma Plan

“Vintage Mabry. Heart Failure weaves an intricate plot of mystery and suspense that will leave you guessing until the final page.” — Billy Coffey, author of When Mockingbirds Sing

“Stress Test comes with a warning: Prepare to stop life until you finish the last page.” — Diann Mills, author of The Chase and The Survivor

“Recurring legal, medical, and romantic thrills. Diagnosis: Pure entertainment.” — James Scott Bell, award-winning suspense author

“Mabry’s latest provides fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat action and suspense. His medical knowledge is evident in the realistic and detailed characters and scenes.” — RT Book Reviews, 4 1/2 star review of Stress Test

“The plot moves along with plenty of action and empathy, and there’s suspense and suspicion enough to keep readers zipping to the last pages.” — Publishers Weekly review of Stress Test

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CRITICAL CONDITION

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OTHER BOOKS BY RICHARD L. MABRY, M.D. Stress Test Heart Failure Code Blue Medical Error Diagnosis Death Lethal Remedy

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CRITICAL CONDITION RICHARD L. MABRY, M.D.

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© 2014 by Richard Mabry All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, scanning, or other—except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Published in Nashville, Tennessee, by Thomas Nelson. Thomas Nelson is a registered trademark of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. Published in association with the literary agency of WordServe Literary Group, Ltd., 10152 S. Knoll Circle, Highlands Ranch, CO 80130. www.wordserveliterary.com. Thomas Nelson titles may be purchased in bulk for educational, business, fund-raising, or sales promotional use. For information, please e-mail SpecialMarkets@ThomasNelson.com. Publisher’s Note: This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. All characters are fictional, and any similarity to people living or dead is purely coincidental. Scripture quotations are from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Mabry, Richard L. Critical condition / Richard L. Mabry, M.D. pages cm Summary: “Dr. Frasier couldn’t save the gunshot victim on her front lawn. Now she’s fighting for her own life. It began as a quiet dinner party honoring Dr. Shannon Frasier’s colleague, but became a nightmare when a man was shot on her lawn, reviving emotions from a similar episode a decade ago. Then a midnight call from her sister, Megan, causes Shannon to fear that her sister is on drugs again. Her “almost-fiancé” Dr. Mark Gilbert’s support only adds to Shannon’s feelings of guilt, since she can’t bring herself to fully commit to him. She turns for help to her pastor-father, only to learn that he’s just been diagnosed with leukemia. Shannon thought it couldn’t get any worse. Then the late-night, threatening phone calls begin, the rough voice asking, “What did he say before he died?” With everything around her in a critical state, simply staying alive will require all the resources and focus Shannon has”— Provided by publisher. ISBN 978-1-4016-8740-3 (pbk.) 1. Women physicians—Fiction. I. Title. PS3613.A2C75 2014 813'.6—dc23 2013041288 Printed in the United States of America 14 15 16 17 18 19 RRD 6 5 4 3 2 1

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For the folks who got me started on my road to writing: Al, Jim, Gayle, Rachelle, Barbara, and Kay (to name only a few)

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PROLOGUE

THE VALET PARKING AT TENDANT ASSISTED SHANNON FRASIER

from the car, and she pulled her sweater tighter around her against the gusty autumn wind. “Todd, this place looks expensive.” Todd Richardson made his way around the car and took Shannon’s hand. “Yes, but I hear the food’s wonderful.” As they walked down the canopied sidewalk toward the leaded glass doors, Shannon said, “But if it’s too expensive . . .” Todd grinned down at her. He shook his head and a few strands of dark hair dropped onto his forehead. “Don’t worry. I can handle it.” The grin became a smile, and Shannon’s heart rate sped up, as it always did. “I just got a nice promotion, with a significant boost in salary. On the other hand, you’re not going to be earning anything until you get out of medical school. You deserve something nice every once in a while.” “I’m proud of you for getting the promotion,” Shannon said. “And the bigger salary would be nice if . . .” She let the words trail off. When Todd was ready to ask the question that 1

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was on both their minds, he would. Meanwhile, she’d just enjoy tonight. Todd seemed to read her mind. “I know what you’re thinking,” Todd said. “We can talk about it—” Shannon felt the tug on her arm a split second after she heard the gunshot. She felt, more than saw, Todd crumple to the ground beside her. When she looked down, he lay on his side, eyes wide, a stunned expression on his face. His lips barely parted as he whispered, “Help me.” Shannon knelt, making no attempt to avoid the blood pooling beneath Todd. She screamed at the top of her lungs. “Help! My boyfriend’s been shot! Call 911! Someone please help!” She yanked off her sweater, hoping somehow to stanch the bleeding, but she couldn’t see the source. A man, well dressed and with a smattering of gray at his temples, hurried over. “Someone’s calling 911 right now.” He knelt on one knee beside Todd. “I’m a doctor. Let me see what I can do.” When Shannon later tried to reconstruct the events that followed, she couldn’t. She was certain the paramedics arrived. She must have talked with the police. But her next clear memory was of two men in dark coveralls zipping Todd’s lifeless form into a body bag and lifting it onto a wheeled stretcher. The doctor, his bloody hands hanging at his sides, stepped between her and the gruesome scene. “Don’t look.” Shannon nodded dumbly. “I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do. I tried.” Then, as much to himself as to her, he said in a low voice, “That was all I could do. All any doctor could do.” Gradually, the reality dawned on Shannon. In an instant her future with Todd, a future they’d planned together since 2

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high school, had vanished. Todd’s life had ended and hers had forever changed, all in the space of a second, all because of a single gunshot. It wasn’t that she’d never seen death before. Just today she and three other students had stood in the gross anatomy lab on either side of a cadaver, dissecting, probing, examining, in preparation for lives spent as doctors. But this wasn’t a cadaver. This was the man she loved. This was death, up close and personal, and she’d been unable to do anything to stop it. Shannon looked down at her blood-covered hands. Tonight she’d been powerless to respond to Todd’s dying words. She hadn’t been able to help him. But she vowed that would change. She would no longer stand idly by. She’d fight against death. And she’d win. She lifted her head and stared into the heavens, a starstudded sky that Todd would never see again. This would be her commitment . . . to herself and to Todd.

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ONE

DR. SHANNON FRASIER LOOKED AROUND HER AND SMILED. SHE

was surrounded by some of her favorite people, she wasn’t on call, and she had a long holiday weekend ahead of her. Things couldn’t be better. Three people sat with Shannon at her dining room table tonight. On her right was the man who referred to himself as her “almost-fiancé,” pathologist Dr. Mark Gilbert. She knew that given the opportunity, Mark would remove the “almost” from that designation. Shannon didn’t fully understand the barriers that held her back from that decision, but tonight wasn’t the time to examine them. Across the table from Shannon sat Dr. Le Duan (Lee) Kai. Yesterday was June 30, the last day of the academic year and the final day of Lee’s residency. He was about to enter private practice, and although she knew he would do well in that environment, Shannon hoped one day Lee would join her on the faculty of the Department of Surgery at Southwestern Medical 5

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School, working, as she did, to prepare other doctors for the specialty of surgery. Beside Lee sat his diminutive wife, Ann. An audiologist, Ann worked at the medical center, but that could change, since the couple made no secret of their desire to start a family once Lee’s practice was well established. Shannon envied them that. Shannon raised her glass. “I think we should toast—” A noise from outside—three flat cracks—made her pause. “Did you hear that?” Shannon asked. “Is someone getting an early start on the July Fourth weekend?” “I guess it could have been firecrackers,” Lee said. “Maybe it was a car backfiring,” Mark offered. “Not three in a row. Besides,” Lee said, “that’s rare now that fuel-injected engines have largely replaced carburetors.” Shannon pushed back her chair and dropped her napkin on the table. “While you guys discuss advances in the internal combustion engine, I’m going to look outside and see what’s going on.” She turned on the porch light and opened her front door. Warm July air rushed in, but nothing caught Shannon’s eye. The porch was empty. No cars moved in the street outside her house. Then she saw something on the lawn—a crumpled mass, like a pile of old clothes. She jumped, startled, when the clothes moved, and she could discern a hand clawing at the dirt. A faint cry, like that of a wounded animal, reached her ears. “Someone’s out there, and they’re hurt,” Shannon said to Lee, who’d edged up behind her. The man lay sprawled facedown on the lawn. Lee reached him first, with Shannon right behind. The faint light spilling from the open door was enough to show a dark stain in the 6

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center of the victim’s back, spreading rapidly outward. Shannon felt her heart race as she was seized by déjà vu. She touched the man’s neck. “He’s got a pulse—faint and thready, though.” “Call 911,” Lee yelled over his shoulder. Mark, now standing in the doorway, disappeared into the house. Lee and Shannon exchanged looks. Help was unlikely to get here in time. The man had been shot three times in the back and was bleeding out fast, probably from injury to a major vessel. The two doctors knelt at his side, powerless to intervene. Without equipment there was nothing they could do, and they both knew it. Shannon’s stomach knotted at her helplessness. She began to sweat. Her heart threatened to jump out of her chest. The man stirred. His eyes fell on Shannon, and she almost felt as though there was recognition there. He mumbled something before a gush of blood issued from his mouth. The man sighed, seemed to sink into himself like a balloon deflating, and lay totally still. Shannon bowed her head and felt defeat wash over her. She’d lost one more fight with death, a fight she’d been forced to wage with no weapons. Once more a gun had taken a life while she watched helplessly. Memories came rushing back like a flood. “Police and EMTs are on the way,” Mark called from the doorway. Lee rose and shook his head. “Too late.” He edged around the body until he was next to Shannon. “Get into the house. I’ll stay out here until they arrive.” Shannon nodded and rose slowly. As she moved toward the lighted doorway where Mark waited, she clenched her fists and felt the stickiness of the blood clotting there. The racing 7

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pulse and sweating palms were already subsiding, but she knew they’d be back. They always came back. She brushed by Mark and walked purposefully to the downstairs half bath. Carefully, like a robot moving in slow motion, she turned on the taps. Then she started to scrub the blood from her hands. In the mirror over the sink, her blond hair was perfectly in place. Her makeup was understated and unspoiled. Her blue eyes displayed not a touch of red. There was no evidence of the turmoil within her. But it was there. She was still at the sink when Mark spoke from behind her. “The police are here. They’re interviewing Lee now and want to talk with you after that.” Shannon nodded but kept her hands under the running water. It was several more minutes before she reached down to turn off the faucets. As she dried her hands, a line ran through her head—not one from the Bible, although she wished she could remember an appropriate verse. No, this one was from Shakespeare. Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.

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Critical Condition  
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