River was tapping feverishly on his keyboard while the wheels in his brain were spinning even faster. Guy, on the other hand, just sat there and watched him struggle with the information he had given him earlier that day. He had gone to Dr. Hailee Smiley’s office the previous day to ask her some questions seeing as how River knew her and couldn’t do it himself. Hailee claimed to be innocent and alleged Nurse Pancakes was negligent.
River paused, again, as he had been doing for the past ten minutes. “But why would she keep her on her service for so long if she was so negligent?”
“Ahhhh! Now you’re thinking.”
“Did you ask her?”
“You doubt me?”
River rolled his eyes at the theatrics.
“She alleged she never had a problem with her work until now,” Guy said. “She said, and I quote, good nurses are hard to find. When you get one, you need to hold on to her. End quote.”
River snorted. “I’ll bet that was her excuse. There’s something still not right about this, but I guess we’ll have to get to her later.”
“So what now, boss man?”
“I guess we need to talk to Mrs. Pancakes again. I think we should bring her in this time.”
“Well all right! Let’s go get us some Pancakes.”
River and Guy made their way to Willow Creek once more, discussing their strategy along the way. When they arrived, River rapped on the door. A man answered and stepped outside. “Yes? Can I help you?”
“Are you Bob Pancakes?”
“Yes. Who are you?”
“I’m detective Phil Thurman. Is your wife at home?”
“We need to speak with her again. Would you mind getting her?”
“Certainly. Wait right here.”
Bob disappeared into the house. Minutes later Eliza appeared. “Gentleman. I take it this isn’t good news.”
“No ma’am. We need to talk. Can you come with us?”
“Sure.” She rubbed her neck. “Can I just tell my husband?”
She disappeared into the house and reappeared a couple of minutes later. “Shall we?”
The trio went to the questioning and meeting facility for the Willow Creek PD, or so she was told. River showed her into the interrogation room. He explained to her that the powers that be didn’t think it was right to bring citizens to the same place where criminals live to make a statement or speak with someone, so they built this space away from the precinct. “Sorry for the intimidating space. The meeting rooms are booked.”
Eliza gave a weak smile.
“Ok. I’ll cut to the chase. My partner spoke to Dr. Smiley the other day, and…well, it’s not looking good. She brought us back to you.”
She gasped. “She said I did this?”
“She’s claiming negligence on your part.” He let that sink in for a moment as he watched her reaction. She wasn’t very easy to read. “I don’t want to scare you, Mrs. Pancakes, but we could arrest you on those grounds alone. So, please… If you know anything, now would be the time.”
He watched her squirm for a moment and knew she had something. He had to turn up the fire a bit. “The sentence for just one of the children is 10 years. If you don’t tell me what you know, you could go away for the rest of your life. You’ll miss watching your little girl grow up. You don’t want that, do you?”
She was cracking.
“I’ll give you a few minutes to think about it.” He got up to leave the room.
He sat back down.
“Please don’t leave me alone in here.”
“Sure.” He waited for her confession.
Her chest rose and fell at a faster rate than when they first arrived. “I-I knew the charts weren’t right. Like I told you before, I’ve been doing this job for a long time, and I’m good. I knew the treatments for the ailments didn’t match, but I trusted that the doctor knew what she was doing! It’s not exactly respectful for a nurse to question a doctor, detective.”
She had a point, but it didn’t hold water. “But…you said you had been on her service for years. Is it safe for me to assume that you two were friendly?”
She began squirming again. “You could assume that, yes.”
“So, you were friendly with your boss, and you’re so good at your job, am I supposed to think that Dr. Smiley would not appreciate you following up on a mistake? Or, is Dr. Smiley supposed to be above making mistakes?”
“Did you ever question the mistakes?
“Think about your family, Eliza. Your daughter! She could have been one of them! My daughter could have been one of them.”
“Please don’t let them take my sweet Peggy! Please!”
“I’ll do what I can. I need to know who they are. I also need to know if you ever questioned Dr. Smiley.”
She dried her tears with her sleeves. “I did. Many times. But…but…Dr. Smiley…she threatened me!”
River was taken aback. “Threatened you how?”
“She said…if I didn’t stop questioning her authority, I’d never see my daughter again!” She began sobbing again.
There was a fire burning inside River that he needed to contain. This investigation was beginning to get way too close to home. “Thank you, Eliza. Thank you. Someone will come and take your statement, and I need you to tell them exactly that. After that, you’re free to go, but don’t leave the city. It is highly possible that we could still arrest you, but the chief will need to make that decision, ok?”
“I don’t care what happens to me. I just don’t want my baby harmed!”
“She will be fine, Eliza. We’ll get a surveillance team on your house for a while, ok?”
She nodded as she wiped tears. River got up to call the Willow Creek police department and tell them what occurred. Eliza was their problem because this was a local crime that linked into their investigation. He wasn’t sure where Hailee fit in the picture yet, but the more he thought about it, the more angry he got.
Guy was waiting for him in the boss’s office across the hall–he was on vacation.
“I can’t do this,” River yelled. “This is getting WAY too close to my family!”
“Calm down, fella. What’s going on?”
“Dr. Smiley is our neighbor! She’s friends with my wife’s friends! She’s been to our house! She knows my children!! She’s always offering to babysit my daughter!!!”
River had been on the brink of explosion before, but this was different, and Guy was genuinely concerned.
“First my son’s girlfriend, and now this? I’m not doing this anymore! I’m telling my wife everything, and then we are packing up and moving as far away from here as we can get! I’m sorry, Guy. I didn’t sign up for this to lead the wolf straight to my own sheep!!” He got up and paced the floor. Guy watched him carefully. “I’m not even living at home! I’m not there to know if the kids are sick and tell her not to take the kids to the hospital and not to go out with Hailee! Even if I did she would want to know why and think I’m being crazy!”
Guy was quiet, which was unusual. He seemed to be considering River’s plan of escape. In a flash, guilt washed over his face as he opened his mouth to answer him. “Maybe you should tell her,” is all he said.
River was surprised. “What? Really?”
“Sit down, River. I think it’s time you got a little history lesson.”
River’s eyes narrowed as he sat hesitantly next to Guy.
“What do you know about your father, Riv?”
River’s head jerked back. “My father?”
Guy waited on him to answer.
“I never met him, and my mother never talked about him. Why? What does this have to do with anything?”
“Your father was one of us, Riv.”
River stared blankly into Guy’s eyes. He wasn’t sure if he should have been relieved that his absentee father was actually a decent man or be angry that he was just now learning this information. It had been so long since he had even thought about this man. He felt strangely removed from the situation. Perhaps it was just because he was still in work mode.
“He was one of the best, and he served our country well. He moved up through the ranks quickly. No one understood how one person could possess so many specialized skills. He was loyal, kind, and always willing to go the extra mile just like you. Of course, I’m too young to have actually met him, but I’ve been hearing about his legacy my entire time here. And of course when I was assigned to you, they filled me in. We’ve been watching you your whole life because he had something that couldn’t be taught. He was real. We had to find out if you would have it too, and you do! You’re the real deal, Riv.”
River’s head was spinning. It was unreal, and he still didn’t know how to feel. “But what does any of this have to do with me wanting to tell Mel?”
“Your mother never knew. He died in action, and we couldn’t even tell her. She was pregnant with you. She has no idea what happened to him to this day. I’m usually a ‘by the book’ kind of guy, but…I don’t know, Riv. Maybe because I just had twins I’m getting a little soft, but I think Mel should know. The job is getting dangerous, we’ve got a hot lead…she deserves to know what happened to you. Bring her by here one night…show her around. Let her see that it’s real. Then, you can tell her.”
River was speechless. There were too many things swirling about his mind, he wasn’t sure which detail was more important.
“Look, Riv… Why don’t you take a step back from this case. It’s putting a strain on your family, and you’re too close to the suspect. We can’t have your identity being compromised. I could have you transferred back to the desk until it’s over. Better yet, I’ll recommend you for a paid leave. Go home. Fix things with Mel. I can get another agent from another branch to finish this up and I’ll keep you informed…”