SHE HEARD VOICES.

"Linda? Linda!"

"Still no response. She's flatlining."

"Shock her again."

Grace wondered, Who's Linda? She felt the weight of the paddles pressing on her ribs, then an indescribable pain, like a kebab skewer being driven into her heart.

She fainted.

SHE WAS IN A PALE GREEN room with a gray, checkered ceiling. There were needles in her arms. Someone was talking to her. A nurse.

"Linda?"

Grace remembered. She'd had to abandon Lizzie Woolley and move on to another of her fake identities. I'm Linda Reynolds. I'm a thirty-two-year-old waitress from Chicago.

"Welcome back." The nurse smiled. "Do you know where you are, Linda?"

"Hospital." Grace's throat was so dry and sore, the word was barely audible. "Water."

"Sure." The nurse pressed a call button. "Just hold on a couple more minutes. The doctor will know whether it's safe for you to drink right now. He's on his way. Is there anyone else I can call for you, honey? A relative or a friend?"

Grace shook her head. Nobody.

She fell back to sleep.

SHE WAS IN EAST HAMPTON AT a July Fourth party. She was six years old. Her father had scooped her up in his arms and placed her on his shoulders. Grace felt like a princess in her powder-blue, ruffled party dress, with red, white and blue ribbons in her blond hair.

One of her dad's friends called out to them. "Hey, Cooper. Who's that gorgeous young lady you're with?"

"Only the prettiest girl in New York." Cooper Knowles grinned. "When you get married, Gracie, it'll be to a king. You'll have the world at your feet, my angel. The world at your feet!" He tugged on her new blue party shoes. Grace laughed.

The laugh turned into Lenny's laugh. They were on the terrace at their home in Palm Beach. Lenny was reading the newspaper.

"Look at this, Gracie." He chuckled. "You see what they're calling me. 'Leonard Brookstein, King of Wall Street!' How does it feel to be married to a king?"

"It feels wonderful, my darling. I love you."

"I love you, too."

"Linda. LINDA."

The spell was broken.

"This is Dr. Brewer. He's on our psychiatric team. He's just gonna have a little chat with you, okay?"

DAYS PASSED. DOCTORS AND PSYCHIATRISTS CAME and went. DIY abortions were a dime a dozen, sadly, but Linda Reynolds's case was unusual enough to attract attention.

"Pennyroyal poisoning? What the fuck is that?"

"Some crazy herb. Women used it for abortions in medieval times. But it's gruesome. Ingesting the essential oil can cause renal failure, acute uterine hemorrhage. Seizures."

The doctors told Grace it was a miracle she had lived. The pennyroyal had done its job of killing her baby, but her liver would be permanently weakened. Grace didn't care. She tried to cry for the baby, to feel sad for it, but she couldn't even do that. She knew if she looked back, she would crumble. All that mattered was that she was alive, recovering, growing stronger. She could feel it in her body. Soon she would be able to get out of here. Her work was not yet done.

IN THE HOSPITAL CORRIDOR, JUAN BENITEZ whispered to his friend Jose Gallo.

"Es ella. Estoy seguro."

Jose poked his head around the door of Grace's room. "No way."

Juan and Jose were both janitors. Not much exciting ever happened during their workdays, mopping the hospital halls. But that was no reason for Juan to go making things up.

"Ella es horrible. Ugly," said Jose. "Grace Brookstein era hermosa."

Juan was insistent. "Les digo que, es ella. Quieres que la recompesa o no?"

Jose thought about it. He did want the reward. Badly. But he and his family were all in the States illegally. He didn't want to be the guy who called the NYPD out on a wild-goose chase.

He looked at the patient again. With her newly shorn, peroxide-blond hair, her pain-lined face and cold, listless eyes, she had none of the radiance of the beautiful young woman he'd seen on TV. And yet there was a resemblance...

THE DOCTORS HAD TOLD GRACE SHE could walk around the room if she felt up to it. The electrolyte drip had been removed from her arm. Gingerly, Grace swung her feet to the floor. After a week in bed, her legs felt like Jell-O. The pennyroyal had given her seizures, one of which had torn a muscle in her calf. She hobbled to the window.

In the parking lot below, a young couple was taking their newborn baby home. The father was wrestling with a car seat, a look of terrified anxiety on his face, while his wife calmly looked on, rocking the child in her arms. Grace smiled sadly.

What a lovely, normal, happy family. I'll never have that.

There was no time to dwell on her wistfulness. A police car pulled into the lot, then another, then another. Suddenly there were cops everywhere, swarming into the building like termites. Grace felt her heart rate jump. Are they looking for me?

A blond head emerged from one of the squad cars. Even before he looked up, Grace recognized his stocky, football player's physique. Mitch Connors. So they are here for me.

Adrenaline coursed through her body.

Think! There must be a way out.

MITCH CONNORS GOT INTO THE ELEVATOR. He was so tense he could hardly breathe. As if the prospect of finally catching Grace weren't overwhelming enough, he'd spent the past three days looking into John Merrivale's cover story for the day Lenny Brookstein disappeared. He had so much to tell her. So much still to do.

"Seal off all exits and entrances. I want guys on the emergency stairs, in the kitchens, the laundry, everywhere."

"Excuse me!" A furious chief resident stuck her arm in the elevator just as the doors were closing. In her early fifties with short gray hair and a steely don't-fuck-with-me expression, she gave Mitch a piece of her mind. "What the hell is going on here? This is a hospital. Who gave you permission to come storming in here like this?"

Mitch flashed her his badge, simultaneously pressing the button for the sixth floor. He should have alerted the hospital authorities, but with a tip this good, there was no time for niceties. "Sorry, lady. We have good information that Grace Brookstein is in the building. If you'll excuse me..."

"I won't excuse you! I don't care if Elvis Presley's in the building. My job is to save lives. You have no authority...hey! Get out of there!" Turning around, the chief resident saw four uniformed cops pushing open the swing doors to the OR. Seizing his chance, Mitch physically pushed her out of the elevator. The last thing he saw as the elevator doors closed was the furious doctor running toward him, shaking her fist like a cartoon villain.

Grace had better be here. If she wasn't, he was in big trouble.

"LINDA REYNOLDS. WHICH ROOM IS SHE IN?"

The staff nurse on the desk hesitated. "We're not supposed to give out patients' room numbers. Are you a family member?"

Mitch flashed his badge. "Yeah. I'm her uncle Mitchell. Where is she?"

"Six-oh-five," said the nurse. "It's at the end of the hallway on your right."

Mitch was already running. He burst into the room, gun drawn. "Police! You're under arrest!"

A terrified orderly put his hands in the air.

"Jesus! What did I do?"

"Where is she? Grace." The man looked blank. Mitch corrected himself. "I mean Linda. The patient. Where did she go, damn it?"

"Bathroom," the orderly stammered. "Three doors down. She'll be right back."

GRACE LOOKED AT THE GRATE COVERING the ventilation shaft. It was two feet square. The same size as the crate I escaped from jail in.

As she climbed onto the toilet seat, then up onto the cistern, tears of pain filled her eyes. Her left calf was in agony. She bit down hard on her lip to stop herself from screaming and reached up with both hands. Dislodging the grate was easy. As she pushed it aside, a shower of dust fell into her eyes, temporarily blinding her, but there was no time to stop and recover. Digging her nails into the ceiling, Grace hauled herself up, squeezing her tiny frame into the ventilation shaft like dough into a pasta maker. Carefully, she replaced the grate behind her. Dust still stung her eyes like acid, but it didn't matter. Ahead of her was nothing but darkness. Inch by inch, she pulled herself forward into the void.

MITCH WALKED INTO THE LADIES' ROOM. There were three cubicles, all of them empty.

He turned to leave, then stopped. Walking into the middle cubicle, he ran his finger across the top of the toilet seat. The dust was as thick as sugar icing. Mitch traced a letter G and looked up. Could a human being fit in there?

Back in the corridor, he yelled into his radio.

"I need to see plans of the ventilation system. Blueprints. Where do those tunnels go?"

The chief resident stepped out of the elevator and pointed at Mitch. "There! In the blue shirt." Three burly security guards rushed toward him. Seconds later Mitch found himself being manhandled toward the emergency stairs while the resident looked on, arms folded, smiling with satisfaction. Talk about a ballbuster.

"For God's sake! I'm a police officer. Do you realize what I could do to you guys for this? Let me go."

The biggest of the guards murmured, "You kidding, right? Do you realize what she could do to us if we let go of your ass? Trust me, Officer. You ain't got no idea."

GRACE'S VISION WAS CLEARING. SHE SAW light, faint rays at first, but they gradually got stronger. The tunnel forked left and right. The light was coming from the left.

Grace moved toward it.

"I SWEAR TO GOD, IF WE'VE lost her because of this bullshit, I will personally see to it they don't let you loose on a patient again with so much as a Band-Aid."

It had taken fifteen minutes for Mitch's boss, Lieutenant Dubray, to fax the necessary warrants and consents to the hospital. Only once she had them in her hands did the chief resident order her heavies to let Mitch out of her office.

"Don't try to scare me, Detective." She laughed. "Haven't you embarrassed yourself enough for one day?"

Mitch was about to hit back when one of his subordinates burst in.

"Blueprints," he panted, unrolling paper onto the desk.

GRACE LOOKED DOWN THROUGH THE GRILLE. The room was empty. This time it was tougher to wrench the ventilation panel free. Squeezed into the shaft like raw meat in a sausage skin, she was having a tough time getting any traction. Finally, with sweat from her efforts pouring down her back and chest, Grace pulled out the grille and eased herself down into the room below. The light was so bright it took a few seconds to get her bearings. She looked around.

I'm in an X-ray room.

She wondered how long it would be before the technician showed up with the next patient. Do they always leave the lights on, or did someone just step out for a minute? Voices outside the door answered her question. Two men were talking. Grace watched their shadows grow larger. They're coming in!

MITCH STUDIED THE BLUEPRINTS. THE VENTILATION shaft had nine grilles on the sixth floor, each of them a potential exit. Mitch dispatched men to each one. The bad news was he'd lost fifteen minutes. The good news was there was no way out of the building, nor could somebody crawl between floors. It was a case of "what goes up must come down."

"What's the closest exit to that ladies' room?"

The officer traced the tunnel with his finger.

"That would be...right here. X-ray and MRI room."

Mitch started running.

THE GRILLE IN THE X-RAY-ROOM CEILING was still hanging open. Grace hadn't bothered to try to cover her tracks. She knows she's running out of time.

"I don't understand it," said the technician. "I've been here the whole time. I stepped out for literally thirty seconds. But if she got in here while I was gone, she'd have had to come past our reception desk. Liza would have seen her for sure."

"Hmm. So would my men," said Mitch. He scratched his head. "Is there any other way out of here?"

"No."

"No service elevator? Fire stairs? No window?"

"No. Look around you, Detective. This is it."

Mitch looked around. The technician was right. The room was a smooth box, empty apart from the humming X-ray machine and the circular MRI tube. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Then suddenly he saw it. In the corner. A laundry hamper, full of used scrubs.

Heart pounding, Mitch dived in, pulling out used scrubs like a starving man hunting for food scraps in a Dumpster. In seconds, the floor was littered with blue hospital gowns and face masks. But no sign of Grace.

He tried to keep the disappointment out of his voice.

"Okay. So she must have gone back into the shaft. Where's the next exit?"

GRACE WAITED TILL THEY'D GONE. THEN, releasing the locked muscles in her arms and legs where she'd pressed herself flat against the top of the MRI tube, she fell into the body of the machine, bruising her ribs painfully. She'd outwitted Mitch Connors for now. But how much time had that bought her? A minute? Three? Five? Despair washed over her.

The whole hospital's surrounded. I'm never going to get out.

She contemplated giving up. Before she knew about Connie, and Lenny's betrayal, she'd never questioned why she kept running, why she kept fighting. It was all for Lenny. She had to clear his name, to honor his memory. Now, for the first time, Grace realized that wasn't enough anymore. She needed another, better reason. She needed to fight for herself. She needed to save her own life.

Easing herself out of the machine, she stood up.

I can't give up. I won't.

She picked up a set of scrubs from the pile on the floor and pulled them on.

GRACE WALKED SLOWLY TOWARD THE FIRE stairs, trying not to limp. I have to get off this floor. Make it to ground level and try and bluff my way out of here.

The X-ray-department receptionist watched her pass but said nothing. With her blue paper hat pulled low and a surgical mask over her face, she could have been anyone. Beyond reception, two cops stood by the swing doors. Grace waited with her heart in her mouth for one of them to ask her for ID, but they, too, let her pass. She was almost at the emergency exit door. Just a few more paces.

"Hey. Hey, you! In the blue."

Grace kept walking.

"HEY!" The voice got louder. "Stop!"

Keep going. Don't look back.

"You can't go out of there. It's..."

Grace opened the door.

"...alarmed."

Sirens whooped. Bells, shrill and deafening, rang in Grace's ears. For a moment she panicked, frozen. In a few seconds, the stairwell would be crawling with cops. I'll never make it down six floors. There's no time.

She looked up and started to run.

MITCH'S RADIO CRACKLED. "SHE'S ON THE east fire stairs. Sixth floor."

His heart leaped. "Cover every exit."

"Already done, sir."

"Tell all units, you can draw your weapons but do not fire. Understand? No shooting."

"Sir."

There was no way out of the building. Outside the hospital, the media had already begun to arrive. Mitch knew none of his men would have leaked the story, but it was tough to send a hundred cops into a major New York City hospital without people getting curious. TV crews scrambled to set up their equipment, eager to capture the drama as it unfolded. Mitch thought, They're probably hoping for a shoot-out. How much would the first shots of Grace Brookstein's dead body be worth?

He wished he could protect her. That he could stop her from running. Keep her safe, with him.

He headed for the roof.

GRACE LOOKED AROUND HER. This is it. The end of the road.

If only Manhattan's skyline were like a Spider-Man movie, where the next building over was always a short jump away. In real life, the eight-story hospital was sandwiched between two twenty-story towers. The only way down from the roof was via the fire stairs Grace had just come up, or an identical set of stairs on the western side of the building.

Unless, of course, you jumped.

Bolting both sets of fire doors behind her, Grace crawled on her hands and knees over to the edge of the rooftop, making her way around the perimeter. She peered over the edge of the rooftop. In a movie, there would have been a handy Dumpster to break her fall. Or a truck full of feather pillows that just happened to have pulled up at a red light. No such luck.

She heard the door to the east stairs start rattling. A few seconds later, the other door followed suit. They're coming.

Tears filled Grace's eyes. They would catch her. They would send her back to jail. She would never know the truth.

In that moment, as the rattling of the doors grew louder, it became clear.

She had nothing left to live for.

THE DOOR BURST OPEN, SENDING THE metal bolt clattering. Mitch shot out onto the concrete like a ball from a cannon. He looked up just in time to see a flash of blue disappearing over the edge of the rooftop.

"Grace! NO!"

He was too late.




Line : 128

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