SARA LINTON LOOKED AT HER WATCH. The Seiko had been a gift
from her grandmother on the day Sara graduated from high
school. On Granny Em's own graduation day, she had been
four months from marriage, a year and a half from bearing
the first of her six children and thirty-eight years from
losing her husband to cancer. Higher education was
something Emma's father had seen as a waste of time and
money, especially for a woman. Emma had not arguedâ€”she was
raised during a time when children did not think to
disagree with their parentsâ€”though she made sure that all
four of her surviving children attended college.
"Wear this and think of me," Granny Em had said that day on
the school campus as she closed the watch's silver bracelet
around Sara's wrist. "You're going to do everything you
ever dreamed of, and I want you to know that I will always
be right there beside you."
As a student at Emory University, Sara had constantly
looked at the watch, especially through advanced
biochemistry, applied genetics, and human anatomy classes
that seemed by law to be taught by the most boring,
monosyllabic professors that could be found. In medical
school, she had impatiently glanced at the watch on
Saturday mornings as she stood outside the lab, waiting for
the professor to come and unlock the door so she could
finish her experiments. During her internship at Grady
Hospital, she had stared blurry-eyed at its white face,
trying to make out the hands, as she calculated how much
longer she had left in thirty-six-hour shifts. At the
Heartsdale Children's Clinic, she had closely followed the
second hand as she pressed her fingers to achild's thin
wrist, counting the beats of his heart as they ticked
beneath his skin, seeking to discern if an "achy all-over"
was a serious ailment or if it just meant the kid did not
want to go to school that day.
For almost twenty years, Sara had worn the watch. The
crystal had been replaced twice, the battery numerous
times, and the bracelet once because Sara could not stomach
the thought of cleaning out the dried blood of a woman who
had died in her arms. Even at Granny Em's funeral, Sara had
found herself touching the smooth bezel around the face,
tears streaming down her own face at the realization that
she could never again see her grandmother's quick, open
smile or the sparkle in her eyes as she learned of her
oldest granddaughter's latest accomplishment.
Now, looking at the watch, for the first time in her life
Sara was glad her grandmother was not there with her, could
not read the anger in Sara's eyes, know the humiliation
that burned in her chest like an uncontrollable fire as she
sat in a conference room being deposed in a malpractice
suit filed by the parents of a dead patient. Everything
Sara had ever worked for, every step she had taken that her
grandmother could not, every accomplishment, every degree,
was being rendered meaningless by a woman who was all but
calling Sara a baby killer.
The lawyer leaned over the table, eyebrow raised, lip
curled, as Sara glanced at the watch. "Dr. Linton, do you
have a more pressing appointment?"
"No." Sara tried to keep her voice calm, to quell the fury
that the lawyer had obviously been stoking for the last
four hours. Sara knew that she was being manipulated, knew
that the woman was trying to bait her, to get Sara to say
something horrible that would forever be recorded by the
little man leaning over the transcript machine in the
corner. Knowing this did not stop Sara from reacting. As a
matter of fact, the knowledge made her even angrier.
"I've been calling you Dr. Linton all this time." The
lawyer glanced down at an open folder in front of her. "Is
it Tolliver? I see that you remarried your ex-husband,
Jeffrey Tolliver, six months ago."
"Linton is fine." Under the table, Sara was shaking her
foot so hard that her shoe was about to fall off. She
crossed her arms over her chest. There was a sharp pain in
her jaw from clenching her teeth. She shouldn't be here.
She should be at home right now, reading a book or talking
on the phone to her sister. She should be going over
patient files or sorting through old medical journals she
never seemed to have time to catch up on.
She should be trusted.
"So," the lawyer continued. The woman had given her name at
the start of the deposition, but Sara couldn't remember it.
All she had been able to concentrate on at the time was the
look on Beckey Powell's face. Jimmy's mother. The woman
whose hand Sara had held so many times, the friend she had
comforted, the person with whom she had spent countless
hours on the phone, trying to put into simple English the
medical jargon the oncologists in Atlanta were feeding the
mother to explain why her twelve-year-old son was going to
From the moment they'd entered the room, Beckey had glared
at Sara as if she were a murderer. The boy's father, a man
Sara had gone to school with, had not even been able to
look her in the eye.
"Dr. Tolliver?" the lawyer pressed.
"Linton," Sara corrected, and the woman smiled, just as she
did every time she scored a point against Sara. This
happened so often that Sara was tempted to ask the lawyer
if she suffered from some unusually petty form of
"On the morning of the seventeenthâ€”this was the day after
Easterâ€”you got lab results from the cell blast you'd
ordered performed on James Powell. Is that correct?"
James. She made him sound so adult. To Sara, he would
always be the six-year-old she had met all those years ago,
the little boy who liked playing with his plastic dinosaurs
and eating the occasional crayon. He'd been so proud when
he told her that he was called Jimmy, just like his dad.
Buddy Conford, one of Sara's lawyers, finally spoke
up. "Let's cut the crap, honey."
"Honey?" the lawyer echoed. She had one of those husky, low
voices most men found irresistible. Sara could tell Buddy
fell into this category, just as she could tell that the
fact the man found his opponent desirable heightened his
sense of competitiveness.
Buddy smiled, his own point made. "You know her name."
"Please instruct your client to answer the question, Mr.
"Yes," Sara said, before they could exchange any more
barbs. She had found that lawyers could be quite verbose at
three-hundred-fifty dollars an hour. They would parse the
meaning of the word "parse" if the clock was ticking. And
Sara had two lawyers: Melinda Stiles was counsel for Global
Medical Indemnity, an insurance company to whom Sara had
paid almost three and a half million dollars over the
course of her medical career. Buddy Conford was Sara's
personal lawyer, whom she'd hired to protect her from the
insurance company. The fine print in all of Global's
malpractice policies stipulated limited liability on the
part of the company when a patient's injury was a direct
result of a doctor's willful negligence. Buddy was here to
make sure that did not happen.
"Dr. Linton? The morning of the seventeenth?"
"Yes," Sara answered. "According to my notes, that's when I
got the lab results."
Sharon, Sara remembered. The lawyer was Sharon Connor. Such
an innocuous name for such a horrible person.
"And what did the lab results reveal to you?"
"That more than likely, Jimmy had acute myeloblastic
"And the prognosis?"
"That's out of my realm. I'm not an oncologist."
"No. You referred the Powells to an oncologist, a friend of
yours from college, a Dr. William Harris in Atlanta?"
"Yes." Poor Bill. He was named in the lawsuit, too, had
been forced to hire his own attorney, was battling with his
own insurance company.
"But you are a doctor?"
Sara took a deep breath. She had been instructed by Buddy
to only answer questions, not pointed comments. God knew
she was paying him enough for his advice. She might as well
start taking it.
"And surely as a doctor you know what acute myeloblastic
"It's a group of malignant disorders characterized by the
replacement of normal bone marrow with abnormal cells."
Connor smiled, rattling off, "And it begins as a single
somatic hematopoietic progenitor that transforms to a cell
incapable of normal differentiation?"
"The cell loses apoptosis."
Another smile, another point scored. "And this disease has
a fifty percent survival rate."
Sara held her tongue, waiting for the ax to fall.
"And timing is critical for treatment, is that correct? In
such a diseaseâ€”a disease that literally turns the body's
cells against themselves, turns off apoptosis, according to
you, which is the normal genetic process of cell deathâ€”
timing is critical."
Forty-eight hours would not have saved the boy's life, but
Sara was not going to utter those words, have them
transcribed into a legal document and later thrown in her
face with all the callousness Sharon Connor could muster.
The lawyer shuffled through some papers as if she needed to
find her notes. "And you attended Emory Medical School. As
you so graciously corrected me earlier, you didn't just
graduate in the top ten percent, you graduated sixth in
Buddy sounded bored with the woman's antics. "We've already
established Dr. Linton's credentials."
"I'm just trying to put it all together," the woman
countered. She held up one of the pages, her eyes scanning
the words. Finally, she put it down. "And, Dr. Linton, you
got this informationâ€”this lab result that was almost
certainly a death sentenceâ€”the morning of the seventeenth,
and yet you chose not to share the information with the
Powells until two days later. And that was because . . . ?"
Sara had never heard so many sentences starting with the
word "and." She imagined grammar wasn't high up on the
curriculum at whatever school had churned out the vicious
Still, she answered, "They were at Disney World for Jimmy's
birthday. I wanted them to enjoy their vacation, what I
thought might be their last vacation as a family for some
time. I made the decision to not tell them until they came
"They came back the evening of the seventeenth, yet you did
not tell them until the morning of the nineteenth, two days
Sara opened her mouth to respond, but the woman talked over
"And it didn't occur to you that they could return for
immediate treatment and perhaps save their child's life?"
It was clear she didn't expect an answer. "I would imagine
that, given the choice, the Powells would rather have their
son alive today instead of empty photographs of him
standing around the Magic Kingdom." She slid the picture in
question across the table. It glided neatly past Beckey and
Jim Powell, past Sara's two lawyers, and stopped a few
inches from where Sara was sitting.
She shouldn't have looked, but she did.
Young Jimmy stood leaning against his father, both of them
wearing Mickey Mouse ears and holding sparklers as a parade
of Snow White's dwarfs marched behind them. Even in the
photo, you could tell the boy was sick. Dark circles rimmed
his eyes and he was so thin that his frail little arm
looked like a piece of string.
They had come back from vacation a day early because Jimmy
had wanted to be home. Sara did not know why the Powells
had not called her at the clinic, brought in Jimmy that day
so she could check on him. Maybe his parents had known even
without the test, even without the final diagnosis, that
their days of having a normal, healthy child were over.
Maybe they had just wanted to keep him to themselves one
more day. He had been such a wonderful boyâ€”kind, smart,
cheerfulâ€”everything a parent could hope for. And now he was
Sara felt tears well into her eyes, and bit her lip so hard
that the tears fell from pain instead of grief.
Buddy snatched away the picture, irritated. He slid it back
to Sharon Connor. "You can practice your opening statement
in front of your mirror at home, sweetheart."
Connor's mouth twisted into a smirk as she took back the
photograph. She was living proof that the theory that women
were nurturing caretakers was utter bullshit. Sara half-
expected to see rotting flesh between her teeth.
The woman said, "Dr. Linton, on this particular date, the
date you got James's lab results, did anything else happen
that stood out for you?"
A prickling went up Sara's spine, a spark of warning that
she could not suppress. "Yes."
"And could you tell us what that was?"
"I found a woman who had been murdered in the bathroom of
our local diner."
"Raped and murdered. Is that correct?"
"That brings us to your part-time job as coroner for the
county. I believe your husbandâ€”then ex-husband, when this
rape and murder occurredâ€”is chief of police for the county.
Both of you work closely together when cases arise."
Sara waited for more, but the woman had obviously just
wanted to get that on the record.
"Counselor?" Buddy asked.
"One moment, please," the lawyer murmured, picking up a
thick folder and leafing through the pages.
Sara looked down at her hands to give herself something to
do. Pisiform, triquetrum, hamate, capitate, trapezoid,
trapezium, lunate, scaphoid . . . She listed all the bones
in her hand, then started on the ligaments, trying to
distract herself, willing herself not to walk into the trap
the lawyer was so skillfully setting.
While Sara was in her residency at Grady, headhunters had
pursued her so relentlessly that she had stopped answering
her phone. Partnerships. Six-figure salaries with year-end
bonuses. Surgical privileges at any hospital she chose.
Personal assistants, lab support, full secretarial staff,
even her own parking space. They had offered her
everything, and yet in the end, she had decided to return
home to Grant, to practice medicine for considerably less
money and even less respect, because she thought it was
important for doctors to serve rural communities.
Was part of it vanity, too? Sara had seen herself as a role
model for the girls in town. Most of them had only ever
seen a male doctor. The only women in authority were
nurses, teachers, and mothers. Her first five years at the
Heartsdale Children's Clinic, Sara had spent at least half
of her time convincing young patientsâ€”and frequently their
mothersâ€”that she had, in fact, graduated medical school. No
one believed a woman could be smart enough, good enough, to
reach such a position. Even when Sara bought the clinic
from her retiring partner, people had still been skeptical.
It had taken years to carve herself a place of respect in
All for this.
Sharon Connor finally looked up from her papers. She
frowned. "Dr. Linton, you yourself were raped. Isn't that