Excerpt Paul picked up his medical bag and felt the familiar weight tug at his arm. He kept meaning to go through it and see if there was something in there he could leave behind, but the certainty that if he did he'd need it within the week aided and abetted his procrastination. He walked out of his consulting room, and headed for the shimmering heat waiting for him once he left the air-conditioned coolness of the clinic. A dry cough halted him before he could pull the main door open.
"I've got an addition to your rounds."
Paul sighed and turned to face Dr. Raines. Nemesis, mentor, boss -- the man loomed large in his life for a slight, elderly man, with hands that shook when Raines was tired. He stared into Raines' calm, faded eyes, cleared his throat, and made sure his voice was confident, even chiding, not hopeful. "I'm very busy today."
"I'm sure you are, Dr. Jackson, I'm sure you are." Andrew Raines nodded agreeably, a half smile on his face. "And now you'll be a little busier, which is better than being bored." A file, thick enough to be worrying, was in his hand. He held it out, giving Paul no choice but to walk over and take it.
The name on the file -- Matthew Parker -- meant nothing to Paul. Three months wasn't long enough for him to have learned who lived next door, let alone acquire the encyclopedic level of detail about Branchton that Raines had built up over the decades. The address was for a house some six miles out of town, in the farmland that surrounded it, and Paul frowned as he tried to slot it into the route he'd planned and failed.
"You can go there last," Raines said, as if reading his thoughts. "Matt isn't in any hurry to see you. You'd think he would be, given he won't be alive by the end of the month, but he isn't. In fact, he isn't expecting you; I've made this appointment, not him."
There was something in his voice, some regret that went beyond a doctor's natural concern for a patient, that softened Paul's impatience at the extension of his already busy day. "You know him well, then?"
"We sat next to each other all through school," Raines said, his expression distant, his eyes squinted half-shut as if he was staring down a long tunnel. "He dated my sister Ruby in high school, and got drunk and threw up in my car when she found someone else to take her to the prom. We've fished Salmon Creek every summer except this one and we've both buried our wives and outlived at least one of our children. Yes, you could say I know him well."