Just Before Midnight Cover

Just Before Midnight

University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle

	"Mr. Durrell?" Evaline Jaye stuck her head around the half-open door and
peeked into the conference room of the hospital. Normally the long narrow room
would be filled with nurses or doctors, but this afternoon the rosewood table and
ring of chairs was empty except for a man at the far end. 
	He was dressed in a navy blue suit that set off his shoulder-length blond hair, 
which was styled so perfectly he looked just like his publicity shots. He rose and 
Evaline felt a definite shift in the atmosphere, as if someone had just opened a 
curtain to let in a ray of light. 
	A glow hovered around him, and when she looked closer, she discerned two barely 
noticeable curving lines just above his head--like translucent tubes or the horns of 
a beast. A vision similar to the ones Evaline had seen in the old days enveloped 
Durrell in a misty shape, moving when he moved in an unmistakable outline of an animal. 
	She recalled the teachings of the elders on the reservation and their interpretation 
of the meaning of different spirit animals: 
	A ram's head. Seek spiritual not material pleasures.
	Impossible. She couldn't be seeing a vision. She had turned her back on that part
of her life. The moment Evaline doubted her "sight" and stared at the man
directly, the vision disappeared. A cool rush of relief washed over her. Perhaps
the animal shape had been the result of viewing Durrell's blond hair against the
slate-gray thunderclouds behind him, and could be attributed to a simple shock to
the retina. Rain splattered the window, the sound as hard as gravel striking
stone, driving her back to the logical, rational world of modern medicine where
spirit animals didn't belong. 
	"Miss Jaye," Durrell called out in a rich liquid
voice she had heard many times on TV, pushing her completely into the here and
now. "Come in." 
	Quietly, she slipped into the room, having had years of
practice easing unnoticed into a crowd. Though she no longer had a reason to seek
invisibility, her old habits clung to her. As she approached, Stephen Durrell
surveyed her, and she braced herself for the reaction she had endured for eleven
years: the stare of disbelief at her face and the nearly instant glance away. Her
crooked eye and ruined mouth had been too hideous for some people to bear. But
those days were gone, along with the spirit animals. She was different now.
Surgery had changed her forever. Still she was surprised when strangers didn't
turn away in horror and pity. 
	"You sent for me?" she asked. 
	"Yes. Do sit down." 
	He swept the air with his hand and then waited for her to take a seat
before he lowered himself to the chair at the head of the table. Then he turned
and smiled at her. The smile sent a golden glow beaming toward her, enveloping
her. No wonder he was such a popular evangelist. Was that what people called him?
Or was he considered a guru, a New Age teacher? She'd never paid enough attention
to his broadcasts to know for sure just what his title and credentials were. 
	"I don't believe we've met," Stephen remarked, laying one hand over the other. His
left hand still bore red blotches from the burns he'd suffered in the tragic fire
at the villa, and he seemed to be unconsciously covering the splotches. 
	"No, we haven't, but I've seen you at the hospital a lot," Evaline replied. 
"And on TV."
	"Really? Are you a follower of The Path?" 
	"No." Evaline blushed. "I'm not
involved in any religion right now." 
	"It isn't so much a religion as a journey,
a way of life, Evaline. A way of thinking. Of becoming." 
	"I don't know, Mr. Durrell--" 
	"Here," He reached into the inside pocket of his suit coat and
produced two tickets. "Take these passes to my show. They're taping in Seattle
now, since I've had to stay near the hospital." 
	"Yes, I know." 
	"Come as my guest. Bring a friend. You might be surprised by what you'll learn." He 
urged her to take the little rectangles of paper. 
	Evaline didn't know what else to do but
accept them. "Thank you." 
	"If you'd like, I could even have you tagged as an
active audience participant. You could be on national television." 
not for me." She laughed nervously and tucked the tickets in the pocket of her
lab coat. "Why? With that face of yours, you'd boost my ratings, Evaline, you
surely would." 
	She flushed. Until her plastic surgery at the age of
twenty-three, she'd been a social pariah, and spent her days as a recluse at a
clinic on the Saquinnish Indian Reservation. Now, four years later, she had a new
face, a new career, and a new life, but she still hadn't learned to accept a
compliment, especially from a man. 
	Did men see only her alluring but surgically-created features? Did any of them 
look beyond the large dark eyes and slender nose to the woman behind the medical 
miracle? She doubted it. Only three men in her entire life had treated her as a normal 
human being: her father, a newcomer to the reservation named Carter Greyson, and a man 
who had rescued her at sea. Her father was now a fugitive from the law, Carter had 
married a white woman, and her rescuer had sailed away before she could thank him and 
discover his name. 
	"Think about it, won't you?" Stephen put in when she made no response. 
	Evaline shrugged off her dark thoughts and nodded, deciding to turn
the conversation from her face and his career to the business at hand. "Mr.
Durrell, I'm told you are looking for a physical therapist." 
	"Yes. My
step-daughter," he broke off, "I mean my wife-to-be's daughter, has been in
serious condition for many weeks." He leaned back in his chair. "But of course, I
don't have to tell you that. You probably know all about her case." 
knows about Allison," Evaline nodded. "And you, too. You're all the hospital
staff talks about. The tragedy of it all--" 
	"Yes." He clasped his hands
together tightly. "And the media have fed off poor dear Allison like a pack of
hyenas. She has suffered, I'm afraid--suffered terribly." 
	Evaline thought of the articles she'd read about the fourteen-year-old Allison, 
how the girl had started the fire that had killed her own mother and then had taken 
off in a car she didn't know how to drive, crashing on a cliffside road above the sea, and
almost plunging to her death hundreds of feet below. The maid and gardener had
tried valiantly to save Meredith Delaney, and Stephen had nearly lost his life by
dashing into the inferno to save his fiancˇe. But he'd been too late. His fiancˇe
perished in the flames. Reporters all over the world were in a frenzy for weeks,
speculating on the reasons for the death of wealthy Meredith Delaney, known by
millions as a beautiful jet setter and the most famous convert to The Path.
	Evaline could still remember seeing Stephen on television after the fire,
breaking down in grief from every camera angle and on every station. While
Stephen appeared on talk shows all over the world, Allison lay in a hospital in a
coma. While Stephen received more air play from the fire than he got for his own
broadcasts, Allison's reputation disintegrated. Numerous witnesses stepped for
ward to verify the domestic problems of the Delaney household: how Allison had
been nothing but trouble, how Allison had fought with her mother constantly, how
Allison drank and partied and made life miserable for everyone around her. Some
reporters even  went so far as to speculate that Allison might have wanted
charismatic Stephen Durell for herself, and had killed her own mother in a fit of
jealousy. Allison claimed to have no memory of the awful night, and not enough
evidence had been found to indict her, but most people doubted she was telling
the truth.
	"Perhaps when Allison recovers her memory, she'll be able to
explain what really happened," Evaline put in. "For her sake," Stephen
replied. "I hope she doesn't remember that night. I wish to God I
couldn't." He sighed. "And the situation hasn't got any better for her.
In fact, it's just gotten worse." 
	"What do you mean?" 
	"A complication in Allison's treatment has come up. And I need your help."
"What's the complication?" 
	"Allison's natural father." 
	"Why is he a problem?" 
	"Why?" Stephen pursed his lips and then lowered his dark
brows. "Let me just say that this insensitive rube of a man wants to
take his fourteen-year-old daughter, whom he hasn't seen since she was
two, into the back woods of northwestern Washington. There, he
expects her to recover, both mentally and physically, from a trauma that
has left her without a memory or the use of her legs." 
	"He intends to take her away from the hospital?" 
	"Exactly." Stephen leaned forward. "I've met him. He's a bull-headed idiot 
entirely incapable of dealing with Allison's current psychological and medical 
problems, let alone a teenage girl who has just lost her mother." 
	"Or might have killed her mother," Evaline put in. 
	"I prefer not to believe Allison capable of murder. I'm convinced it was an 
accident." He steepled his fingers in front of his chest. "Whatever happened, 
Allison shouldn't be taken away by a redneck backwoodsman." 
	"He is her father, though. There's something to be said for blood ties." 
	Stephen rolled his eyes. "Blood is the only thing this character has in common 
with Allison. You've seen her, haven't you, Evaline?" 
	"Yes." Evaline recalled the slender blond young woman whose delicate bone 
structure and classic beauty couldn't be camouflaged, by casts, bandages, or a bad 
attitude. "Allison is an attractive girl." 
	"Just like her mother, may she rest in peace." Stephen paused thoughtfully for 
a moment, in honor of his deceased fiancˇe's memory, and then pressed on. "Meredith 
was a lady, in every sense of the word. I miss her dearly, and all I have left of her 
is her beautiful daughter, whom I wish to protect in all ways. Allison has
known nothing but the best all her life, Evaline. Meredith and I saw to
that. Right now, Allison needs all the support she can get. And yet this
Townsend character, the complete opposite to Meredith in every way,
thinks he's going to whisk Allison off to a cabin out in the middle of
nowhere and give her a miracle cure." 
	Evaline frowned slightly. She didn't believe money was the answer to everything, 
but yanking a teenager out of her normal life-style wasn't a good idea, either.
Teenagers were notoriously inflexible about certain aspects of their lives, especially 
if they were accustomed to designer labels and monied independence. 
	"I can't let that happen, Evaline," Stephen continued. "I know what they say about 
Allison. But I believe that under all the problems there's a great kid, if I can only 
have the chance to reach her. I consider myself a father to her, I really do."
	 Evaline studied Stephen. He didn't look like anyone's dad. He was
far too glamorous for such a mundane role. Good dads were frayed around
the edges, a bit careworn like a pair of favorite shoes, dependable and
comfortable, not like the shining, perfectly-groomed man at her
elbow. Besides that, Stephen dropped her name into the conversation much
too frequently, the way a salesman used a name to create a false sense
of familiarity. She'd never liked that. A niggling sense of distrust of
Stephen began to dull the periphery of his bright aura. 
	"She's lucky to have two men to care about her," Evaline replied at last. 
Her own father had betrayed her in the end, leaving her without a soul in the
world. "But as you know, Allison is suffering from amnesia." 
	"Yes. Post-traumatic amnesia they tell me." He tilted his head. "I don't
follow you--" 
	"Perhaps she won't remember her former way of life. Perhaps a remote cabin won't 
seem that bad to her." 
	"Oh, she remembers plenty. Just not the night at the villa. And knowing Allison, 
this cabin scenario with her father will be the absolute worst experience for her.
I am afraid she'll lose what little progress she's made." Stephen frowned. "But there's 
nothing I can do to block Townsend. He has every legal right to regain custody of Allison, 
now that Meredith is no longer with us." 
	"I don't understand how I fit in to all this," Evaline commented. 
	Stephen glanced at her. "Allison needs therapy and someone to see to her safety, 
and I have offered to help pay for Allison's physical therapy, to ensure that she gets the 
care she needs."
	"But she'll be away from the medical center." 
	"Exactly. The therapist will have to go to her." 
	"You mean travel back and forth from Seattle?" 
	"No. Live there." 
	"At the remote cabin?" Stephen nodded slowly, allowing the impact of his words to register.
	 Evaline sank back and clutched the arms of the chair in an effort to subdue a
swell of concern. "For how long?" 
	"Months. The doctors say Allison will need extensive therapy, since she seems unable 
to move her legs, even though there is no medical reason why she can't." 
	"We call it a conversion reaction," Evaline explained. "It's a psychological
condition, not a physiological one." 
	"Yes. That's what the doctor said. And it might take the whole summer to regain her 
strength. Plus follow-up trips afterward. But you could do that on a weekly basis."
	"You mean to say that I would have to live in a cabin with two
strangers for the whole summer, no days off?" 
	Stephen nodded. At her look of protest, he held up a long slender hand. "Before you say
anything, Evaline, just let me mention that I am willing to make it worth your while." 
	"What do you mean?" 
	"I've heard you want to attend medical school." Evaline glanced at him in surprise. 
	Had he talked to her fellow co-workers about her? She wondered if he had
selected her at random or for a particular reason. "You do want to go
back to school, don't you?" he added. 
	"Well, yes." 
	"I could set up a grant that would pay for your expenses--tuition, room, board--" 
	"You'd pay for my entire medical education?" 
	"Yes. That's how important Allison is to me, and to her grandparents. They have agreed 
to contribute to your education as well." 
	Evaline blew out a puff of air, too surprised to respond. The offer seemed too good to be 
true. And yet, how could she refuse? She had worked her way through undergraduate school in three
years, done her internship, and had become a physical therapist. But medical school was her dream, 
her chance to make something of herself, her chance to make a difference in the world. 
	"Cat got your tongue, Evaline?" Stephen asked, smiling. 
	"It seems so--so--so generous," she stammered. "I don't know what to say." 
	"Say you will do it. It would mean a lot to us to know Allison is getting the best care possible."
	"I don't know, Mr. Durrell. Why me?" 
	"You're young, healthy, unattached. I realize you're new at this, but I've heard you're good at
what you do." He touched her arm. "Three months is a long time to ask of anyone, but of all people 
I am confident you can do it." 
	"It's an entire summer." Her voice trailed off with indecision. He sighed and
stood up. 
	She watched him slip his burned but still elegantly-shaped
hands in the pockets of his linen trousers. For a moment he paced the
room, his head lowered as if trying to decide something. Then he stopped
suddenly and leveled his gaze on her. 
	"All right. Maybe you should be told everything, Evaline." 
	Her stomach pinched together as if aware of bad news to come. She twisted in her chair 
to face him. "What do you mean, everything?" 
	He sighed again and studied her face for a long moment. Then he wiped the sides of his face 
with his finger and thumb, down past his mouth and over his chin. 
	"There's another reason I need someone to accompany Allison." 
	The sinking feeling intensified. "What reason is that?" 
	"Meredith told me once," He paused, looked down at the floor, and then back into her eyes. 
"And I don't want this to go any farther than this room--no farther, Evaline, do you understand?" 
	"Of course." She stared at him, her gaze riveted to his face. 
		"The media would eat Allison alive if you spread this around. Anyway," Stephen
frowned. "Meredith told me that she'd been abused by her first husband."
	"Abused?" Evaline's voice cracked. "Yes." 
	"You mean beaten?" "Yes. And more." Stephen's eyes narrowed. "He raped her. That's how she became
pregnant. Marital rape." 
	"Allison was the result of a rape?" 
	Stephen nodded gravely. 
	"My God!" 
	"Meredith stayed with him because of the child, but when he turned on Allison, she left him." 
	"Townsend abused his own child?" 
	"Yes. But there's no proof, Evaline. That's the trouble. The bastard has never been charged 
with abuse, and so the courts will give him his daughter, no questions asked." 
	"That's awful!"
	Stephen sank to the chair again. "So you see why you must go with Allison? She must be 
protected, Evaline. Townsend must be watched. And the first proof you get of abuse, you 
call me, and we'll have him arrested." 
	"But what if he turns on me?" 
	"We've arranged to get you a small hand gun, the kind you can carry on you at all times. 
You'll be safe." Evaline shook her head and stared at the wall where a print of
children playing in the sunshine clashed with the upsetting turn in the conversation. 
"I don't know, Mr. Durrell." 
	"I've been told you are an excellent marksman." 
	Her head shot up. "How do you know all these things about me?" 
	"Do you think I would choose just anyone for this job? Do you think Allison means nothing 
to me, nothing to Meredith's parents? We want the best. The best physical therapy and the best 
personal protection. That combination was difficult to find, Evaline. But we
found it in you." 
	"I could be killed." 
	"I doubt Townsend is that violent." 
	"I'm beginning to see why the pay is so good." 
	"Yes." Stephen shrugged. "But I'm a firm believer in decent compensation,
Evaline. The stakes are high. You will need to be constantly vigilant. A
college education isn't too much to offer for the peace of mind you'll
provide us in return." 
	Evaline drummed the table with her fingertips. She wanted the medical school grant, 
but she wasn't willing to risk her life for a degree. On the other hand, how could she let a
child be taken into the wilderness by a man capable of rape and abuse--a girl too injured 
to run away? How could she let a motherless child be subjected to such a danger? Hadn't she 
been in need of a mother, once, too--someone to love her, someone to keep her from harm? Wouldn't 
her life have been vastly different had a mother prevented her from walking alone that fateful day 
when she was twelve years old?
	The memory of that day loomed up, and she shut it off immediately, but not before she'd broken 
out in a cold sweat. Beneath the lab coat, her blouse stuck to her torso. Evaline clutched the arms 
of the chair, fighting off the panic, fighting off the heartache, but knowing what she had to do. 
	"Okay," she said, her heart pounding. 
	"You'll take the job?" Stephen's voice raised in hope. 
	#  #  #  #
	The next morning, just as Evaline reached for the door of Allison's private room,
she was stopped by the sound of a familiar voice behind her. 
	"Evaline!" Patty Johnson exclaimed in a hushed tone. "I can't believe you're taking
this on!" 
	"Well, I am," Evaline replied. 
	Allison was being discharged, and a van loaded with Evaline's suitcases and equipment, 
and Allison's expensive leather bags, idled outside the hospital, waiting for them.
	"The pay's too good to refuse." 
	"Have you seen the father?" Patty jerked her thumb toward the door. "Do you know what he's like?" 
	"No." Evaline paused. "I haven't met him." 
	"From what I've seen, they're both bad apples." Patty gave a snort of disgust. "Some things aren't
worth it, no matter how much they pay you." 
	"They can't be that bad."
	"Wanna bet?" 
	At that moment a deep male voice bellowed inside the room. "She is not riding in some 
goddamn wheelchair!" 
	Evaline glanced at the door and then back at her friend. 
	Patty raised her eyebrows. "If you can stand that guy and his daughter for three 
months without going stark raving mad, I'll buy you dinner at the Space Needle." 
	An attack of doubt swept over Evaline, but she instantly battled it back with her vow to
keep Allison safe. She turned the knob. 
	"You're on," Evaline replied, and then pasting on a smile of confidence she didn't feel 
inside, she swept into the room. 
	No one noticed her entrance: not the girl slumped on the bed, not the agitated discharge 
nurse whose back was turned to the door, and not the huge man staring the nurse down. Evaline
glanced at him--a blur of red plaid, bushy dark beard, wild brown hair, and long legs covered 
by faded jeans. 
	"Everyone leaves the hospital in a wheelchair, Mr. Townsend," the nurse explained. Judging by
the terseness in her voice, the nurse must have repeated the policy numerous times for his benefit. 
	"Not my daughter." 
	"Mr. Townsend, your daughter can't even walk." 
	"The hell she can't. The doctors said there is nothing wrong with her legs. She just doesn't 
want to walk." 
	The nurse sighed, and Evaline took the opportunity to step in. She strode
forward, holding out her hand. 
	"Mr. Townsend?" she said in her firmest voice, "I'm Evaline Jaye, Allison's new physical 
	Gabriel Townsend turned to her and she felt dwarfed by his size. He was well
over six feet, with wide shoulders, and muscular arms. He gave her the impression of being 
a very tall, very sturdy tree, complete with a full complement of crusty bark. A scruffy untrimmed 
beard spilled down the front of his shirt, reaching halfway to his belt buckle, a large oval
affair with the figure of an eagle molded in silver. She couldn't guess his age because of the 
beard, which could have belonged to a man of twenty-five or fifty. 
	Her stare traveled up the path of hair to his face, where she found two gray eyes flashing at 
her. She had expected cruel beady eyes but saw instead two clear pools burning with fire and
intelligence. Slightly surprised by the look in his eyes, she kept her hand outstretched until 
he couldn't ignore it. Almost reluctantly he shook her hand. 
	"Pleasure," he said. His eyes raked her up and down. "YouŌre kind of tiny for the job, aren't you?"
	 "No, Mr. Townsend, I am not." Her reply seemed to take him aback. 
	 He stared at her for a moment and then turned to his daughter. "Get up now, Allison. No more play
acting, girl." 
	Allison sat on the bed, her slender back slumped, her shoulders drooping. She wouldn't even look 
at him, much less make a reply. She was dressed in jeans, a black tee-shirt, and stylish
heavy-soled shoes. Her blond hair had been brushed and pulled back and held with a gold clip. 
For all appearances she looked like a normal young woman, and a very pretty one at that, except 
for the dull look in her eyes and the scowl on her face. 
	Townsend strode forward and planted himself directly in front of Allison, but the girl 
still ignored him.
	"Are you going to let them wheel you out like some sissy?" Townsend demanded, obviously 
frustrated by her attitude, "Or are you going to walk out of this hospital like a man?" 
	"I don't think she'll ever walk like a man," Evaline put in wryly, hoping a lighter attitude might
induce the girl to cooperate. "Will you, Allison?" 
	Townsend's head jerked around and he glowered at her. "You said you were the physical
	"That's right." 
	"Then stick to your job description. We don't need a comedian where we're going." 
	Evaline flushed. She'd only been trying to defuse the situation with humor. God knew the room 
could use a little levity. She crossed her arms over a sinking feeling in her stomach that told 
her the next three months might be the longest summer of her life. 
	"Allison!" Townsend thundered. The nurse shot Evaline a dark and helpless look and then 
stepped back. Evaline moved forward, rolling the wheelchair to the side of the bed. She scooted 
around the chair and reached for Allison. 
	"Come on, Allison," Evaline urged.
	"I said she doesn't need that chair!" Townsend growled. 
	"I'm not deaf," Evaline retorted. "But you must be. Haven't you been told your daughter
is supposed to leave in the chair?" 
	"Then I'll carry her, for chrissake!" 
	Evaline glanced up at his face and then at Allison. She saw the girl's eyelids flutter. 
	"Do you want your father to carry you?" Evaline asked, gambling on the teenager's response to 
put an end to the discussion. 
	There was a sudden silence in the room as all eyes turned toward the girl. Allison kept 
staring at the wall, but her voice came out in a raspy monotone. 
	"I'd rather die first." 
	Evaline saw Townsend flush. It served him right. He didn't deserve a kind response, not after
his boorish behavior. She glanced back to the girl. 
	It was then she saw the second vision, much  more startling than the one in the conference room. 
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of a crow sitting on the headboard of Allison's 
bed, just beyond the girl's shoulder. What was a bird doing in the hospital? The teachings of her
childhood flooded her memory. She remembered the meaning of the appearance of a crow: 
Help will be needed to discover a betrayal.
	Alarmed and amazed, Evaline blinked, and the bird disappeared. When she looked at the 
headboard again, she saw nothing but the cold shining bars of stainless steel. What was going on? 
Shaken, Evaline issued a terse command for Allison to slide into the chair, her voice more strident
than usual. But it had the effect of squelching any protests the girl might have made. 
	Evaline guided Allison into the chair, supporting her back and legs as the girl slid from 
the bed to the seat of the wheelchair. Then she deftly maneuvered the wheelchair across the floor,
instructed the nurse to grab Allison's purse, and rolled the chair into the hall. 
	With each rotation of the shiny wheels taking her closer to the van, Evaline wondered what 
lay in store for her in the wilds of Washington State. Were the spirits trying to tell her 
something? Warn her? Unlikely. The spirits had abandoned her years ago. Why would they
come to her now? Only Sea Wolf, ruler of the underwater world of lost souls, had responded 
to her prayer long ago, granting her a new life as a new person with a new people. And here in 
the world of white medicine she would stay, for she was as good as dead to those of her
childhood. Evaline shook off such thoughts and rolled the wheelchair out the doors of the hospital.

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