Dr. Parker Sloan Hamilton had no warning that today would be the worst day of his life.
With a cup of freshly brewed coffee in one hand and the Miami Herald in the other, he opened the sliding glass door to the balcony of his high-rise apartment. In the distance waves splashed the sandy beach. The beginnings of morning traffic snaked along the coastline.
Settling into his wicker deck chair, he placed the cup on a marbled table and unfolded the paper. Blazoned across the bottom half of the front page a picture stared back at him. Recognizing the face immediately, Parker’s pulse quickened. Dino DiMarco had been one of his high-profile facial makeovers.
The article told that a suspect had been caught in a murder for hire scheme. Of course, the name DiMarco appeared nowhere in the story. Other people in the makeover business handled the details of providing new identities and documents for his patients. Parker had only been responsible for creating the new faces.
The cops would still be able to trace DiMarco’s real identity through fingerprints. Parker could do nothing about that. What if he or someone else turned state’s evidence and identified him as the surgeon? What if the district attorney decided to prosecute him? The what-if ’s made his stomach churn.
Parker hurriedly dressed and drove to work. As he entered the county medical examiner’s office, the irony of his workplace wasn’t lost on him. He was one of their lead forensic specialists.
Valerie waved from her cubicle. “Hi, Parker, how’s it going?” The every morning ritual grated on his nerves this particular day. He nodded and kept going. At six-feet four-inches tall he supposed it would be hard to sneak quietly to his desk. Being voted most eligible bachelor in the mock office pool hadn’t helped obscure him. That embarrassing distinction might soon be coming to an end.
Once at his desk, he listened intently to the office chatter that always preceded his workday. Would the DiMarco story make the morning conversation? He felt exposed, as though any coworker passing by would see guilt written all over him.
Trying to distract his thoughts, he checked his e-mail. Who’d been brought in during the night and now awaited his attention on a cold slab in the morgue? The work—gruesome to most of his friends—intrigued him. Now the dark cloud hanging above him left a growing sense of foreboding about his future.
Midday Parker complained to his supervisor of a migraine and begged off early. He drove home in a heavy rainstorm, downed several pills, and waited. For what? He wasn’t sure.
South Florida had been a far cry from Boston, where Parker had completed his training in forensic pathology. He’d soon adjusted to the culture if not to the heat. The laid-back mañana philosophy contrasted sharply with his duties in the county medical examiner’s office where identifying victims and the nature of their deaths was more than a full-time vocation. Bodies were discovered at all times of the day and night.
Although he loved the excitement of his work, Parker had missed the connection to facial reconstruction that had drawn him to the field of forensic medicine. To scratch that itch he’d become friends with several cosmetic surgeons in the area. Occasionally, he found himself in a consulting role, particularly when a well-known celebrity flew in for a makeover.
One friend in particular, Dr. Brody Colson, had been more than understanding of his need for a few prescription drugs to make it through the day and to relieve his chronic insomnia. He also let him in on a trade secret. “The rich and famous aren’t the only ones coming to us for cosmetic surgery,” he told Parker. “Some people want to look different for other reasons. Maybe they don’t want to be found. They want to disappear for awhile and reappear with a new identity.” Brody winked, but Parker simply stared at him in disbelief.
It seemed clear Brody implied these were people with a criminal past or present. They were trying to evade the very law enforcement agencies with whom Parker worked.
Brody continued, “I know what you make in the medical examiner’s office. And I know your lifestyle. Soon the two are going to collide. This service pays well. Very well.”
Brody was right about finding it hard to live on his meager paycheck. Having grown up in a wealthy Nashville neighborhood, he’d taken the finer things in life for granted. But that was no excuse for engaging in an illicit activity. Parker had reasoned that he could pick up extra income at any of the area clinics or hospitals. Except for his crazy hours. How could he even schedule a part-time position?
Parker had the random thought of blowing the whistle on the criminal makeovers, but he decided to keep quiet. Brody knew about his drug habit. That wouldn’t look good to his supervisor. He thought consulting on a new look for a few patients was his best option for a little extra cash.
That decision led to assisting with surgeries. Finally, he performed his first solo surgery on a person wanting a makeover. Uncomfortable with the success of the procedure, Parker told himself he’ d never do it again. For the hundredth time he weighed his options.
Operating on individuals wanted by law enforcement might be risky behavior, but it was lucrative. And he craved Brody’s admiration of his skills. He was solving crimes in the medical examiner’s office while moonlighting by surgically altering faces. What irony! To Parker, the nameless criminals were simply limp figures on a gurney attached to an IV tube. Had he really thought he could get away with surgery on criminals who had lots of money but few places to hide? Was it too late for him to run?