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A Hospital Ghost Story

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"I see a lot of people every day," the man said, sliding into the booth across from Henry, "so I don't usually remember many faces. Especially not the ones I haven't seen in years."

Keeping his expression neutral, Henry said, "Oh?" and took another sip of his Scotch.

The man looked vaguely familiar. Older, Latino, stern face, keen eyes. Simply dressed—black shirt, jeans that looked faded from use rather than design, old sneakers. Had abandoned a mostly-full bottle of beer at the bar. Was willing to join a stranger at a table without being invited.

"But don't let that fool you into thinking I've got a bad memory." The man tapped the side of his head with a finger. "Sharp as a scalpel. But even if it wasn't, I don't think I'd forget you, Dr. Morgan."

A chill ran through Henry, and his stomach dropped. Perhaps he wasn't a stranger to the gentleman after all. "You must be mistaken," Henry said, forcing a smile. "I haven't been in California in—"

"Over ten years," the man said, and Henry's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Wanna know how I know?"

Henry tried to swallow the tension in his throat. It didn't budge. "Please."

"Okay. Let me tell you a story, Doc. March 2004, guy gets brought into Angels Memorial ER early one morning with a GSW to the chest. British, good-looking for a guy, in pretty good shape for someone who's been shot in the chest, but not well enough to walk away. Says his name's Henry Morgan, and he's a doctor. Got shot while trying to save somebody else. Wrong place, wrong time."

With every word, Henry's stomach sank deeper, and the ache to run in his legs grew stronger. He glanced between the door and the bar, wondering if he could make a quick exit or get through the crowd to Jo. No, too many people.

The man continued. "We try and patch him up a bit, but the guy crashes. One minute he's there, and the next—poof. Dr. Rorish is about to defibrillate an empty bed, and we're all left wondering what the hell just happened."

He remembered that one. Much like the other man said, he'd been doing well for someone with yet another bullet in their chest. Then, he'd died. As soon as he'd gotten himself dried off, he'd packed his bags and headed back to New York, and he'd spent the next few months hiding in his lab beneath Abe's shop and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Henry closed his eyes and breathed deep, bracing himself, then made himself look up at the man once more.

"All right," he said, lowering his voice and leaning in. "What do you want from me?"

"Just the truth," the man replied, with an expansive shrug. "For over twelve years, Rorish and my nurses and I have been wondering what on earth happened to the vanishing dead man, or if we ever treated him at all. Hospital records say we did, and that he checked out AMA, even though he was in no condition to walk out the door. But we know better, and I'm guessing since you're very much alive still, you do too, so: What really happened that day?"

The truth. Right. Henry tried to come up with a convincing lie. The man seemed like someone who'd been in medicine for a long time, and Henry faintly remembered him as a nurse. Whatever excuse he came up with would have to be good enough to convince himself. But there were few believable reasons for a dead patient to literally disappear in front of a group of doctors and nurses. Admitting he was immortal, however, was not an option.

Letting out a small laugh that sounded as fake as it was, Henry said, "That is quite possibly the most ridiculous story I have ever heard."

The nurse narrowed his eyes. "Okay, let's get something straight, Doctor," he said. "I've been a nurse for a long damn time, in the busiest ER in the country—maybe even the world. I've seen all kinds of 'ridiculous' stuff. And you know something? I know what I saw that morning."

"Yes, well." Henry pretended to take another drink, trying to feign arrogant nonchalance in spite of the roil of nerves in his gut. "This is the sort of ghost story you'd tell someone new to the profession on Halloween. Dead men don't simply vanish from a hospital bed for no reason, and if you truly believe one did..."

"I know what I saw," the nurse repeated. "And I'm not someone who believes in ghost stories, okay? Reality's got more than enough crazy for me. That disappearing act? Craziest thing I've ever seen, but it happened. I know it, some of the biggest skeptics I know know it, and I think you know it, too. Why else would you look like you're the one who's seen a ghost over the most ridiculous story you've ever heard?"

Time to approach it from a different angle. "What do you think happened, then?" Henry asked.

"Something that should be impossible," the nurse said. "There really is no other explanation I can think of for someone to just disappear in thin air in front of several people. If it was just me? I'd probably think I needed to take a nice, long vacation and get some real sleep, or maybe pay my friends upstairs in Psych a visit. In front of me and some of the smartest people I know? No explanation, except for whatever it is you're not telling me."

Henry stared at the nurse for a moment. Under different circumstances, he might've appreciated that level of tenacity and conviction. When directed at himself, however, it was quite unnerving. "You're not giving up, are you, Nurse..."

"Sallander. And no, I'm not. I don't give up that easy—not when I know I'm right. Never have, never will. Even if you don't give me an answer—"

"Everything okay, Henry?"

Henry jumped, and turned to Jo, who was giving him a hesitant smile. "Yes, Detective!" he said to her, but his voice sounded off to himself. "Everything's fine. Just happened across an old acquaintance is all."

Jo didn't look convinced, but she didn't comment, either. Instead, with an apologetic wince, she said, "Well, you're gonna have to cut your conversation short, I'm afraid," and held up her phone. "Just got a call from Reece, and we're needed back home. They've found another body—our vic's agent. Lieu wants you on it, too."

"Body?" Sallander asked.

"Medical examiner," Henry said, and finished the rest of his drink. "Sorry to cut our conversation short, Nurse Sallander, but I'm afraid duty calls."

He climbed out of the booth and asked Jo if a flight had been arranged as he got to his feet. When she excused herself to go get their car, Henry stayed back. Once she was out of site, turned to Nurse Sallander and said, "About what happened that night..."

"I want the truth." Sallander crossed his arms over his chest and waved a hand. "That's all I want. I'm not interested in money or fame or whatever else you can think of. Just the truth. Simple as that."

The truth. Right. Henry nodded once. "Soon," he said, "but not tonight. It's a long story—a very long story."

Sallander held out his hand for a handshake and raised an expectant eyebrow. "And I look forward to hearing it."