CHAPTER 1 Belinda, West Virginia Matt, this is Laura in the er. . . . Matt?" "Yeah." "Matt, you're still asleep." "I'm not." "You are. I can tell." "Time zit?" "Two-thirty. Matt, please turn on a light and wake up. There's been an accident at the mine." Matt Rutledge groaned. "Friggin' mine," he muttered. "Dr. Butler has activated the disaster protocol. Team B is it tonight. Matt, are you awake?" "I'm awake, I'm awake," he pronounced hoarsely, fumbling with the switch on his bedside lamp. "Nine times seven is fifty-six. The Miami basketball team is the Heat. The fifth president--" "Okay, okay. I believe you." From college, through medical school and residency, and now into his life as an internist, it had always been a chore for Matt to shut his mind down enough to fall asleep--but not nearly the challenge of subsequently waking up. Laura Williams knew this trait of his as well as any nurse, having worked with him in the ER of Montgomery County Regional Hospital for two years before his decision to switch over to private practice. She and all the other nurses had adopted the policy that Dr. Matthew Rutledge wasn't definitely awake until he could prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. "Light on? Feet on the floor?" "I'm up, I'm up. Hold on for a second." Matt tossed the receiver onto the bed and pulled on a pair of worn jeans, a can aerosols now T-shirt, and a light sweater. "Was it a cave-in?" he asked, tucking the receiver beneath one ear. He sensed a tightening in his gut at even saying the words. "I think so. Ambulances are out there, but no one's been brought in here yet. The man from the mine just got here, though. He says he thinks ten or twelve are injured." "Man from the mine?" Matt pulled on a pair of gym socks. Two toes--the little one and the fourth--poked through a hole in the left one. He briefly considered a replacement, then pushed the toes back in and went for his boots instead. "He called himself the safety officer, something like that," Laura said. "Tall, black hair with a white streak up the front?" Sort of like a giant skunk, Matt wanted to add, but didn't. "Exactly." "That would be Blaine LeBlanc. He's a very important person in Mineville. Just ask him. Laura, thanks. I'm up and dressed and on my way." "Great. The first rescue unit won't be here for a little while, so drive slowly." "I know. I know. Motorcycle equals donorcycle." He pulled on his boots. "I won't go over five, I promise. The rest of the team on their way in?" "All except Dr. Crook. So far he hasn't answered his phone or his pager." Please let it stay that way, Matt thought. Robert ("Don't ever call me Bob") Crook was a carriage trade cardiologist. One of the senior medical citizens in the multispecialty Belinda Medical Group, he had been the most vocal in opposition to Matt's move from the ER into their practice. Ultimately, though, those who thought a well-liked, Belinda-born-and-raised, Harvard-trained internist and ER specialist might just help fill the desperate need for a primary care doc won out over Crook, whose main objection (spoken) was that Matt was an arrogant weirdo who didn't dress or look like a doctor, and (unspoken) that he had once turned down his daughter's invitation to the prom. "Well, I should be there in ten minutes." "Make it fifteen." "Okay, okay." "And Matt?" "Yes?" "Nine times seven is sixty-three, not fifty-six." "I knew that." Matt set the phone down, pulled hisPalmer, Michael is the author of 'Fatal' with ISBN 9780553802030 and ISBN 0553802038.