Jen shivered in the damp morning air as she started her ancient Toyota
that Tommy had named Aethenoth. She smiled, remembering the night they
had parked on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Half Moon Bay and
made love in the back seat under the full moon. Tommy had said that the
silver light shining off her pale skin reminded him of Lady Godiva
riding her famous horse, Aethenoth. That night, he declared that Jen’s
car would henceforth be called Aethenoth the Ancient in honor of Jen’s
nakedness, just like Lady Godiva.
She adored Tommy for being a romantic, reciting literature and opera
lines at intimate moments in their relationship. She, too, had adopted
his name for her car, not only because it reminded her of their
intimacy, but also because she had agreed with Lady Godiva’s
cause—forcing her husband to lower taxes. Jen wondered what would
become of her if she decided to drive around San Francisco nude.
Dangerous thinking. She snapped back to reality.
Aethenoth the Ancient had been a loyal companion, transporting Jen to
college in Wisconsin, medical school in Los Angeles, a residency program
in San Francisco, and now, three years later, to her position as an
emergency room physician at San Francisco Community Hospital. The miles
had taken a toll on Aethenoth, however, so as sentimental as Jen was
about her, she was considering buying an SUV.
“Aethenoth, I’m sorry to break it to you, but the SUV I’m
interested in has heated seats. I could use those about now,” she
said, revving Aethenoth to life, flipping the wipers to remove the ocean
fog that had condensed on the windshield overnight. The sky was dusky
pink, and Jen was groggy, just coming off the night shift and now
working days. She sipped hot coffee from her Thermos as she began the
thirty-minute drive to San Francisco Community Hospital. She lived a few
blocks from the beach, and the hospital was on the other side of the
city, so she had an easy commute in the morning, but a traffic-packed
one in the evening.
Once the heat was pouring through the vents, she drove north on 46th
Avenue, turned right onto Lincoln Parkway, followed Golden Gate Park to
its panhandle, then crawled through the Haight Ashbury neighborhood with
the other early morning commuters. Finally entering Highway 101, she had
a clear shot to the hospital.
Despite Dr. Jen Dawson’s minimalist appearance of a ponytail and no
makeup, male patients would still hit on her while she cared for them in
the emergency room. She was a classic Nordic beauty—high cheek bones,
deep blue eyes, aquiline nose and a smile like California sunshine.
Addicted to the thrill of all things physical, Jen had a muscular
figure, and was training for the Dolphin Club Escape from Alcatraz
Triathlon, which was only a few months away. The physiology geek in her
had prepared a calendar on poster-sized paper, then taped to the wall in
her kitchen. On it, she penciled in her daily training stats of calorie
and protein intake, as well as her time and distance for running, biking
and swimming. Her chart kept her focused and on-track, notwithstanding
her demanding work schedule. She was at the peak of her training,
building muscle and endurance. Nothing would interfere with her goal. No
partying with Tommy. No going out with people from work. No
distractions. Just training for the big day.
She deliberately blinked her eyes as she drove, drinking more coffee and
fighting her circadian rhythm to wake up for the day shift. There was a
heaviness in her bones from flipping her sleep cycle from day to night.
Today would feel like wading through waist-deep water, never making it
to shore, but she would slog through. Tomorrow would be easier, and each
day thereafter until she could catch up on sleep over her days off. In
fact, the only thing that could tube her triathlon performance would be
sleep deprivation, so she had carefully planned her work schedule around
the big day.
Tommy joined her on runs and bike rides when he could, but he worked
long hours as a detective in the homicide unit at SFPD. Recently, he had
baked a large pan of lasagna for Jen, freezing individual serving sizes
in plastic containers for her evening meals. His Italian philosophy was
that pasta was the best training food, and she couldn’t argue with
that, especially if he made it.
As she entered the neighborhood where the hospital was located, she
found a parking spot a few blocks off Potrero Avenue. Leaving Aethenoth
unlocked, Jen walked to the hospital campus in the dawn light with other
employees. Pushing through the revolving doors, she greeted the staff at
the main reception desk, then swiped her name badge to open a side-door
into the Emergency Room. She skirted the Unit Station and walked down a
long corridor to the physicians’ locker room, where she changed into
turquoise scrubs. Emerging seven minutes later, she was ready to work a
Jen joined the nurses and physicians who had congregated at the Unit
Station, a long desk facing three banks of patient rooms, enclosed by a
glass wall running from desktop to ceiling. The glass partition dampened
the noise from nurses talking at the station. More importantly, however,
it was a barrier between dysfunctional visitors and the staff behind it.
Jen’s colleagues were huddled at the long desk, talking in hushed
tones about something serious.
“Good morning. What are we talking about?” Jen asked.
“You haven’t heard?” a nurse asked.
“I just woke up and came to work. I don’t know anything.”
“Oh. Horrible news. You know the ultrasound tech, Natasha Farber?”
“Yeah. The cute one who likes to chat?”
“Yes. She was found dead in her apartment yesterday afternoon.”
“What? You have to be kidding me? From what?”
“They don’t know. It might have been natural causes, but she was so
young, and she never told any of us that she had a condition, like an
arrhythmia or something.”
“Maybe it was a pulmonary embolus or an aneurysm. You never know,”
Jen speculated. “Are they doing an autopsy?”
“I think they have to. It’s a Medical Examiner case,” the nurse
“That should yield some answers. Funeral arrangements?”
“Haven’t heard anything yet. I’m sure her family is in shock right
“Does she have family in the area?”
“She was from Ohio and friends with Cheryl, her supervisor in
Radiology. Cheryl will know.”
“How sad. She was so young. Keep me posted on arrangements.”
“My money says that her husband killed her,” another nurse blurted.
They all stared at her.
“What do you mean?” Jen asked.
“I heard they were separated because he beat her. Cheryl told me that
Natasha showed her bruising on her arms from him grabbing her. So,
Cheryl connected Natasha with the Employee Assistance Program, then
helped her file charges against her husband.”
“Really? So, you think he actually killed her?” Jen asked.
“Yes. I think he was a vengeful bastard who was jealous of her.”
“Because she was moving on from him. They were separated. Word on the
street is that she was in a relationship with a new man.”
“Anyone we know?”
The nurses shook their heads, then busied themselves with other duties
as Dr. Lane Wallace, Jen’s colleague, entered the station, maneuvering
around the chairs with his cane, so he could sit at one of the computer
screens designated for x-rays and other imaging tests.
“Good morning, Lane,” Jen said.
“Not really,” he said in disgust.
“I take it you heard the news about the ultrasound tech,” Jen said,
as the nurses scattered.
“Her name was Natasha Farber,” he grumbled, staring at the computer
screen and entering his password.
Jen heard his voice catch when he said Natasha’s name. “Did you know
“We all knew her. She did ultrasounds in the ER.” Dr. Wallace stared
hard at the X-ray on the flat screen, not making eye contact with Jen.
“Yes. Well, some better than others. I didn’t interact with her much
on day shifts.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, whipping off his half
glasses and staring at her.
She put her hands up in surprise. “Nothing! It’s an
expression—some better than others.”
He continued to stare at Jen.
“Whoa, Lane. Did I stumble into something? Did I offend you?” She
lay her hand on his shoulder.
He tried to talk, but couldn’t, his face creasing and tears filling
“Come on. Let’s go in the back doc room,” Jen said, referring to
the physician work room. She led the way, and he grabbed his cane,
following her into a small room with a conference table, three
computers, and a mini fridge in the corner. When the physicians needed
to review medical records, dictate notes, or otherwise get some quiet
time during their shift, they used this room. Thus, its moniker—back
Jen spied a box of Kleenex and handed it to him. He grabbed a handful
and fell into a chair, letting his cane fall to the floor. He sobbed
uncontrollably, so Jen slid a chair next to him and rested her arm
across his shoulders.
“Let it out, Lane. Let it all out.” She sat silently while he shook
in sorrow, doubled over, his face in his hands. Several minutes passed
as they sat together.
She had no idea he was this close to the ultrasound tech, but her mind
was racing with possibilities.
When he had gathered himself, he blew his nose and sat straight in his
chair. “I’m sorry you had to witness that.”
“Don’t be. It’s what friends are for. I’m here for you…and, I
know you’d do the same for me.”
“It’s just that—she was so young. So beautiful—”
“I take it you knew her better than I did.”
“I was in love with her.”
Jen had no clue, believing he was happily married to Susie. They had a
little girl, named Angelina, who Lane talked about frequently. “Care
to talk about it?”
“It’s all so confusing. I helped Natasha get rid of her asshole
husband who abused her, and, in the process, we grew closer. Not at
first. It was very professional at first. One colleague helping another.
We met for lunch, then drinks and—”
“I understand,” Jen said, resting a reassuring hand on his knee.
“She needed me, you know? More than Susie needs me. Natasha was
vulnerable and scared. And with my military training, I thought I could
protect her. I spent more and more time at her apartment—just in case
her husband made a surprise visit. At first, it was platonic, but I
think we both knew we wanted something more.”
“What about Susie? Does she know?”
“No. God, no. She’d divorce me if she knew. I think she suspected I
was going through something but assumed it had to do with baggage from
serving in the desert. We’ve been through so much together that I
think she sort of lost interest at some point along the way. She loves
me. Don’t get me wrong. She just has so many other things on her
mind—her work at the gallery, functions at Angelina’s elementary
“How old is Angelina now?”
“She’s eight, and I’m worried about how this is going to impact
“She loves you, and knows you’re a good father.”
“I try. With Susie’s mom in the nursing home now, Angie and I have
more time alone together because Susie and her brothers are always
taking care of her mother.”
“I’m so sorry, Lane. You know I’m here for you.”
He nodded, but his mind was elsewhere.
“Have you considered some counseling?”
“What? And make a formal medical record of my affair and how messed up
I am? The hospital brass would probably use it against me.”
“You know it doesn’t work that way. It’s confidential.
Administration wouldn’t see it.”
“Don’t you believe it,” he sneered. “Hospital administration
gets their hands on everything. They’re like the fucking CIA.”
Jen disagreed but didn’t want to argue. He was prone to paranoia,
which she assumed stemmed from his military experience. “You take some
more time to gather yourself. I’m gonna start my shift.”
“It might take a few minutes.”
“That’s okay.” She picked up his cane from the floor and leaned it
against his chair.
Jen left the room and quietly closed the door. As she walked out, the
nurses who had previously scattered were reassembled at the desk,
staring at her.
Why am I always the last to learn everything around here? she wondered.
Excerpted from "Bourbon Chase" by Alexi Venice. Copyright © 2017 by Alexi Venice. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.