Doubt (Caroline Auden #1) - C. E. Tobisman


The doctor’s steps were light as he jogged down the tree-lined path. When he reached the hill that paralleled the coastline, he increased his pace, attacking the incline just like Runner’s World said to do. Even as he labored, a warm glow of satisfaction rose in his chest. All his sacrifices had been worth it. His professional life had been fraught with hard decisions, trade-offs, and difficult calls. But now he could justify every one of them.

He let himself revel in his triumph. An unseemly emotion to indulge around others, he could still enjoy it alone. How many people could say their life’s work mattered? That their time on Earth counted for something? Today, the doctor knew with certainty that his did.

Pushing hard toward the top of the hill, he squinted into the sun, trying to make out the shape of the Bon Air Beach Club. The gray structure squatted on the shore a mile around the broad curve of the bay. By this hour, his friends would be hunched over the club’s mahogany bar, regaling one another with Hollywood war stories and boring each other with laments about wives and lovers. But he had no use for any of it. Not anymore.

When the trail plateaued, he eased off his pace. His legs burned with the expended effort of the climb that now lay behind him. Life always seemed to be like that. It wasn’t until he’d slowed down that he felt the pain. But by then he’d achieved his goal. He’d arrived at the peak. Victorious.

The doctor’s musings were cut short by the sight of two men on the path ahead.

One lay on the ground. The other leaned over his fallen comrade. Their bikes were parked side by side under a grove of palm trees thirty steps away.

“Are you guys all right?” the doctor called out to the lanky, pale man who was still standing. He had a red birthmark the shape of a lima bean on his cheek and wore one of those hipster ski caps that seemed impossibly hot in the California sun.

“I’m fine,” the pale man answered, “but my buddy needs some help. We were racing up that hill back there, and he just wiped out after we got to the top.”

“Let me take a look,” the doctor said.

He crouched beside the injured man. Shorter and heavier than the first but just as pale, the man clutched his ankle and groaned.

Giving him a cursory assessment, the doctor noted that—oddly enough, given his accident—the man had no dirt on his biking pants. Lucky break for the wardrobe.

“I haven’t practiced for a while,” the doctor said, “but I haven’t forgotten how to evaluate a fracture.” He gently grasped the injured man’s leg, palpating the soft tissue of the ankle while monitoring the man’s face for a wince. There was none.

Instead, a look passed between the men.

Suddenly everything became horribly clear. The bikes parked too neatly, too far from the path. No sweat on the fallen man’s brow. No dirt on his clothes.

The doctor’s heart began to hammer in his chest.

“Probably just a sprain.” He straightened up to standing. “I’ve got an Ace wrap in my car. It’s just down the hill. I’ll go grab it.”

He took two slow steps away before breaking into a sprint back the way he’d come. He hoped he’d misconstrued an innocent scene. He considered how strange his behavior would appear to the two men if he had.

But then he heard a muffled thud, and two blazing points of heat seared into his thigh.

A Taser gun!

The doctor stumbled, his muscle spasming with electricity.

Swinging a hand blindly for the cause of the pain, he snagged one of the leads, breaking the connection and stopping the current. Still, his leg screamed in agony.

But the pain paled in comparison with the shattering recognition that his fears had been founded. Fears he’d dismissed as late-night paranoia. Fears now horrifically realized as he staggered down the deserted path. They’d come for him! My God, they’d really come for him.

He shouted for help. But there was no one around. Just an empty plumber’s truck parked on the side of the road bordering the running path.

The path! The doctor’s eyes raked the edge of it. Beyond it, a chaparral-dotted embankment dipped sharply down toward the beach a hundred feet below.

Digging deep, he threw himself over the lip.

His shoulder hit the ground hard, scraping the skin exposed by his tank top.

He rolled down the hill, scraping and jolting his way through the