Strange Medicine (Dr. Maxwell Thornton Murder Mysteries #1)

Strange Medicine (Dr. Maxwell Thornton Murder Mysteries #1)

S.C. Wynne

Chapter One


The first thing that hit me was the smell. Covering my nose, I tried not to gag on the pungent scent of cattle and dust. I climbed from the taxi as the driver tugged my suitcase from the trunk.

He scanned my silk suit and tie, and smirked. “Sure you don’t just want me to take you back to the airport?”

Lifting my chin, I stuffed money into his grimy hands. “Maxwell Thornton doesn’t run from a challenge.” My statement was a ridiculous lie. The only reason I stood in this smelly hellhole of a town was because I was running, fleeing something too horrible to contemplate: I was a murderer.

I picked up my suitcase and stepped away from the car. When my shoe landed in something suspiciously squishy, I winced, afraid to look down.

The driver grimaced. “Oops.”

I lifted my foot and stepped aside, finding hard ground this time. I scraped my shoe back and forth and pretended I didn’t want to scream with frustration. How could this be my life? I’d spent the last decade as an esteemed surgeon in Los Angeles, and now I stood on a dung-riddled dirt road as the sole GP in this grimy little town of Rainy Dale, Texas. Life had seemed so promising only two months ago. Now I felt as if I’d been exiled to Siberia. Or the hellishly hot equivalent.

Turning, I faced the little white house that would serve as my office and home. It was in better shape than I’d assumed—no peeling paint or broken windows. The garden was green with yellow esperanza and blackfoot daisy growing along the front of the yard. I liked that it seemed private. My nearest neighbor was about 200 feet down the road toward the town that sprawled along the big lake.

The driver spoke as he opened his car door. “Well, I’m gonna take off now, Doc. You just give me a call if you change your mind about staying.”

I glanced toward him, stuffing down the urge to beg him to take me back to civilization. “I’m not going anywhere.”

He snorted. “Suit yourself.” He climbed into his vehicle, and the engine roared to life. I watched him slowly bump down the lane away from the town.

Moving down the cobblestone path, I strode determinedly up the steps to the front porch. As I reached for the knob, the door opened abruptly. A young girl of about twenty with freckles and purple-framed glasses stood there with her eyes wide.

“Oh, you’re already here!” She ran a hand over her tousled auburn hair. “I didn’t expect you till evening.”

“Who are you?” I asked, wondering why a strange girl was in my home.

She gave a tense laugh. “I’m Girdy. I’m your receptionist. Remember we spoke on the phone?”

I eyed her up and down, and then I frowned. “You don’t look old enough to be a receptionist.”

Another uptight laugh left her lips. “I am. Plus, I’ll have you know, I’m a certified phlebotomist, sir.”

“Hmmm.” I lifted one brow.

Her cheeks seemed pinker than when I’d first arrived. “Why don’t you come in out of the heat?” She stepped aside and avoided my gaze. “It tends to make people a tad grumpy.”

I entered the building, relieved to discover an unmistakable chill that could only come from central air-conditioning. At least this place wasn’t so barbaric they didn’t have that one small comfort. I glanced around the wide area, taking note of a staircase, a desk in the corner, and chairs lined along the wall on either side of the waiting area.

“That’s my desk.” Girdy moved into the room and pointed to a door at the far end of the room. “Your office and examination room is there.”

I widened my eyes. “There’s only one examination room?”

“Yep.” She grimaced. “Sorry. Do you usually have more than one?”

I thought about my beautiful state-of-the-art clinic back in LA with a sinking heart. “Yes.”

“Oh, well…” She tucked a tendril of hair behind her ear. “We just have the one.” A phone on the desk rang, and she jumped, pressing her hand to her chest. “Sorry.” She went to answer it.

There was a knock on the doorjamb behind me. When I turned, a middle-aged man with a shiny bald head and thick salt-and-pepper eyebrows stood there. “Are you the new doctor?” He looked hopeful as he stepped into the waiting area.

I gave a curt nod. “I am.”

“I’m Ned Tinkerson.” He held out his arm showing an angry red rash from his wrist to his elbow. “Would you mind terribly taking a look at this, Doc?”

It took a lot not to recoil. “No. I literally just arrived.”

“Oh, well…” Ned frowned. “But it would only take a minute.”

Girdy spoke from behind me. “Doc, Mrs. Lowe has a fever, and she was hoping maybe she could pop over and you could check her temperature?”

“Pop over?” I scowled. “Absolutely not. What’s wrong with you people? I haven't even set my bag down and you’re already trying to book appointments?”

“But—” Ned began.

“How did you even know I’d arrived?” I inched toward my office, feeling sweaty and uneasy.

“We’re neighbors. I live just down the road and saw your taxi.” Ned laughed. “I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask if you’d take a look-see.”

S.C. Wynne's Books