Below is the unedited, Chapter 1…
The basic themes come from my medical malpractice insurance experiences, population health, and as typical with me, the supernatural world.
The main character is named, Artemis Lamb. She’s a rather feisty redhead sent out to investigate a claim on behalf of her medical malpractice reinsurance carrier at a suspicious hospital in the small Kentucky town known as, Selene.
Below are the first 10 pages … let me know if you like it?
When Artemis Lamb was a little girl she never argued with her parents before her bedtime. Never. She dutifully took a warm bath, brushed her teeth, and put on her cotton jammies. And then she would happily kiss them goodnight, tell them she loved them just before she giggled and scurried off toward her bedroom. Mr & Mrs Lamb would turn around to closely watch their only child disappear up the wooden stairs with a smile on her tiny face, both certain her behavior was odd.
At dinner parties and gatherings they had endlessly watched their friends, and neighbors helplessly battle with their children before bedtime. But not Artemis. So they shared Artemis’ behavior with their friends, and they all agreed, she was a bit different.
The Lamb’s believed in science, so to best care for their precious child, they had physicians and therapists poke and prod her for answers. But the healthcare professionals were never able to properly diagnose her, and they dismissed her claims to have seen spirits as just childhood hallucinations that would likely cease as Artemis aged. Otherwise, she gave them no other signs for profound mental illness since she didn’t check off any other diagnostic boxes.
They concluded she was just a bit eccentric, but otherwise a happy redheaded child. They theorized with Mr. and Mrs. Lamb that being an only child likely left her to play alone inside a powerful imaginative inner world, which meant they thought, she was quite bright, but nothing else to worry about.
In truth, Artemis had a routine. She would nap for a few hours, and wait for her parents to drift off into their dreamland. And then, Artemis would sit on her bedroom chair within the dark stillness, and quietly gaze outside with wonderment as just past her thin double paned window she saw along her tranquil midwestern town’s streets a colorful host of wandering spirits. All hallowed over by a golden meridian, they appeared like illuminated particles, some fast moving like shooting stars toward undisclosed destinations, or others just floated above the smartly manicured lawns like summertime fire flies, even during the depths of a snowy wintertime.
If the Lamb’s traveled late in the night, Artemis realized her parents never seemed to notice the nearby wondering spirits. When she asked about them, or pointed out a nearby spirit they never believed her. “Stop with the make believe,” in unison they had said to her. “You’re just imaging them, nothings out there, someday, when you’re older, they’ll not be there.”
Artemis nodded at them from the backseat, and decided at that moment to never to tell them, or anyone, anything she saw.
One day at high school during ancient world history class, she realized that there are unique things in this world, or mysterious happenings that cannot be easily explained. She understood she could not explain to her classmates what she saw, so it would forevermore be her one lifetime secret.
At college, Artemis’ instincts nudged at her that someone was observing her. She always sensed something nearby during the foggy mornings as she walked to class, or at night inside a dive bar hanging out with friends. It was always there, nearby, she knew it. But nothing was ever revealed.
She eventually dismissed the feeling as mild paranoia from school stress, it was certainly not God, or any other hokum she had learned from her religious studies. Her family had never walked into a church or other, she, like her parents were not Bible thumpers.
The only statement Mr. and Mrs. Lamb had ever told Artemis was that there might be a higher power nearby her that would always protect her, so, she believed her minder was her hidden protector. But she thought it was unlikely, she knew her parents were not always truthful with her, it was likely some wondering spirits that from time to time were trying to communicate with her. They were always peaceful spirits just searching for answers.
Then on a typical afternoon at the office, Artemis could not have known that soon she would in fact meet her earthly minder, or so she assumed, and that her thinking about the supernatural world was about to change.
“Girl,” Wylie said. He was older, wrinkled and bald. He sounded like he was straight out of eastern North Carolina.
“I’m not a girl,” Artemis said, wryly. She was now tall, athletic and a striking redhead that lacked freckles.
“I know,” Wylie said. He tapped atop his desk for a pack of cigarettes, even though he’d finally stopping smoking years earlier. “But you’re my best investigator, warning, this file’s not pleasant.”
“I hate it when you use, not pleasant,” Artemis said.
It was not the sort of electronic file that normal people wanted to read. The medical malpractice insurance business was not a soft world. If you needed a hug, get your resume in order and move your career journey along into a safe office building where you can peddle on-line women’s shoes, or video games.
It was a hidden world that occasionally made a flashy news headline for a plaintiff law firm after a massive court verdict born from a human tragedy. For the most part the files Artemis investigated were all about after the fact, as in, after the wrong limb was amputated, the wrong baby died during childbirth, or the wrong anesthesia protocol gorked an innocent patients brain.
If a claim file was described as unpleasant by Wylie, Artemis understood it was a cruise ship wreck like file that frothed over with perceived accidental death and dismemberment.
“We’ve got a billion plus exposed,” Wylie said. He squirmed on his high-back leather chair as he fumbled with his thumb and forefinger along the edge of an envelope. “The captive tower’s fully-funded, funding study was completed late last year, then some nitwit in Fort Wayne decided we should reinsure the entire deal, but…”
Wylie hesitated for several moments staring down his long office at a grouping of a side tables and cushioned chairs.
“Dude,” Artemis said. “What?”
“I don’t know,” Wylie said. He glossed his hand over his mostly bald head. He had just enough white hair left to cover the circumference from ear to ear, he was too classy to grow a ponytail. “I’ve just got this bad feeling with this one. I’m not sure what to say, you’ll have to go figure it out. I’m too old these days, I’d put other people in danger. You know?”
“I always do figure them out,” Artemis said. Wylie handed her the encryption passwords for the file within the bare envelope. He was old school and rarely used his email.
“I like you,” Wylie said. He hesitated, again. “You know that… in a mentoring way, you understand?”
“What?” Artemis said. She slouched onto a side desk chair. She screwed her pink Jimmy Choo’s into the side of Wylie’s desk. “Cough it up, dude.”
Wylie wobbled over toward her. He waved her shoes off the side of his desk. Artemis shifted back, and moved her shoes onto the office’s carpeted floor.
“This is evil, alleged unauthorized cremations, bodies just disappear,” Wylie said. He bent forward, his elbows on his knees. “Not just a mistake, but something else, a lust for money over human dignity – something. I can’t quite figure out from the files. It all reads nice and clean, like they did the family a favor, preventing an Ebola outbreak, or similar non-sense.”
Artemis thought a hairy spider was climbing along her neckline. She acknowledged Wylie. She was not afraid of spiders, but she understood what the sensation meant. She thought if Wylie’s thirty plus years of experience were knocking his instincts around inside his brain, it was bad.
“Why are you of all people afraid?” Artemis asked. “You taught me the business. I’m well trained to take care of myself, thanks to the Marines.”
Wylie looked over at Artemis. He gave her a blank, cold stare and he interlocked his fingers.
“It’s not just about money,” Wylie said. He sighed as if he expected the worse. “It’s the medical records, they are clean, like a clinical risk manager went through them with an exacto knife. You’ll see. They are perfect. But that perfection makes them flawed. It’s not just drugs, opioids, they are hiding something, messing with the captive’s money, I don’t know, some sort of tax dodge?”
Artemis enjoyed the hunt, she smirked like any confident battle tested warrior. And Wylie’s cryptic observations gave her the bloodhound scent.
“What’s my budget?” Artemis asked. She squeezed with her fingers the only ring she wore on her left hand.
“Are you kidding?” Wylie said, ruefully. He shook his head.
“I don’t understand,” Artemis said.
“Unlimited, my dear, from up the chain, big eyes are looking down on us,” Wylie said. He glanced back over at Artemis. “For some reason, you always do the best with death cases, and there are a bunch of bodies in this claim. We’ve got batch language in the policy form. I think they are trying to get a global deal. Be warned, this is bigger than us… and you’ll be all alone, they want this kept quiet.”
“I like being alone,” Artemis said. “I hunt best when I’m out there all alone.”
Wylie leaned back up and opened his desk drawer to reveal work papers, paper lips, nicknacks, and a heavy looking Glock 34 resting on top. “Have one of these, right?”
“Yeah,” Artemis said. “You know I do.”
“Good, pack it with you. Drive up there, take a real truck, with big wheels,” Wylie said. “Take your time, be casual, when you get into Kentucky, use back roads whenever possible. Use cash whenever possible. I’ll get you a draft for the bank. Don’t route it back to any expense reports. Just spend it, then lose the receipts. Understand?”
“Wylie,” Artemis said, exasperatedly. “With my hair and skin, I almost glow in the dark, I can’t hide.”
“I know,” Wylie said. “Just get up there first, get a hotel room and then go introduce yourself to the head of risk management, and their general counsel. The contact names are in the file. I suspect they are all locals, never worked anyplace else, so this is their home, they’ll be real protective.”
Artemis considered Wylie’s counsel. She knew him as a cautious and calculating man.
“They have to know someone’s coming,” Artemis said. She crossed her sinewy legs. “If I miss my guess, they’ve already hidden the bodies, and what ever else.”
“Unless my instincts are off,” Wylie said. He shoved his desk drawer shut, and locked it. “Both sides are in league with each other, local plaintiff firm, if you just happened to show up, they might slip up, show their hands before they know what you’re up to. I can’t lead with a pinhead lawyer. I need you in country, as the cliché, this is likely going to get nasty.”
“You always told me, none of us has clean hands.”
Wylie grinned kindly, sucked in a deep breath, and slowly released it through his nose. He reflectively looked through the offices smoked glass windows toward a high-end country club.
“We were greedy, short sighted, that’s on us,” Wylie said. He nodded rhythmically. “We got into bed with snakes. I just don’t want you to get bit, but we have to clean up this mess. Artemis, you understand, this could sink us, I’m to old to redo my resume.”
“I got it.”
Artemis got up and marched toward Wylie’s closed office door. She had her instructions. But Wylie got up suddenly, he stopped her. He tightly hugged her like a father hugs his daughter.
“You just get back here,” Wylie said. He pensively backed away, and opened the door. “Here me?”
Artemis lightly punched Wylie on the shoulder.
“You old softy,” Artemis said. “I ain’t scared.”
Artemis drove from downtown Tampa, Florida across the Gandy bridge and back home to her modest apartment in downtown St. Petersburg. She shut the window blinds.
For the next three days she relentlessly reviewed the underwriting files, the claim files, and any loss data. Artemis thought Wylie had been prophetic as it was what was not in the files.
The files were clean, perfect and textbook like. But for a medical malpractice claim investigator, it meant something much more sinister. She searched the Kentucky town maps, and found a hotel chain near the hospital were she would setup operation.
She sat back, considered her options, and thought her first trip into Selene, Kentucky required a midnight visit to the local cemetery. Perhaps there were wondering spirits that might offer her clues. The undead were always the best sources because they had already experienced the truth.
End – Chapter One
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