In the dark of the night, terror could find anyone. Especially in South Point's Correctional Facility. The corridors away from the cell blocks were lit well, but the florescent lights did nothing to soothe away the anxiety that hung in the air like low fog. Security swipe card in hand, Ashleigh Guinnett walked silently and swiftly down the drab corridor. She nodded at a patrolling guard, a friendly man by the name of Vic as she walked closer to him.
"Evening, Doctor Guinnett, bit late to be working, isn't it?" he asked with a warm smile.
"I'm supposed to be doing hourly checks on Hampton- make sure everything is okay for the-"
"For the execution," Vic finished for her, nodding sympathetically. " I thought Doctor Forsythe was taking care of Hampton." It was common knowledge at SPCF that Doctor Forsythe was the primary doctor for death row prisoners. For prisoner Zachary Hampton it was no different. The last three inmates at SPCF had all suffered mysterious, unexplained deaths just weeks, in some cases days, before the execution date. The odd part was that all three men had been in peak physical condition for their respective ages.
There were stories, rumors really, floating around that the inmates- Miller, Webb and Murphy, had all found something out about Doctor Forsythe that would ruin him and his career; that they had planned to expose him. There had been no traces of substance in their blood streams- no illegal or prescribed drugs. For each man's age, they were in excellent physical condition, had no history of medical problems with high mortality rates.
The warden, Christopher Renfro, had given Doctor Forsythe- who the inmates called "Unforgiving Forsythe", two weeks of forced vacation and had assigned Ashleigh to Hampton's case. Forsythe didn't know that list bit of information yet. Renfro had insisted on not telling Forsythe until he returned from Aruba.
"I'll be taking Doctor Forsythe's patients while he's on vacation," Ashleigh remarked as if it were no big deal. When Vic looked at her strangely, she explained herself. "I want to familiarize myself with his patients' charts. Best to be prepared," she shrugged her shoulders.
"Well make sure you come and get me when you leave, Doc. I'll make sure you get to your car," he offered.
Later when she was locked in her office which was between two exam rooms and across from a small security bay, she sat looking at case files. Sitting behind the simple desk, Ashleigh allowed her hazel eyes to focus on the task at hand. Doctor Forsythe, while the chief of staff of SPCF's medical department, the man had few patients. Forsythe was assigned the maximum security prisoners- the few dangerous enough that Warden Renfro preferred their caretakers to be male. Most of Forsythe's patients were housed in solitary confinement cells, deemed too dangerous to have cell mates.
Ashleigh had never met, let alone even been in the same building as any of Forsythe's patients. While she had been assured that her job was of the utmost importance, she had been told that it was in her best interest to tend to the low security prisoners. Looking at the small but surprisingly thick stack of file folders in front of her, Ashleigh signed wondering what she was getting herself into by taking on these new responsibilities.
After the first six charts, Ashleigh found the one she'd been avoiding: Hampton, Zachary. She'd never seen him anywhere but on television or in the newspapers. Even when other doctors had been unavailable, Warden Renfro had made sure that she was nowhere near where the trouble was at the moment. She avoided looking at the photograph that was paper clipped to the file and read his prior offenses. He was in prison and on death row for murdering nine women only after brutally raping and torturing them. Hampton had been classified by the media as a serial killer and had been sentenced to death by an Illinois judge. In twenty-seven days media would fill the viewing room of the execution chamber when he was put to death, justice for the women he'd murdered.
The photograph on the file showed a strikingly handsome young man in his late twenties- a quick glance at his date of birth told her he was thirty-two. He had closely cropped light brown hair, a straight nose, full lips and chiseled features that reminded her of an exquisite statue. What really got her attention though were his eyes. They were as bright as sapphires, twinkling even though it was a mug shot that was printed on the photo paper. Looking at his eyes, Ashleigh was surprised they weren't that of a killer.
Ashleigh had been working with inmates long enough to know which ones were as bad as they seemed- it was in their eyes. Their actions were nothing if their eyes were dead and without that twinkle, they were exactly what they'd been sentenced- killers, rapists, thefts. Criminals. Looking at Zachary Hampton's photo though, Ashleigh didn't see a killer. Or a rapist. She saw a flesh and blood human who was as innocent as she.
When a knock at the door echoed throughout her office, Ashleigh realized she'd fallen asleep at her desk, hunched over Hampton's file folder. She hadn't even realized she'd been tired until she'd woken up from the several hours she'd obviously been asleep. Sunlight poured through the window behind her desk and made her wince at the brightness. Yawning, she went to the door and opened it to reveal Vic.
"Doctor Guinnett," he smiled. "Your first patient is on his way."
"Come in," Ashleigh ran a hand through her chestnut locks as she held the door open for him. Apprehension was evident on his face, his features grim and taut with stress. "Is something wrong?"
"Your first patient." Ashleigh reached for the clipboard that hung by the door and scanned it quickly. Hampton. 8 AM. Looking at the clock, she saw she had five minutes.
"Ah. Everything'll be okay, Vic. There will be three guards outside the door and he'll be restrained. Thank you for your concern, Vic," she smiled at him, swallowing the fear that was tingling up her spine.
"Where you want him?" Vic asked as he saw the two guards leading Hampton into the med bay coming closer.
"Exam one," she muttered before her eyes landed on the two guards, and then landed on Zachary Hampton. The moment their gazes connected, Ashleigh felt something go through her- his gaze while icy as the snowy mountains of far away lands, was also warm and refreshing. She was instantly confused and felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her. Their gaze was broken as one of the guards shoved him into the room and Ashleigh turned to see Vic looking at her oddly.
"Be careful with that one, Doc. He's cool as a cucumber and mean as a rattlesnake," Vic warned her.
"Thanks for the advice," Ashleigh nodded at him. "Now if you'll excuse me," she reached for the white lab coat that hung on the hook on the back of the door. "I have a patient to see," she shrugged into the coat and then grabbed Hampton's medical file, a clipboard and a pencil.
When she reached exam room one, she saw the two guards standing just inside the door while Hampton stood near the window. He had handcuffs on his wrists and shackles with a chain through them on his feet to keep him from running. Stepping inside the room, she nodded at the guards- two she hadn't seen before stepping into the room. Hampton didn't turn around but Ashleigh suspected that he knew she was in the room.
"Gentlemen, if you'll excuse us," Ashleigh's voice was strong and none of the fear she felt was in her voice.
"We're not leavin' Doc," the one on her left said in a deep voice.
"I'm afraid you don't have a choice, Officer . . . " she trailed off and looked at his tag. "Officer McEnroe. State law states that-"
"He's a criminal, Doc!" the guard on the right, an Officer Fender objected.
"Do I have to remind you that while in prison, all inmates are subject to-" Ashleigh started to object. "You know what, I'm sure Warden Renfro will have something to say about this," she spun on her heel and started back toward the door.
"Fine! Fine, we'll be right outside the door," McEnroe stated. "Just yell if he tries anything." After she'd hastily threatened the guards and pointed out the laws of confidentiality, Ashleigh found herself alone with Zachary Hampton, who still hadn't turned to even glance in her direction, let alone even acknowledge her presence.
Zachary Hampton stood in the small exam room, near the window looking out across the yard. Still facing the window, he smiled when his new doctor challenged the guards. The girl had spunk- the guards had only listened to Doctor Forsythe because he'd had leverage over them. Forsythe had always gruffly ordered them to leave, while this new doctor had requested their departure. She'd stood her ground and had gotten her way without stooping to Forsythe's level.
Looking at her reflection in the window, Zach wondered what a girl like her was doing working in a prison. She wasn't model thin, but her body was long and athletic and he could tell that she had to workout to stay in such good shape. Her dark hair was pulled up and pinned on top of her head with two sticks. She had a kind face and a warm smile. She was definitely attractive. And those thoughts weren't because he hadn't seen a woman in over a year , either.
After the guards stepped out of the room, Zach was surprised to watch her reflection shut the door firmly behind them. He hadn't expected her to be that brave. He'd had no interaction with any females in several months, and from what the guards had told him, he wouldn't ever again. And yet, here he was in the infirmary in an exam room with a very female doctor.
"I'm Doctor Guinnett," she remarked, her voice not as stern as it had been before when she'd been speaking to the guards. "I'll be your new doctor until . . . "
"Until I die," Zach spoke at last. "You can say it," he turned to look at her, a sardonic smile on his face.
"It's good that you've come to terms with your . . . situation," she didn't look up from her clipboard, Zach noticed.
"Yeah . . . well I have a lot of time to think," Zach answered. "Let me guess, you're supposed to check me out regularly to make sure I'm not dying of non-electrical causes, right?"
"Yes, Mr. Hampton, I am."
"Call me Zach. 'Mister Hampton' is my father," he remarked before he knew what he was doing. Looking at the expression on her face, he could tell she was shocked that he wasn't a monster thus far. His eyes roamed over her freely, admiring her feminine form, his body reacting. When she stepped closer to him, held a tongue depressor out and smiled slightly.
"Say 'ah'," she remarked, blushing when he raised an eyebrow at her. "Just do it, Mister."
"Yes, ma'am," Zach chuckled before opening his mouth and doing as she said.
"I'm not old enough to be a ma'am," she growled under her breath. "Looks normal. You had your tonsils removed?"
"When I was eight," he confirmed, looking at her intently. She leaned close to him again and he caught a whiff of her perfume- something clean and fresh, also the scent of her shampoo. His body tightened and he ground his teeth to fight his body's reaction. She pressed an ear thermometer into his ear, took his temperature and then scribbled things down on a clipboard.
"I had mine out when I was ten," the doctor remarked.
"What's your name?" he asked suddenly.
"Doctor Guinnett," she answered easily as she slipped a cuff around his arm and started to take his blood pressure.
"Your first name, Doc," he drawled, reaching up to lay a hand on the one holding the stethoscope to the inside of his elbow. Her eyes widened slightly and then she swallowed.
"Ashleigh," she answered. "But you're going to be calling me Doctor-"
"Doctor Ashleigh?" he asked hopefully.
"Mr. Hamp- Zach," she changed what she was saying when he glared at her. "How about we stick with Doctor Guinnett?"
"You get to call me by my first name but I don't get to do the same? That's not very fair."
"Life isn't fair." She continued her exam, trying not to notice the way he looked at her. She could smell the standard issue shampoo, soap and shaving cream he used. When she leaned closer, she could smell the minty scent of his toothpaste. "Lift your shirt," she ordered softly, getting her stethoscope and looking at him expectantly.
"Why Doctor Ashleigh," he admonished, looking at her with a sly grin. "I didn't peg you for that kind of girl."
"Doctor Guinnett," she corrected, motioning for him to lift his shirt. "And what kind of girl would that be, Mr. Hampton?" she purposely didn't use his first name.
"The kind who checks out prison inmates," his eyes sparkled with mischief as he smiled at her.
"Are you going to cooperate, Mr. Hampton, or am I going to report this to the Warden?" Ashleigh's eyes narrowed at him, questioning him at the same time.
"Have it your way, Doc," Zach shrugged his shoulders before lifting his shirt up to allow her to check his heart.
When Zachary Hampton pulled up his shirt, Ashleigh bit her lip to keep herself from gasping in appreciation. Apparently all that time in the shoe- in solitary, had left him with a lot of time to workout. His abdomen looked as if someone had sculpted it into a perfect six pack- all smooth skin and hard muscle. When her eyes traveled upward to his pectorals, she found that they were well defined as well, and when she laid her stethoscope on his chest, she found it was as muscular as it looked. When she stepped behind him to check his breathing, she saw that his back was lean and muscular as well. She could tell by the thin grey shirt he wore, that his arms were well-muscled and corded, indicating he did a high number of pushups frequently.
Ashleigh's first thought was that Zach's body was more impressive than Brad Pitt's, and that was saying something. Still, she managed to reign in her emotions and reactions and get her job done.
"You can put your shirt down now," she remarked as she wrote a few things on his chart.
"So what's your prognosis, Doc?"
"You're in excellent health, Mr. Hampton. I'll have the guards escort you back to your cell. I'll be there in a few hours to begin your psychological evaluation."
"Psych evaluation? What for?" Zach wondered.
"Warden Renfro wishes to make sure your body is not the only thing ready for your execution. He wants to make sure your mind is prepared for it as well. I'll see you in a few hours." With that said, she turned away from him and started toward the door. He stood and his hand snatched out to grab her wrist.
"Mr. Hampton?" she questioned. "What is it?"
"I didn't do it."
"Didn't do what, Mr. Hampton?" Ashleigh asked calmly, looking at his hand gently holding her wrist.
"I didn't hurt those women. I never touched them. Hell, I never even met them. I-I just wanted you to know that."
"Mr. Hampton, we'll continue this during your psych evaluation."
"I'm innocent, I tell you."
"I'm sure you are in your eyes, Mr. Hampton. Now if you'll excuse me, I have other patients to see. Two hours." Then she was gone, pulling her wrist from his grasp and disappearing from the room.
When she was out of earshot and eyesight, Zach swore to himself. He didn't know what had possessed him to tell the beautiful young doctor that he was innocent. She would most certainly think he was a nut job now. Knowing his luck, he'd probably end up in the psych ward on some sort of pills. Cursing again, he bowed his head, closed his eyes and tried not to remember why he was there.
When Zach opened his eyes, he groaned, shutting them immediately when bright light shone into his eyes, hurting them.
"I'm never drinking again," he groaned, slowly sitting up and gradually opening his eyes. He frowned when he saw his surroundings, not recognizing a thing. Especially not the room he was in, it had dark curtains covered the large windows off to the side, but glancing at his watch, Zach realized that it was after midnight and it would be dark outside the room. Pushing himself to his feet, Zach looked around the room, a frown crossing his face when he saw a large red strain on the carpeting. Blood.
Curious and nervous, Zach stepped closer to the stain, knelt next to it and gingerly pressed his fingertips to it, anxiety rising up in him when they came away wet and crimson. Looking further across the room, to where a large, ornately carved door was slightly ajar, Zach saw more blood. Stepping carefully around the pool of blood, he carefully made his way toward the door, his hand moving to rest on the smooth finish and pull it open. What he saw there was enough to make bile rise up his throat.
On the far side of the room, laid across the couch, one on each end and one in the middle, were three women, all unclothed. The two on the ends had their hands bound behind them. The one in the middle was bound in front. Various cuts and slices were on their bodies, past yet recent wounds and scars covering nearly every visible piece of flesh. Each of their throats had been cut, blood had cascaded down their bodies and into the couch and floor. Backing up against the wall, Zach tripped over something and fell backward, hitting his head on a small shelf.
Sitting next to the shelf was another girl, her hands handcuffed and suspended above her head by a hook on the wall. Zach raised a hand to his mouth biting back the urge to vomit, only to find blood still on his hands. Wiping his hands frantically on his pants, Zach looked toward the center of the room. On the floor, in front of a chair was yet another woman, one in the chair as well. All the same as the first three. Fumbling around in his pocket for his cell phone, Zach was horrified to find another three girls in the room.
He finally found his cell phone in the inside pocket of his jacket, rather than at the holster at his hip and managed to dial 911. Not two moments later, he heard sirens and then the police ordering him to get to his knees and place his hands behind his head.
Thirteen months later, he'd been accused, tried and convicted of murdering and sexually assaulting the nine women that he'd stumbled upon in that large mansion-like house. He couldn't prove he'd had no idea where he was and his fingerprints had been all over the house, blood on his clothes. They'd even found evidence that he'd sexually assaulted those women, but Zach was sure he hadn't done it.
The jury had found him guilty and he'd been sent to South Point Correctional Facility where he would wait for his execution date. Now with his execution date less than a month away, Zach was losing hope of ever being found innocent. He hadn't mentioned it to anyone not even his lawyers in months. But now, seeing this new young doctor, Zach felt as if there were someone who could finally help him.
Ashleigh sat behind her desk and sighed. She hadn't expected Hampton to be so kind or so attractive. She tried to remind herself that he was a criminal, that he'd spent a lifetime manipulating people and escaping the law. Deciding she needed to prepare herself for their next appointment in a few hours, Ashleigh opened his file. She was surprised to find that he had not been a criminal, but an upstanding member of society. The son of a wealthy business man, Zachary Hampton had been the founder of two charities, co-chairman of a few more, and worked full-time at a successful career in the family business. He'd been well-educated at a fine university and had been a kind person.
"So what happened?" Ashleigh asked no one, since she was alone in her office. Despite herself, she found herself very curious about Zachary Hampton and his past.
When the door to Zach's cell opened exactly one hour and fifty-nine minutes later, Zach couldn't help but smile a bit. In the shoe, he had only one door and a tiny slit to let in light. There was a cot and a toilet, a sink. Not much else. The light came on in the room and Zach closed his eyes for few moments before opening them to see Doctor Ashleigh walk through the door.
"Thank you," she smiled at the guard, dismissing him at the same time. She'd brought a bag with her, medical supplies he mused to himself. He stood, forcing himself from his seat on the floor. "Mr. Hampton," she remarked as the door slid shut behind her.
"Doctor Ashleigh," he purposely used her first name. "Welcome to my . . . well my home. Please, have a seat," he motioned toward the small cot, which was made and clean. She looked surprised by his cordial mannerisms and he reserved a small smile just for her. She sat gingerly on the edge as Zach sat cross- legged on the floor in front of the cot.
"How are you feeling?" she asked softly, reaching into her bag and pulling out a clipboard and pencil, laying them to the side before she pulled out her medical instruments. The last item she pulled out was her stethoscope. When she turned her head to look at him, she gaped at him, now without a shirt.
"I'm okay Doc," he answered her question at last. "You did want to check me out with that stethoscope, right?" he nodded toward the instrument, explaining why he'd shed his standard issue grey shirt.
"Yes," was her answer as she got off the cot and knelt on the floor in front of him. She raised a small flashlight, checking his sight, his throat and then with a device, she checked in his ears as well. She checked his heart and lungs and then her fingers found his wrist as she got his pulse. Her hands were soft and warm and Zach bit the inside of his cheek to keep from groaning out loud as his entire body tightened.
Five minutes later, she'd finished her physical exam, had scribbled some things on her clipboard and had pulled a pad of paper out of her bag. She settled herself back on his cot, back ramrod straight, ankles crossed and pen poised over the notebook.
"Where do we start Ashleigh?"
"Mr. Hampton if you insist on using my first name, at least tack 'Doctor' before it, please," she sounded slightly exasperated as she spoke, but not exactly annoyed.
"Doctor Ashleigh," he corrected himself. "Where do we start?"
"I'm going to ask you a series of random questions, answer with the first thing that comes to mind."
"A doctor and a psychiatrist? That's a lot of schooling, Doctor," Zach interrupted.
"I'm not a psychiatrist. I minored in psychology," she remarked offhandedly. "As I was saying," she continued. "After that, I'm going to inquire about your history and then about the present. Is that all right with you?"
"Do I have a choice?" he was not uncooperative, but Ashleigh had discovered that he was very intelligent and inquisitive.
"You do," she nodded, meeting his intense blue gaze. "But I suggest you answer the questions."
"You do, huh?" his tone was playful, teasing even- something Ashleigh wasn't used to when it came to patients.
"Warden Renfro has asked me to report everything to him. If you're uncooperative, it'll just make it harder on yourself, Zachary."
"Harder? Look, Doc, I live in a six-by-eight cell. There are no windows and only one door with a tiny slot big enough for a tray to come through and for me to exchange clothes for washing. I only get out my cell to go to the infirmary, chapel and three times a week I get to go to the yard. On top of that, I'm in prison- on death row- for a crime I didn't commit. So please, tell me how it can be made any worse?"
He was kind as he spoke, but Ashleigh caught the mockery and contempt in his voice as he spoke quickly with anger.
"Why don't you tell me about your childhood," Ashleigh changed the subject.
"You don't believe me, do you?" he wouldn't deter from the subject. "I didn't kill those women. I didn't rape them, Ashleigh." The use of her name, spilling from his lips sent tingles up and down her spine. He leaned closer and took her hands in his own, his thumbs rubbing small, unconscious circles on the back of her hands.
"Zach, we need to continue with the evaluation," she tried to pull her hands from his. His grip was gentle, yet firm.
"Do you believe me when I say I didn't hurt those girls? I'd never seen them before that night until a few minutes before the police arrived. I didn't hurt them," he shook his head. He sat and watched as she studied him.
"We'll talk about this later, Zach," she used his first name again, calming him somewhat. "Let's finish the evaluation and then we'll talk about this, okay?"
Zach was very sure they wouldn't be continuing their conversation, but nodded instead, deciding to behave himself and answer her questions. She'd looked at him like she'd wanted to believe him- maybe even like she did believe him. His attraction to her had been immediate, and the fact that she seemed to genuinely listen to him made it all the better. He had a feeling with Forsythe gone, things could start to change for the better. He just hoped it wasn't too late.
Ashleigh sat and listened to Zach talk about his childhood, which had been quite normal she supposed, even for someone one of wealth. He'd had loving parents, a brother and sister with whom he'd gotten along with and had done well in school. He spoke without resentment and hatred, but with a fondness of his life. Looking at the man in front of her, Ashleigh couldn't imagine why he was there. He didn't fit the bill- he wasn't the type to be in prison. And from the short period of time she'd known him, just a few hours, she didn't think he'd hurt those women.
When the evaluation came to an end, she pushed aside her attraction for him and told him she'd return when he returned from the yard. As she walked out of solitary confinement, Ashleigh wondered if he were that good an actor-to make her think he might not have done it, or if he actually hadn't done it. Or maybe, she mused to herself, maybe I want to believe that he didn't do it because he's attractive.
From the shadows of the corridor, he watched her. She was young and pretty, smart enough and practical. It wouldn't take her long to figure out what they'd been doing- how their work on the inmates had been progressing. He could see it now- she was attracted to the death row convict. He could tell by the way she looked at him and while he'd been standing outside the door, he'd heard how she'd believed him even while she changed the subject.
"Things are going to change," he said into the cellular phone he held. Cellular phones were prohibited in State prisons, but he'd managed to get one in and use it. "She's going to be trouble."
"Relax. Things are going to be fine. When I return, we'll continue our work as if I never left. Trust me, Doctor Ashleigh Guinnett will not be at South Point for much longer," the voice on the other end remarked darkly.
"What should I do with her?" he peered around the corner, watching her unlock one door and walk through it.
"Handle things accordingly. Get her as far away from Hampton as you can. Use any means."
"Any means?" he asked the voice on the phone. "I can handle that." Reaching into his back pocket, he pulled out a long switchblade, opened and smiled when it glinted in the florescent lighting.
"Do you understand, partner?" the voice on the phone asked.
"I understand just fine," he flipped his cell phone shut and stared at the blade, the light bouncing off it as he smiled. Things were going to change and he was going to see to it. The doctor would not be proving Hampton's innocence if he had anything to say about it. He'd see to it.
Authors Note: Okay, so I've never really tried writing anything that has both romance and mystery in it- how did I do for the first chapter? Is this interesting enough that I should continue it? Let me know what you liked, didn't like, but be nice about it. Responses will determine whether I update this for FP or not, so let me know! Also, if anyone has ideas for a different title, please let me know (you'll receive full credit!).