Editor’s note: Suspended Aggravation is an original, Wheeling-centric novel by Nora Edinger and is published exclusively through Weelunk. While some of the places mentioned in Suspended Aggravation are real (or nearly real), the storyline and most characters (with the exception of a few cameo appearances by actual city residents) exist only in the author’s imagination. For the backstory, read our Q&A with the author.

CHAPTER 25

Location: Wheeling General Hospital, 40.0637° N, 80.7200° W

Emotion: “Everything’s gonna change – everything but the truth.”

Gabe turned his head to look at the door to their hospital room — which was tightly closed — and turned back to look at Allie for a long moment. She could almost see the wheels spinning. But, veteran journalist that she was, she let silence — not more questions — fill the air. It did. In the most uncomfortable of ways.

“What makes you think I’m a spy?” he finally asked, pulling on his West Virginia University T-shirt as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Or, was it that he was suddenly uncomfortable to be half naked and in the proverbial spotlight?

Allie noted he didn’t deny her, well, suggestion. This made her close her eyes for a moment. I’m right. Rats. 

“For one thing, Wheeling General Hospital is not a motel,” she began, rallying rapidly. “Husbands who are not patients generally go home at night instead of sleeping in beds that could be filled with paying customers. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. 

“Plus, the so-called policemen outside the door are not regular policemen,” she continued. “They’re federal agents and they are carrying concealed weapons. That’s unusual, even in a state where the hollows hold all sorts of government secrets. And, they had an approved visitor list whose time of arrival and thoroughness suggests it came from none other than you.

“Point three: You, my darling husband, may have been heaven knows where, but I distinctly remember you saying that you have never been to Africa.”

“I haven’t been to Africa. Ever,” Gabe said slowly. “But, what does that have to do with anything?”

“My dad’s a birder in a big way,” Allie answered. “The desert sparrow you so beautifully described in the wee hours of the night lives only in Africa and a handful of Middle-Eastern countries that most people have no desire, let alone a reason, to visit. Would you like me to list them?”

Gabe sat down on the edge of her bed, his finger tracing her eyebrows, then her jaw line. Oddly enough, he was smiling. “Your dad’s a birder, too, huh?”

bird bridge

Allie closed her eyes again at the pleasure of his touch. A smile was tugging at her lips, as well, in spite of the fact she was genuinely upset. “Would you ever have told me?” she sighed.

“Probably not,” Gabe answered without hesitation. 

That hurt. “I’m your wife.”

He looked away from her for a long moment. “Yes, you are,” he eventually said. “But, other people are involved, too, Allie, and their safety is always an issue. I didn’t feel that I could be fair to them and truthful with you at the same time. Saying nothing seemed better. Still does.”

“Does anyone else know?” she asked. “In the family, I mean.”

“No,” Gabe said, pausing again. “Maybe Mike. He was in the military for a few years. I’ve wondered now and then if he’s picked up on something. He’s never said anything, but he would probably know not to.”

“Are we talking CIA? No Such Agency? Is this in the past or are you still … ”

Gabe shook his head, but he was smiling again. “I am an engineer. A simple highway engineer for the great state of West Virginia.”

Allie looked at his handsome face skeptically. That statement could mean anything. “There is nothing simple about you, Gabe Morelli. I have plenty of other questions, but I’m too sleepy to ask them right now.”

“Fair enough.” Gabe gave her a smoldering kiss before he headed to his bed. Rats. It was hard to be aggravated at the man when he did stuff like that. “Goodnight, Miss Marple.”

“You’re not going to start calling me that as a nickname, are you?”

“I might,” Gabe laughed, already wrestling his pillows into place. “If you don’t behave.”

“Please, don’t. I love you, too, 007.”

“Miss Marple?”

“Am I not behaving? Already?”

“Whatever you’re imagining,” Gabe said with an audible sigh. “I can assure you it was not nearly as exciting in real life. It was a whole lot of computer stuff and a lot less of visiting some … places. I never jumped off a roof or landed on a beach in scuba gear in the middle of the night or anything like that. So, ‘please, don’t’ yourself.”

Allie frowned in the darkness, truly concerned about this new wrinkle but simply too tired to do much about it. There’s more to it, Gabe Morelli, and I know it. She hadn’t investigated her first news story yesterday after all. But, tonight wasn’t the time to question him. She’d be like Scarlett O’Hara. Tomorrow was another day. She’d find out more one way or another, one day or another. 

“OK, I’ll behave. Don’t worry,” was what she said for now.

How was she to know he did worry? Long, long into the night.

INSIDE THE STORY:

•When Gabe pulls on his West Virginia University T-shirt, it’s a reminder that he’s a WVU alum — as are many, many professionals in this state. There’s a certain percentage of college-bound youth who pick military academies or big-name schools to pursue their plans, but WVU (or Marshall University in the southern half of the state) can often better serve those graduates who want to remain in the state. Network city! And, alum or not, there’s probably not a home in the entire state that doesn’t have at least one piece of WVU spirit wear. Go Mountaineers!

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• A long-time journalist, Nora Edinger also blogs at noraedinger.com and Facebook and writes books. Her Christian chick lit and faith-related non-fiction are available on Amazon. She lives in Wheeling, where she is part of a three-generation, two-species household.

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