MALPRACTICE - A JEAN BELL MYSTERY, CH. 7

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Submitted Date 12/31/2019
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Jean had an early start the next morning and was happy she hadn't overdone it with Ruth's cocktails. She did, however, regret skipping breakfast and sleeping in for 20 minutes after her alarm clock buzzed. As she put her coat and purse into one of the nurses' lockers, her stomach gurgled at her. She adjusted her nurses cap and smoothed down her uniform until she was satisfied that her appearance was professional. Jean allowed herself to admire her new hairstyle once again before reporting to Mrs. Hyde for her daily patient roster.

Usually, the food in the hospital's cafeteria wasn't the most appealing fare. Most of the time, it was covered in lumpy, gray gravy or an unidentified brown sauce. This morning, though, the aroma from the scrambled eggs and hashbrowns made Jean's stomach gurgle even louder. As she collected trays for her patients, she snuck an extra one for herself. Strictly speaking, the nurses were only allowed meals if they ate them in the cafeteria. Nurses weren't supposed to eat on their rounds, but Jean didn't think she could hold out for her lunch break today. She would sneak in a few bites after taking old Mrs. Watson's vitals.

An hour later, only a few remains of rubbery egg and a pool of potato-flavored grease clung to her tray as she walked a stack of them back to the kitchen. Next on Jean's list of duties was to check bedpans and refresh IV fluids. As she passed through the hallway that connected the cafeteria with the patient rooms, she was distracted by Dr. Kirk Davers. Kirk was in his mid-twenties with dark brown hair and a lanky build. It was unusual to see him on her floor. He worked in the morgue a few levels down and was perhaps the city's youngest medical examiner. From the few brief conversations they'd had, Jean knew only that he lived with his mother and was fanatically interested in forensic science. He looked flustered, as usual, and a little lost.

"Hi, Martin," said Jean. "We don't get to see you above ground too often."

"Oh," he seemed startled. "H-hi Jean. H-how are you this morning?"

"Business as usual. Can't complain. Are you looking for something?"

"A-actually, it's a someone, not a something I'm after. H-have you seen Dr. Carnegie?"

"I don't think he's scheduled to be in until this afternoon. Do you want me to leave him a message?" Jean asked.

He held out a file folder toward her and said, "I-I want him to t-take a look at Mr. Barnes' file. S-something doesn't a-add up."

"Excuse me? Hold on, let's talk in here," she said as she opened Dr. Carnegie's office door.

After she checked that no one was looking, she closed the door to give them some privacy. Kirk watched her nervously, looking - if possible - a little more awkward than before. She held out her hand for the file.

As the doctor passed the crisp manilla envelope to her, he said, "T-take a look at the b-blood results."

Confused, Jean asked, "I thought Mr. Barnes' heart gave out on him."

"N-not just his h-heart. His liver failed too. D-did you notice his f-face? D-did he seem p-particularly red to you? I f-found lesions a-all over his h-hands and arms."

Jean remembered Mr. Barnes looking especially flushed that day in the diner, but she figured it was the argument with the banker's assistant that made him red in the face. She also remembered sweat, lots of sweat. Before she could respond with these details, Kirk continued.

"D-despite his weight, l-look at his l-last m-medical exam. No h-high cholesterol, no high b-blood p-pressure."

"That's unusual"

"S-so, I did a few tests. G-guess what I f-found. Ephedrine and l-lots of it."

Jean flipped pages until she came to the patient's medical history. There was no indication of heart disease in his family. She checked the notes from his last few check-ups. No prescription for ephedrine or any other stimulants.

She turned to look at Kirk. "So you're saying it was an ephedrine overdose that killed him?"

"P-possibly. If c-combined with o-other stimulants, it might t-trigger a c-cardiac arrest. In an otherwise healthy p-patient, I'd look at the c-combo of something l-like B-Benzedrine and m-maybe c-coffee."

Jean felt a cold chill that had nothing to do with the December weather. Oh my God. Arthur Barnes was murdered. She tried to conjure a casual smile.

"Thanks, Kirk. I'll make sure Dr. Carnegie sees this."

"P-please. I-I'll see you in the c-cafeteria for l-lunch?"

"Yeah," she said noncommittally and made sure nobody was in the hallway as she opened the door.

After he had scuttled off down the hallway, Jean took a seat in the office. It was the same seat, she realized, that Mrs. Barnes had been sitting in the day they'd met. Could the woman she comforted on the way to the waiting room actually be the reason her husband was dead? Yesterday at the hairdresser, hadn't she heard that Mrs. Barnes was drunkenly carousing around town with her sister? Didn't Bettie say the widow stood to inherit a lot of money?

Her head was swimming. She needed to get some air. But, as she stood to go she nearly jumped out of her skin. Dr. Carnegie was standing in the office doorway, looking down at her with an unpleasant smirk on his face.
 

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