MALPRACTICE - A JEAN BELL MYSTERY CH. 17

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Submitted Date 03/06/2020
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Her awkwardly bleated question stopped conversation in the room. The three other women turned toward Jean, who had practically shouted at Judy. She felt her cheeks warm from the attention.

"I…I just realized I must have seen you at the bank this week. Aren't you Mr. Bloomfield's secretary?" Jean said, trying to explain her outburst.

"Yes, you were there with your mother or was it your mother-in-law?" Judy replied.

"Rose is my husband's mother. Did you work with Arnold too? I know the two of them were at the same bank." Jean asked.

Judy confirmed, saying, "Yes, Bloomfield and Arnold worked closely together. I took care of them both."

"So how does Arnold's…passing affect Bloomfield's position?" Jean said.

"It doesn't. They had the same position at the bank. Until they find someone to fill Arnold's position, Mr. Bloomfield has to take over the full workload. It's inconvenient for him of course, but he won't get a promotion out of it," explained Judy. "Why are you interested in Mr. Bloomfield?"

"Well, he's handling Rose's case. I was just wondering if we'd have to break in a new banker or if we could stay with Bloomfield." Jean congratulated herself for the ready reply.

"Oh. Well, you don't have to worry. Mr. Bloomfield isn't going anywhere, at least not that I know of."

"That's reassuring," murmured Jean.

Before they could resume their conversation, they heard a shrieking cry from the floor above them. Ruth reluctantly stood and headed up the stairs to see what the trouble was.

"Children," Barbara said, "they're darling most of the time, but they don't give one much peace, do they?"

"I'm afraid I haven't quite started my own family yet. That will have to wait until my husband returns home," Jean answered.

Judy's eyes were suddenly flooded, but before either woman could ask her what was wrong, she stood and disappeared up the staircase.

"Oh my, was it something I said?" Jean asked Barbara.

"No, it's not you. Judy's always been sensitive when it comes to children. I think she's upset that she hasn't had one of her own yet. You should see the way she dotes on Nathan. I keep telling her Mr. Right is just around the corner, but it doesn't seem to help."

"She's about my age, isn't she? There's still plenty of time. We'll both be mothers before too long, I'm sure."

Ruth appeared at the foot of the stairs with Jack on her hip. His face was bright red and his cheeks were wet, but he'd stopped wailing. He had one tiny fist shoved into his mouth.

"Barbara, I'm sorry, but I think we'd better be on our way," Ruth interrupted. "It's Jack's nap time and I should get started on dinner before Tom gets home."

"Let me walk you to the door," Barbara offered.

"Actually, before we go, could you show me to the powder room?" Jean asked.

"Of course," said Barbara. "Just go up the stairs to the second floor, take a left, and it's the second door on the left."

"Thank you so much," Jean said, "I'll only be a moment."

Despite the fact that she actually did need to relieve herself, Jean wanted a chance to snoop around. Surely the medicine cabinet in the bathroom would have it's own story to tell. She wanted a closer look at those diet pills. As soon as she arrived on the second floor, she could hear the low murmur of someone speaking behind closed doors. The voice became clearer after she took a left down a short hallway. The hallway contained three doors. The first on the left was closed, but the second door was open. On the right, directly across from the open door was another closed one. That was where the voice was coming from. She crept closer, trying to make out words. The voice was Judy's, that much Jean could tell from the pitch and timbre.

Jean put her ear to the door and held her breath. It sounded like Judy was on the phone.

"Yes, mother," she was saying, "yes, I know, but can't you send some more?"

There was a brief pause and then, "No, no I haven't taken that much. It's just that I spilled some…Yes, I know, it was terribly clumsy of me…well I do, but the herbal stuff is so much better…she did, but I don't like them…no, Langley is an idiot. I'm sorry, but he is…he wouldn't know where to start…mom, would you just send another bottle?"

Jean heard footsteps approaching from the other side of the door. Quickly, she ducked into the bathroom and shut herself inside. She was just in time. No sooner had the latch clicked into place than she heard a knob twist across the hall. It was followed by the squeak-less hush of the door making an arc across plush carpeting and Judy's voice, now very clear, saying, "I can't right now. We have guests."

The door across the hall clicked shut again and Jean breathed a sigh of relief. She availed herself of the commode and checked her makeup in the mirror over the sink. After washing her hands, she quietly forced apart the magnets holding the medicine cabinet closed. There were three shallow shelves inside. On the top shelf, Jean found the usual assortment of headache medication, antacids, and cough suppressants. The second shelf was full of identical pill bottles. Two of them were half empty, but they were all labeled with the same drug name - Benzedrine. The bottom shelf simply held a hairbrush. Jean picked up one of the half-empty Benzedrine bottles and opened it. She shook out a few pills and examined them. They looked and smelled exactly as they should. There were maybe a dozen bottles of the stuff, but all but two were full to the top. If these bottles were all the drug Judy and Barbara had between them, it didn't look like enough was missing to have done much harm to Arnold.

Jean wondered how many bottles Barbara had gone through before quitting her diet. There could be more pills, she reasoned, in the sisters' handbags or in other bathrooms. She closed the cabinet as quietly as she could and about to leave the room when she caught sight of a small amber bottle next to a jar of cotton swabs.

*image: Lieutenant Junior Grade V. Phipps, NC, USNR, packing equipment for disaster supplies boxes at U.S. Naval Hospital, Oakland, California, 1944 via National Museum of the U.S. Navy.

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