MALPRACTICE - A JEAN BELL MYSTERY CH. 8

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Submitted Date 01/14/2020
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**Trigger warning for sexual harassment.**

 

"Well, well, well, nurse. Come by for a little visit, have we?"

She heard the door latch shut behind him. Reaching behind his back, he pressed a button in the knob that engaged the lock. The hair on the back of Jean's neck prickled. In the wake of Dr. Davers' test results and her own conclusions, she'd forgotten she wasn't supposed to be there. Dr. Carnegie could go tell the head nurse, but Jean had a feeling he wouldn't. Maybe she could distract him with the same information that had distracted her.

"Dr. Carnegie, I think you should look at this," she said as she stood. "Dr. Davers found something odd in Mr. Barnes' file." She held the file out to him, hoping he'd be so surprised he'd forget whatever sinister inclinations he might have. He took the file, but simply tossed it on his desk without looking inside. He began to advance slowly toward her. As he got closer, his grin got wider and more menacing.

"I wonder what reason you could have for sneaking into my office. Maybe looking to steal a prescription? Sneaking a peek at patient files? Or maybe you just wanted to show me how much you want to keep your job."

"Doctor, I really only stepped in for a second, to drop off the file. I think you should take a look." She nodded her head toward the desk.

He was close enough now that she could smell his sour coffee breath. She backed up two paces until her back was against the filing cabinet. Distraction wasn't working. She tried to think of an escape plan. He closed the short distance between them and pressed himself against her, breathing into her neck. She didn't know what she wanted to do more, scream or vomit. Instead of doing either, she hooked her right foot around his ankle and shoved forward with all of her strength. Dr. Carnegie went toppling backward, making a tremendous noise as he crashed to the floor. She hopped lightly over him and unlocked the door. Swinging it open, she discovered Mrs. Hyde standing on the other side, arm poised as if to knock.

"Mrs. Bell, is everything alright in here?"

"Yes, ma'am. The doctor just tripped over his shoelace." She glanced back over her shoulder at him as he sat up, rubbing the back of his head. "He might need an ice pack though."

Maybe that bump on the head will knock some sense into him. She knew she'd taken a risk; the doctor could tell Mrs. Hyde she pushed him. But, then he'd have to explain why. Dr. Carnegie wasn't known for being quick-witted. It would take him a few moments to concoct a believable story. She'd given him an out, he just had to take it. She knew the doctor might eventually seek retribution, but Jean would be damned if that man was going to put his hands all over her. She'd deal with any suspicions Mrs. Hyde had when and if the subject ever came up.

Jean tried to continue her rounds as if nothing had happened, but her thoughts kept returning to Mr. Barnes. If Dr. Davers' results were accurate and Arnold Barnes was murdered, who was the murderer? His wife was the obvious one to look at. She'd read just a few days ago in the paper that most of the time when someone went missing or turned up dead, it was the spouse who was to blame. If what the hairdresser said was true, the missus had at least one motive - money. But the day she met Mrs. Barnes, the woman seemed truly distraught. Was she really going around town getting hammered? If she was, was that just her way of dealing with grief?

For a moment, she tried to imagine being told that her husband had died prematurely. How would she react? How would she cope with the loss? She quickly forced those thoughts away, however. It was too painful to think about, especially with Teddy off in the Atlantic somewhere instead of safely at home. Losing Teddy would change her whole world. It was impossible to predict her own reaction, but going on a bender was well within the realm of possibility.

Jean realized that she just didn't know enough about the life of Mr. Barnes to know who might be a suspect. She would keep her eyes open at the funeral, maybe talk to a few people. Then, she had a second realization; it wasn't her job to solve a murder. That's what the police were for, after all. She resolved to go to the station after her shift.

Understanding the weight wasn't hers to bear did a great deal to improve her concentration. She was able to take old Mrs. Watson's blood pressure, change Mr. Hanson's catheter, and prepare a room for a new patient, all without distraction. She carefully tucked clean sheets around the mattress and adjusted the curtains. When the vacant room was cleaned and tidied, she picked up a forgotten bouquet of tulips from the nightstand and took it to the nurse's station. Mrs. Hyde wasn't in view. The fact that she hadn't hunted Jean down right away made her think that Dr. Carnegie went with the shoelace excuse after all.

It was just after 4 pm when her shift ended and another nurse came to take over for her. She took her purse and coat from her locker and headed out to her car. The wind was fierce and icy tonight. It blew off her cap and she had to chase it nearly a block to recover it. Walking back to the parking lot, she saw Dr. Carnegie get into his car and she slipped behind a mailbox, pretending to tie her shoe. The last thing she wanted was a confrontation with the man outside of the hospital. After he pulled out of the lot and sped off in the opposite direction, the coast was clear for her to get into her own car.

Instead of going directly to the police station, Jean pulled into Pinkey's for a bite to eat. She wanted to sound as level-headed as possible and she couldn't do that on an empty stomach. The police would be more likely to investigate Mr. Barnes' death if they couldn't write her off as "hysterical." Once inside the door, she scanned the room for an available seat. Her and Margie's usual booth was occupied and so was the one behind it, where the two bankers sat. She decided to take a seat at the counter, between an elderly woman and a teenage boy. It looked like the same teenager who asked about Mr. Barnes' menu choice the day he died. It wouldn't have surprised Jean to learn he was there; the diner had several regulars like herself. She smiled at the old woman as she took the stool next to her. Before she'd settled into her seat, Doris was there, pouring a fresh cup of coffee for her.

"Hiya, Jean. Boy, am I glad to see you."

"Hi, Doris. Any particular reason?"

"That business the other day. I feel better knowing there's a nurse in the house. Sure, we have choking incidents now and then, when people forget to chew their ham n' cheese. Then there was the time Roger back there," Doris motioned toward the kitchen, "nearly cut off his own finger. But, I'm not used to people dropping dead right in the middle of my restaurant like that."

"Well, emergencies do tend to catch us off guard. I just wish I could have saved the man."

Doris gave a solemn nod before the teenager signaled for her attention. He paid his bill and left. The waitress filled a coffee cup a few seats down from Jean before coming back to take her order.

"What can I getcha, dear?"

"I'll try the beef stew, I think. Say, did you know the man very well, the one who died, I mean?"

As she clipped an order slip to a spinning device in the kitchen window, Doris said over her shoulder, "Oh, he came in once or twice before that day, but he weren't no regular."

"Did you talk to him at all?"

Again, Doris was about to answer and got interrupted. She maneuvered her way around the counter and attended to a nearby table. All the while, the coffee pot stayed in one hand as if it were a natural extension of the woman's arm. Her pink apron strings trailed behind her like miniature banners in the breeze. Jean took advantage of the interruption to focus on her coffee. She tipped some cream from a small pitcher into her cup and stirred. Once she had the coffee to cream ratio just right, she blew gently on the liquid surface.

A bell sounded from the kitchen window and a voice shouted, "Order up!"

Doris came back around the counter, attached two order cards to the spinner, and lifted a steaming dish from the kitchen window. It turned out to be Jean's stew and the waitress set it down in front of her. The aroma was heavenly. Potatoes and celery bobbed just below the surface. She dipped a spoon in, but the minute she brought it to her lips, she nearly burned them. Setting the utensil back down, she attempted to resume her conversation with Doris.

"So, Doris, you were saying you talked to the dead man a few times. Do you remember what you talked about?"

"Sure, darlin'. Mind like a steel trap," she tapped her forehead. "He ordered pie, three pieces of pie to be exact. When I asked wouldn't he rather have a tuna on rye, he said he couldn't get no pie at home. The missus, he said, was trying to watch her figure. That was the time before last. Last time, he had that skinny fella with him. The two of them didn't order anything, just sat there drinking coffee. I was about to ask them to offer that booth up to some paying customers when the skinny guy stormed out. He left a few bills on the table. Guess he didn't know the coffee comes complimentary."

"So you hadn't seen the thinner man in here before?"

"Nope. Hadn't seen him before nor since."

The bell and another shout from the kitchen took Doris's attention away again. Jean focused on her dinner. The stew was cool enough to eat now, but still pleasantly warm. As she sipped at the beefy broth, she thought about Mrs. Barnes. If she was trying to watch her weight, she might be taking diet pills. Hadn't Dr. Davers said a combination of coffee and Benzedrine could have been deadly? Most of the diet pills she knew about contained Benzedrine or something like it. She could have slipped some to her husband. Lord knew there was enough coffee around Pinkey's to send a horse into cardiac arrest, even without a dangerous drug interaction. If Mrs. Barnes crushed up her diet pills and slipped them into Arnold's scrambled eggs that morning, the coffee he had at the diner might have combined with the drugs and killed him.





 

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