MALPRACTICE - A JEAN BELL MYSTERY CH. 14

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Submitted Date 02/09/2020
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Even if Jean couldn't provide evidence of Arnold Barnes's murder to the Head Nurse, at least she'd persuaded the police to investigate. The urge to try and catch up with them at Dr. Langley's private practice was a strong one, but she couldn't very well leave in the middle of her shift. What would the police say anyway, when she showed up unexpectedly? There wasn't much she could add to the conversation with Langley. Still, curiosity was making her anxious and she longed to know what information Det. Richards had gathered.

The last few hours of her shift were uneventful, which made for few distractions from her anxiety. At last, at nearly 10 pm, she was free to return home. She'd changed before coming in and so only needed to retrieve her purse from the locker room. As soon as the hospital doors opened, she was hit with a blast of icy air. Immediately, she regretted leaving her coat at home. A scarf, at least, would have saved her earlobes from freezing. Having neither, she rushed to her car as fast as her feet could carry her. Considering the fine sheet of ice that had formed on the pavement in the last few hours, that wasn't very fast at all.

She was within arms reach of the Cabriolet's door when a strong hand grabbed her left arm. Her assailant used her own momentum to swing her around to face him before clamping his other fist around her right arm. Jean's first thought was that she wished she had parked just a few spaces over, under the street lamp. Instead, they were shrouded in darkness.

She didn't need to see his face to know who it was; she recognized his sour coffee breath. His fingers were digging hard into her arms as he pulled her closer.

"You aren't as clever as you think you are, nurse." Dr. Carnegie said through clenched teeth. "Sending the police to see me? And here I thought we were friends."

He sounded distinctly unfriendly. Jean tried to shake herself free, but the good doctor only tightened his grip. She tried to pull away, only to have her feet slide out from under her. He was holding her so tightly, that she didn't even fall.

"As a physician, I advise you to keep to your own affairs. Doing otherwise may be detrimental to your health." With that, he released her, shoving her backward into her own vehicle. The doctor turned and walked to the hospital entrance. Her arms were numb below the elbow and she rubbed them to try and get the circulation back into them. When she could reliably flex her fingers again, she picked up the keys she had dropped and got into her car. Jean counted to four and released her breath in a cloud of condensation. Counting slowly to four again, she inhaled. After a few cycles, she'd managed to calm herself.

Once she felt more secure, her next thought was for the safety of Dr. Davers. But, the damage - as far as keeping information from the police went - was done. What good would threatening the medical examiner after the fact be? For that matter, what did Carnegie hope to accomplish by threatening her? The only answer Jean could think of was that there was more to the story she had yet to uncover. She knew, though, that Dr. Carnegie was in the hospital the entire morning the day Arnold Barnes died. He couldn't be the cause of the poor man's demise.

Heartbeat returned to normal, Jean started the engine and pulled out of the hospital lot. Arms throbbing, she steered the Ford the short drive home while she continued to contemplate the good doctor's motives. When she'd pulled into her driveway and cut the engine, she sat for a moment, still in the car. Her eyes probed the shadows thrown against her house by the streetlamp until the windshield fogged up. Jean told herself she was being ridiculous, that nobody was waiting to accost her. She made herself get out of her car and walk to her front door. On her way, she noticed lights on in Ruth and Tom's house. If she needed to scream, at least someone was close enough to hear.

Once safely indoors, she changed clothes and went to the kitchen for some soothing chamomile tea. The steam rose from her cup as she sat it on the end table in the den. She sank into a comfortable armchair next to it and put her feet up. Dr. Carnegie, she thought, was even more of a creep than she anticipated. Given the timetable, he couldn't be her suspect. So, why the aggressive behavior? What was he afraid of? Either he knew who the killer was, and was trying to cover up for them, or he was just destroying evidence of his own medical incompetence. Jean nibbled her lower lip, a bad habit that was a result of concentration and anxiety.

The Rotary Club Wives, as she had come to think of them, had said Carnegie held a torch for Mrs. Barnes. Maybe he knew she killed her husband and was trying to help her get away with it. Perhaps he'd even helped her plan it to make sure he'd be the attending physician. Then, with Arnold out of the way, he could finally have Barbara Barnes to himself. But, Ruth didn't seem to think Mrs. Barnes returned Carnegie's affection. Jean shuddered. How could anyone have affection for that vile man? She probed her upper arms and winced. Finger-shaped bruises had already begun to form.

Her tea was just cool enough to sip now and soon, the herb had done its relaxing work. She was starting to doze off when the ringing phone startled her awake. There were few people she knew who might be awake at this hour. Maybe - she dared to hope - it was Teddy calling from the station to say he'd come home for Christmas. He would ask her to pick him up and they'd come home together. But, when she picked up the receiver, it was Teddy's sister who answered, not Teddy. As much as she liked Margie, she was disappointed.

"Jean! I'm glad I caught you at home," Margie said. In the background, Jean could hear the din of a crowd.

"Margie. Where are you? Why are you out so late?"

"I went out with some friends to a speakeasy," Margie answered. "You'll never guess who I saw."

Jean said, "A speakeasy? I thought those went out of fashion years ago."

"Well, this one has a good reason to stay underground. It's where men go to meet men."

"Then what are you doing there?" Jean wanted to know.

"I told you, I went out with some friends, and I'm not there now, but nevermind that."

Becoming even more suspicious, Jean repeated, "Nevermind that? How am I supposed to nevermind that you're in a secret…men's only bar at nearly midnight?"

"Fine. I'll fill you in later. But I can't talk forever. Just hear me out. I'm not supposed to say what goes on there, but I did see someone we know. Remember that man who was at the diner? Not the dead guy, but the one he was with, the one that stormed off?"

"Yes," Jean prompted.

"Well, I saw him at the bar. He was with another man. They clearly knew each other very well, if you follow."

"I don't follow. I understand its a bit scandalous, but why would I care what your mom's bankers do in their private time?" Jean was still feeling drowsy.

"Don't you see," Margie answered impatiently, "that day at Pinkey's, remember the two guys were arguing? The heavier guy said something like, "if you don't like my offer, I'm going to tell the boss.'"

"Okay, I think I'm starting to see where you're going," Jean said, a little more interested.

"So, what if this guy was paying him to keep quiet, about his…preferences…?"

A puzzle piece slid into place in Jean's mind so powerfully she could almost hear it click. Blackmail.

Margie said, "I gotta go, Jean. Think about it though. And don't tell mom!"

Jean promised to keep quiet, at least until Margie had time to explain herself, and disconnected the call. She sat again next to her empty teacup. If the banker, Bloomfield, had a secret to hide, a secret that would most certainly mean the loss of his well-paying job, he'd likely be willing to pay to hush it up. What if that's how Arnold Barnes paid off his gambling debts? Jean wondered how much Bloomfield would be willing to part with. For that matter, how much debt was Arnold Barnes in? Would blackmailing one man be enough?

Jean decided that the only place to get answers would be from Barbara Barnes herself.

 

*image: Lieutenant Mary R. Nelson, who spent three years in a Japanese POW camp during WWII. Public domain image from the National Museum of the U.S. Navy.

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