MALPRACTICE - A JEAN BELL MYSTERY CH. 13

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Submitted Date 02/06/2020
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Twice in one week, Jean found herself eating hospital cafeteria food. She hoped it wasn't becoming a habit. After concluding her volunteer duties with Ruth, she'd gone home and immediately shed the black dress. A hot shower had made her drowsy and she dozed until it was time to don her white nurse's uniform. She noticed her uniform was looser than it had been a month ago. Perhaps Barbara Barnes should try a nursing schedule instead of diet pills, she mused. When she arrived at the hospital, it was as if she'd stepped into a hurricane. In the midst of admitting two new patients to her ward, a third patient had suffered a seizure and was in critical condition. The nurses and doctors were dashing this way and that, in a whirlwind of purposeful activity. It was hours before relative normalcy was returned. By then, it was well past dinner time.

Today, she followed protocol and restricted her meal to the cafeteria. After standing in a short line, she received the dregs of the hot meal the staff had prepared hours earlier. It consisted of bottom-of-the-pan scrapings of mashed potato smothered in brown gravy, a spoonful of overdone carrots, and two gray pork chops smothered in the same brown sludge. The chocolate pudding was the only truly edible substance on offer and Jean was relishing it as Kirk Davers sat down across from her at the table.

"Mrs. Bell," he said politely.

"Mrs. Bell?" Jean asked, "I thought we were past the formalities, Dr. Davers, or have you been reprimanded for being too familiar with the nursing staff?"

"J-Jean, you know I d-don't talk to any of the n-nurses but you," he defended, "It's just that I-I've b-been talking to the p-police. I-I'm still in 'official b-business' mode."

"The police?" Jean was surprised. "What about?"

"A d-detective was here. R-Richards, I think. H-He was asking m-me about Arnold B-Barnes."

He suddenly had her full attention. She put down a spoonful of pudding that was en route to her mouth.

"Detective Richards was here? What did he ask you?"

"H-he said he was i-investigating Barnes as a m-murder case. H-he asked a-about my findings, the findings I-I sh-shared with you."

"They asked you? I would think they'd want to talk to Dr. Carnegie."

"D-did you g-give him the f-file?"

"I did, but he didn't even look at it," Jean remembered the unpleasant encounter that ended with Carnegie on the floor.

"D-didn't look at it? W-wouldn't Dr. Carnegie w-want to defend h-his diagnosis? Or a-at least q-question m-my findings?"

"I don't know, Kirk. There's a lot about Dr. Carnegie I don't quite understand."

Davers became quiet, appearing to be lost in thought. Jean picked up her spoon and continued to devour the rest of her chocolate pudding, scraping her plate for the last little bit of it.

When she couldn't possibly extract any more from the dish, she set down her spoon and said, "Dr. Carnegie isn't on duty tonight. Maybe that's why they skipped him and came down to question you. Do you know if they spoke to anyone else?"

The medical examiner wasn't able to furnish her with any further details. Detective Richards had asked him to review the same information Jean was already aware of and then he'd gone back upstairs. Where he'd gone next and who he spoke to was outside of Kirk's purview. Jean recommended he try the pudding before excusing herself to return to her shift. As she entered her ward again, she tried to spot the detective to no avail. Catching the head nurse's eye, she waited for the woman to finish her conversation with another nurse. When Mrs. Hyde had dismissed the nurse to her duties, she approached Jean.

"Yes, Nurse Bell?" the woman said, rather stiffly.

"I was wondering if the detective was still in the building."

"The detective? What do you know about it?"

"Only that they were here. Did they ask to speak to Dr. Carnegie?"

Without uttering another syllable, Mrs. Hyde took Jean's right arm, just above the elbow, and lead her down the hallway. They entered the room that held the nurses' lockers and several shower stalls. It was deserted and their footsteps echoed off of the puce-colored tile.

Releasing her grip on Jean, she asked, "Nurse Bell, what exactly is going on between you and Dr. Carnegie?"

Jean was stunned. "Nothing, Nurse Hyde. I'm a happily married woman."

The head nurse softened her expression slightly. "That's good to hear. Don't think I'm unaware of what goes on in this ward, Nurse Bell. You're not the only one who has had…trouble…with the good doctor. While it's not currently a crime for physicians in this hospital to be overly familiar with their nurses - with or without their consent - I do my best to watch out for the girls under my care. I may seem strict but don't mistake my rigorous adherence to procedure for lack of compassion."

Jean didn't know what to say. She hadn't taken Mrs. Hyde for an interrogator or a confidant. In all honesty, she had no idea the woman suspected anything regarding Dr. Carnegie. Then, to be offered support by the usually austere head nurse left her speechless. Of course, Jean wasn't the only one the "good doctor" had abused. She just assumed anyone in an administrative role would overlook it in favor of keeping the status quo.

"Now then," Mrs. Hyde continued, "Why do you want to know about the police detective?"

"The other day, the day I was in the doctor's office, I was passing along some test results from Dr. Davers. Mrs. Hyde, Arnold Barnes didn't die of a heart attack. He was poisoned, poisoned by a combination of caffeine and Benzedrine, or at least ephedrine of some sort," Jean confided.

Mrs. Hyde showed no reaction, but sat silently, her attention fully focused on Jean's words. Jean continued.

"I went to give the test results to Dr. Carnegie, but when he saw me in his office…well, he wasn't interested in Dr. Davers's findings."

"And so you and the police think that Mr. Barnes's death wasn't an accident," the head nurse concluded. "I hate to tell you, Nurse Bell, but there was no report from Dr. Davers in the Barnes file. I copied it myself before I gave it to the detective."

"Maybe the report didn't make it into the file?" Jean wondered aloud. "Mrs. Hyde, is it possible that Dr. Carnegie just didn't add it in, that it's still on his desk somewhere?"

"Despite his other shortcomings, the doctor is a very good record keeper. I suppose we could check. I need to put the Barnes file back anyway."

Mrs. Hyde was full of surprises. Jean worked with her ever since she came to Riverside, but she had never seen this side of the woman before. She felt mildly ashamed that she'd always thought of the head nurse as fairly one-dimensional. Regardless, she counted herself lucky that Mrs. Hyde seemed to be on her side.

The two women left the changing room and returned to their ward. After retrieving the Barnes file from the nurses' station, Mrs. Hyde led the way to Dr. Carnegie's office. Not wanting a repeat of her last encounter with the doctor, Jean hovered near the front door, keeping one eye on the hallway outside. The room was tidy, papers in neat stacks on the desk, no knickknacks to clutter its surface. A quick search of the paper stack failed to reveal anything related to Barnes. Mrs. Hyde opened the filing cabinet and flipped through file folders until she found the right space to deposit her borrowed file. A quick flip through the files of Banks and Bayfield again filed to yield any misfiled paperwork. The head nurse filed Barnes and closed the cabinet.

They were about to exit when Jean noticed something suspicious in the trash can near the desk. As the pair stepped closer, they peered into the bin and saw something charred and wrinkled there. Jean reached for it, but came away empty, her fingers covered in ash. She looked at Mrs. Hyde, who's eyes returned her silent question; is that the missing document?

It was clear to both of them that prodding the ashy remains would earn them nothing but blackened fingers, so they left the office and shut the door behind them. For a moment, Jean bemoaned the loss of evidence - both of her own honesty and Mr. Barnes's murder - before remembering that the police had been to see the medical examiner in person. Another thought occurred to her.

"Mrs. Hyde," Jean said as they walked back to the nurses' station, "Did you check Mrs. Barnes's file?"

"No," Mrs. Hyde replied, "Mrs. Barnes didn't see the doctors here. She and her sister both were patients of Dr. Langley. That's where I sent your detective."

**photo is of Lt. Dorothy Still Danner, who was one of a group of women captured and held as a POW during WWII. To learn more about her story, visit: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/oral-histories/wwii/navy-nurse-pow-philippines.html

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