Authors: Jerilyn Dufresne
Tags: #General Fiction
But pretty soon she put two and two together about my plan to have dinner with George, and froze me out. “I’m sorry, Clancy. I hate to leave you, too.” I re-opened the door to take her outside. She quickly did her duty and then sat and stared at me.
Suddenly I had an idea. “George, how about we have something delivered and just eat here?”
He didn’t have to think about it. Apparently he cared about Clancy too.
We debated various restaurants that delivered, but quickly decided on Quincy Pizza, Mexican, and Chinese, our town’s nod to ethnic cuisines all in one restaurant. Since eating there always required a long wait, having the food delivered seemed like a good choice most of the time. After we ordered, I offered George a beer and we settled into my comfy living room furniture, he on the loveseat and me in an overstuffed chair.
Because we’d known each other since we were in school, it was only natural that we reminisced a little.
George began with, “Remember when you decided to become a vegetarian?”
“Yeah, it was in eighth grade, right after I saw someone wring a chicken’s neck. That chicken kept dancing long after it was dead. It spooked me.”
“Then the next day we went on a field trip. You ordered vegetable soup…”
I finished for him, “I thought vegetable soup meant vegetarian soup. I asked the lady if there was any meat in the soup and she said…”
George continued, “…no. She said, no. When you ate it you knew there was some sort of non-vegetarian stock in the soup, and you…”
“I said to the waitress that it tasted like there was meat in the soup and she said, ‘There’s no meat in that soup…’”
George again, “…no meat in that soup, there’s just chicken broth. And you got all red in the face and started cackling like a chicken. You even got out of the booth and did a great chicken impersonation.”
We both chuckled at the memory, although I still felt embarrassment at my comedic display. It felt good to be so comfortable with my old friend. I was glad I gave up my anger and went back to liking the guy, at least most of the time.
I wanted to get back to more recent history however. “What about the deaths at the hospital? Any news on the autopsies yet?”
We were interrupted by the delivery guy, fulfilling the promise of quick delivery. George paid. I tipped. Worked out in my favor. The aroma of the pizza seemed to fill the whole room.
I set up plates, utensils, and fresh beers on the cocktail table. We began munching on the vegetarian special, and I repeated my questions. “What about the deaths at the hospital? Any news on the autopsies yet?”
He swallowed before answering. “Not yet. We might hear tomorrow on the first one. The others we had to send to Springfield to the state crime lab. We’re not set up to do so many autopsies.”
I smiled as sweetly as I could manage with hot cheese stuck to the roof of my mouth. “Will you let me know when you find out?”
He smiled back and only said, “Maybe.” In the dim light of my living room George looked younger. I could ignore the balding head and the start of a beer gut, and see the guy I was crazy about in high school. My heart softened a little. A little.
After sinking into more talk of good and bad memories, we began to run out of conversation. Clancy came over with her leash in her mouth letting me know it had been hours since she’d been out.
George helped to quickly clean up the mess and load the dishwasher, and he stood by the door as I walked Clancy out to water the lawn. I put Clancy back in the house with a promise of a long walk in the morning.
I turned to say good-bye to George and hadn’t realized how close we were. When I turned to him he put his hands on my shoulders, said, “Don’t say anything,” and pulled me toward him. “Since I kissed you after you were almost killed, I think about you all the time. Every time I see you I want to kiss you, but I know it’s not what you want. But I’ll be damned if I let this chance go by.”
In shock, I didn’t say anything. I stood there and melted into the arms of my high school sweetheart. The kiss was lovely, warm, and sexy as hell.
He kissed me with his soft, full lips for what seemed like forever, said “Goodnight, Sam,” and turned to walk away. With my usual impulsivity I grabbed his shoulder before he was out of reach, turned him around, and kissed him again. Then, before things could get out of hand I gently pushed him toward his car.
Clancy grinned when I went into the house. “Do you like him more than Michael?” She didn’t answer, but did keep grinning. I couldn’t answer the question myself. I’d been out with Michael a few times and really liked him. He spoke romantically to me, but never really kissed me, except for a kiss on the cheek and the forehead, more like a relative instead of a boyfriend. And as mad as I was at George when I first saw him after returning to Quincy, I was now able to see the sweet guy I fell for in high school. Compared to Michael, George was a raging inferno—which made him a lot more attractive.
My dreams that night were similar to previous nights except when I asked George why he was there, he said, “You know why,” and I did.
oday would be my first time working in the ER at Bay General. I planned to spend the morning at the clinic, and the afternoon and maybe evening at the hospital. Before going to work I did give Clancy the promised walk, although not as long as she expected. “I’ll hear back about the therapy dog certification soon, and then we’ll be together a lot.” She accepted my apology and went back to bed when the walk was finished.
After an uneventful morning, I arrived at the hospital about one. Jenny told me I’d have to start with the human resources office, and that took almost an hour. Since I was already trained in the job itself, by virtue of my career choice, I only had to sign confidentiality statements, grievance procedures, and other boring papers before I was released to the ER with a huge binder full of policies and procedures.
Finally, I was allowed to start my snooping. I prayed that there would be no crises, so I could snoop to my heart’s content. Jen did an orientation to the ER and gave me a mini-tour.
I knew most people who worked there, including Dr. Craig Adams. He was the only one who hadn’t been to the potluck earlier in the week. Craig was a competent ER physician, but was also a crab, a dictator, and many other negative adjectives. He greeted me with a curt grunt and gave Jen some orders in a way that made me want to slap him for mistreating my sister. But when she gave me the “sister look” I figured I should keep my mouth closed.
Jen turned to me, “Okay. That’s all the time I’ve got. I don’t know what you are supposed to do when there’s no mental health work to be done, but heed my words—don’t interfere with how my ER runs.”
Me? Interfere? Lucky she didn’t know that my real job was to snoop. She’d be angry and would probably try to talk me out of it.
I felt guilty about not telling her though. It’s like a giant lie. At least I really was going to do crisis work there, so that part wasn’t a lie.
A Code Blue was called, taking Jenny away from watching my every move. Everyone seemed to be frantically busy, so I moseyed over to the break room. The EMTs normally hung out there when they weren’t on an ambulance run. I peeked in and the room was empty. I decided to have a cup of coffee and as I filled my cup I noticed someone sitting in the corner. His pale skin was almost translucent, and his greasy hair covered his forehead.
“Aren’t you Carter Callahan?” I recognized him from the work he used to do.
He nodded, but didn’t speak.
I stuck out my hand. “I’m Sam Darling, Jenny’s sister. I think we were both in here when the guy keeled over during the carry-in.”
He nodded again. And maybe, just maybe, he said, “Uh-huh.” But he didn’t shake my hand.
“You’re kind of quiet, huh?”
“Nothin’ to talk about,” is what he might have said. His whisper hardly reached my ears. He didn’t sound threatening; in fact, his tone conveyed no emotion at all, which set my vibes on alert.
This was boring me, but he was the only game in town, so I felt I had to talk to him. “Have you heard about the recent odd deaths in the ER?”
“Do you have any ideas what might have caused the deaths? Do you think they are related or just coincidental?”
His first real words and he says “probably murder.” Maybe this talk would be fruitful after all.
“I’d like you to tell me why you think the patients were murdered. And please speak in full sentences. It’s kind of hard pulling the words out of you.”
He almost smiled. “Because we’ve never had this happen before. This many people with no clear cause. It’s up to five because someone died this morning.”
“How were they murdered?”
Wow, there was more to this guy than what met the eye. I said, “The autopsy results should be back today from the first guy who died. Guess we’ll find out if he was poisoned or not.”
“I’d bet on it,” said Carter, and he went back into silent mode.
I wondered why he was here every day. I wondered why the hospital let him just sit in the break room. Maybe the powers-that-be hadn’t noticed. Jen could have a soft spot for him since he lost his job. I’d have to ask her why he got fired.
It didn’t seem like I needed to say good-bye to Carter, since social skills weren’t his strong suit. So I just walked out of the room with my coffee.
Loretta saw me and immediately came in way too close to tell me we weren’t allowed to have coffee outside the break room, just water. I noted she’d had sausage, onion, and eggs for lunch. She was a nice lady but always gave me the shivers because of her close talking. She was a petite woman, but because of her extra-round face and her personal space violations, it felt like she was huge.
I asked what happened with the Code Blue. Her smile spread across her face as she said, “Which one? There were two. Dougie is on duty and was able to save both of them. They put them in ICU because they don’t know what’s wrong with them yet.” She was definitely one proud mama.
“Hi ya, Sam.”
I turned to look at George, standing there smiling in the ER. My face felt hot and I knew it was bright red. Thinking about last night evoked all kinds of feelings. Including embarrassment. “Hi,” I returned the greeting. I hoped he wasn’t here to talk about “us.”
My hopes were answered when he said, “We got the autopsy results back on Pluto. Thought you’d want to know.”
In my enthusiasm, I practically jumped on the poor guy, but he didn’t seem to mind. He continued to smile as I led him into a vacant exam room. “Okay, tell me.”
His smile faded as my greeting wasn’t exactly what he seemed to expect. So he added, “And then I have something else to talk about.”
My nod seemed to suffice as agreement. “What about the autopsy?”
“Pluto was poisoned.”
“Yeah. Plain old arsenic. He’d just finished eating chicken wings here, and they were the only things in his stomach, besides a little alcohol. It looked like the arsenic was on the wings.”
“That doesn’t make sense though. I think Jenny brought the wings, so I don’t know how they’d have poison on them,” I said. “And other people didn’t get sick.” Then I thought of Rob. “My brother Rob got an upset stomach during the potluck. I haven’t talked to him since then. Has he been working?”
Since Rob was a cop on the same police force as George, George was sure to have information about him. Instead, George replied, “I dunno.”
Immediately I pulled out my mobile phone and called Rob’s cell number. After several rings a sleepy voice answered. “Yeah.”
“Rob, this is Sam. How are you?”
“I was fine until you woke me up. I’m working nights this week.”
“Sorry. I just have a few questions for you. When you left Jenny’s party you were pretty sick. How long did it last and how bad did it get?”
“I threw up all night. Never had the flu so bad before. Couldn’t even keep down medicine. Called in sick the next day, but have been fine since then. Why?”
“I’ll tell you later. Want me to sing you a lullaby so you can go back to sleep?” The dial tone gave me his answer.
George heard my end of the conversation and I filled him in on what Rob had to say. George thought out loud, “It’s probably too late to see if Rob had any poison in his system, but I’ll follow up. I don’t know how long arsenic stays in the system. Anyone else get sick from the food?”
I couldn’t remember if any other guests got sick. But I was able to give him a list of who was there. I also wondered if there was a connection to the animal poisonings.
As George turned to leave, I asked, “What was the second thing you wanted to talk about?”
“Changed my mind. I’ll save that for later. ’Bye.” And just that fast, he was gone.
Lucky for me, George didn’t want to talk about last night. I just wasn’t ready for it. After he left I sat and thought a while. Was there a connection between Pluto dying and the other recent deaths? Was there a connection between the human deaths and the animal deaths? I bet there would be autopsies on some of the animals too, just to make sure. An involuntary shiver escaped me. I didn’t know if it was from the usual coolness of the ER or because of the subject matter.
I walked out of the room and bumped into Jenny. “I need to talk to you as soon as you have a minute,” was all I got to say as she whizzed past me.
Over her shoulder she said, “I have a break in a few minutes. Go to the break room and I’ll meet you there.”
The break room was empty when I arrived, which brought questions about Carter to the surface. He was a strange one all right. He was right about the poison, but we really didn’t know if it was murder or not yet. Wonder how he knew about the poison?
Jen arrived shortly and I started with telling her about how Pluto died. “I can’t believe it. Poisoned? Was it from the food at my party?” A tear formed in her eye but didn’t escape to her cheek. “I’d just die if it was from my food.”
I couldn’t comfort her on that score. “George said our food was all that was in Pluto’s stomach, and your wings in particular. The arsenic was on the wings. I’m really sorry. And remember Rob got sick too. They have no idea how it happened yet.” I added, “The other unexplained deaths are being autopsied in Springfield. Hope we hear about them soon.” I also told Jenny about all the animals dying, but didn’t really have a lot of information on that score.