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Authors: Fern Shepard

Tags: #romance, #nurse, #medical

Ozark Nurse

BOOK: Ozark Nurse
10.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
by Fern Shepard










Arcadia House 1965
Scanned and Proofed by RyokoWerx





Chapter 1

When she awoke that spring morning, there was nothing to warn Nora Hilton that it would be a day which would threaten to put an end to her romance with Doctor Paul Anderson and come close to putting an end to

It began precisely the same as had countless other Mondays during her three years as an R.N.

Out of bed instantly when the alarm rang. A hurried shower. Into her spick-and-span nurse's uniform. A very brief few minutes in front of the mirror to brush her coppery brown hair, but no time to fuss over the sweetly grave face with the lovely gray eyes that looked back at her. Unnecessary, anyway.

At twenty-five, Nora was still young enough to look every bit as fresh and clear-eyed when she awakened as she would look two hours later when she went into the children's section. That is, she hoped it would be children's this week. In a small-town hospital where there were never half enough nurses to go around, there was no predicting whether she would be working as a scrub nurse in surgery, would be on floor duty in the main building, or what.

She liked working with the sick kids best. And, of course, Paul was the pediatrician in charge there. That made a difference, too.

At the thought of Paul, Nora's eyes clouded. What did you do when you loved a man with all your heart, and had to watch him losing his grip for no good reason? But this is no time, she reminded herself, to start worrying and wondering if Paul is cracking up. You've got to be on the job. So get with it.

With a small sigh she grabbed up her bag and sports coat and ran down the stairs of the roomy, old-fashioned house where she had been brought as a baby when the Hiltons had adopted her.

She went to the kitchen.

There, again, everything was as usual. On the table, covered with a red and white-checked cloth, her orange juice was waiting. Her toast, already buttered, was waiting. Caroline, her mother, was waiting, a small woman with a lot of frizzy white hair and a wrinkled, once very pretty face.

Caroline was waiting to resume last night's discussion about the "loan" of Nora's small savings. "It doesn't seem too much to ask, dear. Jerry's heart is so set on getting that motorboat, and—Why do you look at me like that, Nora, as if I had said something ridiculous?"

"You make Jerry sound like a spoiled teen-ager."

Nora was drinking her second cup of coffee, watching the time, and warning herself not to say something hurtful. This kind of thing was hard to take. Jerry, her brother, was spoiled, all right. But he was no teen-ager.

He was a twenty-six-year-old man with a wife and a four-year-old son, Bobby. Recently he had returned from California, where he had been working off and on, and had settled down here with his little family "until he could find work." Translated, that meant that Jerry was not averse to having his mother supply the house and Nora the money for the food bills, while he thought up excuses
to work. His current excuse was that he had slipped a disc in his back. For that reason he had dreamed up the idea of a motorboat to use on the lake during the long hot summer ahead. He said it would do his back a world of good to get out in the sun.

In his own particular way, Jerry was a very lovable person. Nora was devoted to him. But she did wish he would grow up and stop coming to her for "loans."

In a state of mild irritation, she got into her coupe, which rumbled and sputtered as she backed out of the garage. She worked hard for her money. Why should she finance a boat for Jerry? It was ridiculous.

But, she mused, it was not really any more ridiculous than expecting him to act like a grown man. Jerry was a handsome, charming, grown-up kid with no more sense of responsibility than his four-year-old son.

I wonder, she thought, what kind of a shock it would take to inject a little manhood into him.

By the time she reached the parking lot at the side of the hospital, her feeling of annoyance had passed. Perpetual money aggravations were something she had learned to live with, like a bothersome corn.

What I should do, she told herself, as she left the car, is inform all of them that I'm not Santa Claus and walk out. But she never had, and she doubted if she ever would. Her sense of obligation, as an adopted child, went too deep. So did her very real love for her brother and sister, as well as for Caroline. They didn't, she supposed, intend to take unfair advantage of her. They just didn't think.

She crossed the graveled driveway toward the entrance steps to a building which, on the outside, looked like the fabulous mansion of a fabulously rich man. Which was what it had been intended for, originally.

Some years before, an oil tycoon from Texas had passed through the mountain town, been entranced by the spectacular view over the Ozarks, and decided to build a home to come to in his old age. But nature, in its perverse way, had planned otherwise. Before the tycoon was ready to retire to the Ozarks, he was retired to the cemetery. And after standing empty for two or three more years, the mansion was converted into a hospital.

Nora started to climb the entrance steps, and it was right then that she had her first shock of the day.

"I'm lookin' for that doc fella who stuck a knife in my kid and done murdered him," bellowed the human scarecrow who came loping down the steps, stopping squarely in front of Nora, finger pointed. "You know where that murdering doc be, ma'am?"

Since she had always lived in the hill country, the illiterate, poorly dressed old fellows who resided in huts and cabins in the backwoods were familiar figures to Nora. You saw them on the main street of the town on a Saturday, usually in their Sunday best, which consisted of a pair of jeans, a shirt, and their one pair of well-worn shoes.

These men, some of them, had never seen a bathtub. They lived in a primitive fashion, and considered themselves lucky if they had enough to eat. But for the most part, they were nice old guys. Some of them were real characters and fun to talk to, even if they couldn't read, write, or understand why anybody could be such a golderned fool as to go messing around up on the moon. They were all right—most of them.

But old Ben Sackett was not one of the all right ones. Ben Sackett was known as a mean one who had always had a few screws loose, and Ben Sackett, as he stood there shaking his gnarled finger in Nora's face, was the filthiest creature she had ever been close to. His clothes, such as they were, were soiled and ragged. His uncut hair, red sprinkled with gray, looked like a nest for sparrows. His beard was matted. Nora wondered if he had ever had a thorough washing in his whole life. He didn't smell like it.

Worst of all was the wild look in his glaring eyes.

He was still bellowing. "Speak up, woman. You know where I can find that Doc Anderson fella who done killed my poor little kid?"

Nora shuddered. With a look of distaste, she said warningly: "Get out of my way. And keep away from this hospital. Next time you show your face around here, we will call the police. Is that clear?"

She entered the hospital.

we call the police?" Nora asked as soon as she got to the supervisor's desk on the third floor where Margaret Thorpe was on duty.

"And tell them what?" asked Margaret, a striking, black-haired woman in her late thirties. "That we don't like the way he smells? That he has a voice like a foghorn? That he offends our finer sensibilities? You know how far we'd get, honey."

"But, Maggie—"

"Oh, sure, I know. He hasn't any business running in and out of the hospital the way he does." And she mentioned how, on three or four occasions, she'd had to call an orderly to take him out.

"But, Maggie—"

"And I also know, just as well as you do, about his threats. I'm not sure the old loon wouldn't try a little violence if he got his dirty old hands on Paul. He didn't want surgery on the child to start with. Thinks it's going against the will of the Lord, and when the boy died on the operating table, he figured that was God's punishment.
he's got it into his cracked brain that the Lord has given him orders to kill the doctor who killed his son."

Margaret shook her head, her frown worried. "It worries me, too, Nora. There's absolutely no way to tell what a crazy man will do. But," she shrugged, "what can we do? You know Sheriff Hawley, an easygoing, beer-drinking, two-hundred-pound slob who hates to lift his finger to do anything about anything until something blows up in his face."

"So we just wait for old Ben to do something awful to Paul—something worse than he's already done." Nora sounded grim. "It wouldn't surprise me one bit," she added, "if he were carrying a gun. He could hide one easily enough in those dirty, baggy old jeans." Then, with a sudden grin: "Man, he could practically hide a gun in that scraggly old beard. Do you suppose he
trims it?"

"Probably not. And as to the possibility of his carrying a concealed weapon, that wouldn't surprise me either. But I repeat—what can we do? Take it up with Sam Hawley, and he'll assure us that Ben is just another half-cracked old hillbilly, that he's perfectly harmless, that we must try to be tolerant of his peculiar notions. If Ben, by some unfortunate chance, should kill somebody—or try to—then, of course, the police will be glad to take a hand."

That, said Margaret flatly, was exactly what Sheriff Sam Hawley would say. And since there was no use battering your head against solid cement, they might as well accept that fact cheerfully and meet the worries and pressures that were the lot of women in white.

"Not that
are in for much worry or pressure for a week or so," Margaret said surprisingly. "You, dear, are being assigned to special duty in Mr. Fine's room, at the gentleman's special request. Wait, please—"

She waved an imperious hand. "Before you start squawking about this and that, dear, let me clue you in on a few of the basic facts of hospital life."

One basic fact, explained Margaret, a little as if she were lecturing a not very bright child, was that a hospital simply could not keep the wheels going without money.

"Oh, money," Nora interjected, looking and sounding extremely annoyed. There were patients in this hospital who really needed her. The sick kids over in the annex needed her. Mr. Fine was well on the road to recovery; therefore he definitely did
need her.

"Honestly, Maggie, you must be out of your mind." It was scarcely the way to address a supervisor, except for the fact that Margaret Thorpe was also her warm, close friend. "Just because Andrew Fine has a lot of money—"

"Exactly, dear. As I was about to explain before you so rudely interrupted, it is very true that money is the root of all evil. Most certainly it is the root of most of our troubles in this hospital—the money we
got, that is."

Why, she went on, did their nurses walk out as soon as they were trained? Why, as specialists in various fields, did they have to depend on outside doctors from all around the county? Why did they have to struggle along without a heart-lung machine when they needed one so desperately?

"Well, why, dear?"

Nora took a deep breath. "Because we haven't any big endowments and aren't likely to get any. But what's all that got to do with Mr. Fine? Don't tell me that he—"

Margaret nodded emphatically.

"I am telling you, Nora. Andrew Fine has taken thought, and decided that he prefers to give some of his money to a worthy cause before he dies. He seems to feel that is a more sensible thing to do than—and I quote—'leave it to a lot of greedy relatives who don't bother to come near me when I'm alive.' End quote. Isn't that sweet of him?"

"How much?" Nora asked.

"Plenty. Say half a million. How does that sound?"

"Oh, for heaven's sake. You're kidding, Maggie."

"Who me?" Margaret grinned, answered the phone, which rang for about the thousandth time in five minutes, then turned back to Nora. "No, I am definitely not kidding. And since one good turn really does deserve another, and he suggested that it would cheer him up to have you as his special nurse until he leaves here—well, Pet, who am I to argue with half a million bucks?"

Nora burst out laughing. "Don't tell me that my services rate that kind of loot."

Margaret smiled. "
wouldn't think so. But maybe he does. Widowers in their forties have been known to get some mighty curious ideas, honey."

"Don't be silly, Maggie. You make it sound as if the man were in love with me."

"I imagine he is." Margaret's tone, dry, matter-of-fact, took on an edge. "What are you laughing about? What's so hilarious? He's a good man, an attractive man—yes, definitely attractive." A sigh; a small smile touched with longing. "I only wish he'd picked me for his dream girl."

Surprised, Nora thought, Maggie really means that. She turned as a pretty, rosy-cheeked girl in the striped uniform of a nurse's aid came speeding toward them.

BOOK: Ozark Nurse
10.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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