Authors: Ava Mallory
“I told you not to let anything happen, didn't I? What is it with you? I don't know what people do where you come from, but here, we take care of our residents and try to do everything we can to ensure that they don't fall down.”
I was at my tipping point. I was so tired of people berating me and the nerve of this one – the nurse who had removed an IV bag without an order just to change a stand – really got under my skin. I lashed out without thinking about the consequences.
“Excuse me, but I'm not the one who discontinued an IV without an order. I think that was you or is your memory failing you?” I looked at Tina, who stood with her eyes wide and her mouth gaping open. “And, wasn't Betty rushed to the hospital because neither you nor your staff noticed she was dehydrated?”
“Now, wait a minute!” She screamed.
Just then, the unit doors opened and Sheriff Wagner walked through.
“Ms. Mares?” He called my name, throwing me completely off balance. I lost my footing and fell to the floor.
Stacy gasped, but didn't move to help me to my feet. The Sheriff lunged forward, jerking me up by the arm.
“Watch out there, Ms. Mares. Are you alright?”
Tina stepped in between us, acting as a human barrier. “Stacy, what did you do? Sheriff Wagner, are you arresting her because a resident fell? Well, arrest everyone because residents fall a lot around here.”
On a normal day, I would have stopped everything to thank her, but I couldn't remember the last time I'd had a normal day. Instead, I addressed the more pressing issues.
“Am I under arrest, Sheriff Wagner?” My heart pounded loudly, drowning out the ever-present humming of the heating system in the facility.
He smiled briefly, hiding it by bringing his hand to his chin. “Now, slow down. No one said anything about anyone getting arrested. I'm just here to make sure everything is nice and safe.”
My defenses were on high alert. I asked, “Nice and safe? You mean from the storm?” I looked at Stacy. “She didn't call you?”
He pretended to have no idea what I was talking about. “Call me? Why would she call me? Has something happened?”
I couldn't help myself. “Well, it's the middle of the night and you're here. Doesn't that mean that someone has asked you to come?”
Stacy became defensive. “I asked him to come down and check on things.”
The Sheriff looked around the room. The tables and chairs that Tina and I jumped over were lying on the ground upside down.
He peeked into Betty's room. Betty's IV was still on the ground, but Betty was now lying peacefully in bed.
How did she get back in bed?
Tina cringed. I shut my eyes, realizing what all of this must have looked like to the Sheriff. My life was over. I knew it.
The Sheriff looked up at the cameras and said to Stacy. “I'm going to need to see that footage now.”
“The roads are treacherous,” Kathy announced as she arrived two hours late for her day shift. “You better leave the motel early tonight to get here on time because I'm not staying one minute past six o'clock. I have to get to my kids.”
I was numb. I didn't have the energy to argue with her. All I wanted was to get as far away from her as I could.
Kathy looked around, a frown on her face. “Who worked with you last night?”
I shrugged, not interested in explaining how it was that I ended up without a babysitter and how very much I wished that I'd had someone with me, then none of the events of last night would have taken place.
Kathy threw her bags down in exasperation. “You were by yourself?”
“Yes,” I mumbled in response. “The whole building was short staffed.”
“Great. So, what mess of yours do I have to clean up now? Who died?” She was trying to be sarcastic, but all I felt was judgment. She was judging me and my abilities as a nurse.
“I'm a good nurse,” I answered, my voice shaking. “Do you treat all of your fellow employees like this or was this nastiness reserved for just me?”
Kathy took a step back, folding her arms over her plump midsection. “Quit being so dramatic.”
I went through the motions, giving her report and filling her in on only the details that concerned her. I didn't allow her to demean me anymore than she already had. I'd had enough of her and this place and I didn't care that the roads were dangerous and that I hadn't been paid yet. All that mattered was that I was no longer here and no one would be able to make me feel any worse than I already felt. I needed to get out of here and do so now.
“Bye.” Kathy caught the door before it closed.
I know my behavior was beyond rude, but so was theirs. They'd done nothing but berate me and make me feel small.
I'd never been in this situation before and wasn't quite sure how I was supposed to behave or react. All I knew was that I accepted a position that was about to make my life spin out of control.
I heard her mutter something under her breath as I rounded the corner, leading down the exit hallway. I immediately turned around, prepared to confront her and her constant snide remarks, but the unit doors had already closed.
Saved by the security doors
, I thought, glancing up and noticing the camera, hanging over the entry doors.
“Camera?” I couldn't believe it. “I wonder if Sheriff Wagner collected the footage from this camera. If Rowdy was poisoned, maybe there were some clues that something was wrong. I missed them. I was busy. I was just trying to settle in and everyone else had their jobs to do. Perhaps there's some evidence of something going awry on the security footage from that day.
“Excuse me.” I jumped, surprised by the sudden presence of Jeb behind me. He smiled at me. “Heading home? The roads are horrible. Do you have snow tires?”
I took a couple of deep breaths as I tried to recover from my scare. Jeb awaited my answer while he fidgeted with the tools in his hands.
“Sorry.” I answered. “It was a bad night. You scared me. Um... No, I don't have snow tires. I didn't know I'd need them.”
“That's funny. My wife thinks the same thing and she grew up here. Of course, she's not driving much these days.” He said, smiling as if he let me in on a little secret.
I took the bait, seeing a means to an end, if I obliged him. “Oh, is your wife sick?”
His nose scrunched up. “No. She's the whole reason they brought you in. She just had a baby.”
For a moment, I had no idea how to respond. I didn't really want to hear about his wife, but I didn't want to appear rude. I asked another probing question, hoping I could convince him to let me see the surveillance tape after our little chat. “Your wife is a nurse here? She just had the baby. Oh, well, congratulations! How is she doing? Do you have any pictures of the baby?”
His cheeks reddened. I wondered if I'd asked too many questions. I hoped he wouldn't shut down. Considering he and I had seen each other daily since I arrived, this was the first official conversation we'd had and he looked like we'd crossed some sort of invisible line.
I needed to try another angle. “I hope your wife and the baby are doing well.”
He raked his hand through his sandy brown hair. “They're good. We are just trying to get adjusted. It's our first baby.”
Good. Good. Keep him talking
, I thought. “That's so sweet. Hey, speaking of pictures, I was wondering if you had access to the footage from the cameras in here?”
Jeb's expression changed. The happy new dad face he wore changed to a look of confusion. His eyebrows quirked up. He bit on his lip. I could see his lips quivering a little as if my question made him nervous.
He glanced down the hallway, pausing to watch the snow fall out the windows. “The snow is really coming down hard.” I followed his gaze, wondering why he was avoiding an answer to my question. “You might want to get going before you're stuck here for days.”
And, there went my opportunity. Right out the window it went.
“Yeah, I guess you're right.” I turned back to face him, but Jeb had already walked into the unit. “Well, that's just great. Now how am I supposed to see that footage?”
The waitress glared at me as I walked into the diner.
She yelled to the cook as she stomped to the register. “Of course, you would be the one person in town that had to come in here.”
I gave her my best death stare. “I'm fine. How are you?”
She rolled her eyes before slamming her order pad on the counter top in front of me. “What are you eating?”
I quickly ordered my food and marched to the nearest booth and put my head down while I waited for my food. There was something remarkably soothing about listening to the banging of pots and pans and the sound of the waitress shuffling around as she waited for a fresh cup of coffee to brew.
“Coffee?” The waitress held the pot dangerously close to my head. I shot my head up, nearly slamming my face on the side of it.
“I'd like it in a cup, not my hair, thank you.”
What was her problem?
It took her several seconds before my words registered with her, then, she filled my cup to the rim with steaming hot house blend coffee. “Is that enough for you?”
I stood up, startling her while simultaneously irritating my already injured hamstring. “What is wrong with you? Having a bad day?”
The cook, an older gentleman with a pinched face, peeked over the counter top at us. “Sissy? What's all the racket about?”
The waitress shouted over her shoulder, “Nothing, Grandpa. I'm just taking her order.”
Ah, so the rotten waitress had a name – Sissy.
I spoke up, speaking to the cook. “Sissy is just showing me some good old Western Nebraska hospitality.”
He scowled at me, unappreciative of my sarcasm. I smiled in return. That was enough to send him back to his work. Sissy, on the other hand, was still standing with the coffee pot dangling in her right hand and her left firmly planted on her hip.
Why didn't I just go back to the motel? The last thing I needed to worry about was food.
I ordered my food and waited impatiently to be served. Outside, the snow kept falling. Very few cars were out on the roads. I'd heard on the radio that the state police were asking people to stay off the roads and highways.
As I drove from work, I noticed that local businesses and the schools were closed too. That was probably for the better. If I didn't have to be outside, I wouldn't be either. If I didn't have to be here, I wouldn't be.
I missed home more than ever right now. I missed my daughter and my fairly simple life before I jumped at the chance to take this job. I couldn't even remember exactly why I'd agreed to come here in the first place. Whatever the reason, I'm sure it wasn't worth all of the trouble I've had since I arrived.
“Your food's ready.” Sissy slammed my plate down on the table in front of me. I bit my tongue, pretending not to be bothered by yet another round of rude behavior.
“You know people in town have been talking about you?” She didn't have to tell me. I figured as much. I sipped my coffee, waiting for her to elaborate. “They say that Rowdy was poisoned and that you might have had something to do with that.”
I had to give her points for bravery. If I believed that someone murdered a man that I knew, I'm not so sure I'd be pouring them coffee or serving them a meal.
“Aren't you gonna say nothin' about that?” She asked, cocking her hip out to one side.
I shrugged. “I guess people don't know me very well then.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but said nothing, opting instead to stomp away. I don't know if my breakfast was any good or not. In fact, I don't recall eating it at all. The only thing I could focus on was why the people of this town were so set on making me out to be a villain.
Although she didn't deserve it, I threw a tip on the table for Sissy and walked out of the diner, feeling worse than I had when I entered.
The snow continued to pile on the ground and every surface available. Again, I was reminded that I had no snow scraper and had to use the sleeve of my coat to wipe the freshly fallen snow from my car.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. Surprised to know that there was another not-so-cautious soul roaming quaint downtown Gering, I donned my friendliest smile, in spite of how awful I felt inside, and waved.
The man quickly lowered his head, shielding his face from the rapidly falling snow with his briefcase and ran inside the diner. I wanted to warn him that they weren't the nicest folks in town, but figured it wouldn't matter in the end.
Lost in my thoughts, I hadn't noticed the Sheriff stop his car behind mine.
“Are you alright, Ms. Mares,” he yelled from his car. “You shouldn't be out in this storm. Bad things could happen.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.” I muttered under my breath.
He left his car idling, getting out to speak with me. “Ms. Mares?” He asked. “Is everything okay?”
I opened my mouth to respond, but gave it a second thought because it seemed to me that every time I opened my mouth, I got accused of something. I didn't need that again.
Sheriff Wagner smiled, crossing his arms in front of him. “Alright, I understand that you might be a little upset with some of us around here, but no need to be rude.”
I sighed. “I'm not rude. I'm tired. I'm cold and I want to go home.” I wasn't lying. That was what I wanted more than anything.
He must have been just as exhausted as I was. Rather than stand there and debate the issue with me, he took the time to grab a window scraper out of the trunk of his car and wiped the snow from my car windows and climbed back into his car and drove off, waving as he pulled away.
I stared at the ceiling, counting tiles for the thousandth time in the last few hours. Normally, sleep would come easily for me, but today I couldn't shake the suspicion that someone was blatantly trying to frame me for murder.
I just couldn't make the pieces of this incredibly convoluted mystery fit together. As far as I could tell everyone had a reason to not like him, but who had a reason to kill him? Something was missing. Some part of the puzzle didn't fit no matter which way I tried to make it fit.
I'd already discovered that Rowdy had supposedly ruined his brother-in-law Milton's crops, and that he owed Kathy's husband for wages he never paid. Why anyone would think I'd have any motive to murder him was beyond me. What did I possibly have to gain from his death and why was everyone so quick to want to blame me? Something very strange was going on in this town and, if I intended to keep my job, I was going to have to get to the bottom of whatever it was and do so fast.