Authors: Ava Mallory
Charlie introduced the group. “Everyone, I'm sure you know Ms. Higginbotham.” She nodded, not making eye contact with any of us. “This is Stacy. She's a nurse manager for Valley and this is Tina. She's a nurse?” He asked her to clarify.
She blushed. “I'm an aide, but I just graduated from nursing school.”
I wanted to clap. I was so proud of her, but first I needed to know why she had been dragged into this.
Betty spoke up, not allowing Charlie to explain why she was there. “You all better know who I am, considering most of you have seen me in my skivvies.”
I laughed nervously. She was such a card.
“Why is my mother here?” Randy asked.
Pug spoke up. “I'm not understanding what this is all about. Would someone care to explain to me what good it would do to drag Rowdy's poor widow out of the convalescent home for this?”
She looked at him, her eyes narrowing, “You don't tell me where I can and can't go. Do you understand me? You work for me. You do what I tell you to.”
Wow! She was a feisty one, wasn't she?
“Mother,” Randy started, but she put her hand up to stop him.
“Randall Orwin Knott, don't you say another word. I have every right to be here. Rowdy was mine long before he was yours and I deserve to know what happened to him. I'm not a fool, so please just stop treating me like one.” She warned him.
Randy threw his hands in the air and sat back in his seat. Betty game me a satisfied smile.
“Let's cut to the chase, shall we?” Charlie asked, nodding at Carol to speak. “Tell them what you discovered.”
She put her hand to her throat, swallowing before speaking. “Mercy, I... We owe you an apology. On behalf of everyone, I want to say that we deeply regret how you were treated and, if there's anything I can do to ease any of the troubles we've caused you, please, don't hesitate to ask. You're an excellent nurse and I'm glad you could join us.”
Was I dreaming? Did she just apologize?
Carol continued, “Our records indicate that Rowdy arrived to see his wife at eight o'clock in the morning. He was greeted by our receptionist, who noted the time because she'd just come on duty and hadn't yet turned on any lights. She turned her computer on just as Rowdy entered through the front doors with Mr. Kale. We also have them on camera. Mr. Kale met Rowdy in the parking lot in front of our facility at seven-thirty in the morning and they sat in Rowdy's truck for several minutes before entering.”
I wanted to cry.
They had video footage of this the whole time?
Charlie looked at me and asked, “When Mr. Knott arrived on the unit, was Pug with him?”
I shook my head. I had no idea. I was in the room with Betty when he arrived. I looked at Kathy. Her eyes were wide, as she tried to remember.
“I never saw him arrive. Kathy might have.” I explained.
She shook her head, looking at Pug. “No, no, Rowdy was alone.”
“Don't you have footage of that?” I asked Carol.
She shrugged. “The camera wasn't activated. There's no footage outside of the unit doors.”
“Wait. Are you sure? If that's true, then, why wouldn't Jeb let me see the footage? Why didn't he just tell me that the camera wasn't on?” I asked.
Charlie answered. “You were a suspect. It wouldn't make sense to allow you access to anything.”
Pug stood up. “That never happened. I wasn't there!”
Stacy spoke up, looking him directly in the eyes. “Yes, you were. I forgot my key card that day, so I had to park in front. I saw you when you drove in and I saw you get into Rowdy's truck and walk in with him. I'm on the footage too.”
Good golly, he was busted!
“You people are sick. I don't have to sit here and listen to this.” Pug pushed his chair back and moved to stand up, but Betty stood in front of him.
“What did you do, Paul? What did you do to my Rowdy?” She asked.
Pug tried to stand up anyway, nearly sending Betty to the ground, but Randy caught her arm and stopped her fall, before lunging for Pug. “You killed my father!”
Everyone in the room, except for Charlie backed away. Charlie grabbed Randy by his shirt collar and pulled him off of Pug, yelling for someone to get the deputies. I ran to the door and yelled before I saw the two deputies that were stationed right outside the door.
It didn't take long for the men to calm down. They were separated by a guard standing next to each of them as our conversation continued. Charlie warned both that they would be arrested if there was another outburst.
Charlie asked me to reveal everything that I'd learned. There was so much new information, I didn't know where to begin. I looked around at everyone, wishing that I didn't have to do this and told them what I knew. “First, I want to express my deepest condolences to Betty and Randy. I can't imagine what this whole ordeal has done to you.” Betty nodded at me. “I can't speak to what Carol or Stacy just said. That's news to me too, but I can tell you what I saw with my own eyes and what I've discovered after doing a little... Well, a lot of digging. At the time it didn't seem so significant, but knowing what I know now, I see how incredibly significant it was.” I paused to gauge their reactions, but they offered me nothing more than hardened looks and the occasional grimace.
Charlie nodded his approval at me.
I took a deep breath, suddenly second guessing myself. Standing in front of the people I was about to accuse of a heinous crime made my stomach turn. My hands still twitched and my heart rate would give Nascar a run for their money.
Pug spoke in frustration. “What is this? I didn't come here to be lectured by the likes of her. Arrest her, Wagner. What are you waiting for?”
The vein in the center of Charlie's forehead protruded. He'd had enough of Pug. We all waited with bated breath to see how he'd respond to yet another outburst from the Knott family attorney.
Randy said through clenched teeth. “Be quiet and let her speak.” He looked at me with his steely blue eyes and said, “Go on. Say what you have to say.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Betty smile slightly. She too saw that her son was beginning to see things for what they were.
I continued, hesitantly. “When I first saw Rowdy, he was in the office with Kathy. I was introduced, but we had no real conversation between us. Betty, on the other hand, was quite pleased to see him. They said their hellos and Betty offered him a glass of lemonade.”
Kathy sighed. “What does that have to do with anything?”
I cleared my throat and answered, “Everything. Excuse me if I'm wrong, but do your water pitchers always contain fresh lemonade in the morning for the residents?”
She stammered to answer, saying, “No, but she has dementia. She was confused, so what?”
“I thought that too.” I said. “Then, when I found out that she didn't have dementia, I did a little digging to see why she was housed in that unit.” Pug began to squirm uncomfortably in his seat, but I didn't let that stop me. I continued on because I was just getting to the good part. “Yeah, she doesn't have dementia. Perhaps, if someone had taken the time to read the chart that they stole, they would have seen the documentation on that.”
Carol interrupted, surprised by that little factoid. “Her chart was stolen? How come I wasn't made aware of that and how long has it been gone?”
Kathy's faced turned red. I anticipated an angry outburst from her, but she didn't offer one. Instead, she kept her head down and confessed. “I didn't steal it. I... Well, you know how you asked me to stop eating in the nurse's office because of the critter problem we had in the fall?” She hesitated, waiting for Carol's response.
“Yes, go on.” Carol prompted her.
“Well, the unit is so busy. There's never a dull moment and I just don't have time to take a lunch break, let alone get a moment to breathe.” Kathy explained, looking up through her curly lashes at Carol.
“And?” Tina asked, covering her mouth with her hands in embarrassment. “Sorry. Carry on.”
There was my girl. I had to laugh. She was enjoying this as much as I was beginning to.
Kathy sat straighter in her chair to defend her error. “Well, I have to eat. I spend ninety percent of my time at work and I get hungry and thirsty sometimes, so you can't fault me for it.”
“For what?” Carol asked, her eyebrows quirking up.
Kathy's shoulders slumped as she finished explaining what happened to Betty's chart. “I was eating my French dip sandwich. I had the sandwich in one hand, the Au Jus sauce sitting on the other side of the desk, and a chocolate shake in my other hand.” She stopped as if there was nothing more she needed to say.
Carol asked, “So, what happened to the chart, Kathleen?”
I stifled a laugh.
“That dumb dog that no one ever remembers to feed, came running in the office and hopped right up on my lap. He knocked the shake out of my hand and took a bite out of my sandwich. How was I supposed to react? I jumped up and my elbow hit the sauce and spilled all over Betty's chart. It was a mess. That dog freaked out and made it even worse by jumping on the desk and tearing things apart by walking on them.” Kathy was practically crying by the time she'd finished her story.
I couldn't help myself. I had to ask. “How did the dog get into the office? I thought the rule was to keep the door closed and locked at all times.”
She scowled at me, answering, “I already explained. I never get a moment to myself, so I missed my lunch break. I propped the door open so I could grab a bite to eat before I died of malnutrition and that mutt came storming in out of nowhere.”
That's it, I couldn't hold it anymore. I was ready to burst. I had to laugh.
The only other person who found it the least bit amusing was Betty. She laughed with me, while Kathy glared back and forth at us.
“So, you spilled food on Betty's chart and then you took it home with you? Why would you do that?” Carol asked, confused by her nonsensical reaction to a problem that could have been easily solved.
“I panicked.” Kathy shrugged. “But, in my defense, I'd worked a lot of hours, I was starving, you gave me a trainee, and Rowdy died on my shift!”
Yeah, let's make this all about you, Kathleen
, I thought.
Carol shook her head and looked over at me. “Okay, well, that's solved, I guess. What does that have to do with Rowdy's murder?”
“Nothing.” I said, smiling. “I just wanted to make sure everyone understood that I had nothing to do with that nonsense.”
I could see their patience was wearing thin. They all squirmed in their seats or shuffled their feet where they stood, waiting for me to get to the point, but now that Kathy had put her feet to the fire, I was rather enjoying this and wasn't feeling so inclined to stop the fun.
Charlie cleared his throat, noticing how much pleasure I was taking in Kathy's calamity. In spite of my own reasons for wanting to watch Kathy be held accountable for something, I understood that this was neither the time nor the place to point out her flaws or shortcomings.
“Okay,” I clapped my hands to signal that I was ready to continue. “Initially, I believed that the missing chart had to do with keeping pertinent information out of my reach or was yet another attempt to make me look bad, but after long hours of trying to figure out why Kathy deemed it necessary to keep the chart in her possession, I tried to find a reasonable explanation or whatever her idea of reasonable was.” I smiled widely at her. “I found that explanation in the form of a menial task I was asked to do one night on shift. I'd been ordered to clean the office and, I hate to have to say this, but the place was a pigsty. There were candy wrappers, discarded cups, dried flowers, and the remnants of some very hearty meals, hidden in corners and behind drawers in the office. Naturally, I wondered what the inside of my fellow nurses' homes must have looked like, if this is how they kept their office. And, who keeps dried flowers at work? Then, it occurred to me that it wasn't in such disarray because they were slobs, but because they weren't supposed to eat in there, so they'd hide their snacks and whatever else they were doing in there. I imagine, it was easier to throw things under the desk when administrators or any of the doctors made an appearance. Right?” I turned my attention to Kathy, who was studying her short fingernails as if she'd never seen them before.