Authors: Ava Mallory
Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, Sheriff Wagner was back on the unit and watching our exchange from the dining room. I'm sure it wasn't too difficult to see that something was going on and, if I had to guess, he probably already knew what that something was and probably helped to craft this ludicrous idea with Kathy.
Kathy glanced over at him and quickly opened the door. "We're ready." she said.
Ready for what? She hadn't with consulted me about speaking to the Sheriff again.
"Good." He said and walked in, taking out his notebook again. "Miss Mares, do you wear a watch."
He was looking right at it. All nurses wore watches. He didn't have to ask. The evidence was right there.
He waited, so I showed it to him and said, "Yes."
He nodded and wrote something down in his notebook.
"What time did you come into the office to look for the, what was it again?" He asked.
"The form. I don't know exactly what time it was. I didn't look at my watch." I informed him.
"But you were wearing one, correct?" He asked.
I nodded again, pointing to the obvious.
"What time was it when you took Mrs. Knott's vitals, again?"
I probably shouldn't have hesitated to answer, but I did. I didn't remember telling him that I had taken Betty's vitals. All of a sudden, I couldn't remember anything. The whole day was starting to become a blur.
"I don't remember what time I took her vitals." I, for the life of me, couldn't remember.
“You did have your watch on at the time, didn't you? I mean, I'm no expert, but don't all nurses wear watches and don't you need your watch to take vitals?" His tone was accusatory.
I wanted to tell him that you didn't necessarily need a watch to take vitals You just had to be proficient about keeping time while checking the pulse and respiration rates, but who was I to start getting technical right now? He already didn't like me and, if this went any further, I might be so inclined to not like him either.
"Yes, I had a watch on. I can remember her vitals. Do you want them?” I proceeded to rattle them off as if they had anything at all to do with the task at hand, but of course, they didn't. He was looking more and more perturbed as my nervous chatter continued. Why was I sweating so profusely all of a sudden? I needed air. I needed a nap. I needed anything that would get me out of this pickle and do it quickly because this wasn't going well at all.
The dog - I forgot his name already - was whimpering outside the office door. We were each a little stunned for a moment by the sudden noise and that gave us long enough to catch our breath before we moved on to the next pressing question that the Sheriff had for me.
"Can I let the dog in?" I don't know why I asked, but it seemed like the only thing I could ask that wouldn't land me in a whole heap of trouble.
Kathy must have felt sorry for me because she nodded and opened the door for the dog.
Thank goodness. I needed something to hold onto and this dog fit the bill.
"Okay, well, that's all I have for you now. If you remember anything that you may have forgotten to tell me, Miss Mares, here is my card, you call me and let me know, day or night. Anything at all. He moved to leave.
I followed, feeling like my job was on the line and asked him the most important question of all. "Am I in trouble here?"
"No, why would you think that? Anytime there is a death, it is my job to investigate. I wouldn't be doing my job right if I didn't at least get to the bottom of how a perfectly fine, relatively healthy man walks into the same facility, he comes in every morning to visit his ill wife and then has a small conversation with you, suddenly ends up dead in the office where he shouldn't have access to unless someone opened the door for him. You see, what I don't understand is what happened after you spoke to him in his wife's room?” The Sheriff sure didn't pull any punches.
"Number one, I never spoke to him in her room. And, you really believe I killed this man?” I felt my blood boiling.
"Well, did you?" His eyebrows quirked up.
I didn't say a word, partly because I didn't know what he wanted me to say and partly because there was nothing to say.
Was this a murder investigation? Did I miss the part where an autopsy was conducted and the scene was taped off while a crew checked for clues. What was going on? What didn't I see and why was I being treated like a suspect?
I turned around, surprised to see that each of my fellow employees was standing watching this whole thing unfold. The looks on their faces revealed what they were thinking. They were wondering the same thing I suspected the Sheriff was wondering: Did I have anything to do with Mr. Knott's death?
If I didn't know any better I'd think that I was in a very bad dream and I'd soon wake up. I'd worked too long and too hard to ever want to jeopardize everything just to kill some man I had just met and only briefly at that. Why would anyone think that I had any reason to murder him or anyone for that matter? I'm just a forty-four-year-old divorcee who lives in a double wide trailer that I purchased on my own with my hard-earned money and had no skeletons in my closet.
For the few hours I had left of this first shift, I kept quiet and did exactly as I was told, when I was told. After about three hours, Kathy didn't loosen up. She never showed me her softer, more charming side, but the grunts weren't as loud and the glares didn't last as long as they had in the beginning and, lucky for me, the family that I was ordered to stay away from never made it in on my shift. I guess, I should have been thankful for that, but it just didn't feel right. A man died with us and no one, including those that were supposed to be in charge handled any of the process right. I didn't like it and something smelled fishy about the whole situation, but I didn't want to dig a larger hole for myself, so I bit my tongue and made it through the rest of the day without going to jail. All I had to do was make it to the motel without causing a scene and I was home free or at least behind a locked door and out of this loony bin. A bed, a blanket, and one very big headache would seal the deal for me. Then, I could wake up refreshed tomorrow and all of this will be a thing of the past.
I quietly grabbed my gear and made a beeline for the door. No one seemed to notice and no one seemed to care and that's how I liked it, I had to admit. I just wanted to go, but as the door slowly closed behind me, I heard Kathy's now very familiar yell, "Mercedes!"
I wanted to die.
"Yes?" I poked my head back in the unit.
“The family wants to talk to you.” Kathy held the phone out to me.
What? I didn't see anyone walk in.
“They are on the phone. Get in here and deal with them.” She ordered.
I felt my heart flop into my stomach. I couldn't keep up with the constant mood swings from my trainer.
"Now, you want me to talk to them? I thought you said to stay away from them."
“Well, I can't tell them what happened because I was helping a resident. You were the only one with them, so you have to handle this, not me." Kathy explained.
I felt my jaw hit the ground.
Who was this woman?
I tried to steady my shaky hands as she handed me the phone.
"Hello?" I answered.
Just then, Betty came running out of her room, screaming, "She killed him! She killed him!"
I quickly shut the door, hoping that the person on the other end of the phone hadn't heard her.
"I'll tell you what you need to do is go in and hold your head up high and do your job to the best of your ability. You know how these things go. Every time someone new comes on board, the hens start clucking and everyone starts looking for something to blame on the new gal. Remember back in nursing school, everyone swore we took that wheelchair? Well, look what happened there. You'll be fine, Mercy. I promise." Ruby, my best friend in the whole world, always had a way of making me feel better. I'm so glad I called her, otherwise I never would have made it through the night.
"What if everything doesn't work out fine. I'm telling you these people are a whole other breed. They practically had me thrown in the clink for good. I didn't know what to do or say because it seemed like everything I said made me look guilty." I still couldn't get over how the day went.
"Guilty of what? Being there when a man was in distress? Honey, that's your job. You're one of the good guys, remember? We help people. Don't let them get to you, Mercy. Don't let them break your spirit. You're a good egg." Ruby reminded me of why I loved my job. It didn't matter how bad things got, she would always be there to tell me how great I was. She was like my own personal cheering squad and I loved her for it.
I hung up the phone, promising to update her on today's progress. She promised that she'd write, if I did end up going to prison for being in the room at the wrong time.
"There. I feel better now." I had a tendency to talk to myself. That was one of the perils of being alone most of the time. As long as I didn't hold both ends of the conversation, I knew I hadn't lost all of my marbles yet.
I checked my hair and makeup in the bathroom mirror to make sure I looked presentable. Normally, I wouldn't be much for makeup, but the stress of yesterday had me looking a little pale and the bags under my eyes were making the other bags under my eyes look pretty bad. I was just happy that I'd stopped and gotten my hair dyed back to my original color before I made the trip. At least, my grays haven't shown yet. Having jet black hair may have looked good in pictures, but in the real world, it tended to fade fast and gray like the skies during a summer storm. I did anything and everything to keep the gray hairs at bay. Recently, I was considering resorting to shoe polish just like my grandfather used to do, but that was only in case of dire emergency, like if I'd been offered a starring role in a new television series or I met a dapper Italian man, who wanted to whisk me away to his villa and show me what it was like to live in the lap of luxury. In that case, I'd buy stock in shoe polish and have a laboratory on standby in case a scientist found the cure to aging, because I was going to need that asap.
I had a few minutes to grab a cup of coffee and a doughnut before I had to prepare myself to go into work. If I remembered correctly, I'd seen a diner just around the corner. I'm sure they'd be open and, hopefully, none of the fascinating individuals I'd met yesterday would be there.
The place was quaint and quiet, just like I had hoped. I wanted to ease into my day, not have a repeat of yesterday. So, I walked in, pulling the squeaky door open, bells ringing, and stood in line between one nice older gentleman and a woman, holding a briefcase.
The waitress asked what I'd like and only slightly flinched when she realized that I was obviously new in town because I had no idea what was on the menu other than to say that I wanted a coffee and a doughnut. She helped me find the choices on a nearby menu and waited sort of patiently while I ordered. It's not like the place was busy, but she seemed to be a hurry to go on to do whatever it was she had to do.
I ordered and went in search of a table tucked away from the street. Not that it was busy, but I knew how small towns worked and figured all of the locals would be making their way in soon and I'd have to go through the motions of explaining who I was and what I was doing there, neither of which I really wanted to do.
The coffee was nice and hot, like I liked it. The doughnut was moist and delicious. At least, I could enjoy it in peace and quiet. That is until I noticed the front of a gentleman's newspaper as he read it: Mr. Rowdy Knott Dies at Valley Retirement Estates.
That's all I needed. Did nothing more exciting happen in this town? He made the front page. Who was he?
I tried to read, but my eyes weren't as good as they used to be and I didn't want to make it obvious that I was reading the poor man's newspaper. I squinted as I drank my coffee and still couldn't make out what the article said about him.
The waitress came over the to the table, holding a pot of fresh coffee and topped my cup off for me.
"Do you have a newspaper stand nearby?” I asked.
She rolled her eyes. "I have a paper. Want one? It's fifty cents.
I nodded. "Please?"
She walked away. When she returned, she plopped a thin newspaper on the table in front of me. I read the headline again to make sure I'd seen it right. Sure enough, it was an article about Rowdy. Apparently, he and Betty were big farmers here in their day and owned a large farm that was still in operation now. Most of the story was about the farm and not so much about his death, other than to say the cause was unknown and pending autopsy. I almost choked on my coffee.
Why was I the only one that could see that his death was from natural causes?
The article clearly stated that Mr. Knott was seventy-seven years old, so why would the first thing that people latched onto be that his death had to have been caused by someone and not by something related to his age, an ailment, and something else?
"Are you finished?" The ultra friendly waitress was referring to my empty plate.
"Yes. Thank you." I lifted the newspaper, so that she could take my plate.
When I moved back, I caught a glimpse of the maintenance man from the nursing home.
Oh, what was his name again? Jeb!
I started to get up to go say hello, but then I noticed that he was seated across from a man. I assumed it was a man because of the large shoes he had on his feet. I didn't realize that farmers wore dress shoes. Again, I assumed he either lived on a farm or worked on a farm because his shoes were covered in dirt and twigs. I thought it better to leave them alone. Besides, interrupting a private conversation wasn't exactly kosher, no matter where you were from.
I was probably the last person he wanted to be seen speaking with in public anyway. I mean, he did witness the debacle of a day I had. No point in hashing up what I hoped was old news. Nope, I was determined to not make this day a repeat of the one before it.
I woke up feeling anxious, took a few minutes to chat with my friend and felt ready to start on a good foot and leave the past in the past.
I heard the screaming as soon as I walked out of the locker room. Not even fire doors could keep the noise contained. It didn't take a rocket scientist to know that the noise was coming from the dementia unit. I just hoped my new favorite resident wasn't the one engaged in it.
Taking a deep breath before I slid my entry card into the slot, I willed myself to have a good day and to remain calm.
Before I even had the door partially opened, Betty came rushing at me, full force, carrying a suitcase, that she hadn't completely secured shut yet, with the contents streaming out of it behind her.
"Whoa! Hi, Betty. Are you leaving?" I tried to use my body to block her. Normally, that did the trick. At five feet three inches tall and a curvaceous, I'd like to think, one hundred and fifty pounds, give or take a pound or two, I could be pretty strong if I needed to be. In this case, I didn't have to be. The spunky senior didn't weigh more than a hundred pounds soaking wet, so I was feeling pretty confident that I could keep her from making a run for it.
Behind her was a red-faced Kathy and two of the nurse's aides, who were working when I made my first grand entrance. They readily grabbed Betty and tried to persuade her to come back onto the unit, but Betty was not having any of that. She had a plan and she was sticking to it.
"Let me go!" The veins in her neck were sticking out. "I am leaving. You can't keep me here."
I really didn't want to get in the middle of whatever this was, but I had to help. No reason to have Betty so distraught. She already had enough to deal with after watching Rowdy die.
"Betty, let me help you. I'll carry your suitcase for you. You don't want to leave that stuff here, do you?" The others looked at me like I'd lost my mind, but I knew what I was doing. Betty had a plan and fighting her wasn't going to work. She would resist every attempt to keep her on the unit, so why not oblige her and let her see for herself why she shouldn't leave? I'm sure she didn't intend to walk in the two feet of snow that had fallen overnight, and given that she was wearing a short sleeved, button up shirt and slacks with slippers, I didn't think this little foray was well planned in the first place. Something must have triggered her and I needed to get her away from whatever that something was and get her engaged in something else. Since it was obvious that no one else was going to do that for her.
I gathered her belongings, mostly photos from her walls and put them into the suitcase. One of the aides, Sarah, held the unit door open for us. Betty stood right at the door and didn't take off running, so my little plan must have been working. After I secured her suitcase shut, I winked at Kathy and escorted Betty off the unit and let her dictate which way she wanted to go.
Just as I thought, she had no real plan in mind. In fact, as soon as the unit doors closed behind us, she took a deep breath, straightened our her blouse, and took my arm.
"Shall we?" she asked.
"We shall." I answered.
We wandered aimlessly through the hallways, passing by other units and an array of locked doors. I actually appreciated having the time to get acquainted with the facility. Yesterday's events, didn't allow for a full tour of the facility, so I took the opportunity to become familiar with the area and learn my way around.
"Thank you." Betty said, tears in her eyes. "You really are a sweet woman." She squeezed my arm. "You wouldn't believe this, but I used to be chubby too."
Did she just call me fat?
She continued on. "When I was expecting each of my boys, I must have put on thirty pounds or more. Oh, sometimes, it was so hard to move with all that weight on me and, then, when I had another son, I would have to carry him and tend to him, while I was expecting. You know, back then, there was no nap time really. We had the farm and household chores and the boys and Rowdy's mother lived with us for a spell. Oh, that woman. Even after that, we ended up with a bigger brood to care for."
I was happy to hear her talk about the good times, even if it was to show me what it was like for her when she weighed twenty five pounds less than me. It never ceased to amaze me. They say, out of the mouths of babes, but I'll tell you what, seniors are pretty darn honest too. They just tell it like it is.
We found a seating area. Betty walked right in and found a pair of chairs for us to sit in and she kept talking like we were old girlfriends.
I let her talk. I got the feeling that's all she wanted to do. I didn't make mention of what had gotten her so upset and just let her dictate the conversation.
After learning that she and Rowdy had three boys and that he'd inherited a large plot of land from his family, she told me all about what their lives together were like. That's what she needed to do. She needed to have someone sit and listen to her talk about Rowdy. It broke my heart that she had to get that from me, a virtual stranger.
Finally, after several minutes of her telling me all that she could, she said, "Rowdy's dead."
My heart welled with pain for her. Death was hard. I waited for her to continue, but she didn't instead she put her head down and looked at her hands. On her ring finger sat a simple gold band and an antique diamond. Nothing fancy. It wasn't a large stone, just big enough to see if you were seated close.
Her shoulders started to shake, right before I saw a tear hit her hand,. I grabbed her and held her and let her cry on my shoulder. That's what she needed. I felt so sorry for her. I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing and let her cry. She needed it.