Mercy & Mayhem: A Mercy Mares Cozy Mystery (8 page)

 

Betty sensed what was going on. She asked, “He's gone, isn't he, Darlene? My brother is gone?”

 

“Yes, Mama, he's gone.” Darlene began to sob. Betty cried quietly, smoothing her hand over Darlene's blonde hair.

 

The brother's introduced themselves. The older looking one, acted as spokesman for the group. “What time did it happen?”

 

I filled him in on the sequence of events right before Milton passed.

 

“So, he had a good day today?” Darlene asked, her arms draped around Betty's shoulders.

 

“He did.” I answered, touched by how concerned they were that he died without any indication of pain.

 

Alton, the oldest, said, “Thank you for all you've done for our dad.”

 

A lump formed in my throat. “He was a kind man. Did you want to go into the room?”

 

The siblings looked at each other, then, looked at Betty to see if she was ready. She nodded.

 

Alton answered, “Yes, I think so.” His lips quivered as he spoke. These children truly loved their father.

 

I opened the door and allowed them to pass to say goodbye to their father. Emotions took over and the group cried, consoling each other as best they could. I remained for a few moments, feeling like a voyeur in moments like this.

 

Within a few minutes, their preacher arrived and I made a quiet exit to let them grieve in privacy.

 

As I stepped out onto the unit, Carol was standing with her arms crossed. I hadn't realized that she was still in the building.

 

“Hi, Carol. I thought you had gone home.” I said.

 

Her eyes narrowed. “You made the family drive through a snowstorm to get here?”

 

I was stunned.
Wasn't it protocol to notify the families?

 

“Yes, Mr. Smelt passed away. Aren't we supposed to notify the family?” I asked.

 

She opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by screaming, coming out of Nubbin's room.

 

“They murdered another one! Help before they kill us all!” Nubbin screamed.

Chapter Eight

              Carol barged in, carrying her briefcase and a mountain of paperwork in her hands.

 

“What's all this?” I asked, looking up from my charting.

 

She replied coldly. “Get up. You can work the floor. I'll take over here.”

 

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. “What? What do you mean you're taking over?”

 

Exasperation in her voice, she answered, “I'm a nurse. I've been a licensed nurse for over forty years. Now, go work the floor. I'm taking over.”

 

I'd never been demoted before. I had no idea what sparked this and sure as pudding wasn't going to walk away with my tail between my legs without an explanation as to why I'd been removed.

 

“I haven't finished my charting yet. I'm a nurse, not an aide. I mean, if they need help on the floor, that's fine, but to just be thrown out with no explanation is rude, frankly.” I wasn't someone they could just push around.

 

“I'm the administrator here. That means, while you are here, you follow my rules. Now, go see if the girls need help.” She dismissed me without so much as a reason why. I wanted to cry, but I was too angry to cry.

 

She grabbed Milton's chart out of my hands and opened the door for me. “Give me your keys.”

 

“My keys? What's going on here? You can't just throw me out. I'm calling my agency. I'm being paid to be a nurse, not an aide. You can't treat me this way.” I grabbed my purse to get my cell phone out and call my supervisor.

 

Carol slammed the door shut behind me, leaving me in the dining room, shaking because I was so angry.

 

It was the end of the workday in California, but I knew the answering service would have someone available.

 

“Hi, this is Mercedes Mares calling from Nebraska. I have a problem here. Which supervisor is on call tonight?” I asked, watching Carol settle into what was supposed to be my office.

 

Behind me, Tina asked, “What's going on?”

 

Tears were burning my eyes, but I refused to cry. “I have no idea. She is taking over, I guess.”

 

“Carol is? Are you kidding me? Carol has no clue what goes on around here. She was a dialysis nurse for crying out loud. Before that, she was a school nurse. She doesn't know how to do anything here. She's afraid of our residents. This can't be good. Are you sick or something?” Tina looked me over, assessing my well-being.

 

“No, but I feel an illness coming on real soon.” I didn't want to tell her that this place was beginning to make me sick, but that was the truth. I felt more and more nauseous with every passing second.

 

“Are you calling your agency?” Tina whispered, pulling me out of Carol's line of vision.

 

I nodded. “I'm on hold.”

 

“Don't let her see you talking on your cell phone. They fire people for that. Come, help me do the rounds. Sarah is on her break.”

 

I realized that Tina was just trying to help, but I'm afraid, I couldn't ignore this passive-aggressive behavior any longer. I needed my job. I had a house and my daughter's education to think about.

 

The girl from the answering service finally answered my question. “Ruby's the on call supervisor tonight. I asked her to give you a call.”

 

I breathed a sigh of relief.
Finally, someone who would be willing to listen to me.

 

I looked up at Tina. “Do you mind if I step off the unit for a few minutes? I need to talk to my supervisor.”

 

Tina waved me off. “Go. No problem. Use that door, so you won't have to pass the office.” She pointed to the doors that led to the other side of the dementia unit. I hadn't spent too much time over there. Most of those patients were bedridden and relatively quiet, the complete opposite of the more active bunch I had on this side.

 

“Good idea, thanks.” I rushed off the unit, virtually undetected. It didn't occur to me that there were cameras installed everywhere and the monitors were directly in front of Carol's face.

 

“Hi, Toots! Are you okay? I don't need to come bail you out of jail, do I?” Ruby teased.

 

The sound of her comforting voice brought me to tears immediately. I cried like a baby, telling her all that had happened since the last time we spoke.

 

“So, she just threw you out with no explanation as to why? Doesn't she know that death is a natural part of life in a nursing home? What planet are these people from again?” Ruby asked, feeling just as annoyed as I did.

 

“I never wanted to go home so badly in all my life. My divorce proceedings were more pleasant than this place.” I wasn't kidding either. At this point, I would have rather been hog tied and rolled down a hill stark naked.

 

Ruby has always been my voice of reason, in life and in work. She said, “Mercy, where is the administrator now? Let me speak to her.”

 

“She's in the office.” I scrubbed the tears from my face. “I'll get fired for being on my cell phone.”

 

“Okay, honey. Go back to work. I'll call her right now. Just hang tight. Things are going to get better, I promise. Try not to let anyone else die on your shift, okay?” Ruby was teasing, but I wasn't yet ready to laugh about my situation.

 

“Sorry, was that too soon?” Ruby asked. “Look, you know how things go. Deaths always happen in threes, especially in nursing homes. If they don't know that, then, hopefully, they will figure it out soon. All you can do is do your job to the best of your ability and my job is to make sure that you have all the tools and resources you need to perform your duties. Now, relax. I'll talk some sense into this Carol lady, so you can do what you're getting paid to do.”

 

I hung up, not entirely convinced that even someone as aggressive as Ruby could help ease the tension around here. I just had the sinking feeling that I was doomed. Western Nebraska didn't like me and I was really beginning to question whether or not I liked it.

 

*

              Tina pointed down the hallway. “I think someone wants to talk to you.”

 

“Great.” I groaned. “Well, it was nice meeting you. You're going to be a wonderful nurse.” I took a deep breath to go meet my fate, my entire career flashing before my eyes. Every life I touched. Every hand I held. Everything that I loved almost as much as I loved my daughter was for nothing. It all came down to this.

 

The smile on Carol's face didn't match the cold stare in her eyes. The strained words that came out of her mouth were more in line with her real feelings. Ruby must have read her the riot act. On one hand, I wanted to thank Ruby for having my back, but the other hand wanted to strangle her for making things worse.

 

“This is how this is going to work. You're scheduled to work tomorrow night. You'll show up on time without your luggage and you'll work one on one with Marie until we straighten all of this out.” She turned and walked back into the office, letting the door close behind her.

 

I grasped a chair and took a long, deep breath. This place was going to be the death of me. I could feel it in my bones, but at least I still had a job. For tonight, I'd suck it up and do whatever she told me, but first I needed to find a way to get my charts back so I could finish my charting.

 

My hands shook as I knocked on the office door.

 

Carol growled at me. “Why don't you use your key?”

 

I reminded her. “You took my keys, remember? I need to finish my charting. I assume that's a rule around here?”

 

So much for laying low and staying out of her way, but I had a job to do.

 

She propped the door open with her leg and let me back into the office, tossing my facility issued keys and attached key card on the desk.

 

“The snowstorm may have just saved your career. I wanted to ask you to clock out.” She said.

 

I didn't say a word, fearing that I'd shoot myself in the foot if I spoke again.

 

“Here's the thing, I've been here for fifteen years and do you know how many visitors we've had die in our facility?” She asked.

 

I had a pretty good idea as to how many, but I stayed quiet to let her finish.

 

“None. That's how many. We've never once lost a resident's spouse, then, you show up and look what happened.” Her blue eyes bore into mine, making me uncomfortable.

 

“For the record, that's the first time I've had a patient's spouse die on me too. Why is everyone around here so quick to place blame? Didn't it occur to anyone that he was an elderly gentleman and it may have just been his time? Why does someone have to be to blame?” I knew what she was going to say. There was no avoiding it.

 

“He was poisoned, so yes, someone is to blame. Nothing like this ever happened before.” She answered.

 

“So, that means I have to be the one responsible?” I fought to keep more tears at bay.

 

“Ask Betty. She has plenty to say on the matter.” She walked out of the office and pulled a chair out for her to sit, facing me.

 

Please, let this night end. I'm calling the agency first thing tomorrow morning and heading home. This place is a nut house.

 

*

              “I swear, this dog is the most neglected dog in town.” Marie hoisted Barney in her arms.

 

I smiled back, relieved that she didn't see me as a pariah. “Hi, Marie. I was wondering who was supposed to be in charge of Barney.”

 

Marie rolled her eyes. “He used to be Kathy's, but after her husband lost his job, she had to get rid of him. One of the aides suggested she bring Barney here and let the residents take care of him. She figured it would have been good for everyone involved, but as the resident's have deteriorated, Barney has been getting less and less attention.”

 

“He's Kathy's dog?” I sat down behind the desk.

 

“You wouldn't know it by the way she treats him. It's like she stopped caring altogether. Seems like her whole focus is on her crazy husband and her aging mother. She has a lot of stress. That's part of her issue. I can't account for the other stuff.” Marie motioned out the door. Kathy was walking toward the office, a chart in her hands.

 

Kathy nodded at Marie, but just motioned for me to get out of her seat. “I didn't have time to finish report. I got stuck doing all the stuff that you didn't finish last night.”

 

I didn't bother to argue. I figured she knew how my night went. Everyone probably knew and I was prepared to field questions or discerning looks from each of the other staff members.

 

Marie broke the tension with a question. “Did the husband make you mad again, Kathy?”

 

I wanted to laugh, but held it back. This wasn't the time or the place for that. I already had too many strikes against me, so it was far better to be safe than sorry and I managed to contain myself.

 

“Funny, but no. I just don't appreciate having to pick up someone's slack. I have my own job to do. Next time they decide to hire a temp, they might want to find one who is actually qualified and willing to do the job they are being paid to do, you know what I mean?” If Kathy was expecting that Marie would back up her statement, she was sadly mistaken because Marie walked away without acknowledging her rude statement, leaving me alone with Kathy.

 

She huffed and sat down in her chair. I took the opportunity to do morning rounds. I knocked on Nubbin's door, anxious to see him again. He could at least bring a smile to my face.

 

“You better have a darn good reason to be visiting at this hour, Monte Carlo.” Nubbin said by way of a welcome.

 

“Hello, Nubbin. How are you doing today?” I asked, surprised to find Marie seated in his room with Barney on her lap.

 

She answered, “He did. I'll take care of vitals today. Why don't you get charts ready for the new month? Can you believe Christmas is only a week away?”

 

I was confused.
Why was she asking me to get the charts ready for next month when I was supposed to be doing rounds?

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