Authors: A.W. Hartoin
Also by A.W. Hartoin
About the Author
Copyright © A.W. Hartoin, 2013
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Also By A.W. Hartoin
Mercy Watts Mysteries
A Good Man Gone
Many thanks to the skiers and resort at Copper Mountain, Colorado.
Special thanks to my husband who taught me to ski and keeps me skiing, even though I’m really bad at it.
Your experience and passion for skiing made the book.
“I should have your problems.”
Raquel, known as Raptor by those who knew her well, stood behind me. The smell of her stale coffee breath filled the staff room. It went well with her natural aura of evil and unjustified anger. I stuffed my water bottle in my backpack and turned to face her.
“I’d like to give you some of my problems, Raquel. Maybe you’d do better with them than I have,” I said.
“You wouldn’t give me the time of day, Mercy.” She tossed her dark curls over her shoulder and brushed past me to get her purse out of her locker and her stethoscope clanked against the metal. She cursed under her breath and glared at me as if it were my fault.
“Not true.” I smiled. Raptor hated smiling on general principle, so I did it as much as possible in her presence. “It is now 7:23 AM and I’ll even tell you the day. It’s Sunday.”
I threw back the last of my cold coffee, wiped out my mug and tucked it in beside my water bottle. “I can’t deny the truth.”
“You’ve been complaining about Colorado all night and I’m sick of it. You act like getting an all expenses paid skiing trip is some kind of punishment or something.”
I sighed. In my case it kind of was a punishment, a punishment for dating someone long enough that he decided I absolutely had to go on a trip with his parents, not that I expected Raptor to understand that. I don’t do well with parents, especially mothers. They could get crazy about their sons and for some reason they seemed to think their baby boys needed protection from me especially. I expected a week of suspicion and sly insinuations.
“It’s been a long night. Can we just snipe at each other another time?”
“You know where I’ll be this week?” Raptor hissed at me.
Bitterville? Panties-in-a-twist town? Vinegar village?
“Here in ice cold St. Louis, not skiing with my doctor boyfriend and his rich parents.”
I’m sorry for St. Louis.
“Well, gotta go,” I said as our boss, Odetta, poked her head in.
“Mercy, make sure you stop by Mr. O’Quinn before you go. He’ll be hell on wheels, if you don’t,” said Odetta.
Raptor threw up her hands and stalked out. “Unbelievable.”
“Don’t mind her,” said Odetta. “She just hates you.”
“Don’t I know it. I’ll see Arthur on my way out,” I said, going out the door. Odetta and I watched Raptor walk away. She even walked angry.
“What is it with you two?” asked Odetta as she tied her long black braids with a red ribbon.
“I arrived at nursing school two minutes before her and took the dorm room she thought should’ve been hers by virtue of GPA.”
“That and I continued to breathe afterwards,” I said. “Call my service if you want me back after Colorado.”
I was a PRN nurse, which meant I was a glorified temp. I never knew where I’d be from week to week.
Odetta glanced at Raptor stepping into the elevator and then raised an eyebrow at me. “You’ll come back?”
“I’m used to her and I like the floor.”
“Then I’ll make the request.”
We said goodbye and I took a left toward Arthur O’Quinn’s room. The old guy would probably be asleep, but it wouldn’t hurt to check. I pulled open the door to his private room and the smell of three thousand flowers flowed out into the corridor. I tiptoed in and peeked around the drawn curtain. The thin man on the bed with the covers drawn up to his chin was surrounded by more flowers than I’d ever seen in one room. They were everywhere, vases on every flat surface, including equipment. Arthur’s eyes were closed and his breathing was shallow but steady.
“Is that Chanel No. 5 I smell?” he said softly.
I bit my lip and his hazel eyes fluttered open.
“Don’t worry, Miss Watts,” said Arthur. “I know exactly who you are.”
“Glad to hear it,” I said.
“When will you be back?”
“In one week if Odetta schedules me.” I made a face.
“Colorado’s beautiful this time of year.”
“It’s not Colorado I’m worried about.”
“They’ll love you.”
“Mothers never like me. Even my own is on the fence.”
“I doubt that. I like you, and I’m hard to please. Ask any nurse on this floor,” said Arthur, his eyes closing again.
I did please Arthur, but it wasn’t a fair competition. I had something that no one else had. No one except my mother, that is.
“Sing me to sleep, Marilyn,” he said with a gentle smile.
“Alright as long as you know I’m not really her,” I said.
“I know. You just take me back to my youth and a time before all this.” He waved at all the monitors keeping track of his bodily functions.
I took off my backpack, got out a tube of shiny red lipstick and smeared a thick coat on. I might look exactly like Marilyn Monroe, but I couldn’t sing like her without the lipstick. I dropped the backpack and sallied forward, singing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”, complete with all the arm movements and tush wiggling. Arthur lit up the way he only did when his late wife Joanna was mentioned.
“It’s uncanny,” he said. “You have the voice, everything. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Marilyn Monroe was here in my room.”
“Wearing scrubs and tennis shoes?”
“It didn’t matter what she wore, she was something special, like you.”
I brushed the gauzy hair off his pale forehead. “Not like me. It’s just the face God gave me.”
“He chose wisely. She would’ve liked you.”
There was no arguing with Arthur about the differences between me and Marilyn. And who was I to argue anyway? Arthur actually knew the late bombshell. In another life, he’d been an assistant to her favorite photographer and had seen her frequently throughout the last years of her life.
“I’ve got to go,” I said.
“Did they tell you? I’m at the top of the list.”
“I heard. Your kidney will show up any day now.”
“I hate the thought of someone dying so I can live,” Arthur said.
“It’s the only way, so let’s concentrate on you living,” I said.
“Will you be here when it happens?”
“If I’m in town I will.”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Good.”
I grabbed my backpack, slipped out, and closed Arthur’s door quietly.
I jumped and turned. Odetta was standing in the corridor, clasping her hands.
“You scared me.” I patted my heaving chest.
“Can we talk?” she asked.
Just then two women came running down the corridor. The first was Philippa, my friend and fellow nurse, and the second I didn’t recognize. Philippa was still in her favorite pink polka-dotted scrubs from the night shift, but her companion wore grey sweats, a battered bubble coat, and a pair of worn-out Nikes.
“She’s gone,” gasped Philippa. “I saw her leave the garage.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Raptor.” She glanced at the other woman. “I’m sorry. Raquel.”
“It’s okay. I know how she is,” the other woman said and that’s when I recognized her. It was Raquel’s older sister, Cecile. She was a senior in nursing school when I was a freshman.
The three of them stood together looking at me, but none seemed inclined to say anything.
“So…you wanted to talk to me,” I said.
“Yes.” Odetta glanced around like she was expecting someone to sneak up on us. “Let’s go in an empty room.”
She led us down to the next vacancy and closed the door. Cecile was shaking and Philippa put her arm around her shoulders.
“Okay. Now you’re just freaking me out. What’s going on?” I asked.
“Do you know about my son?” asked Cecile in a quavering voice. She pulled a snapshot out of her pocket and handed it to me. In the center was a brown-haired little boy clutching a teddy. He looked up at the camera with an impossibly wide grin and gapped teeth.
“Yes, but he doesn’t look like that anymore. You know his diagnosis?”
“Not the particulars. He has Dravet syndrome. Philippa told me.”
“Do you know what the diagnosis means?”
I swallowed and tried to think what to say to this mother shaking before me. She knew what it meant. Was it any good to pretend that it was something else?
“It means he’ll never have a life,” I said softly.
Odetta began crying and turned away, but Cecile looked me right in the eye. “That’s right.”
“I’m so sorry. How old is he now?” I asked.
“He just turned four.”
I wanted to ask more questions, but I was afraid of the answers. Cecile wasn’t there because Keegan was doing well. Dravet syndrome was a kind of walking death. Children were diagnosed usually in their first year of life and it was all downhill from there. The afflicted could suffer hundreds of seizures a day. It affected every part of their lives and the lives around them. There was no cure and no approved treatment.
“He’s gone into status,” said Philippa.
I nodded like I truly understood what that meant for Keegan, for Cecile. It varied from patient to patient.
“They can’t stop the seizures,” said Cecile. “They go on for over an hour now and they happen almost constantly. He’s lost his ability to speak and to stand or walk.”
“The neurologist thinks it’s beginning to affect his cognitive abilities,” said Odetta, turning around and wiping her eyes.
I waited, but no one continued. Tears rolled down their faces and they watched me. I wasn’t crying yet, but I was on the edge.
“I get the feeling that you want something from me,” I said.