Devil's Waltz Part 14

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"Sure. Thanks."

Another exchange of numbers.

I put the receiver down, clogged with frustration, knowing the information was on someone's hard drive or floppy disc, accessible, instantly, at the push of the right button.

Milo didn't call back until four.

"Been trying to keep up with your Joneses," he said. "The coroner has a death form on file for the first kid. Charles Lyman Jones the Fourth. Nothing suspicious-sudden infant death syndrome, certified by your friend Stephanie and backed up by a Rita Kohler, M.D."



"She's the head of the General Pediatrics division. Stephanie's boss. She was originally their doctor, was out of town when Chad died."

"Uh-huh. Well, it all looks kosher. Now, in terms of the parents, here's what I've got so far. They live out in the West Valley and pay their property taxes on time-lots of taxes, 'cause they own lots of property. Fifty parcels."

"Fifty? Where?"

"Right where they live-the entire surrounding tract is theirs. Not bad for a college teacher, huh?"

"College teacher with a trust fund."

"No doubt. Other than that, they seem to live pretty simple and straight. Charles Lyman the Third drives a 1985 Volvo 240 four-door, received a speeding ticket last year and two parking citations, all paid. Cindy Brooks Jones drives a Plymouth Voyager van and is pure as the driven snow, infraction-wise. Ditto your surly nurse, if she's Victoria June Bottomley, DOB 4/24/36, with an address in Sun Valley."

"Sounds like her."

"So far, Beaver Cleaverland."

"You obviously didn't get my message."

"No. When and where?"

"Around eleven. I left it with Rick's sister."

"I didn't get any emergency call."

"That's 'cause I did a one beeper," I said. "Respecting your business procedures." I recounted the suspicions my talk with Cindy had aroused and my call to South Carolina.

"Joe Sleuth," he said. "Just can't control yourself."

"Hey, with your fees, I figured anything I could do myself would be a bargain."

He grunted. "Knowing me is a bargain. Pneumonia, huh? So what're you saying? Her lungs clog, it messes her plans up, so she fucks up her kids' lungs-whatchacallit, projecting?"

"Something like that. On top of that, she was trained in respiratory therapy."

"Then why would she move away from respiratory stuff? Why the stomach problems and the seizures?"

"I don't know, but the facts remain: Lung sickness disrupted her life. And/or gave her a lot of attention."

"So she passed it on to the kids in order to get more attention for herself? Or got mad at being sick and took it out on the kids?"

"Either. Neither. Both. I don't know. Maybe I'm just blowing air-no pun intended."

"That comment about being nuts. You think she suspects she's under watch?"

"It's possible. Or maybe she was just playing around with me. She's on edge, but who wouldn't be, with a child constantly sick? That's the problem with this whole case-anything I see can be explained several different ways. What does stick in my mind is the way she blushed and fiddled with her hair when she talked about the army. I'm wondering if the pneumonia story could be a cover for a psychiatric discharge or something else she doesn't want coming out. I'm hoping the army can confirm it, one way or the other."

"When's the army gonna call you back?"

"The guy I spoke to didn't commit himself. Said their health records that far back aren't computerized. Would health data be included in the military data banks Charlie's hacked into?"

"Don't know, but I'll ask him."

"Thanks."

"How's the baby doing?"

"Full recovery. No neurological problems that would have caused her to seize. Stephanie wants to watch her for a day or two. Mom says she wouldn't mind going home, but makes no effort to push it-Miss Compliant, doctor knows all. She's also claiming Cassie's talking more since I met her. She's certain it's something I did."

"The old kiss-up?"

"Munchausen moms are notorious for it-the staff generally loves them."

"Well," he said, "enjoy it while it lasts. You dig up some dirt on this lady, she's not gonna be kissing you anywhere."

9.

After he hung up, I took the mail, the morning paper, and a month's worth of bills to a deli in West L.A. The place was nearly full-old people hunched over soup, young families with small children, two uniformed policemen at the rear joshing with the owner, mountainous sandwiches sharing table space with their walkie-talkies.

I sat at the corner table at the front, to the left of the counter, and had smoked turkey on onion roll, cole slaw, and Dr. Brown's CelRay soda.

Good stuff, but hospital thoughts intruded on my digestion.

At 9:00 P.M. I decided to go back to the hospital for an unscheduled visit. See how Mrs. Charles Lyman Jones the Third reacted to that.

Black night; the shadows on Sunset seemed to be moving in slow motion and the boulevard turned spooky nearer to the good side of town. After a few miles of hollow eyes, Thorazine shuffles, and scary motels, Western Peds's child-shaped logo and brightly lit Emergency Room arrow signaled a welcome outpost.

The parking lot was nearly deserted now. Small amber bulbs in grilled cases hung from the concrete ceiling, casting a hard-focus glow on every other parking slot. The remaining spaces were totally dark, creating a zebra-stripe effect. As I walked to the stairs I felt as if someone were watching me. When I looked back, I was alone.

The lobby was empty, too, the marble floors mirrors of nothing. One woman sat behind the Information window, methodically hand-stamping some papers. The page operator was getting paid for showing up. A clock ticked loudly. The smell of adhesive tape and a faint but definite sweat-spoor lingered, remembrances of stress gone by.

Something else I'd forgotten: Hospitals are different at night. The place was as spooky as the streets.

I took the elevator up to Five and walked through the ward, unnoticed. The doors to most of the rooms were closed; handwritten signs provided occasional distraction: Protective Isolation, Infection Watch/No Visitors. . . . The few doors that were open emitted TV sounds and the cricket-clicks of metered I.V.'s. I passed sleeping children and others entranced by the cathode ray. Parents sat, stiff as plaster. Waiting.

Chappy Ward's teak doors vacuum-sucked me into dead silence. No one was at the desk.

I walked over to 505 and rapped very softly. No answer. I opened the door and looked in.

Cassie's side rails were raised. She slept, guarded by stainless steel. Cindy slept, too, on the sofa bed, positioned so that her head was close to Cassie's feet. One of her hands extended through the bars, touching Cassie's sheet.

I closed the door softly.

A voice behind me said, "They're sleeping."

I turned.

Vicki Bottomley glared at me, hands on meaty hips.

"Another double shift?" I said.

She rolled her eyes and began walking off.

"Hold on," I said. The sharpness in my voice surprised both of us.

She stopped, turned slowly. "What?"

"What's the problem, Vicki?"

"There is no problem."

"I think there is."

"You're entitled." She started to leave again.

"Hold it." The empty corridor amplified my voice. Or maybe I really was that angry.

She said, "I've got work to do."

"So do I, Vicki. Same patient, as a matter of fact."

She stretched one arm toward the chart rack. "Be my guest."

I walked up to her. Close enough to crowd. She backed away. I moved forward.

"I don't know what your problem with me is, but I suggest we deal with it."

"I don't have any problem with anyone."

"Oh? Is what I've seen so far your usual level of charm?"

The pretty blue eyes blinked. Though they were dry, she wiped them quickly.

"Listen," I said, retreating a step, "I don't want to get into anything personal with you. But you've been hostile to me from the beginning and I'd like to know why."

She stared at me. Opened her mouth. Closed it.

"It's nothing," she said. "I'll be okay-no problem, I promise. Okay?"

She held out her hand.

I reached for it.

She gave me fingertips. A quick shake and she turned and started to walk away.

I said, "I'm going down to get some coffee. Care to join me?"

She stopped but didn't turn around.

"Can't. On duty."

"Want me to bring a cup up for you?"

Now she turned quickly. "What do you want?"

"Nothing," I said. "With your double-shifting, I figured you could use some coffee."

"I'm fine."

"I've heard you're terrific."

"What does that mean?"

"Dr. Eves thinks a lot of you. As a nurse. So does Cindy."

Her arms clamped across her chest, as if she were holding herself together. "I do my job."

"Do you see me getting in the way of that?"

Her shoulders climbed. She seemed to be phrasing an answer. But all she said was, "No. Everything will be okay. Okay?"

"Vicki-"

"I promise," she said. "Please? Can I go now?"

"Sure," I said. "Sorry if I came on too strong."

She clamped her lips together, pivoted, and returned to her station.

I went to the Five East elevators. One lift was stuck on the sixth floor. The other two arrived simultaneously. Chip Jones stepped out of the central door, a cup of coffee in each hand. He had on faded jeans, a white turtleneck, and a denim jacket that matched the pants.

"Dr. Delaware."

"Professor."

Devil's Waltz Part 14

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Devil's Waltz Part 14 summary

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