Nurse Harriet Jones was sitting quietly at Jimís desk concentrating on her knitting when Jim finally entered the bullpen. She looked up as he approached, then wound her yarn into a ball and wrapped it in a cloth before stowing it in the voluminous bag at her feet.
"Nurse Jones, Iím sorry to have kept you waiting," Jim said as he sat down at the desk.
Harriet smiled at him kindly. "Quite all right, detective. I imagine youíre a very busy man." She pointed at the bandage on his arm. "That looks nasty. I trust you've had your tetanus updated."
"It's fine. Just a scratch." Jim pulled his notepad and pen toward him. "What can I do to help you?"
Harriet Jones wasnít one for beating around the bush. "I know who murdered young Mark Cameron," she stated, her voice brimming with confidence.
Jim looked up sharply at her words. "You do? Who?"
"Melissa," Harriet answered. "Melissa Malone."
"The other nurse who was on duty the night Mark died," Jim commented. "Did you see her do it?"
"I didnít have to," Harriet replied, and Jimís heart sank. "I know all about her."
"Unless you have some proof, Nurse Jones, you canít go around accusing people of murder."
"Iíve been watching her for quite some time, Detective. Weíve had a number of suspicious deaths at the center since Melissa came. Iíve worked there for thirty years, and until she came, we had one death a year at the most."
"What makes you think Melissa had anything to do with these deaths?"
"It bothered me," Harriet answered, "that all of the patients who died had been relatively well until Melissa came, then suddenly they were dropping like flies, if youíll pardon the expression. Granted, most of them had chronic illnesses for which there was no cure, but they certainly weren't expected to die from their conditions."
Jim nodded, allowing his mind to wander, wondering if Nurse Jones was a murder mystery afficianado who'd seen one too many Miss Marple's. Her next words snapped him back to the present.
"Sheís done it before, you know."
Harriet nodded knowledgeably. "Iím a bit of an amateur sleuth, in my spare time, Detective. I was suspicious of the fact that these patients always died when Melissa was on duty and none of them were ever ill at the time. I have an old nursing colleague who works at the same center that Melissa did before she came to The Pines. It was a retirement home. Melissa was asked to leave when a number of the patients there began to die suddenly."
Jim felt his mouth go dry. "Why didnít you go to the authorities with this information?"
"I did," Harriet protested. "The Director said since I had no proof, there was nothing they could do, and if they accused her without proof, they could face a lawsuit they couldnít afford. Personally, I just think they didnít want the publicity. He told me that if I didnít keep quiet, Iíd be out of a job."
"Why are you coming forward now?"
"Mark was like a son to me, Detective. I never married, never had family of my own. I never needed to. My family was at The Pines. I know she killed him."
"You were on duty that night as well," Simon said, and Jim looked up in surprise, not having heard the captainís approach.
"Iíve been volunteering to work the same shifts as she does. I was hoping to catch he or at least get some kind of evidence. The night poor Mark died, a patient in another room had a seizure. Melissa and I were the only staff on besides the orderlies. I didnít get back there until after Blair had found Markís body. It was only then that it all made sense. The patient I was with almost died that night, but heíd never suffered from seizures before."
Jim looked up at the captain. "Let me do a record search. It canít hurt to see what comes up."
"Do it," Simon said. Bending down to Harriet, he took her hand. "Miss Jones, youíve been a great help to us. If youíll wait here, Iíll find an officer to give you a ride home."
Harriet nodded and smiled. "Thank you, Captain. You will let me know when youíve arrested her, wonít you?"
"If we arrest her, yes, indeed," Simon said, helping her to her feet. "Weíll be in touch for a more complete statement."
Jim waited until Harriet had been escorted from the bullpen before he stood and faced Simon. "Captain, I think I should get out to the center. Melissa Malone was looking after Blair today."
"It doesnít sound like Blair fits the profile of her victims, Jim, if she is a killer. Blair's illness isn't a chronic or incurable condition, and he's getting better. Besides, surely she wouldnít try anything in broad daylight."
Jim said nothing, merely stared his captain down, the nerve in his jaw twitching madly. Simon waved a hand. "Go. Take Brown and Taggert with you. As soon as the records come through, Iíll phone you. Whatever we get, invite her to come in for a chat anyway."
"Thanks," Jim said as he turned on his heel and headed out the door at a run. "Brown, Joel, youíre with me."
The three detectives were just driving through the gates of The Pines when Simonís call came through. "Looks like Harriet might have been on the right track, Jim."
"What have you got, Simon?"
"Eight years ago, there were some suspicions over a mentally disabled child who died in Melissa Maloneís care. The child had previously been well, and his condition was not considered life threatening. Malone was sixteen at the time, and it was the opinion of the psychologist who saw her then that she suffered from a borderline personality disorder. I couldn't find any reports regarding suspicious deaths at the retirement home Nurse Jones mentioned."
"They could have covered it up, not wanting the publicity," Joel said. "Itís happened before."
Jim nodded. "That's what Nurse Jones thought. All right, Simon. Weíre at the center now. Iíll be in touch." Jim closed his phone and leapt from the car before Henri had even pulled it to a halt. "Joel, you want to watch the front entrance? H, take the back." Not waiting for their acknowledgement, Jim headed for the doors.
Melissa slipped back into Blairís room the moment she had convinced Mary Casey to take her lunch break early. Blair was still sleeping deeply and the nurse was grateful for that. The poor thing had already suffered so much, it would be so much better, she thought, if he slept through all the unpleasantness and then woke up on the other side.
She knew she was taking a chance. She'd never performed her charitable tasks in broad daylight before, but Blair couldn't wait for salvation and she didn't think she could either. The risk she was taking of discovery thrilled her somewhat, and she smiled. Her reward would be great for such bravery.
She hoped that Blair would accept his journey with gratitude, unlike Mark. Mark had fought wildly. He had been remarkably strong despite his terrible disabilities. Melissa had been glad that sheíd thought of giving Blair a sedative that night so that he slept through the entire thing.
Well, almost. Heíd woken at one point. Melissa had been pressing the pillow onto Markís face and his struggles were finally slowing, when she became aware that she was being watched. Blair had rolled onto his side, bleary blue eyes gazing at her.
"Go back to sleep, Blair," Melissa had crooned as she placed the pillow back under Mark's head. "Itís not morning yet."
Now, she crossed the room swiftly and gazed down at the drugged man, his forehead creased in a frown. "Poor Blair," she whispered as she stroked gentle fingers across his brow. "Mark was sad, too. It was better for him to go to God. Now, itís your turn. Youíre giving up, I can tell. Itís all too much, isnít it, Blair?"
She reached for the pillow on the empty bed and began to lower it to Blairís face. Sleepy blue eyes opened to look at her. "Ölissa? Whatís wron'?"
"Nothingís wrong, Blair. Everything will be better soon," the nurse assured him. As Blairís eyes closed once more, she brought the pillow from behind her back and this time pushed it swiftly down onto his face.
Blair arched up almost immediately, his hands coming up to claw at the pillow. His heels dug into the mattress as he struggled to gain a purchase to shake the suffocating thing from his face. Melissa held on and pushed as much of her body weight as she could onto the struggling man. "Why are you fighting me, Blair?" she panted. "You know itís what you want."
Jim extended his hearing on his race through the hospital corridors. He ducked around nurses and shook off the hands of an orderly who tried to waylay him. Reaching the stairs, he took them two at a time and put on an extra burst of speed as Melissaís voice came to him.
//Why are you fighting me, Blair? You know itís what you want.//
In the background, Jim could hear the frantic sounds of struggle, a glass smashing to the ground, then the movements horrifyingly slowing, Blair's gasping breaths ceasing as he approached Blairís door.
Without breaking stride, Jim barreled through the door and threw himself at the woman who was bent over his partnerís still form. As Jim pulled at her arms, Melissa turned into a wildcat, flailing out with both hands to tear at his face. He dragged her from the bedside, shocked to see that Blairís arms hung limp over the sides of the bed, and his lips were tinged with blue.
Even as he pulled her away, Melissa fought like someone possessed, trying desperately to get back to Blairís side, snarling angry epithets, her eyes narrowed and rimmed with red. Finally, Jim bunched up a fist and delivered a sharp blow to her jaw. She collapsed without a sound and he lowered her to the floor, then hurried to Blairís side.
In his panic, his hearing wavered in and out, and he lifted shaking fingers to Blairís neck to feel for a pulse. It was still there, feeble and slow but a quick appraisal of Blairís chest showed that he was not breathing.
Jim wrenched the pillow from under Blairís head and tossed it to the floor. Just as he was about to lower his mouth to Blairís, the door burst open to reveal the stunned faces of Henri and Joel. Jim granted them only a split second of attention. "Get a doctor in here. Heís not breathing." He jerked his chin at the unconscious woman on the floor. "Take care of her."
Joel nodded, his eyes wide with shock and hurried from the room. Jim pushed Blairís mouth open with his thumb and bent to breathe in the first puff of air. "Come on, Chief," he whispered as he watched Blairís chest rise and fall. "Breathe, damn it!"
Heíd managed three breaths into a silent and still Blair before the door opened once more, and the room was suddenly full of white-coated personnel. He was pushed aside and initially fought back, until a firm hand on his arm stopped him. "Come on, Jim," Joel said, his eyes brimming with unshed tears. "Let them do their job."
Jim nodded and turned his attention to Melissa, who was now conscious and being helped from the floor. Suddenly, she lunged once more at Blair. "No," she screamed, as her hands hit out at the doctors engaged in the struggle for Blair's life. "You donít understand. He wants to go."
Henri hurriedly pulled the distraught woman from the room and Jim turned back in time to see Blair take a shuddering breath. His legs felt suddenly weak, and he staggered to the bedside as one of the doctors fixed an oxygen mask over Blair's face and gave Jim a nod. "I think he'll be all right, Detective, but we'll move him into the high dependency unit for a while to keep an eye on him."
Blairís swollen, red-rimmed eyes opened and shut slowly a few times. Then his eyes filled with tears as he gave a choking sob and reached for Jimís hand.
"Hey, itís all right now. Iím here," Jim soothed.
"She killed him," Blair croaked miserably through the oxygen mask covering his mouth. "I woke up and saw her. I thought I was dreaming."
"Itís over, Chief. Itís over." Jim sank down gratefully into the chair that someone pushed under him and smiled at his partner. "Itís over."
To Chapter Eleven