Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for January include: (1/5) Jennifer J. Chow, (1/12) Amy Pershing, (1/19) Heather Weidner, (1/26) Marilyn Levinson.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Red Scarf

The Sunset Home Health Care Center was decorated with Christmas decorations, and Christmas music came through the speakers. Most of the residents were smiling or nodding to the familiar tunes, but not all, of course. Although the home was kept as clean as possible, the smell of fresh cut Christmas trees helped rid any odors natural to a home for residents like the ones living here.
“Where’s the other girl? The pretty one.” The elderly man in the wheelchair asked.

“Tonight you got me, Mr. O’Reilly. If you don’t like it, too bad.” Louise Strottlemeyer’s habitual frown deepened. She disconnected the brakes, turned his wheelchair, and stalked down the hall pushing him with more force than was necessary.

“Where’s the other girl? Amy. The pretty one.” Mr. O’Reilly persisted. He slumped in his wheelchair, a scowl on his face.

Sally watched the aide push Mr. O’Reilly down the hall and sighed. She’d have to have another talk with Louise. It’s not that she couldn’t understand Louise’s resentment of Amy. Heavens, she herself had fought a weight problem all her life. But it was Louise’s surly attitude that repelled people more than her plain looks. If only she could lighten up a little, Sally thought. She sighed again and went back to charting. As she turned around she saw Amy dashing in with coat undone and a red scarf hanging around her neck.

“I’m sorry I’m late Mrs. Jones. My car wouldn’t start. My brother had to come and over and jump start the battery. He doesn’t live real close.”

“That’s okay. I got your message, and we covered for you. That’s a pretty red scarf you’re wearing.”
Amy smiled. “My grandmother knitted it for me.  It was the last Christmas gift I got from her so it means a lot to me.”

“I can understand that. Now go take your coat off and get to the floor. You’ve got people asking for you, like Mr. O’Reilly.”

Amy smiled. “I love him, and others, too,” she said before heading to the break room to put her lunch and coat away.

No wonder everyone loved her. She looks like an angel with that mass of dark curls and her pretty smile, Sally thought as she watched Amy hurry down the hall to Mrs. Smith’s and Mrs. Cutler’s room a few moments later. Sally had watched unobserved as Amy cared for those two elderly women with compassion even though they were in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and didn’t respond. She was going to be a good nurse.

Sally got back to work, but stopped to look up when Brian came out of a room near the desk and went down the hall to the room where Amy was. She frowned. She didn’t like or trust that young man. She’d have fired him long ago if he wasn’t the nursing director’s nephew. She knew of two cases of domestic violence incidences against him; one with a girlfriend and another with his ex-wife. Even before she’d heard about that, her sixth sense had kicked in. She wondered if it was true with all abused women. Probably not. A lot of women get out of one abusive relationship only to jump into another one. She got up and followed him down the hall. She couldn’t fire him, but she did keep a close eye on him.

“No, I can’t go out with you,” Sally heard Amy say. “I’m too busy with school and work.”
“Too busy for a cup of coffee after work?” Brian wheedled. “It’d be a chance to get to know each other better.”

Sally pushed the door open wider and saw Amy trying to shake Brian’s arm away from her shoulder.
“You have patients to attend to, Brian. Let Amy take care of hers.” Sally’s anger left no doubt she meant business.

Brian turned to look at Sally. His eyes looked her up and down with a sneer on his face. Before he sauntered out the door, she heard him mutter “Bitch.”

She wanted to hug the young girl, but knew that would probably bring a torrent of tears. Instead she said, “I’ll keep a closer eye on him.”

“You’re not upset with me, are you?” Amy’s eyes filled with tears.

Sally smiled. “No, sweetie, only with that jerk.” She probably shouldn’t have called him a jerk. If it
came to her job or Brian’s, even with her eleven years as a head nurse here, she wasn't sure the
director’s nephew wouldn’t win out.

Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Oberman’s room was across the hall. She stopped to check on them before heading back to the desk. Louise had Mr. O’Reilly tucked into bed and was helping Mr. Oberman get out of his wheelchair now. Her comments to him were terse, and she still wore a look of truculence on her face. Sally felt sorry for Louise. She'd been in her daughter's class in high school. She'd seen
Louise’s parents at several school events. They’d had that same look of dissatisfaction. Poor kid hasn’t had a chance, she thought. “Louise, before you leave tonight, I’d like to have a little talk with you.” She gave the girl a friendly smile. Louise didn‘t look at her.

When eleven o’clock came, there was the usual bustle of shift changes. Coats were put into lockers or taken out, lunches stored in the refrigerator. Those coming in had cold noses and were shivering and complaining of the cold. Sally cautioned the aides who were leaving to button up, put on their hats, and not forget their gloves and scarves, motherly admonitions. They laughed and went out with coats open and hatless. Sally shook her head. She watched Amy leave last without a hat or scarf, her dark hair curly and wild.

After assignments to the crew coming on board, Sally took Louise into the break room. “You seem rather unhappy lately. Do you want to talk about it?”

Louise stared at her without expression and didn’t answer.

Sally tried again. “Has Brian been bothering you?” She remembered seeing them come out of the storage room a few weeks ago. Louise had looked flushed. She’d meant to speak to her then, but it’d slipped her mind.

“Why would he bother me with Amy around?” Louise burst out.

Oh my, Sally thought. So that’s the problem. She sighed. “Honey, don’t fall for that man. He’s bad news.”

Louise glared at Sally before looking away as tears filled her eyes.

Sally reached over and squeezed Louise’s hand. “Louise, he has two domestic violence incidences against him. Please don’t get involved with him.”

Louise refused to look at her. “May I go now?”

Sally didn’t know what else she could say to make Louise understand, so she nodded. “Button up before you leave. It’s cold outside. As she got up to leave, she noticed a bit of red sticking out of Amy’s locker. She must have forgotten her scarf. Foolish girl.

Sally returned to her desk and got her knitting out. She glanced at the clock. She was tired, but she’d promised her night replacement she’d stay longer until she could get here. She hoped she’d be here soon. She looked up as Louise came out of the break room. “Good night, Louise. Be careful
driving home.”

Louise nodded but made no comment.

It was after midnight before Sally left. Her drive was only five minutes down a sparsely populated road; her house the last of a string of four houses with the next neighbor almost a mile away.
When she opened her door, her large black lab, greeted her like a long lost friend.

“Hi, Bailey.” She closed the door and bent down to rub him behind the ears and pat his gyrating rump. The nice thing about dogs, she felt, is they don’t notice or care about the extra pounds on their owners, or gray roots showing before the next dye job. She straightened up, pushing her glasses back in place that Bailey had knocked awry with his enthusiastic greeting.

“That’s enough, Bailey, time to go out.” She opened the back door and closed it quickly behind him. While waiting for him to finish his business, she glanced through the newspaper. Lots of Christmas events coming up, most of them evenings when she was working. She sighed. After she let him in, she turned out the lights and headed for bed. Bailey flopped down on the rug at the foot of the stairs.

 In the morning, Bailey sat beside his bowl waiting to be fed. After they’d both eaten and she’d finished her coffee, Sally bundled up for their walk while Bailey waited in eager anticipation. She slipped his lead into the pocket of her heavy coat.  Brrr, she thought as they left. Maybe I’ll make this a short walk this morning. She headed for the lane at the edge of a cornfield behind her house and followed it south. Most of the corn had been harvested, but a few broken stalks rimmed the field and waved their tattered, yellowed leaves as she passed.

Bailey ran ahead, his nose to the ground as he zig zagged back and forth on this familiar walk. When she reached the end of the cornfield, Bailey was waiting. Sometimes she turned around and went back. He waited to see what she’d do. She paused. She was tired, but wasn’t quite as cold as she’d been. I really need to get those extra Thanksgiving pounds off, she thought, so she followed a path through a grove of old apple trees and into the large field on the other side. A trail made by four wheelers went beside it to a large pond on the other side.

As she walked she worried. Money was always a worry. When the new school levy passed, her taxes went up and therefore her house payments. She needed a new roof. That last patching job wouldn’t last long. Then there was the money she needed for her son’s next semester. Scholarships and student loans weren’t enough. It’s too bad Sam, her ex, couldn’t volunteer to help out. Sally touched the side of her mouth with the missing bicuspid. It’d become a habit. Her hand always covered that side of her mouth when she smiled, hiding the gap in her teeth. Someday she hoped she’d be able to afford dental work to give her a nice smile again, the smile that had been commented on by others in her high school year book.

Bailey’s barking at the edge of the pond got her attention. It was louder and more insistent than his usual excitement over a squirrel or duck. She increased her speed to see what he’d spotted. As she reached the pond, she saw a body floating; the body of a girl floating face down, dark hair floating around her head like seaweed. For a moment she was as frozen as the air around her. Then not taking her eyes off the girl, she said “Fetch Bailey,” not knowing if he’d know what to do since a stick hadn’t been thrown.

Bailey instantly leaped in, and swam to the girl. He grabbed a mouthful of hair, turned and tugging the body behind him paddled towards shore. She was much heavier than any sticks thrown for him, but he didn’t waver. When he’d pulled the girl to the shallow depth where her body became mired in the mud, Sally waded in, grabbed the girl’s coat, and pulled her the rest of the way out before turning her over.

“Oh no,” she moaned as tears started to flow. It was Amy, beautiful Amy, now a sickly pale blue with eyes wide and blank. Her years as a nurse in a nursing home had inured her to death, but death as a natural end of life. No, death was not a stranger to Sally, but the death of a young and healthy person, one she was fond of, was different. Amy’s body was naked from the waist down. Her pants were around her ankles. Had someone raped her before killing her? Sally tugged Amy’s coat down to cover her as much as possible to preserve at least a modicum of decency.

She wished she’d remembered her cell phone.  It was almost a mile back to her house. It would be closer to go to the next neighbor’s house through the woods. She followed a worn path to Boris Hajde’s house. After she’d bought her house several years ago, she’d heard he was a recluse and also strange. Whether it was true or not, they lived too far apart to be neighborly so she’d never met him not even when walking Bailey to the pond. She came out into a clearing where his house stood. A man stood next to a large wire enclosure attached to a wooden shed caught her attention. He was throwing what looked to be hunks of meat into the cage. Huge black birds with red featherless heads were flapping down from perches to eat. Buzzards, she guessed. She called Bailey to her side and snapped on his lead.

At the sound of her voice, Boris Hajde turned. He was tall and gaunt. His dark eyes were sunk into a lean face, and lank black hair fell across his forehead. He watched as she approached out of breath from hurrying.

“I need a phone,” she gasped. “I just found a body in the pond. A young girl.”

He stared beyond her, then nodded. “This way,” his voice raspy from lack of use.

She followed him into his kitchen. He pointed to a phone on the wall. Her hands shook as she punched in 911, and her voice just as shaky as she gave the information and directions. “I think it was murder. You’d better get the police, too,” she added before hanging up. She turned to see the man’s hands rubbing his thighs nervously.

“Could be the girl who came to my door last night,” he said without looking at her.

She stared at him. “Did you talk to her?”

“It was late. I didn’t know her or know if she was alone.”

 “What did she say?”

He didn’t answer for a moment and then said. “I peeked out through the curtains. Dark haired girl. Heard her say something about a phone. I didn’t answer, and she went away.”

Sally wanted to scream at him. If he’d only overcome his fears or reserve, Amy would still be alive today. And then another thought flashed through her mind. Unless he was lying, and he’d invited her in. She hoped this thought didn’t show on her face.

“I’d better get back to the pond. Thank you.” She opened the door and went out. 

He didn’t answer. 

She untied Bailey’s lead from the porch rail and hurried back through the woods. Her wet boots and weariness weighed her feet down so she slowed her pace once she reached the woods, pausing only to glance back. She saw him watching her from the porch and shuddered.

A police car entered the lane between the pond and tree line as Sally came out of the woods. In the distance she heard another siren. She walked up to the police car as the policeman was getting out.

“Police Chief, John MacDougal. Were you the one who called?”

She nodded. “Amy is over this way,” she said as she turned to lead him to the pond.

“Amy?” he queried as he came up beside her.

“Yes, Amy Petrosky. She’s an aide at The Sunset Home Health Care Center. I’m the head nurse on the shift she works.” She glanced at the police chief. His eyes were focused on the body lying beside the pond. Her eyes shifted to Amy and a lump rose in her throat.

“Her parents filed a missing person’s report last night,” he said.

They walked in silence to Amy’s body. Bailey whined, but when Sally commanded him to sit, he complied.

“Was she lying like this when you found her?” Chief MacDougal asked.

Sally shook her head. “No, Bailey pulled her in to where the weeds are.” She pointed to the spot. “And then I waded in and pulled her out the rest of the way.” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “And then I turned her over.” She broke into a sob and the tears that had been gathering coursed down her cheeks. She pulled a tissue from her pocket and blew her nose.

The siren that had been approaching stopped as another car pulled in, and soon pounding footsteps announced the arrival of another policeman. “What do we have?” he asked.

“Girl was found floating in the pond, and the dog pulled her in,” Chief MacDougal said.

“That’s Amy! Amy Petrosky,” the young policeman said. Sally could hear the shock in his voice.

“You know her?” Chief MacDougal looked at him.

“Yeah, sort of. She was three years behind me in school. She was hot. All of us seniors wanted to date her,” he answered with his eyes still on her.

“Did you?” Chief MacDougal asked.

“No. She was too young and her parents didn’t allow her to date.”

That comment from the handsome young policeman reaffirmed Sally’s belief that Amy was special. A good girl. She started shivering and couldn’t stop.

Chief MacDougal noticed. “Tony, take Ms. . . I’m sorry. I didn’t ask for your name.”

“Sally. Sally Jones,” she said through chattering teeth.

“Take Ms. Jones home and come right back.” He turned to Sally. “I’ll be over in an hour or so to talk with you. Will you be home?”

She nodded. “Until two forty-five, at least. I need to leave for work then.”

A hot shower, warm clothes, and a cup of hot coffee stopped Sally’s shaking, but didn’t rid her of the horrible feeling she had. There was so much she could be doing, but cleaning and laundry didn’t seem important. She paced back and forth her thoughts darting around. Who would do such a thing? It looked like rape. She walked over and locked her back door. I’m foolish, she thought. Whoever it was won’t be looking for a middle-aged woman, especially not an overweight one. I need to talk to someone, she thought. She glanced at the clock. Noon already. Everyone she could call was working. She continued pacing the house, picking stuff up and putting them down, aimless. She looked out the window often, and was relieved when she finally saw Chief MacDougal pull in.

 “How about some coffee?” She asked as soon as he came in the door.

“That sounds good if it’s no trouble,” he answered.

 “No, I have a pot made. Don’t worry about your boots. Bailey’s already got paw prints all over. I didn’t feel like cleaning them up.” She poured a cup for both of them and set them on the table along with a plate of Oreo cookies. “Cream? Sugar?”

“Cream.” He pulled out a chair, sat down and removed his fogged glasses and cleaned them before picking up his coffee.

“Good,” he said after a big gulp. “That should warm me up.”
“Do you usually walk all the way to Buzzard Pond every morning?” he asked her.

“Buzzard Pond? Is that what it’s called?”

He smiled at her. “It’s what the locals call it, at least when I was a kid. There used to be buzzards roosting in the trees in the swamp behind it.”

“Mr. Hajde keeps buzzards,” she said. “Or are they called turkey vultures?”

“I’ve heard that he does.”

“I went there to call. It was closer, and I’d forgotten my cell phone. They’re in a big cage behind his house, and he was feeding them.”

“Then he let you in to call?”

She nodded. “He seemed rather reluctant, and he’s kind of strange. He told me a young girl knocked on his door in the night, but he wouldn’t answer.”

“How’d he know it was a young girl?”

“He told me he peeked out. I asked if she’d said anything, and he thought she’d asked for a phone, but he didn’t know if she was alone or not,” Sally answered.

Chief MacDougal watched her turning her cup around and around. “Did you believe him?”

She looked up. “At first and then I wondered.”

“He has some type of autism, but from what I know, he’s no danger to anyone. Her car was found pulled off the road near his drive with its hazard lights on.”

She caught her breath. “Then she must’ve been heading for my house when he wouldn’t let her in.”
 “Did she know where you live?”

“Yes. She dropped me off one night when my car was being repaired. I have no idea why she’d be coming to my house though.”

“The coroner doesn’t think she drowned, but he can’t be sure until he does the autopsy.”

She stared at him puzzled. “Then how’d she die?” Her thoughts flew to a beating, but she hadn’t seen any evidence of that.

“He thinks she was strangled. We found a red scarf in the weeds near the pond. It had been trampled down with pulled weeds put on top of it to hide it. We didn’t find her purse or car keys”

“Her red scarf,” Sally whispered. She looked at John. “Her grandmother knitted it for her. It meant a lot to her.” She looked at him. “Had she . . .” She stopped. She couldn’t complete her sentence.

Chief MacDougal’s face showed his sympathy for her. “Been raped? We don’t know yet. It seems it happened shortly after she left work. Do you know of anyone there who might’ve followed her?”

“There’s a nurse, Brian Smith, who’s been bothering her,” she said. She hoped she wasn’t pointing a finger at him because of her personal feelings about him.

Chief MacDougal watched the varying expressions flitting across her face.“You don’t like him,” he stated.

Sally took a deep breath. “No, I don’t. He’s had several domestic violence complaints against him, but has managed to avoid jail time or even a conviction.”

“‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ is an old bromide that’s often true. We’ll look into him.” He noticed she looked nervous. “Don’t worry. We won’t let him know you said anything.”

“He’ll suspect me anyways. I was on his case last night.”

“I’m sure there are others who’ll mention him Even if he hasn’t been convicted of any crime, the records will show the complaints. Red flags to police,” he reassured her.

 He stood up. “Thank you for your time. I want to talk to Boris Hajde now, but I’ll be at Sunset Home this evening when the afternoon staff are there. What’s the best time to question them and not interfere too much with their work?”

“Between six and eight, supper is over then.”  
Before leaving, he asked. “Anyone else you can think of?”

Sally shook her head. “No.”

She started to leave for work a short while later when the phone rang. She stared at it a moment before answering it, and heard the voice she hated most.

“Hello, Babe. Long time no see. Understand you found a body. Bet that upset you a lot.”

She stood frozen, then hung up the phone without speaking. It had been years since she’d heard from Sam. Why was he calling now? What did he want except to torment her? How did he know about it? She hurried out before the phone could ring again. Tears were coursing down her face and her legs felt weak. Damn, she thought. There goes my make-up. But she wasn’t going back into that house and face a ringing phone that might have Sam, her abusive ex, on the other end again.

When Sally got to work, she found word of Amy’s death had spread although no one knew exactly how she died. They were a subdued bunch, and some of the younger girls broke down in tears every time they thought of her, or if any of the residents asked for her. Sally felt like crying, too, every time she realized she’d no longer see Amy’s cheerful face. The only smiling faces were the pictures of Santa.

Chief MacDougal and the young policeman arrived at six-thirty and came to Sally’s desk. In a low voice for her ears only, he said Amy died from strangulation, and she wasn’t raped.”

“At least she didn’t go through that, and it was probably quick,” she said.

He nodded. “Where can I talk to the other employees?”

She directed him to an empty office. When she saw Dennis standing nearby watching, she sent him in first.

I’d better clean out Amy’s locker and give the police anything that’s in there, she thought. They can pass it on to her parents. Taking a bag, she went to Amy’s locker. It was empty except for some make-up, tooth paste, a tooth brush, and a hat. Something was wrong. And then it hit her.

She called Louise into the break room.  

“What have I done now?” Louise’s chin was up, and her face and tone of voice were belligerent.

“You killed Amy,” Sally said. There was sorrow on her face not only for Amy, but also for Louise.

“You’re crazy!” Louise shouted as she jumped up. “You can’t prove anything.”

“I saw her scarf sticking out of her locker when we were talking,” Sally said.

“It could’ve been anybody who took her scarf,” Louise scoffed.

“You were the last one out of here on this shift,” Sally said quietly.

“I don’t have to listen to your lies. You never liked me. No one here likes me. I’m leaving, and you can’t stop me!” Louise shouted as she ran out the door.

“Louise, stop!” Sally called out as she ran after her. “Stop her!” she shouted to startled employees. Two aides grabbed Louise. She struggled with them and almost broke away when the policemen came out and took charge.

Louise stopped struggling, defeated. She started sobbing. “She’s lying. I didn’t kill Amy with her scarf. I didn’t take her scarf. I didn’t take her scarf. I didn’t.”

Chief MacDougal looked at Sally. “No one knew how Amy was killed, but you. Did you tell anyone?”

Sally shook her head. “I told her I knew she’d killed Amy. I told her I knew she’d taken the scarf last night. I noticed a little of it sticking out of Amy’s locker when everyone on their shift had gone home except for Louise.”

Louise had her rights read and was taken away. Sally wished she could leave, too, but she set about bringing order to the floor, and getting everyone back to their jobs of settling the residents down for the night. Work and routine are therapeutic.

Driving home, she felt like it’d been days since this morning instead of hours. Chief MacDougal had called. Amy’s purse had been found in Louise’s car, and she’d confessed to the murder. None of this probably would have happened if Brian didn’t work there, but he wouldn’t suffer for what he’d done any more than Sam had. She sighed. Life wasn’t always fair. When the Christmas carol “Joy to the World” came on the radio, she started to cry.


E. B. Davis said...

A sad story of jealousy! Glad your sleuth got the real culprit, Gloria.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

great story, especially Baily's role.

Shari Randall said...

The variety of holiday stories on this blog just amazes me. Kudos for going in an unexpectedly dark direction, Gloria. Great job!

Gloria Alden said...

E.B., I always like to end with the real culprit being found out.

Margaret, I have a feeling you have a lab. Am I right?

Shari, I debated after posting this if I should have made the story a little lighter, but that's the way it came to me.

KM Rockwood said...

Great story! I like to see the culprit unmasked in the end. And of course murder really doesn't pause just because it's Christmas.

Gloria Alden said...

That's so true, KM. Next year I might write a happier Christmas mystery, though. This is one of several mysteries I've written with characters from my Catherine Jewell Mystery series for a possible anthology some day.

Clamo88 said...

Such a sad story, Gloria. Sadder it is, that is pretty realistic, even down to the abusers who never seem to pay for their crimes.

I wish you very happy holidays.

Gloria Alden said...

Clair, I'm glad you liked it even though it was sad. I hope you have a very happy holiday, too.

Kara Cerise said...

Great story, Gloria! I enjoy reading short stories with characters from your Catherine Jewell mysteries.

Gloria Alden said...

Thank you, Kara. I plan on using Sally in a future book as well as the nursing home.