Authors: Ava Mallory
Coughing & Donuts
A Mercy Mares Cozy Mystery
By Ava Mallory
Copyright @2015 Ava Mallory. All Rights Reserved
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
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Table of Contents
About The Author
Late for my first shift at Pleasant Cove Psychiatric Hospital.
When I agreed to accept a new assignment closer to home, I envisioned mild temperatures and sunny skies. I mean, Pleasant Cove is only one hundred miles from my house. Instead, my two and a half hour drive took me from sunshine straight to torrential rains and every lightweight outfit I'd chosen to pack would surely leave me shivering if Mother Nature continued her wrath. So much for another California drought season! And, so much for trying to maintain my new hairdo courtesy of my friendly, curly hair expert, my twenty-two year old daughter, Diana.
Because of pounding rain, I'd been forced to drive at a slower pace and arrived with only thirty minutes to spare before my first night shift was set to begin. When I'd researched the area, the website boasted of mild temperatures year round and miles of walking paths to make for easy commutes.
Not so much!
You would think after having spent the last ten years as a traveling nurse that I'd have a routine pinned down by now, but sometimes I liked to live by the seat of my pants, except today that seat was soaked and the only thing I wished I'd pinned down was my out of control hair.
Why didn't anyone tell me how to get into this place? I mean, I'm sure they were well aware of how massive the hospital campus was in comparison to every other building in town.
Oh, thank goodness!
I thought I'd never find a door!
I ran to it as fast as my wet clothes and shoes would let me. One would assume with the amount of cars parked in the parking lot that I would have run into someone since I'd arrived, but just like the quaint downtown area, no one was around, except for the middle-aged sopping wet nurse that was me.
I yanked on the door and nearly toppled over onto my backside when the door didn't budge.
Are you kidding me right now?
I looked around on the wall for an emergency button or a call button, but didn't find one.
How do people get into this place? And, why is there no awning here,
The rain continued to pelt on me as I stood there looking through the glass doors for any sign of an employee. From my vantage point, all I could make out was a waiting area and several closed doors.
I looked up to see if there was a security camera above the entrance. Every building had security cameras these days.
I waved at the camera, hoping that would capture the attention of the security staff, if this hospital had a security staff. I hadn't noticed any vehicles with signage indicating they were security and I hadn't seen a guard house when I pulled into the lot.
I looked back through the glass and nearly jumped out of my skin when I noticed the reflection of a disheveled woman, staring back at me. It took me a minute to realize that I'd been frightened by my own sopping wet reflection.
“Get yourself together, Mercedes, before you give yourself a heart attack.” I told myself as I tried in vain to pull my wet hair out of my face and wipe the remnants of my smeared makeup from underneath my eyes and off my cheeks.
In the distance, I could hear a dog howling. At least, I thought it was a dog, but I was really hoping that I wasn't about to find out just what kind of animal it was because the chances of me surviving any kind of attack were slim.
I looked at my watch. I should have reported to work a few minutes earlier. That's not the way I wanted to start my new assignment. After the debacle of my last placement, Pleasant Cove was supposed to be a nice reprieve. Funny that I would consider a psychiatric hospital to be a nice, relaxing posting, but when I thought back to just a few months earlier, putting my hand in a meat grinder would be more pleasant than my experience in the Panhandle, but I digress.
“Hello.” I waved at the security camera again. “I'm soaking wet over here. Aren't you going to at least come and see what's going on?”
I didn't expect an audible response from a camera, but it would have been nice to have had a security vehicle or concerned guard show up to assist me.
I looked around to see if I could find another entrance. I thought maybe I'd get lucky and discover a door that an employee inadvertently left open or maybe someone propped a door open while they went outside to take a breather.
No such luck!
I found two doors, but they were secured tightly and I was still stuck outside in the rain.
With no options, I had to keep moving around the hospital campus, cross my fingers and hope that someone would see me and take pity on me finally. I mean, it couldn't be often that a soaking wet forty-four year old woman in a nurse's uniform often roamed around the building in the pouring rain, but, then again, this was a psychiatric hospital and, psychiatric patients or not, questionable characters always seemed to gravitate toward hospitals, especially in the middle of a massive storm. I'd seen enough horror movies to know the drill.
Through puddle after even deeper puddle, I trudged, trying to keep myself close to the building in the hopes that my shadow would spark curiosity from someone indoors, but all that netted me was a very up close and personal jaunt through mud and shrubbery.
I thought I saw movement behind the building in front of me and called out, “Hey! Hey! How do you get in here?” But my eyes were deceiving me and the figure I thought I'd seen was actually a bush, sloshing against the side of the brick facade.
As the wind continued to swoosh, my resolve to keep searching began to crumble. I didn't see the point in showing up for work at all any longer. I was way beyond fashionably late and quickly entering the 'we need to fire her' zone, but leaving in search of the apartment that the hospital was allowing me to stay in while I was assigned here for the next month would cost me not only my job, but my career with Nightingale Nurse's, a traveling nurse agency that I'd been employed by for the last decade. I figured that I might as well get some use out of the apartment before they sent me packing.
I thought I was home free when I finally made it around to the other side of the building, but my jubilation was cut short when I looked up to find four similar buildings on the other side of it. I wanted to throw myself on the ground and bawl my eyes out.
“Please, make this nightmare end.” I begged no one and anyone within earshot.
The rain showed no signs of letting up and civilization offered no indication of its existence, so I was stuck – out in the elements and alone.
Just wonderful! I always wondered what it was like to die alone while trying to sneak my way into a psychiatric facility.
While I was planning my funeral, I kept moving my feet forward. One foot in front of the other foot I went with no end in sight. By this point, I had no idea where I was going or if I'd ever get there, but at least I kept moving. That had to account for something.
I'd secretly hoped that inside one of the other buildings I'd find a dedicated employee that was burning the midnight oil, awaiting the results of some lab tests and in their eureka moment, they'd pick their heads up and notice the poor slob that was desperately trying to claw her way into the buildings.
Off in the distance, in between the roaring winds and the pounding rain, the howling I'd heard earlier continued. My senses were on high alert, because I was no expert, but the dog's incessant barking seemed louder, which meant that either my hearing had gotten remarkably better since I'd arrived in town or that dog was closer to me than it had been just a few minutes earlier.
I liked dogs. I mean, I really liked dogs, but I wasn't particularly keen on the idea of being attacked by some rabid dog on what will probably be chalked up as one of the worst experiences of my life. I'd had a good life. I had good friends and a nice, comfortable home, but to have it all come to end when I looked a mess and my newly coiffed hair was a thing of the past, wasn't exactly my cup of tea or, in my case, coffee. I refused to go out that way, so being the brave, warrior nurse that I was, I ran like the dickens, not giving a second thought to what I must have looked like in the process.
My chest burned and my legs felt like dumbwaiters, but I'd managed to finally get around to the other side of the dreadful campus in nearly one piece, minus the aforementioned hairdo and my overall sense of pride, but I was alive and staring straight at, of all things, a security building and an illuminated, flashing sign welcoming me to the not one, but two entrances to the building.
Kill me now!
I don't know if it was the annoyance I felt about the ridiculousness of my situation or the sight of a guard tower that gave me the push to go on, but whatever it was, someone was going to get an earful from me and I couldn't guarantee that any words that left this mouth would be particularly kind. It was bad enough, I'd been taken out of my comfort zone – as in, when I'm not working, I live in sweatpants comfort zone – and coerced into getting this whole makeover, but now, I accept an assignment that should have been pretty easy money and instead find myself completely drenched and entirely out of patience. At this point, I fully intended to let the guard know that he clearly lacked the necessary skills to do his job and that I would not be checking in for my first day of work.
As I approached the small security building, my heart raced a mile a minute. The dog still wailed behind me and there was no doubt in my mind that the ferocious beast was hot on my heels and probably just as ravenous as I was after my long excursion around this massive facility.
The guard didn't move from his post as I made my way around the building and to the door. His head was down as he looked to be enjoying a meal. I looked at my watch: ten thirty five pm.
Late dinner? How quaint! Where were you?
Since he didn't seem to notice that a stranger was in his midst and didn't flinch at my movements just a mere few feet from where he sat, I thought I'd announce my presence in a way that would show him that his less-than-stellar security skills didn't impress me one bit. I pounded my fists on the door, sending him leaping out of his seat, taking his meal with him. His drink flew in the air and splashed across a row of security monitors in front of him as his sandwich separated in midair and lunch meats, cheese, and all of its fixings scattered on the floor and paperwork nearby. I had to stifle a chuckle because my timing couldn't have been more perfect, but when I finally looked up at his face, the anger was enough to make me want to go running in search of the killer dog still barking out of control and hope it would off me before this guy had a chance.
The angry guard, wiped his face with the back of his hand, smearing what I could only assume was some sort of relish across his thin mustache and pulled open the door, yelling, “What in the devil is wrong with you? Can't you see I'm eating dinner here?”
Most people would be intimidated by a man in uniform yelling at them at the top of his lungs, but I wasn't most people and I had no intention of becoming one anytime soon. I took a step forward, to his surprise, and hissed my response back at him. “If you had been doing your job, I wouldn't have had to bang on the door.” I pointed to the rows of cameras that I hadn't seen before from my previous vantage point. “I've been wandering around this hospital campus for nearly forty-five minutes, no thanks to you and a nurse manager who must be some sort of masochist, because he didn't bother to mention that there was a dedicated entrance on the opposite side of the building of where the map he'd provided my employer with said the campus had convenient parking.”
My eyes floated from the scowl on the guard's face down to his name tag. I made sure to commit his name to memory – M. Slowicki – just in case our little squabble didn't go as planned. He coughed, not bothering to cover his mouth.
Without so much as an apology, he slammed the door shut in my face, leaving me outside in the rain. My first instinct was to begin kicking and screaming, but immediately behind me, the dog I'd feared from a distance, growled and a small woman, shrouded in rain gear yelled for the dog to stop.
My life flashed before my eyes as I stared into the intimidating face of the snarling beast. In the dark, I couldn't make out what kind of dog it was, but with my demise imminent, it didn't matter. The fact of the matter was that the dog's foaming mouth was inches from me and I had no place to run for shelter. I knew the security guard would be no help.