Saturday, January 19, 2013

First Chapter Excerpt

Deathside Manner Chapter 1
Wednesday, October 1, 4:45 a.m.
 Weston Medical Center, Weston, Virginia, provided patients and families excellent medical care in a mid-Virginia setting. The medical center combined excellent primary medical facilities with Weston School of Medicine and School of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences.  One of the ICU registered nurses, Kate Shore Koesteren, finished a baccalaureate degree in nursing, worked for a year, broke an engagement, and applied to the Weston School of Medicine.  In August and September, her application process intersected with increasing deaths in the ICU. Kate spent days on the ICU ward caring for patients but nights tossing and dreaming, her patients, her application, and her future.
In her October 1 dream, Kate stood at the Weston Medical Center reception desk. Light flowed from third story windows.  The waiting area stood empty.  Kate wondered why. The ICU where Kate worked hid behind closed double doors.  Kate dreamed she stood at a chest high counter; on the wall hovered three cameo portraits of her current patients.  She looked over the reception desk barrier.  She read the headline, “Unexplained Deaths in Weston Medical Center, Part I.”  As she read Brian McGill’s byline, Brian himself appeared beside her.
Kate looked into Brian’s eyes.  He didn’t speak.  She detested Brian. He interviewed the grieving families; however, in her dream Kate sensed Brian’s sympathy.  Or did she? Wavy dark hair, coffee brown eyes, Brian leaned toward her. What would he say? Kate dreamed she ignored Brian. She looked away--to cameos of her patients.  Kate dreamed Brian pointed to her patients and her future.  She nodded, said nothing. She started to tell him she applied to Weston School of Medicine and the Board requested supplemental information. Her current patient, Beatrice Sims, and the young car wreck victim, Chloe Tima, hovered.  Her medical school interview was tomorrow. Looking back down at the headline, she gasped and reached for the newspaper.
            As she tried to crumple the newspaper, make it disappear, and destroy the hateful words she refused to acknowledge, Kate woke up, gasping. She sat up.  The newspaper dissolved and became the sheets on her bed.  Her fists tried to tear newspaper. The cotton sheets resisted.  The wrinkled cotton was a muted shroud, the bedroom silent.  Once again, she was alone. In the intersection of her dreams and her future, Kate wavered. What was enough? Could she herself find the killer?
            The alarm went off.  The dream made certain Kate was already awake when the alarm clock chimed.  She pushed the snooze button and slipped backwards, by degrees, onto the pillow for another second or two, closing her eyes to shut out the dream. Where was I? Yes, I have to mail the supplemental material to Weston School of Medicine.  Oh, help me, please, she prayed.
She sat up, pushed the snooze button to off, pushed the sheet and down comforter away, and slammed both feet onto the floor.  She headed down the hallway, past her mother’s photograph, to the kitchen, coffee automatically set to drip.  In the center hallway, the heart of her apartment, in a location where Kate could always see it, the framed picture of her dead mother hung in a black filigree frame.  Beside it hung her nurse diploma and an empty frame waited for her medical school diploma.  Kate and her mother traveled to Paris after Kate finished high school. After Paris, Kathryn Shore Koesteren died in front of her daughter, caught in the crossfire during a family trip to the Middle East. A bullet meant for her father, Senator Koesteren, hit her mother instead.  The entourage swarmed around them, journalists yelling and pushing before help arrived.  Kate hated journalists and hated Brian for probing and interfering. After her mother’s death, Kate finished a baccalaureate allied health degree only by the grace of counseling. 
Kate tried to hum, returned to her bedroom, passed by her ICU scrubs hanging on the closet door. The youngest car wreck victim, Chloe—what about her future? Kate picked up the miniature picture frame, identical to the one in the hallway, from the night stand and slid it into her green scrub pocket.  Maude Cambridge, close friend and colleague, and Brian, newcomer in Weston, consoled Kate by picking the one symbol in Kate’s mother’s past, memorizing it and replicating it.  Maude knew every artist in the Willow Street area of Weston, Virginia, and commissioned a miniature down to the exact filigree, inlaid with tiny diamonds emeralds, so Kate could carry it with her.  As Kate opened the glass shower door, she smiled at Maude’s empathy. Whenever he saw Kate, Brian McGill always asked Kate to repeat the story. 
Kate slammed the shower door.  She would tell the story, and she and Brian could laugh agree that petite and delicate Maude Cambridge would be a fierce customer for any artist. Kate could see Maude, all 5’2” of her, imperiously commanding the artist to duplicate a picture frame.  Kate turned her back on the streaming shower.  No one turns a back to Maude. She is a good friend.  Maude always told the story that unknown to Kate, Brian had paid to have the small diamonds and emeralds added to the picture frame.  Maude paid for the platinum stand and clasp.  As she turned back around, Kate still hadn’t figured out how they worked together to reduce the size of the picture.  As far as Kate knew, the picture frame never left her apartment.  Kate turned off the water, twisting the handles. Kate stepped out of the shower, onto the deep pile bath rug.  She didn’t stop to analyze whether she was unfair.  Weston Medical Center SOPs prevented Kate from wearing the miniature frame on her stethoscope.  She carried it in her scrubs pocket, something Brian knew and asked about.
            Why am I standing in the bedroom and shower, on the morning I finish mailing my supplement to medical school, thinking about Brian?  Kate stopped.  She scrubbed her body with two thick towels.  The unexplained deaths at Weston Medical Center cascaded back into her conscience.  Kate exhaled as she derided herself.  Maude was her friend.  Brain wasn’t.  She wished she could solve the unexplained deaths, and Brian would vanish.  Kate hung both thick navy towels over the shower stall.  Dry by tonight.  She dressed.  Concentrate on work. 
            She sat on the edge of her bed, put her feet into the black leather shoes the ICU nursing director Virginia Blair allowed.  Kate whispered “Thanks, Virginia,” because Kate liked walking to work. Black hid the sidewalk trek. Kate tested the lacing up job she’d just finished as she walked back to the kitchen, grabbed an empty cup, poured in enough milk and a teaspoon of sugar, and filled the rest with coffee. 
She opened the cabinet, grabbed three breakfast bars, sticking a couple in her exercise bag on the counter and opening the third wrapper. She ate.  She opened the refrigerator and grabbed a yogurt for later, putting it in the exercise bag along side Fern Hill.  She zipped the bag and slid it across the bar. She remembered the breakfast bar, took a bite, and while she sipped the coffee, reviewed the care of her three ICU patients.  She knew from memory how their charts read yesterday.  She would take report in the ICU in less than 90 minutes.  What happened on the overnight shift? I’ll find out.  Kate turned to the small stack of envelopes to her right.  On top was the important envelope.  Kate picked up her final application and essay for medical school.  It had to be postmarked today.  The phone on the wall rang.  Spenser.
            Before Spenser’s mother could even ask how Kate was doing, Kate cut her off after hello. “No, I am not going to marry Spenser.  I am applying for medical school.  The engagement is off.”  Kate slammed the telephone receiver into its cradle, cutting off Spenser’s mother.  Took three more deep breaths as she picked up her medical school supplement and essay, snug in its manila envelope, checked the page count, tapped the envelope on the kitchen counter, and sealed the flap.  The manila envelope, keys, and exercise bag in hand, she headed for her front door.
            The telephone rang.  Kate ignored it, pushing her keys down into her pocket. She took one last look around her apartment, noting the empty frame that awaited her medical school diploma, smiled, and stepped outside. She turned to lock her front door.
            The small porch and steps of her garden apartment gleamed in the early dawn.  The last of the fall asters, purple spike plant, king stag, and creeping jenny stood sentry as Kate bounded down the three steps.  Her walk to the medical center and fresh air helped her put the dream and the telephone call behind her.  She concentrated on her status as an ICU registered nurse.  Kate forgot about engagements and marriage.  Kate wanted to stuff down, lock down, and erase all relationships.  She set her sights on medical school.  Today she was a step closer.

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