Carolina Conversations Novel
Posted March 12, 2008
mdoodle and murdock have finished their novel - a murder mystery! Special thanks to everyone who helped with us. Feel free to offer your comments.
THE CLAWFOOT TUB MURDER
mdoodle and murdock
(with apologies to the Southport Police Department)
With the Cape Fear River sparkling just beyond the front yard, and the peaceful, friendly atmosphere of a small town, Southport - and more importantly - Lois Jane’s Bed and Breakfast was our favorite weekend getaway....well it was before we found the dead body floating in our bathtub.
Now I have seen my share of dead bodies. I’m a nurse in a busy metropolitan Emergency Room and I’m also a music volunteer with Hospice, so I often sing to dying patients and go back and sing at their funerals. But that kind of death isn’t scary. A body in a bathtub—well that’s a different story. And when Southport’s answer to Barney Fife turned the face down body over so we could see who he was, well, let’s just say it became very personal, too.
My eyes widened as I stared at my boss. When I had asked for time off, he was not happy. What a workaholic he was. He just couldn’t understand it when people needed a break from work, especially from the blood and gore of the ER. But little did I know that he would also be taking time away from work. Was it my imagination, or did he try to stop me on my way out, saying he had something important to tell me? I just couldn’t remember clearly.
And now he was dead. Who could possibly be his enemy? True, he could be a tyrant of a boss, but he had been well respected in his role as physician in charge of the ER for the past 10 years. He had lived in the city since leaving medical school, but Southport was his home.
Our Barney Fife must have seen my reaction for immediately, he reached to his side for some handcuffs. I guess he didn’t believe in asking questions first. My husband was just as appalled at the identity of the floater, so Barney hooked both of us on one set of handcuffs. So much for our romantic getaway.
I was certainly not happy, but my husband was livid. “How dare you take us into custody?” he railed at the already nervous police officer. “You haven’t asked us a single question!”
I tried to calm him down and to reassure him that, since we were innocent, we had nothing to worry about. Why is that usually the time that you’d better start worrying more than you’ve ever done in your life?
Okay, maybe I should have mentioned it before now, and it really didn’t help matters that my husband was clueless about the fact that the man in the tub – not only was he my boss, but he was my first husband, Dr. Thomas Earl Hatchett. It doesn’t matter that we were married for only three weeks because when the fact that he was my ex came to light, all you know what broke loose!
My previous marriage was a joke. I was swept off my feet as a young nurse over twenty years ago. Reality set in, and we ended the marriage, mutually.
We had a neutral relationship at work. I knew of no one who disliked him, well, too much, and no one knew we had been married. Of course, my husband of ten years was annoyed that I never mentioned this prior relationship, and who could blame him – especially under these circumstances. To me, however, it was water under the bridge – well, make that water in the bathtub.
”I can’t believe this!” my husband yelled. His booming voice brought me back to the present. I didn’t know what to say. The officer was eyeing me. To him, I was ready to be executed. He promptly released the handcuffs from my husband and cuffed my other hand. I thought, “this is the time to worry,” not because I had done anything wrong but because my romantic weekend had just turned into the fight of the century and I was being accused of murder. Being carted off to the jailhouse was a piece of cake compared to the words I could just hear my husband preparing to say.
Instead, I heard the first actual words Officer Barry Phife (I’m not making that up!) had spoken, as he said, “Nancy Raynor, you have the right to remain silent…….” I’m not the silent type, but I knew when it was time to keep it zipped.
I could see the wheels turning in my husband Michael’s head. He didn’t know what to think or what to say. Officer Phife might as well have read him his rights too, because he was not saying a word at all. I’ll have to admit that was worse than hearing him yell at me.
While all of this was going on, the local forensic folks showed up. One started to ask me to identify the body. Yes, I recognized the bloated face, but how fun was it going to be to tell the locals, in front of my husband, that I was certain it was Thomas because of the scar on his derriere from an accident many years ago.
I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was our honeymoon, skiing in Aspen. I wasn’t much of a skier, but Thomas was an expert, at least in his own mind. His collision with another skier and the unfortunate encounter with the man’s ski pole, landed him in the ER for 18 stitches. Now a reminder of that evening was a scar that would identify him at his death.
“How can this be happening?” I thought to myself. Everything about the situation is so bizarre. “I just hope and pray for justice in this system. They have to realize they have the wrong person, they just have to. Where’s Matlock when you really need him?”
I had never been in trouble before. Not a speeding ticket or a parking ticket to my name, yet here I was in Southport, North Carolina, one of the most peaceful places on earth, and I was being accused of murder. The only consolation in that horrible day came that evening when Officer Phife let Michael bring me a delicious supper of the Pharmacy’s famous crab cakes.
Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep during my first night in the slammer. I tossed and turned and wondered why Officer Phife had bothered to read me my rights since no one had tried to question me since my unfortunate incarceration. Meanwhile, whoever had really killed Thomas was probably long gone, taking their motive with them.
That left me, stuck in a cell, without a clue as to what to do next. Man, I was in a fix!
Maybe now is a good time to tell you a little bit more about myself. What I am hoping is that you will get to know me, perhaps even like me, and start believing in my innocence because, really, I didn’t do it!
You know that I’m an ER nurse and a hospice volunteer. I guess you don’t know and that I have been married to Michael for seven years, and in all that time, I have never lied to him. Well, I guess there is that one whopper of a lie of omission, but since I was married only three weeks, and since I really couldn’t stand the man after that, I hadn’t really considered it a lie. Thankfully Michael loves me very much and he is an extremely forgiving man. We don’t have any children because we’re just too old now for the responsibility and the wear and tear little ones can cause their parents.
We have been coming to Southport at least once a year ever since we got married. We love to come on the Friday after Thanksgiving to stay for the weekend. Sometimes we come for the Easter weekend and occasionally, we come down for a spur-of-the-moment weekend. That’s what this weekend was, so if someone was setting me up for murder, they were almost one step ahead of me. But that’s enough background for now. I know you want me to get back to the story.
The next morning dawned bright and clear. Well, that’s what I was told. My eyes were too bleary from lack of sleep to even see my hand in front of my face. I had a knot in my stomach wondering what the new day would bring. No solutions had come to me in all of my tossing and turning all night.
And then, a miracle happened. The Southport Chief of Police, Maximilian Drumm, Max for short, came in, unlocked my cell and told me I was free to go. Not only that, he apologized profusely for the lockup. “That Officer Phife is an idiot,” I heard him murmur under his breath.
“This was all an unfortunate misunderstanding,” he told me as he led me out of the jail and into the waiting arms of my husband.
Chief Drumm told us that Officer Phife was new on the job, had watched way too many episodes of “Law and Order” and just plain didn’t know what he was doing. “He wanted to be a hero, catching a murderer within hours of the murder,” the Chief explained.
But then his genial tone turned somewhat ominous as he said, “All that said, missy, I wouldn’t leave town if I was you,” and with that he tipped his hat and walked back into the jail. I’d been freed, but was I really free?
They had not yet served breakfast at the jail when I was let go, and I had missed the usual breakfast time at the B&B, but I was sure the good folks at Lois Jane’s would fix me something to eat. They did and by the time I got some eggs, grits, French toast and coffee under my belt, I was feeling a hundred percent better. Well, better until I remembered that I was still a likely suspect in a murder. But hey, at least I was out of jail. Out of jail and ready to do some investigating. Officer Phife wasn’t the only one who had watched “Law and Order,” not to mention all of the Nancy Drew books I had read as a young girl. I was ready to hit the streets and look for clues.
Michael was not thrilled with the idea of trying to find out who the murderer was. He thought that was best left up to the police. Now I’m no Einstein, but please, I have to have a little bit more on the ball than Phife and Drumm. Besides, how much trouble could I get into just snooping around town? The lesson here: try not to ever ask such a stupid question. It could get you killed!
Michael suggested that before we got too involved in our sleuthing, we should just go down for a stroll along the river, just to clear our heads and make us feel better. There was a pleasant breeze and the walk was invigorating. There weren’t too many tourists around, since it wasn’t really vacation season. Most everyone we saw appeared to be a local.
“That’s it,” I said, probably way too loudly, since everyone within a square mile turned to stare. “What?” Michael asked.
“It’s the off season so there aren’t too many strangers in town,” I told him. “So?” was his not too bright reply.
Patiently I explained, “We need to go somewhere that regulars frequent but that also attracts people from out of town. Maybe we can find someone who remembers seeing Dr. Hatchett. And maybe if they remember him, they might remember whether someone was with him.”
Michael began to perk up and he seemed to be taking ownership of my idea. “How about restaurants?” he suggested. It sounded like a good idea to me since our walk had lasted well over two hours and I was ready for lunch. The obvious first choice for gathering information was The Trolley Stop, just up from the river with the best hotdogs on the planet.
The woman working behind the counter always recognizes us from previous visits and this time was no exception. “Hon, I heard about you spendin’ the night in jail,” she said when we walked in. “What was Chief Drumm thinkin’ arresting you like that?”
I explained to her that it was the over-zealous junior officer who had arrested me, but that didn’t seem to make any difference to her. “We’re just lucky that Southport is a peaceful town,” she continued, “because I just don’t think Chief Drumm would recognize a crook even if he came up and introduced himself.”
The knot in my stomach tightened as I heard her voice her lack of confidence in the chief of police. Michael helped me shake off my fear as he asked her if she had seen Dr. Hatchett the day before.
“You know, there was a man in here just as the lunch crowd was thinnin’ out,” she said. “Of course I don’t know what this doctor fella looked like, but it could have been him. He seemed kind of arrogant, like some doctors and lawyers act.”
“Was there anyone with him?” I asked, hoping that she would say yes and the mystery would be on its way to being solved.
She disappointed me when she said that he was by himself. But then she remembered something.
“He ate his hotdog right up there at that counter,” she explained. “When he finished, it was closing time. I went to the front to put up the ‘closed’ sign and saw him out on the sidewalk talking to someone.”
“Was it a man or a woman,” I pressed. “Did you recognize the person?”
“Slow down, honey,” said Michael. “Give her a chance to answer.”
“It was a woman. Someone I’ve never seen before,” she told us. “And they weren’t so much talking as they were yellin’ at each other.”
Wow, this was a great clue. We finally had a break in the case. Okay, a break in the case is great. But now what do we do?
Michael could see my reaction and he knew to just back off and let me do my thing. He had seen me like this before. My wheels were turning. Who could this mystery woman be?
We cancelled our hotdog order and dashed out the door. I imagine the Trolley Stop waitress was wondering what in the world was going on. I stopped on the sidewalk out front to scour for clues. I hate to imagine what Michael was thinking as I got down on my hands and knees and started to look for a shoe print, a receipt – just something that would clear me for good. I search for about 30 minutes while the locals began to gather and stare. Michael just stood there, looking like he was trying to be invisible.
But then, there it was, wedged in a bush, glittering in the sunlight. It was an earring. Not your basic everyday earring, either. It appeared to be gold and was in the most interesting shape – almost like an insignia.
I was so excited, I was dancing a jig. Michael, however, was not impressed. In his reasonable manner he pointed out, “there are so many folks around, locals and visitors. That earring could me from anyone.”
But I just knew it was a clue.
I stuck the earring in my pocket and dragged Michael back into the Trolley Stop. I was famished and wanted my hotdog. We placed our orders again and found a place at the counter to eat. I had a nagging feeling that I had seen the earring before, but I figured I was better off to steer the conversation in a different direction as we ate.
So imagine my surprise when Michael began talking about Dr. Hatchett. “Nancy,” he began, “remember the time we were here in Southport and Dr. Hatchett had his yacht moored at the marina? He took us out for the afternoon.”
“Where was he going with this?” I wondered.
“I think he kept his boat here fulltime,” he continued. “Maybe we should go find it. See if there’s anything significant that might help us figure this mess out.”
Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Michael was actually getting into the sleuthing spirit. Of course we could go to the marina and we would examine that yacht top to bottom, even if we had to break in to do so.
We ran across the street to our car, parked behind Lois Jane’s and headed for the Bald Head Island marina where we assumed the yacht was still moored. We parked and began looking, finally finding it right where it had been docked the last time we saw it. My heart was pounding. I felt the earring in my pocket and once again was plagued by the notion that I had seen it before. I was hoping that it would come to me if I just relaxed and tried not to think about it.
Michael helped me up on deck and we noticed immediately that the lock on the main cabin door appeared to have been jimmied open. “Michael, I guess we weren’t the only ones with this bright idea,” I whispered. “Do you think someone else is still on board?”
Michael just shrugged his shoulders and headed for the door. Meanwhile, my heart was about to race out of my chest. “Wait,” I said. “Don’t touch anything. We don’t want to leave our fingerprints or damage any prints that someone else may have left.”
He nodded and used the hem of his shirt to cover his hand as he opened the cabin door. He started in. Fortunately for him, he tripped, fell and hit his head, knocking himself out cold. Otherwise, believe me, he would have been dead, because the next thing I knew, someone shot me!
Someone must have heard the shot and called an ambulance, because when I woke up, I was in the hospital, having recovered from surgery to remove the bullet from my shoulder. The doctor told me I was lucky. The bullet hadn’t done much damage and had avoided all major organs and arteries. I sure didn’t feel lucky. Michael was there by my bed sporting a baseball-sized knot on the side of his head. He had suffered a mild concussion, but would be fine, also.
He surprised me with something that he had found when he came to, just before the paramedics arrived. It was another earring – one that matched the earring we had found outside the Trolley Stop. And when I saw the earring in Michael’s hand, I knew where I had seen it before.
I knew whose earrings they were, but it didn’t make any sense to me at all. I asked Michael to call Chief Drumm so that I could tell him what I knew. Maybe he could make some sense of it all. Michael called the station and was told that the chief was at the hospital waiting to talk with me. My nurse had him paged and soon the officer was standing in the door to my room, looking a tad sheepish.
“I guess you were right when you insisted you were innocent,” he told me. “After this attack on you this afternoon, I’m pretty well convinced that you didn’t kill that doctor.”
I think all of the breath gushed out of me in relief. When I got myself back together, I told Chief Drumm about finding the earrings. “I know who they belong to because I’m pretty sure they are one-of-a-kind,” I told him. But I also shared my puzzlement because I just couldn’t understand why this woman would want to kill Dr. Hatchett.
“Well, are you going to tell me who she is, or are we going to pussyfoot around the subject all afternoon,” the chief asked. I don’t think patience is one of his virtues.
“It’s Wanda. Wanda Entwhistle – a nurse in our ER, “ I explained. “But I just can’t understand why she would want to kill Dr. Hatchett.”
“I’ll go back to the station and try to get some background information on her,” the chief told us. “Uh, you don’t happen to have a picture of her, do you?”
“No, but she’s hard to miss. Just look for a woman who is about as wide as she is tall with thinning, frizzy hair. There can’t be too many people who look like her walking around.”
The chief left, assuring us that as soon as he knew anything, he’d let us know. We didn’t have to wait long. Michael’s head was hurting him and I urged him to go back to Lois Jane’s and get some sleep. “I’ll be fine here and you need to take care of yourself.” He wasn’t hard to convince and soon I had the room to myself, ready to get some of my own rest.
I was about to doze off when the door to my room opened and a nurse came in. But not just any nurse. It was Wanda, and she was not happy. In fact, she looked so angry that there was a hint of insanity in her eyes, or was that my imagination. Whatever, I didn’t think it was a good idea that she was in my room. I tried to reach for the nurse call button, but she jerked it out of my hand before I could activate it.
“Don’t even think about calling for help, you little tramp, you,” she seethed.
No one had ever called me a tramp before and I wasn’t sure why she thought I was one, now. I started to protest, but she stopped me cold with that insane look.
“I know you think you’re going to cash in on the profits now that he’s dead,” she hissed, “but don’t even think that your quick little marriage to the doctor is going to entitle you to his fortune.”
Fortune? Dr. Hatchett? Wanda really was insane.
“What fortune?” I asked. I must have sounded convincing.
“You really don’t know, do you?” she sneered. “That new device we’ve been using in the ER to stabilize trauma patients? Dr. Hatchett developed it, just got the patent on it and signed a very lucrative contract with a company to manufacture it. Overnight, our dear Dr. Hatchett became a multi-millionaire.
“And, as his wife, I stand to inherit it all,” she crowed triumphantly.
“His wife?” I started to ask just as she put the pillow over my face and began to suffocate me. Thank goodness Phife and Drumm showed up when they did.
Okay, I’m sure you’re just as confused about now as I was, and believe me, I was totally bumfuzzled! It all came out in subsequent questioning of Wanda by Chief Drumm and by testimony by a number of people who had know Wanda before she came to our ER.
Yes, Wanda was indeed Mrs. Dr. Thomas Hatchett and they were still legally married. As a matter of fact, when I was married to Thomas, he was still married to her. She had been his first nurse conquest. Bigamy wasn’t a big deal to him. Of course, back in those days, Wanda’s name was Phyllis and her figure was more hourglass than fireplug. After Thomas and I ended our farce of a marriage, he never went back to her. It probably sent her over the edge and she had been a bit psycho ever since. I’m sure that when she first came to work in our ER, Thomas didn’t even recognize her.
But, when he became rich, she let him know who she was and threatened him, demanding a huge part of his wealth. I guess that’s what he was trying to tell me or warn me of before I left for Southport. It turns out that he figured out that Wanda was going to kill me to make sure I didn’t make any type of claim to his money after he met his untimely demise.
Thomas made the trip to Southport to warn Michael and me. But instead of finding us in our room at Lois Jane’s, he found Wanda waiting for us to arrive. She took advantage of the situation and used the syringe full of poison she had prepared for me on Thomas. While he was dying, she filled the bathtub with water and dragged him into the bathroom and heaved him into the tub, where he drowned before the poison could finish him off. Accidental death by drowning was what she hoped the coroner would rule, unless, of course I became a suspect.
Wanda tried to plead insanity, but the deviousness of her plot to kill was so sane, that she lost that plea and ended up with a life sentence in prison with no hope for parole.
I’m back at work in the ER. We have a new physician in charge now, a well-renowned woman with many years experience in trauma medicine. There is a good atmosphere at work and everyone respects and even likes our new boss.
Michael and I don’t have any secrets from each other any more and we are happier than we have ever been. And, yes, we still go to Southport, although we have changed to a different room when we stay at Lois Jane’s. Phife and Drumm are still at the police department and, thankfully, they have not had another murder case since the clawfoot tub murder, which is just fine with them.
Yes, with the Cape Fear River sparkling just beyond the front yard, and the peaceful, friendly atmosphere of a small town, Southport - and more importantly - Lois Jane’s Bed and Breakfast is still our favorite weekend getaway.