Imperfect Contract, page 1
This is a work of fiction. Resemblance to any person, place, or event is entirely coincidental.
Other Kindle and CreateSpace Works
Cover Design and Art by Victoria Landis
Copyright © 2011 Gregg E. Brickman
All rights reserved.
This story is a work of my imagination, though I've made every effort to present accurate, true-to-life details.
I want to thank my friends and family for their ongoing support and patience. Special thanks go to my husband, Steve, and to my son, Benjamin, for putting up with my morbid imagination; to my readers and critics, Innette Sarduy, Dirk Wyle, Jennifer Samuels, and Jeri Sutton; and to my Mystery Maven pals, Chris Jackson, Diane Warner, and Janice Parrish.
Thanks to John and Nancy Bernhardt for the realty information, to Sergeant Tony Pustizzi of the Coral Springs Police Department for police procedures, and to Abbegail Eason, RN of the University of Miami Organ Procurement Agency for organ donation practices and guidelines. They were all most helpful in sharing their time and their knowledge.
Mistakes, if any, are all mine. I hope you enjoy the story.
Table of Contents
Preview of Imperfect Murder
About the Author
For my husband, Steve
Barry Hutchinson's hold on life was tenuous. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel said bullets hit him in the head, chest, and stomach and fractured his left leg beyond repair. I heard the gunshot wound splattered a bit of his brain across the Hutchinson Realty sign painted on the picture window of his office. The surgeons said he would never recover, so they amputated his leg to stop the bleeding and shorten his time in surgery.
The incident happened in mid-April. On Thursday, May 10, the doctors pronounced Hutchinson's bodily functions stable and ordered him transferred from critical care.
Almost everyone looked the other way when a respiratory therapist, a nurse, and nursing assistant rolled him through the Five Northeast doors at the end of the hall. By everyone, I mean a couple of visitors, the petite Hispanic lady from housekeeping—sorry, environmental services—the doddering priest from the local parish, and the patient's twenty-eight year old son, Jamel Hutchinson. His wife of thirty-years, Amelia, didn't look away, and neither did I.
I've been a staff nurse since graduating from the local community college four years ago. I like being an RN. It's a second career for me. I used to be a cop. That makes me sound old, but I'm not. I'm in my early thirties.
Mr. Hutchinson was my patient. The doctors decided he wouldn't awaken from his coma, wasn't benefiting from intensive care, and might live several years if he received proper care. I knew the truth. The HMO demanded his transfer to a less expensive area of the hospital.
I touched my patient's hand. "Mr. Hutchinson, we'll get you comfortable in a minute." I hurried to his new room.
There hadn't been time to prepare for his arrival. Connie Kuhn had called in and switched her shift to nights, leaving us short-staffed. Connie worked hard and was an excellent nurse, but she was a perfectionist and didn't trust anyone to help with her patients. She dragged herself in, often late, and left frustrated. I think she escaped to the night shift when possible. They worked hard on nights, but there were fewer interruptions.
The private room was the minimum one-hundred square feet, so I pushed the bed and bedside table to one side. I washed my hands and folded back the bed linens before helping the team squeeze the stretcher into the room.
Hutchinson wasn't a big man, but he was dead weight. At five-three, I stood on the tall side of short stature and weighed 115 pounds if I avoided my own cooking. The nursing aide wasn't any bigger.
I recruited a male RN to help with the transfer. We positioned ourselves two to a side and grabbed the draw sheet.
"Ready?" I asked.
I continued. "On three. One. Two. Three." We lifted him off the stretcher and onto his new bed. I settled my patient in bed, took his temperature, pulse, respirations, and blood pressure. After confirming his vital signs hadn't changed much during transport, I attached his various tubes and wires, then listened to his heart and lungs.
Before going after Mrs. Hutchinson, I glanced around the room, making sure things were in order. A flowered border print accented the freshly painted, light blue walls, and the white vinyl floor's cornflower blue edging extended through the door into the hall. Mr. Hutchinson and his machinery seemed incongruous in the cheery room.
"I'll be Mr. Hutchinson's nurse today," I said, guiding his wife into the room. "My name is Sophia Burgess."
"You can call him Barry. No one calls him mister. I'm Amelia."
I touched the telemetry transmitter pinned to his patient gown, "He's on telemetry. We'll monitor his heart rate from the nurses' station." I pointed to the ventilator. "Respiratory Therapy will be in several times a day to attend to the ventilator. All of the nurses can work with it, too."
"I worked as an LPN in the Emergency Department here."
"Yes, ma'am. But moving a patient from ICU to a general floor can be stressful for the family. I want you to know we'll attend to his needs."
I uncovered the feeding tube implanted in his stomach. The tubing extended to an electronic pump delivering concentrated liquid feeding. "We'll feed him through his gastrostomy tube."
As Amelia listened, I reviewed the rest of his care. I finished by pointing to his dressings. "The neurosurgeon ordered daily dressing changes for his head wound. I'll be in later to take care of that. His other wounds have almost healed. We'll take care of his stump dressing when we do his bath."
The strong odors of illness assailed me. Soon the floral scent of the antiseptic cleaning solution used by housekeeping would disappear under the stench of body secretions and growing bacteria. I planned to order air freshener for the room.
"Sophia, you don't remember me, do you?" She had been looking at me rather than at the things I talked about.
Amelia Hutchinson was a matron of medium height. Dressed in dark slacks, matching tunic and printed over-blouse, she appeared professional. Her heavy gold jewelry was appropriate for the outfit and looked stunning against her rich brown skin. I guessed her to be sixty. Dark brown curls framed her round face, and designer frames held corrective lenses.
"No, I don't remember you."
"A few years ago, before I got my realtor's license, I knew you from the emergency room. You brought drunks in to sleep it off and Baker Act patients for the Psychiatric unit. I remember you were a rookie."
"I was thinner. It turns out working with Barry was stressful, and I ate a lot more and didn't get as much exercise either. And, I had longer hair and tied it in a sort of bun." She made motions with her hands to show me the hairdo.
"I remember." I didn't, but I had work to do and needed to get to it.
"Why did you leave the police force?"
"I was shot during a routine traffic stop." I touched my belly and my right hip. "I decided there were safer professions."
"Barry was shot, too."
"Poor man. I saw it in the paper, and the nurse downstairs reminded me when she called with his transfer report. Have they caught the guy who did it yet?"
"No. Detective Stone believes someone was paid to kill my husband. It doesn't make sense to me. Why would someone want to gun down Barry? Personally, I don't think Stone's working very hard to solve the case. It's been three weeks, and he doesn't seem to have a clue."
Detective Ray Stone. Damn, I thought. I still had feelings for my former fiancé and didn't need him hanging around. Maybe I should move home to North Dakota. It's beautiful in Bismarck in the spring—wild flowers and fresh, green growth. He'd never show up there, not in my wildest dreams. I wanted to run and cry. Instead, I said, "Detective Stone. He's a good man. He'll get to the bottom of the case if anyone can."
"You know him?"
"Yes," I said, "I knew him when I was on the police force. It's a small department. Everyone knows everyone." I walked to the other side of Hutchinson's bed and took his hand in mine. Amelia settled into the upholstered armchair intended for the patient's use. He wouldn't need it any time soon. "Barry, I hope you're comfortable. My name is Sophia. I'll take good care of you."
"What are you talking to him for? My old man's a vegetable." The bitter sounding male voice came from the doorway.
I saw Jamel Hutchinson standing in the room's foyer. He hugged the wall as if afraid to come closer. He looked old to dress like a teenager. Huge jeans hung on his slim frame, and a tee shirt almost covered the crotch of his pants—somewhere near his knees. His baseball cap, worn backwards, covered his eyebrows.
I took a few steps toward him, extending my hand. "My name is Sophia. I'm your father's nurse today. I talk to him because we think hearing is the last sense to leave a person, either when they are going under anesthesia or when they are in a coma."
"Oh," he said, ignoring my hand and leaning closer to the door.
Wanting to escape perhaps? Though his clothes looked clean enough, the smell of perspiration was overbearing. I resolved only to exhale while I finished the conversation.
After a long pause, Jamel said, "I feel stupid talking to someone who's in a coma."
"Mr. Hutchinson." I decided to take the high road. "Perhaps getting close to your father and talking with him some will help both of you deal with the situation?"
"My name's Jamel. My old man is the mister."
"Okay, Jamel." I thought Junior would be more appropriate. "If you'd like, I'll stand with you while you get closer. Sometimes the tubes and wires are frightening to family members."
"I don't want to get closer. What I want is for him to finish dying so we can get on with our lives."
He stomped down the hall, never glancing back. I didn't think he looked once at his father while he was in the room—or at his mother either. I'd gotten off to a bad start with the young man.
"Amelia, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to drive him away," I said, facing her.
"Don't worry about it." She didn't appear concerned. "Jamel's been like that since the shooting. He's so angry, has been for a long time, even before Barry was shot."
"It must be hard for you."
"I'm used to it." Her gaze darted around the room before meeting mine. "He's almost twenty-eight years old. He lives at home and has yet to finish his first two years of college. He says he wants to major in business, but I think he's interested in finding an easier path." She sounded defeated.
"For instance?" It was none of my business, but my natural inquisitiveness was surfacing. Jamel's behavior was inappropriate for a man his age.
She glanced away and rubbed her nose. "He was in trouble with the police. The whole thing was a huge misunderstanding. He was cleared, but not until we spent several thousands of dollars on his defense."
"Amelia, forgive me. I shouldn't ask such personal questions." I made a show of checking the time. I had a few hours left on my shift and needed to get to it. My right leg was already aching, and I doubted I would have a chance to sit, except to gulp a few bites of lunch. It would be throbbing by the end of my twelve-hour shift. "Anything I can get you?"
"No, dear. I don't mind you asking questions. As I said before, I don't think Detective Stone is on track. I'd like for someone with a personal interest to get involved."
"I don't think I should," I said, wondering is she was casting a net to pull me in.
"Please, give it some thought. It would be a relief to believe someone was trying to solve this case."
"I'll think about it." I left the room thinking about Amelia, Jamel, and poor, almost dead, Barry Hutchinson. This whole thing was pulling a stressed family further apart. The sooner it was resolved, the better it would be for everyone concerned.
I was hungry. I glanced at my watch and knew why. The cafeteria had closed ten minutes ago. I grabbed Hutchinson's medical record, dropped it on the top of my computer cart, and pushed it to the nursing lounge where I poured a cup of old coffee. Someone had brought in donuts, and there were a couple left. I'd satisfy my curiosity and my hunger at the same time.
I cleared an area on the table by brushing the remnants of someone else's lunch into the trash while thinking that health care workers can be such pigs. I selected the strawberry jelly donut and sat.
The surgeon's operative report made interesting reading. The entry wounds into Hutchinson's body were on his left side. More accurately, halfway between his left side and his back. One bullet entered behind the left ear and exited over the right eye. The newspaper account reported the slug went through the plate glass window and struck the adjacent wall. A second one passed through his chest. It entered behind his triceps and exited through the left lung. He was lucky—maybe unlucky—it didn't get his heart. The next bullet had a different angle and exited through his abdomen, ripping through the bowel on its path from the body, filling the peritoneal cavity with fecal material. Consequently, Hutchinson had suffered a raging peritonitis. He was unlucky enough to have survived the infection in his abdomen.
Lastly, it appeared he was shot several times in the left thigh, hence the amputation. The orthopedic note and the x-rays confirmed there was no hope of saving the limb. The bone splintered and shattered on impact. Most of Hutchinson's blood loss was through his leg wounds. Paramedics arrived on the scene and put a tourniquet on the leg before he exsanguinated. I thought that bleeding to death would have relieved both the patient and his family of their suffering.
I sat, drinking my bitter coffee and nibbling on the donut. Nurses can think about almost anything, blood and guts included, and still want to eat. It goes with the territory. I remember losing my appetite once. It was four years ago, soon after I finished school. I'd helped move a post-operative patient off a stretcher and onto his bed. Blood stained the sheets, so I peeked underneath. Much to my chagrin, his abdominal wound had opened and the contents of his abdomen spilled out. When I got to the cafeteria, they were serving a stewed-beef concoction that looked like liver. I lost it. That was the only time.
I drew the bullet entry and exit sites on nurses' stationery—a paper towel—noting the measurements supplied by the surgeons. I studied my array of colored lines, deducing there were several shooters or the shooter was moving at the time, perhaps with an automatic weapon. This is South Florida where machine guns and gangland style slayings are common. But why would someone want to shoot a respectable real estate broker?
The critical care n
Curious, I reread the nursing entries from critical care. The staff commented on the son's visit twice, both times with his mother. While he may have been there many times and no one bothered to make mention, I doubted it. I thought he would have been more comfortable with the circumstances if he visited frequently.
Questions ran through my mind. Ray would have answers for them by now. He was an excellent detective even if he was a lousy fiancé. What the heck, I could do a little poking around myself. After all, Amelia did ask me to take an interest.
While eating the last bite of the pastry, I reached for the remaining one. It was the firm cake variety. I tapped the donut against the side of the box to remove the excess powdered sugar. I'd have to diet for a week after this lunchtime menu.
I hadn't had time to extract all of the clinical information from the record. Pouring the last of the stale coffee, I resolved to spend a few more minutes reviewing the chart. I didn't expect to get another chance to sit for the rest of my shift. My right leg throbbed with little shooting pains radiating into my knee and hip socket.