“To be honest,” Klugman spoke quietly to Nurse Clara, “I think your folks are just passing away on their own. No spring chickens here. Except maybe that Lundberg woman. Maybe she was a jumper.”
“We can tell when time is drawing near for our people,” Nurse Clara said indignantly. “Obviously, Mr. van der Groot did not pass away naturally.”
“Could have stuck himself with that needle,” Klugman suggested.
“Hardly, Detective Klugman.”
“We’ll see what your nurse has to say. She is a suspect of course, for the time being. Caught in the murder room and all, with a weapon in her hand.”
“Rosa is an aide.” Clara stared hard at Klugman. “She’s hardly a murderess. And I don’t believe she was holding a murder weapon, just a knitting needle.”
Klugman nodded in agreement. “Still a bit suspicious don’t you think. We’ll see what she has to say.”
Detective Klugman was attended by another pair of detectives and the medical examiner. Clearly this was not just an elderly person passing away peacefully. The detectives scoured the room that was undisturbed except for the body of Peter van der Groot and a second knitting needle under the bed. Jon and Karl and many of their fellow residents, crowded around Mr. Z’s closed door. Nurse Clara tried to disburse them with little success.
“This whole thing is just awful,” Nurse Clara said. “The last thing these poor people need.”
The dining hall was empty except for the aides waiting to serve breakfast while their residents clustered in the hall outside the ‘death room’. Big Bruce wheeled in a gurney and Dr. Hauptman came to look over the shoulder of the City Medical Examiner. He pointed out that Peter van der Groot’s hand was in a backward position had he been stabbing his own neck and it seemed unlikely he would have punctured his own artery so exactly. Why was he in this room and not his own and where did he get a syringe. He pointed out the residue in the tube and suggested an analysis. The Medical Examiner smiled at Dr. Hauptman, with a patronizing nod.
Nurse Shirley had not left for home after her shift though she had been allowed outside for another cigarette break. When she returned, Detective Klugman was certain she smelled of marijuana. Rosa waited nervously in the Quiet room for her interview.
“Never seen anyone killed by a needle to the neck,” Klugman said. “It would take a good eye and steady hand to stick it right in the vein like that.”
“We saw Gryla,” Jon offered. “Or a troll. It was dark I couldn’t tell for sure. I had to pee.”
Klugman turned to see who had spoken. “Who said that?” he asked, as he scoured the faces in the gathered crowd.
Jon raised his hand, as if he were a student with an answer to offer.
“What time was that?”
“Just past eleven.”
“Eleven? At night? What were you doing skulking about in the middle of the night?”
Jon looked to Karl but said nothing.
“Where did he go? This Gryla?”
“Don’t know.,” Karl answered for Jon. “Behind the nurses station was all we saw.”
“What were you doing out of bed at eleven at night? Is that normal?”
“The killer,” Karl said. “We were going to catch the killer in the act.”
“We don’t know for sure who is the killer, just on the trail, you know. There have been a lot of people….,” Jon trailed off.
Nurse Clara took Klugman aside to speak privately. Karl and Jon could not hear what was said.
“We should talk,” Klugman said to Karl. “After I speak with that nurse,” he said, tipping his head toward the Quiet Room.
“I think Nurse Shirley went home; she works at night,” Karl said.
“Not her, the other one, that found him.”
“Killed him you mean,” Karl said.
“That’s not determined yet. But I have some questions for you too so don’t disappear.”
“Disappear? Where the hell would I go?” Karl said.
“She had her needles,” Jon spoke up, his voice faint. “Mrs. Remple’s needles. She lives there, across the hall.”
Jon looked over the crowd for his friend Mrs. Remple, but did not see her among them. They had him penned in, pressing on all sides. Jon rocked this way and that, poked his elbows out sideway like chicken wings to maneuver himself some space. He jostled his way toward the end of the crowd, eyes peeled for Mrs. Remple. She was not a busybody so she may have not even joined the grizzly excitement and may already be at her breakfast. Perhaps alone. Perhaps she could speak to the needles. Perhaps she lent them to Mr. van der Groot or Mr. Z. Or maybe she was teaching the young aide Rosa to knit. He was nearly knocked over more than once by the milling crowd.
Her room was just a few doors up the hallway. She hadn’t joined the crowd because she was still in her bed. Jon knocked lightly on her door, called her name, and listened. He knocked harder, called louder, listened with his ear pressed close to the closed door.
“Come in,” he heard her faint voice.
Indeed she was still laying in her bed, still in her nightclothes.
“Mrs. Remple, are you still asleep? It’s well into breakfast time. I’m surprised the ruckus out there hasn’t roused you. Bad news I’m afraid. More bad news.”
Her curtains were half open, the morning light, dulled by clouds, rested over Mrs. Remple like a grey blanket. She blinked over wide eyes that stared straight to the ceiling.
“I’m very tired,” she spoke softly. “Come closer. Sit with me.”
Jon entered, closed the door behind him and sat in Mrs. Remple’s wicker chair close to her bed. She smelled of chocolate.
“Nurse Shirley said you weren’t sleeping well. Are you not well?”
She spoke so quietly that Jon could not hear what she said. He leaned forward.
“Pardon my dear, I didn’t quite hear you.”
Her mouth opened, words were mouthed, this time with no sound at all.
Jon decided he would not press her.
“Peter. Mr. van der Groot. Sad to say he is not with us. Just as well you aren’t up to see what happened. I’m still shaking from the sight of it.”
She spoke more silent words.
“I’ve got some of your chocolate milk on my pajama leg.” He chuckled. “They seem to have found some knitting needles. They might be yours.”
Her mouth was open but she formed no words.
Jon leaned closer.
“You okay? Should I get someone?”
Mrs. Remple appeared to have stopped breathing. Her eyes met his. Her hand reached slowly over her bed cover and took Jon’s hand. She smiled with a gentle reassurance, mothering, the way Harriet used to do to calm him when he was anxious or angry. He missed that comfort. He had sought it the day he returned without Lady only to find his love on the kitchen floor in her spring dress with perfectly done hair.
Panic and foreboding had filled him when he saw Harriet on the floor. He was lost with no idea of what to do. Too late to call for help, too late for any kind of resuscitation and she wouldn’t have wanted a stranger pounding on her chest trying to bring her back to life. He had that same feeling, like ice inside his veins, so cold it made him tremble. Something wasn’t right with Mrs. Remple. He had to get help. He slid his hand from Mrs. Remple’s and turned toward the door. His knees crackled and popped and he felt the pain of age in his back.
“I’ll get someone,” Jon said. He bent over close to Mrs. Remple’s face and whispered, “even though your light is fading Mrs. Remple, you can still shine bright.”
Each step he took as he departed his friend was a struggle, as though every limb in his body weighed a thousand pounds. “I wish I had brought my walking stick.”
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