Murder by Art Janet McGiffin - chapter 1
Dr. Maxine Cassidy sat down behind the reception desk at Mercy Hospital Emergency Room. She pulled out the lower desk drawer and put her feet on it. Her legs hurt. It was 8:00 p.m. on a Saturday night in August and she had been working in the ER for five long hours. Maxine was wearing surgical greens – a green cotton shirt and trousers. Maxine’s short brown hair curled in the humid heat. The ER was air-conditioned, but whenever the automatic glass doors opened, the August heat of the Midwest United States came inside. And on Saturday night in the inner city of Milwaukee the door opened for a lot of sick or injured people.
Shirley, the ER head nurse, handed Maxine a glass of iced tea. “Four more hours and we can go home and cool off,” she said.
Mercy Hospital was in the poorest, hottest, and most dangerous area of Milwaukee. Shirley owned a house in a neighborhood north of the inner city, where it was cooler because there were lots of trees. Maxine also lived in a neighborhood with lots of big trees. She rented an apartment on the northeast side, three blocks from Lake Michigan.
“I can’t go home after work today,” replied Maxine. “I’m going downtown to an art show at the Art Space. Dr. Hochstedder’s wife, Lillian, is an artist and her statues are in the show. I promised Leo Hochstedder I would go. I’ve never met Lillian, but I’ve known Leo for years.”
“After nine hours on your feet, you’re going to stand around looking at art?” commented Shirley.
Maxine nodded. “Lillian’s statues are very popular, according to Leo. Besides, a famous New York artist also has some work in the show and I want to see it. His name is Soren Berendorf.”
“Never heard of him,” said Shirley.
“Soren’s collection is called Wood Shapes. I read in the newspaper that he attaches pieces of wood together into interesting shapes. One of them, Musical Chairs, costs a hundred thousand dollars.”
“Don’t buy anything, even if it costs one dollar!” ordered Shirley. “You need a new car! Your old one will die any day now.”
Just then, Maxine’s cellphone rang. She smiled when she read the caller ID: “Grabowski.”
Maxine knew Detective Grabowski because the previous year he had been hurt in a car chase and a police ambulance had brought him to Mercy ER. After that, Maxine had seen a lot of Grabowski – dinners, movies, even midnight snacks at Tony’s Fish Fries after she finished work. As a police detective, Grabowski often worked nights, like Maxine.
“Are we meeting for a snack tonight after work?” Maxine asked Grabowski.
“Sorry, but not tonight,” said Grabowski. “I’m at the Art Space working as a private detective at a show. The owner wants to make sure that the art is safe. It’s very valuable. I don’t make much money as a police detective, you know, and off-duty work pays well.”
“What a coincidence! I’m coming to the Art Space after work,” said Maxine. “We can meet there.”
“Then you can meet a friend of mine too,” replied Grabowski. “That is, if he shows up. I’m worried about him. A week ago, he said he would meet me tonight. But he’s not here yet and he hasn’t called me either.”
“Maybe he’s just late,” suggested Maxine.
“It’s not like him. In fact, he hasn’t called me in a week,” continued Grabowski. “We grew up together in Milwaukee, then he moved away for several years. He just came back. He stayed with me for a week, then he moved to his own apartment. I don’t have his address or phone numbers. I’m worried that he’s hurt or sick. I think I should call the hospitals in Milwaukee to see if they have any record of him. His mother is worried and so am I.”
“I’ll check the Mercy Hospital computer,” said Maxine. “What’s his name?”
Maxine checked the computer patient records. “No, Wyoming Syzinski hasn’t come to Mercy Hospital.” She said goodbye to Grabowski and closed her cellphone.
Shirley smiled at Maxine. “Are you seeing that good-looking Polish detective tonight?”
“Grabowski is working as a private detective at the art show. I’ll see him there, for a few minutes at least.”
“That’s what you get for falling in love with a police detective. They’re always working.” Shirley smiled.
“I’m not in love,” said Maxine, but she smiled back.
At that moment, the doors to the ER opened and Rolondo walked in. Rolondo was the leader of an inner-city gang. As usual, he was wearing expensive high-fashion clothing – blue silk shirt, yellow trousers, and Italian shoes.
Shirley didn’t like Rolondo. She put her hands on her broad hips. “Get out of here, Rolondo! You don’t look sick!” Shirley was a big woman who could handle any trouble, including the leader of a street gang.
“A woman who lives in my building is sick,” said Rolondo. “She’s outside in my car. Remember Latoya Thompson, Dr. Maxine? She lives with my girlfriend, Rosa. Latoya has come to the ER several times.”
“I remember Latoya,” said Maxine. “Bring her inside.” “She’s too sick to walk,” said Rolondo.
“I’ll get a wheelchair,” said Shirley.
Shirley took a wheelchair outside, and she and Rolondo brought Latoya into the ER. Maxine and Shirley helped her to lie down on a bed. But before Maxine could talk to Latoya, the doors of the ER opened and an emergency medical technician from an ambulance hurried in.
“I’ve got two people in my ambulance who have been shot!” said the EMT. “They need help, fast!”
Maxine put a blanket over Latoya. She said to Rolondo, “I’m sorry, but Latoya will have to wait while I take care of these two people.”
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