On The Rocks: A Coven Cafe Mystery

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Chapter 11

The psych ward was removed from the rest of Nyack Hospital, in its own separate wing, blocked by a four-inch-thick security door. No one would be getting in or out of this place without permission. Or a sledge hammer.

Ian was buzzed in after presenting the proper identification and explaining the purpose of his visit. He didn’t tell the security guard, but he was hoping to crack his wife like the nut she was. He hadn’t spent a lot of time working out exactly which tools he should use. There was bribery, of course, and intimidation, just to name a couple. He planned to play it by ear.

After their last encounter in the parking lot, he didn’t exactly have high hopes. She owed him an explanation for all she had put him through, but that didn’t mean he was going to get it. It was quite possible she’d clam up and give him nothing. The woman was very comfortable with being in debt.

A beefy nurse wearing Miss Piggy scrubs and an ID that read “A. Manly” led him down a hallway to a private room. It figured that Janice would merit the most luxurious accommodations the hospital had to offer. Daddy would have pulled some strings.

When Ian and Nurse Manly stepped into the room, they found Janice lounging on a reclining leather chair. She had a copy of Vogue open in her lap, but her eyes were staring off into space, unfocused. Her dinner--or maybe that was still lunch--looked untouched on a side table next to her.

The burly nurse clapped her massive hands twice. Ian jumped out of his skin, but Janice only languidly turned her head toward them. She must already be accustomed to this kind of intrusion, he thought. Or the medications could be affecting her reaction time.

“I’ve brought a visitor to see you. Why don’t we sit up nice and tall for your husband?” Nurse Manly slapped a meaty palm onto the back of the recliner and shoved it into position so that Janice was more or less upright. But a moment later, she began to slide down in her seat like a spineless rag doll.

The nurse shook her head, giving up. “Hit the buzzer by the door if you need me.” She stepped out, leaving them alone.

Ian pulled a folding metal chair closer to Janice’s recliner and glanced around. He wouldn’t have guessed this was a hospital room, except for the metal bars on the sides of the bed. There was a big screen television mounted close to the ceiling, equipped with a VCR, plus a stereo system and a well-stocked shelf of compact discs, videotapes, books, and magazines.

“How’re you doing, Janice?”

Her eyes drifted over to his face and attempted to focus. “Oh.” A pause. “Hey.”

Jeez, she was doped to the gills. He was afraid he had wasted a trip. But since he was already here, he figured he might as well take a shot.

“Janice, do you remember the necklace you were wearing the other night? The gold cross?”

She started to shake her head, but the movement seemed to make her lose her balance. She pressed her palms against the arms of her chair as if hanging on to the sides of a life raft. She looked very much adrift, barely tethered to reality. “I don’t…” was all that came out of her mouth.

Disgusted, Ian rose and went to the wall to punch the buzzer to call the nurse. He glanced back at his wife, who now had a thin thread of drool hanging off the side of her chin.

“What the hell is she on?” he demanded when Nurse Manly peeked through the door.

“You’ll have to speak with the psychiatrist on duty about her specific medications.” She turned to leave again.

“Wait. Please.” Ian grabbed the doorknob and pulled the door open wider. “Can you tell me one thing?”

Nurse Manly stepped back into the room. “Possibly.”

“Great. Can you tell me how long it might take for the meds to leave her system? Because this woman is a possible witness to a felony. A series of felonies. I have reason to believe she can identify a murderer.” Ian tried pleading. “I could really use some help here.”

The nurse narrowed her eyes. “If you’re asking me to take her off her meds, the answer is no. That decision lies with her doctors. Again, you’ll need to speak to the psychiatrist.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“In his office. Right this way.” Nurse Manly gestured and Ian followed.

The crepe soles of her shoes made tiny squeaks as she strode briskly down the hallway. The only other sound was a low moan coming, presumably, from a patient in some type of pain. Nurse Manly eventually rapped her solid fist on a closed door.

A muffled response from inside instructed them to enter. Dr. Philip Blanchard, his name proudly stenciled on numerous plaques and diplomas, was seated behind an almost pristine desktop. A single patient file was open in front of him. He appeared to be tall and fairly thin, with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair and a carefully trimmed goatee. Distinguished, Ian thought. But those piercing blue eyes were somehow familiar. Ian had seen this face somewhere before.

When the doctor caught a glimpse of Ian behind Nurse Manly, he slid several papers into the manila folder and shut it quickly. So fast, in fact, that a handwritten note from a prescription pad fluttered out and landed in the doorway. Nurse Manly bent to retrieve it but Ian was quicker, having played basketball most of his life. His hand zipped under hers and nabbed the scribbled note.

It read: Up the thorazine. Danger to herself. Possibly others.

“Dr. Blanchard, this is Detective Ian McDaniel. Janice McDaniel is his wife.” Nurse Manly backed out through the doorway as soon as the introductions were complete.

“What can I do for you, Detective?” Dr. Blanchard stood and reached a hand across his desk. Ian noticed that as he leaned forward the doctor planted a palm on top of the patient file, covering the name and all relevant information.

“I believe this is yours.” Instead of shaking hands, Ian passed the man his cryptic note. “Does this refer to my wife, by any chance?”

The doctor bared his perfect teeth in something similar to a smile, but completely lacking in warmth. “As I’m sure you are aware, doctor/patient confidentiality prevents me from sharing the details of her therapy. If your wife were to give her permission, well, that would be a different story.”

“My wife is unable to even sit up straight, let alone hold a conversation. She cannot possibly give her permission for anything.” Ian spoke through gritted teeth, struggling to control his temper. He knew yelling rarely worked, no matter how good it felt. “I want to know why she needs to be heavily sedated. Who decided she was a threat to anyone?”

“This is unfortunately an example of the kind of information I would need her permission to divulge.” The doctor spoke with an oily charm, the words slithering out of his mouth. Ian found himself physically repulsed. He took a half step backwards, away from the desk.

The last time he interacted with a psychiatrist, he had ended up in this hospital. Staring at the doctor behind the desk, Ian felt a little lightheaded. The images from that dark parking lot came flooding back, the cold asphalt digging into his face, his warm blood seeping out. He began to teeter, thinking he might faint.

“You’re looking a bit pale, Mr. McDaniel. Would you like to sit down?” Dr. Blanchard indicated a chair. “A glass of water, perhaps?”

Ian practically fell into the chair. The doctor began to step around the side of his desk, but Ian held up a hand.

“No!” The word came out too emphatically. He tried to take a deep breath but his rib cage refused to expand. Jesus, this was the very worst place for him to have a panic attack. The next thing he knew, he’d be installed in the room next door to Janice, sedated up to his eyeballs, drool dripping onto his chest. “I’m fine. Probably just low blood sugar. I’m always forgetting to eat.”

“Let me get you something, then,” Dr. Blanchard offered, still standing. Ian imagined the drug-laced cocktail the doctor might offer him.

“No need. Really.” Ian took several panting breaths, prayed he wouldn’t fall on his face, then pushed himself to his feet. “I’ll be back to see my wife tomorrow. And I expect to be able to converse with her. Coherently.”

Dr. Blanchard nodded, his expression bland. “I wish you the best of luck with that.”

“If I have to speak with a judge and get an injunction, I’ll do it. Don’t think I won’t.” Ian, finished with his threats, turned toward the door.

“Again, I wish you luck.” Something in the doctor’s tone made Ian think his cause was lost.

On the way down in the elevator, Ian tried to decide his next step. He still felt off balance, unsteady, almost as though he himself had been drugged. He wondered if some kind of noxious gas had been pumped through the vents of the psych ward. His head felt oozy, like his brain was turning to taffy.

What made him assume that file on Dr. Blanchard’s desk had been Janice’s? Yes, she had clearly been dosed with something. But thorazine? Wasn’t that what they gave the huge Indian in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Was it possible someone wanted Janice kept quiet? Perhaps the same someone who had given her the necklace?

And where had he seen Dr. Blanchard before? Those blue eyes were so unique. Unforgettable...

Ian continued to ponder as he exited the building, heading to his cruiser. As he stepped off the curb, the sudden roar of an engine made him glance up. A dark-colored sedan was bearing down on him, headlights off, coming fast, much too fast for a parking lot.

Despite his addled brain, Ian’s instincts kicked in. He dove onto the grassy embankment and rolled behind the trunk of an oak tree. The half-healed knife wound between his ribs screamed like he was being stabbed all over again.

The car’s tires squealed as the driver spun the vehicle in a tight circle. A cloud of filthy exhaust spewed into the air. The sedan peeled off with another screech, out of the parking lot, onto Route 9W heading north.

Ian staggered to his feet. Adrenaline streamed through his veins, making his breathing ragged. Too late to catch the license plate number or get a look at the driver. He limped toward the Crown Vic, touching his ribs tenderly to see if something had torn or broken during his dive roll. No sign of fresh blood, thank God.

He couldn’t be sure, everything had happened so fast, but he could have sworn the speeding car was the same maroon Olds he had encountered numerous times during this investigation. That fucking sedan showed up every time he turned around. But how could Kaminski have known Ian was here at the hospital? And why would the dick try to run him over, if that attempt on his life had been deliberate?

He sat for a minute behind the steering wheel, still breathing hard, his heart thudding in his ears. He considered getting back out and heading into the ER, just to make sure he hadn’t ripped open any stitches. The doctors had warned him not to overexert himself if he wanted his innards to stay in. He guessed they’d probably frown on the fancy gymnastics he just executed.

But he couldn’t afford to waste any more time. As it was, his progress on this homicide case was as slow as cold Aunt Jemima’s syrup on a frozen Eggo waffle. For all the clues he’d uncovered, for all the evidence he’d gathered, for all his intuition, he still didn’t have a single decent suspect.

Except one.

Ian idled in the McDonald’s parking lot after exiting the drive-thru window with two Big Macs, a large fries, and a large coffee. He wolfed the food, forcing bites down with swallows of hot coffee. He could hear the lecture Angelica would give him. At least the burger was made of red meat, he argued inside his head. After the last hunk of all-beef patty and special sauce slid down his throat, he pulled out and headed up Route 59 toward the exit for Blauvelt.

Without warning, an icy chill crawled up his spine. It took a moment before he realized he was about to pass the gas station where he had almost lost his life. Beads of sweat gathered on his forehead.

He snatched up the radio and got Darlene, the dispatcher, to recite the address for Ralph Kaminski along with directions. The distraction helped him get past the glowing Shell sign and the eerie fluorescent lighting around the pumps. He kept his eyes on the road, determined to hold the horrific memories at bay.

When he pulled up in front of Kaminski’s brick apartment building, his palms were sweating. He still felt a little shaky, but at least there was some food in his belly now. And it seemed to be staying down.

He checked his revolver as he climbed out of the cruiser. The last encounter with Ralph hadn’t ended in violence, but he had a feeling this time could be different. If the dick decided to run again, Ian would do whatever it took to slow him down.

No sign of the maroon Oldsmobile in the parking lot. Maybe Ralph was still out and about, practicing his hit-and-run maneuvers.

Most of the apartments seemed to be occupied, with windows lit. A few even had strings of multi-colored Christmas bulbs draped around their curtains. Ian climbed the concrete staircase, glancing at the numbers on the doors. Ralph’s place was located on the uppermost level: Unit 304.

No wreath adorned Kaminski’s scratched metal door. Ian knocked and waited. There was a single window next to the door, with heavy curtains drawn. Not a speck of light shone through them. The drone of a television news program seeped through the walls, alerting him to someone’s presence.

He banged again, harder this time.

Something stirred behind the door, and then it opened a crack. Ralph Kaminski’s bloodshot eye peeked out. “You don’t gotta pound the goddamn door down.”

“Remember me, Ralph?” Ian shoved through the doorway and into the apartment.

The place was dark, lit only by the small television in the living room. An unappetizing smell--stale fried food, rotting meat, and mothballs--permeated the place. Ralph himself was also unappetizing, in flannel pajamas with a dirty terrycloth robe tied over the top of his bulging gut.

“We didn’t get off on the right foot the last time we met,” Ian said, scanning the room.

“Yeah, well.” Ralph shuffled back to the couch in his worn leather slippers and plopped down. A half-eaten frozen dinner sat on a tray table by his knee, along with an open can of Bud. Salisbury steak cooled in a congealed pool of gravy. “You ain’t got nothing on me.”

“How about attempted murder? What would you say to that?” Ian strolled around the place, trying to determine if anyone else was living here, or currently home. He hit the light switches as he moved into the hallway, peeking toward the bedrooms.

“Hey! I’m trying to save on electricity here. What the hell are you looking for?” Ralph struggled off the couch once more and reached for the light switch, but Ian raised a finger to stop him. “We need every goddamn light in this whole place on? And what is this attempted murder shit?”

“Someone tried to run me down in the hospital parking lot earlier this evening. Someone in a maroon sedan.” Ian paused to look Kaminski in the eye. “Ring any bells, Ralph?”

“You’re coming after the wrong guy. I don’t even got that car no more.” Kaminski reached for his beer. “Plus, I been here all day.”

“You mind if I take a look around?” Ian needed permission or a warrant, and it would take time to get the latter.

Kaminski shrugged. “I got no idea what you think you’ll find in here. But knock yourself out.” He sat back down and picked up his plastic fork. “My dinner’s cold now. Jesus Christ.”

Down the carpeted hallway, Ian discovered a filthy bathroom. Although every instinct told him to back away, he tiptoed in. No cleaning supplies under the sink, but some Prell shampoo, a disposable razor, and a bar of Ivory soap in the shower stall. The medicine cabinet held the typical over-the-counter painkillers, and a spare razor. No feminine products of any kind.

A bit further down the hall, he found two bedrooms: a master with a queen-sized bed but not much more, and a spare room filled to capacity with cardboard boxes. He opened a couple of the boxes and examined the contents. It appeared Kaminski was storing the records of every investigation he had ever completed. Since the dick had been in business for close to thirty years, the paperwork threatened to breach the confines of the guest room and spill into the hallway.

“No office, Ralph? Is that why you’re storing all this paperwork in your home?” Ian called down the hallway, still staring at the vast collection. “Aren’t you worried about the fire hazard?”

“That’s not the thing what I’m afraid of,” Ralph muttered, taking another slug of Bud.

Ian’s ears pricked right up. “Oh, yeah? Tell me what is, then.” He returned to the living room. “Maybe I can help.”

“You can’t help me. From where I’m standing, it looks like you can’t even help yourself.” Ralph let fly an enormous belch.

“Okay,” Ian responded in his most pleasant tone. “If you don’t want to talk about that, let’s start with Janice. I know you’re the one who kidnapped her. Did you hold her here?”

Ralph blew a raspberry, sending spittle all over his disgusting robe. “What you don’t know could fill an entire library.”

Ian wondered if the man was drunk. He was certainly more relaxed than most perps might be in the face of criminal accusations. However, he wasn’t slurring his words.

“Enlighten me, Ralph.” Detouring into the kitchen, Ian scouted around for empty beer cans. There was one in the trash. He also found the rotting meat smell in there. And inside the fridge, he found the remaining four cans from a six-pack and a large bottle of ketchup.

So, probably not drunk yet. Maybe on his way there.

“I’m not gonna do your job for you,” Ralph mumbled, leaning back into the couch cushions and closing his eyes. Walter Cronkite made dire noises about the stock market from the tiny television across the room.

Ian resisted the impulse to throttle the dick.

Kaminski knew something. Whatever had gone down with Janice, he was in on it. But extricating the information from his rotund, surly, smelly self was going to be the tricky part.

“So, did Janice come to you? Did she want to run away? Did she ask you for help? Because you had always helped her father, in the past, right?” No response. “Or did you and Janice hatch this plan together? Make Janice disappear, and then collect the ransom money? Maybe you guys were going to split it. But then something went wrong. Mr. Charles Vanderwald the Third caught on to your little scheme, right? How am I doing so far?”

Kaminski opened one eye and regarded his visitor. “You’re way off in left field. Cold as an ice cube in Siberia.”

“I’m running out of patience, Ralphie. You do know a young girl’s been murdered, right? And when Janice pretended she was going to throw herself off the bridge, she just happened to be wearing the dead girl’s necklace. A little gold cross. So Janice knows something, but she’s doped up worse than one of the seven dwarves.” Ian heaved a sigh and sank onto to the couch, resting his head in his hands. The cushion underneath him made a crunching sound and he wondered what he had just sat in. “You're all I got, Kaminski. Come on. Gimme something.”

“You don’t understand. If I say one word to you, I’m dead meat. Alls I can tell you is my car was stolen. It disappeared late on Friday night, I guess. Saturday morning, it was gone.”

“That’s just awesome, Ralph. Fucking awesome.” Ian’s head was still between his hands. “Maybe I should take you in. A night in jail might loosen your tongue. I got a boatload of felonies to choose from. Take your pick.” He eyed the dick.

Ralph shook his head. “Go ahead and try. Won’t do you no good. Nothing’s gonna stick to me.”

Ian pushed himself up off the couch. Another wasted trip. “Thanks for your hospitality, Ralph. This is a lovely place you got here.”

“Fuck you very much.” Kaminski reached for his beer can. “Please come again.”

Ian sped past the Shell station on the way back to Nyack, his foot heavy on the gas pedal, his eyes glued to the road. He had the feeling no matter which way he turned, he ran smack into a dead end.

Janice had somehow gotten Jenna’s necklace. Or could this simply be some bizarre coincidence? He needed the report from the forensic lab to either confirm or refute his suspicions. In the meantime, Janice was heavily sedated for her supposed safety, but was the real reason in order to keep her quiet? And if so, who was pulling those strings? And why would that smarmy psychiatrist go along with it?

Kaminski’s story was a whole other can of worms.

His car was conveniently “stolen” the night before Janice drove it onto the bridge. So how did that same car appear two days later, in the hospital parking lot, gunning for him at sixty miles per hour? At the exact moment he stepped out of the hospital?

He needed to read the incident report from the bridge. Maybe one of the attending officers saw who drove the Olds away from the scene. And who was Kaminski so afraid of that he’d button his lip, even at the risk of jail time? Though taking the condition of the dick’s apartment into consideration, jail might be a step up.

When he arrived back at the station, Ian made a list of everything he knew for sure. He always found it helpful to separate facts from projections. He started with the facts:

Jenna Danvers was beaten, raped, starved, strangled, and dumped into the Hudson from the Bear Mountain Bridge. Her naked body was dragged, not carried, from the car.

Candace Berry was also starved and strangled repeatedly. Evidence of rape was not present due to the extended time in the water, although rape was not ruled out. Her naked body was found floating near Riverside Park in New York City after very hard rains.

Jenna was missing a tiny gold cross she never took off. A similar cross was found around Janice’s neck.

Candace was missing a cheap mood ring. Jenna appeared to be wearing an identical mood ring when she was found.

Candace went missing in March, was found in June. Held about 3 months.

Jenna went missing in early July, was found in late November. Held almost 5 months.

Jenna worked at Jade Palace. Was last seen leaving in a large sedan with an older man.

A sharp rap on his door interrupted Ian’s list-making.

Darlene, the dispatcher, pushed into his office. “There’s been a reported abduction at the Nanuet Mall. A teenager went to the bathroom alone and never returned. Her friends notified mall security. The security guard called the Nanuet police. They searched the entire mall, store by store, made announcements over the PA system, everything. They’ve looked at all the camera footage from the stores and can’t find anything.”

“Why are you telling me all this?” Consumed by the freshly enumerated details on his yellow pad, Ian was reluctant to think about something new. “Doesn’t the case belong to Nanuet?”

“You wanted everyone to be on the lookout for anything that might relate to your homicide. And an old woman who was going into the bathroom at the mall claimed she saw the teenager walking down the corridor with a tall, older man.”

Ian stopped breathing.

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