Book #1 in the Capital City Murders series of novellas
Nick O’Flannigan thought he was just starting out on a freelance photography assignment.
But when he arrives in Olympia, he learns that there have been two overdoses in the same hospital in the last week, both seemingly connected. With his keen eye for detail, he notices something in the photos that no one else sees.
How will he, an out-of-town photographer and amateur sleuth, get that information to the right authorities before another patient dies?
Targeted Age Group:: 25-50
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
After reading some of Sue Grafton's "Alphabetic" mysteries, I wondered if I could craft a series of books set in U.S. state capitals. Knowing what it takes to write full-length novels, I settled on writing novellas. With my co-author Troy Lambert we are underway on the fifty stories, starting in the Pacific Northwest state of Washington, working our way east, then finishing in Alaska and Hawai'i.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Nick O'Flannigan is the key character in the series who's on assignment to visit each state capital to photograph the capitol building and other areas for a major magazine. We wanted someone who would stand out from the crowd (he's six-foot-six with bushy reddish-orange hair) so he's recognized by some people as he moves to a new capital city each week.
Other characters were created to fit in with Nick, the story line, and the long-term goal for the 50-book series.
Prologue — Another Overdose
Mary slipped her arms into the white sweater, the one with the name tag Mary Lawson, RN attached. She took one final sip of her coffee, poured out the rest, and paused. What did I miss? The patient had come in with a shattered right leg and an arm broken in two places. Thank God he was wearing a helmet, or he might have been taken to the morgue instead of to the hospital. He seemed healthy other than the injuries from the motorcycle accident.
She’d been racking her brain for the past two days trying to figure out what happened, why the accident victim overdosed. He was under her care, and she did everything that any nurse would do in the same situation. The odd part was, the patient had been almost ready to go home.
Sure, he seemed a bit melancholy, but who wouldn’t be after that kind of accident? It seemed odd.
There would be an autopsy, of course, and that would show exactly what caused his death. That would take at least two weeks.
Mary looked at her watch. She should be heading to work. The drive to Mercy Hospital took her past the location on the freeway where the motorcycle had been sideswiped, and she grimaced as she passed the spot. There was a piece of shiny metal on the right shoulder she hadn’t seen before. Was it from the accident?
“Good morning, Mary,” the guard said as Mary pulled into the employees’ secure parking area and lowered her window.
“Good morning, John,” she replied. “How’s it going?”
“Pretty quiet so far,” he answered as he pushed the button to raise the gate. “Have a good day.”
“You, too.” Mary raised her window and drove to her favorite parking spot. Close to an entrance, it was shaded in the afternoon. She disliked getting into a hot car, but even worse she hated leaving the windows down and having the elm leaves blow inside. There was something in those leaves that set off her allergies and made her sneeze uncontrollably.
Once inside, Mary put her purse in her locker and took the staff elevator to the fourth floor.
“Good morning, Pat,” Mary said as she approached the nurses’ area.
Pat looked up from her paperwork. “Hi, Mary. You know I am always glad to see you, and not just because you’re taking over.”
“I know. I see a new name on the board. What’s he in for?”
“Mainly observation,” the departing nurse said. “He works at a lumber mill and was hit in the head with more than just the proverbial two by four. A CT scan didn’t show any abnormalities, but the ER doc wanted to hold him for twenty-four hours just to make sure. He will probably go home sometime during your shift, so you’ll give him his instructions and meds to go home with.”
“Well, let’s go over the shift handoff report so you can go home and get some rest,” Mary said as she pulled a chair.
Mary started her own rounds thirty minutes later. She entered room 414, the one with the new patient. The woman who’d been in there for the last few days had gone home last night. The room was now Robert’s, and his alone at least for the next few hours. A putrid smell hit her as she stepped further inside.
Flatulence. The kitchen needs to stop serving so much beans and broccoli.
She cleared her throat as she stepped around the curtain to see her new patient, who completely filled the length of the standard hospital bed.
Robert looked up at her and smiled.
“Good morning, Robert. My name is Mary Lawson, and I’m the RN on duty, so you’ll be seeing a lot of me today.” She caught his eyes checking her out. Her face flushed slightly as she tried to maintain her composure.
She cleared her throat.
“How are you feeling? I see in your chart that you took quite a blow to the head.” Mary glanced up from the screen that held his electronic patient chart.
Robert extended his right hand over his reclining body as Mary awkwardly reached across the space separating them and shook his hand. He could probably fit both her hands inside one of his. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Lawson,” he said in a deep voice.
“It’s Miss Lawson, but that’s okay. Actually, Mary is fine.”
What was this awkward feeling coming over her?
Mary gently pulled her hand back. “Your hand seems a bit cool,” she said as she looked at his vitals that had been taken just about an hour ago. “Are you in any pain right now?”
“I do have a headache, but the doc last night said I probably would for a few days. It’s pretty normal considering. He also said I might be able to go home today?”
“That’s up to him,” Mary said and looked back at the chart. “You’ve had enough acetaminophen that it should’ve taken care of your pain, but I can get you something stronger if you’d like.”
“Sure,” he said. “That would be great. If the doc could send me home with something just in case, that would be good too.”
“I’ll get some prescription naproxen for you. Like Aleve, only a little stronger. Have you had that before?”
Robert shrugged. “I think so.”
“Okay. I’ll bring some in a bit and see if I can get you a bottle to go, so to speak. Need anything else at the moment?”
He just smiled and looked up at her through his arched bushy eyebrows. “No, ma’am. Thank you.”
Mary felt warm. She unconsciously grabbed the front of her sweater and flapped it to try to cool herself down. “You’re welcome, Robert, but you don’t have to thank me. That’s what we’re here for, to help you get better. I should be back within a few moments with something for that pain.” Mary turned and left the room. She sensed Robert’s eyes following her until the curtain blocked his view.
A few minutes later, Mary made it back into room 414, carrying a small dispensing cup holding two capsules. “Knock, knock,” she said as she entered the room. Some sports station was on the television. The same odor hit her as she stepped past the curtain. “Who’s winning?”
“They are just replaying old games,” Robert said as he used his bulging arms to push his body into a more upright position.
“Thank you,” Robert said as he tossed the capsules to the back of his mouth and swallowed them without any water.
“If you drink something, it will help them get into your system faster.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied as he took the cup of water from the tray and emptied it in three huge gulps.
“I’ll be back later to check on you. Maybe even to send you home. Need anything else?”
“No, ma’am,” Robert said as he let his long, well-muscled body slide back down into the bed. Her eyes instinctively watched his movements as if in slow motion.
“I’ll close the door, but you can always press your call button if you need anything.” Mary pulled the door closed behind her. The cool air in the hall felt really good.
A few hours passed quickly, and around the time for her noon rounds, Mary got the discharge papers for room 414. She gathered up the prescription bottle of capsules the pharmacy had sent up. Pulling up the forms for him to sign on her tablet, she made her way to his room.
Since her hands were full, she knocked softly and went in. The room was now very quiet, and the odor that previously plagued the room was gone.
Robert was laying on his side, sleeping, and she woke him gently.
He sat up, still seeming to be a bit groggy. Not a great sign for a guy who might have had a concussion. “I’m awake,” he managed to say.
“Let me check a few things really quick,” Mary said, a bit concerned.
She took out her penlight and shined it in each eye. Pupils were reactive. She felt the pulse on his neck, and it felt strong and normal.
“You seem to be okay. I’m going to have you sign these discharge papers. We do it on these tablets now, and then I can print it out for you. But I am going to have the doctor check you out before you leave.”
Robert smiled, seeming to be coming back from his impromptu nap. “Sounds good. I guess those pills really did help with the headache.”
“Here are your ones to take home,” she told him. “No more than one every twelve hours. You can get dressed now, and I will be right back.”
Mary walked down the hall to the nurses’ station, hitting the print button as she went.
She grabbed Robert’s paperwork as it spat out of the printer. Reaching for the phone to page the doctor on call, she saw the call light came on above his door and heard the chime at the desk.
Without hesitating, Mary sprinted down the hall back to the room. She heard a crash as she opened the door.
Robert was on the floor, face red as if he was choking. Lying beside him on the floor was an open pill bottle.
For a moment, she caught a whiff of almonds.
Mary knelt beside him and felt his neck for a pulse. There wasn’t one.
She dropped his arm and pressed the call button again, yelling into the speaker: “Crash cart! Stat. Four fourteen. Now!”
Immediately she started CPR. Help seemed to take an eternity to arrive, even though she knew it was only seconds. Her arms already felt heavy as she continued compressions on his chest.
A doctor arrived followed closely by another nurse pushing a cart. Mary moved aside as the doctor put his stethoscope to the man’s hairy chest.
“Still no pulse,” he said.
The other nurse turned on the fully charged defibrillator. “Ready,” she said.
The doc grabbed the paddles and placed them on the patient’s chest. “Clear,” he said, and the nurse flipped the switch. Mary watched in haunted silence as Robert’s body shook from the electric charge coursing through him. The doctor listened again for a heartbeat. There was none. He applied the paddles again. Another shock. Still nothing.
He threw the paddles aside and resumed CPR, pressing down hard on the chest and counting aloud, “One, two, three.” Doc counted to ten and placed his ear near the patient’s mouth. Still no breath. After several futile attempts, he stood back.
“He’s gone, I’m sorry.” The doc looked at the bottle and capsules on the table. “He must’ve overdosed.”
“Why would he do that?” Mary said. “He was on his way out.”
“I have no idea,” the doctor said.
No! Mary’s mind churned in anguish. Not another overdose! And both of them had occurred when she was on duty.
Chapter One — The Drive
Nick looked at the map he’d downloaded for the short drive from Seattle to Olympia. Straight down I-5; that’s simple enough. He looked at his cell phone to see if there were any new messages. None.
He selected the phone icon, then the Recent Calls menu. He saw the number he wanted, and he pressed it. The phone on the other end rang. It rang four more times before it went to voicemail and the ensuing beep. Rats. “Hello, Mr. Lam. This is Nick O’Flannigan calling on Sunday afternoon about two thirty. I was hoping to have an answer from you about sub-letting my apartment while I’m out of town. Please give me a call. My number is 7 8 1 … 5 5 5 … 8 4 2 3. Thank you.” He ended the call and returned the phone to his pocket.
Nick looked around the front room of his apartment. He picked up the folder he’d labeled “The Assignment,” opened it, and started reading the top sheet, a short one-page letter. He’d read it many times before, and a smile came across his face as he began reading it again.
Per our recent phone conversation, we at Travel USA magazine are delighted to offer you a one-year contract to provide us with unique and interesting photographs of each U.S. state capitol building and surrounding areas. You were selected for this prestigious assignment because of your excellent photographic background and skills, your keen attention to detail, and a very strong recommendation from one of our most valued employees, Gerry Grainger. Attached is the sequence that you are to follow for visiting each state capital. Please do not deviate from that schedule.
As a reminder, time is essential, and you are expected to spend no more than one week in each city, while traveling on weekends. You are to submit your photographs no later than Saturday for that week’s capital city, and email that week’s expense report, including lodging, gas, and per diem allowance no later than Sunday. Your timely submissions will enable us to prepare and remit the electronic payment to your bank account within five days.
Should you have any questions, now or while you’re on the road, do not hesitate to contact me.
The letter was signed Emily Gorham, Executive Editor, Travel USA magazine.
He looked at his checklist; he’d checked everything off. It took several elevator trips for Nick to get everything loaded into his car. He made one last pass through the apartment, switched off all the lights, and locked the door as he left.
Goodbye, apartment. See you in a year.
Nick had picked a good time for the drive south to Olympia. Traffic was very light through Seattle. His hands-free phone in the dashboard cradle rang. “Hello,” he said as he pressed the flashing icon.
“Hello, Nicholas. This is your mother calling.” She was only one besides his father who called him by his given name.
“Hi, Mom. How’s everything in Boston?”
“We’re fine. We were just ready to sit down for supper, and your father suggested we call and see how your new job is going.”
“It’s just starting today, and it’s not actually a job. I’m on a contract assignment for the magazine, and I’m in the car right now driving down to Olympia, Washington’s state capital.”
“It’s not a job, Patrick,” she yelled away from the phone to Nick’s dad who was in another room. “He says it’s a contract.”
“The difference, Mom, is that I’m not an employee of the magazine. They’re just paying me to take photographs for them. It’s kind of like what Dad did when he got out of the Navy. Remember when he worked for that electronics firm? He was a contractor for them, not an employee who got benefits from them besides a paycheck.”
“I don’t really understand it, but that’s okay,” she said. “So, how long are you going to be gone?”
“I told you before, Mom. I’ll be gone for a year. I’ll spend a week at most in each capital city, and it’ll be about ten to eleven months before I’m there in Boston. They have a set schedule for me to follow. It’s actually a pretty good route even though the cities are farther apart here on the west coast than they are out East.”
“If you’re gone for a year, what’s going to happen to your business you worked so hard to re-establish after you left here? Isn’t that a waste to just throw all that away?”
Nick exhaled deeply. He hesitated slightly before answering. “No, Mom, I’m not throwing it all away. I do most my business online, and I can do that from anywhere.”
“What about your apartment? Who’s going to take care of it?”
He spoke slower. “I’m hoping to be able to sub-let it while I’m gone. But even if I can’t, I have enough savings to cover it. I’ll be fine, Mom. I’m not a little kid anymore.”
“I know, big shot. You’re a six-foot-six former college basketball star, but that doesn’t mean your Mother still doesn’t worry about you.”
“I know, Mom. I didn’t mean it that way. I’m sorry.” He paused. “There’s some traffic up ahead. I’d better go focus on the road. I love you, Mom. Tell Dad I love him too.”
“I love you, too, Nicholas. Drive carefully.”
“I will, Mom. Bye,” he said as he disconnected the call.
She’ll never understand.
Nick’s bushy orange hair almost touched the roof of his car. His height had a few disadvantages, but a definite advantage when driving into the sun. He glanced down at the odometer and saw that he’d already driven twenty-six miles.
Almost half-way there. It’d be nice if all the weekend travels were this short.
On long drives, Nick usually listened to audio books, but in this case with such a short drive, he listened to podcasts. He especially liked this one, a couple of ex-policemen talking about murders they had seen and solved, and how. He was fascinated by how they made connections between things that seemed random but were not.
He had selected a hotel in Olympia that was not only a short distance off the freeway but was also within walking distance of the capitol. The nightly rate was within his lodging budget, and there was no parking fee.
The podcast ended, and Nick clicked off cruise control as he neared Olympia. There was some traffic congestion, and he wasn’t familiar with the area, so he cut off the next episode so he could concentrate.
His map showed the freeway would make a sweeping curve to the right, and his exit would be before the turn back to the left. He watched the exit signs; his was next, Exit 105A.
Slowing as he left the freeway, Nick continued on Plum Street Southeast. A half mile farther, he took a left on Union Avenue Southeast. He’d seen on Google Maps that all the road names in this area were suffixed with “SE.” Four blocks later he made a right turn on Franklin, and he saw his hotel up on the left at the next corner. The Capital City Inn was located on the northeast corner of Franklin Street and Tenth Avenue, both suffixed Southeast, of course.
Nick slipped his backpack on and grabbed two large rolling bags from the trunk. One bag contained clothing and the other bag was full of camera gear. As he walked into the office, the clerk glanced up from her work. Then she looked up even more, titling her head back to be able to look Nick in the face. “Welcome to the Capital City Inn, sir. Checking in?”
“Yes, I am. The last name is O’Flannigan.”
“Certainly, Mr. O’Flannigan.” The keys on her keyboard clicked for a short minute. “We have you here for six nights in a King room. Do you prefer ground floor or higher up?”
“Higher up would be nice, and one that faces south if possible. I’m here to take photographs of the capitol, and I think I just might be able to see down the North Diagonal to it, if I’m lucky.”
“Let’s see,” the clerk said. “Ah, yes. Room 306 should be perfect. How many keys, Mr. O’Flannigan?” she asked as she once again leaned her head back to look at Nick.
“Just one, please. And do call me Nick. It’s much easier.”
“Certainly, Nick,” she said as she put the key packet on the counter along with the pre-completed registration form. “If you’ll just sign right there. Also add your car make and model and the plate number, here … here … and here. Still the same Visa card?”
Nick completed the form and set the pen down. “Yes, same card. Breakfast?”
“In the room right behind you from six until nine thirty. Someone’s here twenty-four hours a day, so just dial zero if you need anything. Oh, the elevator’s down the hall on your left.”
“Thank you, Cindy,” Nick said as he bent his head down to see her name tag.
“You’re welcome, Nick. Hope you have a good stay.”
“Thanks, I’m sure I will,” Nick answered as he pulled his bags toward the elevator.
Chapter Two — Morning Paper
The early morning crowd was gone, and the late group was meandering in and out of the breakfast room as Nick entered. He wasn’t in a rush to get going this morning. He would focus on special effect photos of the Capitol Building later in the week. Today was a day to take the “standard pictures” and get acquainted with the area. Even though he’d lived in Seattle for a few years and driven down I-5 to historic Astoria on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, Nick hadn’t spent any time in Olympia. He had five more days here, plenty of time to check out the city of fifty-some-thousand.
Newspaper folded and tucked under his left arm, Nick headed first to the coffee station. Hmm. Sabor Bravo Coffee. Wonder what they had to do to keep Starbucks out of this place? He poured himself a full cup of steaming Dark Roast and took it to an empty table next to the window. He sat the cup down, then the paper, still folded in half, and made his way around the small buffet area to survey what was available.
Returning to the table with a plate of scrambled eggs, sausage, along with a banana and a yogurt cup, Nick sat down and took a sip of the hot coffee. Good. He took a bite of the scrambled eggs as he unfolded the newspaper with his left hand. He’d picked The Capital Daily instead of USA Today because he was interested in local news. His phone fed him national and international news on a regular basis. “Another Mercy Hospital Overdose” blared the headline along with a recent photo of the young victim accompanying the lead article. Nick read the article as he ate. What luck. One poor guy’s in a motorcycle accident and goes to the hospital with some broken bones. Then he overdoses the next day as he is being discharged. But then there’s a second similar overdose at that hospital in just a week, both men about to leave. What’s with the young people these days? They’re both about my age. What could possibly drive them to overdose? What a waste.
Nick went back for another plate of eggs and sausage, plus a glass of orange juice this time. It took a lot of energy to fuel his six-six frame. He skimmed through the paper, noticing an article about the Governor’s reception for the media on Thursday evening. I wonder if I can get invited to that. He took out his pocket notebook and wrote a note: “Gov’s office; get invite to Thurs. reception.” The Sports section was mostly the local teams and leagues along with a few final scores from around the country. He grabbed the paper, put it back under his left arm and cleared the table.
There were a couple and a businessman checking out as he passed by the front desk on the way to the elevator. He got to his room, brushed his teeth, got his camera bag, and put the front section of the newspaper into the side pouch. He took the stairs down the lobby level and saw there was a new person at the front desk.
“Good morning,” Nick said to the young man. “I’m in 306 for the week, and I don’t know the area. Any suggestions close by for a really tasty lunch?”
The clerk’s eyes scanned higher and his jaw opened wider at the sight of this “big man” standing there. “It all depends on what you like. Mexican, Italian, steak and potatoes, Chinese, Japanese, we have all kinds of restaurants close by,” he said as he reached for a tourist map of downtown. “They’re all listed on here.”
The clerk took his pen and drew several continuous circles around the one at the northeast corner of Cherry and Twelfth. “This one’s my favorite; it’s a small Vietnamese place that has the best spring rolls. Plus, their lemon chicken is totally awesome.”
“Thanks,” Nick said as he smiled, took the map, and slid it into his bag next to the newspaper. “Have a great day.” Nick turned, and strode out of the lobby, camera bag looped over his left shoulder. Once outside, he headed south on Franklin.
Centennial Park was on the opposite side of Union Street, the next block down. Some interesting possibilities for photos, he thought as he looked at the block-wide park. Ten minutes and two turns later, Nick was heading southwest on the North Diagonal leading to the Winged Victory statue. He stopped short, brought his camera out of the bag, and took a few shots with the Capitol Building in the background. He slung the camera around his neck.
Not exactly like the one in the Louvre, Nick thought as he got closer, but it’s still a nice representation.
Taking pictures as he walked along, Nick’s head brushed the bottom of a pine branch overhanging the sidewalk. He reached up with his left hand to rub the top of his bushy mane, much to the delight of a group of school children playing in the grass. Nick heard their giggles, so he turned, waved, and flashed a big smile at them. He snapped a few photos as they waved back at him.
Standing halfway between the Temple of Justice and the Legislative Building, aka, the Capitol Building, Nick couldn’t get the proper focus on the capitol. The sun is too high in the sky for this southerly shot, he thought to himself. The front’s more important, anyway. He put the camera away, walked around to the South Entrance, and went inside. “Where’s the Governor’s office?” he asked the security guard.
“He’s out of town for the next couple of days,” the guard volunteered.
“That’s okay; it’s his secretary I wanted to talk to,” Nick responded as he retrieved his camera bag from the screening belt.
The guard, six feet tall himself, looked up at Nick. “Second floor, all the way down on your right,” he said.
“Thanks,” Nick said as he headed to the wide marble staircase and took the steps two at a time.
“Show off,” Nick heard the guard mumble, and he grinned to himself.
“Back at 10:30,” announced the printed sheet taped on the glass door leading to The Office of the Governor.
Nick looked at his watch, 10:20. He sat on the tufted velvet bench and pulled out the newspaper. He scanned the lead article again and looked at the photograph of the latest overdose victim. Nick’s eyebrows furrowed as he squinted to focus on a small area of the picture. On the young man’s neck, just below his left ear was a small tattoo. I didn’t see that earlier, but it looks like one I’ve seen online before. Too bad it’s not a sharper photo. Nick read the article again, folded the paper, and put it back in his camera bag. He looked at his watch, 10:38. Oh, well. I’ll check back with her.
He grabbed his camera bag, slung it over the left shoulder, and headed back to the hotel.
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