The Wicked West is a compilation of Books 1-5 (plus the Introduction to the main series character) in the Capital City Murders series of novellas. The series begins in Olympia, Washington, then to Salem, Oregon, Sacramento, California, Carson city, Nevada, and Boise, Idaho.
In each story, Nick O’Flannigan is on a one-year assignment to visit each state capital and submit photographs of the capitol building and surrounding areas to a major magazine. There’s been a murder, and Nick’s keen eye for details pulls him onto the case.
Will this involvement impact his assignment or his relationships?
Targeted Age Group:: 25-65
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
After reading some of Sue Grafton's "Alphabet" mysteries, I wondered if I could craft a series of books set in the 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. He meets Sandra in book 2; she helps him, in book 3, and perhaps there's a relations about to be started.
Book 1 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.
Prologue Book 2
Steve needed the money, so he took the second job at the Oregon State Hospital doing security. During the day, he drove an armored truck, a pretty boring job most of the time, although he had fended off a couple of robbery attempts. On that job he was armed with his weapon of choice, a Ruger P97 .45 with ten rounds of “nope, I don’t think so” loaded in the magazine.
At the Oregon State Hospital, he carried a baton and a radio, and although he was good with both, it wasn’t much reassurance when patrolling the old tunnels under the building. People said areas of the place were still haunted even after the extensive renovations that removed the creepiest parts of the facility, including the old morgue and
a room known as the “Library of Dust” which had contained thousands of copper canisters filled with the unclaimed cremated remains of former residents. There was also the story of those once buried in the cemetery. Many of the bodies had been moved, but others had never been recovered.
Not normally a superstitious guy, Steve believed those souls were probably still roaming these halls, waiting to be freed from this world to move on to the next. He had seen and heard things. Light and shadows.
Footsteps. He even felt a chill from time to time when he patrolled those tunnels, and his rounds tonight were no exception. Off limits to the public and current residents, the tunnels, now cleaned up, looked like simple hallways with no windows. Water dripped in various places every so often, but otherwise an empty silence indicated the complete lack of humanity down here. Earlier, the power had unexpectedly gone out in a particularly chilly section, so his
flashlight was the only illumination, and he moved it constantly. His patrols down here were the part of the job he hated the most. He felt eyes crawl over him constantly as he walked, the ghosts of patients past staring at him from just beyond the darkness.
As he rounded a corner, Steve tensed. A former Marine, he could sense something off. Someone was there. He considered himself to be in good shape, and even at a compact 5’9”, there was little that scared him. He flashed his light ahead of himself in the tunnel, and there one of the residents stood, staring at what should be a closed wall.
“What’s going on, Bill?” he asked. “You okay?”
Bill pointed at himself, and nodded, but didn’t speak. He dropped his hands to his sides and looked at his paper slippers. Clad only in the blue scrubs all the current residents wore, he looked cold. “You’re not supposed to be down here,” Steve told him. “What is going on?”
Bill looked up, and there were tears in his eyes. A second later, sobs destroyed his face.
“What is it?” Steve approached slowly jerking back as Bill’s arm shot up from his side. His finger pointed to where the wall should be.
Steve felt a cold draft that should not be there. Not sure what to be ready for, he raised his baton with his left hand. As he approached Bill at an angle, he could see that what must have been in the wall was a hidden door. Now open, it was only a rectangle of darkness. “Back up slowly, Bill. You gotta let me by.”
The resident did as he was told, his arm still straight out, pointing. Steve took three deep breaths, trying to slow his racing heart, wishing for a weapon better than a stick. He ducked low, making himself a small target, and poked his head around the edge of the door for a quick glance. As he did, he felt cold breath on the back of his neck.
A body, motionless, lay on an old metal table. Blood dripped from the fingers of its right hand. At first glance, he had not seen anything but the body. He flashed his light around, trying to see if someone remained in the room.
There was no one. The cement walls and the metal table on wheels, the only things in the newly revealed room, offered no place to hide.
The body dressed in the medical whites worn by staff remained motionless. The light did nothing to disturb its wearer. Slowly, Steve rose from his crouch and made his way toward the table, shining the light at his feet, careful not to step in any blood or something else that might be evidence.
He directed the light on the face of what he now knew to be a corpse. “Doctor Hawkins,” he breathed. “Damn.”
Something touched his back, a gentle skittering down his spine. He spun, baton raised to strike.
“Bill!” The resident was right behind him and screamed into his face. “Doctor dead! Doctor dead!”
Then Bill ran. Not knowing what else to do Steve followed, wanting to contain Bill, to protect him. At the same time, he dropped the baton back into its holster on his belt and grabbed for the radio.
He keyed the mic as he ran.
“Situation 7, unauthorized resident in the tunnel. Foot pursuit in progress.”
“Roger that, responding,” he heard the voice of his bored companion.
He knew staff would be grabbing restraints and a jacket.
Keying the radio again, he said, “Need police.” He just managed to keep Bill in sight. Damn, he was fast. “We have a situation down here.”
Ahead, four large staff members dressed in white came around the corner flanked by one of his fellow security guards. He slowed as he saw Bill go down, but the resident kept shouting over and over.
“Doctor dead! Doctor dead!”
“You okay, Steve?” his coworker asked.
“Yeah,” he said, catching his breath. “But we have a situation.”
“What kind of situation? What happened back there? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Not a ghost, not this time.”
“Doctor Hawkins. He’s dead. His body is in a room off one of the tunnels. One that should not be there.”
“Hawkins? Are you sure?”
Steve nodded. He heard sirens in the distance. Bill had fallen silent, and hung, restrained, between two burly staff members. They were headed to a pair of steel doors, ones that led to the ward where Bill was assigned. Steve wondered how he had gotten out and managed to make
his way to the tunnels.
“Did he do it?” the other security guard asked.
“I don’t think so,” Steve said.
“Then who did?”
“I have no idea.”
First the police showed up and took his statement, closing off the corridors with yellow crime scene tape. Pretty quickly, they were followed by the press.
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