If a person's ex-husband had to come into the ER where she worked, she'd probably want him to come in looking just like Billy Mayfield: pea green, sweating like a pig, and puking up sock lint.
Billy was even considerate enough to show up about eleven on a Sunday morning in October. That way, not only could his ex-wife enjoy his near-operatic distress, so could her coworkers.
The ER at Memorial Medical Center wasn't usually busy, because Puckett, Missouri, wasn't usually a busy place. Tucked along the southern bank of the Missouri River about ninety miles west of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the town consisted mostly of a bedroom community that balanced its economy on farming, river traffic, and the encroaching St. Louis suburbs.
Memorial Medical Center especially wasn't a busy place on Sunday morning, when the greater percentage of the town was still in church. Therefore the only problems occupying the staff of the emergency department were a brace of abdominal pains and a mother who needed her ten-year-old cured of his flu by the big hockey game the next day.
There was one dead body in room five, but he didn't demand much attention. He certainly didn't press the Call button or complain about the wait. A perfect guest with all the time in the world, which was a good thing, because his nurse had been waiting at least two hours for the coroner to call back so she could stamp Mr. Cleveland's morgue pass.
That was the bad news. The good news was that Butch Cleveland was Timmie Leary-Parker's only patient, which meant she could waste a little time on a phone call to her daughter.
"You ready for Mass, Meghan?" she asked, cleaning herstethoscope with an alcohol wipe as she talked. She was perched on a charting desk with her feet on a chair, the crumbs from her breakfast bagel still caught in her lab coat pockets.
"I already went, Mom," the six-year-old informed her in arch tones. "Grandda and I have been singing."
Timmie stopped rubbing. She heard the whoop of a siren in the ambulance entrance, but chose to ignore it. "Singing what?"
"'Star-Spangled Banner,'" Timmie corrected in relief, knowing just what other tunes her father could have been sharing. "You watching baseball?"
"The Astros. Renfield doesn't like the Astros. He wants the Dodgers. We haven't seen the Dodgers since we left home."
Timmie smiled. "Renfield's a lizard, hon. Lizards don't get to vote."
"He is not a lizard. He's a Jackson's chameleon. And he lives here, too, now."
"Well, find a show on flies and grasshoppers, and we'll tape it for him, okay? California grasshoppers."
Timmie was rewarded by a bright giggle and another "Mo-o-om," which, for a six-year-old girl, said everything.
Timmie looked up. The ambulance had evidently arrived, carrying what sounded for all the world like that little girl in The Exorcist. Definitely new business. Somebody else's, Timmie fervently hoped. Whoever it was was making retching noises, which Timmie hated more than anything but drunks and lawyers.
"Whoa, what's that?" Dr. Barbara Adkins demanded as she sauntered over with her lunch Mountain Dew in hand.
Timmie considered the hoarse wails that echoed off the tiled walls like reverb at a rock concert. "Hangover," she said.
"What hangover?" Meghan demanded in Timmie's ear.
"Nah," Barb said, dropping into one of the other chairs and draining half the can in one gulp. "Childbirth."
"Hog caller with a kidney stone," Timmie countered.
"Mo-o-om," Meghan intoned with marginal patience. "You were talking to me?"
Timmie focused on her daughter. "Yes, I was, baby. In fact, I was just about to ask you if you had your room cleaned, so you can go to the horse show with me this afternoon."
"After I write Daddy, for when he finds us."
"We're not lost, honey," Timmie reminded her. She didn't add that it was Meghan's dad who was lost, or that given enough time he'd remember to look for them. Probably any minute now, considering how badly Timmie's week was already going.
"He-e-e-e-e-el-p . . . "
"If I'm any judge of tonal qualities," Barb observed laconically as she lobbed her empty can toward the trash, "he's in room three. Wonder who's gonna get him?"
"New patient, room three," the intercom promptly announced. "Timmie Leary-Parker, room three."
The can hit the bucket with a clang for a three-pointer and Timmie sighed. "Of course."
Two years ago, Timmie had been married to an up-and-coming Los Angeles lawyer, mother of a beautiful preschooler, and employed as forensic and trauma nurse at the busiest gun-and-knife club in the country. Now she was divorced from a cocaine addict, her daughter was best friends with a reptile, and her career was reduced to puke patrol in a stop-and-go ER outside St. Louis. Was life wonderful or what?
"Okay," she capitulated. "Will somebody put out yet another call to the coroner about Mr. Cleveland? I know he's dead, but that doesn't mean he should have to put up with all that noise. In the meantime, as soon as I get off the phone with Meghan, I guess I'll be in doing the spew samba." Brain Dead. Copyright © by Eileen Dreyer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.