Lamartha stared at the brown stain on the dining hall table. The detective had taken each of them into Emie’s windowless office for a few last questions, one by one. Now they all sat around the meal tables, silent as church mouses, eyes downcast, except for Dania who sat slouched with her arms crossed across her chest.
Lamartha doubted her nerves would ever recover, each one as tight as a board. She felt as if she could hardly breathe.
Today was closing day for the facility. Within the past week, Emie had finally found facilities that had the proper housing for Kevin, Alexa, Shyly and Bert. Poor Shyly had undergone intense questioning and scrutiny, being the one to find Abby and then having possession of her necklace, but Shyly was safely gone and it didn’t seem to concern the officers.
There was about to be an arrest, one of the eight of them. Craig and Sandra, the custodians, Markie and Dania, chef and dietician, Emie, the social worker, Elrick and Miana the CNAs, and Lamartha herself.
She felt as if she had failed all of them. She had hired each and had obviously missed that one was capable of stealing life from another in such a horrid way.
“Thank you all for meeting me here today and for cooperating,” the detective began, his intense dark gaze slicing over the room.
“You didn’t give us much of a choice,” Elrick said, glancing at his wrist watch. “How much longer is this going to take?”
“Just a few minutes,” the detective said and slowly sauntered to the front of the tables. “This whole thing seemed cut and dry, really. Easy enough to suspect Miss Parly, but something didn’t sit quite right with me about that.” He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. “We know who was supposed to be here that night.”
“I gave you the schedule right away, Craig and Elrick were overnight that night,” Lamartha said, glancing at each of the men.
“I told you, I was cleaning the offices and napped. Never heard anything out of the ordinary. Abby was chipper as always,” Craig said.
“I was at the front desk except for when I helped Abby with the rounds,” Elrick said. “I have the time stamps on my notes.”
“Yes, Yes,” the detective said, waving his hand as if a white flag. “But someone else was here too.”
“Don’t point that finger at me,” Dania grumbled.
Emie wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. Miana hugged herself. Markie and Sandra sat silently beside each other.
“No finger pointing, just confirming. See, there were other unscrupulous things happening here before Ms. Starly’s murder. It’s why this facility was being closed down, isn’t it Ms. Schnidt?”
Lamartha startled when his attentions settled on her. “I…Yes, I reported them all.”
“Indeed you did. It’s well documented about the unbalanced numbers and also about the missing medications. Your husband was questioned,” he spun to face Dania, “Was he not?”
“And replaced,” Dania said. “He has nothing to do with this place now, and I’ll be glad to be through with it.”
“I’m sure you will,” the detective said, his gaze lingering on her a little too long. “See, we know who was supposed to be here that night. We know Abby went to go home when her 10 o’clock shift ended that night, she was helping you out, was she not?” He turned to Elrick.
“She stayed till I got out of my intern shift.” Elrick said.
“Studying to be a Registered Nurse, are you not.”
“That’s right. I got here, helped Abby do the last check for the night and took up my position at the front desk. Craig knows, we kept each other company.”
“You ever notice missing medications?” The detective asked.
“We all did,” Elrick said. “Abby reported them.”
The detective inhaled loudly, and raised his face to the ceiling. “Yes, she did, and I believe there is one who was not happy about that. One of you didn’t appreciate her paying such close attention when you skimmed bottles from the cabinet.”
“Only Abby had access to the cabinet,” Dania said.
“Not true,” the detective said. “The CNAs do also, don’t you?”
“For emergencies only,” Elrick said.
“Sometimes one of the patients would need something through the night,” Miana said.
“For certain,” the detective said, his gaze landing solidly on Miana. “And it was so easy, wasn’t it? Just a little at first, but then you realized how easy the money came in.”
“I, no, no.”
“Until Abby caught you. You knew she was staying later that evening. You knew she was going to report you come the following morning.”
Miana’s eyes grew wide.
“You knew enough about what to use and how to administer it to subdue Ms. Starly.”
“I’m not, no, I just assist.”
“But in assisting, you learned enough. You didn’t leave that night when your shift was over, did you? You stuck around, staying out of sight when Mr. Venkly did his duties. Until Abby returned to the break room to gather her things after her shift. You knew all would be quiet in that hallway, and you also knew Shyly Parly liked to walk the commons room and was a curious type. You made it possible for her to wander out of her room. All you had to do was let the hallway door unlatched, didn’t you?”
“No, no, I did no such thing. What about Shyly, she had her necklace.”
“Yes, given to her by you.”
“No, she had it, she did.”
“You thought she was too drugged to notice you put it around her neck. But she wasn’t. She knew.
An officer walked to Miana, cuffs in hand.
“That’s why she wasn’t doing well,” Emie said. “The person who was caring for her…she knew.”
“Indeed,” the detective said.
“What do you know,” Miana spat, “what do any of you know?”
Lamartha sank into her seat, watching the young woman she had trusted whole heartedly through the years they worked together. Her judgments where Miana was concerned were skewed.
She bid everyone a goodbye, watching them slowly pull out of the parking lot for the last time. She stood for a moment at the door, looking back into the vacant and dark interior of the grand building, remembering all the laughter, and the struggles she’d shared with the staff through the years before latching the door, the keys left on the empty front desk. She worked the latch once to make sure it was locked tight, then turned away from Hart House and its ghosts.