The group now has files for the three murder victims on hand, but none of them offer any additional insight. Certainly all three murders are a bit odd. The young woman’s body was left on display in a nearby park. Juniper isn’t exactly known for packs of wild dogs roaming its street, so the case of the senior citizen who died in a “dog attack” seems suspect. And the third victim’s death was particularly brutal. But only the third victim, one Hector McNeil, has any obvious connection to Shady Acres, where he worked as a nurse’s aide. Having happened barely a week ago, it’s also the most recent death of the three.
In fact, McNeil’s death is so recent that the group arrives at his apartment building to discover that the apartment is still behind crime scene tape. But the place seems entirely empty of cops, the apartment is only on the third floor, and McNeil’s apartment has an out-facing window. And so the party decides to investigate McNeil’s home in true Hunter style: by breaking in.
Leaving Felix on the ground as a lookout (and hopefully away from any cops they might encounter), John and Shannon equip themselves with some nitrile gloves from John’s first aid kit and climb up onto the building’s fire escape. In an unusually lucky break, McNeil’s side of the apartment building faces away from the street, and so they’re able to make it to McNeil’s window without being spotted. Even better, the window is unlocked.
John and Shannon enter the bedroom of an apartment that is just as empty as advertised. The mattress is soaked in blood, and the linens are missing. A small safe on the wall was forced open with what looks like an industrial-strength crowbar; when Shannon and John check it, all they find is paperwork.
The two of them case the place as thoroughly as possible, but find nothing linking McNeil to any suspicious activities… at least not at Shady Acres. Shannon does turn up a record of some deliveries made from St. Trudy’s Hospital bloodbank, where McNeil apparently worked part-time. However, there’s no description of what these deliveries might be, and the only record she can find of where those deliveries might be going is the phrase “remember to deliver the product to the dugout,” followed by the name of a baseball park and the words “Thursday at midnight,” scrawled by hand across a piece of St. Trudy’s letterhead. John, just for good measure, swipes McNeil’s driver’s license from a coat pocket on the way out.
The ballpark in question is empty when the group arrives to check it out. The visitors’ dugout seems particularly well-used, scattered with used cigarette butts, some of which Felix says are new; people have been in here recently. There’s also an image of a crown with a scepter overlaid on top, spray-painted onto a dugout wall.
In other words, the place seems aggressively unremarkable. Since it’s nowhere near midnight, the party agrees that it would be best to make their way back here an hour or two beforehand, to observe whatever transaction might be going on. In the meantime, they still have daylight to kill, and they’re no closer to figuring out what’s going on at Shady Acres.
Shannon figures she’s still persona non grata after her run-in with the Shady Acres director, so she makes herself scarce while John, with Felix in tow, tracks down Dr. Johnson and asks to treat him to a coffee. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” Johnson asks after the three of them are comfortably settled in the Starbucks across the street.
“Small talk, I guess,” John answers. “You know, street gossip. I heard that one of your nursing assistants was killed about a week ago?”
“Yeah, got killed in his own apartment,” Johnson answers. “Very grim. The police were bugging us for day or two.”
“I bet. Was he close to anyone in the nursing home?”
“He talked a bit with Ms Patrick. He was one of her minions, so to speak,” Johnson says. “But he was just some guy.”
“And the murder had no connection with the home?” Felix asks.
“I seriously hope that none of the residents would’ve followed him home and killed him in his own apartment,” Johnson says. “There’s always a few weirdos, but none quite like that.”
“You said something about him being one of Patrick’s cronies,” John remarks. “Does she have some kind of operation?”
“I wouldn’t know about that.”
“You work there!” John says.
“Even if I DID know something, there are confidentiality issues,” Johnson says. “It’s one thing to gossip about the nurses’ aides, but when it comes to the people who sign my paycheques, well, I’m afraid I’m just shuckdarn out of knowledge.”
“Is there something you wanna say and can’t?” John asks.
“Of course not. What a silly thing to ask,” Johnson says promptly, though he sounds far more smug than sincere. “Look, I really can’t help you too much. I just take care of the patients, you know. I can’t even begin to think about who would be able to help you.”
“Can we help you remember?” John persists. “We’re curious folk.”
“You have to understand, it’s a bit strange for you to even be asking,” Johnson says. “Your grandmother is seriously unwell, and you’re focused on what Ms Patrick does in her off-hours.”
“I just want to be absolutely sure that my grandmother ends up in the best environment.”
“You’ve already done that,” Johnson says, clearly not buying it. “Look, McNeil’s death was not related to the home at all. He was a real prick, a weasel. I’m not gonna say he deserved what he got, because that would be saying quite a lot. He was just a douche.”
“How would you know?” Felix asks.
“You just know sometimes. Listen, I appreciate the coffee, but what the hell. Seriously, you’re not the Spanish inquisition, right?”
“Maybe we should switch topics,” John suggests. Gesturing to Felix, he asks, “did you hear about the incident that this fellow caused in the lobby?”
“Oh, do we have to?” Felix says. “It’s embarrassing.”
“Yes. It’s interesting, don’t you think?” John briefly summarizes Felix’s encounter with Mary Lou.
“Yeah, it happens,” Johnson says dismissively. “There’s a term for it: crazypants. Probably something about being surrounded by old people. Or your friend could just be being a douche. Pretending to be a old person: you’re not the first.”
“So, what, people who come in here just suddenly become convinced that they’re old?” John says
“No, they’re just being dicks,” Johnson says. “Although I do congratulate you for keeping it to the lobby.”
“Hey, ‘Steve,’ what did you say your name was?” John asks.
“Mary Louis,” Felix supplies reluctantly.
“And you’re sure you weren’t just being a douche.”
” I recall no impulses to douchiness,” Felix says.
“Yeah, this has happened before,” Johnson says. “It’s like this. Her family is trying to pull the plug. Her will is against pulling plug, and so the insurance company is against pulling the plug. We’re all for profit, so we’re against pulling the plug. So if they say I’m ‘Mary Louis and I want to die…'” He trails off, then shakes his head and looks hard at John. “Listen, it’s been fun, but uh, what do you guys actually want?”
“Just coffee,” John says, shrugging. “Small talk. That’s all.”
“Yeah. And I’m your grandmother. I’m Mary Louis.”
“You too, huh?” John says wryly. “Speaking frankly, I’ve heard about a lot of weird crap happening around here, and I’m kind of concerned.”
Johnson holds up three fingers. “Weird crap one: someone dies. It’s big city. It happens. Weird crap two: your friend turns out to be a douchebag. It happens. Weird crap three… what is number three, again?”
“It’s just a little unnerving,” Felix says, trying to recover the conversation. “It obviously didn’t all show up at the same time, but we learned about it all at once, and, well…”
Johnson is derisive. “What are you, five?”
“Thanks for the reassurance,” Felix says flatly. “No, I’m seven.”
By this point, nobody at the table is particularly willing to put up with anyone else. Johnson puts the conversation out of its misery by saying that he has to get back to work and hurries back across the street.