One Dead Under the Cuckoo's Nest

BOOK: One Dead Under the Cuckoo's Nest
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Dedication

This book is dedicated to all the men, women
,

and children whose lives are touched by

any form of mental health difficulties.

Acknowledgments

T
hanks to Sal, Mario, and Greg for all their encouragement. To agent Jay Poynor. You are great! Thanks to my editor, Erin Brown, who always comes up with wonderful suggestions to make my work even better. And last but certainly not least, thanks to all the readers who enjoy and support The Pauline Sokol Mystery Series.

Twisted Sister

The nun approached, dropped her black carry-on bag, and bumped into me. “Oh, sorry, Sister. I'm not usually . . . ouch!”

I looked down at my arm and saw the syringe. A syringe that the nun held, had stuck me with, and then tucked into the sleeve of her robe.

A haze started to cloud the room. My mind was . . . fuzzy.
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Stop that, Pączki
! I laughed. The fuzzy nun pushed me into the bathroom. “Ouch!” I bumped my head on the wall. “Daddy calls me
Pączki.
” I giggled, stumbled. “It's a Polish prune-filled donut.”

I rubbed my arm. Make that three arms. I saw three arms attached to me on one side, four on the other. “You pinched me. That hurt. Nuns shouldn't . . . pinch . . . What did you give me? I hope to hell that syringe was sterile!”

Without a word, he pulled off his veil.

He
?

Contents

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Twisted Sister

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Excerpt from
DEEP SEA DEAD

Chapter One

About the Author

Also by Lori Avocato

Copyright

About the Publisher

One

“This won't hurt.”

I looked at my well-meaning best friend and roommate, Miles Scarpello, and then snorted immediately after he spoke the foolish words.

My second best friend and roommate (Miles's significant other), Goldie Perlman, joined in. “Really, Suga, it won't hurt. Blow.” He waved his hand in the air like a magic wand but only managed to snag his lovely ecru silk scarf with a long, coral-painted nail. Goldie looked lovely in ecru. Matched his skin tone and made his golden-haired wig look more real.

Then again, Goldie looked beautiful in any color.

And always real.

My father added, “Come on,
Pączki
, I want a piece of cake.”

Everyone in the room leaned near, as if a budding thirty-five-year-old didn't have the wind to blow out thirty-five stupid birthday candles. I groaned at Daddy's pet name for me. He had used the endearing Polish term (for a big, fat, round, often prune-filled Polish donut, pronounced more like “paunchki”) since my birth, when I weighed in at a svelte ten pounds, five ounces. Okay, maybe
svelte
wasn't exactly the correct term, but I remember seeing myself in the reflection of the metal bars of my bassinet and thinking I looked svelte and the nurse probably had her finger on the scale when she had weighed me.

My mother, Stella Sokol, blew out a breath and said, “Really, Pauline Sokol. You are making a mountain out of a molehill. Turning thirty-five is not the end of the world.”

I looked out the window of my mother's house. It wasn't hard to do from my seat, since she pulled back the “winter” drapes to let the sun shine through the sheer white ones each spring season. Yep. The world hadn't ended and was still out there in full force.

And I was officially thirty-five years old.

And single.

And childless.

And in a profession I knew very little to nothing about—but wouldn't trade for the world. Sure, I had thirteen years experience as a registered nurse, but being a “slightly experienced” medical-insurance-fraud investigator was just fine with me right now.

It was this stupid birthday thing that bugged me.

I looked around my parents' house, which, by the way, was straight out of a
Leave It to Beaver
television show—with color added—and thought some days I might go insane.

Not that insanity ran in my family, but then again, there was that aunt back in Pennsylvania who used to wear five dresses at once when she traveled to Hope Valley, Connecticut, to come see us. Aunt Flo had insisted her dresses wouldn't get wrinkled in her suitcase if she wore them all in the car. Once, when she'd had surgery on her knee, she put three fitted sheets on her bed so that post-op, she could peel one off each week, and she wouldn't have to do a lot of laundry.

I thought that was very clever.

I turned back to look at my family and wondered if Aunt Flo had been the only one with “those” genes. Daddy was already licking cake frosting off his finger before my mother even had a chance to pick up the knife. He reached out again. She swatted his hand away.

Uncle Walt, my favorite uncle, who had lived with us since I was born, slept soundly—in his seat at the dining-room table—with telltale frosting on his lower lip, too.

Miles and Goldie giggled like little kids while pouring each other champagne into the crystal goblets my mother had had since the fifties. Wasn't love grand?

The room was full of nieces, nephews, siblings and their
spouses.
I tried not to look.

Next to me at the table was Nick Caruso, a fellow investigator. Okay, I was stretching it. Nick was truly an investigator. Me, I was still a “newbie,” as my seamy boss, Fabio Scarpello (Miles's uncle, since Miles had been adopted into the Scarpello family) would call me.

But hey, I'd finished two investigative cases, and didn't get killed once.

As for Nick, he had become a bit more than a peer. We'd recently started dating. Dating. A term I'd almost forgotten. It hadn't taken me long to get back into the swing of it, pretty much like riding a bicycle.

But, and I have to be honest here, Nick didn't “do it” for me completely. Some might find him nice-looking, dressed impeccably in camel hair, suede or expensive linen anything, but I never got detonation—only a few shimmers. Nick was a doll, though, and treated me as such.

Then still, sitting across the table, and at the invitation of my mother, was . . . Jagger.

Oops. There went my heartbeat in a pitter-patter rhythm, and I hadn't even looked at him that closely.

Jagger'd worked on my two cases with me, although, to this day, no one, including
moi
, knew who the hell he worked for. FBI. Insurance company. PI. No one knew, and Jagger didn't share . . . anything. But he was darn driven.

Our eyes locked. Make that his locked mine as usual, and he gave a slight smile. I'd never done very well with that body language stuff, and trying to read Jagger was like fingering Braille. Not a clue. For all I knew, the smile could've come from some thought he'd just had—and not one about me.

He looked toward the cake, whose frosting was now nearly covered in wax. For a second I thought about those wildfires that burn across millions of acres out west.

“Blow, Sherlock,” he said.

Sherlock. Damn. He used that pet name on me and each time my pretty damn high IQ took a nosedive to zero. And that “blow” part didn't exactly have me thinking birthday cake.

Nick touched my arm. “Go ahead, Pauline.”

I yanked my eyes from Jagger to smile at Nick. Then I turned toward the cake, and puffed out my cheeks.

Eeeeeep! Eeeeeep
!

Daddy jumped up. “Fire! Fire in the house!”

Mother shouted, “Calm down, Michael. There's no fire. It's only because there are thirty-five candles on Pauline's cake, and
that huge number
set off the fire alarm.”

Amid Goldie and Miles's snickers, Nick patting my arm in sympathy, Uncle Walt snoring and Jagger just, well, looking—I tried to shrink down to the size of the stupid burning birthday candles which, by the way, were already half gone.

I blew and missed five.

Mother shook her head.

Daddy snagged another finger-full of frosting, then spit it out into his napkin. “Damn wax.”

And Jagger motioned for me to come with him.

After I'd politely excused myself and given Nick a peck on the cheek, I walked into the hallway. Empty. Then I looked in the kitchen, which also had not changed since the Nixon era. Still aquamarine Formica, with pine cabinets and no dishwasher per my mother. Also no Jagger.

I leaned against the wall.

Maybe I'd imagined he wanted me to follow him. Maybe he only had a crick in his neck. Maybe he had to use the “little boys' room,” and I'd die of embarrassment waiting for him in the hallway.

I spun around.

A hand grabbed me and yanked me through the kitchen and out the backdoor.

“What the—”

A finger covered my lips. A Jagger finger.

I had to literally bite my tongue so that it wouldn't snake out and
lick
him.

“Keep it down, Sherlock.”

I looked around. This was my parents' house. The neighbors had all lived around here a thousand years and didn't pay much attention to anything except Lotto and
Wheel of Fortune.
No one would care what I said to Jagger.

So I pushed his finger away. A bit reluctantly, sure. “Why are you so secretive?”

He looked at me. “I need your help.”

If the March 24 air was a bit warmer than seasonal today, you couldn't tell by me. I'd frozen on the spot when I heard those fateful words come out of Jagger's sexy, full lips. Whenever he asked for my “help,” it meant donning my horrific scrubs. Scrubs I'd vowed (twice now) never to
wear again. Because if he was asking for help—my help—that meant I'd have to go undercover again—as a registered nurse. And I still had scorch marks from burning out of that career.

“No!” flew out of my mouth.

Once again Jagger touched my lips. He leaned closer. I inhaled him. Male. That was Jagger's scent. I could become a gazillionaire if I could bottle Jagger's male scent.

“This will be a short case, Sherlock. I only need you to escort someone to the Cortona Institute of Life, outside of Hartford. You know, that psychiatric hospital near the river. Catholic place. Run by nuns.” He released his hold a bit. “One, two hours tops.”

“Why we?” I meant to say
me
, but with his hand over my lips couldn't make myself clear. Besides, my hormones were wreaking havoc with my intelligence. I'm not sure if the left side of my brain or the right was in control right then, but there sure was a body war going on—and I knew either way I'd lose.

He moved his hand. “A nurse has to escort this woman there. I'm telling you, Sherlock. Two hours tops. Trust me.”

“I . . . I don't know if—”

Jagger opened his black jacket (oh, yes, Jagger usually wore delicious black) and pulled out an envelope. “Almost forgot. Here.” With that he turned and walked down the steps. Over his shoulder he called, “Oh, yeah. Happy B-day.”

BOOK: One Dead Under the Cuckoo's Nest
10.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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