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Death of a Ballerina *the beginning*

For more installments see the novel index. All posts and pages on this blog are the exclusive property of Citystreams; Copyright 2006-2008; All rights reserved.

Nickel sized hail stones bounced off of Clary’s yellow umbrella, as she picked her way down the sidewalk in front of the hospital’s employee parking deck. The air vibrated with the rush of steady rain. Her dark slacks rubbed uncomfortably against her skin and cold water squished inside her leather heels. She reached the portico that covered the employee entrance, and stopped breathlessly to collapse the umbrella. Her wet fingers slipped, sending a spray of water at her face. On the other side of the glass door, the security guard suppressed a chuckle and moved quickly to open the door for her.

As the service elevator whined its way up to the third floor, Clary checked her watch and forced herself to relax. Surprisingly, she had arrived for her shift thirty minutes early. She lifted her soggy pant leg before brushing water from the sleeve of her white coat.

It was hard to believe that only one week ago, she’d received her plastic nametag, with Claire Anderson, M.D. printed in large blue letters beneath her picture. Grinning, she recalled her first day on the job. The brand new long white coat felt cumbersome compared to the shorter one that she’d worn in medical school. The buttons were fun to twirl. Her heart had leapt every time someone said, “Doctor Anderson,” while her stomach had filled with butterflies.

At lunchtime, she’d spilled half a plate of spaghetti onto herself. A huge red stain spread over her blouse and onto her pristine white coat. Horrified, she had buttoned the coat to cover the majority of the stain for the rest of the day. A little bleaching had removed the stain but unexpectedly turned the hospital’s emblem from black to peach! She had taken a Sharpie marker to the embroidery, terrified that it would bleed all over the coat. Her hands trembled as she looked at the final result, and she felt a little guilty that she had steadier nerves when closing a patient after surgery. So far, no one had mentioned anything about the coat.

The smell of coffee flooded the hallway as she stepped out of the service elevator. She followed the arrows along the halls, towards Labor and Delivery, and the women’s locker room.

Leaning into a square metal button with her right hip, she parted the L&D doors. A nurse called a cheery “G’morning Dr. Anderson” which made Clary smile, as she dripped past the nurses’ station. She headed towards the women’s locker room, noting that all of Dr. Turner’s patients had been moved to the maternity ward during the night. It was strange to see the hall so empty.

The scream that echoed back to the nurses’ desk was punctuated by the click of the locker room door closing. Clary heard the noise without even realizing that it rose from her own lungs. She stopped screaming suddenly and drew a deep breath of putrid air. Gagging she knelt to check the girl’s pulse, but did not expect to find one. Her fingers felt cold, leathery skin. The girl’s eyes stared lifelessly towards the sink; her head tilted in an unnatural position.

A slender, black nurse burst through the door armed with a fire extinguisher, resulting in a much tinier scream out of Clary. The nurse’s eyes changed from wild fear to horrified emotion as she observed the scene. The fire extinguisher clanged to the floor as she set it aside to find her cell phone. She dialed 911 with shaking fingers and eyed the kneeling doctor suspiciously. Clary heard the faint ringing of the phone and turned back to stare at the victim. The dead teenager wore a white sequined leotard and white tights. She had gray cotton shorts pulled over the tights and rainbow colored leg warmers over her ankles. She wore light pink canvas ballet shoes with elastic straps crisscrossed over the arches of her feet.

The nurse turned away from Clary and the girl. She paced back and forth near the doorway. Her white tennis shoes squeaked from the water dripping off of Clary. Her panicked voice gradually changed into a disdainful tone, as she conversed with the dispatcher.

“No! Yes! Of course she’s dead. I am a registered nurse, for goodness sakes. The doctor just checked her pulse.” The woman threw her left hand in the air as she spoke and flexed her fingers out as far as they would go.

“A routine hospital death? No. This looks like a murder. Why would I call you for a routine hospital death? A teenaged girl, dressed up like a ballerina is dead on the locker room floor.” She rolled her eyes to the ceiling and listened to the dispatcher for a few seconds. Clary could hear scratchy fragments from the cell phone. She looked at the girl’s black hair, slicked up into the traditional ballet bun. Blood had crusted at the roots, as if she’d been snatched from behind. Other than that, there was no blood on the body. The sweetheart neckline of the leotard emphasized prominent blue bruises around the larynx. The girl had obviously been strangled.

The nurse started pacing again, beside the door. She looked up at Clary and mouthed driver’s license while pointing to an overturned canvas tote bag nearby. Clary gingerly stepped over the body, careful not to let the water from her pants touch the girl’s leotard. She unzipped the bag, which had initials monogrammed on the side, and pulled out the contents. A knee length, white tutu, had been folded and placed on top of white satin pointe shoes. Beneath them, lay a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, flip- flops and a teddy bear with a blue bow. Clary searched the bag’s two pockets but only found a hair barrette and a stick of gum. She lifted her hands up and shrugged at the nurse, who returned the gesture with a perfunctory wave.

“Mm hmm. We checked the girl’s bag and didn’t find any ID.” The woman reached behind her chocolate colored ponytail to massage her neck. Then she turned and slowly scanned the room, looking for anything they’d missed. Clary used this moment to squint at the purple letters on the nametag. Since arriving last week, she had met close to forty nurses, but she remembered only two names. This nurse wore tailor-made purple scrubs with white edging. Her nametag perched daintily on her hip at Clary’s eye level. Tanjia Williams. Somehow, Clary doubted she would ever forget that name.

For more installments see the novel index. All posts and pages on this blog are the exclusive property of Citystreams; Copyright 2006-2008; All rights reserved.