Dying sure has a way of messing up
Monday morning, Susan Griffin’s only
concern was how best her assistant should arrange the window in
the Bawdy Boutique.
“No,” she said, pressing the cell phone
to her ear and turning off her bath water. “Move the mannequin
farther back and let the fan blow the skirt of the negligée
through the door. The idea is to tease the customers, make them
want to see more. A lacy bra draped over a chair and a bottle of
wine with two glasses on the table will add intrigue. Once we
get them into the store, we can show them all the new
While the assistant manager had lots of
good ideas, Susan knew exactly how she wanted the window to
look—suggestive, but tasteful. Her newly opened shop had stirred
excitement in Palmetto, a sleepy little community a few miles
south of Hammond, Louisiana. A far cry from New York, she would
have to temper her approach. But her new business wasn’t the
only reason Susan had decided to come home.
She shook the last thought from her head
and concentrated on the boutique’s window. Of course, any change
in the display would result in new protests from
holier-than-thou, Myrtle Thigpen, whose goal in life was to shut
down the boutique. It didn’t matter that the store’s name was
just a draw; that the scant undies were only a small part of the
inventory. The shop also carried casual clothes, accessories,
The more she thought about Myrtle, the
more Susan was tempted to add a can of whipped cream just to
goad the old biddy, then thought better of it. Why give the
frustrated spinster more ammunition? Myrtle had already declared
Susan and her assistant, A.K., the Devil’s handmaidens, who were
bent on destroying the morality of their town. Such claims were
plain ridiculous, and so far, all of Myrtle’s efforts had come
to naught, despite her many trips to the city council. What
Myrtle didn’t know was that most of the members were ardent
“A tower candle and a platter of grapes
would be a nice touch,” Susan added, still considering the can
of whipped cream. Nope, she refused to let the Devil get a
foothold. “By the way, A.K, you did a terrific job creating the
patio. If our business ever goes bust, you’ll have no problem
finding work as a set designer. Then maybe you’ll give me a
She was lucky to have found A.K., short
for Anna Katherine. An ageless model, the woman exuded a charm
and effervescence that made her appear much younger than forty.
The redhead enjoyed hanging with a younger crowd and was always
in the market for a good looking guy with a tight butt. Guess
you could say she was a Cougar long before the term became
Quick and witty, she also had a special
knack for marketing. Her green eyes could spot just the right
apparel and in five minutes pull together an ensemble that would
satisfy the pickiest of shoppers. And when Susan had to travel,
she could depend on A.K. to run the business, check on her
apartment, and feed her cat, Marmalade, who didn’t cotton to
just anyone. The kitty was so named because of the calico’s
“So who’s scheduled to work today?”
“Debbie and Sheila. They’re putting
their things away now. The store opens in an hour. You gonna be
here by then?”
Still holding the phone and swishing the
water, she lit an aroma-therapy candle and removed her short
wrap. A glance in the mirror revealed a firm body and a smooth,
flat belly. At twenty-eight, and in her line of business, she
was determined to stay in shape--no sagging breasts or flabby
underarms for her. She extended a long, shapely leg and examined
it for any signs of cellulite. So she wasn’t perfect. “Boy, I
need to up the reps on my exercise program,” she said, giving
her thigh a slap.
“You and me both,” A.K. responded.
Susan tested the water again. “I’d
better go before my bath gets cold.”
With the display window occupying her
thoughts, Susan paid little attention to the water that had
splashed onto the floor, until the ball of her foot slipped on a
wet tile. Like a trapeze artist who misgauged her release, she
flipped backwards, arms flaying, reaching for anything to break
her fall. There was nothing. And there was no safety net.
The cell phone went airborne, and her
head slammed against the floor. The cracking sound terrified her
more than the pain. Surely, she had dislodged her brain. She
stared up at the overhead light which slowly dimmed. Then
everything went black.
When her eyes fluttered open, she
noticed the candle had burned down about an inch. She lay there,
afraid to move. Other than the invisible idiot beating a bass
drum in her head, her mental faculties seemed intact. She raised
one arm, and then the other,
flexed her knees and wiggled her toes. Maybe she wasn’t hurt as
bad as she thought.
Easing her head off the floor, she
reached back with a shaky hand. Now she wished she hadn’t. A
knot, the size of an egg, protruded from the back of her skull.
Not good. Not good at all. Horror stories about such accidents
flooded her mind. At first, the victim appeared to be fine, only
to drop dead a few hours later.
Susan remembered talking on the phone.
Had A.K. heard anything, realized something was wrong? What if
she didn’t? It was important to get help fast.
She rolled over onto her knees and
searched for her phone. It lay at the bottom of the tub.
Dizziness prevented her from standing,
so she crawled forward, hoping to reach the phone in her
bedroom. But the floor undulated like a giant tilt-a-world. A
bitter taste rose in her throat, and the drummer inside her head
swapped his sticks for a sledge hammer. She pressed her hands
against her temples, curled into a fetal position, and prayed
for the pain to stop.
Again, darkness enveloped her.
* * * *
“Debbie! Sheila! Susan’s had an
accident.” A.K. grabbed her purse from under the register and
bolted for the front door of the boutique. “It sounded like she
fell. I’ve called 911. Soon as I find out something, I’ll let
Susan’s Pine Crest Apartment was less
than two miles from the store, but in that short distance, A.K.
ran three red lights and buried the needle on the speedometer.
Speedy Gonzales had nothing on her. Thank goodness there were no
cops in sight. She screeched to a halt inside the complex and
raced in four-inch heels up the sidewalk with the agility of a
“I’m coming, Susan.” A.K. knew her
friend probably couldn’t hear her, but she felt compelled to
shout. While not logical, at least it made her feel better. Her
hand fumbled with the key and finally slipped into the lock.
When the heavy door swung open, all five-foot, four of her
hurried through the apartment and into the bathroom.
Susan looked like a naked pretzel, her
dimpled butt and heart-shaped tattoo mooning the world. A.K. was
reminded of their visit to the tattoo parlor. Each had dared the
other, and later, there was a fight as to who would go first.
Susan lost the coin toss and settled on the tiny romantic
emblem. Not to be outdone, A.K. had opted for puckered lips with
a scroll beneath it that said, “Bite Me.”
A.K. knelt and brushed the hair from
Susan’s face. “Can you hear me?”
A moan escaped Susan’s lips as her
eyelids fluttered. A. K. got a glimpse of Susan’s brown eyes,
which seemed to have trouble focusing.
“You’re gonna be all right, honey.
Help’s on the way.”
Sirens screamed outside.
“They’re here.” A.K. scrambled to her
feet. “I’m going let them in.”
A.K. wasn’t about to let the EMS find
her friend sprawled in the nude. Grabbing a beach towel from the
closet, she covered Susan then ran out front and flagged the
paramedics. Rushing back inside, she pointed to the bathroom.
“In there. Hurry!”
The first paramedic brushed past her.
“Did you see what happened?”
“No, I was on the phone with her. She
shouted, and I heard a loud bang.”
He bent down and checked for a pulse.
“What’s her name?”
“And you are?”
“A.K. Williams, her friend and
Another paramedic wiggled past, carrying
a backboard. “Ma’am, you need to step out.”
A.K. reluctantly moved to the living
room. Minutes later, the men emerged. They had strapped Susan to
the board and immobilized her head.
“We’re taking her to Lakeside Hospital.”
“She’s going to be okay, isn’t she?”
“You’ll have to discuss her condition
with the doctor. We need to get her there as fast as we can.”
“Can I ride with her?”
“No, ma’am, you can follow in your car.”
Follow she did, so close she couldn’t
spit between the vehicles. The hospital was located in Hammond,
Louisiana, ten miles north of Palmetto, and they covered the
distance in a matter of minutes. Frantic as she was, A.K.
discovered that zipping through Hammond’s traffic behind a siren
and flashing lights was exciting. The thought crossed her mind
that she might be in the wrong profession.
No, wearing the same outfit every day
was not her thing.
When they reached the hospital, she
whipped into the Emergency Parking Lot and rushed back in time
to see the attendants wheeling Susan through the doors. Once
inside the emergency room entrance, a medical team jumped into
action. A woman in magenta scrubs and wearing white tennis shoes
hit a chrome plate on the wall and another set of double doors
A.K. attempted to follow, but a nurse
“Someone will be out to talk with you
shortly,” she called back to A.K.
Susan disappeared down a hall with all
the noise and clatter of a rock star’s entourage.
A.K. made her way across the waiting
room and registered with a lady manning the information desk.
“Have a seat,” the volunteer said. “I’ll
let you know the minute I hear anything.”
“How long will that be?” A.K.’s remark
seemed to startle the lady behind the desk.
“I…uh…really can’t say. I’m sure it
won’t be too long.”
An hour later, she still hadn’t heard
any news, and that scared her. What if the injury was more
serious than expected? What if she died? “Dang it,” she
grumbled. “Don’t even think that way.”
“Did you say something?” the woman
“Just muttering to myself.”
After picking the last of the nail
polish off her thumb nail, A.K. decided she had waited long
enough. Her plan was to hit the chrome plate on the wall and
find Susan before Nurse Ratched could stop her. As she pushed up
from her chair, the volunteer behind the desk called her name,
and a man in green scrubs motioned for her to join him in the
“How is she?” she asked, anxious for
news and unable to read the doctor’s face.
“Ms. Griffin is disoriented and having
trouble focusing, but that’s not uncommon with a head injury. I
doubt she’ll remember me or our conversation, but I managed to
get her consent to remove a small clot at the base of her
“You mean she has to have surgery?”
“The sooner, the better. Ms. Griffin
came to and was lucid enough to sign a consent form. All the
while she kept saying she wanted out of
here as soon as possible.”
“That’s my Susan. What exactly will the
“I’ll make a
small opening at the base of the skull, just large enough to
evacuate the clot. Afterwards, I’ll insert a catheter to drain
off excess fluid and help us monitor pressure. She’ll remain
sedated and in ICU until the swelling goes down, probably a day
“We’ll move her to a step-down unit. I don’t anticipate any
problems, and if her recovery is uneventful, it’s possible she
can go home in couple of days.”
“You make it sound so simple.”
Blue eyes smiled down at her. “I don’t suppose it’ll do any good
to tell you not to worry, but this is a fairly routine
procedure. The anesthesiologist is administering something to
relax Ms. Griffin. She’ll be coming this way shortly.”
Another set of doors opened, and A.K. followed the doctor’s gaze
to a bed being wheeled out of the emergency room.
“You’ll have time to give her a hug. I’ll see you when it’s
Before she could say anything, the doctor opened the door
beneath an exit sign and scooted up the stairs.
“But...I didn’t get your name.” Her sentence tailed off as he
disappeared. A.K. walked alongside the bed and squeezed Susan’s
arm. “How are you, sweetie?”
“Never felt better.” Susan slurred her words, obviously feeling
the effects of the medication.
“Doc said you’re going to be just fine.”
“Dang straight! And I’ll be right here when you wake up.”
Susan squinted. “Is it foggy in here?”
“You’re groggy from the medicine. Try and relax.”
A.K. tucked a strand of Susan’s silky blonde hair under her
surgical cap and gave her a kiss on the forehead.
Once again, Susan disappeared behind double doors.
* * * *
A.K. took a seat in the surgical waiting room and swallowed the
lump in her throat. She wasn’t alone. The room was crowded with
people, anxiously awaiting news of their loved ones. Some
propped against pillows, their clothes rumpled like their faces.
Those were the family members and friends who had spent the
night, obviously afraid they wouldn’t be there to say goodbye.
It was then that A.K. realized she hadn’t contacted Susan’s
family. She pulled her cell from her purse and located her
father’s number. No one answered. After thinking it through, she
decided to wait. All she could tell them right now was that she
hit her head and was in surgery. They were elderly and getting
such news might cause them to have a heart attack. Telling them
Susan had minor surgery and came through with flying colors
might be best. That is, if the doctor was right. If he was
wrong, he’d better have his insurance paid up.
Still unsure of her decision, she held the phone in her hand,
debating whether to call Susan’s parents or wait. The lady
behind the desk made the decision for her.
“Ms. Williams, if you’ll stand over there in the hall, the
doctor will be out shortly.”
Like an actor on stage, A.K. took her place. She stared at the
doors to the operating room like she had x-ray vision. A few
minutes later, the doctor came out with a smile on his lips.
“Everything went well, and she’s in ICU. Come on. I’ll let you
have a peek.”
She followed the doctor into the unit. The patient’s rooms
surrounded the nurse’s station like the spokes on a wheel.
“Here we are,” he said, pointing to one specific room.
A.K. hurried to Susan’s bedside. “Doc said you did great, and
you’re going to be out of here before you know it.”
Susan’s mouth twitched as if she was going to say something but
“She’s sedated,” he said.
“Looks to me like she’s agitated.”
“I got the impression she’s rather head strong.”
A.K. cringed. No telling what Susan had said under anesthesia.
While she was sweet as could be, Susan was a no-nonsense
business woman. If she was hallucinating about her shop, it was
anyone’s guess what she’d said.
“We’d better get out of the way and let the nurses do their
thing,” he said as a young woman in scrubs entered the room.
“Leave your number at the nurse’s station. If there’s any
change, someone will call you.”
“Better not be any change. You said she was going to be just
fine, and I’m going to hold you to that.”