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One Dead Under the Cuckoo's Nest

One Dead Under the Cuckoo's Nest

“This won’t hurt.”

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

My second best friend and roommate, (Mile’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 in his 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, and allowed myself my usual internal moan at Daddy’s pet name for me. He had called me the enduring Polish term (which was a big fat round, often prune-filled Polish donut pronounced more like “paunchki”) since my birth, weighing 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, aka Mother, blew out a breath and said, “Really, Pauline Sokol. You are making a mountain out of a mole’s hill. 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 shear white ones each 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 “very little 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 parent’s house, which, by the way was straight out of a “Leave It to Beaver” television set--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 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 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 see my family and wondered if Aunt Flo had been the only one with “those” genes. Daddy was licking cake frosting off his finger before my mother 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 ‘50s. 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’ uncle since Miles had been adopted into the Scarpello family) would call me.

Hey, I finished two cases and didn’t get killed once.

But, Nick had become a bit more than a peer. We’d recently started dating. Dating. A term I’d almost forgotten the meaning of. 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. As some might find him nice looking, dressed impeccably in camelhair, suede or expensive linen anything, as he was, I never got detonation--only a few shimmers. Nick was a doll and treated me as such though.

Still, across the table, and at the invitation of my mother, sat...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.

His attention caught mine. Our gazes 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 me 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 managed to have my pretty damn high IQ take 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.”

Selected Works-Click on red title for excerpt

Humorous mystery
The Pauline Sokol Mystery Series Book #1
The first book in The Pauline Sokol Mysteries, A Dose of Murder, is a wonderful medical-world story enlivened by an exceptionally fun and sassy voice. In it, a burned out registered nurse becomes a medical insurance fraud investigator only to be yanked back into the nursing field by an experienced hunk of an investigator who she just can’t say no to--until she stumbles upon two dead bodies.
The Pauline Sokol Mystery Series Book #2
Pauline Sokol, ex-RN turned medical insurance fraud investigator finds herself embroiled in a scam of senior citizens...and Viagra fraud. If that isn’t bad enough, one of the old geezers has fallen for her...and two have mysteriously departed from this world.
The Pauline Sokol Mystery Series Book #3
Ex-RN Pauline Sokol finds herself confined against her will in a psychiatric hospital when she goes undercover to investigate fraudulent brokers who match patients with treatment facilities--for a bounty as high as $4000.00 a head. A master plan of escape ensues when “doctor” Jagger shows up...until the broker is found dead.
The Pauline Sokol Mystery Series Book #4
Blurb: Sailing over the bounty seas is not the ideal case for ex-RN Pauline Sokol who has never been out of New England. But when her sleazy boss, Fabio Scarpello, offers her the chance to work a case on The Golden Dolphin--sailing through the Bermuda Triangle is the least of her problems. Murder, mayhem and a missing nurse take center stage while Pauline is trapped on the ship, her roommate murdered, and Pauline’s name is next on the list.
The Pauline Sokol Mystery Series Book #5
For her latest case, Pauline Sokol is assigned to investigate plastic surgery fraud in swanky Newport, Rhode Island. To get inside the exclusive “spa”, she must go undercover as a private duty nurse. Now all she needs is a suitable well-heeled patient. Luckily, her best friend and colorful co-worker Goldie fits the bill (and the high heels), and he selflessly volunteers for a nose job. Once she’s infiltrated this surgical playground for the rich and spoiled, Pauline discovers that someone in the practice is scamming the insurance companies. More than a few of these jet setters have become addicted to plastic surgery and many of the women’s husbands have refused to pay for any more elective “changes.” So someone is making up diagnoses so the (inflated) costs are covered without anyone being the wiser. A “nose job” has now become a “repair of a deviated septum for better breathing.” But a simple case of semantics soon turns deadly when a male secretary’s body is found floating fifty feet below the jagged ocean cliff. As she struggles to keep herself out of danger, Pauline can’t believe her non-altered eyes when the enigmatic Jagger shows up to at the B&B where she’s staying. But even her hunky cohort can’t keep her safe when a simple case of going under the knife is anything but cut and dried.