BY: REBECCA MARKS
A year after retiring from the NYPD as a decorated detective, and helping to solve two grisly murders in her home town on Long Island’s north fork, Dana Cohen’s life has settled down. She is trying to decide what she wants to do, now that her Alzheimer’s-stricken father will be in the Island Breeze Nursing Home for the rest of his life. But when old ladies at the nursing home start dying suddenly, Dana is called into service once again to help solve the murders. Complicating the issue is the new male nurse, Alex, to whom Dana is strongly attracted. As their relationship heats up so do Dana’s suspicions that her new lover may be the killer.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Four Shots Neat by Rebecca Marks, we are reunited with Dana Cohen, the retired NYPD officer who moved home to Long Island when her dad got Alzheimer’s. This time, people are dying at the nursing home where her father lives. So she starts investigating. She also starts an affair with the new male nurse, a hunk named Alex. But Dana begins to suspect that he is the killer, since all the evidence points to him. But she’s fallen hard for him, and accusing him isn’t easy for her. Talk about a dilemma! Someone also seems to be stalking her and throws a rock through her window, nearly killing her dog. Not a good time for Dana.
The story is fun, tense, fast-paced, and well-written. The plot is strong and the characters well developed. A good read for a cozy afternoon with a cup of tea at your elbow.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Four Shots Neat by Rebecca Marks is the second installment of her Dana Cohen Mystery series. This time Dana is investigating a series of deaths at the nursing home where her father, who has dementia, is living. One of the dead women is even found in his bed. Dana knows that her father didn’t kill anyone, but she’s not so sure about Alex Frazier the new male nurse taking care of her father. Then she starts an affair with him. Oops! The more she investigates, the more she suspects Alex. But how do accuse the man you’re sleeping with of being a serial killer? And there are other suspects, the nursing home administrator, the three nurses who were on duty when all of the deaths occurred, some random psycho who gets a kick out of offing old people. Sure, lots of other suspects. But when disaster strikes, Dana is left with few options.
Four Shots Neat is a delightfully entertaining and thought-provoking read. It is not only an intriguing mystery, it also shines a spotlight on the terrible and heartbreaking illness of Alzheimer’s, a disease we know too little about.
“I don’t think this beach will ever seem the same, Charlie.”
I’m trying to get back into the habit of a daily run, partly because it’s good for me, and partly because I have to get over the aversion I have for the beach now. It’s still as beautiful as ever, the steps leading down from the house with their weathered, beachy feel–soggy when it’s hot and muggy out, and brittle, splintery, when it’s dry–the rocks glistening under the foam of high tide. But whenever I force myself to go, my eye wanders to the place where Charlie dug up the bloody shirt that sleaze Mac had buried to frame Pete, to the place where Milda’s body lay, her unborn baby dead but still bulging out of her middle, making her look like a tragi-comic, convex sand castle, to the place where Pete and I used to go and make love under that stunted tree. And then my mind wanders to the corn maze, the late great corn maze, where Mac had the body of that poor girl dumped. I get a chill, try to keep my mind on the dog, who is totally engrossed in his anticipation of the retrieving game he knows we’re about to play.
“Hi, Mrs. Cohen,” a teenage passerby says. I’ve never seen this kid before, but there were so many videos of us on the local TV news during the case, everyone recognizes me now, and they don’t care that I don’t want the publicity. This kid is running alongside me, getting much too close, but I can’t outrun him. I hate this attention, wish it would stop. “That was some murder case,” he says, grinning at me.
I push him off with my arm, not touching him, hoping he’ll go on his way and leave us alone. Charlie has bounded into the Sound now, his tawny fur already sopping wet and sticking in salty strands to his body, skinny and lanky like a wet rat and, as he goes in deeper, his ears poke up above the surface of the water like two little submarine periscopes. He turns his head toward me, which means he wants me to throw the stick I just picked up off the beach, a smooth, gray, curved piece of driftwood that looks like someone sliced it off a longhorn steer.
“How did you get them?” The kid isn’t giving up, and now he’s right in my face, and it’s annoying me.
“Look, I don’t want to talk about this, okay? Shove off and leave us alone, kid.”
The teenager stops in his tracks, puts his hands on his hips, and gives me a face that says he thinks I suck. I keep running, get as close as I can to the shoreline without getting my sneakers and socks wet, and heave the stick far into the water like a boomerang, where it plops with a splat on top of one of the gentle waves. Charlie’s entire body tenses, and he starts to paddle out toward it as fast as he can. He’s swimming against the tide, so he’s extending his front paws mightily toward the reward, and when he gets it, I can almost hear his body vibrating with the victory. I look back over my shoulder, and the kid is still standing there, holding a big stick, stabbing it into the wet sand. I don’t pay attention. Soon Charlie will swim back, and we’ll do it all over again.
I hate it when people remind me about the murders that changed this beach for me forever. I’d do anything not to have those images playing in my head again, but the only thing that dulls the memory is Scotch, and there’s no public drinking allowed on the beach. I’ll have a drink when I get back inside.
Charlie turns his big body around and paddles back, grinning. He gets out of the water, the driftwood protruding symmetrically from both sides of his mouth, and then, as if it’s required, he comes as close to me as he can without goring me with it, and shakes his fur furiously, which soaks me from the shoulders down to the shoes. I needn’t have worried about keeping my sneakers and socks dry.
“Good grief, Charles,” I say, “Why do I never learn? And thanks for sharing. It’s a big beach. Couldn’t you shake out over there?”
He cocks his head as if he’s trying to understand the weird human language, and then he drops the stick at my wet feet and looks up at me, his big, pink tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth, which is curled in an anticipatory grin.
I sigh, but I can’t stay mad at him. He is as pure of heart as he can be, and he never holds a grudge. “Okay, good boy, one more time. But we can’t stay here much longer. I have things to do.”
I fling the stick back into the Sound, and the game starts all over again. That dog would do it until he couldn’t move anymore.
I’ve got to get my act together and swing by the nursing home today. I didn’t go yesterday, and although Pop really doesn’t remember whether I’ve been there or not, I do remember, and I feel guilty when I miss a day. I’ll pry my soggy dog out of the Sound, trudge up the long staircase to the back deck, towel him off, remove my wet sneakers, put on some dry shoes, and drive over there. Maybe I’ll have lunch with Pop. He likes that.
He’s coming back with the stick, but somehow his swim has gone catty corner, and he ends up too far down the beach, but I don’t want to have to go traipsing after him. I don’t feel like bumping into any more people this afternoon, being stared at like some kind of sideshow act. But the dog realizes his mistake and finds me without any problem, and I race him to the stairs, another thing he loves to do. “Drop the stick, silly. We don’t want that dirty thing in the house.” He obeys my request and rushes toward the bottom of the wooden staircase, where he starts up the 89 steps, always twice as fast as I go.
Halfway up, my phone beeps with a text, and I pull it out of my soaking jeans pocket, hoping the salt water didn’t destroy it. Hey Dana, u coming over here this morning? It’s from Marilyn, who has been holding down the fort at the winery since everything calmed down. I give her a lot of credit, although I know she needs the work. But she’s good at it, and one of the things that bothers me most about selling the place is worrying about whether new owners will keep Marilyn. After the murder, I was going over there every day. Marilyn always opened the showroom early, and she couldn’t stand being there alone, at least until the other employees came in, but I’ve been going less and less now that she’s gotten over the trauma a little. The local police have been great too, stopping by regularly just to check in on her and on the place. During all the commotion, it was as if this whole town was vibrating with fear, horror, and paranoia. But things do settle down–and they have–and the memory fades. I just haven’t made up my mind about anything yet. Business isn’t quite what it used to be, but it’s getting back to normal.
Hi u got prob? I use it as an excuse to stop halfway up the stairs. I was never this out of shape when I was on the job. When you’re a cop in the city, you have to be able to run down teenage perps. Now I’m getting soft. Charlie is standing up on the deck looking down, his fur disgorging itself of Sound water on the top step, where the drops glisten on the wood from the morning sun and threaten to freeze. I don’t wait for an answer, but I keep my phone out. I figure everything is fine, she’s just lonely. Monday is a slow day.
No u said ud come. Miss u.
Now I feel guilty about both my father and my friend, but Pop is first priority. I text her back. Sorry, gotta go see Pop. Didn’t go yesterday.
Yeah, I get that. I know she means it. She loves Pop too. And I know Marilyn isn’t in touch with any of her family. I don’t even know much about them. So Pop was always her substitute father.
I text her one more time. I’ll be in later, ok?
K. See u. Give Sam my <3.
At the top of the stairs, I look for a towel or something to wipe the dog‘s sandy feet. Unfortunately, I always think of this only when he’s standing on the deck dripping wet and dragging a trail of dirt behind him. Nothing to wipe him with here.
“Okay, wet stinky dog, I guess we’ll have a puddle of dirty water in the house again.”
I open the door, and he bounds in, shaking, looking like he’s about to jump up on the couch so he can see out the window better.
“No!” But that word is suddenly unintelligible to the dog, who is now ensconced on the sofa, his back legs splayed out and his front legs hanging over the edge, oozing sand and salt water in a rectangular pattern on the cushions.
I remove my sneakers and socks, which stick to my wet skin as I try to unlace and pull them off. I don’t feel like taking the time for another shower, so I throw on my boots and a sweater, put on my coat, and head for Island Breeze Rehabilitation Center. I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out what to do with Sound View, what to do about Pete, whether to try to make a go of the marriage again, missing him, at least missing the good parts of him. As I pull up to the nursing home, there’s a hearse parked at the entrance. Someone died. I hope it’s not one of Pop’s buddies, although he probably wouldn’t remember.
“Good afternoon Ms. Cohen, chilly out, huh?” The perky receptionist is actually kind of nice. I take time to smile at her and stop at her counter.
“What’s up with the hearse?”
“Oh, a lady died today. Very sudden,” she says.
“Anyone I know?”
“Not sure. But she wasn’t sick, just the Alzheimer’s, seemed fine early, but then they found her in her room, dead, just like that. Seemed like natural causes, but still strange.”
“Well, I guess that’s going to happen in a nursing home.”
She shrugs. “Just kind of weird that it was so sudden. I shouldn’t really be talking about it.” She puts her hand over her mouth.
“Don’t worry, I won’t mention that you said anything. I was just hoping it wasn’t one of my father’s friends.”
“Not sure, but I think her room was at the other end of the long hall. I never really saw them together.”
“Okay, thanks.” I head to Pop’s room, and in fact, there’s nothing happening on his end of the hall. He’s in there, dozing the way he often does these days, looking like he hasn’t had a shave in days.
“Hi, Poppa,” I put a hand on his shoulder and give it a little pat. “You taking a nap?”
“Dana?” Pop doesn’t even open his eyes, really, but it feels good that he knows me today. These days it’s touch and go whether he recognizes me or thinks I’m just another person in his room.
“Yeah, it’s me, Pop. How are you feeling?” I sit down on the bed next to him.
“A little tired.”
Before I can suggest a stroll down the hall, in walks a guy I’ve never seen before. I take a couple of seconds to use my cop’s intuition to check him out. Tall, very tall, probably six-three at least, a long torso and broad shoulders, slim waist, and arms that look muscular under the blue scrubs, brown hair, lots of it, hair that looks like it would be fun to put my fingers through, face lined but not in an unattractive way, not really handsome like Pete, but rugged looking, could be a cowboy’s face, the kind of face that looks like he’s been through some stuff, crooked nose as if it might have been broken. The guy is smiling, and he has the kind of crow’s feet in the corners of his eyes that tell me he laughs a lot, which I find very appealing. Early to mid-forties by my best guess, and by the little bit of gray around the temples. The face tells me I might like to get to know him better, and he’s smiling right at me, not at Pop. I smile back. His eyes are magnetic, but I pull mine away and notice the stethoscope around his neck, so he’s some sort of medical professional, but no white coat, so likely not a doctor.
The tall man walks right over to the other side of Pop’s bed and picks up Pop’s hand, almost caresses it, talks so softly to Pop I have trouble making out the words. And amazingly, Pop doesn’t fight him off. I’ve never seen Pop hold hands with another man before. Then, “Who is this, Mr. Cohen? Is this your daughter?” He looks me straight in the eye and smiles again. His gaze is so intense it makes me a little uncomfortable.
“I’m Dana Cohen. I don’t think we’ve met, Mr…”
I reach my hand out to him. He grabs it and squeezes it, never letting go of Pop. He holds my hand a little too long, but I don’t pull away. There’s something electric in this guy’s touch, whether I want to admit it or not. He smiles, not a broad smile, but a small one, one that says it’s okay. I get a glimpse of very white, very straight teeth.
“I’m Alex. Alex Frasier. I’m his nurse.”
“I don’t think I ever saw you here before.”
“No, I’m new. Only been here a few weeks, and for now I’m a floater. They stick me in shifts when someone’s out, you know? But it will settle down, as soon as they’re sure of me. Mr. Cohen and I get along great. So I try to get assigned to him. Right, Sam?” He pats Pop’s hand. “He’s a terrific guy.”
“He was,” I say.
“He’s still here,” Alex says, frowning, and I feel scolded.
“I know. So what’s going on?” I point out the window toward the parking lot. Looks like some activity around the hearse now.
“Oh, we had a death. It happens in a place like this.”
“Still kind of sad.”
“True. It was quite sudden.”
Alex turns his attention back to Pop. “So, Mr. Cohen, if you don’t need anything right now, I’ll leave you to have a nice visit with your daughter.”
Pop doesn’t respond.
“I’ll let you know if he needs anything,” I say.
“Good,” he says. “You come often?”
“I try to visit him every day.”
“I hope to see you again,” Alex says, leaving the bedside.
He reaches over the bed and picks up my free hand, but it’s not like a handshake. The electricity is there again. I’m not sure what just happened, but it was definitely something. Then he walks out of the room whistling. Interesting man. Pop is in and out of dozing off, and I don’t even try to get him out of bed. He looks like he could use the rest. I leave after a half hour or so and head for the winery.
Marilyn is so happy to see me, she rushes out and gives me a big hug. “I didn’t think you were coming.”
“I told you I was.”
“So, how’s Sam?”
“Well, he’s like he always is.” I sigh. “He has a new nurse.”
“Yeah? Does he like her?”
“No. He likes him.”
“The nurse is a guy?”
“Is he gay?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so. I didn’t get any vibes like that.”
“Oh, okay,” she says.
“He’s cute, though. But you never know.” I spend the rest of the day helping out at Sound View. Marilyn is happy to have me there, and it’s good to be there, away from the nursing home, away from my worries. I’ll be back to visit Pop again tomorrow, but for now, the mindless work of sorting and shelving wines and straightening up the winery is soothing.
The next day, it’s nice out, crisp with the beginning of winter on its way, no leaves left on the trees. It’ll be snowing soon. I leave early to visit Pop, and I’m glad I wore my coat. I hope I bump into Alex again today, and I don’t have to wait. When I walk into Pop’s room, Pop is sitting on his bed with his legs dangling over the side, and Alex is standing behind him, giving him a back rub.
“Hello, Ms. Cohen, how are you today?” Alex is cheerful, and Pop looks content. I can tell he’s enjoying the back rub. He smiles at me, not necessarily with recognition, but it’s nice to see him smiling.
“That would be Detective Cohen.” I’m not sure why I said that, but this guy makes me feel a little uncomfortable, like he’s looking right through me.
Alex laughs, kind of a strangled laugh, and he looks down at me from his full height, which makes me feel small. He winks, and those laugh lines appear at the corners of his eyes. “Detective Cohen it is.”
“No, seriously, please call me Dana.” I feel a little embarrassed again. This is not a cop, he’s my father’s nurse, and I don’t want to jeopardize Pop’s treatment. “That was just dumb on my part.”
“No, really, I understand,” he says. “I think we have the inverse situation here, you know? You have to watch out for your respect because some guys don’t want to give it to a fellow police officer if she’s a beautiful woman, and I am a nurse, and half the world thinks I’m gay.”
He kind of threw away the compliment, but I feel myself blushing. Also, what he said makes me laugh, because it was the first thing Marilyn asked when I told her about Alex. “So, are you?” I stifle a giggle. I get no gaydar from this man, and I’m usually good at gaydar, but it’s not always obvious. He’s very attractive, and I’m pretty sure he’s been flirting with me since the moment I met him, which was only a day ago.
Alex keeps looking at me but continues to massage Pop’s back. “Why? You interested?” And then he winks again.
“Just trying to get to know you better, that’s all,” I say, happy I didn’t stammer. “Looks like you’re spending some quality time with my father.”
The thing is, I am interested, and I haven’t felt interested in a new man for a long time, but if he’s gay I don’t want to waste my time.
Alex smiles, showing all his teeth, and then he reaches toward me, puts a hand on my shoulder, gives a little squeeze, and doesn’t say a word. So, I think I have my answer, although I already suspected it. Then he gets serious. “We had another death here overnight.”
“Yeah, same business. A woman, looked like she died in her sleep. She had dementia too but she wasn’t sick, wasn’t under doctor’s care. Just gone.” He snaps his fingers.
“That’s too bad. But to be expected in a place like this, no?”
He shrugs. “So, you want to grab a cup of coffee sometime?”
“You work fast, Nurse Frasier.”
“Look around you, Detective Cohen. Life’s short,” he says, helping Pop swing his legs back onto the bed and propping up his pillows.
The police radio is always crackling in the background. I hardly notice it anymore, but I know Pop can’t even sleep without it.
“My father has been doing okay?”
“Yup, he’s great. Aren’t you, Mr. Cohen?”
Pop smiles. “This is my nurse,” he says, pointing at Alex and looking straight at me. “Are you my nurse too?”
“Yup, I am,” I say.
“Did you tell your daughter about your girlfriend, Mr. Cohen?”
“Girlfriend?” My smile goes away, and I feel my face contort into a frown. “You have a girlfriend?”
Pop doesn’t say a word, and, as is often the case these days, he seems to be staring out into space, focusing on nothing.
“I thought you knew,” Alex says quickly. “He has been spending a lot of time with one of the women here, Mrs. Luger. Do you know her?”
I’m not sure why, but this information makes me feel a little angry. “I don’t think I’ve met her.” I pause. “They allow that?”
“It’s nice to see these folks happy, Ms…uh…Dana. Do you have a problem with it?”
“I don’t know, it’s just kind of a shock. It makes me feel bad for my mother.”
“Passed away, years ago.”
Alex shrugs. “I can’t see the harm in it. They both smile a lot when they’re together.”
“I’ll try to get my brain around it,” I say, but it’s not easy. I feel jealous for Mom, even though I know that seems ridiculous.
“Okay, Mr. Cohen, I have to go and take care of some of the other residents. I’ll be back to see you soon.” He gives Pop a final pat on the shoulder and puts a magazine on the bed in front of him. “So, one of these days let’s go get that coffee, okay?” He walks out of the room, looking back at me. He didn’t touch me today, but part of me wishes he had. There’s something about this man.
© 2016 by Rebecca Marks