Excerpt from: “On Call for Murder” by Paula Bernstein
|Photo by Sheri Fried
I woke to the alarm at six o’clock, still exhausted. I pried open my eyes and splashed my face with ice cold water, dreading my return to the hospital.
When I got to the ICU, it was clear that Nina was worse. It broke my heart to look at her. She was in a coma and unresponsive to all but the most painful stimuli.
“Pardon me, are you Dr. Kline?” I turned to see a stocky young man with Slavic features and thinning sandy hair.
“I’m Alexander Markovic, Nina’s boyfriend. Can you tell me how she’s doing?”
“Not well, I’m afraid, Mr. Markovic. We’re doing all we can.”
“That bastard,” he hissed under his breath. “May I see her?”
“She’s in room five,” I told him. When he emerged his eyes were damp and his fists clenched.
“Dr. Avery hasn’t come in yet this morning.”
“Give him a message. Tell him that if she dies, I’ll kill him.” His voice quivered, and his eyes were moist. He walked out before I could see him cry.
I stared after him, shaken, wondering if I should repeat his threat. I couldn’t believe he would act on it.
I began reviewing the chart again, not that I expected to learn anything new. There had been something on my mind all morning, just out of reach, and as I skimmed through yesterdays’ labs, I caught it.
|Photo by Uri Bernstein
The Rochelle Staab Questions asked of Paula Bernstein
What is the weirdest thing that ever happened to you in Los Angeles?
I’m not sure I’d use the word “weird” but the scariest thing that happened to me in Los Angeles occurred the day after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. I was in the operating room performing a caesarian section. I’d just delivered the baby and was about to sew up the bleeding uterine incision when there was a huge aftershock and all the lights went out. I stood there in the pitch dark, trying to figure out how to get the bleeding under control and wondering how long it would take the hospital generator to kick in.
Do you have a yet-to-be realized L.A. dream?
I dream that someone will invent a Star Trek transporter device that will make it possible to get from Brentwood to Pasadena in five minutes instead of in an hour of stop and go traffic.
Why write short stories? Why write at all? What’s in it for you?
I write both short stories and novels. Writing is the way I exercise my right brain and explore my creative side. I write for fun and for pleasure. It’s been my avocation during all my professional years as a left brained physician, and since my retirement, it has surprisingly become my third career.
What is the biggest challenge in writing to theme?
For me it is making sure I do my homework and get all the facts correct. The medical part comes naturally but for anything out of my field I consult experts.
Are the characters in your story based on you or people you know/met?
The answer to that is yes and no. My main character Hannah Kline is an obstetrician practicing in Los Angeles, just like me. Hannah shares my opinions and has my sense of humor but her life is totally different. She is a young widow with a four year old daughter, and over the course of the books she develops a romantic relationship with a hunky LAPD detective. I’ve been happily married for almost 50 years to a lovely man who would probably disapprove of my having a romantic attachment to a good looking cop. Hannah’s love interest is completely fictional and many of the minor characters are as well. Occasionally I am inspired to create a character by someone I know or see for whom I can make up a totally fictional life story.
Los Angeles is a patchwork quilt of different neighborhoods. Why did you pick the area you used for your story, and how did the neighborhood influence your writing?
It is easiest to write authentically about what you know. My characters live and work on the west side of town, everyplace from West Hollywood to Santa Monica. That’s my ‘hood and I can describe it well.
Are there scenes in your story based on real life—yours, hearsay, or a news story you read?
All of the medicine in my story comes from my years of experience. I often fictionalize patient medical cases that were particularly interesting or dramatic.
What came first, the character or the plot?
In my first novel, Murder in the Family, the plot came first. I wanted to tell a fictionalized version of a close friend’s real murder that had affected me deeply. I invented the characters who eventually became Hannah and Daniel in order to tell that story. Writing the novel was my therapy and my way of coping with grief. However, after the first book, the characters took priority. Before deciding who got murdered, and in what world I wanted to set my next novel, I always asked myself what needed to happen to Hannah and Daniel’s relationship in that book.
While you’re writing: music (what kind?), dead silence, or…?
Dead silence or I can’t concentrate.
Favorite writing quote—yours or from someone else…
My favorite quote comes from a cartoon sent to me by a fellow author. There is a dog, seated at a computer terminal. The caption is Sit, Stay.
Your writing ritual begins with…
Two lattes and the LA Times.
About Dr. Paula Bernstein
Dr Paula Bernstein is enjoying her third career as a mystery writer. She began as an inorganic chemist with a Caltech PhD, switched gears, went to medical school, and spent the next thirty years as an actively practicing obstetrician and gynecologist in Los Angeles. She is the author of Murder in the Family, Lethal Injection, Private School, The Goldilocks Planet, and Potpourri. Her short story, “On Call for Murder,” a prequel to the Hannah Kline series, was recently published in the Sisters in Crime/LA’s 2017 Anthology LAst Resort. Her newest Hannah Kline novel, In Vitro, was published in July 2017.