Changing just one tiny thing….

physics orb

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to see “Constellations”, a play about “what if’s” and choices.  Physics was in there too, but only, to me anyway, as a way to remind us that there is an order in everyday life, even when we don’t see it. The two characters, Bernard and Marianne, were portrayed in a variety of situations, each one determining the next steps in their lives. Some brought them back together, others kept them apart, but each choice made led to another scenario, good or bad.

We all make choices, right? Even when we don’t realize we’re making them. That is one of the points of the drama; the other (in my opinion) being the fact that we affect others’ lives by our actions. Scary, don’t you think?  Life is a formula in which one variant can create other possibilities. Adding or subtracting an element from any equation changes the equation. Physics. Even making no choice at all becomes a choice.

Making choices isn’t always easy, and sometimes the easy choice isn’t the right choice. The hard decisions always make us wonder if we really need to make them.  We do. In everyday life we have to choose the best for ourselves, but we also need to see how it relates to the people in our lives. And whether we need to ask them to journey with us or leave them behind…for whatever reason.

Wow.

Putting this all on paper makes it seem scary. Run into a corner, hide, and don’t ever decide a thing….help! But it’s worse not to decide than to choose a course of action. The trick is taking that split second to think about the result. We all do that most of the time. Usually we choose well, but in those times we don’t, it’s important to realize that we can make changes. Not easy ones sometimes, but changes nevertheless. That realization is what keeps us hopeful and human.

Speaking of changes (and a decision Mae makes), Mae and her crew are trying to figure out how to bring down the traffickers without jeopardizing her, Drummond, or Begonia. And Mae’s idea is definitely a surprise to the men.

Mae

I won’t make you sit through my conversations with Sylvain once I had seen Drummond peacefully asleep and surrounded by the aromas of lavender and other soothing botanicals. Let’s just say he was more than skeptical until he’d placed a call to our mutual friend up North and had gotten the curriculum vitae of one Marcus Banning. From diapers to detective no less. I spent the time shoving Mae Fitzgerald into the closet for the night and reclaiming me slippers and sweater before making a pot of Earl Grey. Hyssop and lavender are fine in their place, but the McEwan teapot wasn’t meant for anything finer than the real thing. The leaves were quietly steeping their required five minutes when Sylvain ended his talk with Morales and shook his head.

“Why did I think this would be easy?”  The grin on his face belied the seriousness of the question. “I should know better by now. Enough tea for two?” He parked himself at the table and stretched his long legs underneath.

“Almost ready.” I checked the timer and picked up the tea strainer. On cue, the timer buzzed and I positioned the strainer over the nearest mug. “I’ll be makin’ a second pot in a few anyway,” I said as I poured the fragrant brew and handed it to Sylvain.  He took a moment to savor the aroma before blowing the steam away.

“One cup is all I need, Mae. Unless…. Banning is paying us a visit, isn’t he? You didn’t mention that in our discussion.”

“Discussion? More like a “you go off half-cocked and trust a complete stranger” rant. I met Marcus a long time ago on one of me and Drum’s first stays in Charles City. Once I got his voice in me head, I knew who he was. And I told him so. Morales had already given him your name in case he needed help so you’ d most likely have met him anyway.”

“Fine. But you take a lot of chances with some pretty strange people.”

“Like you? And….Raimundo? And your cousin?”

“Not quite, Mae. Alex Morales vetted me before we’d known each other ten minutes. You know what I mean.”

“ I do, but that works both way. You didn’t quite trust my judgement on Marcus until you “doublevetted” him. If you want me to trust you, you need to trust me. I’ve been through a lot in my travels, so I don’t take anything at face value.” I poured me own cuppa and swirled it a bit to settle the errant leaves. “And before you say something like ‘but this time it concerns Drum’, let me tell you that it always concerns him in one way or another. And maybe I can be hotheaded, but…”

“You always have someone to talk you down, right?” Sylvain’s tone indicated he didn’t quite believe that. “Like Alex or me.”

“Not always, but often enough. Or I’d be somewhere not as pleasant as here sipping tea.”

 

It was almost nine before we heard a light tap on the loft door.  I signaled to Sylvain to stay put and walked over to answer it.  Just as I opened the door, my visitor was propelled into the room by a tackle from behind. From my perspective, all I could see was one hooded body over another. I felt Sylvain push me aside as he rushed to the doorway.

“Sylvain!”

“Step back Mae. Let me untangle this.”

I watched as Sylvain tugged at the sweatshirt of the figure on top, almost like a momma cat snatching her kitten by his scruff.

“Alphonse! What the hell are you doing?”

“You know him?”

“I do. And so do you. Remember your first adventure? When we met at my warehouse?”

I nodded, although I couldna’ see what that had to do with this. “Aye, but…”

“Alphonse is one of my ‘men’…to use the term loosely.” He pished back the hoodie and turned him not too gently in my direction. “Who told you to attack this man? Answer me now, boy,” he added as the young un’ shook his head. “I don’t want to have to…”

“A minute, Sylvain,” I said. “Sit him down over there. I’ll watch him. You tend to Doctor B…if that’s who it is. Then we’ll sort things out.”  I saw the relief in Alphone’s face as Sylvain guided him to the closest chair. My friend however looked none to pleased with me.

“Check on our guest, please. I’ll get some tea ready. Alphonse can help me.” The surprised looks both faces gave me a chuckle. I got out the tea jar and proceeded to instruct our younger visitor in the art of Scottish tea. Behind me I heard a grunt as Dr. B managed to get up, not without a scuffle.

“It’s fine, I’m fine,” he protested as Sylvain ushered him firmly to a second chair. “Just need to….that’s what hit me?” He stared at Alphonse. “You have guards? Or is he a random street punk?”

“He’s worked for me on occasion,” Sylvain said. “Although this is not one of them. Now, Alphonse. Why are you here and why did you throw yourself on this gentleman?”

“Mr Ray said I should…the lady could be in…” he looked at me. “Got told to watch your crib, Miss Mae. Anyone I didn’t know I should track inside. Make sure they wasn’t doin’ nothin’ bad. To you or the place.”

“And how were you spposed to know that?” Sylvain moved closer to Alphonse, who seemed to shrink in  the chair.

“Mr Ray said…and I thought…He…looked like he was… I’m sorry, Mr Sylvain. Just did what I thought I should.” He tried to stand but Sylvain pushed him back into the chair. “Can’t I go now?”

“You owe some apologies first, I think. To all of us.”

“I…I’m sorry for all the trouble, sir, Miss Mae. I was only doing the thing I was asked to.”

“I believe you,” I said quickly. I’d seen the glint in Sylvain’s eye that signaled he wanted more. “Now you’re welcome to stay and have tea until you calm yourself down, but…”

“No ma’am, thank you kindly ma’am. I’d best be goin’ back now.  Ferrin was comin’ to relieve me. I need to tell him to stay back. And not be so…”

“Reckless.  While I think Mr. Ray had a good idea, remind him he needs to let me know his plan,” Sylvain replied. “He’s not to make choices for us. If we’re to succeed here, we need to be on the same page.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll tell him.” Alphonse rose again, this time making it to his feet. “Should I tell Ferrin to just go home then?”

“It’s all right, son.” Again I spoke before Sylvain could.  I looked at him and Dr. B. “Maybe we need Ray in here. He seems to know something we’ve missed.”

“If this is big enough for the…um…police to wonder about it….”Dr, B. added, “maybe your friend was right to suspect danger.”

Sylvain stood silent for a moment, then spoke softly to Alphonse so neither Dr. B or I could hear the words. Alphonse nodded and with a smile for me he turned and went outside, shutting the door behind him.

“Ray should be here in a bit,” Sylvain said to our unasked question. “He may be a bit impetuous but he doesn’t act without his own reasons. We need to know his thoughts on why he chose to post my boys on guard here. So far I didn’t think there was a problem.”

“If there is, we have choices to make,” Dr. B said. “I’ve got people I can call, but the agency wants to keep a low profile. That’s one of the reasons I was glad…yes…glad,” he paused at my surprise. “I was glad Mae decided to get involved. Morales had just found out from her that Drum was ill and passed that on to me.”

“But you told me that the men who snatched Drum were no…”

“They weren’t, but the van was Begonia’s….when I saw the man inside and asked his name, I figured we could make him comfortable until you came looking for him. Remember,” he grinned,”this isn’t our first go-round. Now while we wait, some tea and talk would suit me fine.”

 

By thr time Ray appeared at my door, Dr. B had filled Sylvain in on all the details he was free to share (and some he wasn’t if truth be told) as well as the timeframe he’d been alloted by his bosses to “end this mess” as he put it. After some hurried introductions, Ray settled in the remaining chair and looked at me.
“You do have a knack for landing in the middle, don’t you Miss Mae.” He turned his attention to Sylvain. “I was holding out hope you’d never have to know about Alphonse and Ferrin, Syl.”

“You should have kept me in the loop, Ray.” Sylvain’s voice held no accusation; rather an unasked question.  “I could have seriously damaged Alphonse. And his brothers could have seriously damaged me.” He lightened his words with a smile. “So why the need for guards? This place isn’t in any more danger than the rest of the waterfront.”

“If Miss Mae will make me a cup of her fine tea, I will tell you as much as I know.”  Once the cup was in his hand, he took a long sip and looked at Dr. B. “When Miss Mae here decided to get involved, she sounded a bell or two. My money is on the nurse…maybe even the medico…at the Free Clinic, although you did talk to others on that street. No, wait,” he said as Sylvain started to interrupt, “like anything else, evil draws people in who need something. In this case I’d said money is the fuel.  I did some digging on my own once Mae got into character…the personnel at the clinic are paid, just barely. The medicine? Comes from donations. And you know nothing in the Crescent City comes without a bit of graft attached  Since Katrina, there are more have nots than  haves, and help comes with a price.”

“Lots of honest people in this city, Ray. You can’t tar them with the same brush. They do what they can, even if they can’t do much.” Sylvain countered.

“I’m not saying you’re wrong. What I am saying is that money means a lot those those who don’t have it, and giving away some names over the telephone don’t seem harmful.” Ray waited for a reaction but got none. “At the same time, I’m not sure they don’t know exactly what they are doing and just don’t care. Or are too scared to stop.”

“Let me talk to that nurse. I’ll get some answers.” Cold anger came through Sylvain’s statement.

“And then what?” Dr. B broke the silence. “One person is a drop in the bucket. We take her off the counter and they put someone else there. We could spend all out time on the small fish and let the sharks get away. That’s why I’m at Begonia. Sooner or later…”

“Sooner or later isn’t good enough.” I finally put me tuppence in. “If I hadn’t taken Drummond in and then left him, you…” I looked at Sylvain and Ray, “you wouldn’t have even known this shite was goin’ on. “And I agree with Marc….Dr. B here. “To stop this, we need to set a trap for shark, not minnows. And tippin’ our hand early is not an option.”

We sat in silence, digesting our words along with the tea.

“So,” I said after setting yet another pot of tea to steep. “None of this gets Drummond and me out of the Quarter and back up North. All I can see is that we use someone as bait…NOT me brother…and let them get taken to the first station on the road to organ trafficking. Follow the van, or car, or whatever, and find out where the old ones are left off.”

“Then what? We can’t set up a sting until…” Dr B said. “We won’t know where until it’s too late.”

“I agree Mae. Ray and Dr. B can’t just trail after and…”

“Look, Sylvain, I’m thinking we can use Begonia as…” protests from my three cohorts came in a roar. “Let me finish. Drummond was left in the van when his abductors panicked. So, if we put it about that the head honcho at Begonia is curious as to why we could get some feedback.”

“No. And no.  My agency promised the owners of Begonia that we would do nothing other than act as watchdogs and guard their reputation.  I can’t risk anything negative being associated with the clinic. These folks believe in what they do. No.”

“Look Doc,” Ray said, “if we can pull this off without it becoming public knowledge…Mae?”

“Let me ponder on this. I’m thinkin’ it has to be a special person who gets lifted. No, not me…I’m already inside. And Drum getting taken again is not good either.  And maybe it doesn’t have to be an old one,  just someone who looks down on their luck and sickly. No one local either. The bad guys have their sources, and we can’t risk them tumbling onto a….”

“Ringer?” Sylvain finished. “Frankly cher I think you’re giving them too much credit, but I would rather err on the side of caution. IF we’re doing this. Ray? Doc?”

“I’d hate to be inside that devious brain of yours, Mae. I think you already have someone in mind.”  Dr B winked at me. “But I need to speak with the owners at Begonia. Offer to protect their standing here.”

Mon dieu “You can’t be serious. He would never…”

“Call him and ask,” Dr B said. “If he says no, then we find someone else. My gut says he won’t turn us down. Not when it’s for her.”

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Slogging thru the Bog…er…Blog

To say the last few months have been interesting would be vague, but somehow detailing every little sneeze, sniffle, torn meniscus, and other woes seems downright boring. However, it’s probably best to say that 2015 has melted into 2016 without so much as a blink. Well, there was the ambulance ride to the local hospital. Unnecessary in my view but interesting if only because I’d never been in one before. And my two days in residence were not horrible. Good care and good food.  We all love to complain about things like that, especially when out of our control, but truth be told, I chalk it up to positive.

None of that really excuses my lack of writing progress, but it does make me realize how easily we get distracted by daily life. Wake up in the morning with a great and witty idea and write it down or by noon it disappears into the chores of the day.  I procrastinate, thinking that I’ll “write once I get (chore or phone call or whatever) done.” Hah.

So. No New Year’s resolutions here, just the decision to put my bad habits on notice and try to do better.  I did move Mae along a little. She nagged ne until I got her in the same place as her  brother. That woman is relentless….  March is here, and so is Mae.

 

 

Mae

 

I have to give that woman credit. Without missing a beat, she looked me up and down, shook my outstretched hand and smiled as if this happened every day. Or perhaps she wanted me to think it did.

“I’m not sure we are hiring, Miss….”

“Fitzgerald. Mae Fitzgerald. And…it’s Missus,” I added. “Widowed, you see.” I gave her me best smile and shrugged. “No extra money after all the medical costs, so I’m after a job to keep body and soul together. I saw your sign and…” I wavered just a bit as I stood there clasping her hand.

“Please sit down, Mrs. Fitzgerald. Let me get you some iced tea to cool you.”

“Oh no dear,” I protested, “I do not drink anything with caffeine in it. It’s the devil’s own drug. Water will be fine, thank you.” I sank back into the surprisingly comfortable chair. “And please call me Mae.”

“Well…Mae, my name is Camille and you don’t have to worry about any caffeine or artificial substances. We only brew our home blend of herbs and florals. It’s one of Begonia’s Heritage beverages. Let me get you a glass.”  She hurried past the desk and disappeared down a narrow hallway. I took the opportunity to examine my surroundings.  Pastel colors and lighting created a sense of relaxation for the visitor. Nicely done, I thought as I took in the bucolic landscapes and floral arrangements in the reception area. Several pamphlets rested on the small tab le next to me, each bearing the Begonia logo and address. So far nothing made me uneasy, but I had long ago learned that taking anything at face value was usually not the wise thing to do. So, I crossed my ankles and waited for my tea.

“And how was that, ma’am?” Camille had handed me a cool glass of ice and amber liquid and watched me take a long drink. Not that there seemed much for her to do but that.

“Not what I expected,” I admitted before I took another sip. The tea was mild, rather earthy in taste but not totally unpleasant.  “What herbs do you use?”

“I’m afraid that has to remain a Begonia secret,” she replied with a smile. “We pride ourselves on using unique mixtures for different tonics and oils.”

“I only ask because I have an affinity for natural plants and flowers. And homeopathy. I was hoping you might need someone familiar with botanicals and barks to assist you here. Are you hiring?” Cut to the chase I reminded myself.

“I would need to check with our chief physician,” Camille said. “He tends to most of our clients himself. Our treatments are formulated in house of course, and…”

“My dear, I can give you my credentials if you like. I practiced in several cities in Scotland as a nursing sister. Although I have not worked in this area I did help in a small holistic clinic in Pennsylvania for a short time. It was time for me to move on…as I told you I am a poor widow…”I let my voice trail.  Better to say a wee bit and allow Sylvain and Ray’s work to do the convincing. If I was rebuffed, then perhaps Begonia was indeed a place of healing. But I would’ve bet my best Earl Grey that a look at my papers would be too tempting to pass up.

Camille studied my face with more interest than I would have expected. Smart one, I decided. And not just window dressing. I took another sip of the concoction. No tea at all in the mix, but a rather interesting hint of… “Hyssop?” I wrinkled my nose at her. “Some anise too, I think.”

“Not many people notice the hyssop,” she said. “One of Dr. B’s favorite herbs, especially in tisanes.”

 

I peered at her over the rim of the cup. “It does blend well, although I admit this is a new use to me.  My experience has been more in the areas of salves and such.” One more question. “And is the doctor in the clinic today, my dear?”

If you don’t mind waiting, Mrs. Fitzgerald, I’ll find him for you.” With a nod, she walked down a side corridor and headed into the building proper.  She might bring him back or she might not.  Her move, as Drum would say. I set the tea on a side table…..horrible stuff really but I suppose you could sell anything as a tonic….and walked to the front window. Except for the brightly colored sign, nothing seemed geared to attract attention from street level. And most clinics did have some kind of plaque or shingle. The airy reception space certainly spoke money…and the receptionist had more brains than most would recognize at a first glance.

“Mrs. Fitzgerald?”  A somehow familiar voice broke my reverie. I turned and looked straight into the eyes of… “Doctor Francis Bannister at your service. Camille told me of your interest in our clinic. You have some background in the type of therapies we provide, I understand. Let’s go to my office and we can chat. Perhaps you’d like a tour?”  The tall white-jacketed man took my elbow and steered me away from the windows down another corridor.

“Have we met before? At a conference maybe?”  I tried to wrap my memory around the timbre of his voice as well as his unexpectedly amber eyes. “You seem familiar.” I gave him my best puzzled smile as we entered his well-appointed office. Old oak desk, comfortable wing chairs, and several tables showcasing what I though must be products hawked by the Begonia brand. The muted pastels and airiness of the outer area were evident here as well and a soft fragrance came from a mister on the bookcase by the door.

“You seem familiar to me as well,” Bannister said, “although I don’t think we’ve met. I would remember I’m sure. Your hint of a brogue if nothing else. We don’t often hear that in New Orleans. Please, have a seat. Would you care for some tea?” Without waiting for an answer, he pressed a small button. “Camille, would you bring us a pot of Number 40?”

“Number 40?” Not more of the hyssop tea. I needed no more of a tonic than I’d already experienced. “Your teas are numbered?”

“Oh indeed. Camille told me you enjoyed the hyssop blend, but I think this might be more to your liking.” He waved Camille in and took the tray from her. “Close the door on your way out, will you my dear?”  I watched as he poured a dark liquid into each of the two porcelain cups on the tray and waited until he sat behind his desk before I took a cautious sip. The delicate flavors of Earl Grey surprised my tongue and I stared at my host. He took a sip from his own cup and looked at me, his eyes serious. “What do you think of Number 40?”

“You know what I think,” I replied.

“That I do.” He sipped again. “That I do.  What gave me away?”

“I could ask you the same thing,” I countered. “Dr. Bannister.”

“Well, I happened to see Drum earlier…”

“He’s here, then.” I put my cup down and started to get up.

“He is, and he’s just fine now, Mae. But he was in a poor way when the boys brought him in.  My head nurse called me and we got him settled in…and yes we gave him what he needed to fight the bronchitis. Some rest and nutrients and Drum will recover nicely.”

“Nutrients? Like what, exactly?” No one was feeding me brother a bunch of herbs and roots without adding normal food.

“Vitamins, minerals, juice, green vegetables.  Nothing dodgy, Mae. But to answer your question, once I saw Drum, I knew you’d be close by. And considering he was not a volunteer when it came to his visit here…”

“That’s putting it mildly,” I snorted. “Snatched off the street he was and…”

“Stay calm. You’re here looking for a job, not indicting me for fraud.”

“Don’t assume anything,” I said.

“Believe it or not, this is a legitimate clinic. You can pass that on to your partners in crime, especially your pal Sylvain.”

“You know Sylvain? “

“Let’s say we have a mutual friend. And I know he started digging into Begonia after Drum got picked up. In fact, I was told I could use his help if he was willing. You on the other hand…”

“I’m not going anywhere without my brother. And if you’re legitimate, so am I.”

“Morales told me not to underestimate you.”

“He’s right, as he usually is. But that still doesn’t tell me what’s going on here. And I want to see me brother.” I did get up this time and made for the door.

“Then Mrs. Fitzgerald, I suggest we take a walk around the gardens in the back. Very calming.” Dr. Francis Bannister, also known as Morales’ onetime partner Marcus Banning, took my arm and steered me out of his office.

“This should be far enough away from the building,” he said about ten minutes later. We settled on carved stone bench near a small fountain surrounded by varied greenery. “Herbs. Organically grown.  No chemicals here. Of any kind. The owners of Begonia are true doctors of homeopathic medicine. Once we’ve finished our job here….”

“Whose job?”

“Morales reminded me how much you love questions. And interrupting people. So let me continue without any more questions and…”

“So what do I call you once I know all the details?”

“Dr. B will do just fine, since you’ll be on staff as soon as I can vet your credentials.” He winked.

“So I’m in,” I smiled.

“I don’t see how I could keep you out. Now, may I?” Without giving me a chance to take a breath, Dr. B. continued. “I wouldn’t expect you to know this, but there has been an increasing demand for human organs, both for transplant and for research.  The campaign to encourage people to sign up as donors is a good one, but too many people end up waiting too long, or aren’t considered viable candidates for help. So, there’s a thriving back market in human hearts, kidneys, livers, corneas, even skin for grafting. Some are obtained by theft from medical facilities, some from robberies of ambulances, but there is one source so plentiful that it seems like ripe fruit just waiting to be picked. The elderly, especially the poor and homeless who have no ties or family, are prime prospects for…”

“In other words,” I interrupted, “there are packs of no good gobshites out there preying on people like…like Drummond. And no one has gone wise to this until now?”

“Someone has, Mae.  FBI sources have given us enough information and contacts so that a special unit of ATF has been formed to take these ‘gobshites’ off the street wherever we can find them. And prevent them from harming anyone else.”

“And how do they find these ‘donors’? Drum was shoved in a van….even if it was your doing.”

“Not my doing, Mae. Our vans are meant for transport only. The men who grabbed your brother were acting on their own but got spooked when you fought them off. They drove back here, left the van, and took off. We know who they are. And we think the nurse at that clinic might be involved, but…” he put a hand on my shoulder to keep me from taking off after that witch of a woman…”we need to be sure. It takes time and you can’t go off on a tear.  Drum is safe, and we’ve got eyes on the clinic.  But there are vans that visit nursing homes and homeless shelters and ferry off the old and dying. We believe they work with centers like this as well, so we’re running a sting of sorts.”

“Con the cons, then. But it’s more serious than that, isn’t it?”

“People disappear, Mae. And sometimes no one notices. You and Drum know how easy that can be from your own travels. So….”

“So, if you let me see me brother, I’ll get myself back to my digs and let Sylvain know there’s a friend coming to visit late tonight.” I stood and brushed the wrinkles from my skirt and held out my hand. “Dr. B. you have yourself an expert in herbal tinctures and salves.”

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

…And I Have Promises to Keep

Frost

We all make promises: to our parents, to whatever ever deity we choose, to our family and friends and most importantly to ourselves. And we break them. Small ones, important ones, halfhearted ones all fall by the wayside as we negotiate our way through the potholes and grassy fields of day to day living. We’re humans after all. We can’t be expected to keep every promise we make.  Not without an ultimatum attached in some cases. And even then…everything depends on how seriously we take the words and the actions associated with each one.

“I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God” That’s a biggie. Lies can land you in jail, not to mention the fact that taking the 5th Amendment only assures the legal system that you don’t want to tell the truth. And implies you’re not that good at lying.

“I’ll call you.” Now there’s one we’ve all heard, and probably used. And then we don’t get the call, or we forget about the promise as soon as we say the words. Granted, we didn’t actually promise to call but we implied it. Some people take it more seriously than others, on both sides of the phone. Or text. Or e-mail.

Wedding vows? Well, today that may be the only promise with loopholes. “Til death do us part” is a wonderful oath of enduring love, but it fails to take into consideration many things. These days perhaps we need to amend that promise to “as long as we both love and honor and protect each other, with no malice or harm toward our partner.” Or something similar that reinforces the “cherish” part of the vow. Marriage is not a promise of ongoing bliss…it is a promise of each partner working in concert with the other to create a good and enduring relationship.

New Years’ resolutions? The worst promises of all. You all know what I mean. You know you do.

Okay, you say. We all make promises we don’t or can’t keep. You said it. We’re human, we’re fallible. We goof up. You’re not perfect either, y’know?

Well of course I know. It’s one of the reasons I love Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Frost.  I’m as easily distracted by life and shiny objects as the next person, but this short piece keeps reminding me that while tarrying a minute or an hour, forgetting my destination and the promises I make to others and myself along the way, may be tempting, I do have “promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep”.

Mae

Morning came way too early for my tired eyes. I had been so intent on memories from my time as a nurse (although my title was “Sister” in Dundee) I’d forgotten to get more than a nap before Sylvain and Ray showed up, packages and, bless them, coffee and beignets from Café du Monde in hand. Ye know I’m a tea drinker, but today I needed the fuel of dark roast and chicory. And the beignets never failed to make my mouth water.

“I see there’s no need to caution you about the powdered sugar.” Sylvain chuckled as I took a nice bite out of the still-warm pastry and spattered white all over my sweater. He took a bite of his own, managing somehow to avoid my sweater’s fate. “I should have brought a bib.”

“Aye, don’t ye give me any guff,” I managed to get out as I lifted my to-go cup of strong dark liquid.  At least ye knew enough not to bring me that café au lait.” I pointed at their smaller cups and grinned. “Tourists!”

“You never did say where you two met,” Ray broke in, his own face showing signs of white powdered sugar.

“The Square,” Sylvain said before I could. “We both wanted the same coin. For good luck.”

“Aye, and all ye got was trouble, right?” I finished my beignet and nodded toward the bundles on the floor.  “So what have ye brought me?” Sylvain reached for a square box and pushed it across the table.

“First of all, your hairpiece.”

I opened the box and took out what appeared to be a dead animal…..mousey brown with random streaks of ashy gray.  “Looks about right,” I muttered. “Could have been a bit flashier, but…”

“The whole trick is to be nondescript,” Ray reminded me. As if I needed reminding. But I let him have his caution. “Which is why we brought these.” He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a pair of spectacles. Not modern, but truly what my gram would have worn had she needed them. “Plain glass,” he added, “but the earpiece has a mini-locator. Along with your phone’s GPS that should give us your location 24 7.”

“All I’m doin’ is getting me brother out,” I said. But I knew that wasn’t true. I’d pretty much traded Ray and Sylvain’s expertise for some snoopery of my own. If Begonia was a flim flam, those being taken in needed warning. “And plantin’ your ‘bug’.”

“Don’t give me that nonsense, Mae,” Sylvain said. “You can’t….no, I know you…you won’t settle for any less than the truth about this place. Find Drummond, but tell him what you’re up to. He can hold on for a day if he knows you’re there.” I had my doubts about that. Drum was easily confused these days and being ill didn’t make him any easier to handle. Harder in fact. Like most men he was a poor patient. And if I told him who I was, he’d slip up in spite of himself. Damn.
“If I’m to be in there for any time at all,” I replied, “I won’t tell him anything. Safer for him .And for me.” Sylvain nodded, but Ray looked puzzled. “I can’t take the time for family issues, Ray. Sylvain can tell you later. But I won’t do more than make sure Drummond is all right before I start my poking into corners and such. Legitimate or not, I’ll find what I can and then make sure me brother is out of that place.  Now, what else did ye bring?”

I wish I’d had a camera with me just to see the look on Sylvain’s face when I came back into the room dressed to the hilt as Mae Fitzgerald, RN. Truth be told, I looked more like a nun who’d opted for civilian clothes to serve her charges than anything else. Right down to the simple gold cross (my mother’s) that hung around my neck. Ray had actually brought some of those rubber clogs that so many people wear these days. Crocs I think he called them. They were comfortable, I suppose. Not my taste though. Brogues are far sturdier. And he wouldn’t have been able to get brogues in neon green. “Call it a fashion statement,” Sylvain quipped when I first saw them.

“Well?” I turned a full circle in front of those two men, chuckling at their faces. “Do I pass muster?”

“Um…well, Mae….you look positively…um…dreary….But…um… great!” Sylvain seemed to be searching for words. “I would not know you if we passed on the street. But,” he added, “how did you get so….”

“Old? That’s what you meant to say, right?” I baited him just a bit. “Admit it. I look a good ten years older than I am.” At least that’s what I’d been trying for. Nice to know it worked.

“Well…”

“I’m just having a laugh at you,” I said. “I’m non-threatening, or so it would seem. I can blend in better that way. My story is that I’ve had a rough time of it, having to leave my home and travel to the colonies (yes, I said colonies) to practice my trade. Seems I’ve an affinity for the holistic area of treatment but also retain my original medical expertise. Didn’t set too well with my last employer you see. I heard some gossip about a new Center for Holistic Treatment in this area and made some inquiries.”  I peered over my specs at them. “Did you have any luck finding Begonia?”

“We did,” Ray said. “One of my associates saw the van cruising the Riverfront and just happened to be going in the same direction.” He chuckled. “Fortunate, no? He got to the 4000 block of Eve Street and watched the van stop in front of an old brick building. Kind of like the one we’re in. Old factory offices or some such. Abandoned before Katrina and not pretty from the outside. Big enough for offices and examination rooms I wager, but we don’t really know until you get there. Which brings me to this.”  He held out a small chain with two keys dangling from it. “Here.”

“And just what am I getting into once I take these keys from you?”

“Begonia’s location is a good distance from here, Miss Mae. No regular bus or streetcar service and I wouldn’t feel good about you walking it. Not a sketchy neighborhood, but not St. Charles Street either. The square one is for your ride. The heavier one for your apartment.”

“My what?” I stared at him. “Just who are you, Ray?”

“You could call me an expeditor, but really I’m just a guy who tries to cover all the angles.” He grinned. “Don’t thank me until you see the car.”

“The address for the apartment is the same as the one on your license,” Sylvain added. “And Ray has one of his men installed next door. Just in case.”

“Like a nanny? Really.” I scowled at them. “I’m good on me own.” Although truth be told, it wouldn’t hurt to have someone in shouting distance. Just in case. I didn’t say that, but the inner me sighed a wee bit.

“Never hurts to have a backup to the backup, my friend. And we’ll stop at the apartment before we head over to Eve Street just so you know how to get there. After that, you follow us to Begonia. We’ll drive past, but you can pull to the curb once you see the sign.”

“More like a shingle,” Ray said. But my guy says it’s hard to miss. Walk up those steps, open the door, and you’re on your way.”

“On my way where, I wonder,” I muttered as we gathered the rest of my gear, stuffed it into a brown duffel that had seen better days, and locked up the loft for the time being. Time to go find me poor brother and discover just what Begonia meant.

It turns out me temporary crib was almost as big as Sylvain’s loft. Which suited me even if I knew I’d not have the need of that much room for just myself. Sylvain went in with me, checked out the usual things, locks on the doors, decorative but sturdy grills on the windows, and the lights. I dropped off a few things, me tea kettle and such, and then we headed back out.

Ray laughed as I settled into the driver’s seat of the gray and rust sedan. At least it was an automatic. Although I could manage a stick shift, it had been a good while and my first few blocks following Sylvain’s car had probably given them a few chuckles as they viewed my stops and starts. Once I got the hang of it….

“You sure you can handle this beast, Mae?” Sylvain tried to look concerned but the laughter in his eyes gave him away.

“She’s no beast, sir,” I replied grandly. “Not if you treat her with respect. We’ve come to an understanding in the short time she’s known my touch. No need to call names.”

“She? And I suppose you gave her a name,” Ray joined in. “Ah la femme.”

“Actually, she told me hers,” I smiled. “On the recommendation I keep it to any who might make fun.”

“Of course, Mae.” Sylvain was choking back laughter at the expression on Ray’s face. “Now. Are you sure you want to go through with this on your own? Begonia is…”

“…where Drum is, whether willingly or not. I have to at least find that out. And tell you whether it’s legitimate or bogus. If he’s getting help in some way…well, I won’t know ‘til I get inside.” I turned the key in my car’s ignition, buckled myself in, and nodded. “Let’s go.”

I wasn’t prepared for the unkempt streets and lots we passed as we drove toward Begonia. Sylvain had told me about Katrina, and how his beloved city was still, even now, not recovered in many important ways. I could see that in the vacant lots and empty buildings with peeling paint and debris of every shape and size as part of their décor. Good God, I thought. If Begonia is anything like this….

The blink of the turn signal on Ray’s car brought me out of my thoughts. I couldn’t afford to let anything about my surroundings hinder my task. I had promised Drummond long ago that I would be with him as long as he would have me. Maybe longer. I turned the wheel to negotiate the turn onto Eve and immediately saw the brightly painted sign proclaiming the presence of Begonia Healing.  As I pulled to the curb, I caught sight of my protectors turning yet another corner. Out of sight maybe, but not far from me. Just in case.

The broad walkway to the ground floor entrance of the scarred brick building was nicely lined with small flowers. Pansies perhaps, or some other small botanical. The door opened easily, and I found myself in a cool hallway, just steps away from an area marked Reception/Registration.

Welcome to Begonia Healing and Holistics.” A young woman dressed in scrubs came out from behind a small desk and walked toward me, her hand outstretched. In for a penny, I told myself and went over to meet her.

“I was wondering if you good people were hiring,” I said, thickening me brogue just enough. “I’m in search of a job.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

All You Need Is…..

7568_330x370

Coming home from shopping the other day, a bit cranky from the heat and humidity that make me feel soggy all over, I saw something that absolutely made me smile. At the end of one row of the store parking lot was a truck. Leaning on this truck, in 80 plus temps, stood a male figure, not young but not necessarily as old as I am, dressed in khaki slacks and vest. In one hand he held a beautiful bouquet of flowers.  The other hand periodically shaded his eyes as he scanned the parking lot.  I was so tempted to stay and see the result of his vigil…..I truly hope the object of his efforts showed up and thanked him properly.

Of course, this got me thinking of what we do with love, for love, and because of love. The old “Love makes the world go ‘round” quip is something not said too often these days….lots of other, darker things can get in the way: poverty, war, general distrust of anyone we may perceive as ‘different’ all seem so much more apparent as we move through our days. And then we see a baby’s smile, hear a joyful laugh, watch two people begin a new life together, and love shows up in flowers and sunshine. It doesn’t take much to brighten someone’s day. A simple good morning or hello might startle them, but I’d wager they just might be tempted to say those same words themselves.  Smiles? Even easier. No words needed.

Not everyone will stand near his truck with a bouquet for someone special, but we do other things just as meaningful. Bake a cake for a friend, offer a ride, offer your time….be a friend. Celebrate good things and share the bad things. Friendship is Love’s true companion.

I’m not telling you something you don’t already know. I’m not suggesting anything most of you don’t already do.  We humans have a great capacity for many things, including love. But this little incident in the parking lot made me realize we don’t always take the time to see the love around us. We take it for granted or are so focused on other things that we simply miss the joys (and sometimes sorrows) that help love make the world turn a little more in tune.

What do we do because of love? Well Mae McEwan can give you all the examples you need. She gave up quite a bit to follow her brother Drummond from place to place, and sometimes she throws her hands in the air in frustration. But she loves her brother as only a sister can and will do whatever she can to protect him. Whether it’s from others or from himself.

Mae

It was another hour or so before Ray left the loft, with my warning not to do anything before letting Sylvain, and therefore me, know what he’d discovered. The only one who was happy with that order was me. Ray evidently was a take charge guy, and Sylvain already had an idea of what I was planning to do.

“You’re just asking for trouble, Mae. For both of us.”

“No one said you had to help. I thank you for getting the information I need but you can walk out that door and I will not begrudge you your choice. Drummond is my brother and my responsibility.” I knew it would be harder to do without Sylvain, but I couldn’t wait while he dithered over legalities and such. “Would you like more Earl Grey?”

“I’d like a stiff drink,” Sylvain said. “But what I want is you to be safe. Both of you. And it seems you’re set on muddying the Mississippi one more time before you journey North, so I’ll help. But we have to have a plan.”

“Like the last time?” Our attempts to rescue Celine and her new husband had met more than a few roadblocks. Still, luck and love had prevailed and as far as I knew so had the law. This time the law would have nothing to do with it.

“I’ll concede to your wisdom on that adventure, but I’m serious, Mae. We knew what we were …”

“What I was you mean.”

“What you were walking into last time.  We’re blind on just where Begonia is and who is actually running the place.  How do you plan around that?”

“Sit down,” I said. “Here’s your tea. Now listen while I give you my idea. It will work.”  I poured me own cuppa and sat across from him. “And mostly legal.” Sylvain flinched at that but kept his mouth closed. “I’m a nurse, registered and all.”

“In Scotland maybe.”

“In Scotland true. But I’m a nurse nevertheless and I can pass muster. I certainly can do a better job than that nitwit of a woman in the clinic. What I need is a certification card. Or paper to frame. Something that says I’m allowed to treat patients in the state of Louisiana.”

“Of course, Mae. No problem. I have one in my pocket.”

“Sarcasm does not become you, sir. It would help if I had a background in herbal and holistic treatments.”

“And you think I can produce these documents at the drop of my hat?”

“I think you know someone who can produce those documents, and an ID stating my name is Mae Fitzgerald. I’m sorry but I need an address for them to check as well.”

“Not the loft. That’s non-negotiable.”

“And references. Or not. Those running this place might not want an upstanding member of the nursing community to tumble to their practices.”

“We don’t know Begonia isn’t a legitimate concern, Mae. Holistic centers exist in quite a few places. Alternative medicine isn’t a scam.” Sylvain emptied his mug and stood up.

“I know it isn’t, but legitimate places don’t grab patients off the street.” I looked up at my friend’s serious expression. “I can do this myself, Sylvain. Drum and me have been in worse places in our travels.”

“You’ve never lost him before.”

“No.”

“Then you need my help. And I will get what you need. But before you head into wherever that den of kidnappers is, we need to have some safeguards.”

“Get the papers first, please. Safeguards come later. And I promise I’ll listen,” I added at his quick frown.

Bless the saints and all the angels, whether Sylvain hustled because he wanted this over with or because he was as concerned about me brother as I was, he and Ray were back at the loft quicker than fish can swim the Dee with several boxes, a gadget to seal things in plastic, and some green lab jackets with my alias, M. Fitzgerald RN, embroidered on the pocket of each one.

“Still need to fit your feet, Miss Mae,” Ray said. “Nurses don’t go places in what you’ve got on.”

I looked at my leather loafers and sighed. “Size 9. But would you find something I can use after? Like those Doc Marten shoes or…?”

“I know what you mean,” Sylvain put in. “We’ll bring those and whatever else you need.”

“I need a hairpiece or something to cover me locks,” I said quickly. “Don’t want to dye ‘em but this firebrand hair of mine is a dead giveaway. Maybe a few streaks of grey? Drum would be the first to know me and that would give the game away.”

“You’ve done this before, Miss Mae?” Ray grinned as if he already knew the answer.

“When I’ve had cause,” I snapped back. “Mostly I just try to mind my and Drum’s business.  Which is what I’m doing. And could ye bring me some cards that have me name and title? And a phone you can track in case…”

“Already done, Mae.” Sylvain reached into the largest box.  He handed me a small container, some basic business cards and a battered iPhone. “Same number as the one in your jacket, GPS set up, only any calls to it end up monitored by Ray’s men. We’ll know where you are all the time.”

“And the wee container?”

“When you get in, see if you can place its contents in one of the offices.”

“So I’m going to bug Begonia?” I had to smile.

“Only if you can. Ray knows some folks who might have an interest in the dealings of that Holistic Healing clinic.”

“Drummond first,” I said. They nodded. “Now get yourselves out of here. And bring me that hairpiece first thing. Who knows what the fakers are doing to me brother.”

I locked up tight after they left.  I had lots of thinking and memory searching to do as I revisited my training as a nurse back in the days before Drum started his wanderings. I grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and started scribbling. Begonia might be the home of medical fakery, but it could be real. Either way, I needed to know my answers before they posed the questions.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch…

The weirdness of 2015 continues. We’re still driving at least once a week to Danville to “follow-up” and take yet another form for a doctor to sign so the hub’s company will believe he’s recovered. The VA, like every other medical organization, has bureaucracy all over the place. And the funding cuts, personnel cuts, etc. that seem to be flowing from the government like a runaway river just make getting things done more problematic. However, the VA does its best, at least our branch does, and we have had good people helping us navigate the potholes. Still, it takes time and mileage and infinite patience.

And speaking of rivers, there’s been more rain here in the past month than we normally see in six. We haven’t gotten the worst of it by any means, but my little part of the prairie has given birth to ponds in the bean fields and muggy weather. However, today is July 1st and the sun is out, temps are mild, and I actually have the day off.  And the Star of Bethlehem was brighter than bright in the night sky—thanks Venus and Jupiter!

images

We had an extra second to squander yesterday as well as the leap seconds accumulate on their way to giving us an extra day next year. I simply took a deep breath and continued doing the dishes.  Extra time is extra time after all. I’d like to make the most of it, so I’ve made a few Last Half of the Year resolutions: simple ones really. Doable.  More walking (the park district has an indoor track as well as walking trails—watch out for the geese), less snacking (do NOT keep pretzels in the house), and more salads.  Trips to the Farmers’ Market when I can are also on the agenda.

One more thing. Write. Every day. No matter what. Not that this is a new resolution of course. I try to live it, even if it’s only a few minutes a day or jotting down ideas to flesh out later. Between work and home, even on busy days, an hour is possible. In the fashion of one of today’s latest catch phrases (courtesy I believe of the UK and Mr. Churchill), Keep Calm and Write.

I’ve been talking with Mae lately. She’s teamed up with Sylvain again to try and find Drummond; this time with some additional help in the person of Raimundo (Ray) Olivier, one of Sylvain’s mysterious friends. Trouble ahead?

Mae & the Medics

To my surprise, the nurse (whose name it seemed was Renata or so said her tag) welcomed us back with a big smile.

“Mr. Lionel,” she crooned. “Whatever in the world brings you here?” She caught sight of me attached to Sylvain’s arm and frowned. “This…this vagrant giving you trouble, sir? She and her brother, so she says, were here not an hour ago. Quite insistent for charity cases I must say. I can certainly…”

“This concerned woman is not a vagrant, Miss Renata,” Sylvain’s voice could have chilled the hottest gumbo. “She and her brother have done me good service in the past and I hold her in the highest respect.” I tried not to smirk at her sudden discomfort but applauded silently. Bless Sylvain. Taking the wind out of her sails.

“Ah, certainly, sir. Any friend of yours is….”

“Indeed. Now, I have some questions for you.” To his credit, my friend wasted no time getting to the details. “According to Miss Mae here, she and her brother Drummond were in here earlier to seek treatment for his illness and…”

“Oh yes sir. They came in and it was determined that her brother had a bronchial infection. The doctor prescribed amoxicillin and pred…”

“I know. Mae told me the details of their visit. What I need to know is if you watched them leave or if you might know where her brother currently is.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Lionel.  We were really quite engaged with other patients this morning and I only saw them through the doorway. After that….”

“And ye didn’t see me brother standin’ right out in front of your clinic while I went to fetch his medications?” I’d caught her slantwise glance toward me and knew she wasn’t telling Sylvain everything. “Ye didn’t step to the door after we left just to make sure we were gone?”

“Mae….” Sylvain cautioned me, knowing my tendency for blunt speaking.

“I felt someone’s eyes on our backs,” I said. “And she treated us shabbily.” I glared at Renata, watching her turn red at my words. “Ask her again.”

“Renata?”

“Well, I might have stepped to the door, but not for that reason at all. I was simply…”

“So you did see her brother? Show me.” Sylvain watched as Renata indicated the small area where Drummond had sat to wait for me while I filled the scripts.

“I was watching him because he didn’t look at all like she should have left him. You know, weak and all.” The nurse glared at me in accusation. “But he seemed to perk up when these two friends of his showed up and offered him a ride in their car.”

“Drummond doesn’t have any friends with cars,” I said. “What color? The friends. And the cars.”

“Well it wasn’t a car really, more like one of those SUV vehicles. Yellow I think. And I only saw one. White, with long hair. There must have been a driver though because as soon at your brother got in, the car took off.  Turned onto Decatur last I saw. Now if I can get back to my work…”

“Of course, Miss Renata.” Sylvain flashed his charming smile at her and was rewarded by a blush. “Thank you so much for talking with us.”

“Any time, Mr. Lionel. And you know, you might check the bar across the street. They were setting out tables for the lunch crowd and….”

“What a good idea, ma’am.” Sylvain bowed and took my elbow, steering me away from the clinic before I could say one word more.

“Bollocks,” I fumed. “She was going to lie through her teeth. If I hadn’t…” I flinched as his grip on my arm tightened. “I’m not goin’ back, so no fear….Mr. Lionel. No need to leave me bruised either.”

“Well, Miss Mae, I figured we would get more with honey than with vinegar, and you are feisty when you get yourself all worked up.” He released my arm as we stepped under an ornate iron framework and stood at the entry to Cordelia’s, a dimly lit bar/café.

“It’s Drummond.”

“I know, Mae. We’ll find him.” Sylvain headed for the bar at the rear of the café and the small figure standing behind it, a dish towel in one hand and a tall glass in the other.

“We’ll be open momentarily folks, if y’all would care to sit at one of the tables. Got some fresh oysters if you’re in the mood.” The bartender smiled and waved the towel toward one of the window tables.
“Thank you kindly, ma’am, but we can’t stay. We were hoping you could help us with a bit of a mystery.” I’ll say this for Sylvain. He knows how to charm. It just wells out of his pores like spring water. “We’re lookin’ for my friend’s brother. It seems he went off with…”

“I did happen to see an older gentleman across the way by the clinic,” she said, moving from behind the bar and crossing the floor with a grace that belied her size. “I happen to be April Ann, by the way. Owner of this café and noticer of many things.  Is he is some trouble?”

“We’re not sure.” Sylvain’s phrase overrode my definite “Yes.”

“So it’s that way,” April Ann smiled. “Which is it?”

I jumped in first. “My brother Drummond was at the clinic to get some medicine for his illness.” I held up the brown bag. “He was sitting outside while I went to see the chemist…pharmacist… and when I came out he was gone. The puffed up nurse at the clinic….”

“…the nurse at the clinic mentioned seeing him get into a car. A yellow SUV. Did you see anything that might help us?” Sylvain as usual tempered my words. I glowered at him but he just gave me a concerned look. “We need to find him and get his medicine started so he doesn’t get sicker than he is.”

April Ann studied us for a moment. We are a strange looking pair if you recall my description of Sylvain, and my own smaller physical stature. I was at least wearing my best traveling clothes, having packed my bag lady ensembles for the trip north. I managed a smile in her direction but let my worry stay visible in my eyes.

“Well, I did see a yellow SUV not that long ago although I didn’t pay much attention to whether anyone got in. I’ve seen it before around this time. There’s a logo on the sides.  And a flower….Begonia something….Begonia Health?  Begonia Holistic? Begonia for sure. They were only here for a minute or so, then they drove off. Didn’t see where they went. Does that help? Because that’s all I have, and I need to get my luncheon customers served. Are you sure you’re not hungry?”

“No, thank you Miss April Ann. Maybe another time, but we are short on time. We appreciate your help.”  Sylvain took my elbow again and steered us out.

“I could do with a cuppa, you know,” I protested. “Or even a bit of water.” A quick look at my friend’s face told me I’d get neither. He pulled out his cell and punched in a number. Spoke in that mishmash he calls patois. Except for the word Begonia. Then he put the cell back in his jeans pocket.

“And? Sylvain?”  I let him have my elbow to get his attention. “Are you going to tell me just who you were jabberin’ to just now? And what it has to do with me brother?” Just for good measure I gave him another elbow jab.

“Patience. Assaulting me won’t get you anywhere. I called an associate of mine. Morales knows him. He used to be a cop, now he operates a bit differently. That’s all you need to know. I gave him the information on Drummond and the word Begonia. He’ll call me when he has something.”

“And that will happen when? We don’t have time to waste waiting for the meaning of “begonia”, flower or whatever. Don’t haver w’me, ye scunner. Me patience is about done.” Despite me bein’ angry and all, I couldn’t keep a quiver out of my voice. Damn. I glared at Sylvain and bit my lip.

“Let’s head back to the loft, Mae.” I felt his hand take mine. “It’s a small chance but maybe Drum headed back there. Or had the people in the van take him there. My friend will call. Ray is good at what he does. It just means we need to give him time.”

“What if we don’t have time?” I had to ask because Drum was…well, Drum. He’s never been good in bad situations and my bones told me this was bad. Sylvain gave me a reassuring squeeze as we headed toward his vehicle.

Thirty minutes later, me with a mug of hot Earl Grey curled in me hands and Sylvain pacing like a caged cat, the trill of his cell broke the silence.

Eske ou gen…?” Sylvain stopped short, listened for more time than I wanted, and then said “Ah Bien” and clicked off. “Any more tea, Mae?”

“Tea? You want me to…”

“My friend will be here in a moment. He is fond of tea. A pot of the Earl grey will be nice.”

I fumed a bit but set about getting more water on the steam, warming the pot, and the other little things that make a good cuppa. The tea was steeping nicely when a sharp knock sounded on the door to my home. Sylvain walked quickly to the entrance and knocked back. Code? I almost snickered. Men! And then I remembered my own man, poor Drummond, was missing.

“Miss Mae?” Sylvain’s voice called me out of my thoughts. “Miss Mae, may I present my friend Raimundo Olivier? Ray, this is Miss Mae McEwan. It is her brother who has gone missing. Would you care for some tea?”  I produced a clean mug, canned creamer and some sugar was but satisfied to see my new acquaintance took his tea as God intended, unadorned.

Miss Mae?” Ray’s voice was as smooth as Sylvain’s but an octave deeper. “A pleasure to meet you. Now Sylvain here has told me of your dilemma and I am glad to say I have some information for you.” Damn, the man was good. “It is not all of a positive nature but I will give you what I have and you decide how to proceed. Bien?”

“Go on, Ray,” Sylvain said before I could.

“Well, first, I have so far not discovered the whereabouts of your brother. However,” he held up a hand as I opened my mouth, “I can give you details on Begonia, which might help you locate him, although it should be done soon. Begonia, as in Begonia Holistic Health and Welfare Center, is not an easy place to leave.”

“Ray?” Sylvain again. “Maybe you need to explain what and where this Begonia Holistic is because I’ve never heard of the damn place.”

Mon ami, you know as well as anyone the folk medicine and holistic cures have a large place in bayou history. Plants we think lovely to look at can be deadly and those we prefer to ignore can treat many things. The begonia, lovely flower in itself, has been used in various forms to treat everything from rheumatism to liver ailments. The Begonia Center has been using formulations based on old recipes with some modern tweaks to offer treatment and well-being to people not helped by traditional means.”

“But my brother…” The information was good but I wanted more.

“They also conduct workshops and offer free treatments to those who cannot pay.” Ray looked at Sylvain. “They have not been here long, but I have heard of other centers where these practices are followed. Patients who take advantage of the free treatments…must end up paying for them by labor or…”

“And if my brother is there?”

“If he is there, he will stay as long as they need him to.”

“This is ludicrous,” Sylvain broke in. “Why haven’t I heard of this before now? What they’re doing is illegal, non? They would need permits, a building…”

“We both know they can be had for the right price, my friend. I have an associate who will see if your brother is there Miss Mae. And where the building is. Then we can…”

“No,” I said. “Then I can do something about it. Sylvain, I need a favor.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Easy Is…..Or Is It?

easy way

And therein lies the rub…I’m never quite sure what Will Shakespeare meant by that but it seems to fit the past six weeks of my life. What I can tell you is that the promise of “easy” is something to beware. And research like crazy. And perhaps avoid like the plague.

It’s been a hard year medically; colds that hang on, allergies that show up before they should even exist, and a case of pneumonia—my husband’s— that led to a hospital stay and the discovery of A-Fib. Irregular heartbeat. Caused by the pneumonia. Geez. So the cardiologist put him on warfarin, blood thinner for the masses and subject to regular monitoring. Once a week…80 miles round trip each time (the hubby is a vet and therefore uses the nearest VA facility in Danville). Not a bad drive but time-consuming. So, to make things easier, the blood thinner was changed to one of the new drugs, no weekly checks, no monitoring, etc. No more 40 miles each way for a finger prick. But. And this is where the “rub” enters the picture. The worst side effect you can imagine….internal bleeding. In his lungs. One day after the change. And no “easy” antidote. That 40 mile trip is one of the longest I have ever taken. The VA’s Urgent Care got us in ASAP but had no available beds so we ended up at a Danville hospital, admitted to ICU. Long story short, my other half is recovering, off the oxygen he had to use 24/7 for 2 ½ weeks and thanks to the VA cardiologist and pulmonologist (both more informative and helpful than most of my own doctors have ever been without prodding) is cleared to go back to work. Slowly. And, we’re making bi-weekly trips now. He’s back on warfarin. At least for now. What should have been something to make his life a bit easier ate up six weeks of driving, hospital visits, room changes, doctor appointments and him adjusting to a slower lifestyle for the time being. We are fortunate. And thankful.

To be fair, some things in life are easy and the results pleasant. I can think of quite a few as I type this, and I know you can as well. The trick is knowing how to tell the good from the not so good. “Easy” is tricky and usually seductive. Everything “easy” promises is tempting. And sometimes those promises are true. But. Sometimes they’re as flighty as a kite on a windy day. Trust me when I say this: “easy” and research go hand in hand. Hype and hallelujahs should take a back seat to “what ifs”. With all the resources we have at our disposal, no one needs to take “easy” at face value.
Those of you who follow me know I’m usually a bit less serious. I would rather be irreverent than preachy. This case is different. And one upside is inspiration for a new Mae adventure. She and Drummond are still in NOLA, getting ready to head north. And then Drummond gets sick…

Mae and the Medicos
You can call me Mae. Most everyone does who knows me these days. That or, “there goes ol’ Drum’s sister”. Depends on where I am or what mess I find myself in. Or find Drum in, which was the case this time around, though through no fault of his own. My brother does try to stay away from the bottle, and keeping him busy helps. Seems he gets in more trouble when he has too much time to remember. This time though, he forgot a very important thing.
We were gettin’ ready to say farewell to New Orleans; a city that had for the most part treated us well, introduced us to Sylvain Lionel and his cousin and gave me a chance to bring Sylvain’s sister back to her family. All good things come to an end though, and New Orleans in the summertime was, according to all we’d heard, too hot and too humid for people not accustomed to such things. I had no fears for myself, but Drum’s bouts with alcohol over the years had made him older than his years and more sensitive to heat and extreme cold. Humidity just added to the problem, since his lungs were victims to chronic asthma, made worse by having to sleep in conditions where germs and pollen fought for supremacy. Mostly before I found him and made him take better care. Most of the time he stayed fine. But not this Spring.
It started as a sniffle and a sneeze. Drum didn’t mention it to me until I caught him swiping his sleeve across his face.
“Just got some dust in my nose,” he said. “Might need a hanky though.” And then he coughed just a little. “No worries, Mae. I just hurried to get here too fast and my breath hasn’t caught up to me.” I wanted to believe him. Next day we were due to catch a ride from one of Sylvain’s friends to the train station. Drum wanted to get back North to Charles City, despite what had happened there. I wasn’t too picky about where we went as long as it was north. That night though, his cough was worse and his head was hot and moist. I didn’t need a thermometer to know he had a fever.
Come morning we had our ride take us to the nearest CharityCare, one of those places you go when you have no insurance. Better than nothing, and I figured if there was an infection, we’d need something strong. Drum didn’t even protest, so I knew he was sick. We waited in a large room with plenty of other patients, all sneezing or coughing or crying or complaining, and finally got to see a nurse practitioner. Now I’m a nurse myself if you remember me telling you early on so I watched her close. She was efficient but I had to ask her a time or two before she would give me any answers. She made some notes on a small pad and disappeared down the hallway.
“You think she knows what’s wrong with me, Mae?” Drum wheezed a bit and covered his mouth to stop a cough. “I didn’t mean to…”
“Let’s just see what she says. Most likely she’s gone to talk with a doctor.” I hoped she had anyway. Drum was looking paler by the minute. I was just about to draw the curtain back and go on a search for her when she returned with two pieces of paper.
“Your brother has a bronchial infection,” she informed the wall behind me. “He needs fluids and rest and….” She handed me the papers. “You can get these filled at the pharmacy next door if you can afford them. Otherwise, bed rest and liquid and time are the best things for him.” She parted the curtain and left. I looked at the scripts. Amoxicillin and prednisone. Standard but also generic, which meant my budget could handle them. If I could afford them indeed.
Thankfully I still had the cell Sylvain had given me during our efforts to find his sister, so I called him and left a message that we might need the loft he’d loaned us for a few more days. Maybe a week given that Drum was breathin’ shallow and looking like he could collapse any minute. I left my brother outside the pharmacy while I took in the scripts and got them filled. My mistake. When I finally made it back out to the sidewalk, all I saw was his old slouch hat and one unlaced brogan.
I will tell you this, in case you don’t remember, that Drummond would never just up and stagger off without his favorite hat and only one of his one pair of shoes. So I knew something wrong had happened. I also knew that as kind as New Orleans folk are, they might not take it well if I started badgering them with questions about someone they didn’t even know. So, I called Sylvain back and left the distress signal we’d agreed on but never really used. And then I sat and waited for him to call, staring at the two packets of medication that Drum needed but didn’t have. It wasn’t long before I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder.
“You okay, ma’am?” Not a voice I recognized. “Ma’am? You look like you ain’t feelin’ so good. Kin we take y’all somewhere?” I shook my head.
“I’m waitin’ for a friend. But thank you.” I waved one hand as if to shoo him on his way and found it caught in a firm almost crushing grip. “I’ll have my arm back,” I said.
“I reckon you need to come with us,” a second, deeper voice declared. “Pull her harder, cousin. We ain’t got all day.”
“She don’t wanna budge,” the first said as he tried to dislodge me from my seat. “Whyn’t you get behind her and push, ‘stead of givin’ me grief?” I fixed my gaze on them and planted both feet firm on the walk.
“You might think twice before you….” I felt a shove from behind as my second assailant pushed me toward the first. Without even thinking, I shoved my elbow back and caught a good chunk of stomach. With a surprised “ooof”, my second attacker fell back a bit and I yanked the first one toward me. “Stronger than I look,” I muttered as I pulled him past me to land on his partner.
“Leave you alone for a day or two and you attract the worst kind of people,” a familiar voice said in my ear.
“Sylvain! How did….oh never mind. Just find me a copper so I can…” I stopped as I saw my attackers scramble to their feet and rush off toward the Square. “I need your help.”
“You need some coffee,” he said. “You managed those two just fine. So why the distress signal? And I found you because of the GPS in your cell. When you were undercover in that house I needed to be able to track you. Just in case. Never did deactivate my unit.” We came to a small outdoor café, and Sylvain pulled out a wooden chair. “Sit.”
“You tracked me?” I wasn’t sure whether to be angry or grateful. “I can take care of meself. I suppose ye tracked Drummond too?”
“No need, Mae. He was easy to find at the church. Why?” He grinned. “Did you go losin’ him again?” the look on my face stopped his grin cold. “Where’s Drum? Seriously Mae. I thought you two were on your way back north. In fact I called Morales to let him know that. Then you call me and I get here just in time to see you fight off two of the city’s hooligans, no brother in sight. So what’s going on?”
“Drummond took sick. We went to the CharityCare and got him some medicine, figuring he could take a day or two before we rode back North. He waited here while I went in to get the scripts filled and when I came out…”
“Why didn’t you tell me, Mae? I’d have got Drum to my own medico…not trusted him to a charity clinic. Not that there’s anything wrong with them…” his voice trailed off as I glared at him.
“It was easier than bothering you, that’s why. And medicine is medicine.” I scuffed my shoes back and forth on the cobbled street. Sounded lame even to me.
“And he’s not just around the corner or headed to the church or…?”
“Someone took him.” I held out his hat and brogan. “Somewhere he didn’t want to go.”
“Then someone saw something,” Sylvain said. “And we’re going to find out what.”
“If you say so,” I put in. “But…”
“No buts.” He got up, pulled me up after and headed us across the street and back to the clinic.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Merge to the Left, Merge to the Right…

traffic signs
No turn, U-turn, Don’t run that light! Don’t you feel, as I often do, that traffic is hazardous to your health, your car, and your peace of mind? How much easier it would be to have your own private motorway. Or an invisible cushion of air that protects from the vagaries and distraction of others in their own motor vehicles. Even better, a system in your car that automatically takes a picture of someone else doing something stupid and forwards it to the proper authorities…because there never seems to be a cop around when a mini-van speeds past you at 45 miles an hour in a 30 mph one, crosses three lanes of traffic at the last minute with no signal, or chicken-races you in an attempt to beat you to the one-lane road that used to be a two lane road. Aside from the occasional desire to see just who IS the chicken in the Merge 250, especially since the other car seems to be newer and shinier than mine, I usually just mutter under my breath and let them have their way. After all, maybe there’s an emergency, they’re late for something important, or maybe they’re just expecting me to give in. Isn’t that a scary thought? Using your car on a power trip? But if someone needs this meaningless victory to feel good about themselves, who am I to squash their hopes and dreams of one-upmanship?
OK. I came to driving later in life than most, and I tend to still remember those pesky Rules of the Road, but it seems to me that if you’re not sure of where you’re going or when you need to be there planning might be the answer. What you say? Check how long it will take and what streets are the best to use? But where’s the fun? Well, I live in a college town. On most weekends during the fall and winter as well as August and May we are inundated with drivers from other cities and other states. While some of them have been through the C-U tangle of one-way streets and single lanes shared with bike lanes, many of them are here for the first time. The seasoned visitors should know to plan, but some of them don’t. The result can be fender benders, late arrivals. Add locals on their way to the same venue and it’s a circus of frustration and comedy. I stay home. I’ve learned to treasure those weeks when the campus is empty…traffic on Green Street is doable. And you can find a place to park!
My point here, if you’ve managed to wade through the traffic jam of my rationale, is that perhaps we’ve come to think of cars as more than just machines to take us where we want to go…at the proper speed and with consideration for others on the road. Today the car is…and stop me if I’m wrong…. a status symbol, a “chick” magnet (think teenage showoffs), a back seat playground for the kids we haul to school and soccer and dance class, and the one machine we use every day that can kill us if we’re not careful. Think of that the next time you’re on the road. Any road. The whole idea is to get where you’re going, right?
PT

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized