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!
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.”
“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.
“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.”