I’ve been away from my blog for longer than I feel comfortable admitting to anyone, but I never truly abandoned the idea of writing and adding to Mae’s adventures. I can’t even say that I had challenges in my life taking up my time and energy. I thought a lot about writing, and things to write about; I just never did anything about it. And then…
On October 21, 2017 I had a stroke. A minor one, thankfully, and one that I’m in recovery from even as I write these words. Doing well, thank you and almost back to my old self…except that I’m not my old self anymore. Once I got past the initial disbelief and shock that this could happen to me (I was far more worried about surviving a busy holiday season at my job), and I realized I had a really good chance of getting my life back on my terms….nothing guaranteed of course because Life is tricky that way….I also realized I’d had a wake-up call of sorts. I was being told to slow down a bit, stress less about stuff I can’t control and do what I can to affect change in stuff I can control. Stop and smell the roses if you will, but with more purpose.
I started meditating. Meditation is something I never considered as an intriguing concept, although I knew the practitioners swore it made a noticeable difference in their lives. I found an application on my cell and made the decision to try it. 100+ days later, it still helps give me if nothing else a time to sit in silence and let my mind rest. I also began to prioritize what meant most to me in my daily life. I started a journal….ah ha you say, you’re a writer and you don’t journal? I didn’t. Always felt a bit funny to scribble my thoughts on paper…and run the risk of those thoughts being read by other people. Fiction is easier to do. But I am journaling, at least my journey at this point in my life. And I’m considering where work fits in my life, and whether I can give in the form of volunteering. I am definitely a work in progress.
I’m not forgetting about Mae. She’s still doin’ her thing in New Orleans, courting trouble and driving Sylvain and Morales crazy….
Now I know what yer thinkin’. And you’d be wrong. After a fashion. Detective Alex Morales would not be jumpin’ on the next plane to New Orleans just because I wanted him to. He’s always had enough on his plate, ever since me and Drum first crossed paths with him and that demon of a serial killer who wasted human lives because he thought they were worthless. But Drummond was almost a victim and Morales, well he cut it really close getting to Drum’s rescue. So maybe he’s carrying a debt to me brother.
“He’ll be here tomorrow,” Sylvain said after he ended his call to Charles City. “No questions asked. Once I told him you and Drummond…” He looked at me. “Do you know something I don’t?”
“I know lots you don’t,” I grinned. “But I wouldn’t think too hard on him coming. He’s just that kind. And he was good ro Drummond when…while we were up north.You planning on meeting him at the airport?”
“Not unless I want to drive to Jackson.”
“Jackson? Mississippi? Why in the hell would he pass on Kenner?” Ray asked. “One hell of a long way away from here.”
“That’s the point, amigo.” Sylvain replied. “Morales coming into MSY-Kenner is too close for comfort. We have no idea who the bad guys are yet, remember?” Dr. B. nodded in agreement.
“Remember, my former partner did undercover for a long while. He has a plan already. In fact, he probably started hatching one right after he heard from Miss Mae about Drum being sick. I know,” he added as Ray raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Alex has always had some weird radar where these two are concerned.”
“Like I go lookin’ for trouble?”
“No Mae. But trouble seems to know where you are. I’m just saying our friend thinks ahead. That’s all. Don’t you agree,Sylvain?”
“I do. That’s why Jackson works. He can grab a bus down, or flag down a trucker. In any case, he asked if I could find him somewhere close to here to lay low until he looks the part of a drifter. Or an illegal.”
“How about posing as an Isleño?” Ray suggested. “It’s been centuries since they settled near Bayou Lafourche but their heritage is still evident in their daily life. I have a contact in that area who could give him a crash course in the local idiom.”
“Isleño?” Now that was something I didn’t know.
“They date back to the time when Spain owned Louisiana, or New Spain as they called it. Time enough for a history lesson tomorrow. Sylvain?” Ray turned his attention to his cohort.
“Workable if you can locate your contact and have him meet you tomorrow. Alex will call me from Jackson and I’ll let him know where to meet me.”
“And Mae and I will keep an eye on Begonia,” Dr. B said before I could open my mouth and offer to ride shotgun on Sylvain’s journey. “Better if she’s accepted as staff before we add any more new faces.” He looked at my frown and shook his head, “The owners have vouched for their employees, but I’m not trusting anyone just yet. You’re my one sure thing in all this, and I want you to keep your eye on the patients. Especially your brother.”
“Drum’ll be fine. I’m thinkin’ it be better if I don’t even see him. Even in disguise.”
She’s got a point, Doctor.” That was Ray weighing in. “Drum could blow her cover.”
“I don’t intend to have you holding watch at his bedside, Mae. But your duties will let you keep an eye on any staff showing an extra interest on him. The men who snatched him may not have been connected with Begonia, but they had help getting the van. I haven’t had a chance to vet all the people who work there…remember I’m not that much more established than you are. It’s the word of the owners that counts with the employees, and that’s my only edge. If Drum does say something, we’ll take another angle.”
“I know me brother, Doc. If I’m not lookin’ likc meself he’ll just wink. We’ve done this before.” Well, only once, but I wasn’t givin’ that away to these men.
“Then we’re set,” Sylvain said. “Ray, find your contact and we can decide where to go from there. Doc, you and Mae hold down the fort at Begonia, but remember we’re a call away if things get rough.” He and Ray headed for the door, followed by the Doc. “You too, Mae. You don’t live here, remember? You need a ride to your place?”
“I parked my ride a ways from here, so it wouldn’t draw too much notice,” I said as I looked wistfully around the room. “I’d better stop at the grocery so I can have an excuse for bein’ out so late, right?”
I won’t say it was easy to rise the next morning. Too much tea and not enough sleep, but more tea before I got to Begonia was a requirement if I was to swill all that herbal blend. Not that I have anything against a nice rooibois or lavender lemon you see. It’s the mixing of different plants that makes me uneasy. There are some combinations that simply taste like dirty socks or me mother’s compost heap. I packed me second best tea pot and some Earl Grey for an emergency and headed out for the day.
“Happy Mornin’ to ye, Camille,” I caroled as I came through the front doors. “Is Doctor B. around yet?” I handed her a small potted plant, which she took reluctantly. “Won’t harm ye, darlin’. It’s a simple pansy. Not at all medicinal, but always optimistic.” I left her pondering that last little bit and walked down the main corridor to what was now my office. Cubicle more like, but it had a desk with computer and printer, a combination intercom/telephone, and shelves waiting to be filled with herbs and spices for testing. After all, I had presented myself as an expert in healing tisanes. I placed my bag, teapot and all, on the nearest shelf and sat down in the desk chair. There was a small pad of paper with the Begonia logo and a pen with the same. I pulled the paper toward me and began a list of the most basic herbs for combining, and a few spices that might be a bit hard to find but definitely would impress Camille.
“Ready for your first full day with us, Mae?” Doctor B or, as I had resolved to call him, The Doc, stepped inside my territory and grinned. “We’ll do the rounds first and then you can take a look at the compounding lab and meet our chemists. I’d like you to familiarize yourself with each client. Some are quite active thanks to the treatments. We can catch them at mealtime. For now I’m concerned with the more frail ones in our care.”
“Ready, Doc.” I grinned as he raised an eyebrow. “You don’t mind, do you?” It might save a slip, I added silently.
“Of course not, Mae. I answer to a lot of things.” He grinned back. “Doc leaves no doubt.” So he had gotten my meaning. We walked out into the corridor and headed for the wing where the elderly and most ill were housed. I was impressed by the continuation of the cheerful colors and artwork that surrounded us.
“We’ve found that bright colors and light bring people’s spirits up. That in itself is part of the philsophy of Begonia,” he said as we entered the first room. The client, a petite lady with white curls and rheumy eyes sat in the bed, fidgeting with the trim on her bed jacket.
“How are we this morning, Mrs. Delancey?” The Doc strode to her side with a bright smile on his face. “You’re looking radiant in that bed jacket.”
“I can’t tell if it’s rose or persimmon, sir. Rose is my color. Persimmon just makes me look like an overripe apple.”
“Well, rose it is then, Mrs. Delancey. How are you sleeping? Did the lavender diffuser help you relax last night?” He turned to me. “Mrs. Delancey has a chronic sleep problem. We’re trying various herbal tisanes and diffusions to promote calm in the evening.”
“Well I can’t say the lavender did much more than smell lovely to be truthful. I just could not seem to quiet my nerves. And the noises from the hallway were atrocious.” She sighed and looked in my direction. “Who is this? Someone else to join in the attempt?”
“Mrs. Fawn Delancey, may I present Ms. Mae, the newest member of our team. She is accredited here and in Europe for her work on herbal treatments for every ailment from cramp to insomnia.”
“Delighted, I am sure,” she replied as she stared at me with her age-faded blue eyes. “You look the type to forage for those weedy things. Maybe you can find me something to help me sleep peacefully.”
“I’ll do me best,” I said, a slight Highland burr in my voice. “As soon as the Doctor here shows me your history.”
“Just a few more patients, Ms. Mae,” the Doc said.
“May I stop by later today, ma’am?” I gave my best smile.
“Well, I am expecting visitors this afternoon but perhaps around four?”
“Four it is,” I said. “Lead on Doctor.”
And so it went, after a fashion anyway. There were several other single rooms, each one tinted in a relaxing shade of blue or green, with soft music piped in through the wall speakers. Each patient was in for a different ailment, from arthritis to shingles to simple exhaustion. Drum, bless him, was dozing gently as we bypassed his room. His diffuser seemed to put forth a spicy blend of aromas.
“Thieves, then?” I said to the Doc? “He seems quieter.”
“It was the best combination we thought.” He smiled at my raised eyebrow. “Hey, I didn’t just walk in here without some vetting, you know. My grandma used a combination like this every time one of us had a cold. Wiped down the counters, sprayed it in the air, sometimes in our throats. We were never sick very long. Couldn’t afford to be. And it seems to be helping his breathing.” He held the door for me to enter the hallway in which my cubicle was. “I asked Camille to make copies of the patient files for you. Take a few minutes to note their course of treatment. If you think something else will be more effective, let me know. We have a large range of herbs and spices in the chemists’ rooms. They will formulate what you need when you need it. Any questions?”
I wanted to ask if he’d heard anything more from Morales, but figured we’d find out soon enough. “No, I think I’ll reserve questions until I look these over. Thank you.”
I spent the next hour looking through the meager histories of the five patients other than me brother. Meager because there was nothing prior to their first admission to the halls of Begonia, Now I know most of them had been to a physician at least once or twice, mainly because it was noted in the beginniing, but no file transfers between said physician and Begonia. Not altogether a red flag but certainly worth a question for the patient. Drum’s of course was the least informative of all but I didn’t bother myself with it. I knew me brother, and Begonia wasn’t going to be the cure of his ailment.
“Miss Mae?” Camille stuck her well-coiffed head around my entryway. “The Doctor will be leaving for the afternoon and wanted me to see if you required him before he goes.”
“Tell him for me I plan to check on Mrs. Delancey around 4:30 and then do some paperwork. And to have a nice afternoon. Are you leaving as well?”
“Oh, no ma’am. I’ll be here until 7 pm when the night nurse arrives. She’s very good and can handle almost anything. And knows who to contact in an emergency. Just let me know when you leave so I can close off this side of the building.”
“Well, we do try and secure the offices and chemist rooms at night. Because of the herbal blends and of course the records. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No, I do want to check on Mrs. Delancey before I leave but I wanted to wait until her company left.”
“Company?” Camille almost snorted but caught herself. “That old woman never gets any visitors. Except maybe her dead husband. According to her, that is. He showed up a couple of days ago according to her.”
“Nice company for her then,” I smiled. “At least her mind is easy.” I winked at Camille who, after a moment’s hesitation, winked back.
“Yes, Miss Mae. We all need an easy mind these days. Just let me know when you’re done.”
I’d like to say we cracked the case or caught the evildoers that night, but it was all too quiet. I did visit Mrs. Delancey, who in fact introduced me to the empty chair next to her bed. “Miss Mae, I’m honored to have you meet my husband Elmore. Elmore, this is Miss Mae who takes care of us.” How she knew what I did was a surprise to me since I’d just met her a few hours earlier, but I also suspected she wasn’t as dim a bulb as Camille thought.
“Honored to make your acquaintance,” I murmured.
“Oh Miss Mae, you are so kind to ‘see’ Elmore there. Not many people try.”
“He seems quite dashing to me,” I said, “but…”
“Quite dead, you know,” she winked at me. “ But his spirit is with me, so I chat to him when I feel a bit down. I imagine you have someone like that as well, Miss Mae?”
“I do, maam. And I’m missing his council about now, although he’s not far.” At least I hoped not. Sylvain was a fine man, but I missed Morales, He wasn’t flowery by any means, but he kept me on track. “Well, I’m heading home now,” I continued with a smile at Mrs. Delancey and her chair. “You take care of her, Elmore.”
Fortunately for me, I had found a local grocery not far from me temporary flat. Basic, but it did have the makings for breakfast toast and honey. The clerk asked me if I was new to the neighborhood so I told him about Begonia and got a puzzled look. Not leery, but not accepting either. I smiled at him….I was doing a lot of smiling these days, not normal for my Scottish temperment, but down here everyone from the man on the street to the musicians in Jackson Square wore their teeth on permanent display. Then I headed to my home away from home.
I am never careless, and I wasn’t that day either, Something didn’t seem right as I walked into my flat, so I set down my bag and took a quick look. And almost got me years scared outta me as Morales walked out of the bathroom. I only knew it was Morales because I’d seen him undercover as a homeless drifter back in Charles City. Scraggy dark beard and unruly black hair, and clothes that looked a century old, But his eyes and his smile were the same, so I looked at him with my usual stare.
“Took you long enough.”
“Well, Mae I had a few things to do. And figuring out how to get in here was one of them. Sylvain still doesn’t know all your tricks when it comes to security.”
“And you do? I’ve got things I can teach you yet, amigo.” I smiled. “Are you clean enough to hug? Because I’m needing one and Sylvain isn’t a hugger.”
“ And you are?” Morales looked at me. “Since when?” His eyes searched mine. “You ok?”
“Not lately,” I admitted. I hadn’t told anyone how frightened losing Drum had made me, although Sylvain might have guessed. Morales was different though. He’d known us a time now, and I’d almost lost Drum for good except for him and his men. “Long story and we don’t have time. A hug will do me though if you don’t mind.”
“See, Syvlain?” Marcus’s voice came from the doorway. “I told you they were an item.”
“You old…”Morales growled before he rushed over to slap Marcus on the back. “Long time.”
“Yeah, well it got boring being so politically correct in a suit, so I opted for a bit of undercover stuff. And of course couldn’t avoid Mae if I tried.”
“She is everpresent, no?” Sylvain joined in the tease. “But that’s a good thing here in Nola, Too much goes unnoticed these days. Marcus and I would have been here before you, Mae, but we stopped to get some gumbo and such, We’ve got lots to do if we’re going to start in the morning.”
We talked out a plan of sorts over dinner, mainly playing on the Isleno idea brought up earlier. Most in the city wouldn’t catch any errors and Morales could use his accent to defray suspicion. We hoped. Sylvain had brought suitable clothes, a bit more flashy than standard homeless gear, but still timeworn. So Morales wold look alone and down on his luck. His old boots would do, and he could carry a backpack with his basics. I had one question.
“How do we track our friend here? I know your men will be around, Sylvain, but Doctor B and I….that’s Marcus, “ I said to Morales, “will be at the clinic.”
“No need for you to know, Mae.” Morales said. “Trust me,”
I did. But I would still try to weasel it out of Sylvain.