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It’s Always Something

easy way

It’s always something.” Roseanne Rosannadanna

No matter who we are or where we are, there are always times that will try our souls, anger us, or perhaps make us wonder at how things got this bad….which is strange because we almost never question how things got so good, or pleasant or sunny. For some reason, our minds are programmed to accept the good as our due….and the bad as something that just needs to go away. Go figure.

This month’s “somethings” are all medical tests….my MD reminded me that it had been (insert number of years here) too long since the last, and while I was at it, I could…..until I had four different screenings set up before month-end.  And of course one of those screenings requires a prep. I say no more.  Then why, do you ask. Well, I’m kind of tired of my fantastic MD reminding me I need to take care of me. He’s been so supportive in the aftermath of my “stroke of luck” that I hate to disappoint him. I’d rather have the tests and find out I’m healthy than avoid them and get blindsided down the road. And I know for sure that my health plan will pay for them….this year. With all the nonsense surrounding pre-existing conditions and possible changes to Medicare, who knows what 2019 will bring? Right? It’s always something.

I’ve been a pragmatic optimist for some time now. I hope for the best and look for the best, but I also know that real life has potholes and detours and requires adjustment. I’d rather see the good in people but I know they can disappoint, just as I can. We are none of us perfect. That doesn’t mean we can’t try. The next “something” that comes along just might be a kick in the pants to try and be helpful or positive. Have you ever noticed how disasters and tragedies and man’s cruelty to man (and beast) are debated non-stop on social media, in cafes, at meetings? It’s only when the debate becomes action that we start to see possibilities…ways to change that “something” in a good and healing way. More often than not, we (or at least me) feel overwhelmed and unable to help solve the problem. Immediately if not sooner, right?  So we make a donation or buy a t-shirt and hope everyone else does.  And then we move on. I’m not judging anyone, because I do the same.  And the “somethings” seem never-ending, either in our own lives or in the world in general.

So, what to do? Well, first we look at what we can do for our own “somethings”. Take care of those medical tests, be there for our families whenever possible even if only by phone or laptop. Stay connected.  While some issues only you or I can confront, most are manageable when shared.  When you find a place you can help, offer up what you can. Time, dollars, prayers, whatever is in your wheelhouse. Then make a note to check back later just in case. “Somethings” like to be ignored or shelved so they can grow and fester. Too many of us have seen what happens when they get the chance to do just that.

Chin up, though. Humans don’t take things lying down. We’d have been animal chow long ago if we did. Knock us down and we can get up again. Sometimes it takes help, and all the time it takes love.

 

MAE

I found me car hotter than Hades from the sudden burst of humidity and sun. Nothing to do but open the windows and hope the forward movement at 30 miles an hour would create a breeze. I’m not one to have a grudge against the luxuries of filtered cool air, but turning it on for a drive so short would only waste petrol. I chuckled at my thrift. Me Da would be proud (Your Da? I can hear the question, even though I mentioned him a bit earlier. He and Mum preached thrift. Not penury, just good solid common sense when it came to spending coin, which is why I always find work when I can. Not easy considering where Drummond lands, but I can pick up cleaning jobs and work counters when I need to.) Drum works when he can, but his health makes him seem more than his forty years and his habits…well, that’s why I follow him and stay near when I can.  This latest is not his fault. It bothers me I couldn’t do more. It bothers me there are rascals about who prey on those like Drum and it bothers me more that I have to ask for help to stop them.  Without realizing it, I’ve pulled to a stop by my temporary home. All peaceful, or so it seems. I grab my bags and head inside, thinking now of a cool shower and some hot herbal tea.

“Miss Mae?”  I recognize the voice but the hallway is dim enough to disguise the face of the man heading toward me.

“Who’s askin’?” I say, ready to attack with me bag.

“’S me, Alphonse. Gots a message for you.” As he got closer, I could see his features and confirm it was indeed my young cohort in tea making.

“Let’s get inside then,” I said as I opened my door. “Can I get you something cool? I have some lemonade if you’re thirsty.” Of course my mind was saying “What’s the message?”

“Oh, no Miss Mae. I ain’t needin’ anything, just to tell you Mr. Sylvain will be by later this evening and to give you this.” He held out a rumpled piece of notebook paper. “It’s all numbers and such.” I took the paper and smiled my thanks.

“I appreciate your trouble, Alphonse. Are you keeping watch over me still?”

“Yes ‘m. Until Mr. Ray says otherwise. Now I know that Doctor fella though I won’t stop him.” He lowered his eyes and fidgeted.
“Doctor B? He’s fine. You just get on with your day and I’ll tell Sylvain how helpful you are.”

Alphonse backed out of the apartment, stopped in the doorway to swivel his head each way and then disappeared down the hall. I heard the outer door latch and then closed my own, shooting the deadlock home.  Putting my bags on the bench by the door, I went in to take my shower. The note could wait. Alphonse would have been told if otherwise.

By six o’clock I had showered and found some cool clothes, namely a loose green sundress that hung to my ankles and some slip on sandals. Not stylish, but then it didn’t matter to me. After being in work clothes all day I needed comfort. I set the kettle to boil and spooned some rooibos leaves into my brown pot. I had the makings of a salad in the refrigerator and some bread from the bakery, so I was set for dinner.  As I sat down to wait for the tea to steep, I picked up the paper Alphonse had brought.

Not only folded, but rumpled from being in a pocket, the cheap paper needed careful handling. I slowly smoothed the square out and then began undoing the folds.  If the message had been in pencil, the dampness in Alphonse’s pocket might have caused a problem, but the sender had used a pen.

“Jesus, Mary & Joseph,” I muttered as I looked at the mix of letters and spaces. “What am I supposed to know from this mess? And who would….?”  Well, that question was answered by the small letters in the lower right corner of the paper, almost hidden by a wrinkle.  in the paper. Alejo  a=e .  I stared at the word for a moment before I remembered a conversation I’d had with Morales up in Charles City. One of those trivial chats while we were walking through the tent city, a habit both of us had developed since the murders, and somehow we got to talking about when we were kids, me in Scotland and him in Cuba. His parents had made it to Florida at some point, which is how he ended up in the US, but his first home was a tent not unlike the ones surrounding us.

“My mama was always worried about us kids; me anyway,” he told me. “I was always exploring and getting into things. Lots of old rundown buildings, the canals, anything that looked interesting.  I can still hear her calling me. ‘Alejandro! Alejo! Venga! Donde estas? Alejo!”

“Alejo?”

“Nickname. Shorter than Alejandro anyway. And it meant I’d better bust my butt getting back home.” He chuckled. “Now I go by Alex. She’s the only one who still calls me Alejo.”

So. I took another look at the rest of the paper. Morales had trusted me to remember that name. That meant he wanted me to know something, maybe important, maybe not. But me, not Sylvain or Marcus. Great.  Dinner first, I decided. I still had time to work on the puzzle before Sylvain came by. I was hungry and I needed distraction, so I grabbed the Times-Picayune I’d gotten the day before and tucked into my salad.

 

The sun was beginning to disappear behind the trees by the time I’d cleared my dinner remains away. I settled on the couch with the paper and some tea, chuckling at the cartoon page while I waited for Sylvain. A quick knock at my door pulled me back to the present and I remembered to ask who was calling before I unlocked the dead bolt.

It was Sylvain.

“Being cautious, Miss Mae? Good idea.” His smile gleamed in his café au lait face.

“I’m always cautious, Sylvain.  Even when I want the news.” I smiled. “Anything you can share?  Oh…and please sit. I have some hot water ready to brew some chamomile if you’d like.”

“I’ll not be here that long, I’m afraid.” He stayed close to the door. “Not much to tell other than our friend is in place.”

“It’s been three days, Sylvain. Surely he’s managed to get himself noticed by the people we’re looking for by now.”

“Maybe, but you know how thorough he is. We did track him to the CharityCare you and Drummond visited, but there was no attempt to take him. Unless he was simply being a curious drifter. His GPS puts him back where he’s been staying for the past two nights.”

“Where?”

“I cannot tell you that, Mae.” That damned smile was still there. “You don’t need to know. Remember?”

“Does Marcus know? Ray? The Task Force? I’m as involved in this as anyone. It was my brother getting snatched that spawned this whole set-up.” Me gut was tellin’ me this was a bunch of sheep shite and I didn’t like it.

 

“Morales asked me to keep you one step removed from this, Mae. For your own safety. And Drum’s. Yes, Ray knows and so does Marcus. Since he’s the link to the Task Force I assume they’re on board as well. It’s a delicate operation, especially since you and Marcus are working undercover already. Your main concern in your brother. Let us handle the rest. There can’t be any slip-ups.”

“Sylvain, you of all people should know I wouldn’t do anything to…” I stopped. Oh, hell. This was a waste of time. And I was tired. “Never mind,” I muttered, “ I’ll just have to trust you.”

Sylvain’s eyebrow went up at my sudden capitulation. “That was a quick reversal, Mae.”

“It’s been a hard day. And I’m feeling a bit guilty that Drummond got taken, and that I had to…”

“I understand, my friend. But for Drummond we wouldn’t be closer to catching these criminals. The elderly are too easily targeted, especially in such a poor city. I know from before that you want to be in the thick of it, but I worry about you getting too close. Marcus and I want to keep you and Drummond as safe as possible.” He glanced at his watch. “I’d better take my leave. I have another matter to get to before I can go home. Alphonse is back on duty now, so you can get some sleep.”

“Just keep me posted,” I said as he left.  I locked the door behind him. Liar, I thought. And he didn’t mention the note. I thought he’d been the one to send it on to me by Alphonse, but Alphonse hadn’t said that. Just that he had a message for me and Sylvain would be by later. What if…I undid the bolt and stuck my head out into the hallway.

“Alphonse?”  I heard a clatter on the stairs and there he was.

“Yes’m?”

“Was the message you brought me before from Mr. Sylvain?”

“No,’m. It was on a table at Mr. Ray’s place and he said someone left it off for you. Not wrong to bring it was it?”

“No, no. It’s fine. I was just curious. You know Alphonse, I’m glad you’re keeping watch.”

“Mr. Ray and Mr. Sylvain take good care of me and mine.  Be here until midnight and then you got Adrian next door. He’s Mr. Ray’s man too. Take care, Miss Mae.”

“And you, Alphonse.” I gave him a last smile and locked myself in again. So if Sylvain didn’t know about the note and it was left at Ray’s, was there something I was missing? As tired as I was, I went back to the table and took another look at the wrinkled paper. There was a pattern even if I couldn’t see it right off. Morales trusted me to figure it out.

And I did.

I’d missed the notation after alejo the first time, more than likely because I fixated on the nickname. I hadn’t expected to hear from Morales directly. Sylvain did have a point about distancing myself from the actual operation, even though I hated it. So this paper, whatever it meant, was a surprise. It wasn’t until I scanned the letters again that I noticed the little addition: a=e.  Oh good. Another mystery. As I reached for my tea, I glanced at the newspaper. There, under the cartoons, was the daily cryptogram and the hint  l=a   OK then. Easy enough. Of course, I thought, I had to be hit on the head with a newspaper.  I pulled out a sheet of paper and copied out the letters, and the one number “5” at the end. The two letters after the 5 could be am or pm, so…..a= e  and…….

Taam om Qbakrp Tobzam om buxab gow dolj 5 ot

 

Once I had 5 am (only because it seemed more logical if he wanted to see me to have it be before I went to Begonia), it was a matter of guesswork and error. I even worked the Times puzzle (a quote from A.A.Milne) to get my brain in sync. When I finally had something readable, it looked like  Meet at Fren** Market at r**er *a* *a** 5 a m.   My best guess was Meet at French Market at 5 am….river?  So, Morales wanted to meet me at the crack of dawn at the French Market….a time when new produce was coming in and old was being tossed. Lots of activity, and probably lots of homeless looking to cadge some food. Mae Fitzgerald would stand out like a sore thumb. Time to resurrect homeless Mae McEwan, I thought. That meant a trip back to the loft and avoiding any watchers Sylvain might have around the place. Damn. Better to head over there now, late as it was, and get my gear. Even better, I’d get Alphonse to come with me.

To my surprise, Alphonse didn’t look at all suspicious at my 11PM journey over to the loft. I’d told him I needed some additional materials for my “job” and asked his help to carry the tote to the car. After he delivered it to the apartment, I gave him ten dollars and told him to have dinner on me. He grinned. More than likely, dinner was the last thing on his mind.

Throwing my ‘disguise’ together took all of ten minutes. I laid out a ratty wig as well, just in case. My red hair would stand out like a beacon, even under a cap, and I had no idea who Morales was avoiding at that hour. Something was bothering him. I’d known him long enough to trust his instincts, so old and haggard was definitely the way to go here. Only Marcus had ever seen that side of me. I distributed my usual equipment in the pockets of the skirt and sweater, adding an apple and some pepper spray for good measure.  The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t like it. Or maybe it was just a meeting to keep me in the loop without Sylvain knowing. Maybe. But it was better to expect trouble than be ambushed by it. I set the alarm for 3 AM knowing I’d be awake before then. If I slept.

I was on my way well before the night gave up her darkness. A fine drizzle kept me company as I negotiated the streets on foot from my temporary home toward the edges of the Quarter. Me car would have caused some notice, especially with me in the rags of a homeless woman. By the time I arrived near the Riverwalk, my feet were sore and I was damp clear through. The mists from the river helped obscure my passage as I slipped by Café du Monde and arrived at the  entrance to the French Market. I slipped behind the tent that covered most of the booths and wandered a bit back toward the Mississippi’s banks. I got a curious look or two, but kept my head down and muttered to myself for good measure. The sellers were hard at work getting new product set up with no time to ask me my business. Yet. I needed to find Morales. A soft tap on the shoulder set my nerves going, but I kept my head down and grumbled.

“Mae?” The whisper was next to me ear and I jumped.

“God’s breath, man. Can ye not leave an old woman in peace?” I turned as I spoke, my right hand reaching for the pepper spray in my pocket. “Tis a…”

“There’s a doorway halfway down. Wait there. Por favor.”

The voice belonged to Morales but the accent was different.  I shuffled away toward the middle of the market and found an opening cut into the building. My hand rested on the pepper spray and would until I was sure. After a few moments I could just barely make out the shape of something headed my way.

“Forgive me, Mae.” Definitely Morales’ voice. Not that I would have recognized anything about him other than that, or his eyes. Three days had produced a rough beard and uncombed hair, and his clothing was atrocious.

“Forgiven,” I whispered. “You look the part, senor. I wondered… well, I hoped you’d made it. Our friend is cheap with his information.” I didn’t tell him I was worried.

“Slow going. Street people don’t like newcomers. They’re territorial. I keep my sleeping bag at a shelter, but I get last choice on the floor space.”

“But the GPS works.” I gave him a push away from me as couple of workers walked by. “And keep yer distance. You smell.” I heard their uneasy chuckles as they hustled past our spot. We stayed silent for a bit, hidden in the shadows.

Morales frowned. “Too many people here. But…”

“We’re good for a few minutes,” I said. “Crowds and activity distract. But we can’t stay too long. Curious eyes are everywhere.” Morales nodded. He knew that as well as I did. “So?”

“I’m losing the GPS, Mae. I  Sylvain, but I don’t think he knows how rough it is here. No,” he said as I opened my mouth, “let me finish. Sylvain and Ray know these streets but not the people who sleep in them, or in the alleyways. I’ve been hit on by strangers in that shelter looking for who knows what. Anyone could be working with the bad guys.  Life is cheap to them if they feel they can trade it for cash.”

“I’ll not let ye go back with no safety,” I replied. “Could yo u sleep at the loft? Or maybe…”

“I can’t risk being followed there.”

“One of Sylvain’s street kids could…”

“No. Have to seem on my own, remember? No friends, no nothing.” His eyes searched mine. “But I need to be able to reach you.”

“Me?”

“You.  I trust you. Something’s off…too much organization. GPS, CharityCare as my go-to if I’m sick, Gut feeling, Mae. I don’t believe Sylvain’s involved but…”

“No worries. He knows a lot of folks here, and who knows all his connections. He was a help

when I lost Drummond, and I like him. But being edgy isn’t wrong. It’s your life if you go blind into the fray.” I looked at him and sighed. “No cellphone either?”

“No .Best I can do is pencil and paper, and even that’s tricky.”

“Our Lady of Guadalupe,” I said softly. “Up from the Quarter a bit, on Rampart. The priest is a friend.”

“And…”

“They run a day worker program. Drummond did a few shifts there. You could leave something “from Alejo” with Father Adolfo.  I’ll let him know to call me.”

“It’s something, but…”

“Not perfect. But if I don’t hear from you in two days, just to check in, I’m telling Marcus.”

“Deal. For now.” Morales, poked his head outside our meeting spot. “More people moving. I see one or two from the shelter. Be safe, Mae.” And he was gone into the shadows near the Market.

You too, I thought as I waited for me own chance to head back to my apartment. My worry now was what Svlvain and Marcus would do when the GPS went silent. And why Sylvain had lied to me about Morales wanting me out of the loop.

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So, There’s… Joy!

bear bench blur board

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

My friend John and his friend Danielle do a podcast titled So, There’s That (@sotheresthat2) based loosely on the fact that we all have stories. Not that any one of us has more or less, just that we do. And these stories can connect us, teach us, and ultimately help us understand and practice kindness.

At least that’s what I took from the podcast, So,  There‘s Portmanteau, which began as a discussion of earbuds vs earpods and concluded by demonstrating how parts of two different words can create a whole new one….as in portmanteau.

I could say I promptly invented a new word, but that would be false. Instead, I started thinking about the endings to the phrase, So, there’s (fill in the space with the first word that hits you). And came up with, So, there’s… Joy! Google tells us that joy is:

A feeling of great pleasure and happiness

 Almost too simple for something so powerful. Look at a child’s face when something wonderful happens to them. Watch the face of a wife reunited with her soldier husband, or grandparents seeing their first grandchild.  After a long struggle, getting to where you’ve strived to be and knowing what you’ve accomplished, or simply taking that first step after weeks of physical therapy and knowing that yes, you will be able to walk again.  Joy belongs to the person experiencing all these things. The rest of us can only share in a part of that, but it does reach us too and perhaps makes us aware of the joy in our own lives as well as what produced that almost unexplainable feeling of happiness and wonder and delight.

The miracle of joy, for want of a better description, is that we have it in our memories…it can be as far back as our first bicycle ride or as recent as our (finally) attaining a long-term goal. It goes with success, and we need to remind ourselves that for the most part, we see more success than failure in our lives. And we need to pass that feeling of joy on to our children, friends, and family. It is part of the stories of who we are and who we hope to be.

And so how did I get from portmanteau and earbuds to this?  I listened to a conversation. If you get the chance, check it out. So, There’s That.. Their page is on Facebook. Just a click on the PC…

By the way, Mae knows what joy means…ask her how she felt when she found Drummond after he first left Scotland and disappeared. And how she feels every time the two of them get to spend quiet time together. These days the moments seem few and far between, but Mae has faith that there will come a time when life will be more simple.  Not quite yet, though> Drum may be in good hands, but her friend Morales has just entered the lion’s den of undercover and no one including Mae knows what will happen next.

 

 

 

MAE

So there’s trust, and then there’s trust.  I tried for three days to convince Sylvain to tell me where Morales, aka Sebastien Malerin as his Isleno cover required, was.  And when he would “allow” himself to be shanghaied. And where.  His cover story was simple. His family had been all but wiped out by Katrina in 2005 and he had been searching for them, finally giving up and coming back to St. Bernard Parish, his childhood home. Twelevears on the road might seem unreal to some people, but  my experience told me it was possible. Drum was a rambler, searching for his own dreams. I had promised myself no harm would come to him while he wandered and could only make that happen by following his path. Although I’d caught up to him, he was not ready to return to his old ways so I stayed with him. In Charles City, Alex Morales had saved his life. I owned that debt. Morales was down here because of me.

 

Sylvain proved a harder nut to crack than I thoughr, so I changed my tactics and ambushed Dr. B at the clinic.

“What can I do for you, Mae?” His expression told me he knew what I wanted. “I’m afraid I have a very busy morning ahead of….”

“I only need a moment, Doctor,”  I settled myself into the chair near his desk, letting him know it might take more than a moment. “I was curious as to whether you had heard anything on…”

“No.”

“Really?” I smiled sweetly. “It’s been three days since…”

“Mae, I can’t give you information I don’t have.  I wish I could. Sylvain and his crew have the GPS.  They tell me our friend is settled and letting it be known who he is and why he’s back in New Orleans. And he’s managing to seem less than healthy. Nothing serious but enough that he seems unfit to do day jobs and spends a lot of time hanging out in the less travelled areas of the Quarter. That’s what I know. My gut tells me he’ll be heading to the free clinic in a day or two. Baiting the hook. And since he’s on his own, the attempt to ambush him should follow quickly. No one to miss him. They won’t make the mistake they made with Drum.”

“But shouldn’t one of us be…”

“No.” Dr. B. said. “And Sylvain won’t be there either. You and he were seen asking questions the day Drum was grabbed. Alex has to look like he’s got no one in the world to miss him if something happens.” He watched me, knowing I wasn’t happy with his words. “Would you like some of Camille’s special tea? She swears it melts away tension.” He chuckled at that. “It is tasty.”

“I’ve had her special tea, thank you,” I managed to smile. “Old sod and bitters is what it is. But I will try and be patient. Drum is safe and that’s to the good. I’m not convinced we’ll get the villains before they do more damage to the elderly and sickly though. It’s hard to be on the waiting end. I’m not used to that.” I stood and smoothed out my jacket, patting it to make sure I had my notebooks and herbal packets. “I have several clients to see myself before I peek in at me brother…..not so he sees me, y’ know. I’m careful. Drum could blow the whole thing.”

“I’m inclined to disagree,” Dr. B. said.

“What?”

“Well, you and I certainly can’t keep him sedated once he improves, so it might be good to let him know you’re taking care of him. Or rather Mae Fitzgerald is. If he calls you Mae, it’s not a big deal.  Once he’s recovering, you can manage to fill him in.  Sylvain would probably say its not a good idea, but he’s out there, and we have to deal with life inside Begonia. For who knows how long. Agreed?”

I nodded. It would make my job easier not having to tiptoe around Drum, and I could keep a better eye on him as well. “Agreed,” I said. “On one condition.”

“I knew it,” he sighed. “What?”

‘Once our friend is grabbed, Sylvain shares everything he finds out. I’m not saying he’d keep secrets, but he and Morales go back a long way.”

“You think they might decide to take matters into their own hands?” Dr. B shook his head. “They’re both…”

“No, Morales is a cop. Sylvain is from the streets and parishes.  He’s a good man, but he isn’t bound by the regulations and procedure that…well…he might see something that sets him off.” I opened the door to the hallway.  “I think that tincture has possibilities, Doctor,” I said as I saw Camille heading my way. “I’ll keep you informed. You’ll do the same?”

“Depend on it,” he said.

 

The rest of my day seemed an uphill climb. Camille seemed to need something signed or checked or read, or all three, every time I popped out of one patient’s room on my way to another. Mrs. Delancy was dozing, thanks to the lavender I suspected, but I madre a note to drop by again around four. I had the feeling she was a sharper tack than even Marcus suspected. And she had a read on me as well. More than what meets the eye, ye might say.  And my other charges seemed to be improving or at least stable on the treatments prescribed by the staff, including Marcus…uh…Doctor B. I would need to watch my tongue on that.  Me brother was improving under the Thieves vapors and I wondered when we would let him know where he was and why.

“Mae!” I heard Dr. B’s voice behind me as I headed to my little office. “Got a minute?”

“Of course, Doctor.  I was just taking a short break. Come in and I’ll brew us some tea.”

Real tea, I added to myself. I was herbaled out for the day between the smells and the lack of caffeine in my system.  “Close the door if you would while I get the kettle started.”

“Please tell me you’re brewing oolong,”

“And I have scones,” I said as I saw his eyes light up. “Nothing wrong with caffeine and carbs as long as we’re judicious.” I smiled as I opened the tin of berry scones.

“And no one catches us,” he said as he reached for the largest one. “I think we can see Drum before you leave.” I measured out the tea before I answered.

“It’s not too soon?  As much as it would do my heart good to talk with him I don’t want to risk too much too soon. He’s not healthy as a rule, so I know this could have killed him.”

“He’s better, Mae. You have not only my word but the attending physician’s as well. We may be a holistic center, but the owners know traditional medicine’s role as well so…”

“Why have I not seen this attending physician, then?” I couldn’t keep the suspicion out of my voice. “Is he invisible?”  The whistle of the kettle stopped me from saying more until I’d poured the water over the leaves and covered the pot. “Well?”

“Not invisible, Mae. Not nefarious either, although I see the look in your eyes. I may go by the title Doctor, but it’s in the field of Holistics. I can prescribe herbs but nothing stronger…so Begonia has a house physician, duly licensed by the state. Her name is Rachell Clements and she’s very good at her job. Charms the patients like you wouldn’t believe. She examined Drum earlier this afternoon while you were attending to your own rounds and says he’s able to be awake for short periods of time. She can’t guarantee he’ll remember anything of what we tell him, but at least he can see you and know he’s safe. Now is that lovely oolong ready?”

,

We set four o’clock as the time to meet in me brother’s room. I could see him for a bit and then spend a moment or two with Mrs. Delancey.  In the meantime, I went about my duties and tried not to think about Morales.  Before I knew it, the Doc and I were standing in the doorway of Drum’s sparsely furnshed but airy room. Me brother was breathing easier, that I could tell, but it took feeling his cool forehead to convince me he was on the mend. As I stroked his rumpled hair, he opened his eyes and looked at me, not quite sure who I was.

“It’s me, ye daft man,” I said quietly. “No need to say anything. You’re safe and getting better and I’m here to make sure of it.”

“Mae?” It was a whisper. “ But I …I mean, someone took me.” He looked from me to Doctor B and made as if to get up. “Where…/”

“It’s all right, Drum. You’ve been really ill, more than we thought. Dr. B. here has been working with Dr. Clements to get you healthy but it’s taking time. I’m here too, working with them, but….”this would be tricky…”you don’t know me, because…”

“Under the covers again?” The whisper was accompanied by a pale imitation of his teasing grin. “About the people who…”

Yes, but we’re going to find them.”I kissed his forehead and left the room.

“Level with me, Doc. How close to dying was Drum?” I waited until the Doc had closed Drum’s door before I ambushed him. Drum was never healthy, even as a bairn. To be honest, I’d say that’s one of the reasons I was born. Me Da needed an heir, didn’t matter whether male or female. He was a businessman and wanted someone to follow in his footsteps. And keep the McEwan name alive too, I suppose. Fortuinately, my younger brother was born fit and feisty and took to the business straight out of university. By then, I’d been studying nursing and Drum was well, Drum was following his own path. When he disappeared, I searched until I found him. By then he was old beyond his young years. He wouldn’t come back, so I made a deal with me Da. I would keep “an eye on Drummond, lass” and he would make sure I had the funds to do just that. Within reason of course.

“Mae?” Doc’s voice called me back from the memories.

“Sorry. I was thinking about home,” I said. Not a lie but not the truth. “So how close, Doc?”

“When he was dropped on the doorstep, he was having trouble breathing. And his fever was too high.  I got him in and settled and called Dr. Clements. She started him on oxygen and high powered anitbiotics, but we also used some herbal preparations to ease his breathing and relax him.  Nothing that interacted with the medicine. Rachell diagnosed it as double pneumonia. Another few hours and… I’m sorry Mae.”

“You saved his life. He’ll recover. That’s the important thing. I just want him to stay as safe as possible while we go after these….”

“Assholes?”

“That’ll do.”

“Why not head home a bit early, Mae? You could use some rest yourself. Lots of changes in the past few days, but I hope you’re settling into the routine here at Begonia. See you in the morning?” To my surprise, the Doc waved and went towards his office.

“What the…?”

“Ms. Fitzgerald? Mae?” Camille’s dulcet tones came from behind me. “Are you leaving?”

“After I see Mrs. Delancey,” I managed to squeak out. “Was there something I might help you with, Camille?”

“I just wanted to let you know we’ll be placing an order for herbals and supplements tomorrow should you need to replace anything or add anything to your shelves.”

“I believe I’m fine for now, but I’ll let you know if I think of something.”

“That’s lovely. Before noon though.” She smiled, turned on her heel, and walked back toward the front entrance.  I squared my shoulders and walked the short distance to Mrs. Delancey’s room, my last stop of the day.  Maybe there would be some news from Sylvain.

 

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A Stroke of Luck

images

 

 

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….

 

 

MAE

 

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.”

“Close off?”

“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.”

“GPS.”

“How?”

“No need for you to know, Mae.” Morales said. “Trust me,”

I did. But I would still try to weasel it out of Sylvain.

 

 

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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.”

 

 

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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.”

 

 

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…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.”

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All You Need Is…..

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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.

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