A FAIR OF THE HEART
"What do you think, Doctor?"
Simon Locke's brow furrowed as he looked into the grave face of his older partner.
"This decision can't be made lightly, Simon."
"I know, but we're on the clock with this one. We have to let her know soon."
Louise Wynn interrupted their solemn consultation with a "Well? What's the decision?" The tall woman with dark red hair standing next to her drew in an anticipatory breath.
"Strawberry," Andrew Sellers said finally, putting down the jelly spoon.
"I agree," Locke nodded, handing the lacquered Japanese tray lined with five glass sample bowls to Mrs. Wynn's sister.
"You're certain?" Yvonne Holgate said with a frown.
"You wanted an independent opinion, Vonnie," Sellers said mildly, his gentle brown eyes regarding the woman from under shaggy grey brows. "I wouldn't say it was the best of your jams if I didn't mean it."
"I need to be sure this year. I'm tired of that old biddy Alma Meserve winning the blue ribbon in the jam division!"
Locke leaned back in the kitchen chair, his usually contagious grin smothered. Now in his first autumn living in Dixon Mills, he was learning about the tumult caused by the annual county fair. In the past week, while making calls to farmers having suffered harvest-related injuries (mainly machinery cuts which needed stitching), he had been surrounded by family members of all sizes and sexes telling him about a prize calf, hand-raised pumpkins (fed with milk, of all things), teams of horses training for stone pulling, quilting entries, and the highly-contested jam-making competition. Indeed, the handsome dark-haired physician had already been introduced to many elder daughters who were making their first entry into the contest while proud parents emphasized their culinary skills.
Mrs. Wynn's sister, already a familiar sight in the clinic when a patient emergency occurred, apparently had additional talents of which he was previously unaware, including the preserving of jams as well as tatted lace. He gathered through snippets of chatter shared by the sisters that for the past five years, Vonnie Holgate's jam (as well as other entries) had lost to Mrs. Meserve, a Dixon Mills resident little seen in the clinic, but whom he recalled as a stern-looking angular woman.
"Thank you for your help, Andrew, Simon," Vonnie said gratefully. "I mean, I'm flattered when Mike and the boys tell me it's the best I've ever made, but...well, it is my own family after all!"
"I don't think their opinion was entirely due to nepotism," Sellers rumbled as he leaned back in his chair. "And I don't suppose you'd leave us the rest of that sample to have with our breakfast?"
"Oh, Andrew!" But she laughed and plunked the little custard dish heaped in pinkish-red jam back on the kitchen table. "Enjoy it!"
In another minute she and Wynn were gone, and Simon Locke stretched in his chair and then rose, deftly placing bread in the toaster, removing butter from the refrigerator, and then turning his attention to the stove and the eggs Wynn had left in a bowl beside it. He was just about to crack the first egg into a frying pan when Wynn came bustling back in and took it from his hand. "The ideagive me that."
"I can cook for myself," Locke protested, secretly relieved. He wasn't bad at scrambled eggs, but he had to admit there was something about Mrs. Wynn's eggs that his own seemed to lack. Chastened, he sat back at the table watching Andrew Sellers give him a tongue-in-cheek grin that clearly said "I bet you thought I was in charge here."
Instead Sellers said, "What's on your call sheet this morning, Dr. Locke?"
"Mrs. Loomis's baby," the younger man said promptly. "He's still running a fever. Then I'm going to drive out to Jim Manyhorses' cabin. He has bronchitis and won't admit it. I know his home-brewed poultices are helping his breathing somewhat, but I think he needs a little help."
"How's Mary's baby?" Wynn asked as she rapidly delivered two scrambled eggs and two slices of toast to Sellers.
"I haven't seen the Bluefoots, but Jim says the child's doing well. He's already holding up her head."
There were several sharp raps at the front door below, then the sound of a strong tread up the stairs and in the hall. Chief Dan Palmer pushed open the swinging door to the kitchen, a thick sheaf of papers in his left hand. "Sorry for dropping in so early, but I was at the post office when Harry opened the doors and he said you were waiting on these. Said they were important, so I figured I'd drop them by."
Wynn stopped in the middle of dishing up Locke's eggs. "Forms? Have I forgotten something?"
"Vaccination forms," Sellers said between a mouthful of toast liberally smeared with strawberry jam.
"Oh, that's right. For the new school year." She shifted Locke's plate to him, put the butter and the jam in the center of the table, and then said briskly, "Just put them down, Dan, and sit down. I'll have yours over easy in just a minute."
"I stopped to drop off Andrew's forms," Palmer said gruffly, "not have breakfast. I'll grab a coffee and a couple doughnuts at Millie's."
"Pish," said Mrs. Wynn. "Sit. Dr. Locke, get me more of the bacon, please."
The kitchen was small, and Simon had merely to reach sideways to open the refrigerator door and pull the wrapped package from the middle shelf. In a few minutes, Palmer, with a dour expression only made more severe by his dark, downswept brows, was also eating eggs and toast, and when Mrs. Wynn sat down herself, a platter of sizzling bacon was added in the center of the table. She poured hot coffee from the percolator sitting in a knitted cozy at one side of the table.
"You're out early," she said brightly.
"I'm overseeing the fairground setup," Palmer said shortly, and the others at table exchanged unobtrusive glances. Carnival rides were a large component of the county fair, and memories of the typhoid outbreak at the early summer carnival was still fresh in their minds. They all knew Ruth Warner had left town with the county health inspector, but had asked the staff not to let Dan know. It was a secret they were keeping reluctantly. "This time we don't have to worry about known felons in our back yard," he added, stabbing a piece of bacon with such ferocity that Locke averted his eyes back to his plate. "I've had this bunch of carnies thoroughly checked out before the fair committee could even pay the booking fee."
"Good to know," Sellers said mildly.
Wynn stirred her coffee briskly, her sleek red head bowed over the cup. "Vonnie told me some interesting news this morning. Guess who's come back to Dixon MillsCarolyn Fournier."
"Little Carrie?" Palmer quirked his right eyebrow at her.
"She was the kid sister of my best friend," Dan responded defensively. "What am I supposed to say about her?"
"Elucidate, my dear Wynn," Locke said mischievously.
"Carolyn's a native of Dixon Mills," she explained. "You haven't met her family because her parents became homesick for Canada a few years ago and returned to Quebec. 'Little' Carrie," and she leveled a pointed look at Palmer, "has been practicing law in Burlington for the past five years."
"And now she's home for a visit," Palmer said dryly, finishing his eggs. "So what?"
"No, she's home for good," Wynn said decisively. "She told Vonnie that she's opening an office in town. Her aunt is helping her set up shop in that little storefront near Stouffer's Dry Goods."
"Surely she doesn't intend to practice law here," Palmer objected, looking up from his nearly empty plate in astonishment.
"And why not?" Wynn responded.
Palmer looked incredulous. "Practice what? The occasional land dispute? Old George Fairmont has that market cornered."
"George Fairmont will just have to share his cases with her," Wynn said sensibly. "He's nearly ready to retire anyway, and, besides, there are wills, business contracts–plenty of work for two...she told Vonnie she was looking forward to it."
"I'm not talking about that. Why come back here?" Palmer said impatiently.
Locke tilted his head up in surprise. "Why, Dan, I'm hurt. I thought I was the only target of your paranoia against urban emigrants. So tell me, what is it with you and people who move to the country from the city? Do we all have secret ulterior motives? Or are you afraid Miss Fournier is also collecting stories about the natives?"
Palmer's mouth pursed and Locke braced for the onslaught; instead, he drained the last of his coffee and stood up stiffly. "Thanks for the breakfast, Mrs. Wynn." He looked Locke directly in the eye and said, "With my luck, I'll see you later," and stalked out. The door swayed back and forth in his wake.
"Need some frostbite treatment?" Sellers asked.
"Just a cold spell." Locke's blue eyes were twinkling in satisfaction.
"The two of you are like a couple of quarrelsome boys." Wynn complained.
"And why should I lose my youth, Mrs. Wynn?"
Sellers clinked his coffee cup with a sigh and pushed his chair back with a juddering scrape. "It's time for us to get going, Doctor."
"So it is." They left the bright kitchen with its flowered wallpaper for the more-somber dark woodwork of the hall and stair, and then into the clinic, where Sellers closed the door gently behind him as Locke went for his bag and his list of patients. Sellers sat down at his desk, opening his appointment book. "I think I saw Donny Dow coming up the walk. He's here to have us check his cast. Send him in, will you?"
* * * * *
"Dr. Locke! Wait up!"
He was just about to close the door of the car when Mrs. Shepard dashed out the front door of her house, a scarf wrapped about her shoulders against the brisk wind. As it had become common in the past few weeks, he was expecting her to hand him some choice dainty from her county fair largess and was surprised when she caught his arm and gasped out. "Dr. Locke, Nurse Wynn just telephoned hoping to catch you. Chief Palmer wants you to stop by the fairgrounds. One of the workers was hurt. He says to let you know it's not life-threatening, but he'd like you to come by."
"Thank you, Mrs. Shepard. I'll do that. If someone calls back, tell them I'm on my way."
"Oh," she added brightly, passing him a glass jar, "and here's some of my rhubarb jam to take with you!"
Locke set the jar of jam in the footwell of the passenger seat along with a dozen eggs, a parcel of smoked sausage wrapped in butcher paper, and another glass jar of blackberry preserves, then turned the car to the west. The Shepard place was less than twenty minutes from the fairgrounds, along a country route lined with reddening sumac leaves and tangled scarlet blueberry bushes. Locke pulled the Blazer into a gravel area where other cars were parked and emerged, scanning the area quickly, then, seeing no one else but hearing voices, headed in that direction. He skirted several travel trailers, a half-dozen-or-so camper vans, and then turned the corner to see Dan Palmer with his hand firmly on the shoulder of a young man who sat on the bumper of one of the campers nursing his left hand with his right. The thin man, not much more than a boy, had pale blond hair and a defiant face, which, Locke knew, would only serve to make Palmer's grip more severe.
"Is this the young man that needs my help?" he asked pleasantly.
The boy glared at him with pale grey eyes. Even in his irritation he looked weary. College-age, Locke thought, perhaps not a scholar, who'd taken a carnival job to make a living. If the fading bruises on his arms were any indication, he'd lived hard for awhile. "My hand's fine. I don't need no doctor."
"Are you a medical student?" Locke asked mildly, noting the blood slowly seeping through the young man's fingers.
"Me?" was the bewildered answer. "I'm no doctor!"
"But I am, so why don't you let me make that determination, eh?" Locke responded, holding out his hand. The young man made a face, then outstretched his left hand. A long cut on the palm welled with blood.
"Thought it might need stitches," Palmer said gruffly, dropping his hand.
Locke motioned his patient to a rickety-looking lawn chair, set his bag down on a nearby card table, and drew sterile instruments and gloves from it. After a few minutes of cleaning the blood away, he regarded the young man. "The Chief was right, you do need stitches."
He paled. "Do I have to?"
"Well, I don't intend to let you bleed to death," Locke retorted, to which the boy made a face. The doctor gave him a local anesthetic and began gravely stitching the slashed flesh. "What happened?"
"I was helping put up framework for one of the tents. It's for the food service."
"Is this a metal cut?"
"You ask a lot of questions over a stupid cut," the young man said resentfully.
"Look," Locke said patiently, "I just need to know because if it was metal and it was rusty..."
"I don't know. I just cut my hand," came the impatient reply. "Look, I'm off the clock right now. I can't earn any money this way. I need bread, man."
Locke finished his work and neatly bandaged the hand. "Work all you like, but I warn you this is going to hurt for a while. But when you get off tonight, or early tomorrow morning, come by the clinic. Mel Urquhart at the fair office will tell you where that is. If you were cut with anything rusty, you could be in danger of contracting tetanus. Have you ever had a tetanus shot?"
The boy shook his head. "Can't say that I have."
"Come by the clinic then. Tetanus isn't anything you want to fool around with. Another name for it is 'lockjaw.' That will give you an idea."
"Sounds creepy. I guess I'll come in," the young man grumbled, making a face at the neatly bandaged hand.
"Why, Daniel Boone, is that you?"
Like the blond-headed boy below him, Locke turned quickly at the sound of a merry female voice, and then suppressed a chuckle. Dan Palmer looked like a deer caught in car headlights, and he was rapidly reddening at the sight of a young woman striding toward them, in her early 30s, with dark red hair and blue eyes, a plaid Hudson's Bay jacket over a velour top and blue jeans. She was smiling broadly.
"Sorry, Dan," she added, "I couldn't resist."
Dan Palmer gave Simon Locke a glare that could have melted a glacier, but the doctor merely smiled at the newcomer and extended a hand. "I have a feeling you're Carolyn Fournier. Mrs. Wynn mentioned you were back in Dixon Mills. I'm Simon Locke, Andrew Sellers' new associate." He paused a beat. "Daniel...Boone?"
She gave a full-throated laugh. "Dan and my brother Tim were best buddies. I think the first memory I have of them is their playing wilderness scouts in the woods behind our house."
Right then the blond boy pushed out of his chair. "I gotta go. Thanks for patching me up, doctor. Sorry I was such a grouch."
"Clinic!" Locke reminded as he walked away, and the young man made what might pass for an acknowledging wave. Now it was Locke's turn to scowl. "Dan, any way you can make sure that youngster shows up at the clinic?"
"Not unless I put a leash on him." Palmer regarded him coolly. "What are the chances of him having tetanus?"
To Locke's surprise, Carolyn answered, after a quick look around what structures had already been mounted around the fairgrounds, "I'd say a fairly even chance." She gave him a knowing smile. "I worked in insurance for a while. Health claims."
"An astute observation," Locke concurred. "There's your answer, Chief."
Palmer looked unhappy. "I'll tell Urquhart to keep an eye on him." Then he turned his attention to Carolyn. "What brings you here today, Caramel?" When she winced, he smirked. "Two can play at that game, you know."
"I'm here because I heard something unpleasant from Alma Meserve."
"What's she complaining about now? Last time I heard from her she wanted me to do something about the deer in her garden."
"She tells me," Carolyn said sternly, "that she was threatened." At Palmer's incredulous expression, she added. "I took Aunt Clémence to the Ladies' Auxiliary meeting this morning, and Alma told me in confidence that she's been receiving threatening notes, including one that said that if she doesn't withdraw from the jam competition, she'll get what's coming to her."
Locke asked mildly, "Does this sort of thing always happen in Dixon Mills at county fair time?"
"I'll have you know that jam making is a very old Dixon Mills talent, Dr. Locke," Carolyn replied. "And I have to admit Alma can be a bear; not to mention she's a downright snob. Dan, she was hoping you would come and talk to her."
"All right," he said laconically. "She could have called me, you know."
"Knowing you, you've probably wounded her pride too many times." Carolyn flashed a smile. "I guess I'll see you tonight, Dr. Locke. Mrs. Wynn has invited me for a welcome-home dinner."
He smiled back, turning up its wattage in part because he liked her already and also because it made Palmer scowl again. "It will be a pleasure, Miss Fournier."
"Carolyn," she reminded. "Or 'Carrie' is fine, too." Palmer grunted and was turning toward his patrol car when she pivoted on her heel and took several long strides to catch up with him. "Dan, let me walk with you. I have some pictures of Tim and his family in my wallet and I promised him I'd show them to you. Can you imagine, Mr.-I'll-Never-Ever-Be-Married with two kids? Sometimes it seems like a big joke..."
* * * * *
Locke consulted his crumpled paper list one more time. His final call was far on the other side of Highway 7, a Mrs. Pogie. He'd gathered from Sellers that the Pogies seldom bothered with doctors, but that Ernesta Pogie had called, troubled about arthritis pain in her hands. Like everyone else, she was readying for the fair and her aching hands were playing hob with her preparations. He was to take a turn off the main street onto Dengrove Lane and then look for the blue house.
To his surprise, he discovered the blue house had been converted into a small bookshop. He liked to read police procedurals in his limited free time between calls, clinic, and medical journals, and a closer source aside from spending a day driving into Burlington for books would be welcome.
He parked on the gravel driveway before the house and entered through the front door, where the former living room had been furnished with a few inviting, plaid armchairs, including a pair beside the fireplace with a table for browsers to enjoy on cold days, while the room was walled with bookshelves, except in the very far right-hand corner, which was set up as a check-out counter. An ancient steel cash register and an adding machine were set on a battered office desk, with a vintage office typewriter set next to it at a right angle on a rickety typing table. Locke examined a newish bulletin board set up next to the counter, with some rather blotted typed notices about book discussion groups adorning it; even a flyer for a knitters' reading group.
A brisk older woman whisked into the room from the hallway seen beyond. Her apple-round face was creased with a great many small lines, but her brown eyes were as bright as a bird's and he could see the attractive young woman she had been. She was in a flowered print housedress and a blue apron liberally spotted with blots of pinkish-red. "May I help you?"
"If you're Mrs. Pogie," Locke said with a warm smile, "I'm here to help you."
"You must be Dr. Locke!" she said warmly, extending a knotted hand. He took it rather than shaking it, examining the swollen knuckles. "This looks painful."
"It's why I called," she confessed. "I know I can't do anything about the years, but I was hoping you could provide some help with the pain and the mobility."
He did the examination right there in the front room seated in front of the fireplace, testing range of motion and the puffy joints, asking questions, with Mrs. Pogie briskly answering them. After making some preliminary decisions and methods to help her, he ventured a question about the shop.
"Oh, I've always wanted to have a bookshop!" she said enthusiastically. "My husband and I decided that with our boys gone the house was so bigso why not?" She gave a fond look at the old equipment. "It's a bit makeshift, but the folks around here don't mind, especially the ones my age. In the morning I make coffee and drop cookiesso easy, doesn't even hurt my handsand the church club or the ladies' curling league pay me a quarter for the coffee and another for some cookies, and we chat and I have company in the daytimeJed, my husband, still works over at the town halland nights Jed and I have it all to ourselves. Here, I'll show you around: out here is our nonfiction section..."
Locke followed in her wake as she showed off the store (fiction in the former dining room, children's books in the downstairs bedroom, and cookbooks in the kitchen, which had remained unchanged save for some extra chairs and a small tea table near a window overlooking an autumn-swept garden dotted with golden and orange marigolds and purple Shasta daisies bobbing in the wind) partially out of courtesy, but mainly because of Ernesta's genuine love for her new project. Out on the kitchen table were several dozen empty jam jars and a sweet-scented concoction of damson plum jam was boiling on the stove.
"I've been entering that jam contest for five years now," she said grimly, "hoping one day to beat that old bat Alma Meserve." Locke stifled a smile and she looked embarrassed, but said firmly, "I know, Dr. Locke. It isn't Christian to speak of someone like that. But honestly, that woman really would try the patience of a saint. And she always does win..." For a second she looked tired. "If her jam didn't taste so wonderful it would be a real sin!"
"Maybe this year will be different," he said encouragingly, and left her with some stronger analgesic tablets and suggestions for heat and hand exercises, then headed home with the setting sun chasing him all the way. If he were lucky, he thought, glancing at his watch, he'd just make supper.
* * * * *
Mrs. Wynn, he decided, had outdone herself. When he got in the door, the succulent scent of roasted veal (more county fair largesse, he presumed) enticed him toward the dinner table. He dropped his medical bag on his desk and washed his hands in the examining room, then took the stairs two at the time to reach the kitchen just as laughter emerged. Carolyn and Wynn were chortling at the end of one of Sellers' shaggy-dog stories, and he noted with a muffled grin that he had been seated next to Carolyn. Not that the situation, he thought appreciatively, was bad at all.
"I hear you've met Dr. Locke already," Sellers said genially.
"We had a brief encounter," she laughed, "but most of what I know about him is by reputation."
Locke winced. "I'm not sure if I should find that frightening or not. Are you hearing last winter's reputation or something a little more recent?"
"A combination of both," Carolyn confessed. "And I do get the feeling Lou Jordan still doesn't like you very much. But I don't trust anyone's judgment as much as I trust Andrew's." She flashed a smile at Sellers. "If you vouch for him, he's in."
"He's in this week," Sellers said wryly. "Next weekwho knows. Let me make a formal introduction anyway, before I change my mind. Carolyn Fournier, Dr. Simon Locke, occasionally resident irritant. Dr. Locke, Miss Fournier, who's returned to Dixon Mills after a too-long sojourn in Burlington."
"Pleased to meet youagainMiss Fournier," Locke nodded, to complete the ceremony.
"I told you this morning it was Carolyn. 'Miss Fournier' is my maiden aunt Clémence."
The conversation muted as they dug into tender sliced veal, roasted potatoes, and carrots, but they had hardly made a dent in their portions when there was a knock on the door. Quick footsteps were heard on the stairs, and then Dan Palmer was in the doorway. Before Wynn could speak, he put up a hand in a stop motion. "I'm only here for a minute, Mrs. Wynn. I noticed Simon's car was back and wanted to know if that kid from the carnival had shown up here for his shot. Urquhart gave him the day off with pay, said he shouldn't work with his hand like that, and told him to come back tomorrow. I'd wondered if he used his free time to come by for his tetanus shot."
"I didn't give anyone a tetanus inoculation today," Mrs. Wynn said.
"Nor I," Sellers answered.
Locke looked exasperated. "I knew I should have driven him here."
"Who are we talking about?" Sellers asked quizzically.
"One of the young men hired on at the county fairgrounds to put up the temporary structures. That's what Simon was doing when we met, stitching up his hand. He'd cut it on metal while helping them set up," Carolyn said.
"Let me guess—he hasn't had a tetanus booster in a while," said Sellers.
"Sounded to me like he didn't even know what tetanus was." Palmer said grimly. "And we have no address for him."
"It's not like Dixon Mills is New York, Dan," Carolyn remarked. "Surely he'll turn up."
"If nothing else, tomorrow on the fairgrounds," Locke shook his head. "Wait until I get my hands on him."
"Well, I hope so." Wynn said briskly, rising.
"Dan, were you able to speak with Mrs. Meserve?" asked Carolyn, just as he made a turn for the door.
"Yes, God help me," he said, rolling his eyes.
"I feel as if I've come in in the middle of a party," Sellers complained. "What about Alma?"
Wynn set a plate, a napkin, and a knife and fork between Carolyn and Dr. Sellers. "You might as well sit down, Dan. I know you; you live on sandwiches and coffee. This is real food: Ed Moffat's veal...and my sister's recipe to boot. Roast potatoes, tooyour favorite."
Palmer spread his hands, rolled his eyes, then pulled off his jacket and laid it on the stool. "Yes, mom."
Sellers carved him some of the veal and he served himself from the potato and carrot dishes. "Now what's all this about Alma?"
"She told me she'd been getting threatening notes." Carolyn offered.
"Howard finally snap?" Sellers asked waggishly.
"It's not a joke," Palmer admitted. "I saw the notes."
"Carefully cut from the newspaper with shears?" Locke hazarded, raising an eyebrow.
He received a baleful look in response. "Nothing so cliché. And nothing so easy as figuring out someone's handwriting. Frankly, it sounds like things you'd hear in a bad movie. 'We've had enough of your jam. Enter the contest again and you'll be sorry.' 'Win again at your own risk.' 'We know your secret. Enter the contest again and everyone else will know, too.' And etcetera."
"'Secret'?" Mrs. Wynn reproved mischievously. "Nothing Alma does is a secret. She just tells it to Mrs. Rhodie and then all of Dixon Mills knows about it."
Carolyn shook her head. "Sweet old Mrs. Rhodie. I suspect if she becomes one of my customers she'll try to get a two-for-one special out of me."
"So scuttlebutt is right?" Palmer asked seriously. "You're really setting up shop in the old dime store?"
"I am. Aunt Clémence is helping me. She said it would be the best legacy ever, having me practice law in Dixon Mills, and as a gift she's buying me all my office furniture and I'm using Papa's old desk."
"But why? Tim once told me you were doing so well in Burlington that they were considering making you a partner," Palmer said impatiently, pointing at her with his fork.
"Oh, yes, junior partner in a small herd of junior partners, dealing with the same bland clients day after day. Thanks, but no thanks."
Locke quirked one eyebrow across the table. "Carolyn, meet Dan's hobbyhorse. Apparently we city folk all have secret ulterior motives for moving to the country."
"Don't tell me you've been ragging on him, too, Dan Palmer!" said Carolyn, and the look on each of the faces around the table made her burst out laughing. "Cynicism. That's what I was running away from in Burlington. And now here you are." She poked a finger in Palmer's chest, and Wynn bit her lip to stop from laughing.
"I had a pleasant surprise today," Locke said, after a few appreciative mouthfuls of the veal. "I had a call out toward Kingsbridge, on Route 7, and I found a new bookstore. A Mr. and Mrs. Pogie run it."
Sellers gave a fond smile. "Jed and Ernesta. Rotten patients, but salt of the earth. Jed would do anything for his 'girlie,' as he calls her. So she has her bookstore at last? That's been her dream since they arrived here after the war. When Jed got out of the service, he said he ran as far from the city as he could get."
"I promised I'd get her something a little stronger for her arthritis. I think one of old Jim's poultices might work for her, too." Locke looked up. "I was planning to take it out there tomorrow."
"You'd better go out with Dan hunting up your tetanus suspect instead. I'll take it out early tomorrow. I haven't talked to either of them in a month of Sundays."
The chatter turned to the county fair and other more general topics, discussed over blueberry pie—just a sample of Mabel Moffat's entry for the fair, Wynn told them. Finally Palmer looked at his watch. "I don't know about anyone else, but my day starts early tomorrow."
"So it does." Sellers said contently, patting his stomach.
"Same here," Carolyn chimed in. "Painting tomorrow! A nice calm blue for my future clients."
Mrs. Wynn was already on her feet, gathering up the dishes, and Carolyn added anxiously, "Louise, do you need any help?"
"For this little meal?" Wynn looked indignant. "This is nothing. Ask Dr. Sellers about his examining room sometime!" Carolyn laughed, and Wynn added, "Dr. Locke, why don't you walk Dixon Mills' newest attorney to her car?"
Locke grinned. "I believe I will," and led Carolyn out the door.
Palmer shook his head at the two of them, gave Sellers a dour look, and took his own leave.
Later, while Wynn sang over the dishes and they arranged the clinic for the next day's business, Sellers cocked his ear to the melody from the kitchen, and then closed the door gently. "Our Mrs. Wynn seems to be up to something."
Locke grinned. "It wasn't just me, then."
"Oh, no. Wynn definitely has something up her sleeve." Sellers looked up at him speculatively. "Carolyn is an excellent young woman, after all. Intelligent, attractive, outgoing, ambitious…"
"Excellent," Locke repeated. "But I don't need two matchmakers in the house. One is quite enough."
* * * * *
Andrew Sellers hummed snatches of familiar old songs as he drove out to the Pogies'. The sun had just risen and peeped in and out of fluffy white-pink-and-orange clouds against a bright blue sky, and around every curve the landscape laid out a pallet of green turning to scarlet and orange and gold. At the book shop he hefted his bag out of the passenger seat, smiling at the trim front and the new sign which said "Pogie Books." As early as it was, the "Open" sign was already hung crookedly on the door.
Instead of Ernesta tending shop, he found Jed Pogie seated at the typewriter, his balding head bent over the machine as he tapped laboriously at the keys. The bell over the door made him jump, and then he slowly rose from his seat. "Andrew Sellers, how the hell are you?"
"On two feet and breathing, which is always good," Sellers responded genially. "Jed, you must be hiding a picture in your closet."
"You mean I looked like this before?" Pogie looked down at himself, in a baggy pair of grey trousers, an old wool sweater, a ratty-looking vest, and corderoy slippers. "God forbid." He mimed making a muscle with his right arm. “Remember me, Mr. Atlas?” Then he guffawed. “So what can I do for you?”
"I came to deliver Ernesta's medicine. Is she here?"
"She's still asleep."
"I came out early because I remember you two were always up with the chickens," Sellers looked grave. "Is it her arthritis? Is the pain worse?"
Pogie shook his head and came out from behind the desk. "It's that ridiculous contest is what it is. She was up until midnight last night. Midnight! She's never stayed up that late in her life. Do you know she's been making batch after batch of jam and then says it's not as good as Alma Meserve's? What rubbish! She makes magnificent jams; we eat them all winter and it makes it seem like summer again." He gave Sellers a fond smile. "My girlie can do anything, but she can't win this silly contest and it bothers her."
"Mrs. Wynn's sister is on the same track," the older doctor said soothingly. "They're very proud women and it's a matter of pride for them all." He looked around the remodeled living room and smiled. "You did her proud yourself, Jed. This is beautiful work."
"Not all mine," Pogie said modestly. "The Mason brothers over at Kingsbridge Lumber helped me a lot. Their daddy and I were in the service together. It's one of the reasons I moved here after the war." He waved at the bulletin board. "She's got her books, and her meetings and friends galore to visit her, and that jam still confounds her."
"If it's the only thing to confound her, she's a lucky woman." Sellers reviewed the typed missives on the board with amusement, picked up a battered stapler, and ran his hand down the scarred side of the ancient cash register. "Scrimped a little on the rest of the machines, I see."
Pogie sighed. "This is on a shoestring, Andrew. Got what I could take. Say, you want a cup of coffee?"
"Sounds good. While we're drinking it I'll tell you what we've brought for Ernesta's arthritis so you can let her know what it is and how to use it when she awakens." He glanced at his watch. "Do you always open this early?"
"Couldn't sleep myself, worried over Ernie. Might as well see if there was some company around. Want some toast? We have plenty of jam..."
Fifteen minutes later, the telephone rang in the hallway, and Pogie jumped from his chair to catch it in hopes of his wife not waking up. In a minute he was back in the kitchen, extending the receiver on its long old-fashioned woven cord. "It's Louise Wynn," he stage whispered. "I'm going to see if it woke Ernie."
"Dr. Sellers, it's so good to hear your voice," she said breathlessly.
"I have Minnie Collister here. She's having chest pains. I think it's her angina, and I've had her take her nitroglycerin tablet sublingually, but I still don't like her color. Can you come back as quickly as you can?"
Sellers switched ears so he could snatch a last bit of toast. "Where's Simon? I thought he was going to wait until I got back to go out with Dan."
"He left here a half hour ago. Tommy Pelham took a fall off his combine. He's got a head injury and Nancy thinks a broken arm. I would have gone, but I couldn't leave the clinic and Nancy used to be an LPN. She'll do fine helping him. A good thing I didn't leave!"
"All right," Sellers used his free hand to wipe his mouth and take a last gulp of coffee. "I'll be there as soon as possible. Lie Minnie down...oh, why am I telling you this? I said once you know the job better than I do!"
* * * * *
"Hello, Mel," Palmer called as he pushed open the door of the fair organizer's office, a battered brown-and-white trailer set at the edge of the fairgrounds. A balding, moon-faced man looked up from what looked like an explosion of paper on a battered metal desk.
"Oh, hell, what now, Dan? You never show up unless there's trouble."
"This could be trouble. We're looking for Billy Windish, the boy who had to go home yesterday."
"Yeah, the kid with the cut." Mel Urquhart rose from his desk, wiping his hand across his brow. "Dan, I haven't seen the boy. I gave him yesterday off; that was a bad cut. But he never came in this morning."
"Then where's he living?" Palmer countered. "I need to know. He could have tetanus, and he never showed at Andrew's place for his shot."
"I don't ask things like that from these transients, Dan, you know that. They show up, do their work, and I pay them in cash. Billy's been working since Monday; he was a good one. Followed directions, didn't talk back. That's why I gave him what he earned so far and thought he'd come back for more. Guess I was wrong, but no matter. There are plenty of fish in the sea who need the work."
"Any other of these 'transients' friends with Billy?"
"Feel free to get an answer from any one of them," Urquhart waved his hand toward the outdoors. "They're still working on the food pavilions. Now, I've got a million things to do and..."
Palmer finished roughly, "...and you'll tell me if you hear anything more about Billyor I'll wear you out."
He pushed the screen door shut with a satisfying slam, then stood with arms akimbo, regarding both north and south sides of the fairgrounds. The permanent structures, the barns that held the livestock, were to the south, and the vast expanse of the grounds to the north. He pivoted on his heel and crunched gravel and then marred grass as he strode to where a compliment of men of various ages and statures were erecting the metal poles that would support the roof of the food area; later the picnic tables would be moved in underneath to provide fairgoers with a covered place to sit and eat.
Suddenly he recognized a familiar face. "Hey, Natie!"
A teenager with long dark hair tied back into a ponytail with a leather thong lifted his head, then grinned broadly. He handed the tools he was holding to another young man and loped toward Palmer. Palmer raised his hand and gave him a high-five accompanied by a scowl. "Maybe this job will give you enough money for a haircut?"
"Don't you start, Dan," Natie Bascomb laughed. "I get enough of that from Dad."
Natie's father was Nate Bascomb, a lumberman from the furthest edge of Palmer's Dixon Mills jurisdiction. The family lived in a snug cabin among the trees they raised for lumber and Palmer rarely saw them in town save for Saturdays when they came into Maloney's General Store. Natie added, "Dad's just jealous because I've got all the hair in the family. You need me for something?"
"I'm looking for Billy Windish."
"Billy who got hurt yesterday?"
"You know two Billy Windishes? The blond kid. I understand he didn't come back today. Dr. Locke thinks that cut might give him tetanus. You don't know where he lives, do you?"
Brought up in a household where handsaws and chainsaws were common equipment, Natie's face darkened. "Tetanus?—definitely not cool. But I don't know where he lives, Dan. I thought he was staying somewhere in town, maybe at Mrs. Gordon's. Yeah, Hallie Gordon. Old Urquhart told the new guys that she takes in boarders." Natie paused. "Hey, I gotta get back to work. Mel doesn't pay for nothing done. Wish I could be more help about Billy."
Palmer stamped back to his car, glancing at his watch and shaking it in irritation, muttering, "Where is that idiot Locke? He said he'd join me after Andrew got back from the Pogies."
"Dixon Mills," came a scratchy voice over the car radio. "Dixon Mills, come in."
He grabbed for the microphone before even taking his seat behind the wheel. "Dixon Mills here. Is that you, Frank?"
"Kingsbridge hereyeah, it's me, Dan. We've got a situation. We need someone to do a flyover of the upper river, near the Rouse campground. A five-year-old slipped out of his folks' travel trailer sometime early this morning. The parents are frantic. We've got a couple of guys on the ground and a K-9 unit, but we need someone in the air. Can you help us?"
"10-4. I'll be gassed up and out as soon as possible. Should I start at the campground?"
"That's also a 10-4. The father took the kid and his older sister on a little hike yesterday. Apparently the kid didn't want to come back from Mason Creek." The dispatcher put a childish twang in his voice. "He didn't want to leave 'the little fishies.'"
Palmer groaned. "A kid and a creek are never good news. I'll get back to you in a little while. Dixon Mills out."
* * * * *
"And so," Locke said, leaning back in his desk chair, "once I cleaned up the gash in Tommy's head, stitched up the damage, determined he didn't have a concussion, set his arm, and reassured Nancy but asked her to keep an eye on him just in case, it was well past lunch time. Nancy offered to feed me, but I wanted to get back to Dan before he thought I stood him up," this last with a touch of a sarcastic grin. "So it's a good thing she tossed a sandwich through the car window before I left, because then I had a flat out on Toboggan Lane. Before I could put the spare on, I had to pump up the tire. Who had the Blazer serviced last?"
Sellers, making notes at his desk, winced and was silent.
"Incidentally, Nancy apologized to me at least a dozen times about her behavior during the typhoid quarantine."
"It would have been better if she'd behaved properly then," Wynn retorted tartly. "As if it were any of our faults that R-...that there was a typhoid outbreak."
"How's Mrs. Collister?"
Sellers answered gruffly, "We had Hearkness send over an ambulance for her. They called me back about an hour ago, said she's fine, no change in her EKG. Her nitroglycerin dosage needs adjusting, so we'll do that."
"And is our esteemed chief of police now railing about my unreliability?"
"Our esteemed chief of police just arrived home himself, according to Elsie at the switchboard," Wynn explained. "There was a child lost up at the campgrounds and they needed Dan to do reconnaissance. It was Dan who found him, in fact, and good thing, as it was just sunset. This was a tiny little boy and he'd walked over a mile upstream at the creek. Dan finally spotted his red jacket in the trees. Elsie told me the little mite had made a fishing pole out of a stick and some string, and Dan found him dangling the string in the water at Rodman's Hole. God help him if he had fallen in!"
"And our tetanus patient hasn't shown up," Locke remarked grimly.
"Not a word," Sellers said glumly.
Wynn said briskly, "Dan says he'll meet you here tomorrow morning after breakfast so you two can continue your search. He did find out what might be a lead from Natie Bascomb."
"Who knows?" Sellers said hopefully. "Maybe he'll walk through the door tomorrow morning."
"That would be a blessing. Now, what about some supper?"
"Any guests tonight?" asked Locke, tongue in cheek.
Wynn looked surprised. "No. Had you wanted me to ask someone?" She shut the appointment book and headed for the door to the clinic, then turned, "Oh, Carolyn Fournier is coming for breakfast tomorrow. Her aunt Clémence figures that since she's staying in Dixon Mills, it's time for a little home redecoration. Carrie wanted to show me some sample books she had."
She left the room and Locke gave Sellers a knowing look from under veiled eyebrows.
* * * * *
"I'm sorry, Dan, Dr. Locke," Mrs. Gordon said regretfully. She was a tall, thin woman with silver-white hair, dressed in a housecoat and slippers over knee socks, holding her skirts against the rising breeze. "I don't have anyone boarding by that name or description. Could he be staying with friends?"
"We understand he's a transient, Hallie. Doesn't know anyone in Dixon Mills."
"Could he be at the Y?" she asked.
"We thought of that on the way here and stopped there first," Locke said. Dixon Mills' YMCA, shared with Kingsbridge, was some miles away and had cost them almost ninety minutes. They had also stopped at the Fairlane Motel at the very edge of the county line with no success. "They hadn't seen or heard of him either."
"You know, at county fair time, sometimes the Wilsons take folks in."
"I called," Palmer responded. "They're not taking in anyone this year because Fred's lumbago is acting up. If you ask me, Harriet is just sick of it."
Mrs. Gordon shook a finger at him playfully. "You men think keeping house is so easy. Try it sometime."
They said their farewells and were tramping back to Palmer's car when Locke heard him mutter under his breath. "Come again?"
"I said I'd rather search the woods for poachers with a bullet in my leg than keep boarders."
Simon swung the big door of the police car open. "I'd rather listen to Mrs. Rhodie all afternoon."
Dan looked at him. "If that was a contestyou win." He paused. "You know, I've been thinkingno cracks out of you!what if we just cruise Main Street and do a shop-to-shop? Even if he's boarding somewhere and doesn't need to buy meals, he may have gone in one of the stores for smokes, beer, or a candy bar."
"Since we have no leads at all, it can't hurt," Locke said, settling back as Palmer gunned the car.
* * * * *
"So either this kid is abstemious and diabetic or he hasn't been in town." Palmer leaned back against the park bench that stood to the one side of the Methodist church, regarding Main Street with a scowl. "We've been to nearly every place on the street."
Locke was shaking a pebble out of his shoe. "Might as well hit the rest."
Palmer squinted as he looked across the street. "As if I don't know why."
Locke followed his glance to see Carolyn entering the old storefront that would eventually be her office and gave a slow smile. "Well, I have to admit that's worth crossing the street for."
They had canvassed several other businesses without success before she spotted them emerging from the dry goods store and dashed out the front door. "Are you still searching for that kid from the fairgrounds? When Simon mentioned at breakfast that's what you two were doing today, I was hoping you'd found him by now."
Palmer cocked dark eyebrows at the young doctor at “mentioned at breakfast," but merely said in a businesslike manner, "We're still looking." His arm, resting tensely on the awning support over the front window, belied his calm.
"And he still hasn't gone back to work? Mel hasn't heard from him at all?"
Locke shook his head.
"Look, Aunt Clem's inside. She talks with half of Dixon Mills every day. Maybe she's heard something. Hold on."
Carolyn had just disappeared inside when a dark green late-model Chevrolet Impala came speeding around the corner, braked abruptly, and then pulled in front of the dry goods store. An aristocratic man with a craggy face and grey at the temples, dressed neatly in a suit and tie, sprang out of the car. "Dan Palmer, I want a word with you!"
Palmer wheeled on him. "Maybe I want a word with you first, Howard! What the hell do you mean driving like that on Main Street?"
"Don't you twist this conversation around, Chief," retorted the man. "I've come to ask you what you're going to do to help my wife."
The name "Howard Meserve" sprang up in Locke's memory. He knew Meserve mostly by name, but recalled his face as soon as the man spoke.
"I am still investigating the problem, Howard," Palmer said stiffly, each word emphasized. "There are no fingerprints to speak of on the notes your wife is receiving, and I have no leads."
"Well, why not?"
Palmer let out a breath. "Howard. Think about it."
"It's one of those cranky biddies," Meserve retorted. "The ones always jealous of my wife's talents. Dottie Loomis. Evelyn Rhodie. Vonnie Holgate. The whole pack of them."
"Well, let's say I round them all up," Palmer suggested wryly, "and put them in the town jail. What do you suggest I use to get a confession out of them? Thumbscrews? Maybe a little third degree? How about a hot poker?"
Meserve pursed his lips, crossing his arms angrily in front of him.
Carolyn emerged from the storefront, looking excited, "Dan, Simon...oh, hello, Howard!"
Meserve pointed a finger at Dan. "You tell them, Carrie. Tell them how upset this has made Alma."
"Howard, I know Alma's upset," Carolyn responded, shifting into a quieter, sensible voice. "I'm sure Dan will find out who's behind this if he can. You have to admit he hasn't very many clues except for the notes themselves. I've seen them, and there's nothing very distinctive about them."
"Alma's a nervous wreck," Meserve fretted.
Locke decided it was his moment to intervene. "Mr. Meserve, I'm not sure if you remember me, but I'm Dr. Locke, Dr. Sellers' new associate. If you like, I'd be happy to make a call on Mrs. Meserve and see if there's anything I can do for her."
"She doesn't need a doctor."
"She might be helped by a milda very mildsedative if this is bothering her so much. It might be good for her peace of mind."
Meserve glowered at him. "Well...you might come over."
"Would any particular time be good?" Locke asked evenly.
"Before supper. We eat at six."
"I'll do that then," was the response, and Meserve, with a last glare at the police chief, got back into his car and drove more decorously away.
"Thanks," Palmer said gruffly, more to Carolyn than to Locke. "What were you all excited about?"
"Aunt Clem was talking to Mrs. Rhodie, who said she saw a blond-haired young man in town late Thursday afternoon, talking with a young lady. She didn't know the blond young man, and of course she was very curious about him."
"That could be our guy," Locke said excitedly. "Did she know who the girl was?"
"She certainly did. It was Rosalie Bascomb."
"WaitNate's daughter? I were talking to Natie about Billy yesterday morning! Simon, come on!"
Carolyn called after them, "Aunt Clémence and I will see you at dinner tonight, Simon!"
This time Palmer was too busy to raise his eyebrow, but Locke knew exactly what he was thinking.
* * * * *
Palmer leaned back in his office chair, eyes closed. "So what is it we have?"
From the sprung padded chair across from his desk, Locke said in a tired voice, "Not much."
"Rosalie Bascomb is out of town with friends from secretarial school."
"She dropped Natie off at the fairgrounds that first day and apparently started talking to Billy Windish."
"And if Mrs. Rhodie is correctand damn her, she always isapparently she and Billy hit it off. They had coffee up at Charlie Bitterman's cafe, and Charlie didn't know where they went after that."
"And just to make it a great day," Locke concluded, "Alma Meserve has received another note."
"'I know your secret.'" Dan waved the note in the air. "Same nondescript paper, no fingerprints." He looked up at Locke. "Alma okay?"
"Her husband's riled up more than she is. She told me she was quite all right and didn't need anything to help her sleep. She was lying, of course; I could see the circles under her eyes. I tactfully suggested chamomile tea or some valerian. Have you ever seen the Meserve house, Dan?"
"Inside? No need to. The Meserves are generally law-abiding and keep to themselves. The outsidethat's a neighborhood showplace. Andrew's always been envious of Alma's roses."
"If you think Flora keeps our place in spit'n'polish condition, it looks like a dust festival compared to the Meserve house. Neat as a pin. You can skate on the floor and see your reflection in the furniture. Mrs. Wynn tells me all the ladies' club meetings are held at the Meserves, where Alma serves them punch from antique glass cups and homemade ginger cake on Royal Doulton china. Her standing in the community means a lot to her."
"So much so that someone knowing 'her secret' must be driving her mad." Palmer looked at his watch. "My God, we've wasted the afternoon looking for that damn kid."
Locke nodded. "I need to be getting back for dinner. Why not come along? If Mrs. Wynn's invited Carolyn and Miss Fournier for supper, there's enough food to feed a battalion."
Palmer looked at him sideways. "What, don't want to keep the charms of the lovely Carrie all to yourself?"
"She's Mrs. Wynn's guest, not mine," Locke said sternly.
"Ah, but you can't say you don't enjoy it," Palmer responded mockingly.
"Well, I'm not dead if that's what you mean!"
* * * * *
"Who wants another slice of cheesecake?"
Sellers leaned back in his chair, puffing. "Mrs. Wynn, if I eat one more thing, I'm going to explode."
Carolyn's aunt Clémence, a tall, stocky woman with a perpetual smile who looked very like an older version of her niece, confessed, "I'm afraid I have to agree with Andrew, Louise. One more bite, and it's 'pop!' for me."
"Great dinner, Mrs. Wynn," Locke concurred. "And give Flora our compliments on the dessert." To himself he wondered if he could actually get out of his chair and discreetly loosed his belt a notch. Dinner had been French onion soup followed by beef bourguignon and julienne potatoes with thin-sliced green beans almondine. The cheesecake-and-coffee chaser had nearly done him in.
Palmer merely said, "None for me, thank you," and put his fork down resolutely.
"Dan, you look like you've swallowed the whole thing," Carolyn chuckled.
"Well, this was a special dinner in honor of your new business," Wynn said briskly. "How's the office coming?"
"Pretty good, actually," Carolyn said comfortably. "We found two errand boys for the duration, too, May McMillan's little brothers. Billy is surprisingly good at painting, too, for his age. We keep Stan busy with errands to the hardware store, to the general store for sodas, that sort of thing. It makes them feel like they're helping May and Dave. You know, I told Dave that I understand that it isn't what he planned to do with his lifeI remember that he was so set on practicing medicine with Dr. Sellers!but if he would learn to type I could use a good office clerk. I can get a telephone designed for the blind, and it's something Dave would be great at, with his attention to detail."
"I've got fresher news than that," Sellers smiled. "Dave called me just before supper. He's been accepted at Morristown."
"Morristown?" Aunt Clémence asked.
"Where the Seeing Eye is. He'll be training with a guide dog," said Carolyn with delight.
"What wonderful news!"
"I'm sure the boys are beside themselves. We're going to have to start letting them know now that whatever dog Dave brings home, it won't be a playmate for them."
The phone jangled downstairs and Mrs. Wynn disappeared. When she returned, she looked a bit grim. "That was the police over in Burlington. They don't have any leads yet on Rosalie."
"Are you sure that's where she went?" Carolyn asked.
Palmer sighed. "That's where Natie told me that Rosalie said she was going. He said she and a couple of friends from secretarial school were planning to spend the weekend in Burlington, go to a fancy restaurant'someplace that's not the local lunch counter,' were her words, according to Natiethen attend a play at UV. Am I sure that's where she went? No."
Carolyn bit her lip. "Three college girls on a weekend trip might just as likely have gone up over the border for some of the night life in Montreal."
"I know that, too. Simon, would Windish be feeling the effects this soonif he contracted tetanus, that is?"
"It would probably look red and infected to him first. He might get some iodine or Bactine to put on it. If he gets those symptoms he could start feeling the actual effects as soon as tomorrow. Stiff neck or joints, most likely."
"Lockjaw's a terrible way to die," Sellers said quietly. "Saw it happen, not long after I arrived here. A bachelor farmer by the name of Evans cut himself on a harrow. They made tough men back then. He doused the cut in rubbing alcohol, burned the tip of a needle in the fire, and sewed it himself with his late sister's sewing thread boiled in water. Your predecessor, Dan, found him in the last stages of the disease, trying to get to a telephone. We couldn't do anything for him."
* * * * *
Palmer was not a churchgoer, so the telephone that rang early Sunday morning woke him from a sound sleep. He blindly reached for the bedside table, where the telephone shrilled its unwelcome greeting.
"Dan Palmer, is that you?"
He sat straight up in bed, swinging his legs over the side of the mattress to the floor. "Rosalie?"
A young woman's voice responded through the hissing line. "Yes. Is this Dan? I'm sorry, this connection is terrible!"
"Yes, it's me."
"Dan, my friend Mary Evans just called me. She was supposed to come with Sharon, Donna, and I this weekend, but she had to work. She said Natie had remembered that she lived in Burlington, found her number, and called her and said you were looking for me."
"I'm actually looking for Billy Windish, the young man you had coffee with on Thursday at Charlie's café."
She paused so long Dan thought the line had gone dead, then finally said, "Dan, is he in trouble?"
"Not the type you're thinking of."
"I don't understand."
"Remember that cut on his hand?"
"Yes, I know. He said some doctor stitched it up for him at the county fair grounds. He'd cut it while putting up the food pavilion. I know it was paining him when we were talking. He said so. I talked to him originally when I dropped Natie off at the fairgrounds to get the job. He was a stranger and he looked lonesome, so I just said hi to him and it went from there. We'd made arrangements to meet for coffee on Thursday..."
"Rosalie, I don't need the entire book. What I do need to know is, do you know where he is now?"
She paused again, then said smally, "Dan, there could be a problem...for one thing, his name isn't really Billy Windish. He told me. It's Edward Montague. He's a runaway from New Hampshire and he's only seventeen..."
* * * * *
Palmer barely noticed the extra car already parked in the clinic's driveway as he skidded the police car to a stop. As he burst in the door he was surprised to see Carolyn standing in the foyer, looking tensely at the examining room door. "What's wrong?"
She turned to him in surprise, then shook her head. "Oh, it's the silliest thing, Dan. Aunt Clem and I went to early Mass, then went back to the office to do a little more painting. I told her I would do the high spots, and she said to stop being a ninny; she was perfectly able to climb a ladder.
"And of course she fell. I think her ankle's broken. The doctors and Mrs. Wynn are in with her now." Then she stopped, as if finally realizing. "Dan, what are you doing here so early?"
Locke emerged from the examining room with a reassuring smile. "It seems to be a simple fracture, Carolyn. Otherwise she's fine. No concussion, no other injuries except a few bruises. Right now she's calling herself fifteen kinds of names for letting herself fall and scaring you to death." He also stopped, then said, "Dan, what are you doing here so early?"
"Frankly, starting to feel unwanted. Look, I've found Billy WindishI think. We need to go. Can Mrs. Wynn come with us? We may need her."
"She's making the cast preparations while Dr. Sellers takes the x-rays. It's a two-man job. But if you need help," Carolyn responded slowly, "I could come."
Locke turned to Carolyn. "Have you had any first aid training?"
"Well, I was a Girl Scout and got a merit badge for it."
Palmer said gruffly, "I suppose you'll doif you want to come."
"I'll 'do'? Well, thank you so much!" Carolyn asked indignantly, looking from Palmer to Locke and back again. "Come where exactly?"
"I'll explain on the way," the former said. "Take a jacket or something. God knows how long or late we'll be."
"I'll get my bag and a few things," Locke said and disappeared back into the examination room.
* * * * *
A half-hour later they were heading north out of town as fast as Palmer could go. They had stopped by his office, exchanging the car for his four-wheel drive jeep, and Locke had sprinted into the café with a thermos bottle and emerged with a bag of sandwiches plus hot coffee.
Palmer explained what Rosalie had told him about Billy's real name as Main Street petered out into the highway out of town. "Rosalie met him on Natie's first day on the job. Said he looked sad and lonesomeNate's always said she's a soft touch. Apparently they talked for an hour while the guys waited for Urquhart to show up at the fairground office. Favorite music, junk like that, whatever the kids talk about these days..."
"You make yourself sound a thousand years old, Dan," Carolyn scoffed, but Palmer continued loudly, "Rosalie told him she had to get to class, but they made arrangements to meet Thursday afternoon after he got off work. Sounded to me as if they were going to the carnival together this weekend.
"Anyway, when Windish–Montague–whatever met her at the café, she noticed he seemed a little nervous. So they just talked for a while, then he started complaining about his hand hurting. Finally after a couple of hoursthey'd left the café and went to sit in the parkhe told her his story.
"Apparently his mother married some two-bit bum who drinks up her salary whenever he gets his hands on it. She works two shifts as a hospital nurse; when she's at home most of the time she's asleep. What BillyI mean Eddiehasn't been telling her is that Bud Mannersthat's our stepfatherhas been beating him. That's where those bruises you saw on his arm came from, Simon. The son-of-a-bitchsorry, Carrielikes to use his belt buckle-side out.
"I wanted to make sure he wasn't feeding her a line, so I called up Eddie's hometown and spoke to their police chief. They've never had a domestic violence call on Manners, but he's known to be a bully and a brawler at the local tap. Cops have brought him home several times. That's probably when he's beaten the kid, to shut him up. Rosalie said Eddie told her 'Dad' threatened to beat up his mother up, too, if he told her about the beatings."
Carolyn's eyes were flashing fire. "I don't have a license to practice law in New Hampshire, but if that woman wants a lawyer I will definitely help her find one there."
"If she does I'll help you," Locke said grimly. "So Rosalie knows where Eddie is hiding out?"
"Eddie figured when I called you to stitch up that I might make inquiries. He told Rosalie he was scared he'd have to go back to his stepdad. Anyway, the kid's real father used to take him out hunting and fishing from when he was small. He knows about getting along in the wilderness, and he was looking for somewhere remote to hide out.
"Nate's grandfather was an old French-Canadian trapper way back. Nate still owns his property near the border, an old cabin. Rosalie gave him directions up to the cabin, including which bus to take that would get him furthest up the highway. The copter would have been quicker to get there but Rosalie says this place is in the deep woods, not a clearing around for miles. But there is a logging track."
"That poor kid!" "If it's the distance you've been saying, he's probably still walking!" Carolyn and Locke's remarks overlapped and echoed themselves.
"This isn't the city," Palmer reminded. "Anyone's liable to have given the kid a lift, and he would have gotten pretty far on the bus. Anyway, whether he's on the trail or at the cabin, we're going the same way he did. Rosalie told me exactly what she told him."
"Unless he didn't pay attention and got lost in the woods," Locke said grimly.
"That's a happy thought," Carolyn muttered.
They drove in silence for over an hour, then Carolyn broke open the bag from the café, which contained thick ham sandwiches. They shared the thermos cap, sipping fragrant coffee in turn. Presently Palmer turned off the narrow paved road.
"Hold on; this isn't going to be pretty," he warned, and the next thing they knew the jeep was jolting over potholes and ruts. For the next hour and a half they proceeded in the same manner, crossing shallow brooks that were literally water running across mud flats, jouncing over tree roots and rocks, Locke scanning one side of the road, Carolyn and Palmer the other.
"After this ride," Locke said at one point, "we're going to need some good old-fashioned horse liniment."
The final quarter of a mile sent them up a pebble-strewn slope of 45 degrees. Locke clutched the passenger door handle and saw Carolyn's hands whiten as she kept fast hold to the front seat as the jeep's hind end fishtailed right and left, kept on the road by Palmer's deft hand. Finally Palmer swerved the jeep around a rough corner and there was the cabin, set neatly and tightly in a grove of pine trees. Smoke was coming out of the cabin chimney.
"Luck may be with us," Palmer said as he braked to a stop, but Locke was already out of the car, sprinting to the cabin door, and then inside.
* * * * *
Eddie Montague blinked.
His vision slowly cleared to find three people hovering over him. He swallowed painfully, then croaked hoarsely, "Aren't you the cop from the other day?"
The man, still blurry in front of him, said in a deep voice, "I think he's back among the living, Simon."
"That was my intent," said a lighter male voice. "Hello, Eddie."
"One and the same. And you are a young man with a very strong onset of tetanus. I've got you on an antibiotic and a very light tranquilizer to relax your muscles."
"Is that why my...throat hurts so much?"
"Yes. You should have come by for your shot."
"I couldn't risk you finding out about me." Eddie's eyes clouded over. "But I guess you have, haven't you?"
"Yes, we have," Locke said firmly, "and now that we have, we're going to help youand not just with the tetanus."
Eddie squinted muzzily at the third person before his eyes. "I'm...sorry. I don't know...you."
Carolyn smiled, a big beaming smile. "I know you don't. But you'll know me soon, Eddie. You can count on it."
* * * * *
Later, much later, there was a knock on the door of the clinic.
Andrew Sellers, by now shuffling after the long day, opened it to find Howard Meserve on his doorstep. "Andrew, I saw Dan Palmer's jeep out here. I need to talk to him."
Sellers scowled at him, then grabbed his jacket. Instead of allowing Meserve in, he pulled it on and used the screen door to push the man down a step, coming outside instead. "Unless you're reporting a murder, Howard, Dan Palmer isn't available. He's been busy all day helping Dr. Locke rescue a sick patient. He's taking a well-deserved nap."
Meserve looked uneasy. "But-"
"But nothing. It can wait until morning."
"It's another note, Andrew," Meserve said urgently.
"Has Alma's mysterious correspondent threatened to kill her? That's the only reason I'll wake him up."
"No. It's a Bible verse this time." Meserve, his hand gloved, showed Sellers the note. Neatly typed upon it was "Acts 5:1-9, 'How is it you have conceived this thing in your heart?'"
Sellers stared at the note. "So the devil is now quoting Scripture to torment Alma, eh?" he said grimly. "Hold on a minute."
He disappeared into the house and returned with a small white paper bag of the kind he used to put prescription bottles in. "Put it in there, Howard, and I'll give it to Dan when he wakes up. Don't worry, I won't touch it."
Meserve did so, then gave Sellers a grave look. "You know, I know Alma puts on a lot of airs, and she's so all-fired proud of that jam of hers it annoys people. Don't think it doesn't bother me." He lowered his voice. "Most folks don't know her, and that makes her happy. Her early life...wasn't easy." When Sellers opened his mouth, Meserve interrupted. "Oh, I know what you're going to say, Andrew. Dixon Mills isn't a place for the pampered rich. There are a lot of folks hereabouts who have had a hard time. Well, Alma likes everyone to think she was brought up in a pleasant little cottage with a sweet mother and a hard-working father and went to school in interesting places. The God's honest truth is that she was born in a shack in a mining town. No running water, no electricity, no nothing. Her dad died of coal dust lungs when she was eleven. Her mother was part Indian and the kids at the broken-down company school Alma and her sister attended called Alma and Marie "half breeds." Marie became an alcoholic like her mom. Alma cleaned the mine-owners homes, scrubbed floors, did laundry, and put herself through school. She put it all behind her. Sometimes she does have her nose in the air. But...she worked hard to get it there."
Sellers laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. "You know, Howard, I wouldn't be surprised if Dan puts this all to rest in a few days. It may not look like it, but he's been working hard on this problem. Now why don't you go home and keep Alma company?"
Meserve nodded, much of his hostility gone now that he had unburdened himself. Sellers watched him walk down the steps, get into his car, and drive away, a thoughtful expression on his face. Once the car had disappeared, he stood looking skyward at the flicker of the jewel-bright stars in the black velvet sky. Finally he strolled back inside.
First he peeked into the clinic examining room. Eddie Montague was asleep on the gurney in the corner, an IV dripping slowly into his arm. Sellers could hear him breathing but he was not fighting for air or distressed. At Sellers' desk, Clémence Fournier and Louise Wynn were playing whist, moving the cards quietly but decisively. Wynn looked up as he peered into the doorway.
"He was having a slight spasm so I gave him a small dose of Valium. He's back to sleep now," she said in low tones.
"Good," Sellers said with a nod. "I'll be in to spell you in a little while."
"Not until I get my 75 cents back, you don't!" she whispered in mock indignation, and Aunt Clem shifted her plastered ankle, propped up on a stool, laughing silently.
Sellers grinned, then climbed the stairs deliberately, turning left into the large room that had been turned into a den when the bottom floor of the house had been converted for medical purposes. A large oblong braided rag rug done in oranges, browns, reds and yellows brightened the dark polished surface of the hardwood floor. Along one wall, on the old-fashioned knubbly-fabric chesterfield that opened into a bed, Simon Locke lay sound asleep, with one arm across his eyes, and in the opposite corner, in the comfortable old Morris chair, Dan Palmer was stretched out, his feet up on a matching ottoman, head tilted back. Closest to the door there was a little games table with a checkerboard painted on it, and Carolyn Fournier was sitting at it in one of the chairs, making copious notes on a legal pad. She looked up when Sellers entered, beaming.
"I've made some long-distance calls on your phone, Andrew, and if you'll let me know how much they cost I'll reimburse youand don't you dare say no. I've found at least three attorneys in New Hampshire who will take on Mrs. Montague's case pro bono."
"Remember, Carrie, she may not want to be helped."
"I know," and for a moment Carolyn looked unhappy. "But...but they'll be available if she wants them."
Sellers patted the tablet. "You've done a long day's work, Carrie. It's about time you got some rest." He jerked his head toward the sleepers. "Take a note from them."
"I'm not a bit tired," Carolyn said, "but I certainly am sore! What a road!"
"Horse liniment," Locke said drowsily.
"I said when we got on that road," the younger doctor said lazily, "that we were going to need horse liniment." He sat up, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
"I swear by Jim Manyhorses' green paste myself," Palmer said from under closed eyelids.
"I'd rather smell the horse liniment. Hell, I'd rather smell the horse."
"Simon, I need a favor," Sellers said thoughtfully. "I have a few errands to run tomorrow. I'd like to take the calls and leave you at the clinic."
"Suits me," Locke said. "I think I can limp that far. How's Eddie?"
"Mrs. Wynn has him well taken care of."
"Are they still playing whist?" Carolyn asked, amused.
"And your aunt Clem is winning."
"She usually does. I need to get her home, though."
Locke rose, wincing at the kink in his back. "Walk you two to your car?"
"Gladly," Carolyn replied.
When they had left, Palmer rose stiffly, stretched. "I'd better be getting on myself, Andrew."
"Here," Sellers gave him the white prescription bag. "From Howard Meserve. Another note."
Palmer made a face as he took the bag. "I wish I'd found this clown as the same time as Eddie."
Sellers cocked his head. "I wouldn't worry about it, Dan. I have a feeling it will all be over soon."
* * * * *
The morning sun was streaming through the windows of Pogie Books when a sharp rapping came at the front door. Jed Pogie looked startled when he opened the door and found Sellers standing there, straight as a ramrod, mouth set in a thin line. "Andrew?"
"May I come in?" Sellers said abruptly.
"Well, I hadn't tidied up to open yet, but, why, sure..." He opened the door wider and Sellers strode in, his eyes scanning the room. "Where's Ernesta?"
"Having tea at the Rose. This is her tatting club morning." His eyes widened in alarm. "Andrew, what's wrong? Is there something the matter with my girlie?"
"Nothing that wasn't wrong with her yesterday." Sellers sat down, still very stiffly and very grave, in one of the overstuffed chairs before the fireplace. "The problem is you."
"I don't understand what you mean."
"I think you do," Sellers said gently, but firmly, "The next time you send threatening notes to someone, you should compose them on a less recognizable typewriter."
Pogie's face changed in an instant from bewilderment to blankness, but a bit of fear crept into his voice. "I still don't understand, Andrew."
"I saw the notes Alma Meserve's been getting, Jed. I recognized the typewriter immediately. I saw those notices on your bulletin board when I was here the other day. The chipped typeface on the 'e' and the 'y' is very distinctive."
Pogie's face dropped and he collapsed into the other chair. "Andrew..." He looked up with a stricken face. "She was working so hard, Andrew. Here she had what we always wanted, but it was that one little ribbon she wanted the most. I didn't want to hurt Alma. I never would have carried through...but my girlie..."
He put his head in his hands.
"Ernesta is fine, Jed," Sellers said softly. "So she stayed up a little later and worked a bit more. There was no threat to her. And she's a big girl. There was no need to do what you did. Think of Alma Meserve's feelings..."
He heard Pogie mutter, "She has none," and responded sharply, "You have no idea, Jed, you have absolutely no idea."
"But I worry...the two of us..." And then Pogie gave a shuddering sigh. "What if she goes before me? What will I do without her?"
There was an audible sound as the back door closed. Pogie leaped to his feet, wiping his eyes on his sweater sleeves. When his wife entered the front room of the bookstore, both he and Dr. Sellers were seated comfortably in the armchairs, looking solemnly at each other.
"Goodness, what serious faces!" she said brightly. "Anything wrong?"
Pogie gave Sellers a significant look. "No, dearest. Not anymore. Andrew was just here to set my mind at ease about something."
"Well, I have some extraordinary news. I heard it at the Rose this morning. Alma Meserve has permanently withdrawn from the jam contest!"
Her husband said quickly, "Because of the notes she's been receiving?"
"Indirectly," Ernesta said with a smile. "Apparently the last one had a Scripture verse on it and it was the straw that broke the camel's back."
Sellers frowned. "I'm afraid I don't find threatening notes very amusing, Ernie, and certainly not ones with Bible quotes."
"Oh, I suppose it's not. I sound terrible..." and then she laughed again. "You have to understand. Alma took the verse to heart. She really did confess something to Dan Palmer this morning...you see, she's never made jam for the contest at all. Apparently she's never preserved jam in her life, but she wanted to have something to enter at the county fair. And once she won, she couldn't resist entering again. What she's been serving up every year is from a catalog! Jam from Sweden! Not even her husband knew; she always had everything 'cleaned up' by the time he got home from work. She'd warm a bit of the jam on the stove to make the kitchen smell like she'd been preserving all day."
"What?" The two men spoke in one voice.
"And not only that...but it tastes so good because it has spirits in it. Imagine Helen Williams and Sam Michaels both judging that contest year after year, and both of them so holier-than-thou about drinking! Of course, no one is going to mention it, not as long as Alma never enters the contest again...but, oh, goodness, when I think of Miss Williams ranting at poor Ned Gaines for having one beer after work and then standing with her nose in the air, tasting that jam of Alma's like it was nectar from the gods..."
Sellers pursed his lips and relaxed, but Pogie still appeared a bit stricken. Ernesta looked at his sober face and walked toward him, her hands outstretched, taking his. "In any case, it doesn't matter. You've been right all along, you silly goose. My jam tastes fine, and I don't need to beat anyone in a contest for us to enjoy it. Even before I heard the news I had already told myself I was going to enter that last bit of jam and to heck with the results!"
Pogie lowered his head to blink back a tear, then lifted his face with a smile. "It's your jam that's the nectar of the gods, girlie. I wouldn't exchange it for all the jam in Stockholm!"
* * * * *
Locke had just finished with the last of his patients, winsome little Patty Loomis, who had a shiner after a close encounter with a seesaw in the elementary school playground, when Carolyn peeked into the examining room. Mrs. Wynn was rearranging containers on the dispensary shelves while Locke cleaned up the examining table, stripping the cover from it and tossing it into the laundry basket. "Where's Eddie? Is he okay?"
Sellers, sitting at his desk sorting through a stack of paperwork, looked up with a grin. "The folks from Hearkness Medical Center picked him up about an hour ago."
Locke added, "He said to tell you he was going to talk to his mother." He smiled. "I think she may listen to him when she finds out what happened."
"Terrific." She smiled broadly. "You were pretty terrific up there at that cabin, too. When I saw him in front of that fireplace, all curled up on himself, I thought...well, you were brilliant."
"You're making me blush," Locke reproved, paused, then added, "As a nurse with only a Girl Scout merit badge in first aid you weren't so bad yourself." He took a breath. "I was wondering, Miss Fournier..." and she laughed, "if you would care to go to the movies with me. I understand there's a new John Wayne at the Rialto."
"I knowBig Jake," Carolyn said, biting her lip. "But I'm sorry, Simon, I can't. Dan's taking me."
Sellers' eyebrows shot up, but Locke only cocked his head, then said equably, "Serves me right for not speaking up in time. You and the Chief have a good time."
"Oh, we will," Carolyn said with a grin as she slung her purse over her shoulder. "Goodnight, Simon, Andrew! Goodnight, Louise!"
"Have a good time, dear," Mrs. Wynn said in a satisfied voice.
Locke waited until the front door had closed before saying teasingly, "Well, Mrs. Wynn, I'm sorry it didn't work out."
"What didn't work out?" she asked with a puzzled look.
"Now, Wynn, did you think we wouldn't notice?" Sellers said with a gruff chuckle. "Carolyn comes for supper, she and her aunt come for dinner, she's here for breakfast. She pops up everywhere. Did you think we wouldn't catch on to your matchmaking scheme?"
Wynn blinked at them, then began to laugh, looking from face to face. Then she shook her head. "As if Dr. Locke needs any help in that department! I've seen Evelyn Muller making sheep's eyes at him in the examining room! And he's dated Bethie Maybury more than once."
"But Carolyn was always here..." Sellers began, when Locke interrupted, his face a study of chagrin, "And so was Dan."
"Of course," Mrs. Wynn said briskly. "Sometimes it just takes another fellow in the mix for you to see your best friend's little sister in a different light. Now, I'm in the mood for some coffee. And we can have a spot of dessert."
"Humble pie?" Locke suggested with arched brow.
"No. Rhubarb," was the smart reply as she headed for the stairs.
Sellers pulled himself from his chair and extended a hand to motion Locke to go ahead. "After you, live bait."