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Prescriptions and promis.., p.11

Prescriptions and Promises, page 11


Prescriptions and Promises

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‘Here you go,’ she told the dancer. ‘Take one tablet three times a day for seven days.’

  ‘Seven days! Are you sure that’s right? My friend’s been on this and she took it all in one day.’

  ‘She may have,’ Jenny said. Since the dosage regimen was individualized, sometimes the physician requested a one-day treatment if compliance was an issue. In Rose’s case, Jenny could easily imagine the woman forgetting her pills on a regular basis. She could also imagine how fast Rose could spread the disease to unsuspecting men and their wives if her infection went uncontrolled.

  ‘I can only give you what the doctor has ordered. If you’d like it changed, you’ll have to call him.’

  Rose popped her gum. ‘Nah. It’s OK. Seven days. Gotcha.’

  ‘Three times a day,’ she reminded her.

  ‘Three a day. I’ll remember.’

  Jenny hoped so. ‘You should also avoid alcohol for the next eight days.’

  ‘Oh, I always do. I only drink beer.’

  If Rose was trying to be an example of a ‘dumb blonde’, she had succeeded. ‘I meant anything alcoholic. No beer.’

  ‘My friend says it doesn’t bother her.’

  ‘The drug reacts with alcohol and can cause abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and headaches,’ Jenny patiently explained. It created a reaction similar to what Antabuse gave alcoholics, but she knew the information would go over Ms Budd’s head. ‘If your friend hasn’t experienced it, she’s lucky. Most people do. It’s best not to take the chance unless you don’t mind being violently ill.’

  Once again, Rose shrugged as if the subject was of little importance. ‘OK. No beer.’

  She dug in her voluminous bag and withdrew a thick billfold. As Jenny quoted the price, Rose opened up one fold, revealing a thick wad of greenbacks, and pulled out the correct denomination.

  Ever polite, Jenny rang up the sale and said, ‘Thanks for stopping by.’

  ‘If you change your mind about Friday, let me know. I’ll guarantee you the best seat in the house.’

  ‘I’ll keep it in mind.’

  Rose left and Jenny succumbed to an urge to wash her hands. Rose, her medical condition notwithstanding, was clean and neat, but Jenny had seen the microscopic trichomonads during their hospital’s Lab Week Open House one year. After watching the protozoa swim around the slide, propelled by their flagella and appearing only slightly larger than a white blood cell, just thinking of the little critters brought on a desire to wash her hands.

  Her reaction was somewhat ridiculous since they were spread through sexual contact but, nevertheless, she couldn’t help herself.

  Just as she left the tiny bathroom, the bell above the door tinkled and the sight of the woman entering brought a quiet groan to Jenny’s throat. Twyla Beach had been a crony of her Aunt Eunice, which didn’t say much for her. The two had fed off each other’s complaints and what one hadn’t thought of, the other had.

  Before she could welcome her into the store, Twyla’s sharp eyes scanned the room. Jenny imagined the cogs in her brain turning with cost calculations of her remodeling project. She didn’t have to stretch her imagination to know that Twyla would report everything she saw.

  She stiffened her spine. Twyla could draw her own conclusions because Eunice had received more than her fair share.

  ‘I’ve come for a refill,’ she said without preamble.

  ‘Do you have the number?’ Jenny asked politely.

  ‘I haven’t needed it before in all the years I’ve patronized this place.’

  ‘It’s just easier to look up the records if I have a number.’

  ‘Well, I don’t have it.’

  ‘No problem. Have a seat.’

  Jenny quickly filled her script for a diuretic. Twyla paid her bill and left in a huff, acknowledging Harriet Winkler on her way out with a mere nod.

  ‘Old grouch,’ Harriet mumbled as she approached. Her footsteps were sure and the cane seemed more window-dressing than a necessity.

  ‘Good afternoon, Mrs Winkler,’ Jenny said. ‘How are you today?’

  Harriet smiled. ‘Fine. I wonder if Dr Kimball has called in a prescription for me?’

  ‘Yes, he has. I’ll have it ready in just a few minutes if you’d like to wait. If not, I can drop it by your house later this evening.’

  Harriet crossed both hands to lean on her cane. ‘Nonsense. I’m not in any hurry. Gina’s covering the store right now. She reminds me of you at that age, you know.’

  Jenny labelled a bottle with Harriet’s information and the medication instructions. ‘She does?’

  ‘Oh, my, yes. She’s so full of energy and so eager to please. It’s such a shame that her father is such a ne’erdo-well. Still, I’m hoping she’ll win a few scholarships and go to college. She wants to be a librarian.’

  ‘How nice.’ She counted out thirty pills and dumped them in the bottle. ‘Would you prefer a regular lid instead of a childproof cap?’

  ‘Yes, please,’ Harriet said briskly, before returning to her subject. ‘Gina has one year of high school left, so I’m steering her toward the organizations who give money to worthy students. I’m sure she’d appreciate any leads you might have.’

  ‘I don’t know of any at the moment, but if I do I’ll pass along the information.’ Jenny slid the bottle into a small sack and handed it to her. ‘All done. Take one a day, just like before.’

  ‘I will. I’ve seen what a difference the medication makes. My father had gout, you know.’

  ‘No, I didn’t.’

  ‘He, of course, suffered terribly. I’m sure they didn’t have the drugs to ease the pain, like they do today.’

  ‘Probably not.’

  Harriet’s eyes twinkled. ‘Ah, he was a crusty old boy. He didn’t cotton to people telling him what to do. He loved all the foods he shouldn’t have. Liver, sardines, lentils. My mother quit buying his beer—he loved Coors—but he always managed to find one somewhere.’

  The items Harriet had mentioned, including wine, anchovies and sweetbreads, were rich in purines. When metabolized, they broke down into uric acid. If the compound wasn’t excreted through the kidneys, excessive amounts crystallized to form kidney stones or were deposited in joint spaces. Gout, or gouty arthritis, was the result. For this reason, doctors instructed their patients to avoid those particular foods.

  ‘I’ll bet he paid the price for his disobedience.’

  Harriet’s smile grew broad. ‘Yes, he did. But after the current episode had passed, he’d tell me that indulging in his favorites now and again was worth the pain. For myself, I can’t agree. Nothing—absolutely nothing—is worth that kind of suffering.’

  She leaned closer and winked. ‘Although I must admit, I have nipped my wine on special occasions. It’s my way of living vicariously. Being an armchair traveller isn’t always enough. Nor is observing all the goings-on in town.’

  ‘I suppose not.’

  ‘You wouldn’t believe half of the things I could tell you, but they’re all true. Each and every one.’ The flowers on her hat bobbed as she nodded. ‘I’m not bragging, mind you, but I’ve lived here a lot of years and I could write a book about the skeletons in people’s closets.’

  Harriet’s knowledge could either be a blessing or a curse, but Jenny had to know the truth. ‘Can I ask you something?’

  Harriet tapped her cane on the floor and smiled benevolently. ‘Of course, dear.’

  The phone rang and Jenny was frustrated by the poor timing. ‘Go ahead and answer. I’m not in any hurry.’

  Twyla Beach was on the phone. ‘You gave me the wrong pills.’

  ‘No, I didn’t,’ Jenny patiently explained.

  ‘These aren’t the same size or shape as the ones I’ve taken before.’

  ‘My supplier changed. I dispensed the same drug, but it’s a generic form and much cheaper than the name brand. Your doctor OK’d the substitution.’

  ‘Well,’ the woman huffed across the line, ‘I’d better not suffer any side ef
fects, or you’ll hear from me again.’ Before Jenny could reply, she heard a loud click in her ear.

  Another happy customer, she thought facetiously as she returned to Harriet’s side. ‘Now, where were we?’

  ‘You were going to ask me a question,’ Harriet prompted.

  ‘Oh, yes. Did…’ Jenny swallowed hard, summoning the courage to accept the older woman’s answer, however unpleasant it might be. ‘Did my uncle drink?’

  ‘Why, of course he did.’ At this Jenny’s heart sank. ‘Your uncle belonged to a wine club. They had tasting parties once a month.’ Her gaze narrowed. ‘I suspect, though, you’re really asking if he drank to excess.’

  Jenny cleared the lump in her throat. ‘Yes.’

  Harriet stared at her kindly. ‘I never saw him do anything of the sort, child. That’s not to say he didn’t tie one on as men sometimes do, but I rather doubt it. He wasn’t the type—too much in control. What makes you suspect he had a problem?’

  ‘Something Herb said in passing.’

  ‘Herb?’ Harriet stiffened her spine, raised her chin and narrowed her gaze. ‘Why, that little weasel! How dare he slander a good man, especially when Earl can’t defend himself.’

  ‘Herb did work with Uncle Earl on a daily basis,’ Jenny reminded her.

  Harriet stomped her cane. ‘That may be, but I for one wouldn’t believe it unless I saw physical evidence.’

  Evidence. Jenny’s spirits rose. If her uncle had drunk as Herb claimed, there would be bottles at home. Organizing the pharmacy had been her top priority—she hadn’t bothered to sift through his personal possessions.

  ‘The next time I see Herb I’m going to give him a piece of my mind,’ Harriet railed. ‘The nerve of that man! He should be drummed out of town.’

  The retired teacher squared her shoulders, then patted Jenny’s hand. ‘Don’t worry, child. I haven’t heard this rumor before and I’ve lived here a lot of years. Herb was probably just being hateful to you. I hear he’s a real pill if things don’t go his way. Consider the source and ignore whatever he’s told you.’

  ‘I’ll try.’ Jenny drew some comfort from Harriet’s vehement endorsement of her uncle’s character. Regardless, she intended to search her house from top to bottom if for no other reason than to ease her mind.

  The moment she pulled into her driveway after she closed the store, she slammed the car into ‘Park,’ checked on Bugs who was sleeping his afternoon away, then hurried inside. Without wasting a moment, she flung open each kitchen cabinet to peer at its contents. She found all sorts of beautiful dishes and glassware which she would have taken time to study under other circumstances.

  After finishing her search in the kitchen, she moved to the formal dining room where she rummaged through the buffet and china cupboard. She was about to start elsewhere when she spied the narrow door to the small, slender cupboard built in one corner under the staircase.

  It took several hard yanks to gain access. The interior was shadowed, but she could see the contents well enough thanks to the sunlight streaming through the south window.

  Bottle after bottle of every size and shape imaginable stood in neat rows on the two shelves like soldiers in parade formation.

  She touched the closest bottle—a fifth of Johnny Walker whisky. The glass was cool and hard, the contents half-gone.

  The stiffening drained out of her knees and she sank onto the floor. Sitting in front of the opening, she drew her knees to her chest and curled her arms around them as she stared mindlessly at the offending evidence.

  Working day and night for the past few weeks to restore her heritage had eased her guilt for not joining the family business sooner. The idea of her uncle drowning his sorrows because she hadn’t fulfilled her long-ago agreement to become his partner ate at her like acid on metal.

  She’d paid for her past sins with her career. How could she pay for this one?

  A brisk knock brought her out of her daze. Before she could summon the energy to rise, Noah’s voice echoed through the house.

  ‘Anybody home?’ he called.

  ‘In here,’ she returned.

  Noah strode into the kitchen and did a double-take at the sight awaiting him. Cabinet doors stood ajar, including several of those well out of normal reach. A chair was positioned near one counter, plainly used as a step stool.

  A sense of foreboding came over him. ‘Jenny?’

  ‘I’m in the dining room.’

  He found her on the floor, staring into the recesses of a cupboard. He didn’t know what to think but, sensing an unhealthy tension in the atmosphere, he tried to ease it. ‘It looks like a tornado went through the kitchen,’ he said. ‘Did you find what you were looking for?’

  She didn’t answer. He was about to repeat his question when she spoke. ‘Yes, I did.’

  ‘Which is?’ he prompted, puzzled by her reaction.

  The raw pain in her eyes stabbed at him. ‘Was alcohol involved in my uncle’s car accident?’

  ‘Alcohol?’ he echoed. ‘Are you suggesting that Earl was drinking?’


  He shook his head, certain he hadn’t heard correctly. ‘What in heaven’s name gave you that goofy idea?’

  The breath she took sounded shaky. ‘I asked Herb about the missing inventory. According to him, my uncle drank to the point where he couldn’t do his job.’

  He was incredulous. ‘And you believed him?’

  ‘Not at first.’

  Her search now made sense. ‘Until you found his stash,’ he said, motioning to the cupboard.

  ‘It explains the shaky handwriting, the gaps in the bookkeeping, the financial drain.’

  ‘It might,’ he conceded. ‘Except for one critical point of fact. Earl didn’t drink.’

  She jumped to her feet. ‘How can you be sure?’

  ‘Because I am. Earl enjoyed a glass of wine now and again. Do you?’

  ‘Yes, but—’

  ‘So do I. Does that make us alcoholics?’

  Instead of answering, she pointed. ‘What about the evidence?’

  ‘So everyone in town who has liquor in his cabinet has a drinking problem?’

  ‘As you can see, there are twelve bottles involved,’ she said tartly. ‘Not just one. How would you interpret the evidence?’

  Noah rubbed his jaw as he studied the situation. As far as he was concerned, Herb had some explaining to do for trying to discredit Earl. However, he would deal with him later. For now, he had to convince Jenny of the truth.

  Noah pulled the bottle of Johnny Walker off the shelf and placed it on the antique dining room table. ‘Take a good look at this and tell me what you see.’


  JENNY glanced at it. ‘The bottle’s half-empty,’ she said flatly.

  ‘Yeah. What else?’

  A wrinkle appeared between her eyebrows. ‘I don’t know. You tell me.’

  Noah swiped the shoulders of the glass and held up his finger. ‘What do you see?’

  ‘Dust.’ A glimmer of understanding began to shine in her eyes.

  ‘Now look at the shelf.’

  She crouched down for a closer look, then stared up at him, her eyes glimmering. ‘There’s a dust-free circle.’

  ‘Exactly. If Earl drank consistently, there wouldn’t be any dust. Also, this is a rotten location to store anything you’re going to use on a daily basis. The door, as I recall, sticks and a person has to practically crawl on the floor to put anything inside. If he was a closet drinker, he’d store his poison in a more accessible place.

  ‘I can also tell you,’ he pressed on, ‘that during the holidays he hosted a big Christmas party for his customers. All of this is probably left over from that evening.’

  ‘Do you really think so?’ She sounded as if she wanted to believe him, but was also afraid to take that final step.

  He decided to nudge her along. ‘As for his accident, drug-testing is commonly done on the drivers, especially if injuries result. Your uncle
s test was clean. So was the trucker’s.’

  Tears glistened in her eyes and the tension holding her spine seemed to disappear. Unable to help himself, he touched her back and opened his arms. Without further encouragement, she entered his embrace.

  ‘Thank you,’ she whispered. ‘I really should have known better. He gave up smoking because of its harmful effects. It didn’t make sense for him to substitute alcohol for nicotine.’

  Her lips brushed against his cheek as she clearly meant to show her appreciation for the peace of mind he’d given her. That simple act, however, ruined his. His control teetered precariously on the edge of a slippery slope.

  He drew a bracing breath and forced his thoughts back to the conversation. ‘No, it didn’t.’

  She tilted her head to meet his gaze. ‘Why do you suppose…?’ Her voice died as if she had suddenly become aware of her position. Suddenly aware of how her curves and his angles fit together like puzzle pieces. Suddenly aware of the husky quality in his voice.

  Every nerve went on alert as he waited for an imperceptible signal as to what he should—or could—do next. If he’d felt the slightest nudge, the smallest indication that she wanted to escape, he would have released her, albeit reluctantly.

  She’d clearly read the question in his mind as her gaze travelled to his mouth and back again. Her eyes shone with something—permission, perhaps?—that whittled away at his restraint. Her breath whispered through slightly parted lips that seemed to beg for contact with his.

  Noah didn’t need a second invitation. He’d intended to go slowly, but as soon as he made contact nothing could have separated them. Her sweet taste fueled a hunger of monumental and almost frightening proportions.

  Her arms slid upwards to circle his neck. Her hands ran through the hair on the back of his head and she raised herself on tiptoe to settle herself more comfortably against his chest.

  He ran his hands along each side of her torso, his thumbs grazing the underside of her lush breasts. Flames seemed to surround him, flames that longed to be quenched in one particular manner, even though he knew it was too soon in their tenuous relationship to expect such a gift.

  Patricia may have broken her promise and left him standing at the altar, but at this very moment he wanted to thank her. In fact, he couldn’t remember what she looked like because Jenny had filled his thoughts so completely. He’d thought he’d never get over the humiliation he’d suffered, but having Jenny in his arms soothed his wounded ego like a healing balm.

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