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Tuesday Noon

Death, Guns and Sticky Buns

CASSIE WAS PREPARED FOR MY MORNING-AFTER headache. Smoke inhalation, she said. It'll be days before you cough it all up. I didn't expect you to come in today.

I gratefully accepted the two Extra-Strength Tylenol she pressed upon me and washed them down with a glass of tepid tap water. I knew my nauseous condition came partly from the smoke, but I also blamed the unknown drug someone had slipped into my tea. I needed to get out of the house. The cleaning crew sent by the insurance company is ripping the place apart.

Are your cats all right?

They feel a lot better than I do. Smoke rises, I guess, so they didn't get as much as I did. Thank God for Fred. He woke me up by scratching my face. If it hadn't been for him, we'd all be dead.

He's a real hero, Cassie said, agreeing with me. How did Ethelind react when she got home?

I shuddered at the memory. You'd think I had personally taken an ax to her floor. It took nearly a half hour and many dozens of apologies before she settled down. She even suggested she might not go to England after all because she was afraid of leaving her house in such incompetent hands.

But it was an accident. You couldn't help it.

You're right about one thing. I couldn't help it. But, Cassie, I don't believe it was an accident. That fire was deliberately set. I'm sure of that and Chief Yoder thinks so too.

Cassie gasped. How could someone start a fire right next to you? Surely you would have woken up.

I was drugged, Cassie. Someone slipped something into the teapot while I was upstairs. The chief took what was left to a lab today to determine what was in it.

Wondering why someone would want to kill me made my headache worse. And the physical discomfort reminded me I still hadn't heard anything about the results of my biopsy, except from the gossipy women at the baby shower who all seemed to know I was okay. Cassie, can you please call Dr. Washabaugh's office for me?

Sure. Do you think someone's going to be there?

I don't know. Maybe there's another doctor filling in.

She dialed and listened to the receiver. Someone's answering. Oh, shoot, it's an answering machine. She listened a moment or two longer before hanging up. Patients can come in any afternoon this week to have their records transferred to other doctors offices. No appointment needed.

I'll be there. What's happening this morning?

After returning a few phone calls, I started on my rounds. First, a local farm where a giant pumpkin was on display. Second stop, the Caven County Prison to photograph the new caterer serving lunch. Back in the heart of town, I took pictures of some children from the

Catholic school painting giant pictures of spooks, spirits, and shadowy shapes on windows of deserted stores. I was glad to see that some people could still have fun celebrating Halloween.

The fourth and final photo opportunity was a picture of three ladies from the Lickin Creek Garden Society placing fresh potted chrysanthemums around the base of the fountain in the square.

I glanced at the clock tower on the old Market building, now used for the borough offices, and saw it was getting late. I'd have to hurry if I wanted to get to Dr. Washabaugh's office before it closed. For a minute I even thought I might postpone going, put off getting the bad news for one more day, but I knew I'd have to face it sooner or later. I got in the car and headed out of town.

Because there was only one car parked in front of Dr. Washabaugh's former office building, I feared, then hoped, I was too late. The door, when I tried it, was locked. Feeling relieved because I wouldn't have to face my worst fears today, I turned to leave. At that moment the door flew open, and I heard Vesta Pennsinger's cheery voice. Now, don't you go away, Tori. I was just getting the place redd up. What a busy day. You wouldn't believe how many people showed up. She ushered me into the waiting room, chatting all the while. Now, don't tell me. Let me guess why you'uns is here.

No games please, Vesta. You know damn well I came for the results of my biopsy.

I can't give it to you directly, Tori. I'm supposed to forward it to your new doctor, and then you can

That was the last straw! Summoning up the image of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, I grabbed Vesta by the front of her white smock and pulled her close to me.

Right in her face, I muttered, Give me my test results, Vesta. Or I'll I left it to her imagination to guess, since I really had no idea of what I'd do if she wouldn't give me what I wanted.

She fell back against the divider wall when I released her and smoothed her clothes. Okay, already. I'll get it. Hang on.

She darted through the door, and I followed close behind, watching as she went through the papers in the top section of an in-box on the counter.

After a few minutes she waved a piece of paper at me. Here. You can read it for yourself.

My hand shook as I took the report from her. I focused on the page of medical terminology, wondering what it all meant. One word leaped off the page. Negative. That's good, isn't it? I asked. Please let it be good!

Vesta took it from me and read quickly through it. Yo u re okay, Tori. It was a cyst. Nothing to be concerned about. Be sure and get a mammogram every year.

To my great surprise, I burst into tears. I'll get you something to drink, Vesta said, hurrying from the room. She returned in a few seconds with a paper cup full of ice water, which I swallowed in one gulp.

Vesta pulled a couple of Kleenexes from a box on the countertop and handed them to me. I wiped my cheeks with one and blew my nose in the other. Thanks, I said. I am so relieved! Don't know why I cried. Feel like an idiot. I looked at her crumpled smock front where I'd grabbed her. I'm sorry about that.

It's okay, Tori. Everybody reacts differently. One woman who came in earlier got bad news about her Pap smear. After I told her, she actually started laughing.

That is strange.

And two men and one woman threatened to sue me because of all their records being burned up. Like we set that fire on purpose. Poor Dr. Washabaugh it was just awful. I walked in and found her lying right there with papers from our files piled up around her and burning and the smell She covered her face, and her shoulders shook as she sobbed.

I walked over to the counter to get a Kleenex for her, and noticed a report lying on the top of the stack in the in-box. It appeared to be test results. Edward Macmil-lan's name jumped out at me as if it were in neon letters. I read through it, feeling no qualms about invading his privacy; after all, he wasn't alive.

It was snatched away from me by Vesta. You can't read that, she snapped. It's confidential information.

Look, Vesta, don't tell me about confidentiality. Not when you've spread rumors about my medical condition all around Adams and Caven counties.

Indignantly, she said, I don't know what you're talking about.

Of course you do. Nobody knew about my biopsy except Dr. Washabaugh, my landlady, and you. And obviously you were the only one who knew it came back negative. Last night, I was congratulated by people I didn't even know. It had to be you who told them.

She hung her head. I didn't mean no harm, Tori. My mother always said my big mouth'd get me in trouble.

I couldn't help feeling sorry for her. She didn't appear to be malicious, only a woman who enjoyed being in a position where she had confidential information that nobody else knew.

I retrieved Mack Macmillan's test results from her. It was from the Gettysburg hospital, and just as the coroner's report had said, Mack Macmillan had prostate cancer.

I guess he didn't know he had cancer, if this has come in since his death, I said.

He knew. This was a follow-up test. The results came in the same day as yours.

Was he going to have surgery?

Vesta blew her nose as she shook her head. The urologist Dr. Washabaugh sent him to doesn't recommend surgery for men over seventy. He said it was a slow-growing type of cancer and Mack could live ten years or more if something else didn't kill him first.

I imagine he was glad to hear there was no immediate danger, I said, thinking of my own relief.

Monday Evening | Death, Guns and Sticky Buns | Tuesday Evening