John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

Cruises. Darling clothes. Could that tough old son of a bitch be wheedled into marrying a second-generation Mexican nurse thirty years younger than he? Can Maria find happiness in a Dallas setting? What do bears do in the woods?

One would have to move just as slowly and carefully and cleverly as during the past seven weeks. And if the affair peaked and then began to fade, and then the old lady died, the answer is no. Maria is fun and games, but not a wife. But if he is hanging on the edge and it happens, then… possibly. “My darling, you have to get away from all this for a while. Let Maria help you, dear. What we both need is a fun place to take our minds off all this. Yes, she was a dear sweet woman and I know you’ll miss her.”

Make a mental note. The sons and their wives and the grandchildren will come to the services. And you will be that little dark-haired nurse who was so awfully fond of old Thelma. Give them no clue at all. Cry a lot.

“Hey, Tuck, let’s sneak off to a fun place all by ourselves. Like maybe Vegas? Just for a week or two, hon. To help you get over this terrible loss.” And then, in Vegas, a little fun and frolic and booze and a sudden girlish reluctance to make love with a newly bereaved husband. A few days of that and then one day lots of drinks and then, just for sport, just for laughs, we’ll get married in one of those tacky little chapels. How do you know how soon you might need a nurse just for nursing, old man?

But the old lady. That was the problem. She would never be able to walk or talk again. She could hang in there for thirty more years. Unless steps are taken. Soon. Very very careful steps. Easing someone over the edge, a person that is more thing than person, is actually doing the old biddy a favor. The look in her eyes tells you she is having a bad time of it, that she hates it. Even if she goes, maybe Tuck is too tough and smart to be suckered into marriage again so soon.

Maybe. That comes to a question of risk. Is it worth the chance to do it and come up empty? Depends on the chance of getting caught. Review the status of the patient. Diminished kidney function, slight congestive heart failure problem, low blood pressure. So go home and read the medications book and check off everything contraindicated, and then go into the box in the back of the closet and see if there’s anything there that might, in itself, be sufficiently bad for her, or maybe sufficiently bad if substituted for the medications she’s now taking. No seizures. Just gently gently down the tube, fading sweetly away into forever. No autopsy, thank you. And if, through medication, she dies of what’s already wrong with her, who’s to worry?

No! I’m just kidding around. Just playing mental games. Just playing pretend. I’m not that sort of person. I’m a nurse. There is a code of medical ethics. Just like the doctors, we give no deadly drug. But, of course, if it should work out, then I wouldn’t be a nurse anymore, would I? And I wouldn’t have to think about a lot of rules.

twelve-twenty on Tuesday, the ninth of September, the only two people in the Rowley/Gibbs offices were Jeanie Nash up front and Dawn Marino back at her desk outside Bern’s big office. Dawn was doing her nails and tapping her foot to the muted music on her little green radio, an old country favorite by Willy.

When her phone rang she picked up the receiver with one hand and turned off the music with the other. Jeanie said, “I got a guy on another line hot to talk to Wade. He’s called back a couple of times. He won’t say what he wants. Do you want to give it a try?”

“Why not?”

“Lots of luck. Here he is.”

“Mr. Rowley’s secretary,” she said sweetly.

“Well, I wanted to talk to him.”

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Categories: John D MacDonald