Long Shot

The chauffeur, knuckles white and jaw clenched, grips the wheel as we head into town, but our trip to the pharmacy is fruitless. When Mr. Stenger insists he has no epinephrine, we leave in a hurry after wasting precious time.

“What now?” Nick asks.

“Let’s go back to the Barnett Boardinghouse and I’ll call the local vet and see if he has any medication that might help. He lives out in the country. Maybe he’ll bring us something.”

“I could go get it, if you tell me where. I could persuade him.”

“What’s with you anyway? I thought you were going to get rough with Mr. Stenger back there?”

“I just . . .” (The blush moving up his baby face surprises me.) Before the driver can answer . . .

“Hey! That’s the vet!” A black Model T with a dent in the rear is moving away from us down Main. “Can you catch him?”

The Packard shoots forward, horn blaring, and the Ford screeches to a halt. I jump out while we’re still rolling. “Ill child with asthma,” I yell to Daniel Hester. “We need epi.”

“Where?” Daniel yells back, standing on the running board.

“Barnett Boardinghouse.”

“I’ll have to go home. I have a little there.”

“The boy is critical,” I offer, as he speeds away, then bite my lower lip. The sun is too bright for early May. It should be softer. The shadows are too harsh and I don’t know why I care so much about one little boy of one apparently very rich family, but I do.

On our return to the rooming house, we find the child has fallen asleep and is breathing quietly, but it doesn’t last. An hour later, his eyes snap open and lock on to mine. He sits up in bed, puts his hands around his neck, and looks around wildly.

“Breathe in . . . Breathe out . . . Look at me, Joey! Do it like this. I know you feel like you can’t get your air, but breathe slower. In . . . Out . . . In . . . Out.” The boy starts to cough again and it’s all we can do to keep him in bed. Once, he sits up so hard his head hits my nose and it begins to bleed, dripping red on Mrs. Barnett’s white sheets.

“Nick,” the mother shouts. “Help, Nick. We need you. This time it’s worse.”

There’s the sound of heavy feet coming up the steps and when I look up both Daniel Hester and Nick Rioli are trying to make it through the door at the same time. The vet is wearing dirty blue coveralls and smells like manure, but he’s here and I feel less alone.

“This is the animal doctor I told you about, Mrs. Bazzano, Dr. Hester. He has the epinephrine.” The vet kneels on the floor, touches the shaking boy on the arm, and then opens a leather bag like I carry.

“How much does he weigh?” Hester asks Mrs. Bazzano.

“Sixty pounds at his last doctor’s visit. Maybe less. He’s not been eating the past few days.” Daniel fills a syringe from a glass vial. I had expected some kind of inhaler, but now that I think of it, his patients probably don’t use inhalers and an injectable will work faster . . . if it works.

“Uhhhhh. Uhhhhh. Uhhhhh.” Joey makes a strange noise as he forces air in and out. Then he stops breathing altogether and falls back.

“Arm.” Daniel orders, and I pull up the boy’s nightshirt sleeve. The vet doesn’t bother with cleansing the skin, he just jabs the needle in and pushes the plunger. “I’m not sure I have the dose correct,” he whispers. “I gave him what I would give a good-sized dog. I have a little more if it doesn’t work.”

Then we wait. Thirty seconds. I’m holding my breath along with Joey, wondering how long you can go without air before your heart stops. I count the seconds in my head. Thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven. At last Joey gasps! Relief is almost instantaneous.

Mrs. Bazzano and I look at each other and I wipe her tears. She pulls a white hanky out of her pocket and wipes my bloody nose.

9

Ice Pick

It isn’t until dusk three days later that Dr. Blum and I leave the Barnett Boardinghouse. Nick and one of Mrs. Bazzano’s men had retrieved our Pontiac and, thank God, I’d asked Daniel to check on our six poor chickens still locked in the barn. I’m not much of a chicken farmer, but I know the birds have to eat and he took them some feed.

The chauffer slaps Blum on the back as we stand in the driveway getting ready to leave. “Well, old buddy,” he wisecracks, “I expect you’ll beat me in poker the next time I see you.” The men have taken a shine to the doctor, always setting him up with a hand of cards when they play. Not that he ever actually joined them. He just sat where he was, holding the fan of cards in front of him like the other Joes. “He has a real poker face,” they kidded.

Mrs. Bazzano and the children, including Joey, wave from the porch.

The vet had offered to take Isaac home with him days ago, but Mrs. Bazzano was paying me two dollars a day, renting our rooms, and feeding us, so we happily stayed. Also I didn’t want to leave until the order for three asthma inhalers came in on the train.

Before I turn up Wild Rose Road, I stop at the Hesters’ place. Inside I can hear Patience playing the piano, something familiar, “Oh! Susanna, Oh don’t you cry for me, For I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee.”

A few minutes later at the kitchen table over coffee and gingerbread cookies, I tell Daniel how much I appreciated him helping me out with Joey. “I wanted you to know what it meant to me, your help at the bedside. You saved the boy’s life. Here’s something from the child’s mother.” I hold out a ten-dollar bill. “Mrs. Bazzano also asked me to tell you how grateful she was.”

“Bazzano?” Patience asks. “Bazzano?” She turns to Daniel. “You didn’t say who they were. That’s the Bazzano family from Pittsburgh?”

“Yes,” I answer quickly. “Somewhere near Pittsburgh.”

“Don’t you know who they are?”

“I know quite a bit,” I answer smugly. “The lady said her husband owned a restaurant, but he was killed in an accident last year and they had to leave town. I figured they were deep in debt or something. Nice woman, but she has her hands full with five children, and the little boy, so sickly.”

“Don’t you know who they are?” Patience asks again. Both Daniel and I shrug. “That’s John Bazzano’s family. The Pittsburgh mobster! The late mob boss. He was assassinated in New York City last year. The ice pick murder?

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