“So what’s the scoop?” I challenge my patient. “You call yourself Drake Trustler now? Don’t try any funny business with me, Nick. Here sit on this stool. Did you really hurt your arm?”
“Sort of. I wanted to talk to you before you saw me somewhere in the camp and called me Nick. I’m not Nick anymore. I broke with the Bazzano bunch. It was never for me. The only way I could ditch them was to disappear.”
“So you just walked away?”
“Exactly. Once I got the missus and the children to White Sulfur Springs, I started planning my escape. You can’t just quit the mob like it’s a regular job; the mob is everywhere. We spent a few weeks at the Greenbrier and then went on to Roanoke, where she has family. The first night we were there, I left the keys in the Packard, loaded up a rucksack, and hit the road. It broke me to leave Joey, but I couldn’t take him with me. Mrs. Bozzano would have hunted me down and had me killed like a dog.
“I didn’t know where to go, but I caught the first ride that came along. Thought I might head to California, but everyone and his brother is trying to get there.
“I couldn’t go north or south. There are mobsters all along the East Coast, and in the Midwest the thugs have taken over Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, and Chicago. I decided the mountains of West Virginia would be a good place to hide and started hitching this way.” He paces the floor while I open my package from Stenger’s and look for the Bayer.
“The third night out, I was camped behind a billboard outside of Hagerstown and I heard singing. It was coming from a truck full of CCC recruits broken down in the ditch.
“Fan belt was snapped. They’d fixed it, but the dummy that was driving had flooded the engine. Most of the fellows, a couple dozen, were pretty well liquored up, including the driver, so I got in and took over. Before he passed out, he told me they were headed for Union County. . . .
“Next morning, at dawn, when they all woke, cold and sick, the sergeant saw me behind the wheel and concluded I was one of the boys and a teetotaler. I introduced myself as Drake Trustler from Ohio. He was a kid I once knew in Meigs County who drowned when he was ten.
“Everything went fine until we got to the camp and they couldn’t find Drake Trustler’s paperwork. Mrs. Ross gave the driver hell for losing it and fixed me up somehow. I used my grandma’s address in Ohio as my home. You have to have some sort of residence and kin to send your twenty-five dollars to or you can’t be part of the CCC. Too bad for the fellows without family. This is a good place, plenty to eat, and work to do that matters. I’ve been here for three months now and I’m second in command of the motor pool.”
He tells me his story while I make him a sling, get out two aspirin, and pour some Sloan’s Liniment into a small vial.
“I’m sorry about Joey,” I say when I’m done. “But I’m glad you got free of them. My friends told me later who the Bazzanos were. The mother didn’t seem so bad.”
“She’s not ruthless like the rest of them, but she thinks she’s entitled to whatever she wants. Johnny Bazzano spoiled her.”
“Will Anthony and Frankie still try to find you?”
There are footsteps on the porch and I can smell the food before the door opens.
“You won’t tell, will you?” Drake Trustler whispers.
As I’m bumping home along Salt Lick, after my fourth day at White Rock, I see a strange sight and pull over on the edge of the road.
“Wait here,” I tell Blum. “It’s Daniel Hester. He looks upset. I’ll see if I can help him.” Blum stares ahead, as if he’s not heard me, stares at the squished katydid on the windshield. “Sit. Stay,” I command just because he irritates me.
“Daniel! What’s wrong? Have you lost something?” The man is stalking back and forth along the road, staring down at the dirt and pulling his hair. Can I help?” I yell from the back of the auto. “Daniel?” When he finally looks over, I can see he’s been crying. What the hell?
“I’ve killed her.” He stops for a moment and then starts pacing again, up and down the shallow, dry ditch.
“Who? What? A cow? A horse?”
I know bad things happen in medicine. Dr. Blum has lost patients, and veterinarians must lose patients too, but what terrible mishap could have brought the man to this state?
“Daniel, I insist you sit down. You’re upset, but whatever has happened cannot be that bad.” I use my nurse voice, the voice I would use if I were still on the wards and had to deal with a soldier having a breakdown, but he doesn’t respond, and when I reach out to touch him, he pulls away. “Daniel? Daniel, what’s wrong? Is it someone’s dog?”
“It’s Patience. She’s pregnant.”
“I didn’t know. She didn’t tell me, but surely this is not all that bad.” The vet’s hysteria surprises me. I thought he was a level-headed man.
“She doesn’t like to tell anyone because she’s lost babies before, but now she’s bleeding. This is the way it always happens to her . . . except for little Danny.
“I took her into Torrington this morning and Dr. Seymour, the specialist, said she’s going to lose the baby. He told us it’s inevitable and recommends an abortion before she hemorrhages, but Patience refuses. She’s lost two babies like this before, one when she was sixteen, then another, our first together, the year you left Union County. Little Danny is the only one who’s survived.
“The placenta is separating, that’s what Seymour says, but Patience won’t give up. She had all but stopped bleeding a few days ago, but now it’s started again.”
“How far along is she?”
“The physician thinks twenty weeks, but her cycle’s irregular. He’s just going by her uterine size. That means four long months in bed. That’s if the bleeding slows down. As strong as Patience is, she’s not immortal. I should never have gotten her pregnant, and l should never have . . .” Here he starts the pacing back and forth again, as if he were chased by demons.
I am so shocked that I don’t even notice Dr. Blum get out of the car. He doesn’t rush over, just moves in his slow, measured pace as if sleepwalking, then sits on the ground. When Daniel marches past him Blum sticks out his foot.
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