Authors: Richard; Forrest
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The Death at Yew Corner
A Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mystery
For Senator Mary Faye Brumby
“Don't let the goddamn scabs in here. Hit him with a two-by-four!”
“Faby, please! Dottie is trying to rest and you're upsetting her.”
Fabian Bunting ignored the comment, gripped the window frame tightly, and continued looking down out the window of the Murphysville Convalescent Home at the picket line of strikers one floor below. “There's a fink trying the side door. Get him!”
“Faby, if you don't stop I'll have to sedate you. We can't have you throwing the pin out of your hip.”
“You just try that, hon. I'll jam the hypodermic in your fanny.” The old woman shrugged the nurse's restraining hand from her shoulder. “And in the future, young woman, you may call me Bunting. Dr. Bunting. And for your information, the individual in the other bed is Mrs. Rathbone.”
“We can't have this! Really!” The nurse wheeled the casement window shut, latched it, and firmly pushed Fabian Bunting back in her wheelchair. “I'm sorry there isn't any OT today, but with most of the staff out it can't be helped.”
“Why aren't you on the picket line, sweets?”
“I'm a professional.” The nurse straightened her carriage and aligned the fall of her skirt. “Now, please be good. We're terribly shorthanded and â¦”
“What do I get if I'm good?”
“Well, I'll find you something nice. Perhaps a special dessert treat with lunch.”
“A treat? Jesus! Do you think I'm suffering from anility, Miss Whatever-your-name-is?”
“Do you know what the word means?” The old woman peered closely at the name tag on the nurse's blouse. “Bambi. God, a grown woman named Bambi.”
Miss Williams turned on her heels and flounced from the small room. Fabian Bunting spun her wheelchair in a semicircle. “It's the feminine form of senility, Bambi,” she called. “The word has an interesting derivation. It's from the Latin
, meaning old woman. Old woman,” she repeated again under her breath. She wanted to throw things, to throw something against the wall. She wanted to hear the breaking of glass to assuage the hurt that filled her. But most of all, she wanted to break the binds of her physical self that had brought her here after eighty-four years of thriving independence. Her hand brushed vehemently along the bureau, knocking cosmetics and assorted bottles to the tile floor where they shattered into dozens of shards. It made her feel a little better.
“Miz Bunting, please don't make so much noise.”
Faby Bunting whirled her wheelchair to face the other bed, which was occupied by a frail woman younger than herself. There was a poignant quality to the plea. It was a note of desperation from someone who could voice no other. “I'm sorry, Mrs. Rathbone.”
“I never did like loud noises,” the wavering voice said in a plea of a different sort.
“I guess you didn't, dear,” Fabian said in a compassionate tone. “I seem to get very angry recently. I get mad at all sorts of things, worthy or not. Do you know what I mean? I've got to feel, and God only knows there isn't much in here to laugh about.”
“I only want to be quiet and sleep.”
I know you do, Faby thought. You've already stopped eating and you hardly speak. I think you've chosen your time. She turned back to the dresser and bent forward to open the middle drawer. What she was looking for was at the back, and she rummaged until she found the small case. The leather was old and cracked, but the opera glasses were still serviceable. She wheeled out the door and down the hall.
She looked down at the opera glasses in her lap and she remembered that she'd bought them in Paris. The year? Oh, God, let her remember the year. 1930. Yes, 1930, the year she'd gone to the Sorbonne for postdoctoral work. It had been a fabulous year of talk in the cafÃ©s, love, and passion. What had become of Max? Dead. Like all the others now gone. Pity.
The long hall that bisected the length of the second floor of the convalescent home was empty. As she wheeled past the nurses' station at the hallway's midpoint, she noticed that it was vacant. The strike hurt. They were running their asses off. Good!
No one was in the sun-room at the far end of the building. She wheeled across the tiles toward the bank of windows overlooking the parking lot and right flank of the picket line. She raised the opera glasses and swept them across her field of vision. A covey of strikers surrounded a tall, black woman who seemed to be giving directions. Fabian remembered her. On her last visit, Bea Wentworth had introduced her to the union organizer. The name? She must always struggle to remember. Ward. Yes, Kimberly Ward.
A four-door sedan filled with six or seven men and women moved slowly down the road and turned toward the parking lot. More scabs. Newly hired workers brought to replace the strikers. Kim wouldn't let them get through. She saw the black woman shouting, pointing, and now taking a position in front of the slowly moving car as other strikers surrounded the vehicle and rocked it from side to side. A striker was pounding on the windshield with his sign. They wouldn't get by. Good!
Something was going on immediately below the sun-room windows. Along the side wall of the building was a small courtyard enclosed on three sides by a high brick wall that usually contained the home's station wagon and dumpster. The van parked there this morning was unfamiliar. Its rear door was open and three men stood nearby arguing.
She watched them with the opera glasses. It was impossible to tell what they were saying, but it was obvious that two of the men were in a violent fight with a third. Her knuckles turned white as her grip on the glasses tightened. One of the men pinned the arms of the second while the third hit him. The victim doubled forward and fell to the pavement where he lay on his side. She could see a small trickle of blood ooze from his right ear. The unconscious man was lifted and thrown into the rear of the van.
The van backed out of the courtyard and turned into the parking lot. The vehicle accelerated as it approached the picket line. The strikers parted before the rushing vehicle as it left the convalescent home property and turned up the street.
One man remained in the courtyard. He waited until the van cleared the line of strikers before he turned toward the building. She noticed that he wore hospital whites.
As the hunted will be furtive, the man in the courtyard glanced in either direction and then up. Their eyes made contact. Fabian Bunting lowered her glasses and placed them on the windowsill. She swiveled her chair and began to propel herself down the long, vacant hall.
There was a phone at the nurses' station. She would dial 911. Surely someone would be interested in what she had just seen.
She pushed the wheels as fast as she could but felt them spin from her hands. She turned to see a man behind her firmly gripping the handles of her chair.
“Let me go!”
He didn't answer. She lurched forward when the chair made a sharp right-angle turn. He had swiveled the chair directly toward the double swinging doors of the physical therapy room. The doors swung shut behind them, and she felt a strong hand clamp over her mouth. The fingers smelled of tobacco.
He pushed her across the room until the front of the chair bumped against the galvanized surface of a raised whirlpool tub. The hand that pressed against her mouth increased its pressure until her head slammed back against the headrest. The man bent forward and used his free hand to twirl a faucet valve.
Steam rose as scalding water rushed into the tub.
She looked up into the face of the man holding her not in fright so much as wonderment. She didn't expect her system could tolerate much, but she wondered why. Yes, why?
It would have been interesting to know.
Bea Wentworth awoke in a funk.
She opened one eye to peer up at her husband who was standing over her with a cup and saucer. It was unusual for him to bring her coffee in bed. He must have sensed her mood. She turned and opened the other eye to watch as he set the coffee gently on the night table.
She could have predicted his dress before she saw him: a loose-fitting sport shirt that was color-uncoordinated with rumpled khaki pants, canvas boat shoes, and no socks. For the first time, his lack of appropriate footwear annoyed her.
“There're clean socks in your drawer.”
“Uh huh. Coffee?”
She sat up and held the cup in both hands. “You're the only person in the world who can wrinkle fresh wash and wear.”
“You've forgotten our rule. You are never to speak until you've had your first morning coffee.”
“Good rule.” She drank and felt a warmth spread through her, causing a mild uplifting of her spirits. She drank again and watched Lyon lean against the wall with a bemused expression on his face. No socks and all, she liked the way he looked. He was a tall, angular, fortyish man. His blond-browning hair fell over his forehead, and he often pushed it back with a nonchalant palm. His smile had faded into a slightly troubled look, but she knew that his features could shift instantaneously to a wide, warm smile.