Mad Cow Nightmare
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by Nancy Means Wright
Description: Dairy farmer Ruth Willmarth struggles with a mad cow plague, a squatter family of volatile Irish Travellers, a beautiful runaway woman--and Murder. According to Kirkus Reviews: "The masterfully evoked terror of Mad Cow makes Ruth's fifth her most sharply focused yet." Mystery by Nancy Means Wright; originally published by St. Martin's Minotaur
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: August 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [404 KB]
Reading time: 262-367 min.
Ritchie was wearing black jeans ripped in the knees and a T-shirt that read Death To Brits on its soiled front. He'd bought it the one time he was in Ireland. When he bent to drop a paper full of droopy flowers on Nola's tray table, she saw the black stallion on the back of his shirt. The beast was bucking, its hind legs kicking up, the man on its back gone sprawling, top hat and all--an Englishman, she supposed, toppled by an Irishman.
"Fifteen minutes," the nurse said in a starched voice and, frowning, rustled out.
Nola understood the frown. Here they were in a Canadian hospital, with a picture of the queen on every wall! The queen wore a silly little pillbox of a hat on top of her bluish hair; the man in tights beside her was kissing her plump hand like it was a warm macaroon. Ha! To Nola, royalty was no better than poor Irish travellers like herself--in spite of the fancy carriages and the horse guards dressed to the teeth in velvet and lace.
"And where did you pick the flowers?" she said. "They got vases here, you know. Just ask the nurse. They might die, though, in the cold of this place."
Nola was always cold, even though the nurse insisted the air-conditioning was turned down. It was because of the surgery, the nurse said: brain surgery was a delicate matter. Nola had been in critical, she'd barely come through, they said. She didn't understand it. She'd simply collapsed one day on the New York farm and Ritchie dragged her over the border in his uncle's truck and up to this Toronto hospital. Canadians took in every sick body was the excuse.
"Never you mind," Ritchie said. Meaning he stole the posies off a cart or out of some florist's window. And then, when she reached out for them, "Leave 'em be--and get that white sack offa you, we're outa here."
"No, Ritchie, I'm not ready."
They'd got the tumor (fancy that--she'd had a tumor, just in front of the left ear it was), but she still felt the weakness, the pain in the left temple. Besides, they fed her three meals a day here, they said she was anemic; she wanted to take full advantage before they tossed her out.
The next she knew he was in the locker, throwing jeans and shirt at her, her rosary beads, her black purse, then sucking up the lemonade on the tray table with a little smirk, damn him. She'd been drinking it slowly, to savor it, it had just the right sweetness. "Up," he said. "Before the big nurse comes back. We gotta find Darren."
"Darren doesn't want to go back," she said. Ritchie's half brother, Darren, was fed up with the uncle's harsh ways. He'd left the farm three weeks ago for Vermont where he had a cousin on his non-traveller mother's side, and the cousin had got him work on a nearby farm.
"Uncle wants him back. And move your butt, we gotta hit the road."
"Hit it how, the road?" she asked. Uncle would want his truck back, he wouldn't want it going to Vermont. And their own pickup had died of old age the week before. She couldn't believe Ritchie was doing this to her, with her only five days before collapsing outside the cow barn.
He didn't answer her question.
"What about Keeley?" she asked. "I don't want the boy left there alone."
"I called Penny," he said. "She'll keep an eye on him."
Penny was their neighbor and Nola's friend; Keeley liked her. She was a counselor in Keeley's school--when he went to school, that is. Keeley was as shy as a chipmunk caught dozing on your front porch. Now Nola's twelve-year-old son was out for the summer and the neighbor had a part-time job--she couldn't always look out for the boy.
Nola didn't have to go to Vermont. She could ring the nurse, stay right here. She reached for the bell but Ritchie's hand clamped down on her wrist. "You stay," he said, "and you're on your own when they dump you outa here. I wasted a week already waiting for you. Darren could be in Mexico, and no one to say where."
She got up slowly--slowly was the only way she could do it. Tormey Leary was cheap; he'd never let them take the truck as far as Vermont, even if he did send Ritchie after his brother. If Ritchie expected her to walk, it might take a year--if she had a year to live. She staggered some, deliberately, on the way to the toilet. He didn't try to catch her, he'd know she was putting it on. She heard the woman in the next cubicle groan--that one was just out of surgery-- gallbladder or something. At least she was beyond hearing Ritchie's talk. Nola looked at the puffy face in the mirror and grimaced. At thirty she was already getting lines from the hot work in the corn-fields. She'd balked, but Ritchie wouldn't let up on her. He and his half brother had capital in the uncle's place; he was in the will, he said, they had to make a go of it.
"Hurry up, will ya." He was standing in the doorway, scratching his armpits, shuffling his feet. "No time for primping. You can do that on the road."
"I gotta sign out at least," she said. "I can't just leave."
"You can," he said. "You definitely can."
She was too weak to fight back. There wasn't even the guts in her to grab that last hunk of cake from the plate on the tray table. And they'd left the posies behind. "My flowers," she said, but Ritchie said, "Keep going."
On their way out down the echoing corridor a woman shouted, "Don't go! Bad luck if you go!" A man stepped out in the hall and narrowed his eyes at the dark-bearded Ritchie, but Nola felt it was herself the woman was speaking to.
Ritchie hustled her past the nurse's station, where the nurse had her nose in a computer, down the elevator, and out into the lobby, where no one paid attention to them, no one at all. Outside she shut her eyes against the dazzle of the late June sun. The traffic coming and going sounded like the outer space she'd seen once in a Disney film where the stars and planets and asteroids all spun crazily about one another. Her knees gave way under the terrible weight of her headache.
She leaned on Ritchie and this time he had to let her; there was a cop standing on the corner. If Ritchie was scared of one thing in his life, it was cops. One day she'd dare to ask him why.
For now, she was his captive. They walked right past the cop and around the corner to the truck and no one said a word. She, for one, couldn't have said a word if she'd wanted to, his arm was cramped so tight around her chest.