had the measles as a child, he told me. He also told me the
exact date and who his doctor had been. He calls that kind
of recall a great mind for detail. I call it being anal. He
also informed me that he was worried about, Carolyn, the wife
of his department head who he thought was depressed. At that
point I couldn't have cared less.
As soon as I got off the phone, Anita appeared, carrying Needles
in her arms. Needles was groggy, feverish, pink-eyed, and
very crabby. It made my skin itch to look at her, and really
didn't want her in my car, but I didn't feel I had a choice.
"Bob," Anita ordered me, "take the cat cage
out to the car. I think it will fit in the front seat. I'll
sit in back with the child."
"Don't we need a kiddy seat for her?" I grumbled.
Mrs. Privett had entered the room. "There is a child's
car seat at the McManus' house," she said. "I'll
bring it to your car. I'm going over to feed the cats."
I was surprised, I admit, that she offered to do anything
at all, and I told Anita so as we drove off.
"She's not so bad," Anita said. "I understand
that she might grate on your nerves, but her heart is in the
right place. Without her stability little Anita would be in
a bad situation."
I winced at the cliché. Anita was usually not one for
clichés. I wondered what was going on.
"Let's drop the cat carrier off at the vet's after we
take Anita to the doctor," Anita said. "Just turn
left here and go three blocks, and you'll see the medical
building on the right. There's parking right in front."
How did she know?
"Joanna phoned the pediatrician," she informed me,
unasked. "I spoke with the receptionist and got directions.
Joanna would have given them to me, but she has no sense of
I was startled at Anita's use of Mrs. Privett's first name.
Surely they hadn't become friends. Or had they? Anita generally
had better taste.
The doctor was a tall young man who looked to me as if he
should just have been starting medical school. Needles didn't
seem to be afraid of him, but she didn't seem to like him
much either. She hung onto Anita's hand, and I followed them
into the examining room feeling useless.
To no one's surprise, Dr. Kingston informed us that Needles
indeed had the early symptoms of measles and would require
at least a week's bed rest and close supervision by an adult.
Then he peered at us for a few minutes before asking if we'd
had the disease. Anita spoke up first and told him that she'd
had measles as a child, but I wasn't sure. He cleared his
throat and suggested that we wait out front until he could
hunt up the specialist in infectious diseases to speak with
Needles slept curled up on Anita's lap. I'd never thought
of Anita as at all maternal, but that child seemed to like
her well enough. The strange thing, at least to my mind, was
that she also seemed to like the child.
"Dr. Larchmont will see you, Mr. Harmon," the receptionist
informed me. I stood up and she led me into a different examining
room from the one where the pediatrician had examined Needles.
I no sooner settled myself on a chair next to the examining
table than a very attractive, young woman entered. She extended
her hand. "Hello, I'm Dr. Larchmont. I understand you've
been exposed to measles and don't know if you've already had
them as a child."
I nodded and felt called upon to explain. "I had most
childhood diseases, but doctor whom my family used when I
was young has long since died. I imagine his medical records
are somewhere, but I don't know where."
She smiled and nodded. "Well, I'm sure you could hunt
them down, but by that time the incubation period for the
disease would probably be over and you'd either have come
down with it or not. What you want to watch out for is high
fever if you do get it."
"And how long until I know?" I asked.
"Ten to twelve days. During that time you'll want to
keep away from people who haven't had the disease and from
those with weakened immune systems."
This time it was my turn to nod and smile. "Thank you
very much, Doctor," I said, standing up to leave.
She shook my hand and left the room. I followed wondering
if I was now really obliged to skip the pen show. Out in the
hallway I saw Dr. Kingston who was on his way to another patient.
I hailed him and he turned sharply, an impatient expression
on his face, but he smiled when he recognized me.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Harmon?" he asked.
I could tell he was in a hurry, but I needed to know why Needles
had never been vaccinated against measles.
"Her father was opposed to it," he said, looking
disapproving. "He said the child had been poked and prodded
and stuck enough." The doctor shook his head. "Some
" he began, then caught himself and blushed.
I thanked him and let him go on his way.
When I got out into the waiting, I saw something I'd never
expected: Anita Carswell talking on a cellular phone. I approached
slowly, curious, and heard her say, "Yes, Joanna, I'll
have the address, and we'll run by as soon as we drop off
the cat carrier. Yes, thanks, we're glad to help."
Anita saw me staring at the phone in her hand and shoved it
into that capacious bag she always carried. "What's wrong,
Bob?" she asked, looking slightly alarmed. "What
did the doctor tell you?"
"I thought you hated cell phones, Anita," I replied
She waved her hand in the air. "They're tools. I don't
hate them. I find it annoying when people walk down the street
with a cell phone plastered to their ears, and I find people
who talk loudly on their cell phones in public places rude.
But I have nothing against the tools; they can be useful."
"Right," I said disapprovingly. "So when did
you get it? And why didn't you let me use it instead of Mrs.
Anita chuckled. "It's Joanna's and she lent it to me
this morning. Besides, the sight of you speaking into that
hippo was too good to pass up. I wouldn't have missed it for
I grunted. "Well, what did she want?"
"What did who want?"
"Mrs. P.," I replied impatiently. "You were
talking to her, weren't you?"
Anita shook her head. Needles rolled over on her lap, and
Anita's hand went down to keep her from rolling onto the floor.
"What's wrong, Bob?"
"Wrong?" I said sarcastically. "What makes
you think something is wrong?"
"Your behavior and that dyspeptic look on your face,
to name just two things," Anita replied acerbically.
"Are you already experiencing symptoms or did you eat
too many of Joanna's pancakes?"
I sighed pathetically. "No, I'm perfectly content to
be stuck here looking after a sick child. What more could
I ask for on my vacation from my sick wife?"
Anita raised her eyebrows but didn't reply.
"Dr. Larchmont said the incubation period is ten to twelve
days," I informed her.
Her reply was simply, "Uh, oh!"
"Uh, oh, indeed," I said, folding my arms over my
chest as I looked down at her with the sleeping child in her
"When are you going to tell Betsy?"
Her question took me by surprise. I had been nursing resentment
about being put on the spot, thinking about how I'd feel if
I skipped the pen show and how I'd feel if I went and someone
came down with measles, but I hadn't really counted the days
until my return home. Nor had I been trying to remember whether
or not Betsy had had the measles or been vaccinated. Did I
I didn't like feeling like an inconsiderate husband, and unfortunately
I was all too ready to take out my feeling of inadequacy on
"I think you should tell Betsy," I growled at her.
"After all, it's your damned fault I'm in this mess.
You and your cat-loving ways."
Anita peered up at me and shook her head. "Fine, I'll
speak to Betsy. But first let's go drop off the cat carrier
and get this child back to bed."
She rose slowly and carefully lifted Needles to her shoulder
without waking her. I could see that the child was heavy,
but I didn't offer to take over. Instead I followed her out
the door, feeling hard done by.
office was at the other end of the long street that constituted
the town's main thoroughfare. He himself greeted me as I entered,
cat cage under my arm.
"Hi there, You must be Bob Harmon."
He took the carrier from me and handed it to his office manager,
a middle-aged woman with a worried expression.
"Here, Mattie, put that in the store room, will you?
Arlen will disinfect it later today."
I stared at the large, heavy-set man. "I thought the
cat and the kittens you sent home were okay," I said.
He looked perturbed. "They are."
"So why disinfect the carrier?" I challenged him.
He grinned at me. "We always disinfect. It's just good
veterinary practice. A good habit to get into, if you know
what I mean."
I shook my head. "Seems like a waste of time to me."
He raised his eyebrows. "Wouldn't you prefer that your
doctor sterilize everything that comes into contact with you?"
he asked in a mild tone.
I grunted. "I don't go to a vet," I replied.
He laughed, and I was surprised to find myself feeling relieved
that I hadn't offended him. He seemed like a nice guy. Just
a bit too conscientious.
"I have to go," I said abruptly. "Miss Carswell
is in the car with little Nee
Anita McManus who has measles.
We've got to get her home to bed."
Suddenly I wondered if Dr. Brown had had measles whether he
could pass it from me to his canine and feline patients. I
shook my head to clear it of such stupid thoughts, nodded
at him and his office manager, and hurried back to the car.
was awake and very grumpy. "I want my mommy! I want my
mommy!" she kept howling. I wanted to drown her like
an unwanted kitten, but Anita, sitting right next to her on
the back seat of the car, didn't really seem to mind. She
just spoke to her softly, and after a few minutes, the howling
diminished to occasional sobs.
"We're not heading back to Joanna's," Anita informed
me. "We're gong to leave the child with a family friend.
So don't take the last right, take a left instead."
I glared into the rearview mirror. "I thought our reward
for returning Needles to her keeper was that we'd be allowed
to prowl around in the antique shop," I said.
"Perhaps we'll do that afterwards if you're in no hurry
to be on the way to Indiana," Anita replied calmly, stroking
Needles unruly hair. The child had quieted down, and I no
longer wanted to drown her. I wasn't so sure about Anita and
Joanna Privett, however. I felt as if there was a conspiracy
and I was its target.
"Never mind," I grumbled. "Given the condition
of that house, there's probably nothing in the store worth
my time anyway."
"Turn here, please!" Anita said sharply, and I turned
with a sharpness that almost equaled her tone.
"Third house on the left. You can pull into the driveway."
I turned into the driveway more carefully and turned off the
ignition. Anita got out of the car and bent to pick up Needles,
who had her arms outstretched. I don't know if it was remorse
or simply a return to my right mind, but I put my hand on
Anita's shoulder before she had a chance to pick up the child.
"Let me carry her," I said quietly. "You've
been hauling her around long enough."
To my surprise, Anita didn't object. Neither did Needles,
who allowed me to hoist her onto my shoulder without a whimper.
Anita led me up a gravel path past a well-tended garden to
the side door of a very small but pretty house. There was
no doorbell that I could see. She lifted an old-fashioned
door knocker shaped like a goblin's head and let if fall with
a resounding thud.
"Just a moment, please," a heavily accented. male
voice called out from behind the door. The accent sounded
Eastern European but not Russian. I guessed that the speaker
was Czech or Hungarian.
I heard shuffling footsteps and then the door opened. A man
at least as old as Anita herself stuck out his head. He had
beautiful white hair and very bright, blue eyes. He smiled
when he saw Needles, and she squealed in absolute delight
and reached out her arms to him.
The old man's smile broadened as he lifted the child from
"Please come in," he invited us, offering his hand
first to me and then to Anita, who stood slightly behind me.
"Ellen said you would be coming with Anita. I am Morris
Diamant, at your service."
And with that Mr. Diamant stepped back and ushered us into