A Relationship Beckons: The Meetings (#10) Tuesday

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click here: Crisis Averted #1. Then navigate to the next post using the links in the upper corners.

Jake

Jake waited in his idling Tundra in the small square parking lot of the Starbucks on Warwick Boulevard facing the massive complex of buildings that represented Christopher Newport University. He listened to a local country music station as he absently gazed out over the perfect lawns and red-brick and white-domed buildings. He was always astonished at the royal presence and unquestionable erudition seeping from the campus’s every square inch. Former United States Senator Paul Trible who went on to become the fifth president of the then-college poured over one billion dollars of capital improvements into the school transforming it from a plain, fatigued smattering of flat-roofed buildings into a nationally-renowned performing arts institution. The campus resembled a sparkling, gleaming, updated version of the prestigious College of William and Mary, the second oldest institution of higher education in the United States and the ninth oldest in the English-speaking world. The three hundred and thirty year old school was only a modest drive north in Williamsburg.

Being an amateur history buff, Jake knew that William and Mary had educated three presidents and a regiment of historic figures vital to the founding of our nation. To pass the time, he asked himself three questions: How many potentially famous and influential men and women had already been graduated from Christopher Newport University? How many would graduate in years to come and make their mark on the world? And would the list one day be as long and distinguished as their sister school to the north?

Christopher Newport University

The answers didn’t materialize. Instead, he was jarred from his reverie by the arrival of a white Cadillac Escalade in need of a good wash rolling to a stop in the adjacent spot. The woman–he knew her name to be Caroline–glanced over at him with a friendly, vivacious smile. Jake flashed an equally inviting smile. For some unknown reason, he glanced at his blue-faced Seiko DressKX. It read 10:43am. And for an equally unknown reason, the mental image of the watch face and the position of the hands were now burned into his memory.

He alighted from the pick-up at the same time Caroline descended from the luxury SUV. They met at the rear corner of his vehicle. She extended her hand in a crisp, friendly, business-like manner. “I’m Caroline.”

Jake accepted the petite, well-manicured hand. “Jake Murphy.”

Caroline pushed a few strands of her caramel hair behind her ear. She lowered her gaze momentarily then brought her eyes back to meet his. Jake’s heart gave a ever so slight bump. Inside his chest, it felt like a major earth tremor. The hazel eyes were flecked with brown and enhanced by the silky brunette tresses. Her smooth voice sounded like liquid honey. “This is the second time in twenty-fours hours I owe you a thank you. Ah…And I haven’t even properly thanked you for what you did for Peter yesterday.”

Jakes nodded with a slightly angled bow of the head. “How is he doing?”

“He’s fine. Back to his rambunctious self. The docs at the ER checked him out and gave him a breathing treatment. We were home in about four hours.”

“That’s actually a pretty good turnaround time for an emergency room. Lucky you weren’t in there for twelve.”

She nodded then said, “I suppose you’re right.”

Their eyes met again as a polite pause yawned into a zone of discomfort. Jake spoke as he pulled her phone from his back pocket. “I guess I should get around to giving this back to you. That’s a great photo of your son on your wallpaper.” He extended the device. Caroline hesitated and then accepted it.

“Thank you…I would like to…I mean…I’m not sure what the proper protocol is here. What I’m trying to say is I don’t think a simple thank you is sufficient.” Her eyes seemed to reach somewhere deep into him, blinking rapidly. Jake thought for a moment that she might break down right here. “Can we go somewhere and talk? I don’t think a handshake and a thank you is enough. And I don’t want to offend you and offer you money.”

Jake smiled and shook his head. “Money is definitely not necessary. I wouldn’t accept it.”

“Let me buy you a cup of coffee or a beer?”

Jake gave a quick guffaw. “As much as I would love a good beer, I usually wait until afternoon.”

Embarrassed, Caroline moved her hand to her forehead and gently slapped it with her palm. “Of course, so it’s coffee then?”

Jake furrowed a brow. “Wow that was very good. Nice recovery or a very well-planned transition.”

“Believe me,” she replied. “There’s nothing in my life that’s well planned at the moment.”

Jake checked the Seiko once more. 10:48am. “I have to pick up my daughter from my mother’s.” He hesitated as if considering the consequences. “But it’s not urgent. Mimmi can spoil her for a little longer.”

“Great, follow me. I know a perfect place.” Her face see brightened and her eyes held the sparkle of the Eiffel Tower light show.

Jake nodded and watched Caroline’s hour glass figure slide gracefully behind the wheel. As he turned to return to his Tundra, the black shine of a sleek BMW sedan caught his eye. It was a hundred yards away across the street on the campus of Christopher Newport University slowing down on one of the access roads. Jake’s eye caught the driver, a woman, looking in his direction. He made eye contact. But the woman looked away or simply hadn’t seen him.

Caroline’s Escalade slid behind him. She honked once and waved for him to follow.  Jake returned the wave and climbed in. He looked back toward the BMW across the way. The car was gone.

Luca

Luca sat behind the wheel of the while Il Gigante…er…Lorenzo Esposito’s girth… consumed the passenger side of his Mercedes like Andre the Giant in a circus clown car. Equally impressive and annoying, his impressive mass caused the luxury sedan to dip to the passenger side. The blunt point of his left elbow protruded across the invisible boundary of the car’s console and dug deeply into Luca’s right shoulder. Luca tried to shrink himself against the driver’s door so as not to touch Big Tommy Romano’s assassin in any way. He was unsuccessful. This lethal, extremely offensive looking man had not spoken more than ten words since appearing on Luca’s doorstep this morning. But creepiness and lethality seeped from his pores.

Two hours earlier, Luca had managed to convince Esposito to allow him a quick shower. Three minutes after ringing the bell, his hair still dripping, Esposito had Luca out the door and driving Luca’s Mercedes. Esposito navigated by pointing and grunting, “Turn here!” Now they were sitting in the listing vehicle peering through the windshield at the modest accommodation of Fernando Gomez in a unspectacular Norfolk neighborhood

It was a two-story affair with no more than a half-acre lot covered in a mixture of weeds and grass competing for notice. The building couldn’t have cost more than three hundred grand. Luca surmised Gomez like to spend his money on cars rather than his domicile. Three brilliantly polished vehicles were lined up in the drive way: a cherry red Shelby Ford Mustang with white double racing stripes down the middle,  a white Chevy Camaro with rear spoiler and, perhaps slightly more functional, a sky blue Chevy Silverado with an oversized cab and oversized knobby tires.

Luca re-adjusted himself and checked his phone. He had texted Debra five times, hoping to glean more information about his ex-wife. What the hell was she doing? It was hard for him to focus. His head hurt from a drug and alcohol hangover. His body was sore. He could feel the burn of a fever building in his chest.

He started to compose a sixth message to her. But Il Gigante interrupted his thoughts. “There he is.” He smiled. But his eyes hardened as he watched the short Hispanic drug lord leave his house with three men. Bodyguards.

Il Gigante removed a pistol with a long sound suppressor. He chambered a round and returned the weapon to his shoulder holster. He then removed a short piece of metal. His thumb depressed a lever. The sharp metallic click announced the appearance of a thin, sharp blade.

“Today,” Il Gigante groaned. “The Spanish man…he die.”

Sacro e Profano

At the same time Caroline and Jake were meeting for the first time and Luca and Il Gigante were surveilling their target, a tall, thin and dangerous man stood in a darkened claustrophobic street four thousand miles away. Because of the time difference, it was currently approaching five in the evening in Italy. Via dei Maroniti in Rome, like many of the side streets in the Eternal City, was a quaint, narrow cobblestone passageway barely wide enough to accommodate the insectile European vehicles. During the day, pedestrians rarely saw the gleaming Italian sun for the five oor six story ancient edifici crowding the narrow sidewalk. The effect was that of a claustrophobic hallway. But nonetheless, it was the quintessential Roman experience.

Tonight, a few touristi strolled along aimlessly down this isolated street. Most were oblivious to the handsome, well-dressed man. That is except for the curious females imagining the carnal pleasures of an authentic Italian lover. His midnight blue eyes were often mistaken for black, especially after the sun went down. They were set close together over a razor sharp beak of a nose. The cheeks angled to a rounded chin. All of this was covered by deeply bronzed skin which made his smoky white hair glow under the amber lights of the restaurant.

International crime boss Giuseppe Linguale wore a double-breasted, Navy suit with white pencil stripes over a starched cotton white smoking shirt. A matching Navy tie was knotted expertly and pulled tight against the spread collar. Casual was not a term ever associated with this man.

Photo

Sacro e Profano in Rome

He scratched his temple absent-mindedly with his left hand as he scanned the via across the thin rough street, revealing a gold pinky ring. Impatiently tapping his highly polished black monk shoes against the uneven cobbles. His two body guards took up rear guard positions, close enough to be one step away from their charge in case of trouble but far enough away to allow him a modicum of privacy.

As he crossed his arms and pushed out an exasperated sigh. Linguale hated to be kept waiting especially by a rival. He began to turn toward one of his guardia del corpo when a vehicle with glistening reflection cut through the shadow and ambient light. It came to a stop directly in front of the ristorante.

Languale recognized the vehicle. His French counterpart always rented the same model, color and upgraded amenities. The fire engine red Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifiglio. The driver exited, circled the engine compartment and opened the rear passenger door. From the backseat emerged, man younger than Linguale, shorter in stature, with a three day scruff of beard who wore circular sunglasses despite the lack of direct sunlight. His white suit coat was buttoned revealing an inverted white triangle of a pressed t-shirt. The khaki trousers and a pair tans sneakers lent the ensemble a casual air. The black thigh-length over coat draped over his shoulders announced him as l’homme Parisian.

The Frenchman scanned the scene initially not acknowledging Linguale. The Italian knew that Jacques Maurice L’Enfant saw him. The Frenchies game-playing infuriated him to no end. But Linguale needed the Frenchman. He had invited him to Rome to offer him a deal.

Linguale stepped forward and raised his hand. He’d play along for now. “Maurice, Buongiorno. Welcome to Roma!”

L’Enfant forced a stiff smile. The two men politely, but reluctantly, gave each other a tight gripped handshake. “Gio.” L’Enfant muttered.

Linguale motioned toward the restaurant. “We have much to discuss. I have need of your help in America. Virginia specifically.”

-To Be Continued-

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A Relationship Beckons: Il Gigante (#9) Tuesday

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click here: Crisis Averted #1 . Then navigate to the next post using the links in the upper corners

Il Gigante

The ceiling wavered like pond water disturbed by a tossed rock. It rippled outward from a single point in concentric waves. Luca tried to lift his head but was stopped by a spasm of dizziness and nausea brimming in his temples. Bile surged from his gut. He swallowed it and lowered his throbbing skull back onto the sofa cushion which felt like a block of concrete. Ever so gently and slowly, he rotated his eyes, taking in the room and trying to remember how the hell he’d ended up like this.

The coffee table was a post apocalyptic landscape of crushed beer cans, two shot glasses holding remnants of a clear liquid, several small pimples of a snow white powder dotted the glass top in a patina of fine dust. A pizza box lay toppled on the carpet its cardboard yawned revealing the remains of crusts and half-eaten triangles of baked dough. An ashtray lay at the center of the no-man’s land. A bunker of smoldering butts sending tendrils of blue smoke wafting toward the wavy ceiling. Beside that lay the wooden vessel lined with blue velvet in which rested the instrument of death.

Luca licked his lips and tasted bits of the anesthetic powder beneath his nose. A burgeoning headache was erupting behind his eyes. The acidic tang of vomit clung to the back of his throat. He rolled to his left and dropped from the sofa on the thick pile of carpet. Sucking in slow, deep breaths, he waited for the spinning to subside. Every movement was a Herculean achievement.

I’ve got to stop this, he whispered. The words sounded like a blasts of a fire alarm.

As he lay there, the vague conversation with an irritated Debra suddenly spoke to him. She’d placed the tracker on the bitch’s car. Now he would know where she was all the time. Why was Debra mad? There was something wrong. Even through his dense drug-induced befuddlement, Luca knew her words were curt and filled with disdain.

The capo managed to push himself to all fours in the narrow space between the coffee table and the sofa. He struggled to his feet and eventually pulled himself to a semi-erect posture. Shuffling toward the guest bathroom, he kicked the pizza box and the rigid wedges within re-organized themselves. It was then that he noticed that one foot was bare. The other still clothed by a sock half dangling over the toes. The naked foot revealed red dots of clotted injection sites between his toes which ached. The crack of breaking plastic under foot told him he’d stepped on the syringe. He studied his unadorned wrist. His Rolex was missing. What happened to his watch?

Eons later, he found the bathroom and flipped on the light. Daggers of white pain sliced through his brain. He closed his eyes and the intensity and the agony eased. Feeling for the toilet, he raised the seat, dropped his shorts and began urinating. The muted hiss told him he’d missed the bowl. Opening one eye, he re-adjusted and the yellow stream found its mark.

The bells of Notre Dame pealed jolting him. Quasimodo, the grotesque hunch-backed bell ringer was furiously tugging on the imaginary bell pull sending acoustic waves of agony through his ears. He finished his business and awkwardly zipped up. It was then that he realized the loud chimes were that of his own door bell, not some ancient cathedral in Paris. “Coming,” he moaned, struggling again to cover the distance. He sighed, preparing for another wave of vertigo then pulled open the with great care.

The emotionless face that stared back at him appeared to be Quasimodo himself. The dark blue eyes were set in cavernous sockets in a Neantherdalian skull beneath a protruding ridge of bushy black eyebrows. A wide scar cleaved the brow over the right eye. The crooked nose had been mashed by an unsympathetic God and possessed the angles of mountain road. The skin covering the whole bony, angular mug was scarred and resembled a pocked moonscape. The thick lips were pulled into a permanent sneer. The massive humanoid on his stoop seemed to block out the sun. Luca stared up at this behemoth momentarily dumbfounded. He moved his eyes to the neck and shoulders looking for signs of a hump. He found none.

The uncomfortable silence yawned for several moments. Luca moved his gaze back to the mountain’s butt-faced visage then Luca managed one pain-soaked word. “Yeah?”

“Big Tommy sent me,” the stranger growled in a rusty New York accent. The sunken eyes moved beneath the bony overhang and sized up Luca. “Get dressed. We got woik.”

“You Il Gigante?”

“Name’s Lorenzo Esposito.” He stepped closer. The stench of stale coffee, Tabasco and eggs hit Luca in the nose.  “And don’t you forgit it.”

Caroline

Debra’s butt had gone numb two hours ago after she’d sped away from the Caroline’s Williamsburg neighborhood. The all night vigil outside Luca’s ex’s house had been interrupted only by her quick three am excursion from the car to Caroline Clivio’s driveway where she’d quickly slipped under the chassis of her Escalade. She attached the tracker just inside the rear bumper. That four minute trek of nervous pulse pounding had been followed by more hours of monotony capped off by the gray-haired black man banging on her passenger window and threatening to call the police. He’d not said so. Not in so many words. But he’d made his intent clear.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the beep and flash on the app on her phone. The blinking icon on the map indicated the vehicle being tracked. She looked up. Caroline climbed out of her Escalade, circled the vehicle and extracted her son, Peter from his car seat. She led him by one hand toward the entrance of the Newport News law firm of Weedle and Chase. Debra had googled it moments ago. It was medium-sized firm dedicated to family law. Debra thought a moment. Caroline and Luca were already divorced. So why did she need the services of a family lawyer. In her opposite hand, Caroline carried a manila envelope.

Oh shit! She thought.

She’d answered Luca’s call earlier. His slurred and slow words told her everything she needed to know. He was high or drunk. Or both. And she hadn’t wanted to see or be near him right now. She was still pissed at him. He’d brought her to Big Tommy’s house for his meet with the Don. And she’d heard Luca’s boss give him an order to kill a member of the Gomez family.

Debra wasn’t naïve. She knew what Luca did. And she knew what Big Tommy did. There were criminals. It was exciting…dangerous. Debra liked the danger…the excitement. But it had gone too far. Murder. She wanted no part of it. She knew she needed to extract herself from this rabbit hole into which she had plunged. Her relationship with Luca was over. He just didn’t know it yet. And she did not have any clue as to how she would execute her escape. But when the opportunity arose, she would become a ghost.

-To Be Continued-

If you have a pharmacy story or a story (heroic or challenging) of everyday life in your healthcare world, send it to me by clicking the link below…

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A Relationship Beckons: Returning The Phone: Jake and Caroline(#8) Tuesday

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click here: Crisis Averted #1 . Then navigate to the next post using the links in the upper corners

Awakening

Jake fidgeted as Olivia’s soft curves undulated back and forth over him. He lie on his back gazing up at her, drinking in her vague beauty. The cloudy lines in and around her partially obscured his sight of her. But he knew it was her. The familiar, comfortable feel of her warmth; the curve of her angelic face; the penetrating ice blue eyes and, of course, her alluring, intimate curves. He ran his fingertips over her hips moving them upward navigating the topography of the torso, guiding her, encouraging her. His body moved in perfect concert with hers, gyrating faster with each passing second toward the anticipated crescendo.

Out of the corner of his dream’s eye, he spied a nebulous figure in the shadows, murky and hesitant, lurking near the lingerie chest visible but out of focus. As his dead wife pleased herself atop him, Jake’s attention remained riveted on the mysterious form. Olivia–in silent pleading and protestations–began tugging at Jake’s subconscious, willing his eyes back to hers. But Jake’s stare stayed on the dubious silhouette. As ripples of pleasure rocked him, propelling him toward a heavenly climax. As his pleasure mounted, her unspoken words grated in his ears.

Her hips ground harder and deeper as her remonstrations grew harsher. In response, Jake pushed harder against her. When their bodies could go no faster, grind no harder, the figure moved away from the chest, stepping closer to them. It rushed to their side impatiently, interrupting their love-making. Olivia’s image disintegrated, melting away. The face belonging to the figure lowered itself toward Jake, leaving the misty shroud concealing it.

Rather than lingering the face receded and a new torrent of images assaulted him. The face of the stranger was replaced by the mug of Stephan Willings, the pinch-faced pharmacy manager, from a different angle.  The disgusted, frustrated moues of dissatisfied customers and patients clicked onto the screen of his subconscious like clinical slides showing the carnage of hatred and intolerance alternating on either side of Olivia moving body. Jake’s head jerked from side to side. There was Lizzie’s chubby-cheeked smile smeared with spaghetti sauce chopping on snippets of pasta with her plump fingers. The mangled metal and shattered glass of the devastating car wreck.

Olivia, feeling his distraction, re-doubled her efforts, pressing her body into him, lowering her breasts onto his chest and allowing her nipples to caress him. She battled desperately for his attention…

Then the little boy, blue and pale, sped past his eyes, pleading with Jake for assistance. Willings. Patients. Helen, the middle-aged pharmacy technician. More patients. Lizzie. Olivia. The wreck.

Then the first stranger reappeared jutting her face at him. It was not harsh nor an unpleasant experience. It was interruption. It was the face of kindness and gratitude. Jake was transported back to the waiting area in the pharmacy. The boy–what was his name–sitting in his mother’s lap as he administered the breathing medication. In this version of events in his dream, Jake was not focused on the boy as he had been that day. Now at this moment, his subconscious brought forth the pleasing scent of his mother, the nearness of her breasts, the soft, silken curtain of hair framing a concerned, pleasing visage.

Then everything disappeared…

Jake woke with a start. His lungs burned. His chest heaved. He was covered in perspiration. His eyes locked on the ceiling because it was above him and the only image available to him. Everything from his disjointed, sensual yet upsetting carnal episode lingered. Momentarily paralyzed, he tried to assimilate, to understand where he was and what had happened. After a time, blinking rapidly, he calmed his breathing and realized it had been a dream. An extremely realistic and jarring dream. With great effort, he pulled back the bed covers and rose to a sitting position. He dragged his hands down his face and sucked in several deep breaths. He swung his legs off the bed. Padding to the toilet, he lowered his briefs, placed one hand on the wall and whizzed into the bowl. He trudged to the kitchen, placed a K-cup into the Keurig and brewed a large cup of java. As it brewed, he moved to the sink and splashed several handfuls of cold water onto his face. He patted it dry with a dish towel and expelled another long sigh.

His vision bothered him. He hadn’t dreamt about Olivia in weeks. And it had been at least six months since he’d fantasized that she was making love to him. The memory and sensation had felt as real as it ever had. The memory pleased and shocked him. But what frightened him more was the presence of the image that had intruded, expelling Olivia from his reverie. The last few seconds, it had transformed it from a near wet dream to a breath-stealing intrusion, thrusting him into the present reality. It had been…her.

The unnamed woman. The easy-on-the eyes mother of Peter–that was his name–the boy Jake had saved at the pharmacy.

He doused his coffee with a healthy portion of creamer, stirred it. Returning to the bedroom, he retrieved both phones and tapped the screen on the unknown woman’s phone. The image of the smiling Peter reappeared as he gulped the hot coffee.

He needed to get this thing back to her…or someone somehow. The need was urgent now. Though he’d only had the phone in his possession for a few hours. Less than ten. It felt heavy and burdensome. He wanted to be rid of it. He needed to put this in his past.

A Plea For Help

Latent images rushed her. Caroline lowered Peter’s binoculars from her eyes. She stared out the window but she did not see beyond the glass or the louvres of the blind. She saw only what her mind regurgitated. Scattered disconnected images collected from the last twenty-four hours.

Pressing the accelerator of her Escalade, the monstrous vehicle fishtailing out of the soft, wet grass of the shoulder and nearly colliding with another car screaming past as Peter struggled for breath in the backseat. The sliver of a memory cut at her:…the driver making a animated gesture at her in the millisecond as it passed. No, as she passed. The vehicle was dark blue or black. The logo on the rear hatch of the SUV. The circle divided into quadrants of alternating blue and white, resembling that of a spinning propeller. A BMW.

Then that same SUV skidding to a halt behind her in the pharmacy parking lot as Caroline carried a barely-breathing Peter across the pavement. It hadn’t registered then. It was the same BMV, gleaming and polished in the brilliant spring sun. But Caroline’s mind must have recorded it as she bolted toward the pharmacy door. The image of the Virginia license plate had been burned in her mind like a searing brand on her cerebrum: BTCHY.

Later in the emergency room, Caroline remembered thinking she had seen this woman before as she angled herself against the wall. Luca’s–whatever–concubine, slut, bitch, drug dealer, whore. She recalled the thin, wry smile creeping across this witch’s features. In this revelatory moment despite her growing consternation, Caroline begrudgingly admitted that this woman was not unattractive. Caroline raised the orange field glasses again. This time she could she that the she-devil looked haggard and exhausted as she thumbed through the images on her phone in the early morning light.

But an obvious fact impatiently elbowed away her memories. Luca was having this woman follow her. That’s how he had known that Peter was in the emergency room. That’s how he had arrived so quickly even without Caroline calling him. Which she had never done. He must have been in the middle of shooting up or snorting a few lines. He had been high in the hospital.

How long had she been following her? Had she been parked on Caroline’s street corner all night long? Caroline swore at Luca and her own naivete. She was foolish for not realizing Luca would resort to such tactics. Luca’s paranoia was fueled by his criminal activities, his nature and stoked by his relentless drug use.

Caroline checked the clock over the small gas fireplace. It was still very early just before six in the morning. The man living in the other unit of this duplex was an older gentleman with whom she had a congenial relationship. They had been neighbors for about six months and spoke twice a week about neighborly, irrelevant matters. Caroline once let it slip that she was divorced. He had told her that he was retired and his wife had died two years ago. Caroline guessed he was about seventy. But he was kind and tended to look out for them.

Caroline pondered for a moment. Then she retreated to the back door and opened it slowly. She slipped outside and circled the fence partition separating her part of the backyard from her neighbor’s. Knocking three times, Caroline ran a hand through her disheveled hair. After several moments, she lifted her fist to hit the door again when it swung open.

“Oh!'” she started. “You surprised me!”

The elderly black man with a cloud of white hair and white moustache and wearing a wrinkled t-shirt and pajama pants registered surprise. “Good morning Caroline. I surprised you? You did knock on my door, didn’t you?”

Blushing, she replied, “Yes, Mr. Beck. I didn’t think you’d answer so quickly. Thought you’d still be asleep.”

“I get up at five every day. With this damn prostate, I have to pee three times a night”

“I’m sorry to disturb. But I don’t know what to do. I need your help.”

Instantly concerned, Joe Beck said, “Is it Peter? Not another asthma attack, I hope?”

Caroline shook her head. “No nothing like that.” She hesitated then continued. “It could be nothing, but something doesn’t seem right.”

“Tell me.”

“It’s out front,” she said.

Joe Beck turned and looked to the front of his unit. He spun back to Caroline and said, “Show me.”

He stepped aside and allowed her to enter. The kitchen was a mirror image of hers, small but functional with the basic amenities. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the air. A steaming mug sat beside an open laptop. The Wall Street Journal website shone on the screen.

Caroline followed him into the living room around which resided stacks of novels and magazines. She spied a gun of some kind–not a revolver–lying on one of the side tables. He approached the front door and was about to grab the knob when she stopped him.

“Don’t open the door!”

Beck halted and rotated, looking confused then concerned. “What?!”

She pointed to the window facing the street. Caroline walked over and separated the slats of the blind an inch or two. “That car has been parked their all night. There’s a woman sitting in it.”

“All night?”

“I heard Peter rustling around three. I happened to glance out the window. The driver was looking at her phone and her face was lit up,” she lied. “When I got up again a few minutes ago, I saw that the car and the woman were still there.”

“A friend of yours?” Beck studied Caroline. Caroline did not meet his gaze. But she replied honestly. “No, it looks suspicious. But I don’t want to call the police if it’s nothing.”

Beck scratched his balding head. “I spent thirty years in HR. I’ll find out what’s going on.”

The Black Man

Debra read the text she’d just composed: “Been here most of the night. Her car is in the drive way. No other cars around. No signs of a man. Appears to be alone!” She tapped the send arrow.

Two sharp raps on the passenger side window caused Debra to start. Her heart jumped into her throat. Her head swiveled toward the sound. Her hand instinctively moved to the blade slipped into her open bag at her feet. A tall, aging black man with white hair and moustache bent at the waist appeared ready to knock on the glass again. He was wrapped in a tan robe and the wrinkled collar of a t-shirt created a white triangle below his chin. His eyes were hard, penetrating and not inviting.

He motioned for her to lower the window. Debra depressed the door button and lowered the glass a few inches.

“Can I help you?” She asked.

“Morning.”

A ding told her that Luca had replied to her text. Good. Did you place the tracker on her car?

Debra hesitated and looked at her phone. “Good morning,” she replied with her eyes lowered, reading the response.

“You live around here?”

“Who’s asking?”

The black man hefted a thumb over his shoulder. “I live right back there. Noticed you sitting here for a while. Just checking to make sure you don’t need anything. I’m part of the neighborhood watch. Been watching you for a while now.”

He straightened and removed a cell phone from the pocket of his robe. Moving past the right front headlight, the stranger held the phone in such a way Debra could tell he was shooting a pic of her tag number.

Another ding. Did you place it?

“Ah….I was just trying to find…a place to have breakfast. There’s no need to do that,” she said when he returned to the window.

“Just a precaution. Can’t be too careful,” he retorted, bending back down to the slightly open window.

“I don’t mean any harm.”

A Third ding. Did you?

“Then you shouldn’t care if I record your plate.” The man’s eyes shifted to her phone. “Your boyfriend’s getting impatient?”

Debra looked up from the device but said nothing. Their eyes locked for a tortuous quintet of seconds.

The old man moved his gaze from the front to the back of the car. “Nice!” He smiled. The smile disintegrated just as quickly as it had appeared. “Not from around here, huh?”

“Not really.”

“Too much violence. Damn mass shootings on the television every week. Crazy ass kids doing drug deals, shooting teachers–each other. Like I said can’t be too careful. You should be careful where you hang out, young lady.”

“Ah…yeah…right,” Debra croaked. Her heart rate spiked. She could feel it pounding in her temples. The fatigue was catching up with her.

“You be moving on now. I got some neighbors who aren’t so patient as me. Try Shorty’s Diner. Opens at six in just a few minutes. Best home fries around.”

Debra put the phone in the console tray and pressed the car’s starter button. The Beamer fired up. She rammed the shift into drive and punched the accelerator. The car lurched taking the corner in a high squeal.

The phone rang through the car’s speakers. The displayed showed it was Luca. She hit the talk button and shouted, “What?”

Luca’s tired and drug-addled voice slurred. “Did you put it on her car?”

“God Damnit! Yes!”

Finding The Phone’s Owner

Ninety minutes later, Jake entered through the garage. Sweat stained his Semper Fi t-shirt in circles under the armpits and in an imverted V down the middle. It clung to his torso over a pair of red shorts trimmed in gold. The thigh of the right leg was emblazoned with the Eagle, Globe and Anchor. Jake had pushed himself harder than normal this morning. Normally, he covered the five miles in about forty-five minutes. Today, he’d done it thirty-five.

He needed to exorcize the visions. He figured he could accomplish this in three ways. First, the exertion pumped the blood hard through his veins, clearing his head and cleansing his soul. Second, he was going to get the damn phone off of his person and out of his house. Then he was going to get Lizzie from his mom and they would go do something fun. Distraction. Focus on what’s important.

He ate two pieces of toast slathered with jam and downed a second cup of coffee then hopped in a steamy shower. Twenty minutes later, he donned a pair of jeans and pulled a blue Polo over his head. He grabbed his phone from the night stand along with the unknown woman’s.

He sat at his computer desk in the downstairs office and touched the screen. The smiling image of Peter again stared up at him. In the upper left hand corner of the screen, he saw in small letters the name of the provider. He searched for the nearest outlet for that company. They opened at nine. The time on his computer screen read 8:23am.

He needed to cool his heels for about twenty minutes. He would leave then and he should get there when they opened.

His phone rang. He checked the screen and saw the name: Stephan Willings. He would keep calling until Jake answered that’s the kind of dickhead he was.

“Hello?”

Willings did not even bother with a greeting. “I need to see you this morning. I am writing you up for closing the drive-thru.”

“It was in the best interests of my patients and my practice. It was unsafe to have it remain open. We were understaffed and the chance of mistakes happening were too high.”

“Company policy does not allow you to close the drive-thru with approval.”

“I don’t care, Willings. I don’t need your approval. My name is on those prescriptions. Not yours. I’m the one who will have to answer for any mistakes made.”

“I’m not asking. I’m demanding. You come into the district office today.”

“We’ll see what the Board of Pharmacy says. It’s my day off. We’ll talk when I get back to work two days from now. Go haunt someone else!”

The benefits of the run and the shower dissolved. His ire returned climbing high in his back and neck along with a bolus of bile in his gut. I’m calling the BOP laterhe told himself. This crap is going to stop. He paced around the house for a good five minutes stewing. The retail pharmacy industry was killing itself because of management’s lack of concern for its employees and their work environment. Boards of Pharmacy around the country including Virginia had begun to take action to correct the dire situation. The public was in danger from understaffed and overworked pharmacists and technicians.

Jake knew that Virginia’s Board had issued a guidance document stating the expectations for the work environment. Corporations were being advised to no longer place quotas on pharmacist for immunizations, prescriptions or time expectations. They were also mandating that staffing be appropriate. The document also said that the pharmacist on-duty had the final say as to what happened, if it happened and how it happened, not the corporations. Though the document did not have the force of law, Jake also had read that it soon would, at least, in Virginia.

His belly roiling he checked his watch. He bounded out the door and into his car. He arrived just as the customer service associate unlocked the front door.

“What can I help you with?”

“I found someone’s phone and I need to get it back to them.”

Jake place the device on the counter. The young woman turned it to her, tapped the screen and read their company’s names in the upper left corner. “Okay, I see we are the provider. I assume since you are here that you do not know whose phone it is.”

“No, I don’t. I thought maybe you could look up a serial number or something?”

“No, can’t do that. But if you want to leave it with us. Since they use our service, I can try to re-unite it with its owner if possible.”

Jake considered the offer. Considering his torment from this morning, he should take her up on it. “Ah,” Jake hesitated. “No, is there anything else you can do?”

She pressed the side buttons on the iPhone then re-started it. She explained. “Sometimes folks will put ‘In Case of Emergency’ on the Lock Screen or will put emergency contacts there as well.” The phone rebooted. The woman swiped up on the screen and the “Enter Passcode” screen appeared at the bottom the word “Emergency” and “Cancel” appeared. She tapped emergency. “They can also set up the Medical ID with emergency contacts.” She swiped at the screen again. “But that has not been done with this phone.”

“Crap,” Jake muttered.

With some effort, the woman removed the phone case and examined it. “Sometimes folks will put contact info on the phone for just this reason. But I don’t see anything. She put a finger to her mouth as she thought. “Let’s try this.” She held the phone to her face and said, “Call Mom.”

An ID popped onto the Lock Screen. The image of an elderly woman appeared and the name, “Mom”. The attendant pressed the call button. and placed the call on speaker. It rang several times and then gave that frustrating three-note tone followed by a computer voice: The voicemail box has not been set up.

“Looks like I’m outta luck,” Jake sighed.

“Well, that call should be registered on the mom’s caller log. Perhaps she’ll call back. Then you can explain you have the phone. ”

The young woman shook her head. “Sorry none of those things worked. I’ll be happy to hold it for you and see if she calls back. Or you can turn it in to the police.”

Give her the phone and be done with it!

“No,” Jake replied, tapping the phone. “I’ll think I’ll hold onto it…for now.”

Back in his car, Jake navigated back onto Jefferson Avenue headed to his mother’s to pick up Lizzie. As he braked for a light, the stranger’s phone chimed some kind of peppy tune. Jake picked up the device and clicked on.

“Hello?”

To Be Continued-

If you have a pharmacy story or a story (heroic or challenging) of everyday life in your healthcare world, send it to me by clicking the link below…

Courtney Johnson and Yezellia Bray of Victra, an authorized Verizon dealer, in Suffolk, Virginia for their assistance with the research for this month’s blog.
The author also utilized the New York Times article (04/24/2019) How to Return a Lost Phone

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A Relationship Beckons: The Plan: Caroline and Debra(#7) Monday/Tuesday

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click here: Crisis Averted #1 . Then navigate to the next post using the links in the upper corners

The Plan

The Mansion

The leaden silence following Big Tommy’s words did more than shroud Debra and Luca. It oozed around and between them like a primordial essence filled with foreboding and apprehension. Luca could feel Debra tense despite the four feet separating them in the two, cushiony chairs.

“You know why I have summoned you here tonight.”

Big Tommy’s onyx eyes did not shift from Luca to Debra or vice versa. His declaration was aimed at one person. And one person only. Luca Clivio. The mafia crime boss’s attention sliced through the absolute yet terrifying stillness. For Luca, everything fell away. Tommy’s ominous glare held him like a shot of a paralyzing agent. He could see and hear. But he was unable to move, his muscles unresponsive. But Big Tommy’s eyes seemed to reach inside him, exposing every childhood sin and every improper thought. Before this criminal mastermind, Luca was a nothing more than a fly on a steaming pile of crap.

Luca did not know how much time had passed. Each second became an hour. Each minute a year. Luca returned Tommy’s hard gaze with a futile, ineffectual one of his own. Finally, Tommy demanded a response.

I said, “You know why I have summoned you here?” His gravelly voice grated in Luca’s ears.

After an eon elapsed, Luca managed an barely perceptible nod. He cleared his throat and replied, “My tribute?”

Tommy nodded with gravity of a hanging judge. “Ah si, il mio tributo.” He moved his plump hands in a gesture of incomprehension. “You are expected to provide me with $5000 a month. Your last two payments have been less than two g’s.”

Luca opened his mouth to speak. But Tommy cut him off, the ire in his tone climbing. “My other ten capos…nussun problema. Cosa sta succedendo?”

What’s going on?

A trickle of sweat snaked down the depression along his spine. Whenever Tommy started speaking in Italian, he knew things were going downhill…fast.

Luca licked his lips and swallowed. “It’s the dam…Gomez gang. They moved in several months ago. They’re undercutting us…me. Selling more blow, smack and rainbows cheaper.”

Tommy who had been leaning forward angled his bulk back against the sofa which groaned under the enormous mass. He steepled his hands in front of his chin. “And?”

“They’ve taken over the area.”

Tommy pouted his lips and nodded slowly. “What do recommend?”

Luca glanced at his Rolex. It was approaching one in the morning. “We cut our prices? Cut the product to make it cheaper so we can compete.”

The smile that crept over Big Tommy’s countenance made the thick moustache over his lip appear to shrink then expand as if it might crawl off his face. “No. no. no. Mio amato. I have made my reputation on the quality of the product we deliver. That is not an option. My other guys are making their quotas. You must be doing something wrong–”

“They have not yet spread to the other capo’s territories.” Luca’s words were involuntary and they cut off his boss. Not a wise move. Luca glanced at Debra whose eyes widened momentarily at his bold interruption. The shock they communicated made Luca’s stomach clench.

Tommy closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath. He let it out slowly through his nose as the muscles in his jaw flexed. Luca had seen this reaction before when others had been the subject of the big man’s scrutiny. When his raised his puffy eyelids, they were once again slicing through Luca with the sharpness and intensity of a searing knife. “Not a good enough answer. First, you must make your account good again. You are behind by six G’s. I need payment…now!”

“But Tommy, I have no more cash. I had been paying you out of my own funds.”

“You should have solved this sooner. Nonetheless, you owe me. Pay.”

“I don’t—what do you recommend?”

Tommy did not move a muscle. His eyes shifted to the expensive watch on Luca’s wrist. “That will do nicely. That will make you whole again.”

Luca closed his eyes and pushed it out. He slipped it off his wrist and placed it on the coffee table with a click.

“Very good. And I’m going to bring in some help. I’ll call Il Gigante in the morning.”

“Il Gigante?”

“Assolumente. He will make sure the job is done to my soddisfazione. And I will give you something else.”

Tommy smiled a wide grin. He lifted his right arm whose bulk was evident even through the silk robe enveloping him. Two fingers snapped twice. One of the gargantuan men near the doorway, spun to a bookcase and lifted a wooden box from it. He carried it to the coffee table and set before Romano then quickly and quietly resumed his position by the door.

Tommy leveled an expectant gaze at Luca who alternated his eyes between Tommy and the wooden vessel.

“What’s this?” Luca asked.

With great effort, Tommy hefted himself away from the back of the couch and placed two hands on the box. He pushed it across the table nudging aside the shot glasses and the bottle of Sambuca. “Look for yourself.”

Luca rubbed his hands hands along the tops of his thighs then cautiously moved them to them to the box. The hinges faced him so he spun it around. With a finger from each hand, he lifted the lid with a low creak. The inside was cushioned and lined with blue velvet. A single item dimpled the plush interior. It was a polished, nickel-plated Smith and Wesson  Model 539 semi-automatic pistol. 

“If you’re not going to go all they way, why go at all?”

Luca frowned and furrowed his brow. A husky lump formed in his parched throat.

Tommy smiled. “Eliminate the competition.”

The Drive Home

Debra’s stylish boots straddled the gleaming woo0den box as it sat on the passenger side floorboard of Luca’s S-Class Mercedes. As he drove mechanically along the avenues of Ocean View away from Romano’s oceanfront mansion, the pair remained silent. Debra peered out her window, biting her lower lip, trying to determine when the right time would materialize to discuss Tommy Romano’s lethal directive. Luca quickly gave her an opening.

“When we get back to my place, I need you to resume your tail on Caroline.”

Debra rotated her head slowly to look at him. Luca continued staring out the windshield. After several moments of silence, she spoke. “That’s it,” she declared. “You ask me to follow your ex-wife again. Just like that!”

Luca shot her a quick look then returned his eyes to the road. He shrugged. “What?”

“Tommy just ordered you to kill…I don’t now how many people. And you ask me to follow her like nothing’s happened?”

Luca sighed. “I’ll figure something out.”

Debra scoffed. “That’s just fucking marvelous. You’ll figure something out. You do realize I was just a witness to Tommy giving you an order. If this goes bad, it will come back on me too. Ya know! What the hell have you gotten me into?”

The Tail

Caroline woke just as the first vestiges of dawn cracked over the horizon and sifted through the pines and oaks visible from her bedroom window. She felt a relief she hadn’t experienced since the day she left Luca. The decision had been made. She was going to file for sole custody of Peter. Luca would be livid, possibly, out of control. But this move was necessary for Peter’s benefit. Luca’s lifestyle, his criminal activities and his drug use. It was a easy choice but a difficult one nonetheless. For her son’s sake, there was no other option.

The digital clock on the bedside table read: 5:23 a.m. Peter would not be up for another hour and a half. Normally, Caroline woke about thirty minutes before Peter. Something had awakened her early today. She didn’t know what. Had it been a sound? But Caroline also knew that sleep would not return this morning. She was wired. Something still niggled at her. The events of yesterday were chaotic and stressful. But she was missing something. There was a dot that had not been connected.

Still carrying the burden of sleepiness, she padded into the kitchen  and pressed a button to start the coffee which was scheduled to begin brewing for another forty-five minutes. As the machine hummed and hissed to life, she picked up the legal document and perused, stopping at her signature on the final page. Her steely determination from a few minutes ago dissolved like a snowball in the fires of hell. Fear gripped her again. She knew this would be an emotional roller coaster miles long.

She tossed the papers back onto the desk, poured herself a cup of brew and strode through the living room. She separated the slates of the blind and looked out onto the street. The two-residence carriage home sat at the intersection of two wide avenues. The soft glow of early morning shone a burnt orange hue over the rooftops across the streets.

Caroline sucked in a sharp, shocked breath. What her eyes registered, connected the rogue dot that had haunted her .

The vehicle, some sort of SUV. “Son of a bitch,” she spat. It sat across the intersection. Its grill facing to Caroline’s right, giving her a three-corner view of the automobile. In the growing light, she recognized the BMW blue and white logo simulating a propeller. Dark blue or black with a pristine, glowing paint job.

The driver sat behind the wheel with her head down. Probably checking out her phone, Caroline thought. The sunlight was just right. She could make out the driver. But just to be sure, she raced to the small bedroom that she had converted into a play room for Peter. Digging around in the toy box, she found what she sought.

Running back to the window, she leveled the slates slowly to allow a better view. Lifting the orange toy binoculars to her face, she studied the driver. Long, straight blonde hair. The form fitting sweater. The same white one she’d worn as she leaned on the hospital wall less than twenty-four hours ago.

“Son of a bitch,” she repeated. Moving the binoculars slightly, she read the tag number. She didn’t have to memorize any numbers. It was a vanity plate: BTCHY.

To Be Continued-

If you have a pharmacy story or a story (heroic or challenging) of everyday life in your healthcare world, send it to me by clicking the link below…

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A Relationship Beckons: Luca/Big Tommy (#6) Monday

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click here: Crisis Averted #1 . Then navigate to the next post using the links in the upper corners.

Big Tommy

The Mansion

Luca and Debra were shown into the massive living room. The brawny henchman with the permanent scowl adorning his face patted down Luca first. His rough hands ran roughly over every inch of Luca’s frame and sparing no part of him including his crotch. He then did the same to Debra utilizing the same lack of finesse over her curves including her breasts and the upside down V of her womanhood.

Immediately after the frisks were completed, their eyes were drawn to the two-story floor-to-ceiling glass wall that fronted the lower Chesapeake Bay. At this late hour, it was a black tableau played out through vertical, rectangular panels set in tracks along the floor and ceiling. Apparently, the panels could be opened like folding doors to allow access to a wide balcony with stairs leading to a lower level and a swimming pool. Beyond that lay more stairs descending to the beach. A high, glistening curtain framed the glass wall ready to be deployed when required.  The faint sound of the gentle surf caressing the beach sifted through the thick glass along with a gentle whiff of salty air.  The twinkle of orange sodium lamps to the west belied the south island of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel complex. Tommaso Romano had purchased several oceanfront tracts on Willoughby Spit, demolished all the buildings on them and built a towering three-story regal edifice that rivaled European castles. It bespoke the vast amount of money Romano’s crime family earned through its various arms of illegal activity.

Debra knew that Luca was oblivious to any of the history behind the residence. But when she’d first visited Romano’s stately home, she’d done a bit of research on the area and Romano’s part of it. This peninsula took its name from one Thomas Willoughby, a pilgrim who arrived in Virginia in 1610. Legend had it that this finger of land materialized overnight, created by a terrific storm–possibly a hurricane–in the mid- seventeenth century. The Willoughby family quickly took ownership of the newly created acreage and their named had become attached to it forever.

Debra could feel the cold sweat against Luca’s hand as it grasped hers as they walked stiffly and tentatively into the colossal space. The vaulted-ceiling of the room dwarfed the furnishings which were rich and expensive and coordinated with a professional hand. An assortment of comfy, over-sized chairs and two large sofas dotted the space amid coffee and end tables of light-colored mahogany. The arrangement lent an inviting and–at the same time–intimidating air.

“The view’s much better during the day.” The words came from behind them and emanated from a deep, accented voice thick with the gravelly timbre of a longtime smoker and bolstered by the sharp, confident resonance of success.

Debra and Luca turned. Though they both were quite familiar Big Tommy’s vocal signature. Luca instinctively released her hand and clasped both of his together in front of his crotch. Romano stood just inside the nine foot doorway. Two linebacker-sized men in dark suits with sizeable bulges in their jackets took up a rear guard position behind their boss.

Tommaso Romano was as wide as he was tall. No more than five-nine, he carried at least two-hundred and fifty pounds around his torso and prodigious legs. His dark features both in hue and expression were captured in a bowling ball-like face punctuated by black eyes, thick black eyebrows and a curved, black Saddam Hussein moustache that looked like a large equatorial caterpillar had taken up residence beneath his bulbous nose.

“We normally open the panels to let in the night air. But this April evening–as you know–is a little chilly. I must have you both back during the summer for a swim and a meal.”

Luca nodded and said in a rough whisper. “That sounds…wonderful, Tommy.”

Debra added. “That’s very generous, Mr. Romano.”

“Nonsense,” Tommy replied. “Please call me Tommy, we are family. Are we not?”

“Of course…Tommy,” Debra replied hesitantly. She looked in the direction of the door and saw Romano’s bodyguards standing like statutes on either side of the doorway.

He motioned to two overstuffed chairs separated from a wide couch by a wide sand-colored coffee table. Romano plopped his gelatinous frame onto the sofa, taking up a goodly portion of its seating space. When they were seated and without prompting, a liveried waiter in a short white tunic and black trousers appeared with a tray on which sat three shot glasses, a bottle of Sambuca and a long-reach lighter. The servant who appeared to be of Spanish or Mexican descent set the tray on the coffee table. In each shot glasses rested three coffee beans. The houseman poured generous amounts of the anise-flavored liquor. He then picked up the lighter and clicked it so that a long finger of flame curved up from its barrel. He touched the flame to the contents of each shot glass. Each glass seemed to erupt.

Tommy Romano waved away the waiter who left the lighter and the Sambuca on the tray. He studied his guests over the flames that were growing smaller. “We wait for the flames to turn blue. Then we drink…”

Luca held up a hand indicating he did not want to partake. “Tommy, I’m not…”

Romano’s hard gaze turned to granite, cutting off Luca without a sound. “You come into my home and refuse an offer of hospitality. You will drink. We have an urgent matter to discuss…as you know.”

By now, the flames had dwindled to a blue haze. Tommy placed his meaty paw over the shot glass smothering both the fire and the vessel. He nodded to his guests that they should do the same. Luca instantly covered his glass with his slender almost emaciated hand. Debra did the same, wincing as she did so, anticipating some pain. But none came…a brief warmth.

Tommy lifted his glass. “Cin Cin alla nostra salute!” Luca and Debra touched theirs to his. They tilted their heads back and downed the fiery liquid. Debra winced as the burn fell to her belly.

Romano relaxed his bulk deeper into the cushions.  He steepled his hands in front of his chest. His black, emotionless eyes bore into his capo. “You know why I have summoned you here tonight.”

Caroline

Caroline could not sleep. The events of the day clung to her like a skunk’s disgusting spray. She padded into the kitchen in her in her t-shirt and short. A coating of sweat dampened her clothes. She moved down the hallway. Cracking the door to his bedroom, she checked on Peter. In the faint moonlight sifting through the window, she could see his angelic face deep in the throes of slumber. His breathing was deep and regular with a slight snore. He cradled a football in his arms. The sight of him safe and unharmed comforted her.

Caroline moved back into the kitchen and the small desk area built-in near the pantry Their Williamsburg carriage home was small compared to what she was used to when she mas married to Luca. It was a four thousand square foot domicile in Newport News. Trading the luxury for her sanity was worth an untold price.

She sat at the chair before the desk, opened the drawer and removed a large manila envelope. Undoing the clasp, Caroline removed the sheaf of documents. She read over the legal document from her attorney that had been sitting untouched for two months:

Request for Change in Child Custody

Without hesitation, she plucked a pen from the coffee cup on the desk, clicked it and scribbled her name on the second page. With a heavy sigh, she closed her eyes and prayed for strength. This was going to be the flight of her life. And she was not looking forward to it.

To Be Continued-

If you have a pharmacy story or a story (heroic or challenging) of everyday life in your healthcare world, send it to me by clicking the link below…

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If you find this blog entertaining and informative, please share it with your contacts and on social media through the links on this web page…if you are a pharmacist nurse or doctor, please share it with your colleagues…thank you

A Relationship Beckons: Jake/Luca (#5) Monday

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click here: Crisis Averted #1 . Then navigate to the next post using the links in the upper corners.

Jake

The Photo

As the garage door descended with a low hum, Jake managed to extract himself from his Toyota Tundra pick-up truck and wearily climb the four steps to the interior entryway. He trudged into the mud room carrying with him the heavy yoke of fatigue. His two-story Georgian in a medium-sized bedroom community in upper Newport News, Virginia was eerily dark and deafeningly quiet. It was always that way when Lizzie stayed with his sister, Claudia, or his mother.

He placed his soft-sided briefcase on the kitchen counter and draped his white lab coat on top of it. He flipped on the lights as the refrigerator kicked on with an electric drone. The clock on the microwave read twenty-three minutes after nine.

Even as dog-tired as he was, he missed the sound of Lizzie’s bare feet pitter-pattering across the hardwood. Or the gentle, breathy whisper of her voice calling out “Daddy” every few minutes to ask an innocent question or for a snack or to be read a bedtime story. He yanked open the stainless steel door of the KitchenAid and retrieved a longneck. He twisted off the cap with whoosh of air and sucked down two pulls of the ice cold beer. It hurt sliding to his belly. But it felt good. And after the bitch of a day he’d experienced, he needed it.

Moving through the kitchen and into the spacious master suite, he switched on the lights, toed off his shoes without untying them, removed his Polo pullover and undid his belt. Bare chested and in his stocking feet, Jake walked toward the bathroom. To do so, he moved past Olivia’s tall Colonial-era lingerie chest. The article of furniture still held all of his wife’s jewelry, intimates and delicates. The contents had not been touched nor moved since he’d provided a dress and other clothing items to the funeral director for Olivia’s visitation. Her walk-in closet also appeared the same as it did before her death.

On top of the chest rested three photographs rimmed by ornate, frilly frames.

One was a black and white balcony shot taken minutes after they had become husband and wife. It possessed an gauzy, artistic quality and–Jake thought–if it were to be enlarged would belong in the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk. In fact, Their reception had taken placed a few miles away from that cultural attraction at one of the downtown hotels in Norfolk. The second picture was a light-hearted maternal likeness of Olivia and Lizzie taken a week after his daughter’s birth. Mom smiled down on her seven-day old daughter with a sleep-deprived but intensely, gratified countenance. The bright-eyed infant clutched mom’s index finger as a toothless smile stretched across her tiny, perfect face. The third shot was a spontaneous portrait of the new family when Lizzie was a year old. This photograph was Jake’s favorite. It tugged at his heart with an intensely emotional weight. But it was laced with a hauntingly harsh history. The day it had been taken was one of the best of his life. A few weeks later, his life would come crashing down around him when he received news of Olivia’s death.

Despite his weariness, Jake paused before the lingerie chest. The framed likenesses at eye-level, peered back at him. He stopped to regard them frequently. Each time his heart bumped and sank as if a large boulder had been placed atop it. Tonight with the house hushed and deserted, Jake was drawn to them again and the memories they evoked.

Jake and Olivia had been married for a year and half when she had become pregnant. When Lizzie was born, they were both over-the-moon ecstatic. A year later, Olivia had arranged for a photographer to take their portrait on the sands of Fort Story on a glorious spring day. With their backs to the Atlantic and the setting sun casting a golden hue on their tanned faces, all three were in the midst of a belly rattling laugh following the photog’s outrageously bad dad jokes. Lizzie loved it and chortled with abandon causing Mom and Dad to follow suit. The photographer snapped eight shots in rapid sequence. The full tableau of photos was framed and hanging in order on the wall upstairs in the room over the garage.

Later that night as they ate dinner at a moderately-priced Italian restaurant at the Virginia Beach oceanfront, the meal almost finished and with Lizzie’s cheeks smeared with marinara, Olivia placed a small envelope on the table in front of him. “What’s this,” he asked.

“It’s something from me to you,” she replied huskily. “Just for you!”

“DaDa!” Lizzie exclaimed as she sucked a short cut-up noodle through sauce-covered, puckered lips.

With a knotted brow, Jake flipped open the flap and withdrew a square piece of thermal paper. He turned it over and looked at the black-and-white image of an ultrasound. The first rendering of their second child.

Jake’s mouth dropped open. “You’re pregnant? Again?”

He leaned over and stamped his mouth on Olivia’s, claiming it. “How? When?”

Olivia shook her head. “You’re a pharmacist. Do I really need to explain?” Olivia hesitated then added, “Or should I recreate how it happened tonight after we put Lizzie down?”

Jake grinned lustily. “Yeah, that’ll be great,” he growled. “I mean…you know…”

“About six weeks ago.”

Mimmi

Back in the present, those four words echoed in his memory. A weighty ache clutched his heart. The pressure squeezing his ribcage pushed the breath from his lungs. Perspiration erupted from every pore of his skin. The photograph of the three of them was in his hands. He’d lifted it from the top of the dresser without realizing it. With the back of a hand, he swiped at a stray tear snaking its way down his cheek.

It had been about three months since his last panic attack. In the three years since he’d buried Olivia, the anxiety-laced spasms had begun to occur less frequently. But they still happened, especially when he was fatigued. He hated them. But at the same time, they reminded him that his all-consuming love for Olivia was real–and still present. Jake was deathly afraid of allowing his feelings for her to melt away. He never wanted to forget her or push her memory onto the back burner of his heart.

The chime of his cell phone harshly interrupted Jake’s . He wagged his head once to clear the memories then removed the device from his back pocket, checked the caller ID and clicked on.

“Hi Mom,” he said as energetically as he could.

“You sound tired, darling.”

“I am. How did my girl do today?”

His mother gave Jake the broad brush strokes of his daughter’s day, what she ate, what televisions shows she watched and her nap time. Then she added a grand motherly milestone to the list.

“She did great. She drew a picture of me. She said ‘This is you, ‘Mimmi.’ I look like a snow man with hair. But it is the cutest thing ever. I put it on the fridge.”

“Wow, that’s awesome.”

“She asks lots of questions. “Why is the sky blue? How many eggs are in the carton. I took her shopping with me. And…” There was a pause on the line.

“You there , Mom?”

“Yeah, and she was running and accidentally hit her hand on the coffee table. Then she yelled, ‘Damn it’!” Have you been saying bad words around her?”

Jake rubbed his temples between his thumb and forefinger with his free hand. He smiled to himself. “Oops! She may have heard me say something like that.”

“Jake,” she admonished. “I don’t want my granddaughter learning all that bad Marine language. Mind your tongue!”

He sighed. “I’ll do better, Mimmi!”

Jake’s phone chimed in his ear as she spoke indicating he had a text message. He moved the device away from his ear and saw that the message was from Stephan Willings, his pharmacy district manager and boss. Acid instantly began churning in his belly. This can’t be good, he thought.

“Did you hear me?” Lily asked.

Jake could tell by her tone that she had asked a question. His failure to reply prompted a second inquiry.

“What, Mom?”

“I said, ‘What time do you want me to bring her by tomorrow?'”

The Phone

Jake thought on the question. “Um. Let me come over there. I have an errand to run tomorrow. Then I’ll swing by. Okay, see you then. What errand?”

Jake thought about making up something, but instead leveled with her. “I have to return something to someone. Maybe around eleven.” He told her good night and clicked off.

Jake tapped the icon on his phone and read Willings’s message:

We need to discuss your not following policy regarding the drive-thru today. Call me first thing in the morning!

That could have waited until the morning. or better yet, until he returned to the store in tow days. It was just like that sonofabitch to leave him a message after work, Jake thought. Willings seemed the type to take pleasure in ruining Jake’s evening. Screw him! I have something a little more important to do tomorrow.

He reached into his other back pocket and removed a second cell phone. He’d retrieved it from the floor under one of the chairs in the waiting area of the pharmacy after he’d locked up the department. The chair had been askew. Being the ultimate Marine, Jake needed everything square and perfect. It was a quality that made him a good Marine. And it was a quality that also made him a good pharmacist. He moved the chair back into alignment and that’s when he spied the stray device.

He tapped the screen again as he’d done in the store. The time came up on the screen. 9:42pm with today’s date. The wallpaper background on the screen was a photograph. A boy with a wide grin and sparkling green eyes. Jake’s heart gave a slight bump at the sight of the boy. It was Peter, the boy to whom he’d administered the breath saving inhaled medication. The son of the attractive thirty-something mother whose name he did not know. For an unspoken reason, his chest swelled slightly with anticipation. He would have to figure out how to return the device to her.

“Screw you, Willings!” He whispered the words audibly in a husky baritone. “I’ve got other plans.”

Rx

Luca and Big Tommy

The Meeting

Luca silently braked his Mercedes S-Class sedan to a halt two blocks from his boss’s multi-million dollar mansion on West Ocean View Avenue in Norfolk in the dark shadows under a weeping. His  slinky flaxen-haired vixen Deb Perry sat in the passenger seat. As Luca turned off the motor and the engine clicked with heat under the hood, she leaned over the console and placed her plump lips close to his ear. On a heavy sigh, she whispered, “Time for a little me time? We’re early. We have some time for…you know.” Her right hand slipped beneath his leather jacket and slid with erotic intent against his torso.

Luca inched his head away from her with a frustrated jerk and grasped her wrist, removing it from his chest. He placed it firmly on her thigh.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Big Tommy is what’s wrong.”

Deb rotated her palms toward the ceiling of the vehicle. “So!” She’d noticed Luca’s quiet, agitated demeanor on the drive over, but decided not to push him. He seemed forlorn,

“He’s been riding my ass. We’ve been losing territory to Gomez’s. They’re squeezing us…me out. I’ve lost a shitload of revenue. I used to be the biggest earner in this area. Tommy wants to see me. He’s been losing points every month.” Luca raked his fingers through his thick, black mane as he pushed out a lungful of air. “He asked me here tonight because he wants a solution.”

Deb moved away from him as if he were suddenly electrified. “Then why I am here?”

He’d been staring at the designer steering wheel since they’d arrived. Now, he rotated his gaze to her. His eyes were hard and revealed a deep-seated fear she had never seen in the time that she’d been sleeping with him. She had become Luca’s girlfriend during his final two years of his marriage to that bitch Caroline. As his Amore mio and sometimes go-for, she’d learned the basics of Luca’s business. Luca owned two dry cleaners in the area. But Deb knew that was only a front. Her man was currently a capo of Big Tommy’s drug smuggling enterprise. Tommaso “Big Tommy” Romano was the boss of the Romano mafia family in the Norfolk, Virginia area.

After the FBI had all but obliterated the five major crime families in New York in the seventies and eighties. And following the conviction of “The Teflon Don” John Gotti and his death in prison, members of the families began a slow migration out of the five boroughs in search of more fertile areas of revenue.  The nineties and first decade of the new millennium saw the rise of organized crime in southeastern Virginia. The loansharking, prostitution rings and drug smuggling catered to the enlisted men and women of the large military community, the business men and any and all who wanted the escape of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl

But in the last seven or eight years, a new player had appeared to compete for the illicit drug market. Fernando “The Spic” Gomez, a Cuban émigré had infiltrated the area. Gomez’s growing enterprise and family had been eroding away at the revenues of Luca’s enterprises. Hence, the points he was supposed kick up three points to Big Tommy from his collections. “The Spic” moniker had been given to Gomez by Luca. Deb doubted that Gomez knew about it and would not take kindly to the racial appellation.

“Gomez’s gangs have been cutting into our profits. We lost another neighborhood in south Norfolk. I’ve been kicking up the same dollars to Tommy by dipping into my own cash. But that’s running out. The last two payments I sent him were less than what he’d been expecting. He’s not happy. He wants to discuss…” Luca filled his chest with air and pushed it out slowly in a shaky exhalation. “…options.”

Deb knew what that meant. Big Tommy wanted to discuss a coming war against the rival family. And she sensed Luca was nervous about how Big Tommy was going to deal with Luca’s dwindling tributes.

She said what Luca was having a hard time expressing. “I’m here for your protection. I’m your human shield, right?”

Luca gazed out the windshield. “Yes,” he gasped in a husky whisper.

Rx

Caroline slammed down the landline. Damnit! she cursed out loud. She hadn’t been able to locate her phone. After multiple checks of her Escalade, her purse and the grounds between the parking lot and the emergency room, Caroline concluded she’d misplaced it. It had gone missing at some point during the day. She’d just ended a call with her mother, Nora, who’d not seen it. Nor did she remember seeing her with it. Caroline also checked with the emergency room, asking for Gretchen the friendly nurse. But she had gone home for the day and the woman who answered the phone was not aware of any unclaimed device. And there was nothing in their small box of lost and found. Then Caroline tried the pharmacy where she’d frantically demanded the pharmacist’s help Peter. He’d come through wonderfully. But at this hour the store was open but the pharmacy had closed about an hour ago. Shit! Caroline expelled a exasperated gust.

Peter was asleep in his bed. She’d given him his Singulair right before bed. After his breathing treatment at the hospital, Peter had been discharged. Caroline purchased two extra inhalers from the outpatient pharmacy at the hospital, placed one in her purse and one in Peter’s backpack. She was about to call Nora who had left earlier and let her know she was on the way home when she’d realized she did not have her phone.

Clad in a lightweight tee-shirt, a pair of gym shorts and a shroud of frustration, Caroline climbed under the covers and extinguished the bedside lamp. In the dark of the room and the large expanse of the massive king-sized bed, Caroline felt lost and alone. After the lost phone, Peter’s medical emergency and her confrontation with her ex, Caroline was frazzled. She sighed again, quelling the tension. That’s when tears slipped from her closed eyes down her temples into the hairline of her disheveled locks.

After ten minutes of silent weeping, she wiped the moisture from her face and summoned a reserve strength. She recalled a familiar quote that had buoyed her often. “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the small voice at the end of the day that says, ‘I will try again tomorrow.”‘

To Be Continued-

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A Relationship Beckons: Luca (#4) Monday

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click here: Crisis Averted #1 . Then navigate to the next post using the links in the upper corners.

Luca

My Ragazzo

“What are you doing here?”

Luca Clivio’s brows furrowed at Caroline’s apparently audacious question. He divided his threatening gaze between Caroline and her mother, Nora. Each time Luca’s eyes held hers, Caroline’s gut clenched. Today, it was like her intestines were being squeezed in a vise.

Luca let his eyes slip in Peter’s direction. Appearing to be asleep, the boy’s eyes were closed and he seemed to be breathing better. “The last time I checked, he’s my ragazzo, too.” The thickly accented Italian words were delivered with menacing elan underpinned by a calm yet intimidating intent. Luca relaxed his brows and hiked them in a silent challenge toward Caroline.

“I only meant…” She cleared her throat. “I mean I hadn’t had time to call you. How did you get here so quickly?”

Caroline shot her mother a quick look. Nora’s face had hardened to stone. Her defiant scrutiny of her ex-son-in-law was absolute and brimmed with loathing.

“Do I not have the right to see my son? Especially when he is in the hospital?”

Caroline swallowed hard. The saliva in her mouth was hot like scalding embers. “That’s not wh–”

“What…happened?” Luca demanded, drawing out both words.

Nora stood up and took one step toward Luca.

Luca responded in kind. “Where do you think you are going, old woman?”

“Luca!” Caroline spat barely above a whisper.

Nora wagged a crooked, dry and cracked finger at him. Then she challenged him. “Je sais ce que tu es et ce que tu fais, connard!”

Caroline rose from the chair creating a barrier between the two. “Mother, please do not do this. Not now!” Caroline spun toward Luca.

Luca chuckled to himself and divided an amused look between mother and daughter. He leaned in and in an ominous tone repeated his question. “What happened?”

Caroline moved a step sideways blocking Luca’s view of her irate mother. She cleared her throat again. “He had an asthma attack. I brought him here to get treatment.”

Luca simply stared.

“How did you know he was here?” Caroline asked, summoning a modicum of nerve.

Luca sniffled and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. Caroline noticed a rim of red around his eyes and a glassy sheen over the corneas. He was .

“Answer me, Luca! How did you know?!”

Surprising herself, Caroline reached out and grasped his elbow, turning him. Over her shoulder, she called to Nora. “Stay with Peter, we’ll be right back.”

The Hallway

Luca resisted at first. But Caroline squeezed her grip on him tighter. The last thing she wanted was Peter waking up. After a reluctant moment, he allowed her to guide him toward the hallway. When they were outside the room and out of Nora’s view, he wrenched his arm free and seemed to be struck by a thought. “Where is his inhaler?”

“Are you high? Have you been using?”

Luca’s visage turned degrees hotter. He raised his clenched hand and brought it to within inches of her face. Caroline instinctively moved back a step. Her heart lurched in her chest. “Are you going to hit me? Again!?” She demanded in a querulous gasp. Caroline looked beyond Luca and saw a nurse shoot a concerned glance in their direction. The healthcare worker quickly averted her gaze, but did not move off.

Then seconds later, she cast a sideways glance, keeping watch over the interaction. She picked up the handset of a phone at the nurses station and held aloft, waiting to see what happened.

Seeing Caroline’s distraction, he stealthily scanned the immediate area. “Why did you not give him his inhaler? You forgot it again, didn’t you?” Luca’s accusation stung, hitting her like a gut punch.

Caroline averted her eyes, admitting her perceived culpability. Once before several months ago, Caroline had left Peter’s inhaler at the house just before she dropped him at Luca’s for the weekend. After his tirade, she had driven home and returned to Luca’s with the medication.

The Accusation

“I told you this would happen!” Luca sucked in a deep, breath and clenched his fist again. The muscles in his jaw flexed with fury. “You stupid…”–he lowered his whispered voice several octaves–“bitch! You are a shitty mother.”

The hurt and frustration was all too familiar. Emotion swelled in her middle. She could feel tears welling. Caroline squeezed her eyes shut, The aspersions had been a weekly occurrence during their turbulent union. His jealousy, possessiveness and verbal abuse had been belittling and fear-inducing. After a while, she had become numb to the constant attacks. Leaving him had been a monumental, nerve-racking action on her part. Since their separation, Caroline had begun to climb out of the dark hole of depression and degradation Luca had dug and in which she had been living for the past few years.

This is why you left him, Caroline! This is why you left!

She swallowed hard, filled her lungs with air and launched an unplanned counter attack. The words were murmured but laced with contempt. The forefinger of her right hand jabbed at Luca. “You’re not going to do this! This is why we are no longer together.” She glanced toward the room where Peter lay sleeping and Nora stood, eyes wide, observing them melded to the floor as if she were cast in stone. “Peter is fine. He had an attack. I got him help!”

Luca inched closer to her, looming over her with his immense frame. But he stopped, slammed by her next utterance.

“How many lines have you done? I can smell whiskey on your breath, too. You stink of it!”

A movement of gold and blue appeared from behind Luca’s left shoulder. It was the nurse, Gretchen, who’d taken Peter’s vital signs. “Excuse me,” she asked in a cheery voice. But she quickly divided a concerned look between them. “Is everything okay here?”

Luca shrunk back. Caroline hesitated. Mortified she rubbed her forehead with two fingers and sighed. “Yes, we’re fine.”

Gretchen paused, then held Caroline’s gaze. Her non-verbal question appeared to ask if she needed help. “We’re fine,” Caroline repeated.

After several moments, Gretchen gave a slight nod and moved off.

Caroline turned her attention back to Luca who was dragging a hand down his face. She resumed her interrogation. “How did you know Peter was here?”

The Woman

He had turned to regard the comely nurse. At Caroline’s question, he pivoted back toward her. The rotation of his shoulders revealed the figure of a woman thirty feet behind him. The lithe female leaned defiantly against the hospital wall on one shoulder facing Caroline and Luca. She was dressed in a form-fitting sweater, tight jeans and ankle-high black boots. Her straight blonde hair hung down to her breasts. The topography of her form curved and undulated in all the right places. One ankle was crossed over the other and her eyes were riveted firmly on them both. There was no sense of mortification on her features at being discovered studying them. In fact, her lips were curved into a smirk of satisfaction at the confrontation she was witnessing.

Something about her niggled Caroline’s brain. Her forehead squeezed into tight lines at the sight of this femme-fatale. “Is that your current screw?” She demanded, reverting her gaze back to her red-faced ex-husband.

“Watch yourself, puttana!” Luca swiveled his head to regard the figure to whom Caroline referred.

“Or is she your supplier?” Caroline persisted.

When he turned back to back to her, Caroline could see the muscles in his jaw and neck flexing with virulent tension. His face had taken on a deeper shade of crimson. She swallowed, unsure where her defiance was generated. Perhaps, it was because they were in public. Or perhaps, it was because she had reached the limit of her patience. She had yet to inform Luca, but she was going to file for sole physical custody with the courts. She refused to allow Peter to continue being exposed to his drinking, womanizing and drug use. However, telling him scared the hell out of her.

Apparently the realization that she was goading him cut through his drug and alcohol-addled fog. He relaxed just as an armed security guard appeared in Caroline’s field of view.

“That’s Deb. Debra Perry, she works for me,” Luca declared.

It was at that moment it hit her. She’d seen this woman before. But before the memory could take full form, the guard stepped forward so that Luca could see him also. He stood a few feet from the pair with feet spread and his hands resting on his thick utility belt. His muscles were taut, ready to react. “Folks,” he stated in a deep baritone. “You need to take this outside. You’re disturbing the staff.”

Luca scanned the officer and sneered. He split a condescending leer between the man and Caroline. After an unsteady moment, Luca snarled, “I was just leaving.” He leaned toward Caroline again. His gaze and his head wavered slightly. Caroline breathed in a healthy dose of his bourbon-soaked breath. “We are not done.”

The guard closed the distance, grabbing Luca by the upper arm. Luca wrenched it free. “Don’t touch me!” To Caroline, he whispered with a laser-focused intensity. “I’ll see you again, real soon!”

-To Be Continued-

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A Relationship Beckons: The Pharmacy (#3) Monday

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click here: Crisis Averted #1 . Then navigate to the next post using the links in the upper corners.

The Pharmacy

The Confrontation

“Why is the drive-thru closed?!”

It was more an accusation than a question. And it had been thrust at Jake Murphy by his supervisor and district manager, Stephan Willings. Willings was a small, wiry man of about twenty-eight dressed in black slacks and a white Oxford shirt with the Alliance name and logo embroidered over the left breast. Suspicious brown eyes bore into Jake over a thin, crocked nose that must have been broken at least once. Jake surmised he’d probably been punched. He wanted to crash his fist onto the man’s face right now. Today, Willings was not his supervisor, not a colleague or even an acquaintance.  He was the enemy personified.

Willings had taken over the DM position about eight months ago and gone through the corporate training in Charlotte for six weeks. To Jake’s mind this was akin to a re-education camp where new front line supervisors were forced to drink the Kool-Aid if they wanted to advance themselves into management. They quickly forgot what it was like to be a frontline pharmacist: the stresses, the frustrations and the constant worry about not making a drug error. Instead they spouted the company propaganda like mechanical automatons.

Today, Jake was mentally and physically exhausted. He was in great physical shape, lean and muscular. At least that’s what the mirror told him. He ran five miles a day while pushing Lizzie in her running stroller even on the days he worked twelve hour shifts at the pharmacy. This regimen was a holdover from his days in the Corps. It helped to offset his sometimes crappy diet, his mediocre and lackluster culinary skills and his profession’s twelve-hour work days.

If he got to eat during his shift, it was usually bites of a sub sandwich in between prescriptions. He ate decently about half the time. Mostly on his days off because he had to care for his four year old Lizzie. As a growing child, she required healthy, nutritious meals. So Jake shopped once a week. He prepared three meals-a-day least twice a week. On the days he worked, Jake’s sister and mother helped him out by watching her. Lizzie ate like a princess at Mimmi’s and Aunt Claudia’s house. Once a week, he indulged her with a Happy Meal. So far she enjoyed being spoiled by her grandmother and spending nights playing with her cousins. She was a handful, but that little angel put the sparkle in his eye and a spring in his step. Since Olivia’s death, Jake’s life had been a maelstrom of depression and grief punctuated by short bursts of fatherly pride underpinned by a parent’s limitless love.

Shortly after the frantic woman had arrived at the counter requiring help for her asthmatic son and the crisis had been resolved, Jake had ordered Helen to pull down the curtain on the drive-thru so that she could help him in her limited, untrained status as a technician trainee. That thirty minute episode had put them even farther behind with patients lined up waiting for shots and even more waiting for prescriptions. Closing the drive-thru was a cardinal sin in the industry. Management became apoplectic when pharmacists did it. Jake had been caught off guard by Willings’s visit ten minutes ago. Swearing under his breath, he whispered to himself, “Could this day get any worse?”

A Bad Day Gets Worse

Willings repeated his question. “I said, ‘Why is the drive-thru closed?'”

Jake sucked in long breath, held it a moment then blurted. “Because I’m drowning here. I have very little help. Helen’s doing her best. But she’s still in training.”

Willings shrugged. “You can’t close the drive-thru! Open it now!”

Jake began shaking his head before the last three words were out of his boss’s mouth. “No! If you want it open, get your butt over there and start ringing the register. It’s my license and the safety of my patients on the line.”

He had prepared himself for this moment for several months. Jake pulled open the drawer just below him and removed a three page document. He extended it to Willings. Jake glowered at this man who evidently had forgotten what it was like in the trenches. The man’s face hardened at the rebuke.

“What’s this?” He croaked hoarsely.

A Legal Remedy

“That’s the Virginia Board of Pharmacy’s Working Conditions Document. They put it out earlier this year. You need to read it. It says the pharmacist shall have complete control over every aspect of the practice of pharmacy. If you try to override it, the company could be subject to disciplinary action!”

The enormous tension that had been building crested at the back of Jake Murphy’s neck, spreading like an avalanche over his shoulders. Now, it engulfed every fiber in his athletic thirty-four year old body. He struggled to maintain his composure and hide his barely controlled stress.

It was just past noon on this late June Monday at Alliance Pharmacy. His pharmacy served the upper reaches of Newport News just south of Williamsburg. Things had gone to shit thirteen minutes into his day and had gone steadily downhill from there. His cell phone had chirped just after arriving indicating he’d received a text message. He’d turned over the phone lying on the counter in front of his computer terminal and read it.

“Damn it,” he muttered. He wanted to use more potent language, but a patient had been standing before him, waiting for Jake to acknowledge him. The man had been wearing a path on the shiny floor tiles in front of the pharmacy for ten minutes before Jake had raised the gates at nine. Kyle, his morning shift technician, said he’d tested positive for the virus and wouldn’t be coming in. He checked the work schedule taped to one of the bay walls in the pharmacy, Helen, his mid-shift technician and a middle-aged, pleasant woman who was still learning her duties would not be until ten-thirty.

The Onslaught

“I’m here for my booster shot,” the edgy patient demanded. “I’ve got to be to work in fifteen minutes.”

Jake sighed. “What’s your name?” The man gave it to the pharmacist.

Jake had pulled up the appointment schedule as three more folks walked briskly down the center aisle, their eyes leveled at the pharmacy department searching like starved animals.

Jake shook his head slightly and said, “Sir, your appointment is not until eleven. It’s only nine-fifteen–”

“Well, I just thought you could give me my shot and I’d be on my way.”

What Jake wanted to say was, “We’re not a fast food restaurant. You wouldn’t walk into you doctor’s office two hours early, would you?” Instead, he swallowed and as calmly as possible said, “Sorry sir, you’ll have to come back at your appointment time.”

The patient huffed, spun and stormed off.

Now hours later as Jake squared off with his direct supervisor, a trio of new patients approached, he cursed Alliance Pharmacy, the retail pharmacy industry and the mess they had made of his beloved, dedicated profession. Alliance, a large national chain struggled to keep up with the massive firms like CVS, Walgreens and Walmart. In the lust for the almighty dollar and increased market share, the chain pharmacies had trimmed labor hours, pushed ungodly amounts of prescriptions on their staff, added immunizations to the menu and scared off good help with poor working conditions and even worse pay.

Now as the morning had turned to afternoon, Jake felt like he was being swallowed by the leviathan-sized of  pile electronic prescriptions queued in the computer and COVID boosters that had been scheduled. Helen was frantically scurrying from the pharmacy bench to the inside register, trying to keep up while Jake tried to answer the phone, answer questions and fill prescriptions. On top of everything else, the company told him and all his compatriots that they had to accept walk-ins as well. “How the hell did they expect us to get the prescriptions filled?”

Honorable Service

Jake remembered the frantic mother who’d brought her bluish-lipped son into the pharmacy. Tending to that emergency had put Jake and Helen even farther behind, but it was one of those moments a pharmacy staff would remember for a long time. They had assisted a boy in respiratory distress and calmed a fearful mother. Too often, they received the brunt of a patient’s frustration and impatience because they weren’t fast enough or their insurance co-pays were to high which of course the pharmacy had no control over. But today, they done something wonderful and heroic.

Jake knew that though he seldom saw the outcome of his work. It was good, honorable service. They eased patient’s suffering, improved their health and longevity. They prevented diseases by administering immunizations.  Today when he’d squeezed the albuterol into Peter’s lungs, he’d seen an almost immediate improvement in his cyanotic skin and labored breathing. A surge of relief and satisfaction had surged in him.

“My doctor just sent over a prescription five minutes ago.”

Jake held up a hand to the patient. “Sorry ma’am. We have at least a five hour wait.”

“Five hours?!”

Jake cast Willings a defiant look that said, “I dare you to say something!”

Willings muttered, “This is not the end of this!” He turned and spun, exiting the pharmacy. Jake watched him march through the front sliding doors. He turned back to the incredulous patient. “Yes, Ma’am. I do apologize. But we are short-staffed today. We want to make sure your prescriptions are correct.”

A sour moue slowly spread over her features. As she walked away, her frown deepened.

The next man in line was more understanding. ” He handed Jake his empty prescription bottle and said, “You guys are doing a great job. I’ll pick it up later in the week. Hang in there.” The older man shot a compassionate wink in Jake’s direction and smiled.

Remembering

As the man walked away, Jake swallowed his bitter anger, allowing it to dissipate slightly. Needing to think of something pleasant in his life, Lizzie popped into his mind’s eye. He was doing this for her, he told himself. He put up with all this BS so she could have a decent life. Then little Peter appeared in his thoughts and he again surge of gratification brimmed in him. He remembered smiling at the intelligent and beautiful mother as her fear dissolved. Her knitted brows relaxed, her eyes brightened and a new level of attractiveness spilled forth. Watching the relief and admiration consume her temporarily melted Jake’s stress. He may have saved a life today. If nothing else, Jake could hang his hat on that fact. It was the only piece of good news his day held.

He would give Lizzie a big hug and a kiss tonight when he picked her up even tough she’d probably be asleep. And he would thank the Almightly for sending her to him.

In all the excitement, Jake hadn’t realized it until now. He hadn’t asked the mother her name. He hadn’t recalled seeing a ring on the woman’s left hand. A small niggle of desire and possibility sparked deep inside him. He smiled inwardly and hoped the boy was doing better.

-To Be Continued-

If you have a pharmacy story or a story (heroic or challenging) of everyday life in your healthcare world, send it to me by clicking the link below…

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A Relationship Beckons: The Emergency Room (#2) Monday

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click here: Crisis Averted #1 . Then navigate to the next post using the links in the upper corners.

The Emergency Room

The paramedics wheeled Peter who was resting on the collapsible gurney straight past the crowded waiting area into the emergency room proper. He was lying against the angled backrest trying to absorb the myriad of colors, sounds and activity surrounding him. His nose and mouth were covered by a clear, green face mask connected to tubing that snaked to an oxygen tank lying beside him. The boy had been talking incessantly since being placed inside the back of the large rig and seemingly had reveled at the special attention and the siren-screeching ride. “I can’t wait to tell Stephen that I got to ride in an amboo-lance,” he’d bragged to Caroline as she caught up to the stretcher as they off-loaded Peter from the ambulance.

Caroline had followed the medical transport in her Escalade to Tidewater Regional Medical Center in Newport News. Now, she walked just behind the pair of first responders keeping pace with her hand resting on the angled backrest. A young woman in green scrubs standing behind the counter at the circular nurse’s station saw the quartet approaching and pointed to an open, glass-walled room.

“Put him in room three,” she instructed.

The pretty nurse followed everyone into the treatment room and greeted her young patient. “And who do we have here?”

The reply was muffled and hollow through the oxygen mask. “I’m Peter. Peter Clivio.”

“Are you Mom?”

Caroline nodded, a relieved smile creeping over her face. She adjusted her large purse against her shoulder and pushed out a weak, “Yes.

The nurse turned her attention back to the boy. “My name is Gretchen. I’m one of the nurses who will be taking care of you today.”

The paramedics had lowered one side rail of the gurney and pushed it against the hospital bed. Gretchen asked Peter to scoot onto his new bed. She disconnected his oxygen tube from the O2 tank and reattached it to the hook-up in the wall. The paramedics recited a quick report of the boy’s vital signs and Gretchen wished them a good day. Caroline thanked the two young, athletic looking men as they gathered up their gear.

Gretchen rolled a tall, medical monitor on a wheeled pole to the bedside and proceeded to place a pulse oximeter on the middle finger of Peter’s right hand and a small blood pressure cuff over his bicep. She calmly explained what she was doing in a soothing, unhurried voice. Peter still breathed somewhat heavily. Each breath briefly fogged his mask.

Gretchen noticed Peter’s hands trembling.

The nurse asked Caroline what had happened. Caroline relayed the episode of Peter’s asthma attack in the car and her frantic rush to the only place she could think to go quickly, the pharmacy in the northern stretches of Newport News and the heroic pharmacist who’d administered the albuterol puffs into her son’s lungs.

When she turned her attention back to Peter, Caroline took measure of this twenty-something angel who now captivated her son. She was about five-six with sparkly, ocean blue eyes that were striking beneath the silken, blonde hair pulled into a ponytail.

Her ex-husband Luca had taken Caroline to Italy three years before their divorce to Nerano, a small town on the western coast about three hours south of Rome on the Sorrentine Peninsula, a stone’s throw from Sorrento and a short drive to the Amalfi Coast and Positano. From their villa, they enjoyed a spectacular view of the Isle of Capri and the three Faraglioni in the Tyrrhenian Sea. She remembered the boat trip over to the island for a romantic lunch with Luca. Of course, that had been during better times–much better times.

She recalled marveling at the rich cerulean water as they circled the island in a charted boat. It was the bluest water she’d ever seen. Gretchen’s eyes held that same hue now over the pleated surgical mask as they darted between the instruments she was manipulating and her son who seemed taken by her natural beauty.

“–need this, Mrs. Clivio,” Gretchen said, holding out an unused blue mask to Caroline.

Caroline took the mask and replied, “It’s Miss Clivio.” She had divorced Luca a year ago. Though she was no longer married to the man, she’d kept his name for Peter’s sake. However, the moniker of “Mrs.” was one she refused to wear.

Gretchen nodded, acknowledging the correction. “Peter’s doing fine. His vital signs all look good. His breathing is a little labored but I think he will be okay. He’s trembling a little, probably due to the albuterol. The doctor will be in to see him in just a few minutes.” Gretchen slipped out of the room.

Nora Martel

It was then that an older, portly woman about Caroline’s height hastily entered the room. “Mon dieu! Is he okay?”

Caroline stood, leaving her purse on the chair. “Hi, Mom.” The women hugged. When they separated, Caroline looked her mother in the eye. “He’s fine. He had an attack. The pharmacist at the store gave him some albuterol. We brought him here just to be cautious.”

Though, she carried her years well, the ravages of time and raising four children had begun to take their toll. Her jowly face and liver-spotted skin added years to Nora Martel’s appearance. The hazel eyes still bespoke a sharp mind and the ability of critical analysis that came with sixty-five years of life’s trials and tribulations.

Nora’s eyes shifted to Peter in the bed. His eyes were closed. The fatigue and energy he’d exerted this morning trying to breath had caught up with him. Caroline followed her mother’s gaze to her son. “He’s exhausted. But he enjoyed the ride in the ambulance. He’ll have lots to tell his friends.”

“I won’t wake him. “And his father,” Nora added. She hesitated a moment. Then in a very soft voice muttered in French, “Est-ce-que le connard sait?” Nora Martel always reverted to her native language when she was worried.

Caroline sucked in a heavy breath and closed her eyes trying to summon patience. The last thing she wanted to endure this morning was the one quality her mother had perfected, and one in which she was a virtuoso: pushing Caroline’s buttons and finding fault with just about everything she did. Caroline performed a silent five count, re-opened her eyes and expelled the air and her response. “No, mother, the asshole doesn’t know.”

“Am I going to have to see him today?”

“Mom, this is not the time…or the place,” Caroline chided.

“You know how he’ll react when he finds out,” Nora continued.

Caroline cast her gaze to the ceiling. “Not now, please,” she insisted, bringing her eyes back to Nora’s. A single tear traced its way down Caroline’s cheek. Her mother was also always the first one to confirm what Caroline was thinking…and fearing. She could read her daughter blindfolded .

In addition to being concerned about Peter, Caroline’s mind struggled with the fear of what Luca might say–or–do when he found out about this latest episode. She had pushed the worry about Luca’s reaction into a corner of her mind temporarily as she phoned her mother to tell her to meet her at the hospital. Caroline had been on her way to her mother’s when Peter took ill. The plan had been for Nora to sit with Peter while Caroline ran errands. After she had hung up and as she trailed the ambulance, Caroline had become consumed with the possibility of Luca finding out. As a result, she experimented with different reasons and rationales for why she hadn’t remembered to bring Peter’s inhaler with her. Her hands had trembled as she gripped the wheel with a white-knuckled strange hold.

Despite the fact that they were no longer married, Caroline would never be rid of Luca. They shared a son. A son Luca doted on. Luca’s Italian heritage made him quick to temper. His occupation and his affliction made him suspicious and unpredictable. He was a powder keg. The tiniest spark could set off the volcanic rage, sending him into explosive–sometimes violent–tirades.

And for a few moments, Caroline recalled the relief and gratitude she’d felt when the pharmacist had administered the breath-saving medication. She made a mental note to go back to the pharmacy sometime soon and thank the man.

Nora dug into her daughter’s eyes with her own. Caroline surmised that her mother realized that she had pushed too hard. Nora patted her arm and relented. “We’ll deal with that later.” But, Caroline knew the issue was not dead. Her mother would pursue it relentlessly.

The Doctor Departs

Their conversation was interrupted when a short but authoritative-looking man dressed in khakis, a blue shirt and red tie and cloaked in a knee length white coat entered. His stethoscope was draped horizontally around his neck. “Good morning,” he said. “I’m Dr. Hobson. Are you,” he referred to clipboard he’d retrieved from the holder outside the door. “Mrs. Clivio?”

Caroline frowned your, but chose not to correct him. “Yes,” she replied with a single nod.

“Peter experienced a breathing episode today?”

“Yes. I forgot his inhaler at home.” Caroline shot a glance at her mother whose brow crinkled deeply. “A pharmacist at the Alliance Pharmacy helped me and gave him two puffs of albuterol. He called the paramedics who brought him here.”

“Let’s take a look,” the doctor said, rounding the bed. He placed a hand on Peter’s shoulder and said the boy’s name. Peter roused and blinked several times, looking up at the newest stranger. He asked Peter to lean forward and take deep breaths as he placed the stethoscope along various spots around Peter’s back. Then he listened to his heart. After several minutes, his preliminary exam complete, the doctor replaced the stethoscope laterally around his neck. “He’s breathing well. Still a little wheezy. He’ll be fine. We’re just going to watch him for an hour or so.” The doctor nodded and departed.

Caroline lowered her head, relieved. She saw the doctor’s comfortable shoes hesitate as he exited the treatment room. A shadow spilled from the hallway into her field of vision. She heard her mother’s whispered word of contempt in her ear. “Merde!” Caroline spun her head toward Nora. Nora’s eyes did not move in her daughter’s direction. Instead they were riveted on something in the doorway.

Caroline hesitated a moment, realizing Nora was staring beyond her. Caroline turned her head in the opposite direction. It was not something. It was someone. Backlight by the harsh emergency room light of the nurse’s station, Luca Clivio towered over the departing physician. The tension in his frame, the hard eyes and the repeated flexing, relaxation and re-flexing of his right hand into a fist sent a dagger of dread through Caroline.

To Be Continued

If you have a pharmacy story or a story (heroic or challenging) of everyday life in your healthcare world, send it to me by clicking the link below…

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A Relationship Beckons: Crisis Averted (#1) Monday

(This is a fictionalized scene based on a real incident that happened years ago.) To read the next installment, click on the link in the upper right corner.

The Crisis

“Honey, are you okay?”

Caroline caught sight Peter out of the corner of her eye in the rearview mirror as they say at the red light. She was concerned. Her six-year-old was strapped into his car seat behind the passenger side. He seemed quiet and more subdued than normal this Monday morning. He protested saying he was tired. Dark circles hung beneath his young eyes. A niggling cough rattled in his chest.

Every other morning, he woke bounding from under the covers a chatty ninja, racing downstairs to watch cartoons or play with his toy cars heedless of her commands. She had taken his temperature and found it normal. Something just did not seem right.

Turning her head to look at him, she repeated her question. Again, there was no response. That was when she noticed the rapid heaving of his chest. His lips displayed a bluish haze. His rapid, shallow inhalations sounded like angry hisses.

She pulled over, stopped the SUV on the shoulder and quickly rifled through her purse looking for the albuterol inhaler. She could not find it. Panic welled in her. Dumping out the contents of the purse onto the passenger seat, her hands moved through the items desperately touching each one in the hope she’d overlooked it.

Shit! It wasn’t there.

Then the realization struck her: it was sitting on the kitchen counter where she had left it last night as she cleaned out her bag.

She swore out loud again.

Glancing into the backseat again, Peter’s head had slumped forward. His chin rested against his small, heaving chest.

Panic morphed into full-fledged terror.

Near Miss

Ramming the gearshift into drive, she slammed the accelerator to the floorboard. The Cadillac Escalade lurched forward, fishtailing sideways in the soft grass until the tires found purchase on the asphalt. A car horn blared followed by the sound of screeching rubber. The passing vehicle swerved dramatically barely avoiding colliding with her Cadillac.

She ignored the near miss and continued pressing the gas. Her mind ping ponged wildly, assessing her options as her heart was in her throat, bounding rapidly. Should she turn around and head back to the house to retrieve the inhaler? Or she should head to the nearest emergency room? By her estimates, both options meant thirty minutes.

Was Peter breathing?

Oh my God! She should have leaned into the backseat and checked on her son.

Her momentum pulled her alongside the car that had nearly struck her. The still-irate female driver glared over at her mouthing unheard epithets while at the same time moving one hand in rapid, ill-willed gesticulations. Ignoring her, the Cadillac crept passed the other vehicle as they both raced along. Her mind still trying to recall a place where she could take him that was nearby then through the windshield, she spotted a beacon of hope.

When she reached the turn off, Caroline jerked the wheel hard, barely braking. The Cadillac listed severely as the tires wined in protest. She skidded to a halt in one of parking spots at an obscure angle. The other driver, apparently unsatisfied with her earlier demonstration of dissatisfaction followed the Cadillac into the parking area.

Caroline pushed open the door so violently, it bounced back onto her. Pushing it open one more time, she rounded the hood in a full run and yanked open Peter’s door. She could she his chest moving erratically in short, inadequate bursts.

She unbuckled him from the car seat, pulled him onto her chest, darting around the other car which had stopped right behind her. The driver was exiting the car and shouting, “What the hell do you—”

Caroline screamed back, “He’s in trouble!”

She bolted across the parking lot in front of another car causing it to brake hard. Five seconds later, she disappeared inside the pharmacy.

Help Me

Jake swore under his breath at the growing workload before him for at least the tenth time today. The tightness in his chest expanded, threatening to consume him. As the pharmacist on duty on this first Monday of the month, the number of prescriptions thrown at him today was non-stop. He’d already had two patients scream at him because he’d had to tell them that their orders for pain medications wouldn’t be ready with the speed of a McDonald’s restaurant. It was always the patients on narcotics that gave him the hardest time. Another patient’s insurance wasn’t paying for her medication because it was too soon to fill. The patient refused to leave and was demanding that someone from the pharmacy call the insurance company to get an override because she was heading out of town.

If he had a dollar for every time he heard that one!

The woman stood at the drop-off window, arms crossed angrily across her middle, silently shooting impatient darts with her eyes at Jake.

He had COVID shots scheduled every fifteen minutes. And finally, to make matters worse, one of his technicians had called out sick.

Jake put his hand on his forehead and dragged it over his face, taking with it the patina of perspiration that had formed on his skin. As his palm passed below his nose, he opened his eyes and saw her. It was a thirtyish woman clutching a child to her chest running full speed down the center aisle straight toward the pharmacy department.

I don’t need to hear it from anyone else today, he thought.

The queue at the inside pharmacy register was four deep and—because of the callout—his lone technician had been camped out at the drive-thru for the last forty-five minutes. They had managed to fill very few prescriptions to this point. His best guess was that he had about eighty prescriptions to fill at the moment. And surely there would be more to follow.

Ignoring the work and the frustrated stares of the patients in line, Jake watched the mother frantically trying to get his attention. She jumped the line at the cash register and elbowed the elderly gentleman there out of the way.

“Help me please! Help me! It’s my son!”

She shouldered her son around to face the pharmacist. Jake’s held his breath and braced himself for some kind of tirade. His angst instantly turned to alarm when he saw the boy. His lips were blue and a gray cast painted his skin.

“Oh shit!” Jake exclaimed. “Is he breathing?”

The Rescue

“Yes…but barely. I left his albuterol at home.” The mother’s voice was husky with fear.

Jake turned his head and hollered to his technician at the drive-thru window. His throat immediately went to his throat. “Helen, get over here now and call 911!

The technician named Helen stopped and turned her head. “What?!”

“I said, ‘Call 911’! Now!”

Racing from his workstation, Jake ducked into one of the pharmacy bays. Finding what he needed, he moved out front without delay. He instructed Mom to move him to one of the chairs in the waiting area. They slipped through the line of waiters as Jake removed the albuterol inhaler from its box. He shook it hard for five seconds. He asked the boy’s name and mom told him. While propped up on mom’s lap, Jake held the inhaler to the boy’s face and placed the mouthpiece between his lips.

“Peter,” he instructed loudly, “when I count to three, I want you to take a deep breath. One…two…three…”

He’d depressed the canister. The boy did not respond. The pharmacist was certain the powder had not make it into Adam’s lungs. Jake could hear the panicked, rapid breaths of the mother coming faster followed by a weak declaration filled with terror, ” Oh my God!” Jake shook Peter’s shoulder hard, rousing him slightly. Behind him, he could hear Helen in the pharmacy shouting into the phone at the 911 operator.

Jake repeated the procedure and counting to three again. On three, the boy sucked in as deep a breath as he could muster while Jake simultaneously depressed the cannister on the device. A short puff of powder hissed into the boy’s mouth. The pharmacist encouraged the child to take several deep breaths to drive the medicine deeper into his lungs. Jake shook the inhaler again and administered another puff a minute later. He checked the boy’s pulse and respirations as patients gathered and gawked.

Helen called from the pharmacy over the repeated dings of the drive-thru bell. The impatient driver outside–unaware of the crisis inside–was mashing the button. “An ambulance is on the way,” she shouted.

A few minutes later, the color began to return to the boy’s face and the cyanotic tint of his lips began to fade. His chest began to move with deeper, regular inspirations and the wheeze from his throat eased.

How to use an inhaler

Relief

“There it’s working,” Jake said.

Mom loudly exhaled relieved sigh. It was apparent, she had been holding her breath. “On my God!” Thank you…thank you so much!”

Mom hugged her son tight to her chest and caressed his hair with a thumb. A patina of sweat glistened on the child’s skin. Jake placed his fingers on the boy’s wrist and checked his pulse once more. He counted the boy’s respirations.

Satisfied a crisis had been averted, he stood and said, “EMT’s are on the way.” He glanced around at the patients who had witnessed his intervention. A few had left. Those remaining peered at him with a newfound awe. One, an older man, said, “Great work, young man!”

The paramedics arrived and Jake relinquished care of the mother and child to the first responders.

Jake simply nodded and strode slowly back into the pharmacy and was greeted by three ringing phone lines, the incessant buzzing of the drive-thru and a stunned Helen. The tall stacks of prescription baskets listed precariously to one side like a dying plant.

“What do we do now?” Helen asked minutes later barely above a whisper.

The paramedics had loaded the youngster onto the collapsible stretcher accompanied by the relieved mother who made eye contact with Jake. She folded her hands in front of her in a prayer-like manner and mouther the words, “Thank you so much! I will be back.”

Jake moved his gaze to his technician and rolled his shoulders into a shrug and replied, “I guess we get back to work.”

To Be Continued…

If you have a pharmacy story or a story (heroic or challenging) of everyday life in your pharmacy, send it to me by clicking the link below…

Send David your pharmacy story…                                                                              Check out David’s Books