October 8
11:30 a.m.

“Hey Sally! Good to hear your voice.”

“You too, Natalie! Are you keeping your boss in line? I heard he’s really handsome.” Tav’s reputation is obviously the topic of discussion in many churches. He’d been the guest speaker at the pastors’ association so I’m guessing many of the church office staffs had heard about him.

“Too bad about his toupee,” I add, sadly.

“Seriously? I knew the reports were too good to be true. No pastor is that perfect.” Sally is now disappointed.

I’m very much hoping Tav hears the rumor about his being bald.

“What’s up, Sally?”

“I’m checking to see if Pastor Mark be around this Saturday? If not him, Pastor Tavish?”

“Let me see.” I pull up the calendar on my computer. “Looks like they’ll both be available.”

“Great. If Pastor Mark could officiate at Charlotte’s funeral, that would be wonderful.”

“Sure. Email me the details and I’ll let him know.”

“Thanks. Charlotte’s family will really appreciate it. Charlotte was doing so well, and then suddenly took a turn for the worse. She was such a strong, dear old lady.”

“Sad to lose our seniors. I don’t care too much for my generation.”

“I know what you mean. Charlotte was very beloved. She seemed like she was an iron horse. But it’s hard to tell with old folks. One minute they seem like they’re doing great, and the next, they’re gone.”

“Very sad. Sally, let me check with our pastors and I’ll call you back.”

______

1:45 p.m.

I’m licking stamps, yes, licking stamps, because the church has stamps from 1967 and we have to finish them…our fiduciary responsibility…so yes, I’m licking these icky, old stamps and wondering if they have some Scarlet Fever germs on them and, if so, I’m going to catch Scarlet Fever and die. I read about how the walls of a house had been plastered with paper to block Scarlet Fever germs and when the new residents of the house decided to remodel they started taking the wallpaper down…and voila! someone came down with Scarlet Fever. I wish I could remember what the name of the book is. Or is that was?

Anyway, I’m a strong woman and I’m surely not going to suddenly drop dead…

Strong woman?

Suddenly, I feel really strange…yes, I’m going to be sick. Maybe I’ve been sniffing too much of the stamp glue too. But I’m wondering about Sally’s phone call and she mentioned “Charlotte” had died suddenly. I’m just wondering… Nope, I’m not going to even think about it. Although, it does seem like a remarkable coincidence.

___________

2:45 p.m.

I’m not going to do it.

I’m not going to do it.

I keep staring at the phone on my desk.

I pick up the phone and then hang up again.

Just not going to do it. I’m just not going to give into my usual pattern.

________

2:50 p.m.

“Sally, Sorry to bug you again. I haven’t yet received all the information, but if you could just let me know…what was Charlotte’s last name?”

“Strong. Charlotte Strong.”

Adrenaline kicks in. Wasn’t that the name of Walt’s special friend?

“Did she die at her home or in the hospital? I’d like to have all the details…in case Pastor Mark wants to know, you know.”

“Yeah. Well, let me think…you know…no…yes, it was after she had her surgery. Poor thing, she had an unexpected fall down the stairs. Fortunately, someone from the church was visiting her and they were able to call the ambulance. After surgery they had taken her to the assisted care facility. It’s an upper class, five-star type of place. It’s called…wait, I just want to make sure. It’s called Sweet Dreams.”

“Thanks Sally. You’re a pet.”

Natalie, calm down. I’m talking to myself. I always do that when I feel near a panic attack. This is just a coincidence. Remember, Gwen tells you that you always like a mystery. This is not it. It’s nothing.

I’m going to talk to Kate.

“Kate, Sally called. Charlotte Strong, not sure if you remember her, anyway, she died unexpectedly.” I tried not to stress the “unexpectedly part,” I’m trying to remain objective.

“Yes, I remember her. Really nice woman. She’s…was a favorite of Walt. He’s going to be devastated at another loss. But that’s what you get when you work with the seniors. You never know when you’re going to lose them.”

“But she seemed so strong…”

“Must have caught pneumonia…that’s what gets a lot of them.”

“Apparently, she fell down the stairs…and then, they took her to a home or something. She died there.”

“Poor thing.”

Kate didn’t think anything about it. So I can let it rest there.

_________

3:45 p.m.

Except that I can’t.

I really wish I wasn’t so obsessively compulsive about things.

Sweet Dreams? Sounds more like Sweet Death. I googled it. Very pretty, English type gardens. Tranquil. Lots of nice little old…rich ladies.

I pick up the telephone and dial again.

“Sweet Dreams! We’re here to love your loved ones!”

Puh-leez! You’re there to love our loved ones’ money.

“Hi! This is Natalie from First Church. I received a call from the church secretary of one of your deceased patient’s. She’d like our pastor to perform the funeral service. I was wondering if you could help me?”

“Do you have a name? We’ve lost several of our patients these past two months. I think it’s some kind of virus that has the doctors puzzled. They’ve been trying to figure out.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that. The name is Charlotte Strong.”

“Charlotte Strong? Let me check. Yes she was here. She was doing so well too. Then, boom, sick and gone.”

Boom, sick, and gone? Sounds a bit callous when you put it that way.

“I hope you’ve had plenty of help with your patients.” And then, the devil made me add, “Actually, I think one of our members works over there. Walt Johnson…”

“Walt, yes. He’s such a find. Are you looking for him?”

“Oh, that’s okay.”

What was I thinking? Of course he’d be working over there. That was his job, his training. I knew that already. He loved to work with seniors. So why shouldn’t he be working at Sweet Death…Dreams.

“If you need any more information, you just give Bertha a call. I’m Bertha.” After a pause, she whispers, “The Feds are here right now. I took the call and the Executive Director is with them. I can’t tell you why, but just that they are here.”

The Feds?

Bertha obviously needed to tell someone this tasty piece of gossip. I just happened to call at the right time. My adrenaline is now in overdrive. The Board of Directors weren’t going to be happy that their receptionist had been so chatty, but I was.

________

3:50 p.m.

I hang up the telephone. Poor Sally, she’s probably waiting for me to find out if Mark or Tav could do the funeral, and I’m busy playing detective.

I’m back to editing the announcements for the bulletin. “The Seniors’ Group would like to thank Walt for his special…”

Don’t think about Walt, don’t think about Walt, I keep telling myself.

“You have time for a break?” Kate’s munching on a delicious chocolate cake donut.

“Donuts! You bet I have time for a break. Let me see if I can tear one of the volunteers away from putting the newsletter together. I’m sure they’d prefer to be the receptionist for a while.”

I go in search of a willing volunteer. I know Martha would love to do it. The conference room is filled with about a dozen women and two men. There’s a debate going on about something, and the women are definitely winning.

“Natalie,” Martha calls out to me as soon as she sees me. “These men are good for nothing.”

“Well, then they are good for something, even if it’s nothing,” I’m laughing.

“I told you she was cheeky,” Martha announces to the group, very indulgently. Martha and I have become the best of friends. She likes the fact that I tease her and won’t let her bully me.

The men continue their pretend grumble.

“You guys are enjoying being in the midst of a dozen beautiful, intelligent ladies. Admit it.”

The women are all shy, and the men grow a little bit red in the face. I love the seniors. I immediately start thinking about Walt. Great! I’m obsessing. I need to stop it.

“Martha, would you mind watching the telephones? Kate and I have a very special meeting.”

“You girls go and share your secrets. God knows you need some time to do that.” She rushes down the hall, well ahead of me.

“Wait up!” I yell out, trying to keep up with her.

Love Martha!

____

Photo by Ted Eytan via Flickr