"The Miracle Worker"


Logline: Newly graduated Dr. Eugene Barkley establishes residence at Stockton’s new hospital, but his first medical case has him questioning his vocation

  My thanks goes out to JV04 for inspiring the story with her introduction of the Heath Barkley Hospital Ward in one of her own tales.

On this bright Saturday morning, the Barkleys stood to attention at the oncoming train whistling its arrival. All eyes turned to the engine drawing closer, chugging its way to the station. They gave each other one last once-over; wrinkled skirts were being smoothed out and hair slicked back in place as they nervously awaited the train to come to a complete halt. They made their way to the last carriage, the private Barkley cart, to welcome the lone passenger.

“Eugene!” Audra squealed with delight, throwing herself into her brother’s arms as he barely alighted from the wagon. “Oh I’m missed you.”

“I missed you too big sister.” He returned the hug tenfold, allowing himself to drink in the comfort of a sisterly touch. He then disengaged the embrace to scan her from her to toe. “My Heavens look at you! You sure are an enchantingly beautiful lady. ”

“Oh Eugene,” she blushed at the compliment.

“Mother.” Gene fell into the warmth of his mother’s awaiting arms. “It’s so good to be back home”

“I’ve missed you son,” she exhaled in an emotional shuddering breath. “I am so pleased that you chose to settle in Stockton.”

“You can thank Doctor Merar for that. He convinced me that my skills were greatly needed at the Heath Barkley Ward.”

“That’s him over here,” Nick squeezed in, playfully ruffling Heath’s hair.

“Ah Nick!” Heath groused, reciprocating with a friendly poke in the ribs.

“I see those two haven’t changed?” Gene questioned amusedly.

“Pappy, here, has to keep an eye on those two continually,” Jarrod chimed in with a light chuckle as he, in turn, hugged his little brother. “Welcome home, Little Brother.”

No sooner had Jarrod released the embrace that Nick caught Gene in a neck hold. “How ya doing, kid? Still corky as before?”

“Nicholas!” Victoria scowled with a stern look of reprimand.

“Aw come on Mother! I was just kidding. Squirt here knows it.”

Once released from Nick’s stranglehold, Gene stepped up to the quiet blond and gave him a brotherly hug. “It’s good to see you, Heath. This is quite an honor: The Heath Barkley Ward.”

“And you know why they named that hospital after Heath, don’t you?” Nick quizzed with an elfish grin.

“Yes, we know, Nick.” Jarrod rolled his eyes at the anticipated joke.

“It’s because Heath takes on more beating and gunshot wounds than anyone else in Stockton.”

“Don’t listen to him, Gene. He’s just jealous,” Heath casually waved off his brother’s comment. “Nick, ole boy,” he hailed with a snap of his fingers, “take the luggage, will you please?”

“Ha ha, not funny Heath.” He could see Heath’s shoulders shuddering with suppressed laughter. “You’re lucky you still recovering from those busted ribs.”

“Maybe Gene could look at them? See if they are healing nicely?” Jarrod suggestion received a scorching glare from Heath who had enough of doctors poking and prodding him. “Or maybe not,” he quickly retracted to avoid incurring his brother’s wrath.

“Let’s go back to the ranch and get you settled,” Victoria offered as she draped her arm in Gene’s. On the opposite side, Audra did the same and all three led the procession of brothers each carrying a suitcase.

“Tonight Nick made reservations at the Cattlemen’s,” Audra informed excitedly. “All of Stockton will be in attendance to welcome you.”

“Gees,” Gene blushed, slightly embarrassed by the stir he was causing in town. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“Heck! This is a huge honor for my little brothers,” Nick claimed. “We’ll be celebrating Dr. Gene Barkley establishing permanent residence at the Heath Barkley Ward. I say this is an event significant enough to shout on roof tops. The press will be here to take pictures.”

“And I don’t have anything proper to wear,” Gene lamented.

“Already taken care of,” Jarrod piped in. “Your shirt, pants and tuxedo all neatly pressed are awaiting you at the ranch.”

Gene fashioned a grateful smile; his eyes shinning with pride. “It’s good to be home.”


To accommodate the Barkleys and their guests for the evening the Cattlemen’s owner added to his personnel to ensure the fluidity of the service. Champagne, wine and beer were properly chilled and quarts of Barkley prime beef were chopped into juicy sirloins. The private event numbered three dozens prominent citizens, friends and neighbors. An area had been set up especially for the younger crowd not yet old enough to join in the festivities. They were to enjoy the same privileges, save for the liquor.

Everyone was on hand to toast the guests of honors, Gene and Heath after which a speech was in order. Taken by surprise by the request to which they hadn’t prepared, they attempted to improvise.

With his senses slightly numbed by the amount of champagne ingested, Heath couldn’t resist teasing his older brother in a statement referring to his many injuries, to which Nick retorted that Heath held the record, hence the reason for the name of the ward.

As the evening wore into night, the party wound down to a few remaining guests, mostly close personal male friends who were obliged to the Barkleys for a last toast before returning to their wives who had left earlier to put the children to bed.

The next morning found the Barkley men a little worse for wear. Usually the early riser, Heath found it exceptionally hard to rouse with a killer hangover. Albeit with difficulty he managed to heave himself out of bed and dragged his aching muscles to the dresser. The drawn features and red-rimmed eyes that stared back at him in the mirror scared him right back to bed where he laid, sprawled ungainly on the covers, hoping to catch a few more winks before Nick came to whip him back in shape. Little did he know that big brother was wrestling with a similar ailment.

The breakfast table was full of food but bare of guests. Only Victoria and Audra were in attendance while the men were sleeping it off in their respective room. Victoria couldn’t suppress an amused smile at the sight of the empty chairs. She turned to Silas who poured her a cup of coffee and asked, “Would you know at what time the boys returned home last night?”

“No, Miz Barkley. I was in my room, fast asleep. It must have been after midnight for sure.”

“It’s safe to say they will bear the burden of their overindulgence, well Heath and Nick anyway” Audra jested, trying hard to suppress a giggle.

“I imagine so,” Victoria agreed as she dabbed the napkin at the corner of her mouth. “But I’m sure they’ll agree it was worth it. Maybe not now, feeling ill as I suspect they will, but once the aches and pains wear off.”

“It’s good to have the family back together,” Audra enthused.

“Yes, very much so.” Victoria glanced Audra’s way to notice she had barely touched her food. “Audra, is something wrong?”


“You hardly touched your breakfast.”

“I feel a little queasy. Must be the steak that was too rare.”

“You should have asked that they cook it to your preference.”

“It wasn’t that bad, just a little too chewy for my taste. I’ll be fine. A nice invigorating ride through the meadows and I’ll return a new person,” she assured, mostly trying to convince herself rather than her mother whose inner instincts warned her to remain vigilant.

Audra made her way to the barn where Ciego was finishing saddling her horse. “Here you are Miss Barkley. All ready to go.”

“Thank you Ciego.” She glanced around the barn in searched of Billy the new hand with which she was secretly smitten with. “I thought Billy was going to saddle Misty for me.”

“He asked me to take over. He’s not feeling very well this morning. Tummy ache.”

“Funny I feel a bit nauseous myself. Could be a bug going around.”


Contrary to her belief, the ride failed to provide the soothing relief she expected. Contrariwise, her pain worsened to debilitating proportions. She reined in her mount and slid down the saddle to hurry to a nearby tree where she vomited the content of her stomach. She shifted position to lean her back against the trunk in order to catch her breath. ‘What’s the matter with me?’ she wondered to herself, feeling her forehead for any sign of a fever. “It can’t be my appendix. It was removed. It has to be that steak. Sure didn’t agree with me,” she chuckled to lessen her growing fear of the unknown.

Drawing a deep breath she hoisted her up against the tree. As she teetered to her feet the world came whirling about in a nauseating wave. She shook her head to dispel the dizziness and proceeded to mount her horse, albeit with difficulty. She gathered all of her resilience to stave off the panic that she sensed creeping over her. She straddled Misty and kicked her into a light trot towards the ranch.

She reached her destination in the nick of time. Barely had she dismounted that her knees buckled from under her. “Mother,” she whimpered, summoning her last ounces of energy to stagger to her wobbly legs and drag her fever-ridden body to the front door. “Mother,” she cried weakly, frightened by her lack of strength at the simple task of pulling down the door handle. “Mother, where are you?”

“Audra?” Alerted by the feeble cry, Victoria rose from her chair and made her way to the foyer, her step quickening upon seeing her daughter doubled over in pain. “My Goodness, Audra, what’s wrong?”

“I feel awful sick to my stomach.” Victoria ran a hand over her daughter’s glistening brow. “I can’t stop shivering.”

“You have a fever. Come.” She wrapped an arm around Audra’s waist to assist her up the stairs where they met halfway with Eugene. “What’s the matter?”

“Audra is sick. She has a fever. Help me get her to her bedroom.” Eugene took hold of Audra’s arm to help her shuffling feet up the stairs. He held her in place while Victoria turned down the bed. Both gingerly laid her down on the mattress.

“I’ll get my bag.” Gene hurried down to his bedroom to grab his medical bag then rushed back to Audra’s bedroom where his mother was already removing her outer garments. Gene perched himself on the edge of the bed and began his examination with a pulse check, thereafter he applied his stethoscope to Audra’s upper chest.

“What’s wrong with her?” Victoria asked worriedly.

“I can’t say for sure but from what I can see she has the classic symptoms of the flu, though…” he frowned and shook his head in puzzlement, “her lungs are cleared, for the moment that is.” He removed the instrument from his ears and turned to Victoria. “Mom, ask Silas to bring a pitcher of cool water up here. We’ll apply cold compresses to bring down the fever. Along with some powdered aspirin she should ride through it without too much discomfort.”

“Okay.” Although Victoria trusted her doctor son implicitly her maternal instincts were urging her to beware the warning signs that appeared to be whistling a different tune.

Gene poured a glass of water in which he mixed some powdered aspirin. “There you go, Sis.” He slid a hand behind her neck to pull her head forward as he placed the rim of the glass to her lips. “You’ll feel better after you drink this.” Audra first grimaced at the foul taste, then taking a deep breath, she swallowed the medicine in three large gulps. “There you go,” Gene helped ease his sister’s head onto the pillow and brought the blanket up to her shoulders. “I’ll be here to check on you regularly.”

“The flu?” Audra exclaimed, closing her eyes in despair. “Where could have gotten it?”

“I heard there was an outbreak in Rosedale a few weeks ago.”

“Rosedale? I was never in Rosedale.”

“Has Nick and Heath?”

Audra frowned at the question. “Yes.”

“It’s possible you might have contracted the virus from them,” Gene surmised reassuringly. “People don’t necessarily have to be sick to infect others. They might just be carriers.”

“Nick did cough a lot.”

“There you go.”

“He’s riding into Elko this morning. Do you think he might have come down with the flu by now?”

“It’s possible. I guess we’ll know Friday when he returns, if at all. Then we’ll have our answer.”

A grateful smile crossed Audra’s face as she reached out to take her brother’s hand. “I’m proud of what you’ve become, Gene. I feel safe with you around.”

Gene reciprocated the gesture and gave her hand a light squeeze. “Thanks Sis. I needed that.”


In his office, Jarrod closed his last folder and pushed it aside on his desk. Squinting his eyes together to squeeze the strain out, he leaned back and stretched out before he hauled his weary body out of his chair to break for lunch. He grabbed his jacket from the coat rack and made his way to the reception area. “Miss Collins I’m going to lunch at the Cattlemen’s for about an hour. I’ll…” he was taken aback by the livid haggard expression staring back at him. “Are you okay?”

“Not really Mr. Barkley. I feel kind of warm.” Lucy answered.

“You looked flushed. Why don’t you take the afternoon off? I’ll manage without you. There’s no appointment. I’ll just be working on the Simcoe case.”

“Thank you Mr. Barkley. Normally I would argue that I’m fine but not this time. I’m definitely coming down with something.”

“Bed rest and lots of liquid,” A weak smile, hollow cheeks and red-rimmed eyes met with his light-hearted tease. “Better yet why don’t you take the rest of the week off. You’ve put in long hours during the Richards trial last month. You deserve some time off.”

“Again Mr. Barkley. I won’t argue with you.”

“I’ll see you on Monday.”

“Thank you.” She bent over to pick up her purse, pausing to breathe away the dizziness washing over her before walking out the door.

Barely had she set foot outside the office that a debilitating stomach twinge seized her. She leaned against the wall to let the crisis pass, breathing slowly and deeply to allay her qualms, refusing to submit to panic. She risked a step forward, then a second before another wave of dizziness swept over her.

“Miss Collins, let me help you,” Jarrod offered as he closed the office for lunch. He wrapped one arm around her waist and presented his other arm as support.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It’s…it’s happening so fast,” she choked on a shiver. She clung onto her boss to steady herself and leaned her head against his shoulder hoping to stop the world from spinning around her.

“It’s okay. I’m taking you to the hospital. Hold on to me.”

They slowly climbed down the stairs, each step sending painful twinges to her pounding head. Walking to the Heath Barkley Ward located a few blocks down the street proved to be more strenuous than first anticipated; a laborious trek that required two breathing pauses in mid way.

They were greeted at the desk by Mrs. Merar. “Jarrod, you can take her down to Room 2,”she said pointing to the door. “My husband will be with her shortly.”

“Thank you.”

“What are your symptoms, dear?” she queried while assisting Jarrod to the room where two ill patients were already set up in beds.

“It started with a stomachache then I got a bad case of the shivers and now I’m hurting all over.” She crawled into the bed offered and closed her eyes in a desperate attempt to dispel the dizziness.

“Could be the flu?” Jarrod deduced, searching the good doctor’s wife’s eyes for a confirmation.

“That’s what my husband diagnosed. He’s examined five people so far. They came in this morning all experiencing similar symptoms.” She took the pitcher and poured the newest patient a glass of water. “Here you go dear.” She handed the glass over to Lucy who gulped it down greedily.

“It’s safe to assume we have an outbreak on our hands.”

“I tend to concur.” She caught a glimpse of her husband beckoning her over to him. “Excuse me. My husband wants to see me.”

“We have another patient, dear. Jarrod Barkley’s secretary.”

“Same symptoms?”

“The same.”

With a heavy sigh he removed his reading glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I may have misdiagnosed. I fear this epidemic is deadlier than influenza.”

“What is it?”


Mrs. Merar staggered back at the news. “Anthrax?”

“Hush dear,” he chastised, warning her to tone her voice down. “We don’t want anyone to know until I’m absolutely sure. No sense creating a panic. I will need Eugene with me here to help with the patients. I have a feeling there’ll be more coming before the day is over.”

“Jarrod’s here with his secretary. Perhaps you can ask him to convey the message to his brother?”

“I’ll do that.” He motioned to the examination room. “Would you see that Timmy is settled in a bed?”

“Sure, dear. How is he?”

“Not too bad considering. I’ve giving him some quinine. Let’s hope he’s strong enough to beat it.”

“Where did that come from?”

“That’s what we need to find out. We have to get to the source if we are to have any chance of stamping the epidemic.” He leaned forward and tiredly laid a kiss on his wife’s forehead. “You go dear. I’ll take care of our other patient.”

She reciprocated with an empathic smile and a light squeeze on his arm.

“Jarrod!” Merar greeted upon entering the room. “Feeling okay?”

“I’m fine it’s Miss Collins here,” he turned to the woman grimacing in pain. “She looked flushed so I told her to go home. When I left the office a few minutes after, she was doubled over in pain.”

“I’ll be back with some medicine,” he assured the distraught woman before turning to Jarrod. “Jarrod can I see you for a second?” With a toss of the head, Dr. Merar beckoned a puzzled Jarrod out of the room.

“What’s wrong, Doctor?”

“Your secretary is not my first patient to exhibit these symptoms. I have five others who have come in the last six hours. Jarrod,” Merar paused to sketch out a gentle way to approach his friend with the crisis. He placed a hand on the man’s shoulder and sighed heavily. “We might have an outbreak of anthrax on our hands.”

Jarrod slightly shifted back at the news. He gawped at the doctor whose expression was self-explanatory about the hardships that are most likely to be encountered ahead. “Might?”

“The blood tests I’ve done early this morning show the same filamentous bacteria. I have no doubt that’s what I’ll find in other patients’ samples, including your secretary’s.”

“Anthrax?” Jarrod was dumbfounded. “Where did they get it?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. It’s imperative to find the source and fast or we’ll have more than sick patients before long.” Jarrod’s head jerk up at the doctor’s grim prediction; the hopelessness mirroring in his eyes was unmistaken. “I’d hate to be an undertaker.”

“Don’t you have medicine to counter the effects of the disease?”

“Quinine, carbolic acid and tonic, yes I do have those but in limited quantities, just enough to treat a dozen patients or so. And when we run out I’ll have to order some from San Francisco General and that could take more than a week. Jarrod, if we don’t stamp the outbreak soon it’s likely to spread to neighboring towns.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Anthrax is usually transmitted through infected meat. Maybe a traveling salesman might have sold some folks some bad beef, mouton, anything. You’ll need to search the homes of those infected first. Sam and Esther and their son Timmy are here. Also Dora Wells and Steve Garner. Those are three you ought to start with.”

“We’ll do that.”

“And be careful not to touch the infected meat with your bare hands. You could contract the disease through the skin.”

“Nick rode in early this morning for Elko. He should be back Friday. I could get Heath and a few ranch hands.”

“I wouldn’t involve Heath at least not just yet. He’s just recovering from a bad fall. He’s not strong enough.”

“Okay. We’ll start investigating today.”

“The sooner the better. In the meantime, could you ask your brother Eugene to come? I’m in dire need of his help. Can’t do it all by myself.”

“Will do Doctor. Take care of my secretary. She’s valuable to me and I don’t mean just for her typing skills,” Jarrod confided with a thoughtful smile that spoke volume.

“It’s no secret around here that you’re smitten with her. She may be the only one who doesn’t know it yet.”


Jarrod arrived at the ranch and met with Eugene on the doorstep. “Where are you going little brother?”

“In town to the hospital to analyze those blood samples.” He waved the vials in front of Jarrod. “Audra, Jim and Billy have come down with a bad case of the flu.”

“Oh God! No!” Jarrod’ heart sank to his stomach.

“It’s not that dramatic, Jarrod.” He slanted his head to read the expression of doom written in his brother’s face “There’s something else, isn’t it?”

“Dr. Merar has asked me to get you. He’s been treating patients for what he believes is anthrax. My secretary is one of them.”


Jarrod pointed to the vials in Gene’s hands. “You have those analyzed and quick. If it is anthrax we’ll need medicine.”

“I’m going.” Eugene hurried to the stables to saddle his horse while Jarrod strode up the stairs to check on his sister.

Victoria was seen exiting the room and he neared the bedroom door. “Mother, Gene tells me Audra is sick?”

“Yes,” she whispered with a finger on her lips. “She’s finally asleep. Let’s go downstairs where we can talk.”

In the foyer, the twosome met with Heath returning from the field. “Heath Barkley! I thought you were resting in your room?” Victoria admonished upon seeing her son with a sheen of sweat on his face.

“I was, but I got bored. With Nick away I thought I should check on our new stock.” Heath said with a sheepish grin. “I promised I didn’t do anything strenuous.”

“Then how do you account for that sheen of sweat on your face?” Jarrod stifled a laugh at his mother’s perceptiveness.

“Only because it’s sweltering hot out there.”

“All the more reasons to stay indoors. Heath, remember what the doctor said?”

“I know, I know. Rest,” he retorted on an exasperated tone. “Say I just saw Eugene hightail it out of here like a lunatic. Anything wrong?”

“Audra and two ranch hands have just come down with the flu. He’s riding into town to have their blood samples analyzed.”

With a suspicious frown she turned to Jarrod who silently beckoned them both into the living room.

“I was just at the hospital. My secretary fell ill with symptoms that mimic the ones of the flu, only Dr. Merar fears that it might be anthrax.” Victoria gripped Heath’s arm as she staggered back in shock. “In fact he’s pretty sure. He asked me to search the homes of those who came down with the symptoms, see if I can find the infected meat.”


“Steve Garner, Dora Wells and the Simms.”

“Not Little Timmy?” Victoria gasped.

“Yes. I don’t know how bad they are. Doctor Merar just told me that they arrived early in the morning.”

Victoria turned livid at the dread of her own daughter having contracted the disease. “But where could they have gotten it?”

“That’s what we’re hoping to find out, Mother.”

“I’ll help you,” Heath readily volunteered but his offer was met with a negative shake of the head. “Jarrod, you can’t do this alone.”

“I won’t be alone. I’ll take a couple of men with me. You, Brother Heath, are to stay right here and help mother with our patients.”

“Yes Heath,” Victoria agreed, tapping Heath’s arm. “I don’t want you out there contracting the disease as well.”

“Anthrax is not contagious, Mother.”

“No but you can get it by contact with an infected specimen. Dr. Merar strictly forbad me to involve you in the search. It’s not so much on account of your physical strength but rather your vulnerability at contracting the disease that has him worried.”

“All right,” Heath groused. “I’ll stay and give mother a hand with our patients. Don’t we have to give them some kind of medicine?”

“I expect Dr. Merar will hand some to Eugene. He wanted him to stay at the hospital to assist him but given the situation here at home…”

“We still don’t know for sure that’s what Audra has. I mean where would she have gotten it?” Heath’s relevant speculation prompted both Victoria and Jarrod to find a correlation between the actual patients admitted at the hospital and the three ill people in the house.


Gene peeled off his eyes from the microscope and gaped at his mentor. “No doubt about it. It’s anthrax.”

“I sure hope your brother can find the source of the outbreak and soon so we can contain it. It’s already spreading like wildfire.”

“I’ll take some quinine and tonic with me. If needed be we can turn the house into a temporary hospital for those who are closest to the ranch so they don’t have to travel far for care.”

“That’s what I was about to suggest. At this rate we’ll need two wards with two doctors working round the clock to treat the sick as they arrive. In the meantime I’ll order more medicine from San Francisco. With any luck it should arrive within the week.”

“I hope we’ll have enough. By the way, how’s Jarrod’s secretary?”

“She’s holding her own. Fortunately she has a strong constitution.”

“I’ll pass the word along to my brother. I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear that.” Gene rose from his chair and stepped up to the medicine cabinet to take the needed items. “If things settle at the ranch I’ll try to check back with you tomorrow.”

“Much appreciated.”

Back at the ranch, Heath and Victoria were busy relaying each other at the patients’ bedsides; changing towels, fetching water, applying damp clothes onto burning foreheads. Both sick with dread over the faith of Audra whose condition worsened in the last hour.

Gene returned to the ranch to find Nick’s girlfriend, Melanie De Land, on the front door step.

“Hi Melanie!” Gene greeted as he dismounted his horse. “Nick is not home.”

“I know, that’s exactly why I came by today. I need to discuss arrangements for Nick’s birthday party with your mother.”

Gene frowned suspiciously at the pallor of her face. “Melanie, are you okay? You look a little flushed?”

“Just an upset stomach. I’ll be fine,” she casually dismissed.

Gene applied the back of his hand against her forehead. “You have a slight temperature. Come into the house so I can have a look at you.”

“Eugene I’m fine,” she insisted.

“I just want to be sure you don’t have anthrax.”

“What?” she staggered back in shock.

“Sorry to be so blunt but my sister Audra and about 10 other people have all come down with the symptoms. We’re treating it as an epidemic and we don’t know where it comes from.”

“My God! How do we get it?”

“Mostly from infected meat.”

“The only meat I had in the last 48 hours was the steak at the Cattlemen’s restaurant last night for your celebration.”

“That was prime Barkley beef,” Gene retorted harshly, appalled by Melanie’s insinuation. “It can’t be that.”

“I’m not saying it is,” she countered on a slightly lighter tone. “Maybe the manager didn’t serve your beef and switched it with another brand?”

Gene paused to consider Melanie’s suggestion. “That’s a possibility, because I don’t believe our meat was infected. Nick, Heath and the men would have spotted the sick cattle and burnt them.”

“On second thought…” she started as a powerful dizzy spell washed over her, “I think I’ll take you up on your invitation to come inside. I suddenly don’t feel so well.” She leaned against Gene for support as he assisted her inside the house.

“Melanie?” Heath exclaimed with fright at the sight of the flustered girl being escorted to the living room. “What’s the matter with her?” he asked Eugene.

“My educated guess is same as Audra and all the others.”

“Anything I can do?”

“Where’s Jarrod?”

“He went out in search of the infected meat, why?”

“Melanie mentioned something about the meal served at the restaurant last night,” Gene implied as he gently lowered Melanie onto the settee.

“Gene, you’re not serious?” Heath scorned, taking offense at Gene’s statement. “That was our prime quality beef! Nick and me made sure of that.”

“Was it?”

Heath raised a suspicious eyebrow. “What are you getting at?”

“I can’t be sure but could it be possible that the meat went foul after being left out of the cold storage?”

Heath thought for a moment. “Could be, but Harold got the quart directly from us less than a week ago.”

“There has to be another explanation. Maybe Jarrod can find out?”

“I’ll tell Jarrod to look into it as soon as he gets in.”

“Thanks, Heath.”

“I was on my way to fetch water from the pump. Do you need any help getting her upstairs?”

“Not yet. After I finish my examination and administer her medicine.”

Heath nodded in compliance, then headed out the door with the water pitcher. A sudden queasiness seized him while drawing water from the pump. He blinked to clear the foggy vision while breathing away the nauseas rising to his throat. ‘Oh no. Not me. Please,” he pleaded silently, hoping the malaise was merely a result of his frail condition.