“There we are,” the nurse said in a hearty-hearty voice. “I hope we’re feeling good tonight, for we have visitors.”
“Drop dead,” said the woman in the bed, her voice strong.
“Now, now, Abby, you mustn’t say those things in front of your company. They’ve come a long way to see you.”
“East Side, huh?” The woman’s voice was heavy with sarcasm.
As the nurse chuckled, Samantha looked around her to get a look at the woman on the white-painted metal bed, lying on the white sheets. The only “color” in the room was the gray tiles.
She was a small thin woman, and there was a tube running out of her arm and wire hung from under the sheet, leading into a dial-laden machine that perfectly matched the rest of the decor. The woman was old, her cheeks were sunken, and her skin was wrinkled, and she had an unhealthy greenish-gray cast to her skin. In spite of the unhealthy look of her, Samantha could see that she’d once been pretty. Even though her body now seemed to be giving out, there was intelligence in her eyes.
The woman was looking up at the nurse, but when the nurse moved to one side, she saw Mike, looked him up and down, dismissed him, then looked at Samantha. For a moment she stared at Sam, almost as though she were surprised by her, then abruptly she looked away and back at the nurse. “Get out of here,” she said. “I want to talk to my guests alone.”
Turning away, the nurse winked in conspiracy at Mike, as though to say, Isn’t she cute? then left the room.
“Hello, I’m Michael Taggert. I contacted you some time ago, but they said you were recovering from surgery and couldn’t see me.”
“Probably told you I was going to die, didn’t they?”
Mike smiled at her, but Abby didn’t take her eyes from Samantha. “And who is this lovely young lady?”
Samantha said the first thing that came to her mind. “I don’t like this place and I don’t like that woman.”
Her eyes sparkling, Abby chuckled. “I can see that you and I agree on many things. Why don’t you come over here and sit by me? No, not in the chair, on the bed beside me so I can see you. My old eyes, you know.”
Samantha didn’t hesitate. Some people are afraid of older people—maybe they remind them of what they will someday become—but Samantha wasn’t. She’d spent a lot of her life with her grandfather Cal and with her father when the cancer was making him age daily. Now, she didn’t think twice as she climbed on the bed beside the woman and wasn’t surprised when the woman took her hand and held it—held it rather tightly.
Abby looked at Mike. “I take it you were the one who wrote me about Maxie.”
“Yes,” Mike said softly, standing at the foot of the bed, looking from one woman to the other, watching their movements. “I want to know what you know of her.”
“Why?” Abby shot out, and Samantha saw the needle on the machine flicker.
For some odd reason, Mike just stood there watching the two women and didn’t answer Abby’s question.
“He’s writing a biography of Doc,” Samantha answered for him. “And he wants to know about Maxie. And I want to find her too because Maxie is probably my grandmother.” Her voice lowered. “It was my father’s dying wish that I look for his mother.”
Abby didn’t say anything, but the needle on her machine went all the way to the right and stayed there for a second or two.
“Maxie’s dead,” Abby said after a moment. “She died about eighteen months ago.”
Samantha let out her pent-up breath. “You’re sure?”
“Absolutely. We were friends since the twenties. Well, not really close friends since then, but back then we used to be close and we kept in touch over the years. She died out in New Jersey somewhere and the home where she stayed sent me notice of her death.” She looked up at Samantha. “Why in the world would a pretty young thing like you want to know about an old woman like her? You ought to marry your young man here and have babies and forget about the past.”
Sam didn’t look at Mike. “He’s not my young man.”
“Oh?” Abby said. “Then what’s this?” Lifting Samantha’s left hand to the light, the big diamond sparkled.
“Oh. That. I…Well, we…”
“My uncle Mike wanted me to look for Maxie,” Mike said, breaking his long silence.
“And who would your uncle Mike be?” Abby asked without much interest in her voice.
“Michael Ransome,” Mike said softly.
Slowly, Abby turned to look at him, her eyes hard, glittering like dark coals. Her body might be ill, but her spirit and her mind were obviously very healthy. “Michael Ransome died that night. Died on the twelfth of May, 1928.”