The Crossword Puzzle (#1)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
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The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

 

Part 1 – PRELUDE TO AN UNNATURAL DEATH & AN INVITATION

 

It is one of the more peculiar acts of human nature that among adult acquaintances a gift is rarely received in the same spirit as the giver had assumed it would be.  No matter how sincere the giver is and how genuinely he desires to help or to please, his generosity is bound to cause him to suffer a loss of esteem.  It should come as no surprise that this sudden loss of status may puzzle the giver, and if so, he may find himself drawing the wrong conclusions about the origins of his social demotion.

What he, or in this case, Nola Harriman, failed to understand is that the giver of a gift automatically places himself in a superior position which can only mean that he places the receiver in an inferior one – a shift which the latter usually finds intolerable.  However subtle the shift, it evokes feelings of resentment in the receiver who is expected to thank the giver and praise the gift, though he may personally wish to do neither.  A much needed utilitarian gift that is given to, say, the governing council of a small religious organization, is practically an accusation of incompetence  The members will make the giver pay dearly for the public imputation.

Few things in life are as difficult to sustain as being grateful.

The circumstances that brought Nola Harriman to the uncomfortable edge of a fold-out metal bed in a Morton, Pennsylvania holding cell, could not possibly have been imagined a day or even a year before the event.  No one had given her a clue that the faults she had found in Spencer Ghent could be lethal in nature. Nola was an important person in her society, not a particularly well-liked one; and people who conceal personal dislikes are often loathe to inform others of their secret contempt for fear that they may be blamed for any misfortune that befalls the object of their scorn.

It was in the last week of August, 2013, that Nola was working as a registered nurse in a hospital in Philadelphia.  All summer she had chaffed under new regulations imposed by a recently hired Director of Nursing.  She had just reached the Flight or Fight stage of the dispute when, fortuitously, her sister Paige Harriman Ghent called, begging her to come to live and work in her home in Morton, Pennsylvania, some eighty miles distant. Paige’s ailing husband, Spencer, was afflicted with ulcerative colitis; and since the nature of the disease involved certain intimacies, rather than hire a stranger to live in the house and see things that Paige thought should be kept private, she sought her sister’s help.

Though their past history might, in an excess of kindness, be considered sibling rivalry (they had spoken only briefly to each other twice in the last fifteen years), both women believed that people could change and, certainly, to Nola, hearing her sister weep and beg her to come and stay at her house and pay her well to do so, was proof that Paige had indeed changed.  Prior to that call she had regarded Paige as the most stubbornly self-centered and irredeemably uncaring person she had ever met.  But now her older sister was pleading piteously in obvious distress.  Nola accepted the offer.

 

A few months earlier, in February, 2013, the Zen Buddhist Assembly of Morton, Pennsylvania was and had been for years an ad hoc, but self-supporting assembly that met weekly in each other’s homes for tea and at least the semblance of meditation.  The members wished that they had their own temple and a qualified teacher with whom they could regularly interact; but renting or purchasing such a facility was, given their loose confederation, impractical.

And then, miraculously, someone donated an old, once-grand house to them, a house that had originally been the residence of the prominent Norris-Giles family.

On a pleasant morning in March, 2013, six of the regular hostesses of the Zen Assembly inspected the building that would be theirs if they wanted it.  Of course they could see that it needed extensive repair, but desire, tending always to diminish disadvantage, let them quickly glance at the problems and focus instead on the advantages – a paved parking lot; stained glass windows; a fenced half-acre of arable land on which they could grow their own flowers and vegetables and turn the building into a real monastic center.  No-less than seven upstairs bedrooms could be rented out as guest or novice facilities.  As housewives they had often been confronted by dirt and disorder which they corrected by calmly ordering their servants to clean, discard, sew, pr paint.  But for devotion’s sake, they decided to do most of the original cleaning of the “temple,” themselves.  They saw the dust and disarray as a challenge and looked forward to conquering them with their own humble and devoted “elbow grease.”

The giver of the gift, having chosen to remain anonymous, allowed his attorney to convey his hope that Morton’s ‘Bodhisattvas” – though he did not quite know what a Bodhisattva was he did seem to mean them – would make his humble gift of the Norris-Giles House a permanent home for Lord Buddha.

Not one of the council cared to question his largesse.  They had been faithful to the religion and deserved such approbation and a house, too.

They also did not inquire about his motives when he included a condition precedent to the transfer of deed which obliged them to provide living accommodations for five years to two Japanese men: an elderly gentleman who had formerly been an abbot of a Zen monastery in Kyoto; and a younger man who had for years functioned as a handyman and a tenzo(cook.)  The thought of having a real Japanese abbot to lead their group and an authentic Japanese cook made the strange condition irresistible.  In their euphoria, costly repairs would be done by contractors they would hire; while trivial repairs would be relegated to the less enthusiastic. With a flick of a down-turned palm they dispensed with a hundred or more trifles that bore to them no connection to the word “habitable.”

The worst decision they made was to decline to seek legal advice.  The donor had an attorney and the women reasoned that retaining an additional one for themselves would appear to be “looking a gift horse in the mouth.” Also, the saving of a legal fee would increase the sum they planned to spend on decorating the new headquarters of the Zen Buddhist Association (ZBA) of Morton. They obtained six copies of the contract and each, at her leisure, perused its contents.  Having applied the same criteria of inspection to the document’s contents as they had applied to the building, they accepted the gift and conditions, providing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would grant their articles to incorporate as an eleemosynary organization.  This, the Commonwealth did, and by July, armed with a non-profit charter and six duly elected officers, they met again with the donor’s attorney.  Legally empowered and filled with irrational hope, they accepted the deed and signed the two-man support contract.

Everyone knew that the Norris-Giles House had once been proud and beautiful, but time and the de-gentrification of the neighborhood had changed its zoning so that the heirs were able to rent out sections of it to people who would use it as professional offices.  Unfortunately, the most respectable of the professionals were two young related attorneys who shared the same waiting room and insisted that they were trying to steal each other’s clients.  The disagreements soon passed the misdemeanor stage and the family disputants became the only clients the young attorneys had.  They abandoned their leases ( a not unreasonable act since the air-conditioning and running water were not always reliable) and moved out.

The tenants descended in respectability until a transvestite seamstress had been robbed twice and a shoemaker’s equipment had been critically damaged by vandals. There remained only a tap dance instructor and persons who engaged in after hours entertainments. It was regrettable that each tenant jury-rigged its plumbing and electrical needs to suit individual requirements. Some had removed non-load bearing walls that managed to gouge holes in a once-flawless walnut parquet floor.  The last group of tenants included two psychics who competed with each other, arguing fiercely and often in a language no one understood.

Despite all this business trouble, in the gamesmanship of selling, sentiment held the higher hand; and the owners, each having his own Utopian solution about the building’s future, disagreed about every solution proposed.  Not until an assortment of condoms clogged the drain, did the cost of repair trump the power hand and everyone surrendered to the inevitable and offered the entire lot to anyone who would pay for the dilapidated building and the taxes due on it.  A Japanese businessman was the first to hear of the proposition; and he immediately instructed his attorney to procure the property under the conditions he imposed.

This businessman, though not being a Zen Buddhist himself, claimed to have seen the wisdom of having a Zen Buddhist Center in town and, with the condition that his father-in law and nephew – the old abbot and the new cook – be given living quarters for five years in the Norris-Giles House or any equivalent accommodation that was at least fifty miles from his personal residence, purchased the building and presented it as a gift to these sincere followers of the Buddha.

The council ladies did not discover that by this act of generosity the donor had gained his own domestic tranquility.  Even his wife so enjoyed her new fatherless and nephew-less environment that she insisted that the house her husband had purchased would have been cheap at twice the price.  She did not fully understand what her husband knew and the new owners would soon learn: the contrariness and unaccustomed slovenly habits that her father had been demonstrating during the last few years were symptoms of untreated dementia.  She also did not know that her ill-tempered nephew had become a drug user and often stole items from her house to pay for cocaine.  Naturally he would blame the old man for the thefts; and she was all too willing to accept The Spitefulness Of The Aging – an article she had read in a hair salon – as the old man’s deliberate attempt to ruin her married life.  He had never liked her husband.

With great excitement the new owners – who called themselves, “The Council,” became officers and directors of the new corporation.  As such they made immediate and somewhat quixotic plans to convert the dwelling into a monastic center   They immediately founded a new order of American Zen priests, selected Japanese names for themselves from the list of Patriarchs and then, after ordaining themselves, informed others that as soon as the bedrooms were renovated, they would rent the rooms at bargain rates to anyone who was desirous of becoming lay-ordained.  As part of their spiritual training such persons would then be obliged to oversee household maintenance, laundry, and kitchen policing.

An industrious lot, they assumed that they could pay for the repairs by selling hand-made wooden bead necklaces, bracelets, and made-to-order bib-like rakusus, robes, cushions, mats, and sundry items.  Incomprehensibly, although they made prototypes of these items to display, they failed to grasp the not altogether obscure fact that the seller completes only half of the commercial transaction.  New members were the targeted buyers, but for so long as the building was in such deplorable condition, they could not attract new members.  They also could gain no income from rented bedrooms since the leaking roof permitted rain to accumulate on the attic floor from which it would seep through the wooden floorboards and create ugly brown stains in the second floor’s plaster ceilings.  From there, rain or melted snow would drip into the many buckets and pans set out to capture it and halt the water’s course.  The lowest estimate to replace the roof was a prohibitive $20,000.

Meanwhile, in addition to the costly re-wiring and heating and other plumbing necessities, they were obliged to support the two men who came as a condition of the gift, and The Council was unprepared to cope with the unique set of problems this condition entailed.

They set to work making the house’s original solarium and morning room into suitable quarters for him and the handyman.  They painted the suite and put wall-to-wall carpeting throughout the several rooms.  Beds and rudimentary furniture were acquired from Thrift Shops; and dishes, flatware, hot plates, microwave, refrigerator, and dishwasher were brought from their own homes.  Less than a block away were an all-night laundromat which, the ladies assumed, the handyman could use, and half a dozen fast-food restaurants and grocery stores.

The ZBA sangha,(congregation) followed the northern Soto Zen “sitting” school.  Although they lined up, kneeling at his doorway for dokusan (personal advice), the language problem reduced his utterances to subjects for them each to solve.  They tended to hail the old man as a holy man who walked around, chanting incessantly.  They learned the chants but were baffled by the way he occasionally smiled, raised a finger, and pronounced some kind of admonition in Japanese.  They purchased new red and gold master’s robes for him and, since he seemed always desirous to perform kin hin (walking meditation) outside, they pulled out the weeds from the fenced side of the house, planted shrubbery, and laid flagstone pathways for him to use.  Regrettably, he extended the range of his meditation path to include neighboring sidewalks, and the police notified them that the barefoot old man was following children to school.  The ladies had assumed that his strange mumblings were somehow oracular, and a secretary of Japanese descent at the nearby police substation did indeed confirm that the mumblings were of a spiritual nature.  She was a follower of the Rinzai Southern school of Zen and the lines the old man repeated were from the Dun Huang version of the Platform Sutra, a scripture particularly dear to the Southern school. And so they learned that not only was their new master from a rival school of Zen, but the mystery of the raised finger and its accompanying advice was also disconcertingly solved.  The secretary translated what he was saying as, “You can make a mirror polishing a brick sooner than you can make a Buddha sitting on a cushion.”  This presented a serious theological problem.

They could read the koans associated with the Southern School, but they could not understand them; and they knew no other Zen but the kind that required hours of sitting and striving to stay awake while not thinking. No one knew how to respond to this apostasy or to the Abbot’s refusal to remove any of his clothing for laundering.  The handyman, who was supposed to be a college student, owned no books at all and disappeared for days at a time. A visiting physician told them he suspected that the Abbot had Alzheimer’s Disease. This, he allowed, might be troublesome: hospitalization would be expensive, if, of course, they could get past the problem of not being blood relatives of his. He advised them to speak to the attorney who had handled the “gift.”  They called him and were informed that they were obliged to provide for the two religious men.  As officers and signatories to the transfer documents, they were individually and severely liable to fulfill the accompanying contract’s terms.

As to the nephew, they learned quickly to keep their purses under lock and key; but this did not, unfortunately, prevent the young man from making house calls to solicit funds for a variety of non-existent projects.  He invariably had to relieve himself and while doing so raided the medicine chests for salable pharmaceuticals and an occasional piece of jewelry.  The sangha compared notes about missing things and all their homes were quickly closed to him.

It was during an October, 2013, visit to a suburban home, the Ghent residence into which Nola Harriman had recently moved, that he attempted to steal several prescription bottles of tranquilizers and Nola happened to notice a bulge in his jacket pocket that had not been there before he went to the bathroom.  She positioned herself so that she could look down into the pocket and, seeing the tops of prescription bottles, checked the bathroom and then quietly called the police. He was driving away from the residence when the police apprehended him.  Convicted and sentenced to a term of not less than two years, he did remove one of ZBA’s more serious irritants; but his absence did not, however, overcome the other insoluble problems, and the Council planned their exit strategy.  Embarrassing newspaper articles about the incident mentioned the ZBA’s address and executives along with the information that Tuesday and Thursday evening meditation sessions were held at the old Norris-Giles House. The Council voted to “ride out the storm” and extend their termination date. They also resented Nola (who claimed to be a Zen Buddhist) for the way she handled what they thought should be an ecclesiastical matter.

By the spring of 2014, several month’s before Spencer Ghent’s death, the ZBA council, having waited for the legal sturm und drang to subside, accepted defeat and tried to find the easiest way to undo what they had done. Clearly, they needed to dissolve the charter, abandon the building, and sue the donor for having failed to disclose pertinent facts in the negotiation.  However gracefully they could accomplish these goals, they decided that the thirtieth day of July  2014, would be their last official day.

Patricia Monahan, (Shi Bashumitsu) the Council president, had learned the address of the Japanese donor. She met with no resistance when she suggested that on the eve of their last day, they drive to the donor’s home and, like kids leaving a burning bag of dog turds on the step, would ring the door bell and run, leaving the old man standing there alone to be figuratively stomped on.  It was not exactly a Zen thing to do, but they were in debt, nagged constantly by their husbands, and desperate. They certainly did not expect that Nola Harriman, whose respect for the law had exposed so many of their problems, would be the one who would rescue them from such an ignominious end.

 

 

It was in late September, 2013, that Nola first drove the winding rocky road to the hilltop Ghent house, an old Civil War mansion that was smaller than she had expected. During their long conversation Paige had described her home in detail and Nola had converted every brick into a Hampton Court.  She laughed at herself for having seen too many Bridesheadtype television shows.  Her sister wasn’t British royalty.  “It’s still a pretty place,” she said aloud.  But as houses of the period went, this was not a good example. The dominant feature was a turret that stood as an attachment to one front corner of the house.  The towering top floor, which actually rose only one storey higher than the attic, contained, according to Paige, stained-glass windows that had come all the way from Venice.  Each window faced a standard geographical direction and its leaded-in design depicted the season that supposedly went with the direction. Paige had said that they must not get a lot of snow in Venice. Fortunately, given the comprehensive view of the entire area that the turret provided, only the top panel of each window bore the colored lead-seamed glass.

At the house’s ground level there were four windows on either side of the portico’s columned entrance.  The portico, itself, was the façade of the foyer, one side of which was her husband’s large study, and the other being part of the family’s living quarters.  A second storey contained five and a half bedrooms – the peculiar slicing having been done when modern plumbing was installed. Paige had also said there was a “finished” cellar and an attic.

Smaller buildings stood near the main house:  a carriage house which had living quarters above a six-stall stable;  an all-purpose tack and farrier shed also used tor storage; a modern four-car garage with a curtained-window apartment as its second floor; a pool house and patio; and a marble building that was obviously a mausoleum.

Where, she wondered, did Paige intend that she should sleep? Paige had promised her her own space. She had casually mentioned that the kitchen staff lived in apartments in the attic, the groundsman occupied the carriage house, and the houseboy lived in the new garage apartment.  She had said that she slept in her own bedroom and that her three children – a boy Roland, nineteen; a girl Samantha, seventeen; and a boy, Pierre, sixteen; each had his own bedroom.  Five bedrooms then had already been accounted for.  The house did not look big enough for six – except for that fishy half-bedroom, and although there was an additional space in the turret, it surely was never intended to be anything but decoration or a protected place to view the countryside. Running straight down the inside wall of the turret was a circular stairway that led from the top down to the cellar and had an exit at each level. It must, Nola thought, afford the privacy of a lighthouse and she hoped her sister did not plan to install her in it.  Later, she would learn, that the top semi-room would be occupied by Hines Whitman, Spencer Ghent’s secretary, a location Hines was not happy about. The turret room was cold in the winter and hot in the summer and the circular staircase was iron and difficult to climb and descend.  Hines wanted the room that had been assigned to Nola – the “half” guest room next to Spencer’s Master bedroom, the half-bedroom which had been the main plumbing sacrifice to the modernizing effort.  But Nola found the room pleasant and more than adequate for her needs.  She was to share a bathroom with Samantha.

 

On that September day, as Nola first approached the house she could see that the garage doors were open, but since the sun was behind the building, she could see only four dark squares and the suggestion of cars inside.  On the other side of the main house, quieted now with autumn chill, the pool waited to be covered and the patio to be relieved of its furniture.

Suddenly a flock of goats came up from a small arroyo and stopped in front of her.  Paige had told her that they kept goats to act as lawn mowers and had instructed her that if the animals wandered into her path she should just blow the horn and they would move away.  Nola beeped her horn and the goats disappeared again into one of the many deep rills in the lawn.

Paige stood on the portico and waved to her.  The wind swirled around her, whipping blonde strands of hair across her face, and as Paige pulled them away and smiled broadly, Nola could see her teeth glitter in the morning sun.  Until that moment she had not realized how much she missed her sister. Nola smiled back and waved.  A connection had been made and she felt a thrill.  Considering that this was the first time she had seen her sister’s house, it was odd that she felt as if she had finally come home.

After the standard yelps, air-kisses, hugs, and arm-in-arm conviviality, they entered the house that was surprisingly well furnished.  The Ghent family had invested in beautiful antiques.

Nola was led into the kitchen to meet Mrs. Eglington, the cook; Gladys Jones, the chambermaid and kitchen assistant; Jules Grover, the houseboy; and Gregor Nikolov, the groundsman, who kissed her hand.  Two “cleaning ladies” who lived in town and came to work only three days a week, passed through the kitchen and acknowledged Nola with a wave and nod.

Inexplicably, Paige made the stern announcement that in her absence her sister was in charge of the house and all who lived and worked in it – a remark that made Nola uncomfortable and did not endear her to the staff. Additionally, Nola’s disposition had a sharp edge to it and Paige’s decree had not served to soften it.  Her personality invited criticism: she was casually generous which inspired ingratitude; she was well-built and attractive which inspired jealousy; but what was worse was that she was also an outsider, educated, and forthright – a woman who possessed none of the slickness of con artists who could become anyone’s best friend in a matter of minutes.  She also tended to be somewhat bossy and, especially when surrounded by what she considered “air-headed” women, she tended to flaunt her license as a registered nurse along with the knowledge of many classical books she had read as giving her some lofty hierarchical rank. She was also an avid Zen Buddhist of the Rinzai School.

Still, as the servants looked at one another with expressions of disdain, Nola smiled and tried to think of something to say that would mitigate the announcement’s severity, when suddenly Gregor, a man of about thirty – for whom the word swarthy could have been coined – stepped forward and, using a feather duster as a plumed hat, made a grand obeisance to Paige. “Your vish is our law,” he said humorously.  While his head was deeply bowed, Paige reached out to ruffle his long black wavy hair, and then to run her long acrylic fingernails through it to comb what she had disturbed. He looked up at her. “Is not how is said ve vill behave?”

“Isn’t he the limit?” Paige asked as she winked at him.  Gladys smiled at his little joke, but no one else acknowledged it. Paige turned and playfully sashayed to the foyer, pausing at the foot of a wide staircase.  “Now we go up,” she said portentously, “to meet the star of the show.”  Nola and Jules followed.

They walked down the hallway’s tufted runner, stopping as Paige opened the door to a guest room.  “This is yours, Sis,” she said.  “You’ll like it.  The mattress is brand new and very comfortable.” Despite all its odd angles, the room was large and sunny.

They continued on and stopped outside the next room, the master bedroom.  Paige made a quick toss of her head to Jules.  As he stepped forward, she asked Nola, “Are your keys in the car?”

“Yes,” Nola murmured.  ‘I didn’t know where it should be parked.”

“The Four-car – that’s what we call the new garage – is full now, I’m afraid… what with Roland’s new birthday sports car.”  She brightened and turned to Jules.  “After you put my sister’s luggage in her room, take my car out of the Four-car and put it in the carriage house carport.  Then put her car in the Four-car and be careful you don’t scrape the sides when you squeeze it in.”  As he murmured some remark of obedience and turned back down the corridor, Paige confided, “”Before we had the new garage built we’d often have to stick the cars in a kind of overhang or in the stable.  What a nuisance.  And the horses didn’t like it either.”

Nola wasn’t paying attention to Paige’s words. It was the unmistakable undercurrent of intimacy with Gregor that intrigued her.  Realizing that she was expected to comment, she asked, apropos of nothing, “What do you do with the goats in bad weather?”

Paige was not surprised by Nola’s non sequitur.  Her mind was equally on the subject that underlay her casual speech.  “Under the stairs in the carriage house is a pot-bellied stove – a small one – that keeps the stables from smelling like a morgue.  Horse sweat, shit and piss mixed with dampness.  Ugh! We’d never be able to keep Greg or any other groundsman for long.  The goats are herded into the room where the stove is. We keep food and water there.  They’re happy when it snows.

“And here,” she whispered as they approached the closed door of the master bedroom, “is Spence’s room.”  She lowered her voice even more.  “Look,” she said, “you didn’t know Spence before, and you’re a nurse and understand how emaciated this illness can make a person, so I know you’re not expecting to see an NFL lineman in there.  But you may not be expecting to see a skeleton… and Nola, my dear, prepare yourself to see one.”

She rapped and then immediately opened the door to a smoke-filled room.  She had not exaggerated.  Spencer Ghent turned his head and smiled weakly at Nola.  In a hoarse voice, he said, “Come in.  Come in.  And sit on my bed here so that I can get a good look at you.”

“Well,” Nola said brightly, “I’m disappointed.  I expected to see someone who would challenge my nursing skills.  But you, as we say in nursing jargon, are gonna be a piece of cake.”

He managed to free his hand from the comforters and tentatively held it out. He hesitated.  “Maybe you’d rather not.. not without a surgical glove… you know… eat that piece of cake.”

The remark was odd and lent itself to so many meanings that Nola was startled by it; but in her career patients often made bizarre statements, and she concealed her confusion. “Nonsense,” she said, shaking his hand and giving no indication that it felt like skinless chicken bones.   “As long as I’m at it,” she said in a switch of demeanor, “I’ll take your pulse.  So, quiet!”  His pulse was only slightly elevated.

“Since you two seem to be getting on so well,” Paige smiled, “you don’t need me.”  She returned to the doorway. “Is there anything you want me to get?”

“I don’t see a baby monitor.  If you don’t have one, could you get a pair and put one in my room and one in here?”  She picked up the large bed pan that was on the foot of the bed.  “And could you ask someone to go down to a drug store and get a smaller pan… one that’s easier to mount.  And I don’t see a walker.”  She picked up a prescription bottle that lay beside an overflowing ashtray and read, “Mesalamine.  It’s an effective medicine,” she said.  “There should be more.”

“Oh,” Paige said, returning to the bedside, speaking as though she were talking about a child, “but he refuses to take them. Then he lies to Doctor Boyer.  He’s written a dozen different types of medicines for him, and Spence doesn’t take any of them.”

They don’t help!,” Ghent said emphatically.

“What do you take them with?” Nola asked.

Paige answered.  “A nice cold glass of milk.”

Surprised, Nola responded critically.  “Surely his doctor didn’t recommend that.”

“No, water.  But Spence prefers cold milk.  He’s a very fussy patient, you’ll find. He’s supposed to quit smoking, but he won’t.” She returned to the topic of the walker.  “You don’t mean one of those things old ladies use?”

“Yes. Lightweight aluminum with good rubber tips. And yes, we’ll have to cut back on those cigarettes and then eliminate them altogether.   And does this phone connect to the kitchen?”

“Yes.  But Mrs. Eglington knows what to make for Spencer.”

“Fine.  But I’d like to approve of it first.  I have strict dietary rules.”

“Call her,” Paige said, pointing to an old-fashioned house phone.  “She knows you’re the boss.”  She turned, waved her fingertips, and without explanation left the room.  As she scampered down the stairs, she called.  “I’m running late.  See you at dinner.”

Nola left the room to put her coat and purse into her bedroom.  She glanced out her bedroom window and saw Jules strolling back from the carriage house and Paige marching towards it.  When she returned to Spencer’s room, he was sitting up, looking stronger than he had looked before.  “I think,” he said, “that I have to go to the bathroom.”

Nola helped him to get his feet over the side of the bed and then she bent forward, put her arms around him and pulled him to his feet.  His body was flat against hers and she could tell that he had an erection.  “You naughty boy,” she said, smiling.

“Sorry about that,” he whispered; and with Nola supporting him as if they were doing a macabre dance, she led him all the way into the bathroom.  She tugged on his pajama bottom and when it was low enough, she guided him down onto the seat.  “I’ll ring the bell when I’m done,” he said, indicating a cow bell that was on the sink.

“I’ll be in my room,” she said.  “Have fun.”

When the bell rang she rushed to his bathroom and found him standing, supporting himself by holding onto the shower door.  “Just help me to get back into bed,” he said.  “I sometimes get dizzy walking.”  He still had an erection and saw that she noticed it.  “You’re such a pretty woman, that I wouldn’t insult you by having just a piss hard-on.”

Nola raised her eyebrows.  The job was going to be more difficult than she had assumed.