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“Hello, Jeff, I hope this is a social call, but I can’t believe you would call unless something is wrong. Has anything happened at camp?”

“I don’t know how to say this, Sarah, so I will just come out with it. Grant is dead!”

The shock of the news took her breath away. Sarah started crying uncontrollably and finally gathered herself enough to choke out, “What happened?”

“He must have had a heart attack, Sarah. We found him outside of his blind when he didn’t return to camp this evening.” Jeff then filled Sarah in with the remaining details and told her she would definitely hear from the authorities the next day. They talked for quite a while about Grant and his love for her and their daughter Julie. Sarah fought back tears and opined that at least he died in his favorite place, doing something he loved. Jeff finally ended the call with an offer to help her and the family in any way he could. He also promised to call her tomorrow to check on her.

As expected, a dismal mood permeated the cabin. Elk served the walleye, but nobody had much of an appetite. Everyone talked about Grant and how life can be taken away abruptly when your time comes. Elk retreated to her bedroom, not doing well at all. She worked for Grant briefly following his father’s death and had known him for many years. After most of the guys went to bed, Jeff and Eddie sat in front of the fire. They already felt a tremendous void in the camp from the loss of Grant. A million questions went through their minds about the impact Grant’s death would bring. For now, both brothers just focused on all the good qualities of Grant Koehler. Worrying about the future implications for Roads End and themselves could wait for another day.

Although the entire camp was asked to stay around for a few days, nobody felt like hunting the next morning. As always, Elk made a good breakfast featuring corn beef hash, pancakes, and bacon. All the guys just sat around in front of the fire, drinking coffee and sharing favorite memories of their fallen friend. After a couple of hours of commiserating, Eddie emerged from the back of the cabin where he had been going through Grant’s hunting gear. He brought out the old leather-covered flask that his father passed on to Grant and announced that they needed to have a toast to Grant. “I want everyone to stand up, and I’m gonna pour shots of Grant’s favorite drink, Johnny Walker Black.” Eddie then pulled shot glasses out of the cupboard and filled them with scotch. For himself, he poured a shot of JW Black into the old flask. “I’m gonna drink my shot from the same flask my father and brother drank from after every buck they harvested,” he announced to the group. After Eddie poured the shots, he asked everyone to raise their glass and drink a toast to Grant.

Eddie raised the leather flask while each hunter raised their glass in the air. In unison, they all said, “To Grant Koehler.” They downed their shots and pledged that Grant would never be forgotten. Eddie placed the flask down and sat in Grant’s favorite chair nearest the TV. He was talking to Jeff when suddenly he felt ill. He exclaimed, “Guys, I don’t feel very good. I feel like shit.”

Almost immediately, he threw up on the floor by the chair before he could even reach the bathroom. His stomach felt tied in knots, and his gut ached more than he’d ever experienced.

“What’s going on, Eddie?” Jeff asked, but Eddie’s pain had become too acute to respond. Jeff asked a second time when Eddie threw up violently again near the same spot on the floor.

“Something’s really messed up.” Eddie finally muttered. “The pain in my stomach is terrible. I am also having trouble moving my right arm.”

“We need to get him to the doctor asap,” Mooch said. The closest emergency room is Petoskey.”

“Screw that,” Jeff said. I’ll take him to Granite Cove; it’ll be quicker.” Just before they loaded Eddie in the truck, they watched him throw up for the 3rd time. Jeff got him into the vehicle and sped away toward Granite Cove.

Chapter eighteen

Eddie remained coherent and able to speak during the drive despite the pain in his stomach. Nobody knew what the cause could be. Jeff grabbed the flask to take to the doctor in case it might be helpful. Eddie hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, and his symptoms seemed much worse than ordinary food poisoning. Jeff just prayed the doctor could figure this out and give Eddie something to relieve his severe pain.

He helped Eddie out of the car and into the doctor’s office as soon as they arrived. As they burst into the office, Jeff announced, “My brother is terribly sick and throwing up. We need to see Dr. Waymont or Dr. Cunningham as soon as possible.”

“Dr. Cunningham is in today. Let me put you in a room and notify her. She will be with you as soon as possible,” replied Nurse Valiant.

Eddie still felt sick but at least had not thrown up since they left camp. He said the stomach pains were irregular but intense. “I have no fucking idea what could have caused this,” Eddie stated.

“It happened right after you took that shot, but I’ve never heard of someone getting violently ill from Johnny Walker Black before.”

Before Eddie could respond, they heard a knock on the door, and Dr. Cunningham entered. She was all business this time and immediately asked what Eddie had eaten and drank. Jeff also showed her the flask indicating it had been filled with scotch just before Eddie became ill.

“Eddie, since we don’t yet know the cause, I’m going to treat your problem as a case of severe food poisoning. The first thing we need to do is get you on an IV of electrolytes to ensure you don’t become dehydrated. This happens a lot in these types of cases. Then I’m prescribing a drug called Ondansetron, which stops nausea and vomiting. Just to be safe, I’m also going to write you a prescription for Amoxicillin because, at this point, I can’t be sure if this problem is viral or bacterial. We’ll want a urine and blood sample from you to send into the Petoskey lab along with the flask for analysis. Do you have any questions?”

“No, Doc, I trust your judgment. I have no idea what this is, so hopefully, whatever you recommend will make me feel human again.”

Nurse Valiant brought in the medications and made sure Eddie consumed them on the spot. She then drew the blood and gave Eddie a cup for the urine sample. She had him lie down and hooked up the IV to his arm. Carrie told Eddie she wanted him to wait in the room for at least an hour for observation. If there were no improvements, she would have to have him transported to Emergency in Petoskey. Fortunately, the office had a courier heading to Petoskey that day to pick up some medications. The courier gathered the specimens and flask and left immediately for the lab.

After 45 minutes, Nurse Valiant came in and removed the IV. Eddie finally felt a lot better. He no longer felt nauseous, and his stomach pain had gone from level 10 to level 4. Carrie checked on him, monitored his vitals, and told him he could go home. She left strict instructions to contact emergency immediately if his condition worsened. Jeff and Eddie both thanked her profusely before leaving the room. As they were getting ready to go, Carrie pulled Jeff aside and asked if he had a minute.

“I just wanted you to know how sorry I am about your brother Grant. Everyone in town has heard about it. I know you two were really close, and his loss must be a tremendous blow to you.”

“Thanks. We’re all just devastated by it. You know, Grant seemed fine the whole time at our camp. I knew he had heart issues, but he planned to take care of the problem after hunting season. We’re all still just trying to process it. I’m not doing a very good job of that right now. It really scared me when Eddie became so sick this afternoon. The last thing I need is to lose another brother this week.”

“If the lab finds anything, there may be a more effective treatment I can prescribe. I’ll follow up with you and Eddie once I hear. Again, my condolences to you. I hope better times are ahead.”

Chapter nineteen

Later in the evening, Eddie felt much better at home. It seemed Dr. Cunningham’s treatments had helped tremendously. He even ate some chicken soup Elk made and delivered specifically for him. Jeff gathered his gear and left the camp with no desire to continue hunting. Besides, he wanted to be close to Eddie in case his symptoms returned. He had a lot of thinking to do and felt the need to get away from everyone at the camp. Jeff felt totally exhausted that evening at home and fell sound asleep by 9 pm. He slept through the night until 7 am the next morning.

Carrie Cunningham had thought a lot about Jeff since the previous day in her office. Despite her attempt to remain aloof and not get emotionally involved with anyone in Granite Cove, she couldn’t deny that she had developed feelings for Jeff. She just didn’t know what type of feelings they were. She definitely felt empathy for a guy who lost his wife in a rafting incident, then his dad, and now his brother with a heart attack. On top of all that, he even got a scare from his remaining brother yesterday. How could a person not feel sorry for the pain he must feel?

On the other hand, she wasn’t sure if her feelings were something more. She remained focused on her children and her career and had promised herself not to let anything get in the way of these priorities. However, she found herself attracted to this tall wildlife photographer, whether she could admit it to herself or not.

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