All In Jest – Chapter 10

All In Jest


          Once again at home, Sybil took stock of her situation. She was overreacting to the outcome of the Evangelina Juarez case. On a purely objective plane, she had to admit that her pride had been hurt and her sense of common justice, but little else. She was out no money. DPIC had paid the entire cost of her defense. Even their costs were only moderate since they used their in-house counsel, Carter Tarkington. They were going to have to pay the $300,000 extortion to Paul Bel Geddes and his client; she was entirely free of that obligation. The item in the National Physicians Data Bank would be only one of tens of thousands, lost in the mounds of paper work. Even down the line when someone looked up her name, as the public was free to do, the entry would have to come across as pretty tame. Her losses were minimal. She knew that she had to resolve to forgive and to forget, knowing that the latter effort would be difficult since Bel Geddes still had the van der Hoef case with which to pummel her.

A more immediate problem loomed in her life. She was becoming increasingly cognizant of the deterioration in her relationship with Charles. He was important to her, and she knew almost instinctively that it was time, perhaps past time, to do something to patch up the fraying interconnection with her husband of seventeen years. She needed to confide in him, and it had been a mistake on her part to let their marriage sag to the point that the two of them no longer automatically sought each other out. A transitory thought crossed her subconscious. To whom was Charles confiding?

Absentmindedly, she made herself a Moscow Mule–vodka and ginger beer. Ever the purist, even while her mind was elsewhere, she made sure to serve herself the potent brew in a copper mug and to have a few zakuski–caviar and salty sardines. She thought about her drinking for a moment. Maybe she was drinking too much, letting the creep Bel Geddes get too far under her skin. She turned the bottle of Stolichinaya around in her hand glancing at the label. Voda, she thought, Water. Vodka–little water. Like the Russians, she was beginning to think of Vodka as not much more than a ‘little water’. She resolved to be more careful. She would have to drink less before she found herself in a habit pattern. She downed her Moscow Mule.

Never one to ruminate for long, Sybil made a quick and firm decision.

“Donita,” she called to her and Charles’s cook.

Donita was the niece of Maria Innocenta Pomposo-Alvarez, who was now part of the partnership at the Caballos Suave Ranchero.

“We are going to make a dinner fit for El Emperador!”

Donita looked at her Patrona with amusement. Anglos were strange, and they said that Hispanics were impetuous.

Charles came home at seven. He was a man of careful habits. He lunched at noon and had dinner at home at seven-thirty without fail whenever he was not traveling. One of the niggling little suspicions Sybil had come when Charles missed coming home for dinner once and sometimes twice a week for the past several months. It was unlike him. She had never questioned him.

“Hello, Charles,” she said brightly and helped him out of his suit coat. He gave her a raised eyebrow look.

“Just glad to see you. We don’t get enough time together. I wanted this to be quality time,” she laughed, his look of bemusement was not lost on her.

Donita served them icy lemon vodka in crystal glasses. The chilling was just right, vodka slush was beginning to congeal around the margins of the pale yellow liquid. Then she brought them Sybil’s personal contribution: mezedhes–little delicacies–from their travels to Greece and Cyprus, including twenty diminutive cold and hot dishes to sample, among them cream of fish roe, pickled octopus, kalamari with halloumi cheese, Moussaka, and grilled lamb kebab.

“Quality time,” he hummphed. “I’d settle for time, just time.”

It came out abruptly and more seriously than the moment dictated.

“Sorry, Sybil. I didn’t mean to spoil the mood. I’ve had a long day.”

He sipped his drink with obvious appreciation. He liked the special attention all of this implied and did not want to interrupt the pleasant flow with questions that might suggest his natural niggling suspicions.

“You’re right, Charles. Too right. I’m going to work on being here for you more often and longer. Starting tonight.”

She paused to catch the affect on her husband. He looked genuinely pleased.

“Good,” she said. “Donita and I have whipped up a little something. All you need to do is sit at the head of the dining room table and be served.”

          “Do I get the chair with arms?” he queried facetiously.

They both laughed. It had been a while since they had shared little verbal intimacies. It felt good.

“Could we go as far as exchanging my brogans for my fleecy slippers?”

“Don’t push your luck,” Sybil rejoined light-heartedly.

The table was splendid, one place setting at each end of the long dining room table that was covered with an heirloom Cypriot Lefkara linen tablecloth and decorated in the center with a simple sterling silver and cut glass Victorian epergne holding four slender ivory tapers. The dinner was splendid: Portabello mushroom salad, Lobster Vera Cruz, spinach with ponzu sauce, baby peas, slivered almonds, and pearl onions with lemon pepper, rose-lime pasta, fluted glasses of Dom Perignon, Kahlúa Crème Brûlée for dessert, and a demitasse of dark frothy espresso.

Donita had set out the nearly translucent gold rimmed Lenox Ivory china dinnerware and the Rosepoint silverware. She had insisted on the delicate ivory candles, and Sybil had to admit that the effect was not overdone as she had feared, but as perfect as Donita, with all her romantic soul, had foreseen. He sat at one end of the magnificently spread table, and Sybil sat at the other like an emperor and empress. Donita had such a joyous time serving them, that Sybil and Charles said little except to laugh together at the Hispañola’s exaggerated airs.

“Can you sit with me in the family room, maybe rot your brain with a bit of tube watching?” Charles asked when they had finished.

“Love to. I’ll even watch a sit-com, if you insist,” she said.

That was the ultimate offering for her, she hated the mind numbing inanities of the popular thirty minute comedy programs. He enjoyed them because they relaxed him and usually put him to sleep.

“My, my, to what do I owe this unexpected personal sacrifice,” he smiled.

“We always sit on the couch and watch four hours of antenna TV, what are you talking about?” she bantered.

“Come on, Sybil. Name two sit-coms. Any two.”

She squirmed. She shook her head sheepishly.

“Name one.”

“Can’t,” she had to admit.

“You’d do great on “Jeopardy” or “Trivial Pursuit”,” he joked as they settled onto the expansive leather couch.

He laughed out loud when he saw the perplexity on Sybil’s face. She obviously had not heard of the two question-and-answer game shows.

Donita brought each of them a small glass of Williams Liqueur. They both enjoyed the scent of pears that wafted from the sweet drink. They were quiet for a long time, sitting relaxed with his arm around her. He broke the stillness.

“So Sybil, what’s up? I mean, this is a little different than our usual evening at home–me home and you at the hospital, more usually. Have you wrecked the car? You jockeying around to get a fur coat?”

“No, Charles. I have had a little time to think. I had a rotten time of it with the Juarez case and was finding myself immersed in the ugliness of my profession whenever we come up against lawyers. I was losing perspective, and I thought I ought to get back to the things that are really important to me before I hate neurosurgery as much as I hate that bloody plaintiff’s attorney that keeps plaguing me. In all candor I have started to have concerns about you and me. You have always been my rock. Lately, you seem more distant, less involved with me.”

“I think I would not be far from the mark if I made the same observation, Sybil. It’s a two-way street.”

“I know that. It worries me. I have been neglectful. Each of us values our career greatly. We have made real sacrifices and compromises–the decision to have no children, your acceptance of my absences at your social affairs, my traveling alone to the neurosurgery conventions–the whole bit. But I think we have become too sophisticated, too separate. We’re developing an open marriage. I don’t like it. I want you to myself. I want more time with you. I want us to draw closer instead of the divergence I am seeing of late.”

Her declaration was one of affection and love. Her expression, however, did not convey that sentiment alone. Her suspicions were intermingled with her warmth. She had an expressionate face and was no good at hiding her feelings and intentions from her husband. Charles had learned to read her face with a high degree of precision.

“There’s something on your mind, Sybil, something that underlies all of these other feelings, something more that prompted the beautiful dinner and evening.”

“I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to detract from the aura we have tonight. Let’s just watch something vapid on the TV and talk. Maybe you’ll get lucky tonight.”

It was an odd trigger. Sybil prided herself on her enlightened feminism and never joked about old attitudes about coyness or other Victorian silliness. She started to cry. It was completely irrational and surprising, as much to her as to him.

“What is it, Sybil? C’mon, out with it. It has to be important, more important than that Bel Bees guy, or whatever his name is, more important than your work. You never mix emotion and your profession. Tell me…please.”

She had sworn that she would not bring it up. She was probably being silly and paranoid anyway. But here she was crying, being overtly, mindlessly foolish, like a jealous school girl. She swore at herself.

“Charles, I don’t want to go into this. I’m afraid that I am losing you, driving you away, by my obsession with Paul Bel Geddes and his series of malpractice suits. I…I’m afraid you have someone else.”

When he started to speak, she put her hand up to prevent him.

“Even if you do have someone else, I don’t want to know about it. I only ask that you give me assurances. Not platitudes or excuses or, heaven forbid for our marriage, lies. I want you. I want exclusivity. And I want to be made to feel secure in that. I am going to work at being home and doing better.”

She was crying silently but freely now, cathartically.

Charles raced his options through his mind at computer speed. He could lie outright, protest his innocence, but her woman’s intuition, for all her professional and scientific objectivity, was as acute and accurate as any wife’s. She knew. Even without real evidence, he knew that she knew. He could bring his stupid sordid affair with the purchaser from his competitor’s office out into the full light of day, spare no details, throw himself on her mercy, beg and plead if he had to. He did not want to lose her. The beauty and vivacity of the temptress with whom he was ensnared was not worth it, and Sybil meant everything to him. He decided to rely on her eminently good breeding and personal poise. His only desire was to convince her in such a way that she would be able to cease from her fears once and for all.

“Sybil,” he murmured softly. “I care for you more than for anything or anyone else. I am deeply sorry that I have caused you grief, or even concern. Rest assured that you will have no more reason to worry. I think we will fare better if we don’t open this Pandora’s box. Accept my assurances. Let’s work at the future rather than cursing the darkness of the past, all right?”

She heard what he was saying and what he was not saying. It was enough.

“All right, Charles. That is good for me. I need you, all of you. I think we need each other. I won’t speak of it again.”

“There will be no reason to, Sybil.”

They sat together in the gathering darkness without speaking further. Sybil recognized a peculiar dichotomy of understanding in her thoughts about what had just transpired between her and her husband. She had heard him all but admit infidelity. She accepted his communication and felt reassured. She did not feel any particular need to forgive Charles, and it would not be especially difficult for her to forget her distress at his transitory drift from the course of their union. She was happy to accept her husband’s charm, his steadiness in his support for her, his genuine caring. She could, without any sense of illogicality, relegate his supposed secret to the outer darkness of their lives, secure in the conviction that it was an ephemeral dusky episode that would not resurface again in the light. She was content to accept the temporary chiaroscuro of Charles’s complex life as well as she could accept her limitations and failures counterpoised against her own intellectual and physical talents now that she was content with his assurances.

The obverse side of the coinage of her feelings was an element of her own irrationality. She harbored an antagonism towards Paul Bel Geddes, the plaintiffs’ lawyer and her self-appointed nemesis, as the ultimate source of her marital problems. All of the rage that she might have held for her husband or for the deterioration of their marriage, or for herself and her own part in the growing estrangement, she directed at Bel Geddes. He had caused her to rivet her mind and attentions on the unproductive malpractice suit, that gross miscarriage of justice and fairness. He had caused her to learn to hate, and that had driven out her capacity to love temporarily. She could not forgive him for that. All of her forgiveness had been used up for her husband and for herself. Paul Bel Geddes would have to wait until another day to receive his absolution. Until then, there were scores to settle. No only did the man have to account for his stalking, grinding attacks on her professional well-being, but he would have to do penance to the last farthing for her perception of his arrantly egregious influence on her marriage.

Some years ago, Dr. Sybil Norcroft might have been able to look at her own situation more objectively, but after nearly a decade of dealing with the dogged attorney, she no longer gave great credence to or emotionally cared about objectivity when it came to her feelings about being sued for malpractice. She had in her breast a small white-hot flame of antithesis against Paul Bel Geddes, Esq., hypocritical self-styled attorney to the downtrodden, that no end of rational argument could assuage. And she could not let it go.


          Carter Tarkington called Dr. Norcroft two months later, mid Monday morning.

“I hesitate even to mention this, Dr. Norcroft,” he announced apologetically as soon as she had said hello. “I know it’s the last thing you want to hear.”

She was pretty sure what her attorney’s message was, but she was in a good enough of a mood to banter with him a bit.

“The stock market crashed,” she said in a matter-of-fact but appropriately depressed tone.

“Worse,” he said.

“The Pope died, and they elected a Dutch cardinal as the new Holy Father.”

“You’re getting warmer,” Tarkington said, entering the low level levity despite himself.

“I would be crushed if you were to tell me that one of your esteemed colleagues had suffered some wee accident, say fell astraddle a set of gears, for example.”

“You mean you are concerned over a particular colleague, whose name shall go unspoken but whose initials are Paul Bel Geddes?”

“That would touch me deeply.”

“Your Christian attitude well behooves you, my daughter, but no, I am not the bearer of such bad news.”

She sighed into her end of the phone.

“But you are all but prescient in being able to focus on just the person involved in my communication. I will grant you that.”

“As the magical fish said to the fisherman regarding his persistent wife, ‘what will that bane of my life have now?’”

“Dr. Norcroft, as I think I said when you first answered, I hesitate even to mention this.”

“Plow straight ahead. You’ve wrecked my day by your mere reference to that name, a curse on his house.”

          She could hear him swallow.

“Bel Geddes has scheduled another deposition in the van der Hoef case…forty-five days from yesterday.”

“Think this one will be for real, Carter?”

It was no longer a bantering matter. The connection of the two ideas, ‘Bel Geddes’ and ‘deposition’, could not be part of any sustained set of civilities, let alone bonhomie, for Sybil.

“We’re talking about Paul Bel Geddes, Dr. Norcroft, what can I say?”

“You’ve said it all.”

They firmed up arrangements to meet and refresh each other on the van der Hoef suit and to go over pre-deposition strategy and put down their receivers, each with a decidedly darker outlook on the day than they had before the call.



Paul Bel Geddes, himself, met Sybil Norcroft, Hyrum Willis, and Carter Tarkington in the foyer of his office complex on the day of the van der Hoef case deposition. Sybil noted that the gilt lettering on the door to the suite of offices now read, Law Offices of Bel Geddes and Loughlin. Of Counsel: Horace Pilgrim Stewart. She presumed that Bel Geddes’s venerable old war-horse of a partner had been eased out or blatantly defeated in some internecine office struggle. Bel Geddes appeared to be in top form, so Sybil concluded that he had not been much scathed in the battle.

“Well, greetings, learned colleagues, gentlemen, scholars…and Dr. Norcroft.”

She winced at his deprecatory humor.

“I can’t tell you how much pleasure it gives me to greet you once again for an exchange of opinion and wisdom on our mutually favorite subject, civil justice.”

He was so full of himself, of it, that it was a wonder that he did not pop instead of just verbally leaking it, Sybil muttered behind her teeth.

Bel Geddes escorted the two attorneys and Dr. Norcroft into his handsome wood paneled board and conference room. The most remarkable thing about the entire experience up to that point was that the plaintiff’s attorney was actually on time, unheard of for him. They had all arrived before the court reporter and were in their seats when she was shown in by Bel Geddes’s pneumatic secretary.

“Ready, gentlemen? Dr. Norcroft?” Bel Geddes inquired with exaggerated and uncharacteristic comity. “Ready, Ms Hutchins?” he asked the court reporter.

Everyone nodded that they were set to proceed.

“For the record, I am Paul Bel Geddes of the law firm of Bel Geddes and Loughlin, and we are about to begin the deposition of Sybil Norcroft, the defendant, in the case of van der Hoef versus Norcroft. Also present in the room are attorneys for the defendant, Mr. Carter Tarkington and Mr. Hyrum Willis, of the firm of Schmid, Principle, Tarkington, and Henley. The court reporter is Miriam Hutchins.

“Dr. Norcroft, do you have any questions before being sworn?”


She was sworn in for the record.

“State and spell your full name, please, Dr. Norcroft.”

She complied crisply.

“State your occupation.”

As if he did not know it. She cautioned herself not even to feel sarcastic. She answered his question.

“Please give us a brief summary of your curriculum vitae and qualifications as an expert.”

“My undergraduate…”

Sybil was interrupted by a sudden loud opening of the conference room door. All eyes turned towards Bel Geddes’s secretary who strode directly and purposefully to her employer.

“Mr. Bel Geddes,” she said in a loud whisper. “You are needed in your office… an emergency!”

Bel Geddes’s look changed from one of annoyance to one of alarm.

“Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. I’m sure this will be brief. I can’t imagine what could constitute an emergency in the law profession.”

He arose quickly from his chair and followed his secretary from the room and closed the door behind him leaving his case papers, brief case, even his wallet and keys on the table in front of where he had been sitting.

Sybil, the lawyers, and Ms Hutchins looked around at each other in surprise and bemusement.

Sybil leaned over to whisper to Carter Tarkington, “I hate to sound paranoid, but this smells of a Bel Geddes performance to me.”

“Probably,” he had to agree. “Let’s wait and see what develops.”

He was working to keep an expression of anger from his face. It would be just like Paul Bel Geddes to do something like this for annoyance sake. Hyrum Willis frankly rolled his eyes to express his disbelief.

“I don’t care what this is about. He is not going to get away with stiffing me for my time,” the usually quiet and retiring Ms. Hutchins said with ill concealed peevishness.

She had been in Paul Bel Geddes’s office before when stranger things than this had taken place.

After twenty minutes, Carter said, “Feel free to get up and walk around. I see no need to be particularly formal. I never seem to be able to maintain any feeling of high decorum when I come to this office for some reason.”

“My buns are aching. I’ll get myself a drink of water,” Hyrum announced.

He left the conference room.

“Might as well powder my nose,” Ms. Hutchins said. “Not much else to do. Who knows what the rest of the day will bring?”

Sybil stood up and paced around the room.

“You want to go with Ms. Hutchins, Dr. Norcroft. No telling how long this commercial break is going to take. I think I’ll join my colleague, for lack of anything more useful to do.”

After speaking, Carter slowly got up and started for the rear door.

Sybil shook her head, peeved at the disruption and at the idea that her nemesis, Bel Geddes, was going to get away with some piece of nastiness again without anyone being able to call him on it. She walked around his side of the table to get to the rear door and to follow Carter out.

As she passed Bel Geddes’s cluttered space, she looked down to see if she could read anything useful on his notes. All’s fair in a war, she reasoned. Without making the effort obvious, she could not decipher anything from the yellow foolscap legal notes Bel Geddes favored. Her quick and observant eyes saw his wallet and keys. Impulsively, and for no thought out reason, she swept up the set of keys that lay so prominently on top of the brief case and dropped them into her purse. Even as she did it, she asked herself what she had in mind. It was adolescent and silly. She was totally unrepentant, however, and had no intention of returning them. As she walked towards the ladies’ restroom, it seemed altogether fitting that she be the cause of considerable inconvenience to Mr. Bel Geddes. She remembered times when she had lost keys and what a time consuming nuisance it had been. The more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea of what she was doing. She intended to drop them into the trash bin in the ladies room.

The defendant and her attorney and the court reporter all re-assembled in the conference room thirty minutes after Mr. Bel Geddes had been called away. His secretary was waiting with coffee and bagels.

“Please, have some. They’re very fresh. I just got them from Einstein’s,” she said.

“What’s the message?” Carter asked brusquely, ignoring her offer.

“I am personally sorry, and Mr. Bel Geddes is truly sorry to inconvenience you. He asked me to tell all of you how sorry he is.”

“Bel Geddian overkill,” Sybil said to herself.

She patted her purse and got a small feeling of pleasure from the heavy bulge of Bel Geddes’s keys. She might have been imagining the heft and feel of the keys, but the idea was a positive one, rather like putting one over on her parents as a child. She had held off on throwing them into the trash.

“What is he sorry, about, young lady?”

Carter’s politeness was strained.

“Of course… Oh, forgive me, I didn’t tell you, did I? Mr. Bel Geddes was called away from the office for the day.”

“What?!” all the remaining parties to the deposition exclaimed together in incredulity.

“Yes, didn’t he tell you? He had an emergency at home. He canceled all of his day’s appointments.”

Sybil, the two lawyers, and the court recorder sat in stunned disbelief for several seconds. Carter Tarkington broke the silence.

“I suppose there is nothing to do but to leave. I will report this to the court. I will demand a written explanation, but from past experience, I don’t expect to get one, at least not a satisfactory one.”

“But, but, Mr….uh…I told you…” the secretary stammered.

“Bel Geddes has turned in another sorry performance. Yes, you told us. The explanation is inadequate and unacceptable. I expect a communication as to the excuse for this incredible breach of ethics. You can tell your employer that it had better be a good one, or we will be filing a formal complaint with the bar. While I’m at it, my firm will submit a bill for expenses, and I expect you’ll be hearing from the court reporter in short order, as well.”

“No. I won’t be leaving the office without a check, Ms…” Miriam Hutchins said as caustically as she could.

“Garnucci. I’m not in charge of checks. I can’t help you.”

Ms. Garnucci looked flustered.

“Someone will. And neither I nor any of the associates in my group will be returning for future depositions. We’ve had enough. You can tell Mr. Bel Geddes that. Now, Ms. Garnucci where is your manager’s office?”

“I…I…I’m not sure I can…”

“You can. Specifically, you can get out of my way. I’ll find it myself.”

Miriam Hutchins gathered up her equipment and began marching purposefully for the conference room door. Her eyes were glowing with indignation, and her fists were clenched. It did not look like a good idea to get in her way.

“Please…Ms…Ms…Court Recorder…Reporter…I’ll take you. Please.”

Ms. Garnucci hurried awkwardly to gain the lead on the angry court reporter.

Hyrum Willis asked Carter, “Do you want me to send a letter off to Judge Hicken demanding an explanation or a doctor’s note, or something from Bel Geddes?”

Carter looked at Sybil before he answered. He shook his head.

“It is pointless. The only reason to do so would be to appease Dr. Norcroft, to make a show of our outrage and feistiness. I think we are far enough into our relationship with her to dispense with futile demonstrations. The judge won’t even consider such a request. We’ll look petty and mean-spirited. Paul will have a ready excuse, probably write the doctor’s note about his dying aunt himself. It would be a waste of time.”

He looked angry and discouraged at being subjected to yet another Bel Geddes shenanigan.

Hyrum shrugged his understanding and compliance.

“There is a reason to send the letter of request,” Sybil put in. “I would like you to do it, Carter, just for the record.”

“I’m not sure I follow,” he said.

“This is outside the good-old-boy network of lawyers. I am being abused and should not have to take this, not lying down, at least. Maybe, your unspoken code requires it, but not mine. I want some kind of formal record of Bel Geddes’s misbehaviors, accent on the plural here, to be kept with the court. Even if nothing comes of this particular egregious episode, maybe in aggregate the pattern will emerge even for the densest and most partisan of judges. In fact, I want you to send off a carefully detailed list of the abuses perpetrated by this jerk, for the record. This was not the first one, and I am pretty sure it won’t be the last. You can list me as being mean-spirited. I’ll bear that burden gladly where it applies to Paul Bel Geddes.”

“Sure,” Carter responded. “If you feel that way…and maybe you’re right. Maybe the accumulation will finally catch up with this guy. He acts like antics of this sort are all in jest, it is all such a big joke, a frivolous game. Maybe, if we call him on it, someone in a position to matter will come down on him eventually. Don’t hold your breath that it will be this time.”

“I have lost any naiveté I once had regarding Paul. I’m done with phony politeness. I consider that the gloves came off years ago, and it is a bare-knuckle brawl all the way now. I want you with me in this, Carter. Paul gives your whole profession a bad name. He’s the kind of guy that makes people dubious about attorneys. Attack him and help your image. While you’re at it, why not send a letter to the bar as well. Might as well let the evidence accumulate there as well as with Judge Hicken.”

Sybil had an adamant, uncompromising look on her face. Carter knew that a line had been crossed that day.

“I’ll do it. There’s no love lost between me and Paul Bel Geddes either. I have had to put up with him for years. It’s not likely that I will have to sit next to him for dinner in the future. I’ll send you a copy of both letters.”

He wondered if this latest caper, presumed caper, to give the eccentric trial attorney some slight benefit of the doubt, had not simply awakened the sleeping tigress. Carter had mixed feelings about what might transpire in the episodes that were sure to follow.

“Thanks. Let’s go home,” Sybil said.

They walked out of the conference room, still expressing their anger and not caring who heard them.

Paul Bel Geddes watched the trio’s exit from his vantage point in his partner’s office with an expression of fulfilled amusement on his puckish face



In the parking lot, Sybil reached for her keys. She immediately encountered the bulk of Paul Bel Geddes’s keys that she had surreptitiously dropped into her purse earlier and had temporarily forgotten. Her emotions ran from vindictive–she would just drop the keys in the nearest waste bin–to sheepish–she would march right back up to Bel Geddes’s office and return them. Her long training in dealing with crises took over, and she stopped to think. In a moment, she saw a clear potential advantage for herself, and in a few moments more, she envisioned a plan that would allow her to take the initiative and to get away from always being the patsy in her ongoing acrimonious feud with Paul. Her envisioned plan made her feel momentarily guilty. She even looked around furtively, but she also felt as if a weight had been lifted from her. Her feminist convictions ardently rejected playing the role of a victim. She wasted no further time concerning herself about the morality of her assertive plan.

Sybil looked over her shoulder, trying to recall. It was there, a kiosk near the entrance to the building’s parking lot that duplicated keys. She wasted no time and walked briskly to the small building. The operator was a blind man, an African-American with a totally unruly and out-of-style graying Afro hair-do. He wore opaque dark glasses and clenched a thick, unlit cigar between tobacco stained, carious teeth.

“Hello, Ma’am, how kin Ah hep youse?” the operator asked as soon as Sybil walked into the kiosk and before she had a chance to speak.

She was certain that she had not made a sound when she entered.

“Hello. How’d you know I was a woman?”

“Easy as pah. Smelt ya’all. Nice.”

He smiled avuncularly.

“Thanks. How about making two copies of each of these keys.”

She handed the man the keys she presumed were to Paul Bel Geddes’s car and office.”

“Cain’t see, little lady. Any o’ these here not suppos’ to be duplicate?”

“No. They’re all okay. I’m just getting my boss a second set. He’s always losing his.”

“He work in the buildin’?”


“Old Stewart?”

“That’s right,” Sybil lied. “Good guess.”

“Heard he quit.”

“He did.”

Sybil had to think fast.

“I take care of a few secretarial needs for him while he ties up some loose ends from his years of practice.”

“Lots of those Ah reckon. Let’s have a look at those keys.”

He “looked” with expert fingers.

“No problem. Take jist a minute.”

He was done in five. Sybil paid him four dollars and left. He asked her name, but she pretended not to hear.

As she walked back towards her car, she considered how to get the original keys back to Bel Geddes, ideally without him knowing that they had been missing or, certainly, without knowing that they had been in her possession, however briefly. She looked around for a person whom she might pay to drop the keys off at the office or in front of the door to Bel Geddes’s suite of offices. She saw several but demurred from contacting any of them because she thought better of the idea. She figured that there was as much of a chance that a spur of the moment courier would lose the keys, take them to the wrong office, or put them in front of the wrong door, or would steal them as there was that the return would be accurate and anonymous. She elected to do it herself, hoping that stealth would see her through.

She reentered the building. No one gave her a second glance. There were too many people entering and exiting all of the time. She rode up to the eighth floor in an elevator that was packed with people intent on their own business, and no one seemed to pay her any mind. She got off and looked around. She was alone in the hallway. She was able to look all the way into the suite of offices of Bel Geddes and Loughlin. From her position in front of the bank of elevators, Sybil could not be entirely certain that there was nobody sitting at the receptionist’s desk, but it did not seem that there was. She mistrusted, even disbelieved such uncharacteristic luck, at least as it might benefit her.

“He who hesitates is lost,” she murmured and advanced towards the open door.

She held her purse up to her face as if looking for something as she came to the door. There was no one there. Sybil took one quick look around then walked swiftly in. She considered dropping the keys on the completely empty desk, but that would invite too much question. She looked around and assessed the situation in a fraction of a second then bent over and quietly set the keys on the rug by the door supports of the entryway into the offices proper counting on the presumption that Paul and his staff would make that the keys had been dropped there by him. She turned and quickly walked out, taking a brief second to turn and see if she had been witnessed. There was still no one around. Her luck was holding.

She took giant steps, just short of running, back to the elevator and pressed the down button. The elevator took forever. In a sidelong glance, Sybil saw Bel Geddes’s buxom receptionist return to her place in the outer office. She was talking over her shoulder to another employee, a man in shirt sleeves. Sybil faced away from them and willed the elevator to hurry. It finally came, the door opened, and five Japanese men stepped out bowing vigorously and speaking loudly to one another. Sybil knew that the receptionist’s attention would be drawn to the outlandish commotion in the hall. She braved a quick look. The woman was now at her desk looking into her compact mirror and applying makeup as if she were about to be discovered by an MGM talent scout, and her coiffure and facial presentation were the be-all and end-all of existence right then. Sybil edged around the Japanese business men and into the elevator while still more occupants disembarked. They gave her a look. She smiled sweetly and stepped to the anonymity of the back of the elevator. Only then did she realize that she had not been breathing.

Sybil fought back an urge to flee the building. She had an irrational fear that there would be some sort of metal detector that would expose the keys she was so guiltily clutching. She forced herself to act natural, to walk normally out of the building and down its three steps to the city sidewalk. She avoided the temptation to look back over her shoulder. She started to calm down only after she pulled her car out of the parking lot and onto the arterial thoroughfare.

“I am just not up to this sort of thing,” she sighed and shook her head at her reflection in the rearview mirror. “I can’t see how crooks do it. I would go all to pieces before I got done with a crime, let alone if someone should consider me a suspect. I can just see myself confessing abjectly to some cop and him looking completely surprised since it had never crossed his mind to think that I, the great doctor, could be the guilty one.”

She drove out to the ranch since she knew that Charles was out of town. She needed to take it easy, to calm down among friends. Scheduling time for the deposition had completely vacated her work day, the deposition itself had been aborted, and she now had time on her hands. Sybil parked in the driveway and opened the heavy plank and iron bolt doors of the ranchero hacienda. They were not locked. On her way to her study, the spacious room she had designed for her own and no one else’s taste, she got a Diet Coke out of the refrigerator and shook her head what-the-heck and picked up a bag of greasy potato chips as well. She settled into the heavy leather overstuffed chair, kicked off her high heels, and lifted her aching feet to the nirvana of the Ottoman.

The room was restful, and for Sybil, at least, full of warm earth tones and comfortable Spanish and Southwestern gentility. The walls were hung with Navajo tapestries between which hung the Southwest’s matron saint, Georgia O’Keeffe’s, print of “From a Day with Juan”. The floor covering was a woolen Madras, Indian kilim that had a Southwestern look. Sybil had bought a wonderful deadhead accent table–old growth wood log that had been soaked under water for years–topped by half inch thick edge beveled glass. Wall niches held brilliant indigo, magenta, and sand-toned Talavera pottery from Puebla, Mexico. In one corner stood an imposing 19th century New Mexican trastero hand painted with Pueblo Indian geometric motifs. In another corner a table held an ornate polished antique Pavoni Ideale expresso machine. Sybil’s desk, a heavy oaken heirloom Spanish escritorio, was a gift from the grateful Mexicans who shared her ranch. The wall opposite the escritorio contained a granite boulder and sandstone fireplace large enough to accommodate four foot logs on its heavy iron grates. On the wrought iron and weathered plank coffee table in front of the fireplace stood an aged copper Mexican olla filled to overflowing with brightly colored ripe fruits.

Sybil heard Pancho and Carlita laughing in the adjoining room. It was a gentle and affable sound passing between comfortable long time friends and marriage partners. They approached her study, animatedly talking with him intermittently emitting a basso belly laugh and her counterpoising with a melodic soprano ripple of unfeigned gaiety.

Sybil called to them, “Hey, Pancho and Carlita, what’s so funny?”

They had not known Sybil was there and were momentarily startled. They peeked around the corner and saw her, saw that she was not annoyed by their noise, and began laughing again as they strode arm in arm into her study.

“The kids brought home their English lecciones, Doña,” Carlita smiled. “See what they learn thees days.”

She handed Sybil a printed page.

Sybil glanced at it quickly–tongue twisters.

“Okay, let’s hear you…” she requested.

They blushed.

“C’mon – Peter Piper…”

“Peeked a peck of peekled peckers,” Pancho said.

His wife looked at him, then at Sybil and blushed scarlet in embarrassment.

“Such talk,” Sybil chided Pancho amusedly.

She started to laugh. Peels and rolls of cathartic laughter.

“Hokay, esmartie,” Pancho countered. “Let’s hear you say fast, “The sixth Sheik’s sixth sheep’s seek.”

“I’ll try,” Sybil laughed. “The sixth sheep’s sixth’s sheep’s sick.”

Pancho and Carlita laughed.

“Not quite. Close. Not quite.”

“The sixth Sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick. The sixth Sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick. The sixth Sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.”

Sybil sat back in triumph. Pancho and Maria applauded.

“Let’s hear you and Carlita do, ‘Bloody black bugs’.”

They tried, but most of their efforts were a mixture of ‘Bladdy blek blugs’, ‘Bloody back brugs’, and ‘Bruddy black budge’.

The couple had to call an intermission because of laughter.

Sybil laughed with Pancho and Carlita until Carlita said it was Sybil’s turn.

“Jou try, Tres tristes tigres comen trigo en un trigal!”

Sybil tried three times before succeeding.

“Hokay, now jou try, El cuero del cuerpo del puerco.”

It took four times to get it right.

“Okay, Doña, “Sapito sapon – ponte calzon. No puedo papito porque soy pipon.

Sybil did not have a clue what the words meant, but she struggled until she got the words and their pronunciation perfect and smiled in mini-triumph.

Carlita feigned anger and put on a determined look.

“All right. Here is thee real test. Leesten careful.”

The Spanish then came out like a machine gun on full automatic, “El amor es una locura, qui ni el cura lo cura y si el cura lo cura es una locura del cura.”

It was Carlita’s turn to smile in triumph.

Sybil shook her head in surrender. Carlita then repeated the impossible phrases three more times in rapid succession, more staccato and at a greater velocity than the first time.

Sybil did not even try.

She simply clapped her hands and said, “Bravo. You win. Write that down, so I can practice, all right?”

Carlita stood and did a little curtsy, gracious in her victory. Her Chiapas amber earrings rustled and caught the natural ocher light from the hallway.

Sybil laughed and said, “We might as well make it a party. Why not call the others? Charles is out of town, so we might as well have some fun. I’m too weak to do any work or anything else.”

It turned out to be a great impromptu celebration of nothing more than life, the best party since they won the all-around championship at the Dallas International with the prize four year old Paso Fino gelding. The company and the joy of being with her friends almost caused Sybil to forget all about her smoldering hatred for Paul Bel Geddes.

The only time that a thought of that demon crossed her mind was when she felt the two copies of his keys in her purse and decided to give one of them to Pancho for safe keeping with a cryptic admonition to be sure not to misplace them, “they will be important one day. I’ll ask for a favor that involves them.”

“Anything, Patrona. You have only to ask,” Pancho replied.

I chose to use a pseudonym for personal reasons. I’m a retired neurosurgeon living in a rural paradise and am at rest from the turbulent life of my profession. I lived in an era when resident trainees worked 120 hours a week–a form of bondage no longer permitted by law. I served as a Navy Seabee general surgeon during the unpleasantness in Viet Nam, and spent the remainder of my ten-year service as a neurosurgeon in a major naval regional medical center. I’ve lived in every section of the country, saw all the inhumanity of man to man, practiced in private settings large and small, the military, academia, and as a medical humanitarian in the Third World.