All In Jest – Chapter 13

All In Jest


Sybil was nervous and cranky the morning of the deposition. She ran her preparations over and over again through her mind. The beat up old car had been returned to Rent-a-Wreck yesterday, her men knew to leave the Moncrief cabin free of any hint that they had ever been there when they vacated the place. They knew what they had to do with their kidnapee and had gone over the timing ad nauseum.

She could not think of a single thing that she had failed to go over with her Mexicans. Nothing had been left to chance. She had spent the last two days in intense review with her two lawyers. Hyrum Willis had just made partner and was ebullient. That had produced a very upbeat atmosphere in the meetings at Schmid, Principle, Tarkington, and Henley. Sybil had come away with a positive sense of how things could be expected to go in the deposition over and above the little insurance she had arranged. Besides, at every step she had established an unshakable alibi.

She dressed and changed three times to be sure that she would have exactly the right image. The judge was going to be there in person. She wanted his impression of her to be flawless–intelligent, competent, professional, but caring, and above all else, not arrogant or showy. She decided finally on a tailored mauve Azzedine Aláia business suit with silver and black pumps and a cream colored silk blouse offset by a single strand of grey Venezuelan pearls. The outfit was conservative but not penitent, tasteful and fashionable without being boastful.

She drove her BMW convertible to the offices of Bel Geddes and Loughlin, leaving in plenty of time even if she encountered unexpected traffic. She would be glad of a wait in order to be able to calm down.


At nine in the morning the same day, Paul Bel Geddes was dreaming a kaleidoscopic montage of faces, voices, foods, and disjointed thoughts while Pancho, Jose, and Marcos gave him his last dose of IV Ethanol. His dreams faded into nothingness, and he evacuated his bowels and bladder peacefully onto his bed. He was no longer troubled by that departure from civilization. Suddenly he was being aroused, awaked from a benumbed torpor by rough hands. They were forcing his clothes on. Something was happening. Something big.

They probably wouldn’t go to all the bother of dressing him just to kill him; so, maybe this was not only a big new event, but possibly even a good one. Maybe someone had paid a ransom for him. It was hard to think. It never occurred to him to resist. They were not brutal, and there seemed to be nothing to gain by fighting them. They seemed to be strong and determined. It would be blind man’s buff with him being the blind man.

They were wearing latex gloves, he could tell from the sensation on his skin. On went his cotton briefs, then his shirt. He was sure they buttoned it out of order by one button. It did not feel right, but he was not about to protest and spoil whatever was intended. He hardly dared to hope that they might be about to free him. Maybe they had gotten a ransom. He groaned inwardly that he would probably have to pay back the ransom. He didn’t have any kind of insurance. He didn’t even know if there was any kind of insurance for that sort of thing. His mind was wandering.

Finally, he was dressed, even to his tie.

“Hey, that kind of chokes,” he said as the unseen helper cinched the knot around his neck.

The knot was loosened–too much, he presumed. He would have to attend to that later. He was going to look altogether too casual for work. He would fix his tie later. If he could remember. The handcuffs and leg shackles went back on. Maybe he should have struggled, shown some spirit, when the bindings were off long enough for his captors to get his clothes on. With the last ratchet of the leg shackle he knew that idea was too little, too late.

His thinking was slow, and he could not formulate a plan, could not keep a string of ideas together. He walked with complete docility between the two–or was it three?–men up the stairs and through a room, maybe two, and out a door into the morning sunlight. Walking was sheer torture with his muscles knotted up from the unaccustomed exercise of the past two days.


Sybil was shown into the Bel Geddes and Loughlin conference room where she joined Carter Tarkington, Hyrum Willis, and a third man whom she had not met.

“Dr. Norcroft, may I present Judge Hicken?” Carter said.

The judge extended his hand diffidently, and Sybil shook it politely.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Doctor. Please take a seat. We have a few more minutes before the court reporter and Mr. Bel Geddes are due to arrive,” Judge Hicken offered in a courtly old world fashion.

He was in his seventies with frost white hair trimmed short. He was wearing a severe black pinstripe suit and vest and an unpatterned deep magenta bow tie.

Sybil sat between her two attorneys near the middle of the long table with the judge at the far end. The arrangement prevented even the suggestion that there might be communication between the defendant’s side and the judge. While they waited in silence, Sybil looked around the spacious ornate room that had been redecorated since her last visit to the inquisition chamber. The rug was snowy white, thick, soft, and presumably ghastly expensive.

It was hard on the eyes and must have been the latest rage among the gay decorators. The walls were overly busy with an original Andy Warhol still life, Federico Pallavacini paintings and prints, poster sized framed black and white blowup photos of Ansel Adams’s Yosemite series and a life size image of the imperially slim Coco Chanel, Lucien Freud doodles, Gruau sketches from old issues of the long since defunct Flair magazine, and a Picassoesque distortion of a more or less human figure of nonspecific gender.

At the far end of the room hung the law school diplomas of the firm’s attorney partners. Sybil got up to look more closely. By Paul Bel Geddes’s diploma was a second framed document. It was entitled simply, MENSA. The certificate read, This is to certify that Paul Bel Geddes, Esq. took up the Mensa Challenge and has been awarded this certificate of merit as a result.

Sybil shook her head at the crass self aggrandizement of the flamboyant attorney. Counterpoised against his partner’s extra document was one that read, To Marty Loughlin, the best grandpa in the world. The certificate was signed in block print, “FRED”. It was written in Crayon in a childish scrawl and framed as ornately as the one of Bel Geddes’s.

The court reporter was ushered in and introduced around. She took her place across from Sybil, being careful not to sit in the high backed chair presumably reserved for Bel Geddes. Sybil noted that the reporter slipped a check into her purse. The attorneys and the court reporter shared a few jejune pleasantries, otherwise little was said in the room. They were marking time. Bel Geddes was five minutes late.


At the Moncrief house, Paul shambled over to the car supported by the strong hands of his captors, unsure of himself because of the blindfold, and his legs resisting activity owing to the pain that any movement produced. Pancho checked his watch frequently and pushed on the slow moving kidnapee to help him to hurry. Paul’s mind was thick and suffering from inertia. He wondered what was the hurry. Even that idea was suffering from dystocia, simple as it was. He didn’t feel any great rush. Jose and Marcos pushed Paul into the back seat of the newly washed Mercedes. Pancho drove. He was afraid to exceed the speed limit, but it could not be too soon to get away from the foul smelling man. It was twenty minutes to ten when the four men pulled into the parking lot of Paul’s distinctive art deco building and found a spot in the shade of a tree.

In the back seat Jose opened the bottle of chloroform. Bel Geddes recoiled from the vapors, but did not actually resist as Jose placed a guaze pad soaked in the general anesthetic briefly over the attorney’s face. He slumped against Marcos. Marcos worked the duct tape slowly off Bel Geddes’s eyes making sure that he did not take any skin with the tape. The underlying skin was edematous giving his eyes a rheumy look. Tags of tape adhesive clung tenaciously to the skin. Jose and Marcos assiduously removed every trace with acetone.

Pancho turned his head to the back seat and urged, “Hurry it up. Somebody’s going to come, see us.”

“We’re going as fast as we can, compadre. Te pacientia,” Marcos croaked in a hoarse whisper.

The chloroform had irritated his throat, causing an accumulation of phlegm. The two men in the back seat looked over their handiwork and pronounced it adequate.

“Here,” said Pancho producing a bottle of Old Turkey. “Pour a little of this in his crotch.”

Marcos laughed and choked a little. It was a good last touch.

Jose did the honors, just enough to soak the fly and surrounding area of Paul’s pant front. He and Marcos took hearty swigs from the unfinished bottle as a reward for their labors. The three men did a 360 degree inspection of the parking lot before getting out. Jose placed the whiskey bottle in Paul’s lax grip, making sure that the attorney’s finger prints were all over it.

Then, the three Mexicans slipped quietly out of the car and closed the doors. They removed their rubber gloves and walked to a rental car they had left in the lot the previous night. It was fifteen to ten. The three Mexican men paid the exorbitant exit fee and drove directly back to the smooth gaited horse ranch to the sense of security and home that came from being among the prize Tennessee Walkers, Paso Finos, and Missouri Foxtrotters, whom they preferred to the company of most people.

Willis and Tarkington began stealing looks at one another when the opposing attorney was fifteen minutes late. Willis could hardly wait to see it hit the fan when the judge finally decided that he had had enough of being stood up. Hyrum was as sure as he could be that Bel Geddes was not going to show. He avoided looking at Sybil in order not to give her false hope. You could never tell with Paul Bel Geddes. This time it would have to be something good.
The court reporter was less reticent. She theatrically looked at her watch at two minute intervals and rolled her eyes in undisguised exasperation. Sybil kept her eyes on the facsimile of the medical chart on the conference table in front of her. Her face was a serene uncommunicative mask. No one looked at Judge Hicken.

Petra Sloan and Amber Winters salvaged the moment by bringing in a small plate of hors d’oeuvres–Devonshire clotted cream, crumpets and marmalade, tea and coffee. The women left the platter on the table and quietly left. The people in the room ate in an awkward silence. Sybil cast a quick sidelong glance at the judge in time to see him take a brief look at his watch.

At five minutes past ten, Paul began to rouse. He promptly threw up a bilious mixture on his shirt front. He was aware of a vile odor in the room. He dropped something. In a few minutes he realized that it had been a whiskey bottle. He was in a car, in the back seat. Of his car! He remembered vaguely leaving the courthouse after winning a case. Could that have been today? Yesterday? Must have been today, else why was he drunk. He really must have been on a celebrating toot. He was aware that he stank.

At ten thirty, Judge Hicken stood up and strode out of the room.

“So what do you think he’s going to do?” Hyrum asked Carter.

Sybil and the court reporter turned to look at the senior partner as if he had the clairvoyant answer.

“Give Paul the benefit of the doubt. Our interests are best served by keeping mum. It looks like Paul is going to be his own worst enemy. We won’t need to add a thing,” Carter said.

His face was losing its usual professional taciturnity, however.

The court reporter had not put her recorder roll into her machine, and it did not look like she was going to have to. She was very pleased with herself that she had insisted on getting the check from the office manager up front. This was turning into another Paul Bel Geddes weirdo depo.

At fifteen past ten, Paul forced his phlegmatic body to get out of the car. His muscles screamed as if it was the second day of football season. Every contraction of his leg muscles hurt, and he limped stiff-leggedly. The pain and the fog in his brain made him stagger some. He looked around and recognized that he was in the parking lot of his building and considered himself to have made a real mental milestone with that deep thought.

His brief case was beside him, must be some reason for that, so he took it along as he wove his way across the asphalt to the main entrance to the building. To him it seemed as momentous a trip as the original search for the source of the Nile. Heads turned as he entered the foyer. It smelled like a flying pigpen wherever he propelled his languid body. He was vaguely aware that the odoriferous emanation came from him.

He became progressively aware but could not overcome his internal inertia to the point of caring. He pushed the elevator button. The elevator door opened and the people exiting gave him a wide berth. He stepped inside with several other riders. They pushed the hold open buttons and allowed him to ride up alone. Fortunately for Bel Geddes, the eighth floor button had already been pushed. It was twenty-five past ten.

Paul walked into the reception room of his office suite and into the main hallway. He turned right by habit to go towards his office. A man was coming down the hall from the direction of the conference room. That sent him a signal, but he could not hold the thought that seeing the man evoked.

Amber Winters–he recognized her–dashed up to him and roughly grasped his arm. Who did she think she was handling him like that?

“Mr. Bel Geddes, what in heaven’s name is going on with you?” she was saying.

It came from a distance.

“M’okay,” he said.

It was nice to hear another person’s voice. She sounded upset with him, though.

“You certainly don’t look ‘okay’.”

She hustled him into the nearest room; it was the transcription pool room with five small cubicles. It hurt to move fast.

“You smell awful. You look awful. Whatever happened to you?”

“Wash kidnap,” he slurred.

His voice sounded very funny. He began to giggle.

“Stop that! This instant!” the angry woman ordered. “This is serious. Jeez…I think you’re drunk. One of the smells is whiskey, I think. Do you know that this is the day for the Norcroft depo? Am I getting through to you?”

He knew what it was that he had been trying unsuccessfully to think about that morning. Depo. Norcroft depo. FemmaNazi. He remembered something about that. It was hard work this remembering. Something important. Norcroft. A bit of the mental haze cleared away for a moment. He still felt very drunk and languorous.

“Look, Mr. Bel Geddes, we have to get you into that room, pronto. The judge came out and is asking for you. He did not want to hear about some other attorney coming in, and you know that we don’t have anyone who knows this case. This has always been your personal baby as you like to call it. Snap out of this!”

She was almost in tears.

Judge Hicken was talking to the office manager. His legendary calm and patience were beginning to fragment.

“I have been far more than patient, Mrs. Tucker. This is not the first incident in this case, but I assure you it will be the last.”

“I believe he has entered the office and is here somewhere, Judge. Try and be patient with him for a little while longer. He’s been having some problems.”

The judge snorted.

“I will give Mr. Bel Geddes the benefit of the doubt only because I do not want to prejudice the case for his client. I don’t think Mr. van der Hoef deserves that. But the court’s patience is not unlimited. Understand that. Either the man himself will be in that conference room in fifteen minutes, or a substitute. We will go ahead with the deposition with or without the lead counsel, fair enough?”

“More than fair, Judge,” Mrs. Tucker said ruefully.

She was heaping a stream of mental curses on the head of her boss.

“All right, I am going to go back into that room and sit calmly for fifteen minutes.”

He checked his watch.

“Ten to the hour. The deponent will be sworn in at that minute precisely, or we will all go home. And…Mrs. Tucker, if we do, we won’t be coming back.”

“Thank you, Judge. I will see to it. We’ll bring some coffee and Danishes to help you pass that short period of time.”

Judge Hicken turned on his heel and walked purposefully back down the hall to the conference room. It was ten thirty-four.

Amber propped Bel Geddes up against the wall, cleared the transcription office of its occupants, and hurried out to find Mrs. Tucker. The two harried women almost collided in the hall.

“Where is he, Amber? What is going on? The judge is fit to be tied.”

“We don’t have time to talk. He is drunk as the proverbial skunk. He stinks to high heaven. Thank goodness he has his brief case. He’s in the typing room.”

They rushed into the room. Paul was sitting on the floor, more than half asleep, with a silly grin on his face. He was completely disheveled, his shirt buttons were misaligned, and his expensive silk tie looked like he had tried to tie it in a square knot.

“What is that dreadful smell? He must have slept in a pig pen for a month without a shower. We have to get him out of these terrible clothes. His suit’s ruined,” said Mrs. Tucker.

She paused to allow Amber to start removing the awful clothes.

Amber faltered.

“I…I just can’t do it. I have to have gloves. I think I’m going to be sick.”

Almost immediately, she vomited all over herself and Mr. Bel Geddes adding freshness to the already scintillating stench of putrefaction. It was more than Mrs. Tucker could handle. She, too, vomited, although in keeping with her station, she plastered the wall and the rug and avoided further besmirching any people.

The women took a breather. Mrs. Tucker was seated on the floor in a place that did not seem to have received any offal. Her watch showed ten forty-five.

“We need a plan,” she said. “This is not going to work. You watch him. I will go out and grab the first attorney I can lay hands on and get him to go in there and stall. Where is that brief case?”

“Over there,” Amber gestured feebly.

She did not feel able to get up yet.

“Over there, over there,” Paul began to sing softly.

He giggled again.

Amber shook her head with total disdain.

Mrs. Tucker rushed out into the hall toting Bel Geddes’s trial brief case, feeling lightheaded but fighting the waves of nausea and syncope, and poked her head into each office down the line to find an attorney, any attorney, to go into the conference room and save the day. The third door was Angie Richards’s, the probate specialist.

“Angie! We have an emergency. The firm has to have your help. Right now!”

“Take it easy and tell me what all of this is about.”

Mrs. Tucker gave Angie the short version but omitted nothing of critical truth. She told the elderly spinster lawyer that she did not have time to explain why, but there could be no continuance. It was now or never for one of the firm’s biggest cases.

“And you expect me to go into a deposition for a medical malpractice action completely unprepared. To go up against one of the top brains in the United States? The world!?”

“That’s it in a nutshell. Here’s the brief case. His questions are on his legal pad. Fake it. Stall for a little while until you get your bearings. We’ll work on him and get him to you if it is humanly possible. Now go!”

There was never a condemned felon walked across the infamous Bridge of Sighs in Venice who felt lower or closer to panic than Angie Richards as she walked the long hallway to the conference room lugging the heavy brief case.

When Judge Hicken returned to the room, he remained standing to address the company.

“There has been some sort of problem. The nature of the problem is unclear, and I am not even sure that I want to know. However, I have made a ruling in this case. The deposition will start in fifteen minutes, at exactly ten fifty, with or without Paul Bel Geddes, lead attorney for the plaintiff, or we will pack up and go home.”

Carter Tarkington stood to reply.

“If the court pleases…”

“You don’t have to be so formal, counsel. We are not in session.”

“Yes, your honor. But we of the defense cannot simply let this go. This is a lamentable pattern. We are being abused. I have tendered several formal complaints…”

“You needn’t tell me, Mr. Tarkington. I will not allow a travesty against the dignity of this court. If we do not proceed today, this case will never proceed, and I will inform the plaintiff, himself, of his rights to redress. I trust that I do not need to say more.”

“No, your honor, that will suffice, thank you.”

The group sat in silence while the minutes slowly ticked away. Sybil’s face was as stiff as a Grecian statue. She communicated no more by speech or mannerism than the others could have gotten from an oyster cracker.

The front office girls—Bel Geddes always referred to them as his FROGS–rounded up a decent white shirt, and a pair of Mr. Loughlin’s golfing pants that were a little too small but were reasonably clean. The main drawback was that they were an almost iridescent chartreuse in color and were bell bottomed. They had been sitting in the partner’s closet since the last pass from favor of the perennially recurring bell bottom style. Mrs. Tucker had to rip out the rear seam to get them around Bel Geddes’s waist and hips. The front office girls rounded up enough safety pins to keep the edges closed, and they were able to get the trousers waist around him. He was sobering up a little and was able to help, but he was spiritless. Nothing was helping the smell.

Caroline Bagely, the pool secretary for the junior associates, took that matter in hand. She entered the empty attorney’s offices and returned with several bottles of men’s cologne. They doused him with the mixture of scents. It was debatable whether the Eau d’ Manure alone or the heady aroma of mingled Aqua Velva, Mennen’s Skin Bracer, Farenheit, English Leather, and Eau d’ Manure was worse. It seemed a lost cause. Bel Geddes giggled when the women soaked him in the new scents, and he giggled harder when he saw himself in the mirror one of them provided.

Angie Richards took a long deep breath as she stood gathering her courage outside the conference room door.

“Has to be a first time for everything,” she said to herself.

She meant that this would be the first deposition she had ever conducted. She expected it to be emblazoned on her memory forever.

“Morituri te salutamus–We who are about to die salute you,” she whispered inaudibly.

She stepped into the room at the stroke of ten fifty.

“Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you haven’t been too inconvenienced. I am an associate of Mr. Bel Geddes. I will start the deposition. We expect Mr. Bel Geddes to be with us shortly.”

She looked completely at ease and in charge. Ms. Richards took her seat and looked across the room at Hyrum Willis.

“Dr. Norcroft, I presume.” she smiled. “We haven’t met. I’m Angie Richards of the firm of Bel Geddes and Loughlin.”

“I’m Hyrum Willis, attorney for the defense,” returned Hyrum with a deadpan voice and facial expression.

The court reporter had to turn her unruly face aside to avoid looking at anyone in the room.

“Oh,” said Angie.

Nice start.

She would not make that mistake again.

“May I ask if you are Dr. Norcroft, Sir?”

Now she was looking at Carter Tarkington.

“No, Ma’am. I am Carter Tarkington, attorney for the defense.

By a process of elimination, that left the handsome icy woman across from her and to her left. She was pretty sure that the woman beside her inserting paper into her machine had to be the court reporter. She knew that the sour faced elderly gentleman at the far end of the table was the judge. She had seen his face in the newspaper. She took a sustaining breath and looked Sybil Norcroft in the eye. Then she stood up and extended her hand to the doctor with a false but broad smile.

“Dr. Norcroft, I presume,” she said, looking to the woman for a small measure of woman-to-woman compassion in this horrendously discomforting situation
Sybil Norcroft remained frozen in her chair, her hands firmly folded in her lap and said nothing. She did not move so much as an eyelid. She refused to make eye contact with the straining woman attorney. The pregnant silence ground on. Angie flushed and self-consciously withdrew her hand and sat down with as much dignity as the circumstances would allow.

“Yes, well, then. We should begin. I think we should swear in the witness. Isn’t that the thing to do?”

It seemed like the thing to do.

No one in the room made the slightest sound or movement to be of help. So much for collegial solidarity. This was going to be a no-quarter-asked-and-none-given, eat-your-own-dead, kind of war. So be it.

“Raise your right hand, defendant,” she snapped.

“We will insist on the deponent being treated with civility. Her name is Dr. Norcroft,” objected Hyrum Willis coldly.

“So noted.”


“Doctor, please raise your right hand.”

Sybil put her arm to the square.

“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God in this court of law?”

“This is a deposition in a binding arbitration hearing, counselor. But, I presume you know that,” said Carter with a caustic meanness in his smooth modulated voice. “And it is customary for the court reporter to do the swearing-in.”

“There are some things about which I am a little rusty having come in late. I would appreciate it if you would cut me a little slack procedurally speaking, counselor,” she said.

She seemed to be pleading, but her voice had an uninviting edge.

Carter responded in kind.

“Speaking officially for the defense, we would rather stick to the strict formalities. I will be quick to assist in keeping the proceedings proper. Judge Hicken is here and can render such assistance as he wishes in that regard as well.”

Angie was afraid she was going to cry. It was a most unseeming situation. At least she was following the instruction of Mrs. Tucker to stall the deposition. That provided very small consolation.

“We’ll go on, then.”

She shuffled through the papers in Bel Geddes’s trial and deposition brief case.

“For the record. I am Angela Bardwell Richards, representing the plaintiff. This is the deposition of the defendant, Dr. Norcroft. Please state your full name and spell each name for the reporter, please.”

Sybil did so.

“Do you swear that the testimony in the matter before this deposition will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

“I so swear.”

The court reporter shook her head.

Angie felt that she was getting the hang of it. Now, all she had to do was to follow the course of Paul Bel Geddes’s written out questions, and it should be smooth sailing. She extracted the legal pad from the brief case as unobtrusively as she could. Her heart was beginning to slow down, and her brain was beginning to shift into gear. All did not look so hopeless now. She glanced down and saw a set of handwritten questions neatly set out. Even the hand writing was legible, would miracles never cease.

She read the first question, “Ms. Norcroft…”

“We prefer the courtesy of referring to our client as doctor,” Carter interjected.

“Dr. Norcroft. On the evening of 26 June, were you driving on state highway 72 at or about nine fifteen in the evening?”

Sybil paused, a little bewildered.

“Not that I recall.”

Angie’s face became slightly malevolent. She departed from the prepared questions.

“Come now, Doctor, are you going to deny that you were involved in a major traffic accident at that time and place? Maybe you would have us believe that someone stole your car and was subsequently involved in the accident I described.”


That was an unresponsive answer, and a confusing one, Angie had to admit to herself. This was getting strange.

“Let me refresh you. Our records…the police records indicate that you were driving under the influence of alcohol on the evening of June 26 last. While in that condition–later established by police lab tests of your breath and your blood–you drove your car into one Pedro Dominguez, an interior decorator. As a result of severe neck injuries, Mr. Dominguez is now unable to work, unable to participate in sports–and I might add that he had received professional opportunities–and his wife has lost conjugal happiness, to put it delicately.”

She stared revelatory daggers at Sybil.


The defendant’s response seemed like a glaring non sequitur. This was becoming stranger by the minute. Angie could not follow Paul’s outline of questions because she could not get off square one. How could this ice queen sit there and deny that it had ever happened? She took a breath and scanned the police report again to see if she could find a clue to trip up the defendant and get this interrogatory back on track. Her finger traced down the simple police report in its straightforward Dick-and-Jane language.

“Do you own a 2014 Buick Skylark, Powder Blue in color, license number AG 429839, Madam?”


“Frankly, none of us has the foggiest idea what you’re talking about, Ms Richards. This sounds like a cut and dried ambulance chaser motor vehicle accident to me. If you would not think me too bold, I might suggest that you are reading from the wrong file. At least, I have to tell you that you are reading from a different page of the script than me,” said Carter Tarkington.

A hint of sympathy had slipped into his voice, since he was virtually certain that his supposition was correct. Angie looked at the senior attorney long and hard to see if he was trying to confuse her or to denigrate her inexperience. His face was bland and unrevealing, but she did not think that he was playing a role in some sort of bizarre plot to discredit her deposition effort. She blushed a rich scarlet as she began to suspect that what he had said might be true. She gulped.

“Why don’t you check the rest of the brief case? Maybe someone slipped a wrong folder in by mistake. Then we can get on with this, Ms. Richards.”

Sybil sat impassively. She glanced at the judge. He shook his head slightly, but was otherwise not reacting to the odd and embarrassing little legal drama unfolding before the assembled group.

Angie read the caption of the folder from which she had been working. PEDRO DOMINGUEZ vs QUENTIN BARTHOLEMEW. She was dismayed. She took out a second folder. DANIEL RANDCLIFFE vs CITY OF PETERSBOROUGH. She felt a wave of nauseating desperation sweep over her. She dumped out all the contents of the brief case on the table in front of her heedless of any lack of professional decorum she might be demonstrating. There were five files in all, none of them even mentioning the name of Sybil Norcroft. There were no other sets of notes, no medical charts, no summaries of privileged expert opinion suggesting anything to do with a malpractice action. She had been sandbagged. It was time to cut her losses.

“Excuse me lady and gentlemen, Judge Hickman.”

The judge did not flinch at the mispronunciation of his name.

“I seem to have picked up the wrong brief case. How foolish of me. I will just be a moment. Please excuse me.”

She abruptly stood up and practically ran from the room clutching the brief case and its file folders disarrayed in her arms. The other occupants of the conference room looked at each other in smiling bemusement. Even the judge had to stifle a smile. Only Sybil maintained her icy demeanor. No one spoke for fear of appearing insensitive or that he or she could be accused of attempting to benefit from the unfortunate circumstances.

Outside the conference room, Angie Richards allowed herself to cry. Actually, she had no control over the surprising and totally spontaneous outpouring. She could not recall having shed a tear since she was sixteen and had been turned down by a pimply faced boy whom she had asked to take her to the Junior Prom. She was furious at being humiliated as well as feeling injured.

She marched to the room where the office staff was working on Paul Bel Geddes. She entered the room without knocking and was shocked by what she saw. Bel Geddes looked slimmer than she had remembered him and tanned, was dressed in a garish pair of old fashioned pants that did not, in any way, go with his expensive mirror finish black wing tip dress shoes. He wore a facial expression of befuddlement. There was a freakish smell in the room, like someone had died and had not been embalmed, but the mourners had tried to cover the odor with flowers.

“What happened?” Mrs. Tucker asked her in dismay at seeing Angie out of the conference room.

Angie gave the assembled company a quick and accurate and impassioned account of what had happened and of her humiliation.

“I don’t deserve that, Mrs. Tucker. There won’t be any further participation in this charade by me. I am going to submit my request for partnership this afternoon. It will either be accepted, or you can have my resignation. I have done more than the call of duty, and I will not be here another day unless that is suitably acknowledged.”

She cast an angry look in Bel Geddes’s direction.

“Let him clean up his own mess.”

With that she did a smart about face and marched out on her sensible shoes to the security of her probate files.

“I’m ready to face the lions in their den, Mrs. Tucker. I…I’m still a little under the weather, but I can handle it if I go slow. Take me to the conference room. Lead on MacDuff!”

Paul giggled a little.

“You’re in no condition,” protested Amber Winters.

“And we have no choice,” countered Mrs. Tucker. “I have no idea how that junk got into that brief case–that will have to be a subject for another day’s discussion. Right now, you get the back up files, and I will lead our fearless leader into the conference room. We are going to salvage this day, or my name is not Agatha Tucker.”

Her face was set in rigid determination.

Amber ran to her office and looked at the boxes of trial documents on the floor by Mr. Bel Geddes’s desk. They looked different somehow, but she was so rattled that nothing seemed right that day. To facilitate and simplify matters, she went into the computer intent on printing out the pages that were the most important to the case. She key punched in the code.

The screen was a bright, blank, blue. There was no typing on the screen and no heading indicative of the file she was seeking. She tried again, taking care to avoid any mistakes in punching in the numbers. Once again, she came up with a blank screen. It was maddeningly frustrating, but she did not have time to figure out what ridiculous problem the computer was having at this particularly inopportune moment.

She hated computers at the best of times. Now, she had murder in her heart. She was grateful to the guardian angel of the firm of Bel Geddes and Loughlin that she had made back up copies and had put them in the file boxes. She had even copied his question sheets, thank the lucky stars. She scooped the heavy boxes up, one under each arm and sped down the hall to the conference room. By now, all useful work in the office had ceased, and the staff was watching with fascinated awe to see the rest of the soap opera evolve.

Mrs. Tucker herded the weaving, limping Paul Bel Geddes into the conference room. He was oblivious to the expressions of consternation on the faces of the people in the room. He was unaware or uncaring of the picture he presented–the well-tanned beach bum in shiny chartreuse bell bottom pants and open collared white shirt of questionable fit with the gait of a recently overexercised aging jock. He weaved his way to his chair and sat down awkwardly.

“I’m a little late,” he slurred.

It was twenty past noon.

Carter leaned over to Sybil and whispered conspiratorially, “At last and at least our miles gloriosus has arrived.”

Sybil nearly cracked a smile at the reference to a vain-glorious soldier parading his way to center stage.

“Are you prepared to go on without further delay or interruption, Mr. Bel Geddes?” Judge Hicken spoke for the first time.

All eyes studied his face.

“You betcha, your honor. Ready as rain,” Bel Geddes responded.

The judge shook his head.

“By all means, proceed,” he ordered.

“Need my files,” said Bel Geddes. “One of my lovelies will bring it forthwith.”

He flourished an arm in the direction of the door and grinned broadly at his clever wit.

“Your honor…” Hyrum Willis appealed. “Haven’t…”

The door opened and a puffing young woman struggled in carrying a pair of obviously heavy folder boxes. Mrs. Tucker was close behind her.

“Thank you, Amber,” said Mrs. Tucker. “We’ll deal with them now. You may go.”

Amber was all too glad to be quit of the place.

Mrs. Tucker set the boxes on the floor beside Paul.

“Now, where were we?” he asked vacuously and smiled a knowing smile.

“We were beginning,” snapped Carter Tarkington impatiently.

Sybil was a veritable portrait of serenity. She sat with her well manicured hands comfortably folded in her lap. She looked about only occasionally, but without any marked interest in the proceedings. Her attorneys marveled at the level of her composure in the midst of all this chaos.

Mrs. Tucker opened the first file box and began to rifle through the contents. Obviously not finding what she was after, she went to the second box. Failing again, she turned the lids of the boxes over and inspected the labels, van der Hoef vs Joseph Noble Memorial Hospital and Sybil Norcroft, M.D. Unfortunately for her cause, the titles belied the contents. When she turned her face to Paul Bel Geddes, she was pale and sweating.

“Not here, Paul. We have nothing on the case. Some sort of screw-up.”

She downcast her eyes, taking full responsibility for the disaster.

Paul sobered up a measure upon hearing that news.

“Get Amber,” he ordered peremptorily.

Mrs. Tucker rushed out of the hall and returned in two minutes with Amber Winters.

“Get files from computer,” Bel Geddes demanded, raising his voice insultingly as if talking to an illiterate field hand.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Bel Geddes. They’re not there. The files are gone. I can’t find them.”

Paul sobered even more.

“Whadda you mean, you stupid nincompoop?!”

Amber started to cry.

“They aren’t there,” she moaned.

Bel Geddes stood up, his face a contorted mask.

“You’re fired…the both of you!” he shrieked.

The rest of the people in the room were stunned. Even by Paul Bel Geddes’s standards, this was horrendous. The two women stood up bravely and walked out with more dignity than their situation might have dictated.

Mrs. Tucker looked back and said, “I, for one, quit. You won’t have the pleasure of firing me. Now, you try and make heads or tails out of the workings of this place.”

With that, she and Amber stalked out of the room. In thirty minutes, they left the building as well, having the meager satisfaction of knowing that they had completely undone the computer files for the firm as their parting gesture.

Paul sat down.

“I have to have a continuance, your honor,” he said to the judge in a completely matter-of-fact tone as if it were a foregone conclusion apparent to all beholders.

The judge’s face was rigid.

“No continuance. Proceed.”

Paul looked as if he were about to protest but thought better of it.

“Let’s see, where were we?” he asked rhetorically.

“We were beginning,” said Carter Tarkington with exaggerated courtesy.

He wore a thin smile.

Paul’s adrenaline rush had subsided and with it the brief and partial lucidity. The mental fog rolled in again.

“I, uh, I know what we should do. We oughta ask that sweet girl over there some good old questions.”

He glared at Sybil as if he had posed some profundity for her to wrestle with.

She looked calmly back at him and ventured nothing.

There was an awkward pause.

“Well!?” he demanded.

He could not remember his question.

She said nothing, gave away nothing with her face or eyes.

“Would you like me to have the reporter read back the question, girlie?” Paul demanded cuttingly.

He had had stonewallers before. He knew how to handle them.

“We protest, your honor. Counsel has the obligation to address our client with civility at least, if he cannot manage professional courtesy. ‘Girlie’ won’t do,” said Hyrum brusquely.

He looked directly at the judge expecting action.

Judge Hicken betrayed no loss of patience.

“Mr. Bel Geddes. I expect you to call the defendant by her name–Dr. Norcroft–and I don’t want to hear ‘girlie’ or anything akin to that sort of an insult again. Is that understood?”

His tone was completely bland.

“Yes, Sir,” Paul said and gave a poorly executed salute in keeping with his miles gloriosus posturing.

He giggled a little as well.

The court reporter snickered behind her hand. Bel Geddes cast her a flaying look.
“We’ll go on. Where were we?” Paul asked again, the confusion apparent on his face.

He looked around the room but found no help in the taciturn faces before him.

“Why did you commit malpractice on my poor client?” he asked.

Now he was getting to the heart of the matter. He liked questions that surprised the witnesses, cut them to the quick.

“My care of Mr. van der Hoef was completely within the standards of practice for the community.”

van der Hoef. The name jogged Paul’s befogged memory.

“Then what about his back?”

“What about it?” replied Sybil.

“What about it?” Bel Geddes shot back.

“I’m afraid my client does not understand the question, Counselor. Perhaps you should rephrase it,” Carter said.

“Well, now,” he said. “We’ll go on then. Where were we?”

Judge Hicken stood up.

“Enough,” he said. “It is abundantly clear that this is an abject exercise in futility. Although I am no physician, you are clearly drunk. And you are a disgrace to your profession. I have reviewed this case thus far and have seen a pattern of abuse of professional practice unprecedented in my career thus far.

“Much as I hate to cause your client, Mr. van der Hoef, to suffer an injustice, I cannot, in good conscience, allow this travesty to continue. I will leave here and return to my office where I will render a summary judgment in favor of the defendant. I will forward a copy to you, Sir, and one to your client. In addition, I am going to take the liberty of informing your client of his rights to seek the services of an attorney to press charges of legal malpractice against you. Good day, Sir.”

Judge Hicken arose, placed a note paper in his attaché case, and peremptorily left.
“You can’t do that. I don’t care who you think you are!” shouted Bel Geddes at the closing conference room door. “You guys saw what he did. Old tyrant. I’ll have his judgeship. You are all witnesses!”

He was on his feet and ranting.

Carter replaced his papers in his trial brief case, stood calmly, and said quietly, “It’s over, Paul. You have no one but yourself to blame. My office will be sending a full description of this sorry affair to the bar. Now, I suggest, as one colleague to another, that you go somewhere and sleep it off.”

He looked at Sybil and Hyrum.

“I suggest we adjourn to more convivial surroundings.”

Sybil, Carter, and Hyrum sat in a booth in Isaac Newton’s Pub at the Sheraton.

“What a day!” sighed Hyrum.

“I thought I had seen everything. Paul Bel Geddes is eccentric by anyone’s most conservative definition, outright strange by mine. But this performance today was tantamount to self-destruction. I cannot, for the life of me, fathom what possessed the man.”

“Try supreme arrogance, total hedonism, and a perfectly sociopathic personality for starters,” supplied Hyrum.

He shook his head in wonderment.

“I wouldn’t have taken him for a skid-row level alcoholic, though.”

“Certainly didn’t do our side any harm, eh, Dr. Norcroft?” asked Carter.

“Seems that way. I’ll believe it all when I see the summary judgment.”

“Don’t be too cynical or pessimistic. I know it seems like the civil defendant, even the uncivil defendant, if you will, always gets the short end of the stick in judicial decisions. This was too flagrant to ignore. Too many witnesses. We’ll get our judgment,” Carter said authoritatively. “Rest assured.”

“Boy, I’d like to know the rest of the story–to coin a phrase–though, wouldn’t you?” asked Hyrum.

“Think we ever will?” asked Carter.
He looked at Sybil Norcroft’s pacific face. Her very placidity in the face of the upheavals of the day vaguely bothered him.

“You wouldn’t know anything more about this, would you, Dr. Norcroft?”

It was a shot in the dark.

“Me? How could I know anything about the goings on of the likes of Paul Bel Geddes and his lunatic asylum of an office?”

Hyrum said, “I’d like to be a fly on the wall at the bar hearings. It would make my day to watch Paul squirm around under the hot lights.”

“I don’t think we’ll be able to spit on Paul Bel Geddes’s grave anytime soon,” mused Sybil.

“He’s resilient and as nonstick as the proverbial Teflon, I’ll give him that,” said Hyrum.

“Pardon me for saying, but the system is corrupt and hypocritical. Attorneys, especially those in the American Trial Lawyers Association, are great hovering harpies about the perfidy of physicians when it comes to policing themselves. If that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black, nothing is. I’ll lay you odds that Bel Geddes comes out of the Bandini sprouting sellable mushrooms,” said Sybil with arch emphasis.

“Amanita phalloides, no doubt,” put in Hyrum.

Sybil raised an eyebrow in a question mark.

“Death caps.”

She nodded her recognition and appreciation of the aptness of his choice.

Carter looked at his client thoughtfully. She was an enigma to him. But then, what could she know beyond what they had all seen?

“Nevertheless, given even the most cautious reading on this little vignette of history, we would have to declare that the Christians carried the day, and that it will be sometime before Bel Geddes and Company is able to play the Phoenix,” he said.

“I’ll believe in truth, justice, and the American way if that proves to be true,” asserted Sybil.

It took six months for the documentation of the summary judgment to arrive at Sybil’s office. She used it as an occasion to have a congratulatory dinner for herself, her husband, and her co-partners on the ranch and in the cooperative stock and bond investment company they had formed.

Before Charles Daniels arrived at the ranch, Sybil walked outside with Pancho, Jose, Marcos, and their respective wives. The gardens of vegetables were flourishing, the horses were gamboling about their paddocks, and the flower beds around the windows of the house were in resplendent bloom with penstemons, Astilbe, and summer icicle in a patternless array suggesting a vivid patch of wild flowers.

Little Quina, Jose and Maria’s baby, set up a protesting howl as the adults started to meander through the yard.

To the tune of “Frere Jacque” Maria sang softly,
“La Lechuza, La Lechuza,
Hace chuz, hace chuz
Todos calladitos, como La Lachuza
Que hace chuz”

The baby quieted immediately upon hearing the lilt of her mother’s mellow voice.

“Here’s a little thanks for all your work on the lawyer,” she said and handed each of them a $75 cigar–a 175th Anniversary Special Edition Partagas and a mother of pearl inlaid cigar cutter from Herrod’s.

The men smiled their appreciation. There was no need for money to pass between them; they were well beyond any employer-employee relationship. They were flattered that she recognized that the men who had hardly been out of peonage when they met Sybil had come to appreciate the finer things–the best cigars and wines, the smoothest gaited horses, good cars, and friends that can be trusted.

At dinner–pomegranate glazed squab, white asparagus spears with a delicate mango port sauce, lamb tartare basted in truffle oil, pumpkin gnocchi, wild white strawberries and a fruit Brûlée–they toasted each other with Roederer Cristal Moet champagne and Matanzas Creek Merlot until they were mellow.

Charles asked Sybil and the assembled company, “So do you think it’s all over, and we can just get on with our lives in peace?”

“I think so” said Sybil. “It’s time posthumous, but I think we’ve heard the last of Paul Bel Geddes.”

“Let’s drink to that,” said Pancho.

“Amen,” echoed the rest, and they lifted their flutes in a silent and heartfelt toast.


On the seventh of December, a letter came to Sybil’s office. Her secretary discarded the envelope, so Sybil had no foreshadowing of what the contents might be until she read it while sitting at her desk late in the evening. It read:

Dear Dr. Norcroft:
This letter will serve as the formal announcement that a suit for medical malpractice will be filed against you in ninety (90) days. Action is being taken against you by the family of Mortimer Elbe, a patient at Joseph Noble Memorial Hospital, who was treated in the neurosurgical intensive care unit under your supervision. The family seeks redress for gross negligence, medical care below the community standard, and for a brain operation that resulted in the wrongful death of Mr. Elbe.

You are advised to communicate with your attorney and with your medical malpractice insurance company if you have coverage.
Respectfully submitted,
Paul Bel Geddes, Esq. Attorney at Law
For the plaintiff

Sybil clenched her fists and blinked away her first response which was consternation. There was a postscript written in cursive using a pencil:

You will pleased to know that the matter that lead to the untimely termination of our recent action together is well on its way to being satisfied in my favor. The state bar recognized extenuating circumstances and has recommended a probationary period of monitoring under the recognizance of Martin Loughlin, Esq, an attorney of note, in our city. I look forward to resuming our interesting and cordial relationship.
And by and by,
They’ll all deny,
…and protest,
‘Twas all in jest.’
Old English Madrigal


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.