All In Jest
Blackman Schwartz met Sybil in the hospital cafeteria a week after the verdict in the Brendan McNeely case was delivered. There had been an initial buzz around JNMH about the case, like the small town community that it was. By the time Dr. Schwartz asked if he could share the table with her, the suit and the verdict were history.
“Congrats, Sybil. I knew you would beat Barratry Paul, but I have to confess, I had a moment of pause when de Montesquiou from Quebec came down here to testify. I was surprised to learn that he had joined the world’s oldest profession, you’d think it was beneath him.”
“Thanks, Blackman. I had some very anxious moments during that trial. It took something out of me. As for de Montesquiou, I guess you can never overestimate the power of greed. It pains me, in retrospect, that a man of his international stature stooped to that level. I would love to be able to get the RCMP or the Canadian Tax Service to investigate his finances. I hardly think this was de Montesquiou’s first time to play fast and loose with the tax laws. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a record of the number of times he has sold a neurosurgeon colleague down the malpractice river?”
“Keep on the high road, Sybil. You’ll never regret it. My clinical practice is about finished, and I can give that advice from the standpoint of seeing a lot who didn’t. When I saw the announcement of the verdict in the paper, it brought to mind something that the rest of the neurosurgery department has been thinking about for some time.”
“And that is?”
“We have never had one of our people in the surgery chairmanship in the history of the hospital. It’s about time. It’s past time that we did. At the last neurosurgery division meeting, while you were unavoidably detained by Barratry Paul, we hashed the idea around, and there was unanimous agreement that we ought to push for it. We were also unanimous about pushing you, Sybil. You should be the next chief of surgery. What do you say?”
“Sounds like a French election, Blackman. I was the only one absent; so, I got elected.”
“Not hardly. We looked at every neurosurgeon. You were the unanimous choice, like I said. Don’t you feminist types say that ‘most of the time the best man for the job is a woman’?”
Dr. Schwartz had a gentle sense of humor.
She knew that he was, for the most part, in sympathy with the gender issues that had dominated American thought for more than three score years.
“I’m not political, Blackman, you know that.”
“They’ve never had, and they will never have a woman chief. It goes against the grain of every one of those old boys in the network.”
“You’re not going to let me have a gracious way out of this, are you? I’m beginning to think you’re serious.”
“It’s good to see that you can be right about one thing, at least. The whole committee is serious, and we have done a little canvassing. I think there is a real possibility here. It would be a feather in your cap, and it would be good for the hospital. It’s time to shake the place up a little. I put a little bug in Michael Strong’s ear. He would love to break the stranglehold that Darryl Hankin, the nose picker, and old Tom Petler, the perennial incumbent, have on the surgical service. He has to be discreet, but he’ll pull a few strings for you.”
Blackman was serious. She was complimented and figured that the timing was not an accident. If she had not gotten a favorable verdict, her outlook would have been a good deal less rosy. She was inclined to be coy about it, but that would just be a waste of time, something the old boys might expect that a dithering female would pull. She decided not to dither.
“I’ll do it, Blackman. I have a few scores to settle, as you may know. I would love to get that job and change the power structure as much as anything I have ever wanted. It might be great fun,” she said.
No one ever campaigns for hospital office. It is not done. The potential candidates are put forward in the rumor mill, with innuendoes, possibilities, and what-ifs. On their parts, the potential candidates are the most self-effacing people who ever lived–shy, reticent, humble–never deigning to do anything but to protest how much of an imposition and a bore it would be and how much better one of the other surgeons would be. Still, there was just a hint in the voice, an idle comment about changes that needed to be made, a look of determination when issues of hospital politics arose. Sybil did them all.
Her candidacy was formally put forward by Blackman Schwartz in the June general medical staff meeting. Sybil was appropriately reserved and not self-aggrandizing, but she did not refuse. Darryl Hankin and Tom Petler, along with another of Sybil’s perpetual detractors, Farouk Ibn al-Hebreaus, publicly poo-pooed the possibility of Sybil Norcroft being the chief. After all, hadn’t she just come through a messy malpractice trial that had hardly brought kudos to JNMH? They worked too hard at it. The other surgeons remembered all too well that Dr. Hankin had testified against one of their own in a malpractice case. That was a violation of the code in most of their minds, a whoredom they would not soon forget. Instead of regarding Sybil as having been besmirched by the accusations leveled against her, the other surgeons took the attitude that there but for the Grace of God go I. They rallied around her, and in August elected her chief of surgery by a three-quarter’s majority.
For three months Sybil found her duties as chief of surgery to be mundane, largely a rubber stamp for the work of the professional quality assessment nurses who did the trench work of reviewing surgical charts and fielding and investigating charges and complaints against members of the surgical staff. Then she learned about the trap Tom Petler had set for her when he left the chief post.
Dr. Petler had been fending off queries and complaints about one of the long time anesthesiologists, Fritz Kellogg, for nearly four years. The two men were old golfing buddies and invested together in apartment complexes. Tom Petler, as chief of surgery, also controlled the anesthesiology section, and in his position of power, had saved Kellogg from serious action from the staff or the hospital.
By July, a month before the new elections, Petler had been pressed seriously by the JNMH administrators and by a determined group of surgeons to do something about his old friend, Fritz. The would-be anesthesiologist had been taking liberties with sleeping patients, falling asleep during operations and neglecting his patients, and was too deaf to hear the surgeons and doctors. He had not kept up with or did not know about the recent improvements in his specialty, and, according to the quality assurance nurses, had an abysmal record of anesthetic complications. Petler had twisted, turned, obfuscated, cajoled, and evaded Fritz’s critics, but the effort was beginning to tell. In July a determined group of young surgeons, angry that their legitimate complaints had been summarily shunted aside for years, filed suit against the surgical committee and its chairman for dereliction of duty.
Petler had never been sued before and disdained those unfortunates on the medical staff whose medical practice was so egregious as to warrant such a public condemnation. It came as a shock to him when he was sued. Friendship was one thing, and blood was another. He thought that the plaintiffs and their attorneys were out after his blood. Petler made a visit to the office of the hospital’s attorney’s office. After a brief chat, the two of them had lunch with the attorneys for the plaintiffs arrayed against him as chief of surgery and against the hospital. By the time they finished dessert, Petler had agreed to step aside and to allow the problem to fall on his successor in return for having the suit against him dropped. He convinced the attorneys that the next chief would, in all likelihood, be a woman who did not know nor care about Fritz Kellogg and would not hesitate to throw the old anesthesiologist to the wolves. Furthermore, he stressed, she was an iron ovaried feminist who, besides being a man hater, had an overriding ambition. She would not hesitate to get rid of Dr. Kellogg to enhance her standing with the upcoming crop of surgeons. That would allow Petler to exit the problem of dealing with the improprieties of his old friend gracefully. The suit was dropped before the second cup of coffee arrived.
Tom Petler had been true to his word to the lawyers. In the critical last month before the elections he quietly contacted his old and long time supporters and told them of his decision to quit, leaving out the role the Fritz Kellogg matter played in the decision. He called upon the old boy network to support the woman, Sybil Norcroft, whom he now wanted to see elected for his own reasons. He assured his old friends that the reason would be evident in a short time if they would only grant him this favor and remain patient. Sybil was surprised to be elected by a 75% majority.
She learned of Tom Petler’s dark legacy when Katrine Letz, the head quality assurance nurse, brought her a formal letter from Steven Kirkpatrick, a thoracic surgeon, who demanded an investigation of Dr. Kellogg’s performance in one of his cases, and announced a boycott of the Joseph Noble OR by his entire HMO group until the matter was resolved. He stated baldly that Kellogg was a menace to the hospital’s patients and he, Dr. Kirkpatrick, was sick and tired of being ignored.
“This is all news to me, Katrine. It sounds like I’ve been guilty of some kind of cover-up, but I haven’t heard a thing about this before. How about bringing me up to snuff,” Dr. Norcroft asked the nurse once she had digested the contents and the underlying wrath of the letter.
“I shouldn’t be saying this, Dr. Norcroft, but you got dumped on. Tom Petler has been sitting on the Kellogg complaints for months, years. I have a stack of them. I kept a listing of all of the charts involved in case one day they became necessary. Maybe you ought to go over them. You didn’t hear about it, but there was nearly a suit about it this summer. Some of the surgeons are up in arms over old Kellogg’s behavior and want action. Now. Didn’t it seem a little odd to you that Petler slipped away into the night without a fight? He just wanted to let some other sucker deal with this problem, and you were elected.”
Sybil thought that she was savvy to the world of medical politics, but she recognized immediately that she had been living like a hot house plant until now. This was her introduction to the real world it seemed.
“Let’s get the anesthesiology subcommittee together to review the charts before we do anything else,” she requested of Katrine.
“Won’t do any good, Dr. Norcroft. Kellogg is the head of the section. He reviews all of the charts and decides which ones need attention. His never do. You won’t be able to meet the anesthesiologists without him being present. He knows where all the skeletons are hidden, and none of the gas passers will say anything against Kellogg publicly.”
Sybil screwed up her face, working over her options.
“I’ll go over them myself. If they look bad, then we will deal with them and with Dr. Kellogg in the full surgical committee meeting. Can you get the charts and any pertinent complaint letters to my office by tomorrow afternoon?”
“This afternoon if you want. It would do my old heart good to know that something was finally going to be done.”
“Tomorrow’s soon enough. Meantime, I’m going to give Fritz a call.”
Sybil waited until after the surgery schedule was done for the day. Then she called Dr. Kellogg through his answering service.
“Fritz? This is Sybil Norcroft.”
“Glad to hear from you. By the way, congratulations on winning the election. It will be real interesting having a woman run the show. What can I do for you?”
“I think we need to have a sit-down talk, Fritz. You know that I have to sift through the complaints that come in for the surgical service.”
“And that’s a shame. I’ve been saying for years that the anesthesiology department should be made free standing to streamline the service and to relieve the surgery department of the burden of dealing with anesthesiology concerns. Poor Tom Petler about went crazy having to make some sort of comment on all of those idiotic complaints.”
“That will have to be a subject for another day, Fritz. The matter at hand is some long unanswered complaints about some of your cases. The lot has been dumped on my head. I need to go over your charts with you. Get these things out of the way. Could you meet me on Friday after the schedule?”
“Ah, sorry, Dr. Norcroft, I’m leaving town, going to Vail to sun and hike. Been waiting for this for a year. Maybe when I get back?”
“I’ll call you then, Fritz. We can’t procrastinate this anymore. There are serious matters brewing over your cases. I need to resolve them.”
“No problem, glad to accommodate. I’ll be expecting your call.”
Sybil could never corner Fritz Kellogg. He was either busy with a case, hurrying off to an investment meeting, having lunch with his broker or his lawyer, leaving town, or could not be reached by his answering service. Sybil was pressed by the young surgeons and by the hospital administration to do something definitive. She became frustrated, then angry. It was clear that Fritz was avoiding her, and he was a master at evasion. When the original suit that had been held over Tom Petler’s head was threatened against Sybil, she decided to do something effective.
She rearranged the agenda of the surgery committee meeting for the upcoming month and placed the evaluation of Fritz Kellogg’s practice as the sole agenda item. He was specifically invited, although an invitation was not necessary. As head of the anesthesiology section, Kellogg was obligated to be present and had maintained a nearly perfect attendance record in the past. On the night of the committee meeting, Fritz did not show up. A letter from his attorney came in his stead.
Be advised that my client, Frederick “Fritz” Kellogg, considers any public discussion of his practice of medicine to be a libelous invasion of his privacy and a defamation of his personal and professional character. Be on notice that should you or your committee publish in any form, verbal or written, any excerpt from his cases, testimony regarding his level of care, or a reprimand however benign, he will launch an action against you. Dr. Kellogg does not regard your committee, one made up of his professional competitors, to have a valid jurisdiction. If his practice methods are to be scrutinized, they must be done in his presence and with his attorney in attendance. They may only be investigated by his peers, the anesthesiologists of Joseph Noble Memorial Hospital, and only under the direct auspices of the hospital’s governing board.
Submitted to the board, this day, 18 October, 2009.
Signed: Oliver C. Webster, Esq.
Sybil read the letter to the members of the surgical committee. They voted unanimously to review Kellogg’s charts then and there. Michael Strong, the administrator, who did not have a vote on the committee, protested to no avail. When the committee finished at one o’clock in the morning, they voted to have Dr. Kellogg appear before the principle committee of the hospital, the Central Medical Committee, to defend himself against charges of incompetence, negligent malpractice, and inadequate training. It had been discovered during the course of the evening that Dr. Kellogg had never had any formal anesthesiology training. Instead, he had essentially apprenticed with one of the well known old anesthesiologists thirty-five years ago and had never been to a refresher course or obtained Continuing Medical Education credits since. CME was required of all members of the hospital staff to keep up their privileges. With Tom Petler’s assistance, Kellogg had slipped through the cracks.
Fritz Kellogg received a hand delivered letter the following day requesting his presence at the Central Committee’s upcoming meeting. The same day he fired back virulent letters to Sybil Norcroft, to the president of the hospital staff, and to the hospital administrator to the effect that it would be a cold day before he would ever submit to any such public humiliation. The following day Sybil, every member of the surgery committee, every administrative officer of the hospital, and the hospital’s board as a unit, received letters of intent from Oliver Webster. In Sybil’s case she was threatened that a $20,000,000 law suit would be formally filed in 90 days.
The letter was brought to Sybil as she sat in her office between patients on an especially busy day.
“Dr. Norcroft, sorry to do this to you,” her secretary had said apologetically. “The marshal just brought this in, and we signed for it.”
She had dropped the envelope on Sybil’s desk as if it were a hot object or a repellent thing she could no longer bear to touch.
Sybil opened it, shook her head, and groaned a little.
“What more can happen?”
She had had her fill with the legal system. There would certainly be no reasoning with Fritz Kellogg from here on in.
The more Sybil dreaded happened mid-afternoon the same day. The same shy secretary sheepishly knocked on Sybil’s office door.
“Come in,” Sybil called.
She was hurriedly trying to get through the dictation of the admission history and physical examinations for the three patients that she had found in the office who needed and had agreed to surgery. With three more clinic patients and four hospital consultations yet to see, she was feeling pushed for time and did not welcome the interruption. Her tone of voice was brusque.
The secretary stood quietly in front of Sybil’s desk as the doctor finished her dictation. She looked down and would not meet Sybil’s gaze.
“What is it? What now? I’m too busy for all these interruptions.”
“Gladys told me to bring this in now.”
Gladys was the office manager.
“She said you always wanted to hear bad news as soon as it came.”
The girl looked as if she might shed a tear.
Sybil’s heart sank. She mollified the stridency of her voice.
“Take it easy. I never kill the bearer of bad news…I just want to most of the time.”
She managed a wan smile.
The young secretary handed the envelope to Sybil and backed to the door to avoid risking further interchange with her boss. Sybil settled into a deep funk just by seeing the return address on the envelope: Stewart, Bel Geddes, and Loughlin, Attorneys at Law.
Dear Dr. Norcroft:
This will serve to inform you that you are being sued. Ninety days from the above date, my clients, the family of Jason Turner, deceased, will commence action in Superior Court to collect damages for the wrongful death of their family member. This letter satisfies the requirements of the law with regards the need to provide a timely communication of that intent.
My office expects the courtesy of a prompt reply from you or the attorney of your choice.
Paul Devon Bel Geddes, Esq, for the plaintiffs, Mary C. Turner, wife, and Tremaine and Jesse Turner, parents.
“Jason Turner?” she asked. “Who on earth is Jason Turner?”
The question was as much rhetorical as it was an inquiry, but the secretary produced Turner’s chart. Presuming that she was no longer needed, and without looking back, the young woman departed. Sybil glared at the letter with an irrational hatred. She felt that she could feel the animosity from Paul Bel Geddes seeping from between the lines of prosaic legality.
Sybil quickly riffled the pages of the office chart, there were very few of them. She speed read the contents.
“He’s the guy I saw in the ER for Daniel Krempen and Peter Midgel,” she said aloud although she was alone in the room.
She read further.
“He did not have a thing neurological. He was fine. He crumped from bleeding in the chest.”
She shook her head in bemusement and continued. The discharge–death–summary contained a notation that Jason Turner had entered the OR under Dr. Midgel’s care. Midgel had called in a chest cutter, Farouk Ibn al-Hebreaus. Sybil had a brilliant and dreadful flash of intuition, as real as if it were a memory.
Her avowed enemy al-Hebreaus said to the family and to an attorney, “If only they had called me sooner…”
She shuddered with revulsion at the thought of the greasy little man. He had to be the reason why she was caught up in Bel Geddes’s fishing expedition.
During the McNeely case, her lawyer, Carter Tarkington, had told her over and over not to be intimidated by the opposing attorneys, no matter what they said or did. Here she was trembling in her figurative boots, Gucci slip-ons, in fact; and she had only been threatened. To be technical about it, she had not even been formally sued yet.
“I have to get a grip on,” she admonished herself.
It was easier said than done. She found it hard to concentrate for the rest of the afternoon. She gave her clinic patients and the in-hospital consults short shrift of her personality, dealing with them in a flat, concrete manner, correct and polite but diffident. She had no patience that day for the three women she saw with their all-over and nowhere pains and the two men whose only real goal was to find a soft touch of a woman doctor who would see the need for them to receive regular narcotics prescriptions.
This time when she reported to her malpractice insurance company that she was about to be sued again, the company assigned her to a junior member of the firm of Schmid, Principle, and Tarkington, judging that this was no more than a nuisance suit and did not warrant the services of one of the firm’s named partners. Sybil did not know whether she should be relieved or angered.
Susan MacIntosh was a good lawyer and an especially good listener. Sybil warmed to the young attorney at once.
“So, what am I up against?” she asked as soon as she had told Ms. MacIntosh everything she could remember about the Jason Turner case.
“If this were anybody except Paul Bel Geddes as the plaintiff’s lawyer, I would presume that you would be dropped in the first round of discovery. But Bel Geddes has a mean streak. He loves to hold on to his victims until the bitter end, just for spite, it often seems to me. Maybe it’s for money, maybe some of the defendants or their insurance companies cave in and fork over some extortion money just to get him off their backs, and that keeps him hopeful. But I still think it’s just meanness. My advice is not to do that in this case, Dr. Norcroft. Unless there is something I don’t understand here, he will have to dismiss you in the end. He’ll never get an expert against you. Also, I get the idea from communicating with his office that Bel Geddes has some sort of little personal vendetta against you. Is there something to that?”
“There seems to be,” agreed Sybil. “I presume that it has something to do with Carter Tarkington and me beating Bel Geddes and his French Canadian prostitute in a case a while back. I don’t presume to understand the psyche or even the overt thinking of attorneys. No offense.”
“None taken. I will be working with Hyrum Willis on this case. I think you’ve met him.”
“He worked on the McNeely case.”
“He’s very thorough. A good lawyer.”
“He seemed to be.”
“Anyway, we’ll get back to you. If Bel Geddes is true to form, there won’t be any depositions or substantive work done for years. Don’t get in a twist about this. Let us do the worrying, okay?”
“I’ll try. But I have a sneaking suspicion that I will sleep uneasily until the deposition when I will stop sleeping at all. I try not to let this get under my skin, but there is something about Paul Bel Geddes and his crusader hypocrisy that rankles, despite everything I try to tell myself about going with the flow and that this is just the price of doing business.”
“I think I understand, even though it is a whole lot easier being the attorney instead of the defendant, even in a nothing case like this one. It’s easier to be a civil attorney than a civil client, I’ll grant you. I’ll be in touch. Don’t fret too much, Dr. Norcroft. Like my old daddy used to say, ‘This, too, shall pass away.’”
Sybil did maintain a low grade anxiety over the Jason Turner case; but, with the passage of two years, the threat and dread passed to the back of her mind. Her practice had now matured to the point that she could take off more time and could pursue her growing love of horses. She continued to breed soft stepping horses, adding several beautiful silver grey Paso Finos to her collection of fine Tennessee Walkers. The original stallions and mares were now producing a profitable tag of colts, and she was beginning to place in a few of the shows that she and her Mexican grooms and handlers worked on so hard. Pancho and Carlita Rodriguez, Jose and Maria Innocenta Pomposo-Alvarez, and Marcos and Viviana Hernandez had remained with her and accorded her near familial devotion after seven years of living on Sybil’s ranch and working on the project of erecting the buildings, enclosing the paddocks, and preparing the horses for shows. In December, 2009, Sybil celebrated her first profitable year after seven years of gentlewomanly ranching. She was $143 in the black.
She was so pleased with herself and the ranch’s profitable status at long last that Sybil decided to splurge and buy the magnificent Missouri Foxtrotter stallion she had been craving to have for years. Ring Pride, from Middleton Stables, Stratford, Missouri exceeded her profit by $249,857. The beautiful animal had a shimmering bay color and white front stockings. His champion level gait, both instinctual, and the result of four years of the most careful training, was the smoothest Sybil had ever seen and was picture perfect on video, even at slow motion, whether the horse was walking at 9 miles an hour or cantering at 13. Both speeds were considerably faster than the average Foxtrotter.
The Foxtrotter gait was unique in the horse kingdom: walking with the front feet and trotting with the rear. Ring Pride’s rear feet overstepped his front in a sliding motion that almost placed his rear tracks atop the front ones (capping). Both front feet were on the ground at the same time. The right front and left rear feet were on the ground at the same time with the rear foot coming down slightly later than the front because of its overreach. Viewed from the side, the pommel did not rise or fall more than half an inch. The beautiful animal was a study in fluidity of motion, with or without a rider.
She threw a party for her family and for all of the people who worked on her ranch. Either by design or by happenstance, the party became, like all of the parties at the ranch, a fiesta with an unmistakable Mexican flavor.
Pancho took a seat at Charles Daniels’s and Dr. Norcroft’s table, uninvited. The relationship between Sybil and her husband and the original set of Mexican men and women had ripened to the point that such familiarity was the rule.
“Greetings Patron y Patrona,” he said.
The titles were now more affectionate and familiar than they were formal and distancing.
“Good evening, Pancho. How is Carlita?” Charles asked.
“Ella duele le cinturon, but nothing important. We were able to dance tonight,” he replied with the assurance that Charles’ question was more than an idle greeting.
Carlita had had back troubles of one kind and site or another since she had come to the ranch. Sybil had treated her off and on, did an MRI that was negative, and Carlita had pursued traditional Mexican shaman medicine thereafter. It caused Pancho concern that his Patrona would be offended, but Carlita’s adherence to her old ways merely amused Sybil.
“Horses look good, no?” Pancho observed.
“Especially good, Pancho, thanks to your work.”
At first Charles had cautioned his wife not to be too free with praise for fear that the Mexicans would take advantage of her. They, on the other hand, had become so confident in the honesty and directness of Dr. Norcroft that they thrived on her sparing accolades and responded affirmatively. Charles had learned not to give vent to any comments about stereotypical Latinos. These people were no more stereotypes than he was, and he had become comfortable with that salutary fact.
“Thank you, Patrona,” Pancho responded and made a gesture with his head and hand that simulated the tipping of his sombrero.
“I am happy that you and the Rodriguezes and the Alvarezes have stayed at the ranch. I like the new boys you brought up from Sonora. They are good men. I trust them. That is also thanks to you.”
Pancho looked down in shyness.
“And I want to ensure that you and your men and your wives want to stay here and do the same good work.”
“We are satisfied, Patrona,” Pancho said with some feeling.
“What would you think of sharing in the business and not just in the work, Pancho?”
“None of us has ever thought of your rancho as just work, Patrona. We look at it as our place.”
“Good. I want it to be your place. Part your place, anyway. I want you to buy a share in the ranch and share in the expenses and the profits. You know we made a big profit this year.”
“I keep the books. I know about the $143. Now if we can just get back the rest of the 200,000 to 300,000 you’ve sunk into the ranch, to say nothing of the three million in the stock and the millions in the hacienda grande.”
She made a face at him.
“But now we are on the road to success, Pancho. I will sell you and the others 20% of the ranch if you want to buy it. You can work off the debt. You can become a grand patron yourself. What do you think?”
He looked stunned. He had not been sure what Dr. Norcroft had been talking about before. When it registered that she was serious, he found himself uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
She smiled indulgently.
Charles Daniels looked at his wife with genuine affection. For all her reputation as a professional with brass ovaries, she was a genuine soft woman–no fool, certainly she had no deficiencies when it came to judging character–just a woman with some saving graces after all.
“I would be honored, Patrona. I do not know what to say. This is the best thing that happened since we came here and since we got our green cards. Maybe this could help us become citizens. It is too much. I will have to talk to my Carlita and the others.”
He seemed uncomfortable now, antsy. He obviously did not want to sit on this great news.
“Go talk then, Pancho. You are too nervous to sit with us,” Sybil said with an indulgent grin.
Pancho looked grateful for her social grace and bade them good evening.
Pancho had no difficulty in convincing his paisanos to commit themselves to the debt entailed in becoming part of the ranch’s ownership. Sybil, with Charles’s blessing, took the unprecedented step of loaning the Mexicans the money to buy into the smooth stepping horse breeding business. They had worked and scrimped to pay her, and when they achieved 20% ownership of the ranch and its stock two years later, they achieved freedom from formal economic indebtedness. They were in bondage for life by their own choice to the Patrona who had treated them as equals and had made them in legal fact her partners in the horse business.
The ranch had two years of genuine profit–well over $100,000 each year. She put the profits into a Paso Fino stallion with the full agreement of her new partners, and the profits began to accelerate in the third year of the partnership.
Sybil’s practice of neurosurgery progressed to the point that her reputation afforded her the opportunity to confine her practice to brain surgery, a situation envied by the vast majority of her colleagues. There was the nagging annoyance of the Jason Turner case seething around out there in the void somewhere, but she did not accumulate any additional malpractice cases, and her insurance premiums were even decreased. She was at the pinnacle of her career.
Susan MacIntosh finally made the inevitable call.
“Deposition is set for the twenty-second of October. This time it’s for sure. Judge Atkins told Bel Geddes that he won’t let him fool around anymore scheduling and descheduling appearances and depos. So gird up your gussets, Gertie. It’s the real thing this time.”
“I knew I was having too much fun for it to last,” Sybil said. “It’s been so long that we need to get together and go over my testimony before the deposition.”
“I’ll give you a couple of days, more if you like.”
“Have your administrative assistant call mine,” Sybil requested.
The two women shared a small laugh. No one had secretaries anymore. ‘Secretary’ was déclassé now–it bordered on an insult to demean anyone with the title of ‘secretary’. Both women had bent with the wind and chalked it up as another little victory for the feminist cause.
“Okay, we’ll make it the two days before the actual deposition,” Ms. MacIntosh said.
The two women and Hyrum Willis labored twelve hours a day for two days over Sybil’s testimony until none of them could stand to mention another word about the case. They covered every hostile possibility that Bel Geddes could throw at Dr. Norcroft during the questioning. At six o’clock on the second day of their efforts and 18 hours before the deposition was scheduled, Susan’s administrative assistant called her in the conference room where they were wearily finishing sandwiches and their fourth round of coffee for the day. Susan listened for a few minutes, thanked her assistant, replaced the telephone receiver, and scowled.
“What?” asked Sybil.
“My administrative assistant informs me that somehow he has managed to do it again.”
“He, meaning Bel Geddes, I presume?” Willis half stated and asked in the same sentence.
“Clairvoyant,” said Susan humorlessly.
“Elementary, my dear MacIntosh,” replied Hyrum with equal lack of mirth.
“Let me guess, too,” put in Sybil. “He has succeeded in having the deposition continued still another time.”
She had colored with anger.
“I’m afraid so Dr. Norcroft. I’m so sorry.”
Susan shrugged in futility.
“Aren’t there any rules? I mean, don’t attorneys have to obey contracts, court orders, judges’ rulings, etcetera, like us lesser mortals? This is absurd, a travesty. And this is the most unfair arrangement I have ever seen. He gets to manipulate and harass me at will. I have to take it because I’m a doctor.”
“A plaintiff,” contributed Hyrum.
“And what is the excuse this time?” Sybil asked.
“The judge, himself, called the office and said that the continuation was granted because of an illness in Bel Geddes’s family, his mother-in-law, I believe my administrative assistant said.”
Sybil Norcroft snorted.
There were two more absolute deadlines for the deposition that came and went. Sybil learned to grind her teeth and to ignore the scheduled dates. She no longer told her administrative assistants to alter her schedule. Susan MacIntosh apologized each time but told Sybil that the judges all bent over backward to make sure that defendants could not register any complaint of unfairness against the judge in their case. That was a cause for a turnover on appeal. The judges defended their system, stating that they did not really condone harassment of defendants, especially those with deep pockets, and particularly physicians; but, after all, how could poor people have access to the system if certain allowances were not made? It was a socialist definition of fair that politicians and jurists had embraced with activist fervor since the American Trial Lawyers Association had contributed so decisively to the two victories of Bill Clinton’s presidential election efforts at the end of the twentieth century. Sybil Norcroft’s inconvenience did not even rise to the level of an historical footnote against such lofty sentiments.
Fritz Kellogg found that he had made two incorrect assumptions. The first was that the court system in general would be interested in his cause–the little man oppressed by the monolithic hospital and medical establishment. The second was that having a woman as head of the surgery department meant that eventually she would crack and find it easier just to let the matter of Fritz Kellogg drop into obscurity or that she would punt and let there be created a department of anesthesiology at JNMH, a free-standing department, that would be given jurisdiction in his case, and that his fellow anesthesiologists would see to it that the matter would drop.
Through his lawyer, Dr. Kellogg filed motions in the county court who said that they did not have jurisdiction. State courts ruled that it was a matter for the hospital to handle and would not admit his plea into the state court system. Frustrated at the local and state level, Fritz went so far as to file a federal action alleging restraint of trade. The reviewer asked only three questions: What were the requirements for practicing anesthesiology at Joseph Noble Memorial Hospital? Did all of the anesthesiologists on the staff have to measure up to the same set of standards? And did Dr. Kellogg meet those criteria? When even Dr. Kellogg’s attorney had to admit that an “old boy” unwritten exception to the hospital’s requirements was extant for Fritz, the federal courts summarily refused to go further with the action.
Fritz Kellogg retired embittered at Sybil Norcroft and JNMH and left behind a legacy of division on the staff. A minority of Fritz’s old friends, including Darryl Hankin and Ibn al-Hebreaus, held her responsible and formed a nucleus of political antagonists that persisted all through her tenure in office as the Chief of Surgery. Sybil gained a rock solid reputation as a hard-nosed stickler for the rules and as a good friend and a bad enemy as a result of the Kellogg episode.
The third date for the Jason Turner deposition was in February, 2013. Susan told Sybil to show up for this one because Bel Geddes was running into trouble in his case, and he now needed some kind of additional boost that, for some reason, he thought could come from what Sybil would have to say. This tidbit had been casually dropped by Paul Bel Geddes in a bar association dinner a week ago, after the disinhibition of a few martinis. Sybil gave more credence to a drink occasioned slip by the plaintiff’s attorney than she did to any volume of his sober utterances, and rearranged her schedule.
She met Susan MacIntosh and Hyrum Willis on the ground floor of Bel Geddes’s tacky art deco building. Sybil had purposely come only five minutes early. The two attorneys did not seem at all anxious.
“Glad to see you, Dr. Norcroft,” said Hyrum and extended his hand. “I see you decided to come only an hour early this time.”
The three of them shared a short laugh.
“Let’s go see what sort of sideshow Bel Geddes has cooked up this time,” said Susan.
They went up the elevator and emerged into the lavishly redecorated offices; the entire floor was occupied by Stewart, Bel Geddes, and Loughlin. The last time Sybil had been there, it had been done in expensive crass–art deco à la early Halloween–like the outside of the building itself. Now the suite of offices was decorated in rich excessive 17th century French, as garish and tasteless as that period could produce, and as out of place in the law office as the previous almost comical art deco had been. The secretary had not changed. Her dress still looked as if it belonged to her younger, slimmer sister. She showed them to the conference room. The court recorder, a man, was already in place and waiting.
The attorneys and the court recorder exchanged cards.
“This is Dr. Sybil Norcroft, the deponent,” Susan announced.
Sybil and the court recorder shook hands, and Sybil handed him a copy of her curriculum vitae.
Paul Bel Geddes was only thirty minutes late, something of a record for him. He appeared to be his usual overly busy self.
“Hello, hello,” he boomed and flashed a telegenic grin all around showing off his mouthful of new porcelain caps that were an opalescent white that drew immediate attention to his mouth.
He proceeded to shake hands with everyone in the room. Sybil left her hands in her lap under the edge of the conference table when it came her turn. There was a long awkward moment while Bel Geddes stood with his hand outstretched looking Dr. Norcroft directly in her eyes. He finally dropped his hand and shrugged it off.
“Let’s begin,” he said. “No use wasting our valuable time.”
Sybil groaned inwardly at his hypocrisy.
“Sybil? Do you mind if I call you Sybil?” he asked as his lead off.
“I do. It’s Dr. Norcroft.”
“I find titles stuffy, don’t you? Wouldn’t it be tedious if you had to address me as Attorney Bel Geddes or Mr. Bel Geddes, Esquire?’”
“You may be addressed however you wish, Mr. Bel Geddes. It is still Dr. Norcroft.”
“Well then, Dr. Norcroft. I believe we can dispense with your credentials. I see that you have given the court reporter a copy of your CV. You are a doctor of medicine, am I right?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Licensed to practice in this state currently?”
“We won’t need any further information about your training or qualifications at present. I find the claims to training beyond medical school to be grossly inflated these days, anyway, don’t you?”
The fact was that he was not too far wrong, Sybil thought. It had been one of her minor campaigns in the state medical association to get rid of the pseudo specialty societies and to disallow their nearly nonexistent training claims.
“No, Sir,” she answered stubbornly, unwilling to concede on the slightest point. “Certainly not in my case. I will be happy to verify every item on my CV, if you wish. We can spend most of the morning doing that if it would please you.”
“I’ll stipulate,” he said, and he flashed a smile with his new teeth that absolutely trumpeted his magnanimity.
Sybil renewed her determination not to let that baroque contemptible get under her protective shield.
“Why did you state that Jason Turner was neurologically intact, Dr. Norcroft, when in fact you knew that he was in extremis?”
Evidently Bel Geddes had tired of his own irrelevancies.
“Because he was neurologically intact.”
“His level of consciousness was fading, was it not?”
“Yes, due to blood loss. He was able to carry on a lucid conversation even in the midst of painful stimuli and despite his low blood pressure. I judged him to be suffering from blood loss, but to have no neurological injuries attendant upon his accident otherwise.”
“He could have had a blood clot on or in his brain, could he not?”
“Not in my opinion.”
“But you didn’t check, did you?”
“I did a thorough neurosurgical emergency examination. I am an expert, and in my experience, the findings presented by Mr. Turner were not indicative of an intracranial mass.”
“But you did not do a CT or an MRI, did you?”
“And you should have, isn’t that right?”
“Dr. Norcroft, isn’t it below the standard of care to have failed to obtain one of those studies?”
“Not at all.”
“Since I am not a doctor, perhaps you could explain that answer. I, for one, cannot comprehend how the negligence you showed could be excused.”
“Objection. There is no evidence of any negligence.” Susan stated calmly.
“I still want an answer to my question. This is my deposition, after all.”
Bel Geddes looked petulant, theatrically so, like a little boy left out of the game of tag at recess.
“You may answer the question wherein an explanation of your decisions and actions was called for, Doctor.”
Susan looked meaningfully at Sybil.
“I will be happy to. First of all there is no such thing as a so-called standard of care. That is a myth created by attorneys; so, they will have something to say. Second of all, in the case of Jason Turner, it would have been manifestly dangerous, fatally so, to have wasted any time doing a test that I knew would be normal. It might have suited the desires of an attorney looking to prove a case, but I had to help in the care of a rapidly dying man. His problem was his chest injury, not his neurological system. He had no significant signs of a mass, no evidence of serious head or spine trauma, and emergency x-rays of his cervical and thoracic spines revealed no fractures or subluxations. In short, there were no indications to do a neurosurgical operation, and every indication that his chest injury needed immediate attention.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but did you say that his thoracic spine x-rays were normal?”
“I said there were no fractures or subluxations, to be precise.”
“But, Doctor, if memory serves me right, there were no thoracic spine x-rays done.”
He dropped the fact like a bombshell. He looked at her as if she were the cat who had just been caught in the canary cage.
“That is incorrect.”
He had a genuine moment of pause from her calm assurance. He knew for a fact that only emergency cervical spine films had been taken.
“Yes. As you said earlier, you are not a doctor, and you could not have been expected to know that the emergency chest radiographs, several of them, amply demonstrated the thoracic spine, both in the PA and lateral aspects. Almost all the thoracic vertebrae could be accounted for in those films.”
“Oh,” he said.
“Yes,” she said.
“This man bled to death. I have formal testimony from the chest surgeon who was eventually called in that Jason Turner’s death was unnecessary, if only he, the chest surgeon, had been called in sooner. Dr. Norcroft, why didn’t you call in the chest surgeon?”
“I was only a neurosurgical consultant. The ER physician and the general surgeon were in charge. It was not my place to make such a call. I am definitely not an expert in chest trauma or chest surgery.”
“Isn’t it more accurate to say that the reason that Dr. Ibn al-Hebreaus was not called in was because you and he are on bad terms, and he offends your feminist sensitivities?”
“That is patent nonsense.”
“But the only plausible reason for you to order your colleagues not to call in Ibn al-Hebreaus who was the only thoracic surgeon on call is it not?”
There were two flagrant misconstructions of the facts in that question, and Sybil at first wanted to shout at her tormentor that there was no defense against his charges except that they were ridiculous. She forced herself not to respond in anger. She calmed herself.
“Dr. Norcroft? Did you hear my question? Shall I have it read back to you?”
“I heard you. I am considering my answer. There are two errors in your scurrilous presumptions. First of all, I was in no position to order any physician to do anything. I was not even in charge of the Jason Turner case…”
Bel Geddes interrupted when Dr. Norcroft took a breath.
“Are you or are you not the chief of surgery at Joseph Noble Memorial Hospital? Answer me that.”
“Objection. Counsel is badgering the witness. She already has one question before her and is trying to answer. Counsel rudely interrupted and added another. Let her finish her answers,” Susan MacIntosh called out.
“Thank you,” said Sybil.
She quickly marshaled her thoughts.
“I’ll finish my answer to the first set of questions. As I was saying, I have no authority to order any physician. In fact, in the situation, I was at the service of the other two physicians. Secondly, the decision to call in Ibn al-Hebreaus was made by Dr.s Midgel and Krempen based, I presume, on their assessment of the situation. They were rushing the patient to the operating room while I attended to another patient in the emergency room. As I recall, I was doing a tracheostomy when Mr. Turner was finally stabilized enough to take him up.”
“But you are the head, chairman, or chairwoman, or chairperson of the department of surgery, are you not?”
“Oh, yes, your second question. I am indeed the chief of surgery, the chairwoman of that department. And no, I do not wield from that position any dictatorial powers like some bygone divine right empress. Hospitals don’t work that way. Doctors won’t work that way. Even in HMOs, doctors maintain their autonomy and responsibility under the law. If I ordered a doctor around, he would just laugh at me. If I made it a practice, the staff would find a new chairperson.”
Bel Geddes stared at Dr. Norcroft for several moments. She could not be sure whether or not he was trying to assess her answer, or framing his next question, or deciding his next tack. Then, disarmingly, he grinned at her as if they were old pals who had just been engaged in synthetic amicable verbal joust.
“I think it’s time for a break. I need to visit the little boy’s room and to stretch the legs. Consider that you have the run of the place. Say half an hour?”
He abruptly stood up and left the room.
Sybil looked at Susan who rolled her eyes.
“Typical Bel Geddesesque antics. Don’t let him get to you. Let’s walk around.”
The two women and Hyrum Willis opened the double doors of the large conference room and stepped out into the carpeted hall. The carpet was thick and lush underfoot. They all noticed the richness of the floor covering.
“He does it to impress clients and to intimidate defense lawyers. It speaks of his success, his magical success,” said Hyrum making a small gesture to indicate the sumptuous walls and floors.
The three rounded a corner on their way to where they presumed the office’s refreshment center was located. They met Paul Bel Geddes almost head-on.
“Oopsie!” he effused with a surfeit of ersatz smiling camaraderie.
“Excuse us, Paul,” said Susan politely but without a trace of warmth.
“I’ve been thinking. Coffee helps me think,” Bel Geddes said, his toothy smile still fixed in place.
Sybil was sure she could smell alcohol on his breath and presumed that the help for his thinking came from that two carbon chemical fragment rather than from the bitter alkaloid stimulants of coffee.
“Why don’t we go have a little sit down in my office. I have something I think you’ll like.”
Susan looked at the man with unfeigned suspicion.
“Is this to do with the case, Paul? I really think we should get to the business at hand and get the deposition over with.”
Sybil was curious.
“Patience is a cardinal virtue, Susan. All in due time. Is that Poison you’re wearing. It’s a lovely smell. I mean that.”
Susan shook her head; she had heard it all before.
“C’mon. A few minutes can’t hurt. We can have a little tour of the office along the way.”
He turned and started away. The other two lawyers and the defendant meekly followed.
“This is the refreshment center. All kinds of goodies in here. The main problem with this place is keeping the hired help out of it and slaving away at their computers.”
They stopped at every doorway. He opened each door without knocking.
“This is Horace Stewart’s digs.”
He paused in thought.
“These are Horace Pilgrim Stewart’s digs.”
Horace did not seem to appreciate the interruption of the crucial interview with his skittish client.
At the door of the next office, Bel Geddes said, “This is Marty Loughlin’s domain. He insisted on keeping the old decor, killjoy.”
Loughlin was not in his office. The place was totally incongruous with the 17th century theme of the rest of the office complex. It was full of Depression Glass objects d’art, watercolors of pastel women in flapper dresses and hats, and disproportionate bulky overstuffed furniture.
“How passé,” Bel Geddes muttered.
He took them into the bathrooms. There were no modern toilets. All of the usual porcelain fixtures had been replaced with 19th century water closet equipment that, although admittedly antique looking, was as out of place with the 17th century decor as was Martin Loughlin’s art deco.
They were then led into a large room with a handsome mahogany writing table in its center and two matching roll-top pigeon-hole desks in the far corners of the room. The table and the two desks each had a delicate, uncomfortable looking straight back chair facing it. The walls were lined with very modern looking floor to ceiling sliding file cabinets. Bel Geddes pushed a button and one of the cabinets slowly and silently moved forward along ceiling runners. A long set of hanging files appeared.
“This is the nerve center,” Bel Geddes said with obvious enthusiasm. “My idea. Can’t have everything old fashioned. These are the office files. This is where Jason Turner’s folder–our next tidy little gold mine–sits.”
He pointed to a small space between hanging files. The receptacle for the folder was there, empty, the name clearly printed on it.
“And look here,” he exclaimed, showing too much enthusiasm for a mundane detail of office procedure.
He pushed a button to retract the first set of files and another button to bring out another stringer of files from the center of the wall.
“Ah, here we are!”
He wiggled his index finger in a come-on gesture to Sybil. She felt a little foolish playing along with his boyish pranks, but she followed.
“And here we have our only failure!”
He laughed out loud at his joke. He was pointing at the Brendan McNeely folder.
Sybil smiled with saccharine sweetness. “And soon you’ll have another,” she said.
“I don’t think so” he said in a low conspiratorial voice. “Let’s go to my office.”
Paul Bel Geddes’s office was unexpectedly neat. Sybil had presumed it would be as cluttered and incomprehensible as the man’s mind seemed to be. He had a huge desk, a magnificent piece of English craftsmanship. The wood and brass fittings were polished to a fine luster. On one side of the large desk was an outsized waste basket, and on the other was a top of the line paper shredder. On the desk sat a large computer, scanner, printer, modem, and fax machine. Bel Geddes was not a computer expert, evidently, because a set of instructions, in Dick and Jane simplicity, obviously typed out by his secretary, had been inserted between the heavy plate glass cover and the table top. Bel Geddes’s brief case, bulging with papers, sat in a niche in the book shelf behind his head.
An old English hunt table stood by the window that overlooked the city. On it stood a double magnum of Château Lafite 1945. Near its base a price tag had accidentally been left in place – $7110, Herrod’s. There were three issues of the ultra haute magazine, Aria d’Italia. There had been fewer than ten issues published, Bel Geddes was quick to inform Sybil and her attorneys. It was advertised as the “Cornerstone of Modern Graphic Design”. There were five uncomfortable period chairs facing the desk. Bel Geddes took a seat at his desk and indicated to the others to sit as well.
“Perhaps you are wondering why I have called you here,” he said and laughed hard at his own humor.
Sybil, Hyrum, and Susan winced at the corniness.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said.
“I hope you didn’t do yourself any harm,” Sybil said.
He laughed uproariously at her sarcastic attempt at one-upmanship.
“Good one,” he said. “Anyhow, I don’t see why we necessarily have to be at odds here. Maybe we can do a little fence mending.”
Susan’s eyes narrowed in undisguised dubiety.
“What do you have in mind, Paul?” she queried.
“Well…perhaps with a modicum of cooperation between us, I could see my way clear to drop Dr. Norcroft from the case early on. That’s not to say that I don’t have a very strong case against her as part of a cabal to deprive poor Mr. Turner of his money and his life.”
“Tell me, Paul. What sort of cooperation did you envision?”
“Always the lawyer. I like that about you, Susan. But you ought to loosen up, trust your fellow man a little. I have a straightforward completely legitimate proposition for the good doctor.”
Sybil had never liked the appellation ‘good doctor’–it always seemed to be condescending–and she was becoming annoyed at being referred to in the third person as if she were not present in the room.
“Stop fencing, Paul. What is your offer?”
“All right, to the point, then. Dr. Norcroft is the chief of surgery at Joseph Noble Memorial Hospital and was in that position when the Jason Turner incident occurred. She is an expert. If she were to give testimony for the plaintiffs in the Turner case, I would consider dropping her from the list of defendants.”
Sybil’s eyebrows shot up. Susan looked at Bel Geddes’s face with serious concern. Hyrum shook his head vigorously.
“Well, what do you think? Fight me or join me?” Bel Geddes said and leaned back in his chair to await the decision.
“I would have to speak with my client alone, Paul. This is rather sudden, and I think I know her response, but I would have to confer with her.”
“Sure. No problem. You stay here. I’ll go putter around outside for ten minutes, then I’ll come back for your answer. That fair?”
He got up and left. As he passed Sybil, he gave her shoulder an affectionate pat. She steeled herself not to shrink away.
“Can you believe the chutzpah of that guy?!” exclaimed Hyrum when the door closed.
“I know what you are going to say, Dr. Norcroft, but for pro forma, we at least have to go through the motions of having a privileged conversation about Paul’s offer. It is offensive, but quintessential Paul. Just consider it another distasteful ploy in a series of obnoxious encounters with the man. Don’t take any of his nonsense personally,” Susan said.
Sybil was growing tired of attorneys presuming that they knew her mind, or that they could make her decisions for her. It rankled her a little that Susan and Hyrum underestimated her intellect and her ability to cope with the opposing attorney and that the two defense lawyers viewed her as a one dimensional character–stolidly ethical, medically idealistic and naive, and predictable. She steepled her fingers in front of her face and stared straight ahead while she studiously weighed her options and tried to envision the consequences of pursuing each of the several alternatives.
“How about just giving him the finger and putting the gloves back on and going in there and finishing the depo?” asked Hyrum in a pugnacious tone.
He had developed a deep and abiding disdain for Paul Bel Geddes from the first time he met him in one of the firm’s cases three years before when he first joined Schmid, Principle, Tarkington, and Henley. Nothing in the interim had softened that antipathy.
“I’m in full agreement, Dr. Norcroft, at least about finishing the deposition. My colleague gets carried away in his enthusiasm. Turning down Paul’s offer goes without saying. We might as well tell the man and get on with it. Okay, Dr. Norcroft?”
Sybil reacted as if she had just awakened.
“No, it’s not okay. I’ll take the deal.”
Susan and Hyrum looked dumbstruck.
“I want out of this stupid case. I will dictate the terms to Bel Geddes. I want to talk to him alone.”
“But, Sybil…Dr. Norcroft…you can’t mean that…you can’t want to–” Susan sputtered.
Hyrum looked angry, betrayed.
“It’s like ‘marrying the devil’s daughter and inviting the old folks to dinner,’ as someone once said. You can’t get into bed with that guy and not come out…soiled.”
He looked at Sybil with rapidly developing anger tinged with sadness. He had respected and admired the self-possessed woman until now.
“I don’t plan to get into bed with that guy, Mr. Willis.”
Her voice was icy calm.
“I plan to do business with him. It is presumptuous of you to think that you know me or my mind. I will deal with Paul Bel Geddes on the issue of testifying. I am requesting the two of you, as my attorneys, to address the necessary waivers and so forth to extricate me once and for all from this farcical suit.”
Her eyes glittered with animosity.
Hyrum was not sure but that the anger was directed at him.
Susan seemed subdued. She gave a little defeated shrug of her shoulders and fought to keep her opinions out of her facial expressions.
“All right. We’ll call him back. However, as your attorney, Doctor, I advise against any communication between you and Paul that excludes us.”
Sybil regarded Susan’s comment as little more than the disclaimer of an attorney working to deflect responsibility.
“Advice received and considered. I still want to talk to him alone.”
Sybil’s voice was now flinty hard, her mind set.
“As you wish. But please remember that I warned you against it in the strongest way,” Susan said as a parting shot.
Sybil made a dismissive gesture with her hand.
Hyrum clenched and unclenched his fists. He almost jumped out of his chair and strode rapidly to the office door and flung it open. Paul was standing in the hallway laughing with one of the non typing administrative assistants. He looked up as Hyrum stepped into the hallway.
“So soon, Hyrum?” Bel Geddes asked smugly.
“We are ready for you to return, Mr. Bel Geddes,” Hyrum said with unnecessary formality.
He could not keep enmity out of his voice or off his face.
Bel Geddes appeared not to notice and followed the younger attorney back into his office and took his seat behind the great desk.
“I take it that you have reached a mutually agreeable decision regarding my offer?” he asked, taking pleasure at the obvious discomfiture of the three people facing him. “Would you like to share with me?”
“My client wishes, against my advice, I might add, to accede to your proposal,” Susan said.
Her face was dark. She had striven to remove the telltale signs of anger from her visage but had only succeeded in achieving a look of resignation.
“Well, I salute her perceptiveness and her strong sense of medical ethics. Maybe there’s hope for the medical establishment after all,” Paul goaded.
Hyrum sat glumly aside, unwilling to participate further.
“Do you want to have the papers made up, or should I?” asked Susan.
“It just so happens that I have already taken the liberty of preparing the necessary documents,” Bel Geddes said with a guileless expression.
“How convenient,” said Susan.
“How predictable,” said Bel Geddes.
He looked straight at Sybil as if the two of them had made a secret pact. He was now sure that he understood Dr. Norcroft. For all her hauteur, she was no different from any of the rest of the prostitutes in his string of physicians. It was only a question of the price.
“Pass it over, Paul,” said Susan.
He slid the papers to the middle of the desk so that she would have to get up and retrieve them. She perused the documents quickly. The wording was simple. He dismissed the case against Sybil Norcroft, and she waived her right to sue for malicious prosecution. Susan passed the papers to Sybil who signed them with alacrity. Paul took pleasure in the doctor’s evident complete and easily won capitulation.
Susan kept her copy and passed the other copy back to Paul, making sure that it did not go beyond the middle of the desk top, another little tit-for-tat gesture. Paul opened the Jason Turner file and placed the documents in it and set it aside.
“I presume that concludes our business,” he said and stood as a dismissive signal.
Hyrum and Susan stood; Sybil walked behind them.
They left the room, and as they did, Sybil turned back to Bel Geddes and said, “You and I need to have a few minutes alone.”
Bel Geddes leered as if he had just received an indecent proposal.
“But of course, my dear.”
Susan turned and gave Sybil a brief parting glance, there was no masking her disappointment. Hyrum Willis hunched his shoulders and looked straight ahead.
“Please wait here a moment, Dr. Norcroft. I’ll go excuse the court reporter.”
She nodded and resumed her seat. He was gone less than three minutes.
Bel Geddes returned looking satisfied and at ease with the world.
Sybil spoke as soon as he sat down.
“Paul? Do you mind if I call you, Paul?”
“Not at all, Sybil. What do you have in mind?”
“A simple business deal, one that is committed to paper, say…one that is similar to the agreement between you and Dr. de Montesquiou from Canada.”
“$300 an hour and expenses? That’s standard.”
“On paper, yes. And the rest that he was paid, more like 1000 dollars an hour.”
“I take it this is a time for full candor. I want to know a few things up front. Like, are you wearing a wire?”
“A recording device.”
“Good grief, how cloak and dagger. I wouldn’t know the first thing about such things.”
“Then you won’t mind being searched.”
“I would mind very much.”
“I wasn’t suggesting that I do the searching, although…”
“Maybe by one of the women in your office. Is that what you had in mind?”
“All right, let’s make it quick. I want to conclude our business and get back to my work.”
“No sooner said than done.”
He pushed a button on the console behind him. Shortly, one of the buxom secretaries entered.
“Nance,” he said. “Search this sweet thing and see if she is carrying any weapons or if she is wired. Can you do that?”
It came out in a Bronx accent that made the word almost into two syllables.
Sybil followed the woman to one of the ladies rooms. She detached herself from what was being done to her thinking all the while what an ugly world Paul Bel Geddes must inhabit. Living and working with the bottom feeders must make you a lot like them, she thought.
“I don’t know if he wanted a body cavity search,” said the secretary.
“Believe me, he doesn’t,” said Sybil emphatically.
Her tone and expression left nothing to speculation.
Once back in the office, Bel Geddes said, “Sorry, I can’t be too cautious in my business. You never know.”
“No problem,” Sybil told him. “Let’s get finished.”
“You were talking about ten bills an hour. You are new to this professional witness business, Dr. Norcroft. I’ll tell you where the bear sleeps. In all candor your testimony is not worth that much. This is not the case for that kind of bread. The going rate is 300 an hour plus a tidy little bonus, say, a couple of thou if we win. The idea is that you become part of my team. I call on you for info, opinions, and, of course, for testimony in open court. This case is a slam dunk for me, but I need good people for the future. I will be open with you, Doc. You have no history of testifying. That, and your high standing in the profession, are your main marketable qualities. I’ll have hot cases where you can help skewer one of your hapless colleagues. You’ll have to make a few little compromises to get the big bucks. Think you’re up to that?”
Sybil gritted her teeth and turned her mouth into a symbol of determination.
“You know, Paul, I have been on the wrong end of the stick for too long. This courtroom stuff doesn’t look all that difficult, and I think I can go head to head with anyone that a defense can produce. I have developed some expensive tastes and need the extras you can provide. I hope we are understanding each other. I want in on the big cases. I want real money. Let’s don’t be coy about it.”
“This change seems rather sudden, Sybil. How come?”
“It’s not all that sudden. I’ve been thinking about it ever since Carter Tarkington exposed Pierre de Montesquiou’s income just from you. I have always been the good girl. It hasn’t been getting me anywhere. I want some of what de Montesquiou’s been getting.”
“Your surgeon friends won’t like you.”
“Big deal. They don’t like me anyway. No loss. My social interests revolve around the horsey set; they only care if you have money, not how you got it.”
She gave him a calculating look.
“And it’s to be $450 an hour on this case or no deal. In the future I will have a thousand.”
Bel Geddes was pensive for a minute or two.
Then he said, “All right, Sybil, we’re a team on the Turner versus JNMH, Midgel, and Krempen, et. al. case. If that case works out, I’ll get you into the big time. Consider Turner a probation. There are some instructions. Absolutely, under no circumstances, talk to any other lawyer, doctor, friend, or family member about the case, you are our ace-in-the-hole. I want the other side to keep guessing right up to the end. You take the high road in any conversations. No matter what, I don’t want you to be deposed. You are so above reproach, that I don’t think they will even ask. Especially with the stuff we got in the deposition today. I am not going to list you as an expert. You will come in as a percipient witness–testifying as to the facts. You will be established as the chief of surgery and a trauma expert. You can work your magic and prove yourself then. I’ll pay you the tax free way.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“Under the table. Do I have to spell everything out? You have to get to be more perceptive if you’re going to be able to fly with the med-mal witness crowd.”
“Sorry. I’m new. I’ll get up to speed. You spoke of me being on probation. That changes the tenor of things a bit. Since we aren’t going to be all chummy and trustful, I want to be paid up front on this first case. I guess that I’ll be spending about 24 hours on the case what with preparation, travel, and actual in-court testimony. That comes to some $10,800.”
“Dream on. I figure more like five hours–$2,250.”
“Then I don’t want to play. I lose that much out of my pockets when I sit down on a couch. I’ll go as low as $8,000 and not a cent less.”
“I do think you are catching on. I’ll give you $6500 now, today, and if we win big, I’ll kick in another two thou. That’s the fair market value of your services. Ask around.”
“All right. I’ll go low-ball this go around, but, after that, I want in on the real money. I’ll prove my worth. You don’t have a thing to worry about on that score.”
“I’m sure not. Here, my offering of good faith.”
He opened a large corporate check and invoice book and wrote out a check for $6500.00. He made a note on the check and on the invoice, For Witness Services.
She picked up her coffee cup.
“Here’s to a long and profitable relationship.”
He lifted his, “Confusion to our enemies.”
They made a salute out of taking a drink together. She allowed him to put his arm affectionately around her shoulder as he showed her to the door. When she got home, she took a long hot shower and washed her hands three times in very hot water.