All In Jest
2013 was a good year for Sybil Norcroft, M.D., PhD, F.A.C.S. George and Dolly’s four-year-old filly, Moccasin Walker, sold for $28,000 and their young horse, three-year-old Walking Conquistador, sold for $74,500. Two foals from Ring Pride by Beautiful Girl, a Middleton Stables mare from Stratford, Missouri, netted $81,000 each and would have brought in more if Sybil and her Mexicans had been able to provide proper training.
Sybil and her partners held on to the oldest and best of George and Dolly’s progeny, the golden auburn five-year-old, Sun Walker, that won its fourth best in show championship trophies in 2013 and the deep reddish brown, Bai Walker. The two Tennessee Walker champions and Ring Pride were insured for a million dollars each. All her Tennessee Walkers had luxuriant black manes and tails and one right foreleg that was a gleaming white stocking. They were–if nothing else–beautiful. The Mexicans trained them lovingly, and all the horses were becoming champion smooth-gaited animals.
The contrasting silver grey Paso Finos were flourishing, still too young to be sold, but would be broken to the saddle this year and their gaits perfected in another year. Then they would become a mainstay of the ranch’s income base. Like the Tennessee Walkers’ training, the Mexicans were infinitely patient with the Paso Finos. The men used only Pelham polo bits and had advanced beyond the use of cavessons by the time the horses were three years old. They never used martingales or harsh bits. Whips were not permitted on the ranch. If a horse was so unruly or skittish that a whip was necessary, Sybil and the Mexicans sold it at a minimal profit and concentrated on the horses whose temperaments and fine training along with their silken gaits made them of great value.
The ranch was now paying its way, and in another two years would be operating at a profit having paid off its substantial start-up debts. The Mexicans were now serious and well informed business people. They had reinvested their profits, and Sybil had allowed them to buy a total of 30 percent of the ranch. The men, women, and children held their Patrona in veneration, and they were held in true affection by her. Whenever she came to the property, she was treated with the respect that had once been accorded the grandees of Spain by their forefathers.
Sybil invited Paul Bel Geddes and his fourth wife, Sophronia, an attractive, but abrasive African American woman, to her victory dinner celebration after Sun Walker won his championship.
“How nice of you to come,” she cooed when Mrs. Bel Geddes entered Sybil and Charles’s foyer.
The tawny skinned beauty had scarlet nails fully an inch long, wore five large diamond rings, and her neckline plunged below her umbilicus. She had a tattoo of a mythical African god-woman on her sternum with flares of a cloak wafting out onto the swells of her breasts.
“You look lovely,” Sybil said.
Sybil personally showed the couple into the dining room. Bel Geddes’s greedy eyes took in paintings by Monet, Matisse, Caillebotte, Casset, and original Georgia O’Keeffes. One wall held only a huge Shannon mirror with painted Églomisé decoration. In the corner of the room was a small, elegant Queen Anne table. A T’ang dynasty vase with fresh Sarah Bernhardt peonies, bearded iris, and Moonlight violas sat on top. An 18th century Glin Sideboard with a delicate open fretwork cornice displayed Dr. Norcroft’s Dresden china.
Paul’s soft shoes slipped luxuriously over the 16th century Kashan Austrian Hunting carpet. The interwoven threads of silver and gold added highlights to the rich silk of the carpet. He took in the profusion of horsemen in pursuit of deer and the winged gods chasing lions and buffaloes done in exquisite miniature in the woven design. He felt at home or, at least, that this was what home should be like for him.
Bel Geddes was in his $1600 Giorgio Armani suit–by Paul’s usual standard–a conservative light gold color. He wore three large diamond rings and a $100 silk Hermès tie. His shoes–Bally moccasins–were made of gorilla skin, a fact that he did not share with everyone. He was in good spirits having decided that an invitation into Sybil Norcroft’s horsey circle was de rigueur. He had arrived.
Sybil placed Bel Geddes next to her at the immense Honduran mahogany Chippendale table during the service. The usual rule of boy-girl, boy-girl, and no one next to his or her spouse applied. It was the place of honor, and Bel Geddes basked in his newly won glory.
“How’s the preparation for the trial going?” she asked as they ate their Etuvee de Moules de Bouchot et Petits Coquillages au Curry et a L’Oignon Doux. et Choux de Bruxelles.
They were served from a burnished silver chafing dish and ate with matching Primrose design silverware. He did not really like the slimy looking mussels, and he had always hated Brussels sprouts, but he would never have admitted it.
“Piece of cake, my dear. It’s a shoo-in. I am loaded for bear. I wish it was tomorrow.”
He enjoyed the onions encrusted in deep fried sesame seed flour. He picked at the mussels and hoped she would not notice.
“I see mega-bucks in our future, old Syb, mega-bucks.”
‘Syb’ and ‘old Syb’ had become his favorite terms of endearment over the months he had been cultivating her. He felt that the diminutive of her name leveled her and made the famous doctor more approachable. She did not seem to make any protest.
“I’m a pragmatist, Paul. I’ll believe all of that when the check is in my bank and approved.”
The wine steward poured him a glass of Château Pétrus. Bel Geddes fancied himself to be an oenophile and recognized that he was being served the world’s most expensive Bordeaux. He savored the soft richness of the merlot in the wine.
“Checks, my dear, ma petit chou.”
He looked to see if she flinched at being called a little cabbage, a term one of his fancier friends had told him was exactly the right thing to call a woman with whom you were intimate.
She did not emit the slightest flinch. She passed him the shaker of Guérande marsh salt. It was gray, not very appetizing to look at, but good to taste, he found. Gourmet fare was not all bad.
“Um-hmm,” she mused in a world weary sigh.
He resolved to get her a juicy case to prove that he could deliver. She was an investment, a delicate flower to tend and cultivate, and one that would pay beautiful dividends in the years to come. He was sitting on the edge of the pot of gold. He was on his best behavior.
“I’m sorry, I never asked. Have you any children, Paul?”
The wine steward poured him another glass of Chaillot Bouchons. The strains of a Scarlotti sonata wafted over the unobtrusive sound system.
“I do. I thought I mentioned that. I have a sixteen year old daughter. She’s in Switzerland, at finishing school.”
He thought she would like that.
Sybil’s face lit up.
“How wonderful! Does she ride?”
“The school teaches dressage, but apparently not on any kind of serious competitive level.”
“I might be able to help if she is really interested.”
The wine server brought Paul a crème de cassis.
“That would be wonderful, Sybil. How nice of you. Catherine is a fine young horsewoman, I think. At least, I believe she has real potential. She is the apple of my eye, so I could be the least bit biased.”
“Please give me her address. I will tell my dear old friends Le Comte d’Odiel and la Parincesse de Bavière of Andalusia, Seville, to be exact. They have wonderful horse ranches and a riding school without peer. They would be happy to have your lovely daughter train with them.”
It was a heady thing for a man whose early boyhood had been spent on the streets of Marseilles scrapping for a sou to be discussing the enrollment of his daughter with Spanish nobility in a riding school for the ultra rich and privileged. He wished that his papa had lived to see this day.
He had a second La Grande Dame champagne and accepted a large and exclusive Davidoff cigar when he left that evening. His wife, Sophronia, was as impressed and as happy as he was. She had been seated next to Charles Daniels and had been treated like visiting royalty. Like her attorney husband, she was entranced by the prospects of the developing relationship with the crème de la crème of the social register of Westminister County.
When the Bel Geddeses left at the end of the evening, Sybil presented the attorney with an illustrated copy of the Bocuse Cookbook. Inside the front cover she had placed in her inimitable handwriting the inscription, “To Paul – may you have success in the pursuit of the right. Sybil Norcroft”.
Sybil’s practice was stable and profitable. She had joined the crusade against a national health service that had been successful in 2010. It appeared that the cyclic demand for socialized medicine reared its head about once a decade. Sybil had resisted joining any large marketing groups, HMOs, or accepting any payment plan that refused to pay her standard fees-for-service, and that included the federal and state Medicare and Medicaid programs. At first, she had found it difficult to get enough patients to have a really profitable practice, but her courage and perseverance paid off, and now, she was able to pick and choose her patients and to specialize her efforts.
As a result, her practice had afforded a handsome, after taxes, seven figure income. She was in considerable demand on the speaking circuit for medical associations and specialty organizations to detail how she avoided being swallowed up in or defeated by the huge capitation medical businesses. The mood of the country was beginning to swing away from corporate medicine. Americans were no longer willing to accept poor quality medicine, long waiting periods to receive care, being thwarted in their desires to have necessary tests, and to see their premiums going to make obscene profits for the stock holders of the insurance companies. Sybil was the right person at the right time, and she was at the pinnacle of her professional life. She had become easily the most famous neurosurgeon, and probably the most respected and best known physician in the United States. Her fame bordered on the movie star level.
Paul Bel Geddes was ecstatic over his new star witness’s fame. The Jason Turner trial was only a month away, and with Dr. Norcroft as his star, he could not lose. He referred in private to her as his best secret prostie, and saw dollar signs every time he encountered the well known doctor. He was going to use her in trials for the next twenty years until her reputation, like the rest of the prosties on the circuit, would no longer support continued courtroom appearances. He would be retired by then anyway. Her professional standing at that point would be of no more than secondary consideration.
In public he could not have been more effusive in his praise of Dr. Norcroft. She heard grumblings by Drs. Krempen and Midgel and the hospital administrators about Bel Geddes’s favorable comments concerning her. She refused to comment or become defensive over the fact that she was one of the plaintiff’s witnesses. Since she never commented or was seen to be a professional witness in any other case, the defense elected to leave her alone. The two defendant doctors assured their attorneys and the insurance company that Dr. Norcroft was a real doctor first and foremost and would not sell them out. No one was all that confident, however.
The trial of Jason Turner, Dec. versus Drs. Krempen and Midgel, and the JNMH opened on March 17, 2013. The selection of the jury took eleven days, indicative of the rancorous climate of the case. No one intended to give the slightest millimeter of ground. Bel Geddes scheduled Sybil to testify on the fifth day, following Turner’s wife, mother, father, eldest son, and Dr. Ibn al-Hebreaus.
Because she was a witness, Sybil could not observe the testimony by any of the other witnesses. On the eve of her testimony day, she and Bel Geddes met in his office. He served Brut champagne, already celebrating. The case was going so well, that he expected a mid-trial settlement offer.
“I have to tell you about old Ibn al whatshisname,” Paul said, a little giddy from his fourth snifter of bubbly. “He crucified them. He all but made them out to be deliberate murderers. ‘If only they had gotten me in at the beginning, if only I had been able to get into that boy’s chest sooner, none of this would have happened. I am so sad for the family. I could have saved their son, you know. I really could have’. His best line was, ‘they kept me out because I’m Persian. For that bit of closet racism a boy died. Will our country never be rid of the scourge of bigotry?’
I taught him about ‘scourge’, and I made him change over to the racism phrase instead of the original idea that you and he were enemies. It packs more punch anyhow.”
“Good strategy, Paul. It looks like it is in the bag. Maybe you don’t even need me tomorrow.”
“Oh, yes I do, my dear. Look, Syb., you are going to be the last nail in the coffin lid. With your status and presence, they are finished. I’ll tell you the truth, I think they’ll be after me for a settlement when you get done. It will be late Friday afternoon. Judge Martini will adjourn for the weekend with your testimony fresh in the jury’s mind. I frankly don’t think we will still be in trial come Monday.”
“I’m happy for you Paul. You’ve worked very hard, done everything an attorney could do. It’s no wonder you’re so successful. Here’s to you.”
She raised her glass, and he downed his fifth snifter, unembarrassed to toast himself.
At two thirty the following afternoon, the bailiff announced, “Plaintiff calls Sybil Norcroft.”
Sybil was nervous, like a performer with the first night jitters. She took the witness seat and was sworn in.
Paul Bel Geddes approached Sybil and leaned his elbow familiarly on the railing in front of her, making sure that the jury could see her well. She was wearing a striking Fabrice original in swirling almost party colors and a Baum and Mercier 22 karat gold bangle watch. The effect was well beyond the demure professional physician image that Bel Geddes would have preferred. He would have to educate her about dress; you had to think of everything for the doctor witnesses. They did not seem to catch on very quickly.
“Dr. Norcroft,” he said, “I’d like to go through your qualifications for the jury. I have a copy of your curriculum vitae and will use it, but feel free to add whatever information you think is necessary, all right?”
She was beginning to settle down. Her heart rate had dropped ten points since she had sat down. She removed her index finger from her wrist pulse.
“Let’s start with your high school career. You attended Cate School in California, where you graduated as the valedictorian. Tell us about that part of your education, please.”
Sybil told of the prestige of the school, of her honors, and her activities. She had been a medalist in swimming. She disliked the blatant self-aggrandizement inherent in this part of her testimony, but it was quite evidently how the game was played.
“Objection,” the defendants’ attorneys both said. “What is the purpose of this line of questioning in this matter before the court?”
“Your honor, I seek to establish my client’s bona fides as an expert and to do so I have to verify her educational background.”
“She is not listed as an expert, your honor.”
“Please approach the bench.”
The attorneys gathered at the side bar.
“Please let me know what you are doing with this line of questioning, Mr. Bel Geddes.”
“I am establishing Dr. Norcroft’s bona fides as a person competent to render a judgment in this case. In fact, she is in a unique position to do so. I need to lay the foundation by bringing out her pertinent background.”
“But she is here as a percipient witness, not an expert, your honor.”
“Her unique position in the hospital and in relation to the other doctors requires a certain expertise. That needs to be established for the jury.”
The judge sat thoughtfully for a moment.
“I’ll allow it, Mr. Bel Geddes. But, Mr. Drakeson, you may treat her as an expert, even as a hostile witness, if you so choose.”
“You can count on it.”
Drakeson glared at Bel Geddes. He was sure that Bel Geddes had sandbagged him, and it would not be the first time.
Paul returned to his questioning.
“Thank you, Dr. Norcroft. That was an impressive start. Now, could you tell us about your undergraduate college years?”
Sybil went into detail about her National Merit Scholarship to Mills College, her college career replete with its awards, and commendations, the bronze medal in the NCAA swimming competition her senior year, her senior paper on the “Periodic Decline and Cyclic Rise in the Career Status of American Medicine”, and her prize winning valedictory address. She listed her clubs, participation in the school’s symphony orchestra as its pianist, and her year abroad as an exchange student at Cambridge.
“I presume you had no time for a social life with that full schedule, Doctor,” Bel Geddes said affably.
“Not much, I suppose. But I did meet my future husband while I was at Mills. The education wasn’t a total waste.”
The jurors laughed. She felt that they were with her.
“Then medical school. Yale University, again on a scholarship. Please elaborate, if you would, Doctor.”
“There is not a lot to tell. I was a hard working, rather penurious medical student like all the rest of my classmates. I took an interest in neurosurgery early on and that led to my taking time after graduation to get a PhD in medical science. My field of research was in the biochemical correlates of the pain of deafferentation.”
“And, once again, you graduated magna cum laude.”
“And I see here, that your PhD degree came from Harvard?”
“Any special honors there?”
“No, just the degree.”
“And your doctoral dissertation was expanded into a book, I understand.”
“How many books and papers have you written, Dr. Norcroft?
“As author, or co-author…forty-six.”
“Were both the M.D. and PhD degrees required for acceptance into your neurological surgery training residency?”
“Most impressive. I am sure it was a highly sought after position to become a resident.”
“There were only ten residency positions in the entire country available that year. I believe the number has climbed to thirteen this year.”
“Then your residency in neurosurgery. UCLA, correct?”
“Yes. The residency was seven years long.”
The jurors looked impressed, almost awed.
“I see that there were some honors involved.”
“I received the Van Wagenen award as a resident researcher, the Robert Rand Memorial Teaching Prize for my work with junior residents and medical students, and finally, selection to be the chief resident of the UCLA Hospitals.”
“And over and above all that, you found time to get married and to contribute significantly to the great women’s rights cause that is so vital to the well-being of our great nation, isn’t that right?”
“Sustained. Is this going to take much longer, Counsel?”
“Not at all your honor. I expect to finish with this witness before adjournment today.”
“That’s the best news I’ve heard all day. Don’t let me detain you.”
“Now, Dr. Norcroft, did you have occasion to work with trauma patients during your training?”
“Did you restrict your involvement to neurosurgical injuries?”
Sybil had coached Bel Geddes on this line of questioning.
“Not at all. Most the injuries we saw in training, and afterwards in practice, for that matter, were compound injuries. By that I mean, multiple different injuries to multiple different areas of the body in the same patient. It was common to have to deal with patients who had neurological injuries or who required a neurosurgical evaluation during the course of their workup and treatment for their other injuries.”
“Were any of the patients with whom you worked suffering from injuries to their chests?”
“Serious, even life threatening chest injuries?”
“Injuries with severe bleeding, falling blood pressure, shock?”
“Yes to all those conditions.”
The defense attorney started to object, but thought he would be seen as being nitpicking, so he held his piece.
“Have you had experience with such injuries since you finished your residency and started your fine neurosurgical practice?”
“Dr. Norcroft, what is your current position at Joseph Noble Memorial Hospital?”
“I am the chief, the chairperson, of the department of surgery.”
“Of surgery or just of neurosurgery?”
“The entire department including all specialties.”
“Emergency medicine and general surgery?”
“Both of those.”
“Are Dr. Daniel Krempen from the emergency room and Dr. Peter Midgel from general surgery under your jurisdiction as the chief of surgery?”
“Yes, they are.”
“So you are in charge of their work?”
“In a manner of speaking. I am directly responsible for quality assurance evaluation of their work, at least.”
“Then, I take it you are in a position to evaluate, even to judge their work?”
“Yes, that is part of the mandate of my elected position.”
“Even though you are neither an emergency room specialist nor a general surgeon?”
“Yes. As a result of my unique position in the hospital and based on my experience and training.”
“Objection, no foundation!” Dr. Midgel’s attorney insisted.
“I think the foundation has been laid. The jury can take the testimony into consideration. Overruled.”
“Tell me, Doctor, did you have occasion to be involved in the treatment of Jason Turner, deceased?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Can you describe your involvement?”
Sybil carefully recounted her call to the ER indicating the need to hurry to attend a patient in extremis, her neurosurgical examination in the hectic period of attempted stabilization of the badly injured man, and the frantic efforts of the nurses and doctors in the emergency room.
Bel Geddes thought she was making the physicians sound too caring and competent, but his main need was to establish the negligence in getting proper surgical specialty care in time.
“And when the patient left the emergency room to go to the operating room, was he still bleeding profusely?”
“Did the doctors and nurses seem to be aware of the gravity of the situation? Were they hurrying, or were they acting in a routine fashion, taking their time, almost as if this were an elective case?”
Paul had coached Sybil for hours on this particular point. In their sessions she had come to sound very convincing that the bumpkin doctors and lazy preoccupied nurses took their sweet time to get the victim stabilized and transported to the OR.
Sybil moved her gaze from the jury where she had been looking throughout her testimony and turned towards Bel Geddes. She smiled.
He looked down, so no one else would be able to accuse him of coaching his witness during her testimony. It was critical that the response he wanted come voluntarily.
She drew in a slight breath and said, “They seemed to be deeply concerned. They had been working frantically and efficiently in the ER, and now they had to go to the OR even without full stabilization. They ran down the hallway to the OR elevator.”
She said it with perfect aplomb and without taking her eyes from the attorney.
Bel Geddes started into the next question just as he had rehearsed it two dozen times with her and before his office mirror another several score times, “Then Doctor, how would you characterize such wanton–”
He stopped mid-question as the impact of what Sybil had said sunk in. He coughed. She must have been nervous and fluffed her lines. It was a bad slip, and he would have to do damage control.
“I believe you meant to say that they seemed nervous and busy, but that they did not seem to comprehend the gravity of this patient’s condition. Isn’t that right?”
“No, Sir. To the best of my recollection, the two physicians and the nurses were moving full speed ahead. They had a plan and were working at it as fast as they possibly could.”
“Well, Doctor, I would like to ask you if an attempt, any attempt, any effort at all was put forth by these doctors to get a chest surgeon involved in this tragic situation?”
Bel Geddes had recovered. He knew he had a willful witness on his hands, a woman who always thought she knew the best thing to do or say and had to be in control. She had suddenly decided to alter his scenario a little with an extemporaneous improvisation. She did not want to appear to be his stooge. That was it. As he reflected on what she had said, he thought it was not such a bad idea, made her look more objective.
“Absolutely. I personally heard Dr. Midgel order Lillian Hemmet, RN to call the chest surgeon on call. At one point she came up to Dr. Midgel and quietly told him that she had put in calls to several thoracic surgeons as well as the doctor on call and could not get any of them to respond.”
“Who on earth is Lillian Hemmet?”
Bel Geddes’s pique was roused, and he could not prevent himself from asking the obvious question, even though he did not know the answer to the question he was posing, a cardinal risk in witness examination.
“One of the ER nurses. I believe she has since left the hospital…moved to Australia, if memory serves me right.”
“I saw no records of the calls to the chest surgeons in the nurse’s notes. How do you explain that, Doctor?”
He was angry, wondering what Dr. Norcroft thought she was doing.
“She did not write the notes. Mary Anders did. She was the designated scribe for the case. Apparently, she did not know about the calls. It was very hectic. Writing down such details had to take a back seat to more pressing problems. It’s a wonder that there were any coherent notes at all. I applaud the nurses for their efficiency.”
“You could have waited the rest of both of our lives and not said that,” thought Bel Geddes bitterly. “What is this woman up to?”
He said, “It’s pretty difficult to ascertain the truth or lack of it regarding the contention that calls were made, since this Hemmet person is on the other side of the planet.”
“Not at all. I have communicated with her myself. I have a letter from her, with her notarized signature. She responded to my questions. I have my letter to her as well. Here, you might like to see the letters…in the interests of justice.”
She produced a folder with the letters neatly encased in plastic binders inside.
“Objection!” Bel Geddes shouted.
“Objection? Your honor, can an attorney object to his own witness? I’ve never heard of such a thing,” responded Krempen’s attorney.
Bel Geddes looked humiliated. He had lost control of the situation, of his witness and, apparently, of himself. He fought to regain control.
“I’ll overrule the objection. Counsel may continue to question his witness, and the witness may continue to respond.”
Bel Geddes was furious. It would have been the better part of valor to say, “No more questions,” but he wanted to force her into giving him what he wanted, he had to wring some concession out of her. She had betrayed him, and now he was twisting on the gibbet. He had to try.
“But if this mythical Ms. Hemmet tried so hard to get a chest surgeon, how is it that she so remarkably seemed to overlook Dr. al-Hebreaus? He has testified in this courtroom that he never received a call until the two unqualified physicians were in the operating room and had opened the poor victim’s chest. How do you explain that, Doctor?”
The acerbic edge to his voice served to confuse the jury. They looked at him as if he were intentionally alienating them.
He was feeling desperate.
She smiled at him then turned to the jury, “I, myself, called Dr. al-Hebreaus. I got the same answer from his answering service and from his home that the nurses did. He was busy, couldn’t be disturbed until after his tennis.”
The courtroom had become quiet.
“You don’t care for Dr. al-Hebreaus, do you, Dr. Norcroft?”
“Not especially. I think he is a flagrant male chauvinist and an egoist in general who allows his prejudices to get in the way of his professional work. But he is not so terribly unusual in that regard. As a surgeon, I find him arrogant and abrasive but competent. Our relationship is strictly professional.”
He thought she was perhaps throwing him a straw.
“Is it your opinion that Dr. al-Hebreaus is fully capable of dealing with a complicated and difficult surgical problem such as was presented by Jason Turner?”
“I consider him to be professionally capable, a good technical surgeon.”
Bel Geddes continued to seethe inside, but he had calmed himself enough to realize that he would be doing his client no further good by continuing to question this terrible woman. He decided to quit while he was on a positive note, albeit a thin one.
“No further questions, your honor.”
He was soaked in sweat. He guessed his systolic blood pressure to be a 1000.
“Your witness, counsel,” said the judge. “I think there’s time left in the afternoon. Perhaps we can finish with her testimony altogether and be ahead of the game. Wouldn’t that be an exceptional treat?”
“Thank you, your honor. I have very few questions.”
Drakeson did not dare delve too deep. He could not believe his good fortune. One of Bel Geddes’s witnesses, essentially one of his famous surprise experts, had just given him the shaft, and there was danger of undoing what she had created with her testimony.
“Dr. Norcroft, thank you for your patience. It has been a long afternoon for you. I will try and be brief.”
“Let’s see if I understand your testimony correctly. You have stated that Drs. Krempen and Midgel worked hard and efficiently, and apparently competently to try and save Mr. Turner, that every effort was expended to get a chest surgeon to help, that it was difficult to get the other surgeon in promptly; and our two physicians went ahead with dispatch to do the necessary operation. Is that about the gist of your testimony so far?”
“Objection, leading the witness. Those were not her exact words.”
“Would you like to have Dr. Norcroft’s testimony read back, Mr. Bel Geddes?” asked the judge.
Paul thought he saw a wicked twinkle in the eye of the court. Bel Geddes knew that it would not help his case to repeat and entrench in the minds of the jury the exact words of his Benedict Arnold of a witness. He ground his teeth.
“No, your honor. Let’s move on. I withdraw my objection.”
“You occupy the surgical chair for the hospital, is that not what you testified?”
“In that capacity, did you have occasion to perform a critical review of Jason Turner’s chart?”
“Did you find evidence of malpractice?”
“Did you find that the hospital, or Dr. Krempen, or Dr. Midgel had performed below the standard of care for such a case?”
“Did you then or do you now hold the opinion that either Dr. Krempen or Dr. Midgel committed malpractice, or did anything deleterious to the health of Mr. Turner, or made any harmful wrong decisions in his case?”
The attorney knew he was on a roll. He decided to pursue his line of questioning one more step and then to quit. Barring the unforeseen negative answer from Dr. Norcroft at this juncture, she had all but made his case for him. It was a defense attorney’s dream come true.
“If Dr. al-Hebreaus had been available earlier and had been involved in the care, and especially in the early portion of the operation, would the outcome have been different? Would Jason Turner be alive today?”
“How would you characterize the care provided by the hospital, by Dr. Krempen, and by Dr. Midgel for Jason Turner?”
“Even though the outcome was bad, the care was good. Not just good, excellent. Mr. Turner and his family were fortunate to have Dr. Krempen and Dr. Midgel as their doctors.”
It came out so flat and emphatic that Bel Geddes knew he would have to throw in the towel.
“I have no further questions, your honor,” said the defense attorney.
“You may step down, Doctor. Do you have any further witnesses, Mr. Bel Geddes?”
The judge’s voice had softened noticeably to a nearly sympathetic tone. Bel Geddes wanted to scream. He was now the object of pity!
“No your honor. The plaintiff rests.”
Sybil Norcroft was not in the courtroom when Bel Geddes was able to break free. He called her office, then her home. He was angry and abusive with the office receptionist who told him that Dr. Norcroft was not taking any calls that afternoon and would be gone for the weekend. He was infuriated when he tried her home phone and found that it was no longer an active number. She had had her telephone number changed that very morning. When he was finally alone, he roared his impotent fury at a hapless toilet in a roadside men’s room. She had planned the whole thing, it was a cold blooded, calculated trap, and he had dropped into it all the way.
On Monday morning, Sybil’s operating morning, Bel Geddes asked the judge for a two hour recess. He used the time to go to the hospital and to wangle his way into the inner sanctum of the operating room. He dressed in scrubs and waited until Dr. Norcroft came out of her operation, dictating into her hand held Dictaphone.
“Dr. Norcroft, how nice to see you.”
“And you, Paul. What brings you into the hospital?”
As if she did not know. He had made a vow not just to try and get even but to get revenge a thousand times over. He would not let her force him to an unseeming tirade.
“I came to get my money back, Syb, old girl.”
“It’s Dr. Norcroft to you, Paul. Only my friends call me by my first name. Incidentally, it is Sybil, never ‘Syb’.”
He did not want to appear petty by jibing at her over her precious name.
“Whatever,” he said with exaggerated adolescent indifference.
She infuriated him by bestowing a winning smile on him.
“I want my money back. You stabbed me in the back. The money was for value given. I got less than no value. You owe me.”
He had a hard bellicose look.
“If I recall correctly, the check memo read: For witness services. You got witness services. I received only fair compensation–your words–you can check the standard with the courts if you like–also your words.”
He choked on his words.
“This is not over, dearie. You will rue the day you crossed me, you cocky…woman.”
It was the worst thing he could think to say about anyone on the spur of that moment. It even sounded silly to him. He always seemed to come up with the short end of the stick with her. Bel Geddes looked at Sybil with unnerving menace. His pride, his manhood had been hurt.
“Don’t be mad, Paul. There will be other clients to fleece, other juries to flimflam. I’m sure you’ll find a way to be as rich as you want. Just not from me and certainly not with me.”
“I don’t get mad, sweetheart. I get even. You had better give thought to getting a food taster.”
He could not wait to get out of her domain. Besides, he had work to do. He had to go see a couple of attorneys about a mid-trial settlement.