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Pepper Herman

Chapter One

September, 1996

Craig Aspel’s waiting room was sparsely decorated with two 1950’s blond wood step tables on which sat a variety of dated magazines.  Flanked at right angles to each table were six gray plastic chairs, molded together.  Whimsical Norman Rockwell prints sporting doctor themes, some hanging askew, decorated the walls. 

            Wearing a brown leather army jacket -- the last vestige of his days in Vietnam--  Rob Marchand cut handsome figure.  He was tall, brown-eyed, olive-skinned and gray-haired.  There was a soft, gentle quality about him that was very appealing. 

            As he was casually thumbing through a magazine, a nurse’s voice sounded through the quiet of the room and announced, “Robert Marchand?”  She watched as Rob stood, then smiled and added, “Follow me, please.”

            Craig Aspel greeted Rob at his office door with a handshake.  His thinning white hair and  tired circles under his eyes revealed his seventy-two years.  With rounded shoulders and heavy gait, Aspel walked around to his side of the desk and said, “Rob, I called you in here because your tests have come back and I wanted to discuss them with you.”

            Puzzled, Rob said, “Really?  How come you didn’t just call me on the phone?”

            Aspel just stared at him with a grim expression.

            “Doc, what is it?”

            Indicating a rather worn leather chair, Aspel said, “Sit down Rob.”  Then gazing intently into Rob’s eyes, he continued,   “Listen, I’m not going to beat around the bush with you, son.  I’ve known you too many years for that. 

 Fact is, those headaches and nightmares you’ve been having ... well the tests show a tumor pressing on your brain.”

            Rob looked at Aspel with astonishment.  “A ... a what?  You said you thought  I had post traumatic stress syndrome and it could be treated.  And now you’re saying this has nothing to do with Vietnam?”

            “I am saying that what I thought was simply a war trauma turns out to be something much more serious,” he said with a pained expression on his face.

            “It can’t be!” Rob said, staring at him.  “It just can’t be.”

            “Christ Rob, I’m as shocked as you are.  But, believe me, I had no less than Ben Reiger, who is chief of Neurology, analyze your tests personally and then consulted with Don Greyburn who is head of Oncology, and the best in the city, and he concurred.”  Shaking his head in frustration, he continued.  “Look, I made an appointment for you to go downstairs and get another MRI.  They’ll send the results up to Greyburn, who is expecting you -- unless you’d feel more comfortable getting a second opinion from someone else.”

Rob stared at Aspel in quiet shock. “Jesus Christ! I’m not even fifty yet.”

            “Get the MRI and talk to Greyburn. He’s the expert, not I.”  With distress clouding his face, his hand touched Rob’s shoulder. “You’re like my own son, Rob.  I can’t tell you how sick this makes me.”  Suddenly, all of the fear unleashed itself as Rob, breaking out in a cold sweat whispered,  “Where’s the bathroom, Doc? I need the bathroom.”


           The look on Greyburn’s face told Rob all he needed to know.  The words stung him with their preciseness.  Through a haze, he heard disconnected phrases. than a year.  Greyburn was suggesting that it might not be worthwhile to undergo the ordeal of chemotherapy. 

            Oh God, he thought.  My Cate.  So pretty, so gentle. How he admired the untiring time she devoted to battered wives.  His friend, his lover. How he had longed to give her a beloved baby, but it never came to be.  How was he ever going to convince her to accept the few months he had left and learn to live without him?  That was the most painful part. And there was no waiting.  He had to tell her right away.  They didn’t keep secrets.  Christ!  This wasn’t happening!

            Rob heard Greyburn’s voice as if it were a faraway sound, saying, “Listen Rob, there are some alternative therapy patients who have formed a small support group.  They’re tightly knit -- very protective of one another.  They hold meetings on Monday nights at Farnsworth Hall.”  He pressed his business card into Rob’s palm.  “You’ll need this to get in.  Why not give it a try?”

            Numb, Rob shrugged as he placed the card in his pocket.“I’ll think about it,” he said.

Chapter 2


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