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Pepper Herman

Chapter Eleven

Tuesday, December 31st.  New Year’s Eve

            Horns, streamers, blowers, fancy top hats and Happy New Year signs adorned the ballroom of the Cliftwood Country Club.  Each table sparkled with expensive china and flatware.  Wine glasses were bubbling with champagne. Couples looked elegant in black tie and ball gowns.   The room took on a festive air as the physicians of Drayton Memorial hospital whirled their wives around the dance floor, laughing and mingling with one another in mindless banter.

            As midnight approached, couples crowded the dance floor with anticipation.  The bandleader, his voice strident, began to count down the final seconds to the New Year.  “... eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one ... Happy New Year!” he shouted.  The crowd erupted into boisterous whoops of joy, everyone kissing, hugging, crying, blowing noisemakers and wishing good things for the new year.  Through the din, strains of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ could be heard. 

            Drs. Greyburn, Rossigian, Dadero and their wives were all toasting each other with glasses of champagne when Ben Reiger approached the table.

            Sensing something wrong, Greyburn shouted over the noise, “Ben, you okay?”

            “We need to talk, gentlemen,” Ben hollered back, his face pale.  “Will you please follow me into the men’s locker room?”  He turned to the wives, his voice raised, “Please forgive us for talking shop, ladies.  This won’t take long, I promise.”  He turned on his heels and began to walk away, the three physicians following behind.

They passed by rows of fancy oak wood lockers with golden nameplates affixed, their feet making no sounds on the plush, beige carpeting.

            “What’s this all about, Ben?”  Tom Dadero asked.

            “One of my close friends just beeped me here.”  As he spoke, he began to activate the small computer sitting on a table in the corner of the locker room.  “Seems as though his 18 year old son and some friends were playing around on the Internet tonight, and found this.”  He took the mouse, and, clicking it a few times, exposed the following web page:


Tuesday, December 31st

                                                 A CONSPIRACY     

                I am using this method of communication because I

                frankly believe that if I went to the press or government

                officials with this story, no one would believe me.

                But what you read here is the absolute truth, and the

                more people I can reach, the more secure I will feel that

                justice will be done.


                         A group of seemingly respected doctors from Drayton

                         Memorial hospital in Philadelphia have perpetrated

                         a scam which has lead to the deaths of innocent patients.

                         In order to create a safer environment for society,

                        these power-hungry, self-appointed gods criminally

                        distorted medical records in order to exploit certain

                        chosen patients into believing that they were

                        terminally ill when, in fact, they were not!


                        In July, they orchestrated the destruction of the

                        nuclear power plant in Quincy township, and in

                        November, the murder of a powerful drug lord in

                        North Philadelphia.


                        By telling this story to you, the people of the world,

                        I am exposing the criminal conspiracy of the

                        following physicians of Drayton Memorial hospital:


                        DR. DONALD A. GREYBURN - head of Oncology

                        DR. BENJAMIN J. REIGER - head of Neurology

                        DR. THOMAS DADERO - head of Pulmonary

                        DR. JOSEPH ROSSIGIAN - head of Gastroenterology


                        I’ve done my part.  The rest is up to you.  Peace.

The Orange Agent

            The four doctors stood transfixed before the computer.  There was a numbing silence.  Finally, Don Greyburn said, “Okay, let’s not panic about this.  We need to keep our wits about us and talk.  The Orange Agent -- that’s Rob.  He’s obviously alive.”

            A small whistle emitted from Tom Dadero’s lips.

            .“Jesus Christ, he’s right,” Ben Reiger said.

             “I knew it.  I just knew something like this might happen,” Joe Rossigian blurted.

            They seated themselves around a navy blue suede sectional.  Tom Dadero brought glasses and his private bottle of scotch from the bar.

            “I don’t mind saying, I’m scared,” Joe said.

            “I think we all are, Joe,” Greyburn replied.  But let’s take things one at a time,” he said, his voice taking on a quiet coolness.  “First, the bad stuff.  The press ... the hospital ... the police, possibly -- though what could they ask us really?  This stuff’s all hearsay.”

            “True,” said Ben. “It’s Rob’s word against ours.”

            “We can always say we never heard of any of those names.  Remember, there are no records.  Right?” said Tom, and then he added, “and maybe it was just a bunch of nutcakes on New Year’s Eve playing a practical joke or something like that.” 

            Rossigian spoke up. “Whatever we say, we’ve got to be sure we stick by the same story.”

            “Okay, tell me something,” Greyburn interrupted, “how would you react if someone accused you of something you were innocent of?”  He searched their faces.  “Well, just absorb that thought until it becomes a living part of you.  Be cool and calm.  We did nothing.  Hear that?  Nothing.  Live it!”

            Ben countered, “So we deny, deny, deny.”  He paused, strengthened.  “Know what?  We have nothing to be afraid of.  Aside of changing some records, no one has anything on us.  And, as Tom pointed out, there are no records to speak of.”

            “We’ve forgotten the one fly in the ointment, Ben,” Tom said, his voice rising.  “Aspel.  Marchand’s records are still in his office files.  The real ones and the edited copies we gave him.”

            “Oh Jesus and Mary,” Rossigian stammered.

            “Yes but with Aspel dead, who’s going to spill those beans?” asked Ben.  “His secretary left him months ago.  He’s got a neophyte in there now.”  He glanced at them.  “Rob?”  He shook his head for emphasis.  “No way.  He’d have to admit his part in the conspiracy.  Remember, he’s a transgressor.  He blew up an army facility.

He’s not going to be so quick to come forward.”

            “True.  And neither will Hambrick or Rabinowitz,” said Tom. “They’d only be implicating Rob.”

            “Nope!  I don’t like it.  There’s a loose straw,” said Greyburn.  “I’m going to call Aspel’s wife and offer to get all his files in order.  I’ll get the key to his office, and personally destroy all of Rob’s stuff.”

            They all nodded their approval.  “Good idea, Don,” said Tom.

            Rossigian’s voice quivered as he said, “You know, I’m ashamed to admit this, but, even though I knew he had a bad ticker ...”  he paused, sighing ... “I’m relieved Craig Aspel died.  I’d hate to think of what would have happened if he’d ever seen that website.  We’re goddam lucky.”  He frowned.  “Isn’t that awful?”

            “You’re human, Joe,” said Greyburn. “You only expressed outwardly what we’ve all been thinking to ourselves.  Much as I respected Craig, it is a relief ... and            

yes, we’re damned lucky.”  His eyes locked with Reiger’s.

            Glancing at his watch, Tom Dadero said, “Hey, we’d better get back to our wives.  Lucky for us tomorrow’s New Year’s Day.  We can buy some time to get our stories straight.”

            “Look,” Ben Reiger said, “we’ve got ourselves a little controversy here, but  I agree with Don.  If we stay cool, this thing is not insurmountable.” 

He stood, facing them, wonder in his voice.  “Son of a bitch!  Can you believe it?  Rob Marchand -- that bastard’s actually alive!”     


            The next morning, the switchboard at the Philadelphia Sentinel was all lit up with computer junkies wanting to know more about the website article.  Tucked back in the local news section, the paper ran the following article:


                                                 DOCTORS AT DRAYTON MEMORIAL

                                                    SUSPECTED OF FOUL PLAY

                                                        By Avery Burnham

                                                      Sentinel Staff Writer


                                    Four doctors at Drayton Memorial hospital have

                                    been accused of falsifying certain patients’ records

                                    to make it seem as if they had terminal diseases

                                    when, in fact, they did not. The alleged crime was

                                    reported on New Year’s Eve at a website found on

                                     the Internet.

                                    The doctors were also accused of indirectly mani-

                                    pulating the destruction of the Quincy township

                                    nuclear power plant in July, and of the death of the

                                    elusive and corruptive drug kingpin, Estefan Valdez,

                                    in November.

                                    Under suspicion are:  Drs. Donald A. Greyburn, Thomas

                                    Dadero, Benjamin J. Reiger and Joseph Rossigian.

                                    The physicians were unavailable for comment.

Thursday, January 2nd

            Walking with a slight limp, Avery Burnham, an African-American in his late 50’s, entered Don Greyburn’s office.  The overhead light exaggerated the shininess of his bald head and his rumpled suit suggested that he’d slept in his clothes. 

            Greyburn indicated a brown leather chair which sat in front of the expansive oak desk and said, “Mr. Burnham.  Hi.  Here, have a seat, won’t you?”

            “Thank you, sir,” Burnham said, while making a feeble attempt to straighten his tie.  “I appreciate you seeing me about that website article.  I just have a few questions.”

            Don waved his hand.  “Let’s clean this thing up.”

            “Is it true?  Are there falsified records floating around this hospital?” he said, an edge of sarcasm coloring his voice.

            Don scoffed.  “Not only is it not true, it’s ridiculous as well.”  He paused.  “Insulting too, I might add.”

            “Well, how do you think such a thing came to be on the Internet?  And who could have done it?  Anyone you might have in mind?”

            “Well, Mr. Burnham, I have wracked my brain and I swear to you, I can’t think of a single soul who’d do a thing like that.”  He leaned his elbows on his desk and cupped his chin in his hands.  “Know what I think?  I think it’s a stupid, practical joke played on New Year’s Eve by some bored fraternity kids or something like that.  Probably high on pot or booze.”

            “Are you familiar with the Quincy township nuclear power plant destruction in July?”

            Greyburn shrugged.  “Who isn’t?  But to suggest that I, or any of the others, had anything to do with that, is downright ludicrous.”

            “And what about the drug lord who was blown up at 7th and Cambria.  Know anything about that?”

            “Only what I read in the paper.  Frankly, I don’t have much empathy for what took place there, though.”

            “Are you familiar with a group called, ‘The Doomsday Club?’”

            “Again, only from reading something about that in the papers.”

            “Would you be willing to open up your files to a search?”

            “I’d be more than happy to comply.  I’m sure my colleagues would too,” he added.  “We have nothing to hide.”

            “I’d like to interview them too.  Get their slant on it.  Think they’d mind?”

            “Mind?  Not in the least.  We’d all like to put this thing to rest.  It’s a total waste of our time.  And we are busy men -- I’m sure you can appreciate that.”

            “Sure I can, Doctor,” he stood.  “Oh, one more thing.  Are you planning to do anything about the possibly libelous statements made about you?”

            “You know, we talked about that.  And we decided not to dignify this trash by putting any credence to it.  Our reputations speak for themselves.”

            Smoothing his wrinkled glen plaid jacket, Avery Burnham said, “If I have any further questions, may I call on you again?”

            Greyburn rose.  “Certainly.  The sooner this thing is history, the better off we’ll all be.  I’m sure even you’ve got better things to do with your time.  This is probably a pain-in-the-ass to you as well,” he said, walking him to the door.

            Burnham shrugged.  “It’s my job.”

Chapter 12


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