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Pepper Herman

Chapter Twelve

Friday, January 10th

            Cate’s wide-heeled brown boots rapped in a steady rhythm down the hallway as she neared Suite 433 with the name Donald A. Greyburn, Oncology, imprinted on the door.   As she removed her small woolen hat that protected her from the icy outdoors, her straight brown hair fell softly about her shoulders.  Clutching a large paper shopping bag protectively close, she entered the office.

            The waiting room was tastefully done.  Floral watercolors with expansive strokes dominated the pale peach-colored walls, lending a freshness and brightness to the area.  Atop a silver gray Berber carpet, chrome chairs aligned three of the walls.  On the fourth wall, a huge clear vase of gladiolus was positioned on a chrome and black parson’s table alongside all manner of architectural and designer magazines.  Taking up the entire center of the room was a large, circular kiosk -- the receptionist’s area. 

            Unconsciously tugging at the long white wool scarf which encircled her black wool coat, she approached the receptionist, concealing a smile.  The  blond ringlets made the woman look like an aged Shirley Temple.  To compound the comic effect, her sweeping false eyelashes were shielded by rhinestone-studded harlequin glasses and dark brown lipstick adorned her mouth much higher than her normal lipline.

            With an austere expression, the receptionist said, “May I help you?”

            “I’d like to speak with Dr. Greyburn when he has a minute”

            “Have you an appointment?” she asked, with an accusing tone to her voice.

            “No, I have not, but I am willing to wait until after office hours, if necessary, to see him.”

            “Doctor doesn’t see anyone without an appointment,” she sing-songed.

            Undaunted, Cate replied with a smile, “I’m sure that is true.  But I would appreciate it if you would tell him Cate Marchand is here to see him, anyway.”

            “I’m afraid it won’t do you any good, madam,” she said in a stern voice.  “We have our instructions.  Would you care to make an appointment?”

            “No,” said Cate, hoisting up her shoulder bag.  “I don’t want an appointment.  I need to see him now.”

            “If this is an emergency...”

            “Nope, not an emergency.”

            Looking at the appointment book, the receptionist said, “I see that he has a cancellation next Wednesday at 2.”

            Cate’s face clouded as she leaned in toward the woman.  “No ma’am.  Now!” she whispered, her voice grim.

            “What was that name again?”

            “Marchand.  Caitlin Marchand.”

            “This is highly irregular,” she replied.  I’ll see what I can do.” Rising, she turned toward a hallway, her voice trailing off as she spoke.  “If everyone did this...”

            “Thank you,” Cate stared after her as she disappeared down the hallway, presumably to the doctor’s office.

            She returned in a few minutes, her face flushed as she sputtered,  “Doctor will see you after his last patient.”  She paused, then added, “It may be a long wait.”

            Picking up a magazine, Cate nodded. “That’s fine.”


            An hour and twenty minutes later, Cate noticed she was the only one left in the waiting room.  She looked at her watch.  Four fifty.

            The receptionist announced, “Doctor will see you now, madam.  Down the hall, second door on your left.”  she indicated the hall to Cate.

            “Thank you,” Cate responded.

            Don Greyburn met her at the door.  “Hello, Cate,” he said with warmth, “everything okay?”

            “Not exactly,” she replied, an edge to her voice.

            “Oh?  Well, why don’t you have a seat and we’ll talk about it.”  He indicated a brown leather chair.  “Want a drink?”

            “No, thank you,” Cate answered in a clip tone.

           “Well, I’ll have one then.  It’s been a long day.”  He revealed an enclosed bar set-up behind a closet door.  Filling a glass with some ice from an ice bucket, he poured himself a vodka-on-the-rocks.  Leaning on his desk, arms folded, he said, sighing, “All right, Cate.  Let’s have it.  What’s the problem?”

            “I’ll get right to the point. I know that you know Rob is alive so let’s not waste any time playing that game.”  As she spoke, she fished inside the shopping bag and emptied the contents onto his desk.  “I think these speak for themselves.”

            Don Greyburn put down his glass as it suddenly occurred to him that what he was looking at were all of Rob’s medical records and the phony X-rays he had manufactured for Craig Aspel’s files.  His face went ashen.  Particularly since he thought he’d extricated everything the previous Tuesday afternoon from Craig’s office.

            “When Rob first found out from you that he had an incurable brain tumor, I urged him to get another opinion.  He wouldn’t do it.  He felt that Craig Aspel was trustworthy and only affiliated himself with the very best doctors.”  She paused, looking into his eyes.  “I didn’t want to make any waves in his already destroyed life,

so I took it upon myself to ask Craig Aspel to send me copies of all of Rob’s records for our files.”  She began placing the records back into the shopping bag.

            Attempting to look calm while feverishly resisting an urge to grab those files, Greyburn asked, “So what do you want from me, Cate?”

            “It’s really quite simple.  Being that you and your ... accomplices literally got away with murder ... two murders, actually, you should not only be willing, but anxious, to pay the piper.”

            “Are you threatening me, Cate?” he murmured.

            “Hardly.  You did what you did,” her deepset brown eyes peered directly into his blue ones.

            “And just what are you thinking of doing with those records, Cate?  Taking them to the press?  To the police, maybe?  Doesn’t that mean that you will be implicating your own husband?  You must know how easy it would be to prove that he blew up the army building.”

            “Number one,” she responded, “you know the army isn’t going to cooperate on that score because to do so they’d have to admit duplicity and get into the controversy of secret germ warfare experiments.”  Then, with sarcasm in her voice, added, “No, I don’t think they’ll go there.”  

            As she gazed at him, she became aware of his discomfort. “Number two, if worse came to worst, I know that Rob would be willing to confess his part in this thing, and, just like you, he’d stand a good chance of getting off anyway.” 

She continued, “Number three, don’t forget we have two willing Doomsdayers sitting in the wings just itching to testify.”

            As Greyburn pondered, he sipped his vodka.  Finally, he spoke. “So, what are you proposing?” his blue eyes probed hers.

            “As I’m sure you already know -- you screened us thoroughly enough -- I work at a shelter for battered women, a few blocks from the hospital.  Our place is overcrowded.” Her look was penetrating.  “You and your friends seem to have a dedication to bettering society -- distorted though your ethics might be.  You are  all successful, wealthy, and enjoy a quality life.  So I’m asking you all to pool your resources and erect a facility for battered women.  I want it to be called, ‘The McKinnon-Bayamon Home for  Abused Women.’”  Meeting his stare, she went on, “You know it’s not too much to ask.  A drop in the bucket, really.  And the irony is, it’ll make you look like heroes in the community.”  Her face took on a petulant look as she concluded, “Much as it grieves me, I can live with that.”

            A small whistle emanated from between his teeth.  “Some might call that blackmail, Cate.”

            “You can put any name on it you wish, Doctor.  Bottom line is, everybody benefits from this proposal and we can go on with our lives.  As I see it, you four have the most to gain or the most to lose.”  Grabbing the shopping bag, she stood,  walked to the door, and opened it.  “I’ve said everything I came to say.  I hope to hear from you soon.  You owe us one, Doctor,” she said, and closed the door.


Monday, January 13th

            It was 5:30 in the afternoon when the call came through.

            “Cate?  Don Greyburn,” he announced. “Can we talk?”


            “I met with the others this weekend and we’ve all agreed that your suggestion has a lot of merit.”

            “I’m glad to hear that.”

            “There are a few things that need to be ironed out, though.”

            “Such as?”

            “Well, the name, for one.  There is some concern that someone will make a connection.  We’d prefer something more generic in nature.”

            Cate paused a moment, thinking, then finally said,  “Fine!  Then change it to The Bayakinnon Home for Abused Women.  Those people gave up their lives because you manipulated their thinking.  Some way or other their names go on that building,” she said, with fervor.

            “If you feel that strongly about it ...”

            “You bet I do,” she interrupted.

            “Okay, then.”

He continued.  “Another thing.  We feel that it’s essential you don’t become involved, either physically or visually in this deal.”

            “That not a problem, as long as you carry out your part.  Anything else?”

            “Yes.  I’m sure you can appreciate the delicacy of the situation.  We don’t want anything in writing.  This will be our project from start to finish and you need to trust that it will be done efficiently.”

            “It isn’t necessary to have anything in writing, Doctor.  I have Rob’s test results.”

            “Which brings up another point, Cate.  What assurance do we have that none of you will attempt something against us in the future?”

            “You don’t.  You have nothing more than my word.  Deceit is not part of my character, Don.  Can you say the same thing?”  She paused.  “And speaking of assurance, I know how much red tape can be involved in these projects.  I would like to have this done by the end of the year.”

            “I can’t possibly guarantee that, Cate.  These things take time.  We have to find the right place, break ground.  Weather conditions or other things beyond our control could slow things down.  I do have some connections, though and, with some good luck, maybe you’ll have your building by Thanksgiving or Christmas, but you can’t reasonably hold us to that.”

            “All right,” Cate conceded.  “That sounds fair.”

            “As far as the legal details are concerned, I’ll have our attorneys work everything out with your shelter people.  You needn’t get involved.”

            “Of course,” Cate replied.  “As far as I am concerned, the shelter people never need to know of my involvement with you.”

            “Then I assume this will be the last time we need to have contact with each other.”

            “Unless things don’t go as planned.”

            “They will ... and, Cate?”


            “For what it’s worth, I just want you to know, we are not the ogres you think we are.  Maybe our thinking became too zealous.  Whatever.   Our punishment is the guilt ... it’s on-going.  We all have our skeletons,” he said, his voice sober.

            “I’ve always been taught to turn the other cheek, but I admit  I’m having difficulty with it. ‘Bye, Doctor,” said Cate, placing the receiver back on the cradle.

Tuesday, January 14th

            Avery Burnham picked up his flip phone and dialed Don Greyburn’s number.

            “Dr. Greyburn’s office,” the terse voice answered.

            “This is Avery Burnham of the Philadelphia Sentinel returning Dr. Greyburn’s call.”

            “Please hol...” and she was gone.

            After a short wait, Greyburn was on the line.   “Mr. Burnham, thanks for getting back to me so quickly.  There’s something I’d like to discuss with you if you’ve got a minute.”

            “What’s it about, Doctor?”

            “My three colleagues -- the ones you interviewed -- and I were discussing this New Year’s prank thing.  The more we tried to ferret out who would do such a thing , the more frustrated we became.   Finally, we came up with an idea on how to, at least, clear our names with the public -- in a way that would benefit everybody, including you.  I’d like to run it by you.”

            “I’m all ears,” Burnham replied.

            “We would like to erect a shelter for battered women near the hospital and include free medical care to its residents.”  He paused.  “All expenses being handled strictly by the four of us, of course,” he added.  “Not only would we be doing a service to our community, but we would also, hopefully, be squelching any unwarranted resentment against us.” He cleared his throat.  “We thought it might make a good human interest story, Mr. Burnham.  What do you think?”

            “Killing two birds with one stone, so to speak, eh, Doctor?”

            “You could say that.  And we thought you might like to follow up on our progress.  Maybe interview residents of the shelter.  Do a profile on some of the families -- that sort of thing.”

            “Yeah ... yeah ... I see where you’re going.  Hmmm.  A human interest story,” he reflected.

            “Exactly.  So how do you feel about that?”

            “Sounds interesting.  I’ll speak to my editor and get back to you.”

            “Great. Thanks, Mr. Burnham.

            “It’s my job,” Burnham replied, and closed the flip phone.



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