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Pepper Herman

Chapter Two


            Dr. Donald Greyburn, head of Oncology at Drayton Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia, founded a small support group for certain of his terminally ill cancer patients who all had one thing in common.  They all had decided to forego radiation,  drugs,  chemotheraphy and other related invasive techniques so that they could live as vigorous a life as possible with the little time they had remaining.

This was a very dedicated group of people that came together very quickly in warmth, trust and mutual respect.  There wasn’t a moment that one was not at the beck and call of the other.  They bonded fast.  And when one went it was as if a family member had passed away, so strong was their devotion.

And so it was devastating to the group when Lucas Distell, who constantly obsessed about the fact that nothing was ever really being done to shut down a child pornography outlet in Springfield, finally took things into his own hands and burned the empty facility down one evening and took his own life at the same time.

This tragic but meaningful occurrence began to ruminate in Don Greyburn’s mind. 

            He recalled Joseph Rossigian, head of Gastroentrology, last week telling him of a patient he had who constantly doubled over with stomach pains yet not one test came back with positive or sinister results.  He mentioned that this patient, Ed Hambrick, had been tortured by the fact that his wife had been raped and killed on a street in Philadelphia one evening leaving him with no one but a daughter and grandson.  He wondered whether perhaps these pains were simply psychosomatic.

This recalled the Lucas Distell episode and the germ of an idea erupted into a very plausible reality in Greyburn’s mind.  If Distell was able to pull off the destruction of the porn facility and die with dignity, why couldn’t Greyburn attempt to recruit  some like-minded people who might be induced to sacrifice their lives for a greater cause, especially if they were told they had a terminal disease.

            These candidates would have to be thoroughly screened, he reasoned -- none with family attachments of any sort -- kind of like this Ed Hambrick, if he could be so persuaded.  Records would have to be doctored.  No loopholes could exist to come back and point the finger.

            Though he had twinges of guilt at the thought of clearly exploiting another human being, the strength of the passion with which he felt this idea overcame his initial trepidations and spurred him into immediate action as he set up a meeting with some of the Drayton doctors he trusted to discuss the ramifications of such a plan.  Rossigian, of course, Ben Reiger, Drayton’s top neurosurgeon, and Tom Dadero, head of Pulmonary, who himself was suffering the recent loss of his son due to a drunk driver, would all likely be sympathetic to his plan.  If they could just get this Ed Hambrick to involve himself with the group, and several other patients that the doctors might suggest as viable candidates, perhaps these quiet heroes could help rid the world of some of its evil vermin.


Farnsworth Hall                                                         

Rob found Room 201 with no trouble.  He handed Greyburn’s business card to the 20-ish looking Latino with chiseled features and shoulder-length black hair, standing at the door.  At first glance, Rob thought he noticed a birthmark between the thumb and forefinger of the Latino’s left hand, but upon closer inspection, realized that it was a tattoo of a scorpion.  “I’m Rob Marchand,” Rob said.

“Hi. I’m Diego Bayamon,” he answered pleasantly.  “And this,” he said, gesturing toward a heavy-set woman in her late fifties with wiry short gray hair, “is Molly Rabinowitz.”

            “Welcome,” she said, a warm smile spreading out on her very kind looking face.

            “And this guy here,” said Diego, indicating a short, stout, balding man with a swarthy complexion, perhaps in his early sixties, “is kind of our moderator, Ed Hambrick.”

            “It’s good to have you here, Rob,” Ed said, extending a beefy hand in welcome.  “If Greyburn sent you here, you’re okay.”

            “Well, I don’t know about that,” Rob replied.

            “What do you do, Rob?  For a living, I mean.”

            “I own a helicopter parts plant.  I was a pilot in Vietnam, so I guess it was kind of a natural progression.”

            “Sounds interesting,”  Ed replied.

            “Yeah, and now this.  I just found out that I have an inoperable brain tumor.”

            “Well, welcome to the club,” Molly said, with mock humor.

Ed rubbed his hands together. “That’s why we’re here.”

It seemed strange to Rob that there were only three people in the group and further that they sure didn’t seem as if they were in the final stages of anything.  

            As if anticipating Rob’s thoughts, Ed said, “Rob, you might be wondering why we are such a small group.  Let me explain.  We’ve all got several things in common.  We’re all Greyburn’s patients, we’ve rejected medical treatment, and we’ve accepted the fact that we’re terminal.  Our group is small because ... well frankly ... we lose members rather quickly.  Yet for the short time that we have together we all feel like family.  We’ve established  a terrific bond for one another.”  He paused and peered into Rob’s eyes with intent.  “We call ourselves ‘The Doomsday Club’ in hopes that, with our short time left on this earth, maybe we could at least leave our mark on society in some significant way.”  

            “I’m not exactly sure I follow you,” said Rob.

            “Okay,” Ed said.  Do you remember when the Quincy Township nuclear power plant was destroyed in July?”

            “Yes, sure.  It was in its early stages of being built.  I remember that they never found out who did it.”

Nodding his head, Ed leaned forward for emphasis.  “And they never will because the person who was responsible for the disaster was Becca McKinnon, one of us.  She was a nursery school teacher who had a late stage brain tumor.  Becky was passionate on the dangers of nuclear power.  It was an obsession with her.  And finally, one evening, she gained entrance to the place when she knew it would be empty, except for a guard at the gated entrance...”  Ed paused.  “Are you okay with this, Rob?”

             “I’m fine,” Rob assured him.

            “Well, we know she got past that guard without his knowledge, probably by jumping the snow fence, because she often fantacized at our meetings as to how she might do it if she ever got the guts. She never told us her plan. I guess she felt the less we knew the better off we’d be.”  He took a deep breath.  “Anyway,” he said with a far-off expression on his face, “that girl blew up the pilings and structure of that plant and herself with it.  I’ll never forget reading the account in the paper and realizing it was our own Becca who did it.   It seems the guard found some cards strewn on the ground that said, ‘Compliments of the Doomsday Club’.”  He shook his head in disbelief.  “I remember she came into this group right after I did.”  He had a far away expression on his face as he continued,  “I think the seed was planted in her mind by a story she had read in the paper about Lucas Distell, a member here before my time, who had set fire to a child pornography facility in Springfield  and died in that fire. “

            “My God,” was all Rob managed to say.

            “That was before I joined the group too but I remember reading about it,” Molly chimed in with a catch in her voice.  “Becca was a nursery school teacher and so dedicated to the health and welfare of children that we are all convinced she was fixated by the incredible bravery of Distell.  It’s all she ever talked about.  Right Ed?”           

            Ed nodded and continued, “I remember that at the next meeting , our members and Don Greyburn were totally astounded by what she’d done.”  He paused and stared off into the distance as he stated, “In that moment I had an epiphany.  As long as I wasn’t going to be around much longer, I decided I wanted to set my fate the way Becca did hers.  I want to go out by first doing some good for mankind.”

Tears sprung into his eyes as he balled his fist and shook it.  “I want to avenge the murder of my wife,” he choked.

There was a long silence. 

            “I’m sorry.”  He took a deep breath and continued.  “Right now our next plan involves Diego.”  Turning to Diego, Ed asked,  “Is it all right to talk about it or would you rather we didn’t?”

            Diego shrugged his shoulders.  “Sure.  I don’t care.”  He glanced at Rob.  “I got lung cancer from breathing in asbestos in the ghetto where I come from.  I’m gonna die anyway.  Nobody can hurt me anymore.”  Then facing Rob he explained with bitterness, “My eleven year old sister was made a druggie by pushers in my neighborhood.  They fed her habit till she O.D.’d.  So far the bastard that fronts the


gang is still out there.  Cause the cops don’t give a shit. They’re too busy giving out parking tickets.”  His eyes became slits as he said, “But I know just how to get him. I don’t want to put you guys in jeopardy, so I won’t say nothing more. Just read the papers.”

Ed spoke up.  “As for my part in this, Rob,” he said, clenching his fists, “my wife, Valerie, was raped and murdered on a street corner while she was waiting for a bus.  They never found the bastard.”  Looking up at Rob, he continued with resignation in his voice, “It’s probably how I got pancreatic cancer.”

            “Jesus,” Rob murmured.

Molly Rabinowitz turned to face Rob, her soft expression concealing the rage within her.  I’d like you to know about me,” she said, facing Rob.  “There’s this cult group called ‘Utopia.’  A shit named Haissem runs it.   Our son, Jay, was brainwashed by them.

By the time they were done with him, he wouldn’t have anything to do with us.” 

She stopped.  Tears clouded her eyes.  “My husband, Morty, died from a heart attack over this.” 

Ed put his hand on her shoulder.  “Molly, don’t do this.”

            “No, it’s all right, Ed.  I want to.”  She went on.  “Jay was in summer school when it happened.  He had attention deficit disorder, so he was a vulnerable kid to begin with.”  She sighed.  “Anyway, he was doing some shopping after school when a girl approached him and asked him if he was lonely and would he like to make some new friends?  Naturally, my impressionable son said yes.  So she took him upstairs above a store and gave him some kind of test.”  She stared into space.  “At dinner that night, I remember asking him what kind of questions were on the test, and his answer was, ‘oh, things like what I do with my time and how many friends I have.’

I told him I didn’t like the sound of it and he said his usual, ‘oh Mom, butt out.’  So I butted out -- until the phone calls started coming in for him hot and heavy.  I told

them, ‘Don’t call this number anymore or I’ll call the police, hear me?’  Stupid me.  Oh, they stopped all right. So what did they do?  They started waiting for him, unbeknownst to me, after school, and talked all syrupy,” she said in a mocking tone. “And...they got him.” 

            She ran her fingers through her short wiry gray hair, a look of despair crossing her face as she recalled the details.  “He started spending all his time there.  Finally, he moved in.  God forbid,  if I tried to say one word against that leader, Haissem,  Jay was all over me.  The followers are called Sibs.  Jay became so involved with them that he eventually stopped taking our calls.  Our doctor tried.   Our rabbi tried.  Nothing.  He was incommunicado.”  She looked at the group with pain in her eyes.  “I know this was the cause of my Morty’s heart attack.  That son of a bitch, Haissem!  That rotten, no-good son of a bitch!  He took advantage of a sixteen year old kid and he ...” her voice cracked, “we ... we never saw Jay again but we heard that he jumped off an apartment balcony.

We never found out why.”  She paused.  “And then I began getting these horrible headaches so I went to Dr. Reiger and ... well ... you know the rest.”  Unconsciously, she began to pound her fist on the table.  “I’ll get that son of a bitch.  I’m not sure how just yet, but I’ll figure it out.  Trust me.”  She fished a tissue out of her purse and blew her nose into it.

            Rob shook his head in disbelief.  “Sweet Jesus.”

            Ed uttered quite low, “So, now you see.  We all come with our own particular agenda.  But before we leave this world, we are committed to repairing some of society’s wrongs.”  He looked at Rob.  “And you, Rob.  What about you?”

            Rob stared into space for a long time before answering.  “Can you imagine what’s it’s like when you put your trust in somebody and they deceive you?  All I ever wanted to do was to fly a helicopter.  When they told me I was going to ‘Nam, I was ready. I believed in that god damn war.  I trusted that  the army was going to be there for us and support their own.”  His face showed a look of disdain.  “A fantasy.  The whole thing.  A crock of shit.  They left a bunch of poor, dumb suckers abandoned and on their own.  But I got lucky. I got to go home all battered and bruised inside while my poor wife, Cate, was left to pick up the pieces.”  He shook his head as if discarding the painful images.

            Ed placed his hand on Rob’s shoulder.  “Rob, you’ve got some thinking to do.  You’re needed here.  I think I safely speak for all of us when I say we want you to be a part of us.” The others nodded in agreement.  “But if you want to walk right out that door now, Rob, there will be no regrets.  We will never hurt you and, as you must

already know, you cannot really hurt us either.  The Doomsday Club will always live on in some way or another.”  He continued.  “We’re not even worried that you won’t keep our secret.  We’re a pretty tough group to pin down.  But even if we were somehow discovered, what could they do to us?  Know what I mean?”  He glanced at Rob.  “So ... are you turned off by this, or what?”

            The innocent straightforwardness and conviction of this group filled Rob with awe. 

Shaking his head, he replied, “I’m dumbstruck by your trust in me.  I know this may sound strange, but in a weird way I think that something very important  happened to me here tonight.  I feel like ... well ... like I want to be a part of you guys.   But right now I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.  I’ve got to sort it all out. Give me some time to think about it.”

He added with a softness in his voice, “And I’ll want you to meet my Cate.  She’s something really special.  Oh, and ...”  looking from face to face he quickly added, “you don’t have to worry about my saying anything to her about what goes on here.  She’d be the first one to want me to respect your privacy.” 

            “That’s entirely your call, Rob,” Ed replied.

Rob rose, faced them and extended his hand to Ed.  “Thanks for being so open with me.  I hope that eventually I can be the same way with you.  I’ll be in touch soon.”

Chapter 3


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