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Pepper Herman

Chapter Nine

Wednesday, December 25th, Christmas Day

            Snow powdered the tree branches as Ed Hambrick trudged up the walk Wednesday afternoon carrying a shopping bag stuffed with gifts.  A Christmas tree, its tiny lights twinkling intermittently, stood inside the picture window of the modest, two-story brick house in Westfield, New Jersey.

           With a twinge of pain, he pondered how much Valerie would have wanted to share this day with her family.  She had so loved the holidays, until that brutal day ten years ago when a rapist took her from them forever.  Though his ongoing search for her killer had proved fruitless, his dedication to that pursuit never ceased to provoke him. 

            Through the years, his health began to fail.  At first it was abdominal cramps and exhaustion.  But when, about six months ago, his back pains started getting worse and his tiredness continued, he decided to see Joe Rossigian.  It was Rossigian who diagnosed his condition as  pancreatic cancer.   It was Rossigian who encouraged Ed to form a terminal cancer support group and it was Rossigian who spurred Ed on to restore his search for Val’s killer.

            He reminisced on his life with Val.  It had been a good one, warm and caring.  He was twenty-six when he met her.  As the owner of a plumbing business, he had been commissioned by Val’s landlord to install all new appliances in her apartment  .  She was twenty-four then and a private secretary in a small law firm.  He fell for her immediately.  He loved her dimples and her short curly brown hair. 

Having  both lost their parents a few years before, they naturally gravitated toward each other.  After they were wed, Val kept her secretarial job until Melissa was born.  His two girls were the light of his life for 7 years.  And then, just like that, it was over. 

           Val’s car had been in the shop so she’d taken a bus that day.  She never returned; raped in broad daylight.  Scenes flashed through his mind ... the police contacting him ... the disbelief ... the look on Melissa’s face when he told her ... the identification at the morgue.  He felt his stomach go sour and hastily shook the vision out of his head. 

            Before he could ring the bell, his seven year old grandson, Julian, greeted him.

            “Grampy, Grampy, you’re here!  Mom!  Grampy’s here!”

            “Hi fella,” Ed said, giving his grandson a bear hug.  Then, handing the shopping bag to Julian, he said, “Here.  Go put these under the tree for your ol’ Gramps.”

            Melissa, a tintype of her mother, was short with a tiny build, curly brown hair, and a radiant smile.  She threw her arms around her Dad’s neck.  “Daddy!  C’mon in.  We’ve missed you so.  Give me your coat.  Are you frozen?  Let me look at you.”  She peered at him with a critical eye.  “You look good, Daddy.  You really do.  How bad’s the pain?”

            “It isn’t.  Really,” he replied.  “A few stomach pangs here and there but I’m not taking chemo, you know, and that’s probably why I don’t feel so bad.  I have an appointment for tests when I get back to see what’s what ... so ...”

            She looped her arm through his.  “Okay, Daddy,” she said, a little too loudly, “enough of this talk.  It’s Christmas and we’re giving thanks for your still being here with us.  Let’s just have fun.”

            Together they walked into the family room where Melissa’s husband, Chris Ramsey, was watching a football game on TV.  Popcorn studded the floor where he sat in his overstuffed chair, feet propped up on the magazine-laden cocktail table, TV clicker secured in his hand.

            “Dad, how ya doin’?” Chris said.  “You look great.”

            “Hi son.  I’m fine.  Who’s winning?”

            “Packers lead the Lions 13 to 3.  How ‘bout a beer?”

            “You’re on,” he said, settling himself down on the sofa.

            Melissa hollered on her way to the kitchen, “Don’t get too comfortable, gentlemen.  Dinner will be ready in about fifteen minutes.”


            It hit him at six in the morning.  The pains were shooting.  Ed doubled over, moaning.  Melissa, hearing him, rushed into his room, alarmed.

            “Daddy, what’s wrong?”

            “Jesus ... must be the cancer ...” he said, panting.  His face drained of all color.

            Chris was up like a shot.  “Dad, I don’t like it.  I’m driving you to St. Rita’s.  It’s only a few blocks away.  Can you stand up?”

            “I’d better call Rossigian right away,” he groaned.

            “No time for that, Dad.  Let me get your coat.”  Chris faced Melissa.  “Honey, get some slippers on him or something, will you?  We’ll call you as soon as we know anything.”     

            “Oh God, Chris.  Promise?”

            “Honey, I promise,” he said as he ran out to start the car.

            Helping him with his coat, Melissa whispered, “Daddy, I love you.”

            Grimacing in pain, Ed nodded in response, but said nothing.


            It was surprisingly quiet in the emergency room of St. Rita’s hospital.  After having his history charted and his symptoms of acute abdominal pain noted on the admittance form, Ed was evaluated by the ER attending physician and a surgeon.

Abdominal X-rays were ordered to rule out any obstruction.  Then, due to continued severe pain, he was given an abdominal CT scan.

            Four hours and ten minutes later, it was all over and he was led back to the emergency ward cubicle awaiting results from the doctor on duty.

            The nameplate on the doctor’s white jacket read, Mavis Raymond.  “Well, Mr. Hambrick, welcome to the world of holiday-itis,” she said, with a sardonic air.

            “What?” said Ed, puzzled.

            “You’re a lucky man.  We don’t normally get CT scan results this quickly, but you mentioned pancreatic cancer so we got the old wheels turning.  You old faker!” she winked.  “You probably said that just to get our attention, right?  What you’ve got is a grand old case of gastritis ... probably caused by over-indulging.  Our hospital is full of cases like yours at this time of year.  I’ll send someone in to give you a shot to alleviate the pain and you can be on your way. “

            “But what about my pancreatic cancer?”

She looked at him strangely.  “What pancreatic cancer?  Where in the world did you ever get such a notion?” she said.  “ Aside of a little indigestion, you’re batting a thousand.” 

            “Are you kidding me or what?”  Ed looked at her in astonishment.   “My doctors at Drayton Memorial told me that I’m terminal,” he said.

            Pursing her lips and frowning, she said, “That’s flat out impossible, Mr. Hambrick.  Whether it was your misunderstanding or your doctor’s I don’t know, but I’d check it out if I were you. Somebody goofed, but I can assure you that it’s not on our end.  Every test we ran, the blood work, the X-rays, the CT scan -- everything -- came back negative.  I’ll give you copies of all the results to take with you.”  She placed her hand in her jacket pocket.  “Here’s my card.  You’re welcome to have your physician contact me if there are any further questions.  But you’re fine, Mr. Hambrick, really you are.  Just eat light for the next few days.” she said, patting him on the shoulder.  “Now, can I get back to some patients who truly are sick? “   

            Ed stared at her in shock.  “Is there a phone I can use?” he stammered.

            “Certainly.  It’s down at the end of the hall, next to the waiting room.  But wait for that shot first.”

            “Thanks,” Ed muttered in a daze, as she quickly disappeared out of sight.


            The answering machine was loud and clear.

            The office of Dr. Joseph Rossigian is closed for the holiday and will re-open on Thursday morning, January the second.  If this is an emergency, please call    215-555-0446.  Thank you.

            Ed stared at the phone for a full thirty seconds.  Then, as if recovering from a trance, he dialed again.

            A mechanical sounding voice came on the line.  “Dr. Greyburn’s office.”

            “Dr. Greyburn, please.”

            “This is Dr. Greyburn’s answering service.  He’s away until Thursday morning.             If this is an emergency, Dr. Stewart Rubin is taking his calls.”

            “No, not an emergency,” Ed spoke into the receiver before placing it quickly back on the cradle.

            “Dad!  What’s going on?”  Chris said, coming up behind him.

            “They ... they said I don’t have cancer,” Ed stammered.

            “What? ... They said what? ... Who said that?”

            “A Dr. Raymond came into ...”

            Chris interrupted him.  “Wait a minute!  Mavis Raymond?  You mean she’s the one who analyzed your results?”  Ed nodded.  “Geez, Dad, you’re lucky you got her.  She’s got a great reputation.”  He paused.  “Why don’t you call your doctor?”

            “I just did.  Both of them.  They’re on vacation.  Neither will be in till next Thursday morning.”  Ed looked at Chris with a look of disbelief on his face.  “Is this really happening?”

            “Then what the hell is wrong with you?”

            “Nothing.  Gastritis,” Ed answered.  “She said I have gastritis -- that a lot of people get it at Thanksgiving and Christmas and I’ll be fine.”

            “Well goddam, Dad!  Let’s get the hell home to Melissa right away,” he said picking up his cell phone. 


Friday, December 27th

            At 9:15 in the morning, the phone rudely jangled Don Greyburn awake on his day off from the hospital.  He let it ring a few more times hoping that Janet wourelieve him of the burden but instantly realized that he heard the shower running. 

The voice of Craig Aspel on the other end immediately washed away any vestiges of

sleep that remained.

            “Hey Craig.  How are you, friend?”

            “A bit puzzled and worried at this point, Don.”

            “What’s this about, Craig?” Don asked, his vibes alert in every fiber of his    


            “Well,” said Craig, with his easy, laconic approach to words, “I was taking

advantage of the holiday to get some office work done here at the hospital when I

received a report from the lab on Rob Marchand.  Seems they were not certain they

had sent me a copy of his brain scan being that I had never initialed receiving it,

and Don,  I was puzzled by the words indicating that he had no tumor.  What the hell is that?”

            A wave of  shock swept through Don as he struggled to keep cool.  “Well, of

course that’s an impossibility.  I want to see that report immediately.”

            “This needs checking out Don, and quickly.  Tell you what,” said Craig.  “How ‘bout if I meet you at the commissary, say, around 12?  I’m buying lunch.” 

            “You got it,” said Don.  “Commissary food, hey?   My very favorite.”

            “See you then,” Craig said, then added with an anxious quality to his voice,    

            “You think it’s possible the lab goofed, Don?”

            “Sure sounds like it.  Wait till I get there.”  Don replied.  “See you at 12.”

Don placed the receiver on the hook only to immediately lift it again to call

Ben Reiger.   As Ben listened to the events of the previous five minutes, he calmly

said,  “That’s it, Don.  The man is history.  Do you agree?”

            “Absolutely,” replied Don.  “But Ben, I want this to be between the two of us.  No Rossigian, no Dadero.  Agreed?”

            “No question about it.  Tom’s still vulnerable after Ralph’s death.   And Joe ... well ...”

            “I know.  The less trauma Joe has to deal with, the better.  I worry about him

sometimes.   He voices too many fears for my comfort.”

            “Well, he’s in it now.  There’s nothing we can do.  And besides, he’s our only

connection to Ed Hambrick.”

            “Yeah, I know.”  Don sighed and said, “Okay, see what you think of this.  I’m meeting him for lunch at 12 today at the commissary.   I plan to talk him into letting me have the report with the excuse that I want to check it out thoroughly and get back to him.  Then while he’s paying for lunch I am going to take our trays and find us a table.  I plan to drop digitalis into his drink.  On top of the dose he’s

already taking, it will assure cardiac arrest.    No one will even bother to trace it

because he’s already got the stuff in his system.    I figure it should take about

an hour to kick in.  Agreed?  Or do you know a better way?”

            “Perfect,” Ben said.  “Call me when the deed is done.”  He paused a second,

then as an afterthought he added, “Listen, he was on his way out any time now, anyway.”


            The clamor of dishes and silverware  resounded throughout the commissary and mixed with the chatter of voices.  As Don and Craig edged away from the paying station, Don offered, “Why don’t I find us a table?  Here let me take that tray,” and spiriting the tray away from Craig, he started to gaze around the room for a table.

            “Good idea,” Craig responded.  “I’ll be over in a minute.  I want to pick up some mayonnaise.”

            By the time Craig arrived at the table, the digitalis was in its place and they began to discuss the report.

            “I am leaving right after lunch.  I promised Julie that I would take her to an art exhibit this afternoon and I am short for time,” said Craig, taking a bite of his turkey sandwich.  “I appreciate you taking the responsibility for this, Don.  Please get back to me as soon as possible if there is even a remote chance that the report is valid.  I don’t want to waste  any time in giving Rob the good news,”  he said, placing a packet of sweetener in his teacup and stirring.

            “Neither do I.  Don’t worry, I’ll get on it right away,” Don responded.   “If it’s good news, I’ll call you immediately.  Otherwise, I’ll just leave a message on your answering machine.  Give me your cell phone number.”

Reaching into his pocket, Aspel extracted a pen and his business card and wrote the number on the back.  “Here. I hope and pray that you’ll have to use it..”  He took another bite of his turkey sandwich and washed it down with a swallow of tea.

            “So do I, Craig, believe me,” Don said with a sincere expression pasted on his face while his innards played havoc with his system.

            It happened in the parking lot, and much quicker than Don had envisioned. They had just shaken hands and began walking in different directions  toward their cars when a woman’s scream stopped Don dead in his tracks.  Whirling around, he saw the crumpled figure of Aspel on the ground and a woman who was screaming for help.  Don told the woman to immediately go into the hospital and get help while he stayed with the victim.   One look in Aspel’s eyes told Don that he was already gone.  His feelings of relief were mixed with remorse and sadness and only the recognition that Aspel’s time was very limited saved him from any heavy sense of guilt.

            The emergency team was by his side in no time flat.  They ushered him into the ER and after a perfunctory check-up pronounced Craig Aspel deceased of an apparent cardiac arrest.


 Saturday, December 28th

            Melissa entered the guest room with a wicker tray full of breakfast goodies.

            “Morning, Daddy,” she said with a lilt in her voice.  “Rise and shine.  It’s ten o’clock already.”

            “I’m way ahead of you, honey.  The smell of bacon came wafting up to my room fifteen minutes ago.”

            “Um ... think your belly can handle bacon, Dad?  And pancakes?  So soon?”

            “Are you kidding?  I feel tip-top.  Three days of chicken soup and baked potatoes are enough for me.”

            “Okay,” she said, removing the oatmeal and toast from the tray.  I’ll be right back with the good stuff.”  She headed for the door.

            “That’s right, honey.  Spoil your old Dad-who-doesn’t-have-cancer,” he said, laughing.

            Melissa turned and sat on the edge of the bed, a serious expression clouding her face.  “Daddy, are you going to sue those Doctors?  I mean, what they did was reprehensible!”

            “Missy, I warned you about that kind of talk.  Don’t go jumping the gun till I get an explanation on Thursday when they get back from their vacations.  The whole thing’s a goddam mystery.  We’ll get to the bottom of it.”

            Ed wolfed down his breakfast, took a long, hot shower, played some Nintendo with Julian, and prepared for his drive back to Philadelphia.

            The Garden State Parkway was bumper-to-bumper with holiday traffic.  It gave Ed time to really think.  What possible reason could anyone have for telling someone they have an incurable disease if, in fact, they don’t?  Ridiculous.  It just didn’t make any sense.  On the other hand, playing the devil’s advocate, it didn’t add up that doctors of that caliber could make such a glaring mistake.  That made even less sense.

            He started speculating as to why, with an advanced case of pancreatic cancer, he never felt any worse.  In fact, except for occasional bouts with cramps, he felt pretty damned good for an old fart of sixty-two.  For that matter, so did Rob ... and Molly.  The lab!  Could the lab have ...?  He checked his watch.  Two forty-five.  Pushing his foot to the accelerator, he began weaving in and out of sluggish traffic.  His fingers tapped Molly’s number on his cell phone.  Within seconds a recorded voice announced that his call could not be completed in that particular area.  Recalling a sign indicating a phone on the side of the road about a quarter of a mile away,  he drained his pockets of all loose change but  came up short.  Enough only for an operator-assisted call.  He made the call person-to-person, collect.  After giving the operator the number, she informed him that, due to the holiday, the lines were rather busy and that she would ring him back once she’d placed the call.  Frustrated and cold, he stood there rubbing his hands together and shivering, counting the seconds till the phone rang.   Although he’d been anticipating it, the sudden jangling of the phone caused him to react like a firing squad was poised in his direction.

            “I have your party on the line, sir,” the operator recited.

            “Hello? ... Molly?  Holy Christ, is it really you? “ he shouted.  “No, I am not all right.  Listen, Molly, and listen good,” he said in a terse voice.  “I’m at a roadside phone booth on the Garden State Parkway and it’s hard to hear, so don’t interrupt me till I’m done.  We’re short on time and this is going to sound crazy.  Bear with me, kid,” he said, the words tripping over one another.  “I don’t know how you’re going to do this, Moll, but I want you to get yourself to the nearest hospital as soon as possible.  Not Drayton.  Hear me?   Not Drayton!  Get a full battery of tests; CT scan, X-rays, MRI -- whatever they’ll give you.  Make up something.”

            “Ed,” Molly said with concern, “what is this?”

“Sweetheart, trust me.  It’s too long a story and too little time to tell it,” he said, his shouts competing with the oncoming traffic.  “But it’s possible you might not have cancer ... You heard me!  I’ve already been told by a hospital in Jersey that I don’t have it.  I think our lab screwed up.  I don’t know.  If I don’t have it, maybe you don’t have it either.  Look, I’m on my way to your house.  Leave the door unlocked

for me.  And don’t ask questions now, Moll,” he said, with an urgency in his voice bordering on panic.  “Just do it!”

            By the time he arrived at Molly’s it was almost 5 p.m. and already dark.  Her home had a warm, comfortable look about it with butterscotch yellow walls and pale blue and ivory paisley, plaids and check patterns on Country French furniture.  A plush blue carpet  adorned the floor.  A menorah sat on the fireplace mantle surrounded by family pictures. 

Exhausted, he collapsed on the sofa.  Despite himself, he dozed in fitful spurts -- thoughts drifting in and out.

He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something was bothering him. His mind wandered to Joe Rossigian.  He recalled their heavy discussions about the dangers of having a nuclear power plant constructed in the area.  Not only had Rossigian been the impetus behind Ed’s renewed interest in searching for Val’s killer, but had also been the one who informed him of the secret germ warfare facility in the Caribbean.  And it was Rossigian who encouraged Ed to form a support group for people like himself.  His stomach was in knots.

            It was around 8 p.m. when Molly pulled into the driveway.  Ed met her at the door.  She stared at him in astonishment.  “My God, Ed, you were right. They say  I don’t have cancer!  This is unbelievable,” she said, with an edge of incredulity in her voice.  “I faked a whopper of a migraine in order for them to do all those tests.  I mean, on Saturday, they don’t normally do that kind of stuff, you know.  When everything came back negative, I asked them if they were sure that there wasn’t anything more seriously wrong with me like a brain tumor or cancer.”  She babbled on, tears of relief streaming down her face.  “And you know what they did, Ed? They laughed at me.  Laughed at me!  And I laughed....” She stopped, a spark of realization dawning on her face.  “What the hell’s going on here?” 

            It was as if a dam had burst in his belly.  “I knew it,” he said, banging his fist on a table.  “ Something is wrong.  Something is very wrong.”  He stared at Molly, words tripping over themselves to get out.  “This is going to sound paranoid, Moll, but I think Rossigian, Greyburn and the rest have some kind of conspiracy thing going  on and we’re the  scapegoats.”

            “You can’t be serious,” scoffed Molly.  “No one could be that evil,”  she stared at him.   “And what in the hell would they want with me anyway?” 

            “I’m telling you, all at once everything  seems to add up.”  Then as if a revelation struck him he said, “Did you ever ask for a second opinion?  Did you?  Did any of us!  We all took their word for it and trusted them.”

            Suddenly, Molly put her palm to her mouth.   “Oh my God!  Haissem!  That’s it!  Haissem!  They used me to get to him.”  She stared at Ed in disbelief.  “You mean Diego and Rebecca died for nothing and Rob...?”  Her voice tapered off.  “Oh my God, Ed ... Rob!  We’ve got to stop him.”

            They clung to each other tenaciously.  The magnitude of their discovery overwhelmed them.

The kitchen clock read 8:15 p.m.  Ed picked up the phone, his fingers moving with the speed of a crack typist.  He said a silent prayer that Rob would answer, but it was Cate.

            “Cate? ... Hello, hon ... it’s Ed.  Merry Christmas,” he mumbled.  “Is Rob around?  I need to talk to him.”

            “Oh hi, Ed, Merry Christmas,” she replied. “I’m afraid you’re too late.  He left for Kennedy today.”

            Was he hearing right? “Today?” he repeated, trying to disguise the panic in his voice. “Wasn’t he was supposed to go tomorrow?”

            “Yes, but because of holiday travel and the iffy weather, the airline had a flight change, and he had to leave a day early.  Why, Ed?  Is something wrong?”

               “This isn’t happening,”  he thought.  “No, no,” he said, backing off. 

“Everything’s fine, hon.  Just needed to touch bases if I could.  Nothing urgent.”  Trying to keep a level tone in his voice, he asked, “Did he say if he was staying overnight in New York?”

            “No, he didn’t.  He just said he’d call me when he got to St. Sebastian.   

Is there a message you want me to give him?”

            “No, that’s okay, hon.  It’s not necessary.  Listen, have a good weekend.  Molly said to tell you she’d call you in a couple of days ... Thanks.  I’ll tell her you said that.  Bye.”

Feeling helpless, he placed the phone back on the hook.

            “Ed, we’ve got to stop Rob,” Molly said, with concern.

            “I know, kid, but how?”

            “Is there some way we could call the airport in St. Sebastian?”

            A sudden urgency swept over him as he grabbed the phone.  “Operator, I need to get through to King Frederick airport on the island of St. Sebastian in the Caribbean.  This is urgent, operator, so please do what you can as quickly as possible... Yes, I’ll speak with anyone who understands English.”

            The wait seemed interminable for both of them.  Presently, through much static, a voice  with a West Indian accent came through.  “St. Sebastian Airways, may I help?”

            “Hello?  Please, can you hear me?” he shouted.  “I need to get an urgent message through to a man arriving there tonight from Barbados.”  He paused. 

            “Yes, yes, I hear you,” the voice said.  “Go on.”

            “His name is Randall Cassidy.  C-A-S-S-I-D-Y.  Got it? ... Cassidy.  That’s right.  Now listen.  Please give him this message.  Ready?... Tell him Ed and Molly don’t have cancer and to abort the mission ... no cancer, that’s right.  And forget the mission ... no mission ... okay?” 

He listened while she repeated the message back to him. “You got it!  Please, miss, please be sure that he gets this message.  It’s urgent ... I can’t thank you enough for your kindness.”  Hanging up the receiver, he looked at Molly.  “Now we bite the bullet and wait.”


Monday, December 30th

            The news of the helicopter crash reached the States on Monday morning in a small blurb on the third page under International News.


                                                       NEWS IN BRIEF

                                    A helicopter crashed into a U. S. Army building on

                                    Little Turtle Cay near the island of St. Sebastian

                                    in the Caribbean.  The accident occurred at about

                                    11:56 p.m. Saturday , December 28th. 

                                    No information was immediately available as to

                                    why a helicopter was flying in the area at the time.

                                    Reports are that the explosion decimated the

                                    otherwise uninhabited island.  A Pentagon official

                                    indicated that the building was simply an abandoned

                                    warehouse that had once been used as a storage

                                    facility. No survivors were found.


            Upon hearing the news, Don Greyburn first put in a call to his colleagues alerting them that the island maneuver had, indeed, been completed.  He then followed up with a call to Ed Hambrick.

            “My secretary just gave me your message about Rob,” he said.  “He told me he had some business in the Caribbean over the holidays, but to end like this -- I can’t tell you how shocked and sorry I am, Ed.”  He cleared his throat and continued, “I hope you will feel free to call on me for any assistance you may need.  And please make sure to extend my condolences to Cate.  What a lovely lady.”

            Ed assured him that Molly was with Cate, who was handling the tragedy as bravely as possible, under the circumstances, and that he and Molly were making arrangements for a graveside ceremony to take place on Tuesday morning at 11 a.m.

            “Ed,” Greyburn said, “without seeming too presumptuous,  would it be possible for me to say a few words about Rob at the graveside?”

            In a quiet voice Ed replied, “I’m sure Cate would like that very much, Doctor.  Thank you.”


Tuesday morning, December 31st

            The graveside ceremony was a simple one.  On one side of Cate stood Molly and Ed, on the other, Don Greyburn.  Ice clung tenaciously to the tree limbs and the chill in the air cut like a knife.

            Cate, her head lowered, clutched a single, wilting red rose.

            Dr. Greyburn stepped forward and addressed the others.  He wore a long camel’s hair coat with a white scarf wrapped around his neck.  “I’d like to say a few words about Rob, if I may.”  The cold air forced steam to emit from his mouth with every word.  He looked from one to another as he spoke, self-assured and calm.  “Obviously, I didn’t have the privilege of knowing Rob as personally as you did, but even I sensed there was something special about him -- a certain quiet attraction and bravery.”  He paused.  “I say bravery, because although his cancer was terminal, his life could possibly  have been prolonged by chemotherapy.  Yet, he chose to live a few less months in quality rather than endure a longer life of pain.  Unfortunately Rob’s life was cut even shorter by his unexpected plane crash.”

            Ed and Molly knocked each other.

            “And then there’s you to think about, Cate.  In some ways, your burden was just as heavy as his was.”  He looked at her.  “If it’s any consolation, I want you to know that Rob spoke often about your relationship and how very special you were to him.  I remember asking him how you would get through this when the time came.  His answer to me was that you would handle it just like you handled everything else, with grace and dignity. I now see what he meant by that.”

            “There is something else you may not know.”  He sighed, then continued.  “This day is doubly sad because not only did we lose Rob, but also his good friend and physician, Craig Aspel, who died of a heart attack over the Christmas holidays.”  He lowered his head for a moment.  “He was sick, and it was expected but still, maybe it’s just as well that Rob never knew.” 

He glanced at Ed and Molly.  “Rob enriched the lives of every person he came in contact with.  This is a very great loss.” He paused, and shoving his cold hands in his pockets said, “Goodbye Rob. You’ll be missed.”

           Together, Ed and Molly lifted a marble slab with Rob’s name on it  and placed it under a bare-limbed tree.  There was a long silence.  Finally, Cate stepped forward, knelt down, kissed the rose, and set it delicately atop the small marble stone.

Chapter 10


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