The Doctor and the Dead Man's Chest

BOOK: The Doctor and the Dead Man's Chest
8.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Table of Contents
To my mother, who first read me
Treasure Island
My deepest thanks to:
Steve Nawojczyk, for his help and knowledge of street gangs.
Sara Watson, for sharing her knowledge of the history of south Jersey.
Carol Raviola, M.D., for her knowledge of surgical and hospital procedures.
Jonathan Wood, for his help with research of south Jersey.
Tony Malesic, Dr. Anthony D'Italia, and Chris Biggs, for their pirate toasts.
Robert Anderson, for his knowledge of cattle.
Ruth Cavin, for her wisdom and inspiration.
Laura Langlie, for her constant enthusiasm and support.
Robert Alan Keisman, M.D., for his knowledge of cardiology (and recipe for veal cutlets).
Julie and Anne Keisman, for their reading and critiquing.
Jason Miller, for his unflagging interest and moral support.
r. Fenimore had set this day aside to clean out his office files, and he was making good progress. Mrs. Doyle, his nurse-secretary-office manager, had been after him for years to clean out his father's file drawers, but he had always come up with some excuse. Immediately after his father's death, he had pleaded that it was too depressing. But as the years rolled on, he had to admit it was sheer laziness. Today, however, he was proud of himself. It was barely 10:00 A.M. and he had already reached the letter F.
While perusing a folder labeled “Favorite Quotations” (
would have filed it under Q, as “Quotations, Favorite”), he had come across a quote, carefully preserved by his father, that especially appealed to him. It appealed to him so much that he planned to ask Mrs. Doyle to type it up so he could frame it and hang it over his desk. The author was Thomas Jefferson, no less. And the part Fenimore liked best was:
The physician is happy in the attachement of the families in which he practices. All think he has saved some one of them, and he finds himself everywhere a welcome guest, a home in every house.
(A bit out of date in the age of “managed care,” he mourned.) But the next phrase still applied.
If, to the consciousness of having saved some lives, he can add that of having at no time, from want of caution, destroyed the boon he was called on to save, he will enjoy, in age, the happy reflection of not having lived in vain.
A bit awkward from the creator of the Declaration of Independence. Nevertheless, it summed up nicely Fenimore's modest ambitions—to have done some good, little harm, and not have lived in vain. Fenimore slipped the quote out of the folder and laid it on his desk for Mrs. Doyle to type later.
“Doctor …”
Speak of the devil.
“There's a man to see you. A Mr. Detweiler.”
“A patient?”
“No. He said he was a lawyer.”
Fenimore felt a small shock of alarm. In these days of excess litigation, even doctors with a clear conscience feared any unexpected visit from a lawyer. He hoped no one was suing him. If they were, it would be a
. “Well, send him in,” Fenimore said.
Mrs. Doyle ushered in a tall, lean man in a rumpled suit. With his shock of black hair, scrawny neck, and prominent Adam's apple (which was working overtime), he reminded Fenimore strongly of Abraham Lincoln. He wondered if the lawyer deliberately cultivated the likeness or just fell into it naturally. After the initial handshake and settling into chairs, Fenimore asked, “What can I do for you, Mr. Detweiler?”
“This visit is more about what we can do for you,” the lawyer said, pleasantly. “I represent a former patient of yours. A Miss Smith.”
Fenimore raised an eyebrow. Surely the man saw the humor in this. “I've had a number of patients named ‘Smith.'”
“A Miss Reebesther Smith?”
Fenimore relaxed. “I've had only one Reebesther Smith.” He remembered Reebesther Smith fondly. Her unfortunate name was the result of two well-meaning parents trying to please both sides of the family by naming their only child after both grandmothers—Rebecca and Esther. “Reebesther” was the sad result. But Reebesther had borne her name well, and had made no effort to change it, not even adopting a nickname.
“Miss Smith …” The lawyer rummaged, at length, through a shabby portfolio and drew out a legal document. “Miss Smith,” he repeated, “has bequeathed to you a gift of real estate. But you may only claim it if you agree to certain conditions.”
Fenimore was beginning to feel as if he had stepped into a Victorian novel, or, at least, a very early detective story. “I must say, I'm surprised,” he said. “Miss Smith was a fine patient and a good friend, but I never expected …”
Abraham Lincoln raised a raw, bony hand. “Nevertheless, Miss Smith thought very highly of you and decided that you were the only person capable of carrying out her wishes.”
Fenimore waited expectantly.
The lawyer cleared his throat, causing the Adam's apple to bob anew, and began:
“‘I, Reebesther Banks Smith, hereby bequeath to Andrew B. Fenimore, M.D., fifty acres of the finest New Jersey …'”
Fenimore leaned forward.
“‘ … marshlands.'”
Fenimore slumped back.
“‘ … with the proviso that he will preserve said acres in their natural state for as long as he shall live, and when he dies, bequeath said acres to a person or persons whom he trusts to preserve them in the same manner into perpetuity …'”
Mr. Detweiler glanced up to see how the doctor was taking the news.
Fenimore returned his gaze as calmly as possible.
“‘In return for his conscientious stewardship,'” the lawyer continued, “‘Dr. Fenimore will be provided with monies for yearly maintenance and taxes for said land …'”
“But …”
Fenimore was stayed by the bony hand.
“‘And, in addition, he will receive a treasure map …'”
Fenimore blinked.
“‘bequeathed to me by my husband, Adam Fairfax Smith, on which is marked the location of a considerable treasure. Being well provided for, myself, I had no occasion to pursue this venture. But, if Dr. Fenimore decides to, I believe his efforts will not go unrewarded. He has my blessing. Signed, Reebesther Banks Smith, May twentieth, 1999.'”
Again, Fenimore started to speak.
“There's a postscript,” the lawyer stopped him, and read, “‘I am only sorry I cannot join the hunt.'”
Fenimore smiled.
Mr. Detweiler handed over the document for Fenimore to examine. It looked authentic enough. And it seemed in character with the patient Fenimore remembered. Reebesther Smith was a woman of great dignity who also had a fondness for the absurd. He thought she was probably having a grand time observing his discomfiture from above, right now.
“Well?” said the lawyer.
“Well what?” asked the doctor.
“Will you agree to her conditions?”
Fenimore scanned his little office, crowded with files, papers, journals, and medical books. “I've been wishing for more space,” he said, “but I never imagined it would take the form of marshland.”
Apparently Mr. Detweiler did not share Lincoln's sense of humor. With no change of expression, he rose and put out his hand. “I will send you another document tomorrow in which my client lists her instructions for the care and preservation of the property.”
“And the map?” Fenimore prompted.
“Of course—and the map.”
Fenimore rose and accompanied Mr. Detweiler to the door. On his way out the lawyer nodded to the nurse.
The nurse nodded back.
The door had barely closed behind him before Mrs. Doyle was out of her chair. “What was
all about?”
Fenimore surveyed her coolly. “You are now looking at the proud owner of fifty acres …”
Mrs. Doyle gasped.
“ … of New Jersey marshland.”
Her face fell.
“Now, now, I haven't finished. On which there is buried a pirate's treasure.”
“Worth many millions …” he fabricated a little more.
Her eyes narrowed. “But you have to
“Don't be a spoilsport, Mrs. Doyle. The hunt is half the fun. And I have a map. Or I
have in a day or two.”
“And exactly what is the meaning of that unpleasant noise?”
She shook her head. “Sounds like a fairy tale to me.”
“Well, as we all know, fairy tales have happy endings.” He smiled complacently.
“Not always.”
“Some of those German ones were pretty Grimm!” she cackled.
“You're a great wit, Mrs. Doyle.” He retreated to the sanctuary of his inner office where he could contemplate his newfound fortunes in peace.
week passed before Fenimore was able to leave his office and take off for south Jersey to look at his new bequest. He invited Horatio, his teenage office assistant, along for company. He had forgotten that riding with Horatio meant music, if that's what you call it. Fenimore's tastes did not run to the Beastie Boys. He made a deal with him. Beastie Boys on the way down; Mozart on the way back. Grudgingly, Horatio agreed.
They had left the highway over an hour ago. Nothing but empty fields stretched from the car to the horizon. Not a house or barn in sight.
“Man, where is everybody?” Horatio shouted over the “boom, boom” of his box.
Fenimore, suddenly realizing that the boy had probably never been to the country before, launched into one of his lectures. “Working in the fields. This is farm country. New Jersey is the ‘Garden State' …”
Horatio glanced around, taking in the vast spread of empty fields. “What gardens?”
“That's just an expression,” Fenimore said peevishly. “There's a house.” He lifted his hand from the wheel to point out a brick
farmhouse amid a clump of trees. “That was probably built before the revolution. Mad Anthony Wayne came down here to round up cattle to take back to Valley Forge to feed Washington's troops during that terrible winter of 1777.”
Not a history buff, Horatio grunted.
Fenimore paused at a crossroad to study his map. A road map. (The treasure map was tucked carefully in his breast pocket.) According to his calculations, a right on Gum Tree Road and a left on Possum Hollow would bring him to the entrance of his tract of land. He pressed the accelerator, startling a bunch of blackbirds who were making a meal from some poor farmer's freshly sowed seeds. They watched the birds soar and dip—a rippling black flag—before settling into another furrow to continue their freeloading.
“Cool!” Horatio said.
Wildlife was more interesting to the boy than history, Fenimore noted. As if to affirm this, a deer dove across their path, causing Fenimore to slam on the brakes and careen off the road. If it hadn't been for the safety belt he had insisted Horatio wear, the boy would have gone through the windshield.
They both looked after the deer's bobbing white tail until it disappeared into the woods.
“That was a close one,” Fenimore said.
Horatio shut off his boom box, a sure sign he was rattled. “Are there many of them around here?” he asked.
“More than there should be. They eat the crops and they carry ticks that spread Lyme disease.”
“What's that?”
And Fenimore remembered that Horatio's real passion was not history, not wildlife, but disease—and how to cure it. The doctor restarted the car and simultaneously launched into a detailed account of Lyme disease, confident this time that he would not be interrupted.
South Jersey was not big on road signs. After crossing a number
of roads without signs, Fenimore had to admit to himself he was lost.
“You sure you know where you're going?” Horatio asked.
“Of course. Just let me take another look at that map.”
“You're lost.” Horatio shoved the map at him.
“Hang on.” Fenimore pulled over and pointlessly studied the map. What he really needed was a compass. He had been lost once before in this desolate neighborhood at night, and wandered aimlessly around until sunrise. As soon as the sun rose in the east, he knew if he headed in the opposite direction he would eventually end up in West Philadelphia. He kept this information to himself. At least now it was daylight. “I've got it,” he said heartily, dropping the map. “I'll continue on this stretch until we come to Gum Tree Road.”
“How will you know it's Gum Tree, if there's no sign,” grumbled the boy.
“Simple. There'll be a gum tree on the corner.”
“Do you know a gum tree when you see one?” Horatio eyed him narrowly.
“Of course,” he said airily. “It will have packages of Spearmint hanging from its branches.”
“Ha. Ha.”
After a few more wrong turns, they came to a general store facetiously called Possum Hollow Mall. Figuring that Possum Hollow Road could not be far away, Fenimore parked and went in to ask. Horatio was right behind him. A few boxes of cereal, some cans of soup, and a glass case packed with beer and soft drinks were the “mall”'s meager offerings. Used to The Gallery on Philadelphia's Market Street, Horatio was unimpressed.
While sipping a Sprite, Fenimore asked directions of the woman behind the counter. She answered in the soft, measured tones of the southerner. “This
Possum Hollow Road. If you drive about two miles to the right you'll come to a bridge. Before the bridge there's a sign—NO CRABBIN'. On the other side of the
bridge—Be careful not to hit the crabbers!—there's a skimpy trail to the right. That's the Smith tract. Turn in there. But you better leave your car on the road, if you don't wanta get stuck.”
“In the mud. Or I'll have to send Harry over to tow ya out.”
“Thanks.” Fenimore grabbed Horatio's arm. The boy left reluctantly. He had discovered the gun and ammunition display next to the soft drinks.
Back in the car, he said, “Did you see all that stuff?”
“Yes. This is big hunting country.”
“You mean they shoot those pretty deer?”
“You bet. Then they eat them.”
“Cannibals!” This from a kid who lived in a neighborhood that had shoot-outs every other night in which the targets were human.
Now that Fenimore was only a few miles away from his property, his excitement mounted. Edging his car cautiously through the crowd of crabbers on the bridge, he had the first glimpse of his tract. What a disappointment! As far as the eye could see, nothing but wild, flat land separated by muddy streams and covered with reeds and cattails. Ruefully, he thought of those Florida properties that people had bought sight unseen, only to find they were under water. But
couldn't claim to have been deceived. This land was a gift and he had been told exactly what to expect. There's always the treasure, he reminded himself.
When they stepped out of the car, they actually sank
mud up to their ankles. A peculiar thick, fishy-smelling mud that clung to their shoes like tar.
“Shit,” said Horatio.
For once, the boy's favorite expletive was fitting.
While they scraped off the black goo with leaves and twigs, Fenimore said, “I guess the only way to see this property is by boat.”
Unfortunately, this remote part of south Jersey did not abound in boat rentals. If you wanted a boat you either bought one—or
built one. This would take some thought. Disconsolately, they made their way back to the car.
To relieve his depressed mood, Fenimore decided to visit another patient-friend who owned a farm in the neighborhood: Lydia Ashley. One of the perks of Fenimore's profession was an abundance of elderly female patients. It was unfortunate that men died sooner. But Fenimore enjoyed women—and especially seasoned ones. Like fine wine, they aged well. He had a whole coterie of favorite female friend-patients who readily returned his affection. Platonically, of course.
“When do we eat?” Horatio asked, turning the music up full blast.
“I'm getting to that,” Fenimore roared over the din.
The road to Lydia's farm took them through the village of Winston, a colonial town nestled beside the Ashley River. The town was divided by a wide street lined on either side by ancient sycamores. It was one of the few streets that bore a sign, but not a very helpful one: Ye Greate Street, it was called. Because Winston was off the beaten track, it had escaped the sanitizing effect of historic preservation. It had the worn, lived-in look of a colonial town still occupied by the descendents of its founders. Some houses were in need of paint and some yards sported swing-sets and barbecue grills.
Outside the town, they soon came upon a rusty vine-covered gate bearing a wooden sign. Although the letters were faded, the words Ashley Farm were still legible. The driveway consisted of two parallel ruts divided by a tangle of grass and weeds. Hitting an especially bad rut, Fenimore winced.
“You need shocks,” Horatio reproved him.
Unlike most doctors, Fenimore drove second-hand cars and ran them into the ground. No wonder his colleagues, who would drive nothing but the latest Audi or Lexus, considered him eccentric. A “maverick,” they called him.
Through a clump of trees he caught sight of a brick farmhouse.
As they drew nearer, they made out a design on the north wall. Fenimore halted. A complex pattern of diagonals and floral flourishes had been worked into the red brick with blue bricks. This intricate design was crowned by a pair of initials—J & A—and the date, 1724. He was reminded of a medieval tapestry. But these colonial craftsmen had substituted bricks for fine thread. Then he remembered—the houses in this area were famous for their “patterned brick ends.” A longtime admirer of brickwork, this sight almost made up for the disappointment with his bequest.
“What's that?” Horatio asked.
“That's a fine example of the artistry of our first settlers.”
“Not bad.”
“Could you shut that thing off,” Fenimore glared at his box. “We're nearing civilization.”
With a groan Horatio obeyed.
As Fenimore drove his car around the corner of the farmhouse and parked, he wondered fleetingly what Lydia Ashley would make of his companion. He fervently hoped the boy would watch his language. As they got out, they were met by a mixture of scents—newly-turned soil, freshly-cut hay, and a hint of salt from the bay. To city dwellers, this was heady stuff—as intoxicating as a stiff drink. Inhaling deeply, Fenimore cast his eye toward the river. Whenever he arrived at a new place, he instinctively took stock of his surroundings. In the city, he noted alleys, fire escapes, and exit signs. In the country, he looked for hedgerows, gates, and ditches. As a part-time detective, he knew escape routes often came in handy. So did Horatio, for reasons of his own.
The bank leading down to the river was thick with violets and buttercups. Below, at the water's edge, lay a wharf with a motorboat moored beside it. (Maybe Lydia would lend it to him one day.) About a hundred yards from the house stood a barn with a tractor parked nearby. Downriver, in the far corner of the field, he could just make out a smaller brick cottage.
“What's that stink?” Horatio wrinkled his nose.
Fenimore took another deep breath. This time the country air was not so fresh—tainted by a different scent. Stench was more like it. He scanned the field for signs of a garbage pit. Trash collection, he knew, was a luxury of the city and suburbs. Another breath, and he identified the odor. “Rancid meat,” he declared. Once he had read a newspaper account about a haunted house. The hauntees had claimed that each appearance of their ghost had been preceded by the smell of rancid meat. The owner, who happened to be an ordained minister, had stated: ‘If evil had an odor, I'm sure this would be it.'
“There must be a garbage pit nearby,” he told Horatio. Careful not to breathe too deeply, Fenimore led the way toward the house. Horatio followed, holding his nose.
BOOK: The Doctor and the Dead Man's Chest
8.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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