Authors: Robert Ward
Dios was waving his hands. Black was spitting out bits of saliva as he gesticulated. Each of them was revving the other up, ganging up on Cross. Peter began to shake; he could feel them moving in.
Then Beauregard slammed his fist on the table.
“Enough,” he said. “Enough … I want both of you to shut it down.”
Dios started to open his mouth, but Beauregard waved his index finger under his nose.
“Consider yourselves warned,” he said. “I mean it. The way both of you have turned this around to make it look as if Dr. Cross is responsible is grossly unprofessional behavior. I have his report. I have gone over it and, given her condition, I think his judgment was fine. I would have recommended the same drugs myself.”
Dios said nothing. He was drenched in sweat, but he stared across the table at Cross and felt a vast hatred. The truth is, Dios thought, I’d like to have an autopsy. But he didn’t dare say it. Who knows what would come out of it. His own stitching job hadn’t been that good. Maybe they would claim he had been too rough with her. So he said nothing.
“All right, gentlemen,” said Beauregard, laying heavy irony on the last word. “I’m going to consider the matter closed. But that doesn’t mean I accept Lorraine Bell’s death as inevitable. Maybe you handled it perfectly and she died anyway. That can happen. But maybe some of you weren’t thinking of the patient. Maybe you were thinking of her as a gomer.”
Dios and Black winced.
“Remember, there are no gomers, there are only poor, old, sick people, and our job is to keep them alive and make them well if we possibly can. And before you go, I want you to know that though the matter is closed, I won’t forget it. We’ve had a very low death rate on the operating table at Eastern during the last five years; less than ten percent. So that kind of death is simply not acceptable to me, and it shouldn’t be to any of you. I hope I’ve made myself clear. Good morning, gentlemen.”
After looking once more around the table at each of them, Beauregard slowly got up from his chair; the other three quickly followed his example and started for the door. Cross was a little slow in leaving, and Beauregard called to him.
“Peter, can I talk with you a minute?”
Cross turned and walked back toward the great bear of a man. Usually he felt like the others did around Beauregard—overwhelmed, intimidated. He also felt something else, something he had noticed the first day he had talked to Beauregard, the day of his hiring. A warmth, a realness, something almost chemical between the two of them. Impossible to explain. It bothered Cross, bothered him and at the same time pleased him.
“That was pretty rough, Peter,” Beauregard said.
Cross smiled and nodded.
“Come, walk down to my office with me.”
The two men passed out of the conference hall and strolled down the corridors of the great hospital. They passed several nurses and an old man in a wheelchair with tubes running from his nose. His skin was yellow, sagging from his bones.
“I want to ask you one thing,” Beauregard said. “Then I won’t mention it again.”
“All right,” Cross said quietly.
“Was there anything to what Dios and Black said?”
“I don’t think so, sir,” Cross said. “I feel as though I did the right thing. But I can’t be a hundred percent sure.”
“Does that bother you?” Beauregard said as they turned into his office.
“Yes, frankly,” Cross said, moving carefully now, “it does. I spent most of the night awake, thinking about it.”
“And I decided I would have followed the same course again. I think I used all my skills. What bothers me is that I couldn’t do a damned thing even though I gave it my best shot.”
Beauregard was greeted by his secretary, Brigette. She sat by her telephone, a sandwich in one hand and Dare
in the other.
“Dr. Beauregard,” she said, “I heard the sparks are flying.”
“Is that right?” he said. “Eat your lunch and read your trash, Brigette. Thank you.”
Both she and Beauregard smiled, and he led Peter into his inner office. Cross was surprised to see that the place lacked any semblance of order. Medical books were piled on his desk along with an art book on surrealism.
Beauregard noticed Cross staring at the book.
“A hobby of mine. I like painting very much.”
Cross smiled. He was excited by finding out that Beauregard was interested in art. Especially surrealist art. For the surrealist writers and painters—Breton, Dali, Paul Eluard, and the others—had been the first great supporters of Poe’s visions.
“I understand how you feel,” Beauregard said. “It’s not easy to lose a patient … but you can’t afford to ever lose the capacity for caring and for hurting. I want to tell you something in confidence. I’ve been watching you, and I think you have a remarkable ability. Not only within the field, but in your capacity for caring. I’ve heard good things from the patients, very good things indeed.”
Cross felt a flush of excitement.
“You were ganged up on today because you’re different.”
He gestured at Peter’s dark raincoat, his red scarf.
Cross stared at himself and laughed.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ll try to buy some leisure suits.”
“Lime green,” Beauregard said. “Lime green is very chic.”
They both laughed again, and Beauregard tapped his pencil on his desk.
“Well,” he said, “I’ve got to get back to work. I just want you to know that I know you take your work seriously, and that whatever went on in there today doesn’t change my opinion at all.”
“Thank you,” Peter said. He felt the rumbling inside of him.
The two men smiled at one another, and Cross felt as though Beauregard could look into him, see him quiver.
“I’ll see you out,” Beauregard said.
At the door Beauregard patted him on the back. His hand felt like it was radioactive, and Peter jerked back a little.
“See you, Peter.”
“Right, Dr. Beauregard.”
“Jesus, Peter … call me Beau. I’m not all that old and venerable yet.”
“Of course,” Peter said, smiling. But he did not add “Beau.”
Beauregard watched him go down the hall, the way he moved, long, easy, graceful strides. The man had a natural dignity and style. Perhaps that more than anything else bothered the others. He walked back in his office and had just sat down when his phone lit red.
He picked it up and let out a deep breath.
“Dr. Beauregard,’ said Brigette, “I have an important message for you. From Lauren Shaw.”
“She’s leaving two tickets for you for Thursday night’s performance of her new play, Charm’s Way. She said she expected you to make an appearance.”
Beauregard thought of Lauren. Standing in front of him long, lean, and tanned, holding a champagne glass.
“Thank you, Brigette.”
“Well? Are you going, Doctor?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Ahhhh,” said Brigette.
“Thank you for the news. Forget the exclamation points,” Beauregard said.
He hung up and sat back in his chair. Almost any other man in New York would feel like celebrating, but his thoughts drifted to his estranged wife, Heather. He could still smell her on his sheets, hear her voice talking to Sarah. He felt a wave of loneliness and self-pity sweep him, and he wondered if the next time Heather called he wouldn’t use the old “stay together for Sarah’s sake” routine. No, he wouldn’t—he hoped. He wanted to be honest and straight, but love had a way of making you lie. To your wife, but mostly to yourself. He hoped he would be strong enough to be honest about it. But it was a little like surgery; there was no way of really knowing what was happening until you began to cut.
Dr. Julio Dios and anesthesiologist Harry Gardner sat in the back booth of the Emergency Room Bar and Grill, one block south of Eastern Hospital. Above them on the walls were the instruments of their trade—masks, tubes, a giant comic needle three feet long, and a huge scalpel, big enough to cut open a giant. Harry Gardner picked up his Heineken’s with his hairy hand and looked at the scalpel.
“Well, Julio, my lad,” he said in a W. C. Fields voice, “when you see that scalpel, just what comes to mind?”
Dios, still smarting terribly from his disastrous morning, was able to give only a token laugh.
“It’s not funny, Harry,” he said. “I tell you, that Cross. There is not a doubt in my mind that he did something to that lady.”
Harry looked doubtful.
“Now, come on, Julio,” he said. “I don’t like Cross any better than you do. And I’ve known him a hell of a lot longer.”
“And though I am loath to admit it, he’s one hell of a smart dude. He knows his business better than any of us. That’s the God-honest truth.”
“That’s not what I’m arguing about,” Dios said, drinking his beer with a furious motion and spilling some of it down his chin. “Nobody’s doubting his competency.”
“Competency?” Harry said, incredulous. “I’m afraid he’s a lot more than competent. The boy is a fucking genius. He blew everybody else out of the water at Cornell. I spent four—no, make that five—years in Ithaca with him and he was the whiz of every goddamned class. It got a little dull. Look, he’s a cold bastard and the original Spaceman. I mean I wouldn’t be surprised if he weren’t some kind of goddamned closet case. Maybe he goes home all alone and eats boot polish, but the fact is, the guy is too good to make the kind of mistake you’re talking about. Though I hate to stick up for him.”
“You don’t understand,” Dios said. “I’m not talking about a mistake.”
Harry stopped cold and looked up at the big needle on the wall.
“How do you mean?”
“I mean he was sweating, the same way I was sweating this morning. But unlike me, he had no reason to sweat. It was just a routine case. But he kept staring at that lady. It was weird.”
“Well, you have to stare at the patient. You know that … just to see if her vital signs are okay.”
“Hey,” Dios said, lighting a cigarette, “whose side are you on?”
“Yours, boss,” Harry said. “Just playing the devil’s advocate. But I think you’re dead wrong about Cross.”
“You wouldn’t be so sure if you had been there,” Dios said. “There was something strange about it. He seemed to be fixated on her.”
“That’s all. Admittedly it’s not much, but I just have this feeling …”
Harry smiled. “Julio, old man,” he said, running his hand through his muttonchops, “I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll help you watch the creep. But between you and me, I think he’s just got you psyched. As far as greasing somebody, Cross isn’t the type. He doesn’t have the guts it takes to wipe somebody. Hey, man, I know … I was in ‘Nam for a year and I saw that kind of shit go down a lot.”
“Saw what?” said Dios, looking shocked.
“I saw medics let people go,” Harry said. “I saw worse than that. I saw them help people go, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. These were boys with their balls shot off … no legs … with no fucking hope.”
Harry sipped his beer and watched Dios’s eyes. They were wide open in surprise.
“I saw it,” Harry said, “and I never said shit”
Dios shook his head.
“I could never condone that, Harry.”
“That’s because you are a good, moral Catholic,” Harry said, smiling. “But you weren’t in ‘Nam. In a place like that, you are playing by a whole new set of rules. Anyway, that’s all water over the dam. What I’m saying is, I know Cross. He’s weird. He gets obsessed with stuff, gets all caught up in it. But he would never have the guts to hurt anybody, much less grease somebody. No way.”
“I hate that word ‘grease,’ “ Dios said.
Harry called for two more beers, and when they came, he raised his glass and tapped Dios’s.
Dios toasted and smiled and drank. He liked Harry. He was a real American—a he-man—but he just wished he wouldn’t use that word “greased.”
Nurse Debby Hunter sat in the small, concrete “park” which had been built by the hospital only the year before so that the staff might take advantage of the view of the East River. The park was a dismal failure, she thought. Not that they hadn’t tried. There was a fountain with a boy and a dolphin in it that was supposed to be arty but looked vaguely pornographic. What was the boy doing with the fish, anyway? There were flowers in wooden troughs around the edge of the place. But now that fall was coming, they were dying fast and their drooping stems only made the place seem more gloomy than before. What really finished the place were the white concrete benches. Debby always felt the cold coming out of them when she sat down, the cold that ran right up her ass, through her spine, and into her neck. She dreaded the coming Christmas, living alone as she did on 77th Street and York Avenue in a singles’ high-rise. That had been another mistake. She had only come to the city a few months before, after getting the job at Eastern, and the first nurse she met, Rose, had told her that the high-rise at 77th and York was a great place to live. “You’ll never be alone. There are all kinds of professional men there. Hey, one of the Yankees even lives there, some relief pitcher. Anyway, it’s a great place to meet men.”
Debby hadn’t really wanted to meet men as much as she had wanted to avoid being alone her first year in the city. And besides, she thought, coming from upstate (Syracuse—Debby had done her residency work at Strong Memorial), she had wanted to break some of what she knew were her provincial habits. For years she had gone through a tortuous relationship with an incurable playboy surgeon named Mark Schmidt, had put up with his unfaithfulness, his egomania, his ambition, and now she was ready for … well, she was not quite certain what.
Now, as she sat on the cold bench, eating a sandwich she had gotten out of one of the sandwich machines—a tunafish sandwich which tasted like it had been dipped in mercury batter—Debby thought of how easily the past had slipped by her. In a way it was frightening. Only six months ago she had been totally, irretrievably, hopelessly in love with Mark, and now she could barely recall what he looked like. Did that mean she was being turned into some kind of shallow, swinging-singles idiot? She doubted it, but then again, she wasn’t sure. She wasn’t sure of anything since she moved to New York. But she was sure that her fear of loneliness would be outweighed by her detestation of all the shag haircuts, hairy chests, Nik-Nik shirts, and golden pendants she had been witness to in the past few months.