The Three Dollar Phoenix
By W. Sautter
Copyright Sautter 2010
Newark, New Jersey – 1979
“Holy Christ! I haven’t seen you in seven years. How the hell are you doing?”
Ed hadn’t spoken to Charlie since; he had to think now, 1972. Yes, and it was June 1972 to be exact. Charlie probably didn’t even remember it. He was so drunk that he could just about talk, much less remember. That was the day the Raiders drafted him.
“I read about you being traded to the Giants” said Ed.
“I thought the only things you’d be reading by now would be x-rays and stock reports” Charlie quipped.
Ed drifted back to the days when dreams of success were a common bond between him and Charlie. They had spent many nights at Terry’s Tavern rehearsing the conversations they would have after Charlie made the Pros and Ed got his M.D. It seemed to Ed that he knew exactly what would be said next. It had all been said before, many years ago at Terry’s. The next line would be about meeting to talk over the old days that is if Ed remembered the script right.
“How about going out for a drink now that I’m in town and we’ll talk about old times” Charlie said.
“Somehow I thought you were going to say that” replied Ed.
“How about I meet you at Finnegan’s Rainbow” said Ed.
“Tomorrow night okay? Around nine?” he added.
“Sounds good to me” said Charlie.
“We’ve got a lot of talking to do after seven years.”
Ed proceeded to give Charlie directions to the place. As Ed put down the receiver, he flashed back to all the sights and sounds of his years at Penn State. He and Charlie had some good times alright. They both pledged Kappa Delta Chi. How Ed got into that frat still puzzled him. He was a pretty good athlete but not a jock. Maybe it was because he was a real good handball player. In four years nobody ever beat him, not even All American Charlie Rode. Handball had made him a lot of friends and kept him in drinking money for four years at State. It was joked that the reason he was asked to pledge Kappa was so the brothers could get the bill of sales back for their markers from him.
“How did I first get friendly with Charlie anyway?” Ed mused to himself.
“I think it was because of old Doc Stevens. That bastard could give a mean chemistry test. I saved Charlie’s ass a couple of times in that course. That was when we first began to hang around together” thought Ed.
Charlie wasn’t dumb. It was all the football that kept him away from the books. I guess it paid off for him though because he went to the Pros like he said he would.
The next night Ed drove to Finnegan’s. As his lights flashed across the cars in the parking lot he saw the license plate – ALL PRO on a blue BMW.
“That’s probably Charlie’s car” he thought. Ed parked his car and walked into Finnegan’s. It was a large, dimly lit room. Charlie was sitting at the far and of the bar. Ed saw him immediately,
How could anyone miss Charlie? Two hundred and forty-five pounds takes up a lot of space. Charlie looked up and caught Ed’s eye. With that he instantaneously jumped to his feet and let out his old cowboy holler.
The dozen or so customers sitting at the bar straightened up as if their stools had been electrified. Ed felt Charlie’s powerful grasp as they shook hands.
“You haven’t changed a bit’ exclaimed Charlie, “Only a little uglier.”
“You look good yourself you two ton tub of shit” said Ed in reply.
As the evening wore on Ed and Charlie felt the old bonds of friendship regrow. Their conversation was a collage of old memories and old stories. It was as if time had been suspended for the past seven years.
“Last call for alcohol” shouted the bartender.
Ed glanced at his watch. Two A.M. already! It seemed like the evening had just begun but over two hours had passed and the bartender was closing up.
Give me a call tomorrow, afternoon that is, and I’ll show you around “said Ed as they walked out into the parking lot.
“I’ve been here two dozen times but only to play and run so to speak. Now that I’m going to be living here it would help to know where I’m going” replied Charlie.
“I’ll call you about two or three” Ed said as they left the bar.
Ed and Charlie saw each other several times during the following weeks in between Charlie’s practice sessions and Ed’s hours at the clinic. It began to seem almost like old times all over again.
The huge grey gothic topped by dozens of fluttering red and blue flags rose out of the swamp plain. A large blue banner hung from its wall. It read “METRO STADIUM HOME OF THE GIANTS.” It waved in a light breeze over the meadows. The bright afternoon sunlight gave it a neon-like appearance as its brilliant colors gently fluttered. Ed pulled into the huge, almost empty parking lot.
He shut off the car and sat motionless for a moment. He had been here hundreds of times before but it was many years ago, before the stadium was built. When he was a kid all this was nothing but marshes- marshes and garbage. Thousands of sea gulls and rats lived here, all eager to attend the daily banquets brought to them by the convoy of garbage trucks moving continuously in and out of the meadows. The air was heavy with the foul odor of decaying refuse. Even now, an occasional unfavorable wind brought unpleasant reminders of the past from the yet unimproved areas of the swamp lands.
As a boy Ed had been on many a treasure hunt here. He could still hear his mother’s screams as he entered the house after one of those expeditions. He would have to take off his clothes on the outside porch and put them in a plastic bag to contain the gagging smell before he entered. After he was showered and changed she would then give him a dollar and send him to the launder mat to wash them. She wouldn’t even allow them in her own washing machine for fear that the vile odor would contaminate all of her future washings.
Well, all that is gone now, the marshes, the garbage and most of the time the smell. Not so much as an empty beer bottle was left in view. It’s was all buried below where he was now standing waiting for the year five thousand and be discovered as priceless artifacts found by some lucky archaeologist. For a moment the whole thing, the metamorphosis of a garbage dump into a football stadium seemed almost surrealistic to him.
Ed awoke from his momentary trance, and exited the car. He walked towards a waiting security guard at the main gate. He instinctively reached for his wallet and withdrew the pass Charley had given him. As he entered the mammoth building, he could hear the echo of a calisthenic cadence resounding through the thousands of rows of empty seats. He walked in the direction of its source. He rounded the final turn of the maze he had been following and walked into the center of the stadium. He glanced upwards towards the rim of the bowl like structure. The rows of vacant seats appeared to be endless in all directions. He tried to imagine how it would look four weeks from now. The Giants opened against Detroit on September 10th. It would be a sea of yelling, screaming bodies, about sixty thousand to be precise.
Out at the center of the field, he saw five neat rows of bright blue clad players, all responding in perfect unison to the instructions barked by several men whom they were facing. Ed looked for number sixty-six. That was Charlie’s number. It was usually easy to spot him in a crowd. He stood out like a grizzly bear at the zoo. This time it wasn’t that simple. They were all grizzlies. Ed sat down at the edge of the field by the railing and watched. He never was a football nut but he’d watched a game now and then. It was usually a Penn State game or a pro game in which an old friend from State was playing. Three guys were in the Pros now, Buck Horn for Miami, Joe Petaliza for Dallas and of course Charlie.
Soon the lines of players separated and formed several smaller groups. Ed caught a glimpse of number sixty-six in the group closest to the far sideline.
He tried to keep his eyes keyed on that number. From what he knew about football it appeared to him that number sixty-six was doing a pretty good job or at least he was in on most of the action. Ed hoped Charlie would do well. Of course, there was no reason to suspect that he wouldn’t. He had been All-Pro two years ago at Oakland. Ed liked the idea of having Charlie around and he didn’t want to see that end.
About two hours passed. The hot summer sun had moved around to where Ed was sitting and it was uncomfortable now. He wanted to move but he had to be by the entrance to the locker rooms. This was the third time he’d promised Charlie that he would be there. This time he’d made it. He had to be sure that Charlie saw him. Just then he heard a long, hard whistle sound. All the players moved hurriedly to the center of the field. Two minutes later another loud whistle and they headed straight towards him. He saw Charlie clearly for the first time during the session. He looked even bigger than usual in full equipment. He looked at Ed and smiled.
“No emergencies at the clinic today? Wait for me. I’ll be out in a few minutes” Charlie said as he disappeared under the stands towards the locker room.
Ed looked at his watch. It was 4:25. He was due at the clinic at 6:30 and that was a twenty-minute drive. If the traffic was bad downtown, it could be thirty minutes or more.
In about fifteen minutes, Charlie emerged from the doors leading under the stands wearing a smile almost as broad as his shoulders.
“How’d I do?”
“Looked pretty good to me” replied Ed.
“The way things are going so far, I think I’ll be here for a while “said Charlie confidently.
“Let me show you around this place,” he said eagerly.
One of Charlie’s greatest assets was his enthusiasm. He did everything with enthusiasm, no matter how trivial the task and when you were with him it always seemed to rub off a little. In a few moments, Ed found himself a willing member of Charlie’s private tour.
“This field is a miracle of modern science- Astroturf. Out in Oakland, it was strictly grass.” This stuff is great. I met a guy here on the grounds crew that I knew at Oakland. He left there about four years ago to come east. His wife’s mother was sick and so he had to come out. He got a job here because he had experience out there. He says even the guys on maintenance love it. All they need is a vacuum cleaner. It really plays fine.”
“Do you wanna see the locker room?” “You’ll like the training equipment” he added.
Charlie showed all the emotions of a kindergärtner showing off his classroom. He paraded Ed through every nook and cranny of the stadium explaining each and every detail of its functioning.
Ed looked at his watch uneasily. It was 5:50 now. He had to be downtown by 6:30. Fortunately, Charlie had just about run out of superlatives and the tour was coming to an end.
Ed and Charlie emerged from the stadium into the parking lot. They walked towards their cars.
“What do you think of this baby?” Ed said as he pointed to his 1962 Chevy convertible.
“There’s my Mercedes. Pretty nice for an aspiring young medicine man, huh,” he added facetiously.
The car was old in years but not in appearance. It shone in the bright sun as if it were new. There wasn’t a speck of rust on it anywhere.
The chrome had a mirror-like luster and the interior was mint from the dash to the carpeting. Ed was particularly proud of it because to him it represented real success. Its brilliant paint and its fine running engine were but minor features which he prized. What he truly prized was that it represented his selflessness. Any M.D. four years out of med school could have a new Mercedes or Porsche but few would ever own a car like this one. It was a car driven by one who went to the ghetto in the poorest city in the country and lived the Hippocratic Oath on a daily basis. It showed his zealous commitment to helping those less fortunate than he. It helped to portray him as someone who had forgone wealth and prestige for the sake of others.
It had started about four years ago at Albert Einstein when Ed met Rita. Rita was a year behind him in med school. She was a tall, slim, black-haired girl with a dark complexion. As a matter of fact, her great-grandmother was Negro -Black that is. That’s one of the things that helped get her into Einstein -ethnic quotas and all. On her application, she listed her race as black. After all the state courts down South had just ruled that one-twentieth black is considered all black. Her features contained the most desirable of both ethnic origins and resulted in a beautiful composite.
Rita’s ambitions likewise influenced Ed and his desire for monetary success was transformed into a lust for healing. Neither could remember whose idea it was at first, the idea of opening a storefront clinic in Newark. It was Ed though who pounded the pavements to obtain the needed financial backing. That was probably because he finished met school first.
The clinic was three years old now and he viewed the car as one of the testaments to its success. It was a gift from one of his patients, not a fee, a gift of appreciation from people who felt a deep need to say “Thank you” for what he had done for them. Ed looked at that car as a medal for his service to his fellow man- a poor man’s Nobel Prize.
As he drove across the parking lot towards the exit, Ed glanced in his rearview mirror. The stark, gray walls of the stadium loomed large in the background. It couldn’t help but remind him of a huge, well-decorated mausoleum.
He pulled onto the highway and headed south towards Newark. As he drove passed the lines of cars moving north to escape the city before nightfall, he thought over the just past events of the day. He was glad that he had finally kept his promise to Charlie. It was Friday, one of the days that the clinic stayed open late. A long, hard night was ahead and his mind drifted to the schedule that awaited him.
During the next several weeks Ed and Charlie saw each other only a couple of times.
The season was in full swing and Charlie was on the road as much as he was home. Ed was busy too. The start of a new school year required hundreds of kids needing shots or treatment for colds and viruses.
September slid into October. The Giants were doing well, three and one so far. Ed had seen a game or two on TV. Charlie offered him tickets for every game but that would mean an entire day and he really didn’t have the time. From what he read in the paper Charlie was doing pretty well and it looked like he would be staying.
Ed was glad of that. He liked going out for a drink together or just bullshitting, even if it was only once in a while. It took his mind off things and with Charlie, he always had a few good laughs.
It was late October or early November when he got the call. He couldn’t remember the exact date but he did remember being at the clinic.
“How’ve you been Old Buddy? Been watchin’ any football lately?” the voice said. It was Charlie. He hadn’t spoken to him in about three weeks.
“Not bad” replied Ed.
“Don’t got much time but I did see you against Miami. Weather’s pretty nice there I bet.”
“Sure is “replied Charlie.
“Ed- I want you to do me a favor.”
“Sure!” said Ed.
He wasn’t in the habit of agreeing to anything before he knew the details, but in Charlie’s case it was different
“Do you remember I told you about the guy I knew in Oakland who came out here and was working at the stadium?’
“The one who’s on the grounds crew?” replied Ed.
“That’s right. His name is Al Druse. Did you ever meet him?” asked Charlie.
“No, but I remember you telling me about him when I came to the practice at the stadium last August” Ed answered.
“Well,” said Charlie, “I didn’t see him around yesterday one of the other grounds guys came around to collect a few bucks from everybody for a gift for him. They said he was sick but nobody knew what was wrong with him. I called his wife to find out how he was and she didn’t know what was wrong either.”
“Did he go to the doctor?” asked Ed.
“Sure he did, and his doctor sent him to the hospital and they’re not sure what’s wrong. Ed, would you go down to the hospital with me and take a look at him?
I don’t mean go down and try to take over the case. Just go to visit and tell me what you think” Charlie replied.
“What does Al’s wife say?” asked Ed.
“She just wants to know what’s the matter with him? I told her that I thought you knew your stuff and might be able to help. You did graduate from Einstein!”
There was a pause.
“I’ll pick you up tonight, about six, okay?” Charlie continued.
There was another brief silence.
“Alright, I think I can make it. Pick me up at the clinic” said Ed.
Charlie arrived at six o’clock sharp. He pulled up and tapped his horn. Ed peered out through the window. It was difficult to see clearly. The street light in front of the building had been broken since June and a cold drizzle coated the pane making everything even less visible. Ed recognized the outline of the car and its burly driver behind the wheel.
“Guess you remembered how to get here alright,” said Ed as he entered the car.
“It wasn’t that long ago” replied Charlie. He had been to the clinic in early September and received a tour in similar detail to the one he had given Ed at the stadium in August.
“You’ll have to help me find the hospital. It’s Saint Ann’s in Jersey City” Charlie instructed as the car twisted and turned through the city streets under Charlie’s control.
“How did you get involved in this anyway?” asked Ed.
“Well, I was pretty friendly with Al out in California. I’d even been to his house once or twice for dinner. When I went to Oakland, he was one of the first guys I met from the east. As a matter of fact, he grew up in a town about five miles from my hometown. We even used to hang around there once in a while, when I was in high school. I knew a lot of the guys he did and so we had something in common, plus he and his wife were good people.
When I called Angie, that’s his wife, she was pretty upset and so I felt the least I could do is try to help out. That’s when I volunteered you” explained Charlie.
The hospital was a large, brick building situated on a crowded street at the heart of the city. It appeared to be one of many buildings in that area whose date with the wrecking ball was long past due. It sported a small modern addition which was probably the reason for its over-extended life span.
Ed and Charlie parked the car and walked towards the front door. Inside, the ten-foot ceiling made it look more like a train station than a hospital. In the center of the lobby sat the receptionist’s desk amidst the array of worn sofas and chairs. Behind it sat a heavy, middle-aged, black woman equipped with a stack of five by seven file cards. Several visitors sat in small groups at the corners of the room.
“Al Druse, room 309“Charlie said. The woman silently shuffled through the stack for several seconds.
“No such name here” she announced.
“Are you sure?” questioned Charlie.
“Al Druse, room 309” he repeated. Again the woman searched the cards, finally holding the file open between Drose and Dew.
“If Druse was here, he’d be right here” she said as she pointed to the vacant space in the pile. “You don’t see a card there, do you?” she added.
Charlie looked at Ed with a disbelieving expression.
“I talked to Angie just yesterday and she said he was here. This is Saint Anne’s in Jersey City, isn’t it? Is there another Saint Anne’s in this town?”
“No, this is it” Ed replied.
“Is there a phone around here?” Charlie asked the receptionist. She gestured toward the far side of the lobby. He reached into his pocket as he moved in that direction.
“I’ll be right back.”
Ed sat down to await his return. He hadn’t even gotten comfortable before he saw Charlie coming towards him.
“I called Angie. No answer.” Ed walked back to the desk.
“Was there a patient named Al Druse here during the past week?” The woman looked up at him with a thoughtful stare.
“I think I remember that name but I’m not sure” she said in a slow drawling voice.
“We got over two hundred people here and you only remember the ones that stay for a long time or get lots of visitors. He couldn’t have been one of those or I’d remember for sure but that name sounds a little familiar” she added.
Ed motioned to Charlie. “Let’s go. I’ll call the business office tomorrow and we’ll find out exactly what’s going on here” he said.
Ed was on the phone to Saint Anne’s the next morning before he left for work. Despite his persistence, he obtained little information. Al Druse had been a patient there for three days. He was moved to a private hospital in upstate New York on Tuesday. The reason for his move or any details of his illness we’re not available. Ed did find out the name of his doctor though, it was Doctor Robert Alpert – phone 693-8818.
Ed dialed the number as soon as he hung up from the hospital call.
“Doctor Alpert’s office” a woman’s voice answered.
“Hello, this is Doctor Ed Bennett. Is Doctor Alpert available?”
“I’ll find out” she replied.
After a brief moment Ed was greeted pleasantly by “Hello, this is Doctor Alpert speaking.”
“Hello, this is Ed Bennett. Do you have a few minutes?”
“Sure!” Alpert answered.
“I’m calling about one of your patients, Al Druse.”
“I don’t have any patient by that name” Alpert responded instantaneously in an abrupt tone.
“He was hospitalized by you last week according to the business office at Saint Anne’s,” said Ed.
There was a pause.
“Well, he’s not a patient of mine now” replied Alpert. There was another even longer pause.
“I’ll have to check my records. I’m pretty busy right now. Give my girl your number and I’ll get back to you” he said even more abruptly.
“Can you give me any information about it?” Ed suddenly realized Alpert had put the phone on hold.
“Now what is your number Doctor Bennett?” a woman’s voice interrupted the silence.
Ed was puzzled as he mechanically recited his phone number. Why did Alpert go from Jekyll to Hyde when he heard Druse’s name? How could he not remember the name of a patient he had just hospitalized only three days before? As he put down the phone, Ed stared into space. It was very strange to say the least. Ed didn’t remember the drive to work that morning. It was as if he was Captain Kirk rather than Ed Bennett and had been beamed to the clinic. During the trip, he was continually thinking about his conversation with Alpert.
“Oh, Alpert thought it was just a routine call about a patient and he would call back and it would all be settled,” he told himself unconvincingly.
He was glad that this was Rita’s morning on the road, making house calls. It allowed him to answer the phone. Every time it rang he expected to hear Alpert’s voice. It never was and his curiosity continued to rise
He glanced at the clock on the wall. It was one o’clock now. She would be back any minute. Soon he heard the familiar sound of Sam’s Caddy. Seconds later they entered. It looked like the beauty and the beast. Rita’s petite good looks stood in sharp contrast to those of Sam. Sam was a huge, bearded, black man with thick protruding scars on his face and upper arms. His mere presence cast an aura of intimidation.
Sam was Rita’s self-appointed bodyguard and chauffeur. It was his way of paying a debt. Sam did more than just driving her around on her calls. He was also the reason that the clinic was the only operating storefront in twenty blocks that didn’t need pull-down window gratings or Fort Knox-type security equipment. He had been Ed and Rita’s “main man” as he called himself, almost since they started.
He had come stumbling through the door about three years ago. It was early on a Saturday morning and Rita had only been there about ten minutes when suddenly she heard a thud on the front window. A man was leaning against the glass and sliding towards the door. As he moved across the pane a stripe of blood traced a zigzag line behind him.
He flung the door open and stood tottering in its opening. She instinctively drew back at first, but then reached towards him and guided him to a cot at the rear of the room. A large red blotch covered his upper left shoulder and arm. He spoke weakly but in a demanding tone.
“Get my arm fixed and I’ll get goin’.”
Rita opened the shirt to examine the wound.
“I can’t just fix your arm. It’s a mess. You’ve got to go to a hospital for this” she said.
“I don’t want no hospital shit. This is a bullet in my arm, girl. Can’t you see? Hospitals mean cops and I don’t need no cops in my life” he said in a loud voice as he struggled vainly to get up. It was clear that he was not going to a hospital.
Rita must have worked on his arm for two hours.
Three days later Sam got up from that cot. Rita had stayed by him for the entire time. The bullet had torn the subclavian artery and she never told him how close he’d come to dying but somehow he must have known. He drilled a hole in the bullet and put it on a chain around his neck for a good luck charm. Sam never told anybody how he got shot that Friday night and no one ever dared ask. Ed thought he knew what had probably happened though. In the three years since the incident, he had picked up bits and pieces from different people.
Sam was an enforcer for the drug trade or so it was told. He made sure that the local dealers didn’t decide to keep some extra profits for themselves. The guy who shot him had some different ideas on free enterprise. Three months after Sam recovered; they found the guy dead of a heroin overdose. The cops never could figure out why he had injected himself through the throat with the needle.
Although Ed really never knew for sure if it was all true, things did add up. Sam dressed well, drove a year old Eldorado, always had a pocket full of money, and never held a job. Rita said that every once in a while when they were making calls, he would drive to an out of the way spot, down off Feylinghesuen Ave. and meet a couple of white guys in a black Mercedes. They would talk for fifteen or twenty minutes while she waited in Sam’s car. He always returned with a box of expensive cigars and a smile. She often wondered if there were really cigars in the box. She had never seen him smoke one in all the time she knew him.
Ed didn’t care about Sam’s sordid business affairs. All he knew is that without him things would be much tougher than they were already. Sam had laid a protective veil over the clinic and its people. He saved its life as surely as Rita had saved his. Every mugger and drug addict in the city knew him and his reputation. The word was out; don’t screw around with Sam’s people.
As the two of them stood in the doorway, the phone began to ring again. Ed gestured a welcome as he quickly snatched the receiver from its cradle. It was Charlie.
“I just called Al’s wife for the four hundredth time and I finally got her. She had been up at the hospital by Al. She said he was moved up there the day before yesterday and she tried to call me before she left but didn’t get an answer. She says she doesn’t understand what’s going on.”
“Is she home now?” asked Ed.
“Yeah, she had to come back because she couldn’t afford to stay in the motel anymore. She said she’s going to go up on weekends if she can. She wants to talk to you” said Charlie.
“I’ll go over and talk to her. What’s her address?” He hastily jotted it down as he hung up the phone.
Rita had removed her coat and was beginning to fill out one of the many forms which made up the daily routine. Sam was gone. He probably went to “collect his eggs” as he put it.
“That was Charlie,” he said as he looked up.
“Let me tell you about what’s been happening.” He proceeded to explain about Charlie’s call the previous evening, the trip to Saint Anne’s, and the conversation with Alpert. Rita listened intently. She agreed that some of it did seem a bit peculiar but dismissed much of it as his overactive imagination.
“Do you think you can hold down the fort here for a while?” asked Ed. “I’m going to take a run over to see what Al’s wife can tell me. I’d like to see her in person. I think she might need some hand-holding about now.”
“If it’ll make you feel better then you better go. I’ll be okay here” replied Rita.
It was an old neighborhood with well-kept closely spaced two-family houses shaded by an occasional tree sprouting from the sidewalk. Cars lined both sides of the street. One ninety-two one ninety-four, one ninety-six was a yellow house with aluminum siding. A statue of the Virgin stood in the front surrounded by a bunch of plastic daisies. He found a parking spot, walked up the gray wooden steps to the door, and rang the bell. In a few minutes, the door opened. A short woman, with long brown hair and a round face, greeted him in a heavy accent. He couldn’t quite decide if it was Spanish or Portuguese.
“Mrs. Druse?” she nodded.
“I’m Ed Bennett, a friend of Charlie Rode, “he said.
“Doctor Bennett?” she replied.
“Yes – Charlie and I tried to see Al at Saint Ann’s last night” he answered.
“He’s not there,” she said as she turned and began to walk into the house.
“Come on in” she shouted over her shoulder from halfway down the hall. Ed followed her into the living room.
“Can I give you a drink?”
His host hurriedly picked up several newspapers from the floor and attempted to straighten the bunched-up slipcover on an adjacent easy chair. Then she disappeared into the kitchen shouting as she did so “A soda, beer, ice tea?”
“Soda’s okay” he replied as he sat down on the sofa. He looked around the room while he waited. His eye caught several pictures, in small frames on the mantle.
They looked like children’s school pictures and family snapshots. There was one that looked like a New Year’s Eve pictures of Al and his wife. Well, he assumed it was Al anyway. They were wearing hats and a banner in the background read “Welcome 1972”
Al’s wife returned carrying a tray with two glasses of soda.
“My name’s Angie,” she said as she put down the tray.
“Tell me what happened to Al, Angie,” he said.
Angie began to explain the events of the past several weeks. She spoke in a staccato-like fashion. Her speech was punctuated by pauses during which she searched for the right words to be used in the next phrase.
“Al” she began, “He didn’t feel too good the week before last.”
She told of his beginning to feel fatigued and nauseous. Evidently, he had been feeling poorly on and off for some time. It finally came to a point where she persuaded him to see a doctor.
“We went to Doctor Alpert last week. He took a lot of tests, blood and stuff.”
She continued, “Last week he really started to get bad, sick almost every day, so I called the doctor again and he put him in the hospital.”
“Did the doctor say what was wrong with him?” asked Ed.
“He said he wasn’t sure. He didn’t know” she replied.
“What happened at the hospital?” Ed asked.
“Al was there for about three days. Then one day Doctor Alpert called me.
He said that he should be moved to a hospital in upstate New York. He said he knew what was wrong with Al and this hospital was the best place for him.”
“Well, what was the matter with him?” asked Ed again.
“He didn’t tell me. Just that he should go to this new hospital.” She paused and drew a deep breath.
“Doctor Bennett, you have to find out what’s going on with my Al” she pleaded tearfully.
Al had been sent to the Caramore Clinic up around Ellensville. Ed had heard of the place but didn’t know much about it. They had told Angie that he would be there for an “extended time.” That was hospital lingo for not being sure when he would be released.
As he drove back towards Newark he tried to remember what he could about Caramore Clinic. He seemed to recall reading something about it in a magazine someplace.
When Ed arrived at the clinic he was greeted by a chorus of shrill screams. He opened the door just in time to see Rita withdrawing a hypodermic needle from a three-year-old’s bottom while the child’s mother struggled to hold him still. He walked over to his desk and searched through the pile of notes and messages lying there. There were about ten in all and none of them from Alpert.
Rita finished with her howling patient and turned to Ed.
“Did you ever hear of Caramore Clinic in Ellensville, New York?” he asked her.
She thought for a moment.
“Isn’t that the place where they dry out movie stars and politicians?” she responded.
Ed paused, and then his face lit up.
“That’s it. I knew I read about it recently. I thought I read about it in a medical journal but it was one of those movie star mags in the barbershop. That was the place they put the rock group “The Slugs.” All of them were druggies and they all signed up at once to get straight at Caramore. They played a concert at the place the day they were released and it made the paper and the magazine.”
“Why are you interested in it?” asked Rita.
“That’s a big money operation: It costs big bucks to stay there” she added.
“That’s where they’ve got Al Druse, the guy Charlie and I tried to visit last night at Saint Ann’s. His wife just told me” replied Ed.
Why was Al in a drug rehab hospital? Angie didn’t mention anything about drugs or booze but then, of course, Ed didn’t ask either. If he did have a habit, why didn’t Alpert just tell me, thought Ed? And why did somebody put him in a place like Caramore that costs thousands and is all the way up in New York state and even more puzzling is who’s paying for it? It sure isn’t Angie from what Ed could see.
Ed picked up the phone and dialed Alpert’s number.
He’d waited long enough. After a customary greeting from the receptionist and a long pause, Alpert answered.
“Doctor Bennett, I tried to reach you this morning. Your phone was busy.
You were interested in Albert Druse, one of my patients. I’m sorry I couldn’t talk to you yesterday but the office was very busy. Mr. Druse came to me last week complaining of nausea and fatigue. I sent him for several tests. Upper and lower GI, blood work, urine, and so forth.”
Alpert spoke in a long string of unbroken sentences with little or no pause separating them. It sounded like a sixth-grader reciting his part on the opening night of the school play.
“His condition persisted so I admitted him to Saint Ann’s” he continued, still in a rehearsed tone.
“How did he wind up at Caramore?” Ed interrupted.
“The second day he was at the hospital, the hospital administrator called me and said that his staff physicians had reviewed the case and decided it was best to move him up there.”
“Did you request a review of the case?” asked Ed.
“No” replied Alpert.
“I was told Mrs. Druse had requested that” Ed added.
“Did Mr. Druse have a drug problem, drugs or alcohol?”
“Not that I know of,” said Alpert
“May I see his records and test results? I’ll get authorization from the patient’s wife if you like” said Ed.
“I don’t have them.”
“Who does?” asked Ed.
“A representative from the State Medical Examiner’s office called me the day Mr. Druse was to be moved and asked for all records” Alpert replied.
“Isn’t that a bit unusual?” asked Ed.
“Well, that’s not for me to say” replied Alpert. He spoke more calmly now.
“Don’t you have the copies of the originals?” Ed continued to question.
“I did but two days after the State called me about the records my office was robbed. I never even really got a chance to take a good look at them. I knew the patient had been removed from my care and so I didn’t see any point in rushing to look at his records.”
“You were robbed?” repeated Ed in a surprised voice. “And patient records were stolen along with drugs?” he added.
“Yeah, some drugs and records too” replied Alpert.
“That’s a strange combination. Why would a druggie steal patient records?” asked Ed.
“My own opinion is the drugs being stolen was to cover the real purpose of the break-in. The records were the real target. It looked like they just took a few at random.
Maybe it was because the night watchman interrupted them and they were in a panic and they just grabbed a bunch from the area they thought might contain the one they were looking for. If the watchman hadn’t come by they would have just taken the one file and no one would have known until someone looked for that particular file. Up until then the whole thing would have been simply a drug theft. If a long time passed between the robbery and the discovery of the missing files, who would even relate the two?
That’s the only thing that I can think of that might relate the theft of two items like drugs and a handful of random files” said Alpert.
“And Druse was in the handful that was taken?” said Ed.
“Right! That’s why when you called yesterday and asked about him it took me by surprise. That combined with all the other incidents involving this guy. I called the County Medical Association to see who you were. To be honest the whole thing is getting nerve-racking. The robbery, cops, calls from the State. I didn’t want to be talking to the wrong people, so I checked” Alpert explained.
“What was wrong with Druse?” asked Ed.
“I really don’t know. Like I said I never really even got a chance to look at the test results” said Alpert.
As Ed ended his conversation with Alpert he at least understood Alpert’s reluctance to talk with him the day before. The circumstances surrounding the whole situation however had become even more perplexing.
The next day he called the state Medical Examiner’s Office. He wasn’t quite sure to whom he should speak. They didn’t have anyone in charge of stolen records or mysteriously transferred patients. Alpert wasn’t sure of the title of the inspector who had picked up the papers from him but he did remember his name – Samford. No one named Samford worked for the examiner’s office according to them. His call to Caramore didn’t help either. They said that they couldn’t discuss any patients on the phone and they wouldn’t even acknowledge Druse’s being there. That of course was what Ed might have expected from a high-class, private rehab hospital-like Caramore anyway.