Plan of Attack

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Plan of Attack (Skeet Shoot) 4

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Sticks – A Golfer’s Tale
Plan of Attack

By W. Sautter
Copyright W. Sautter 2013

Note – Video links will play on Kindle Fires and Nooks but not older devices

Chapter 1

The Promise

The Promise (Click here for video)
“Bad luck?
Predestination?
Fate?
Bad Karma?
God’s will?
My own fault?
My own poor choices?
Foolish vengefulness?”
All of this flooded my memory.
How could I know a choice was poor until after it was made?
Every minute of existence is filled with choices. Even thinking about this is a matter of choice. At any instant, I can choose to continue to ponder or cast my thoughts in another direction.
All choices are based on previous choices which begin a birth. They lead us down a path through a myriad of decision points like a lab rat in an unending maze.
At every turn, an entirely different path can be selected. No one makes decisions that he believes will lead to completely negative results. Even the worst choices are made with some overriding positive result being expected.
It is much like climbing a tree with an infinite number of branches. One poor selection can lead to a rotted limb and when we grasp it, we fall.
At what point could we have chosen a branch leading to a sturdier limb. Was it the first branch point or the second or the third or the nth? And if our choice at any of these junctures was different would it have necessarily led to a better fate? Is it equally possible that it could have led to even a worse one?
I lie here with all of these thoughts racing; all questions and no answers. Even if I could conjure the answers, how would it help?
“Let vengeance be mine sayeth the Lord.”
That Bible phrase flashed through my mind over and over and now I had come to know its true meaning. I should have left revenge in God’s hands and never taken it for my own. I should have known that it would be impossible for me to do a better job than He.
They say that one’s entire life can flash before you in an instant. I never really believed that but now I know that it is true.
All I could do now is hope that all these realizations were not a prelude to my demise.
Well, enough of this self-pity and philosophical bullshit.
Let me tell you how I came to this point, what happened, how it happened and how it all began.
I sat silently at the back of the class barely hearing the words of Miss Mosser.
“Fractions are like the slices of a pizza pie…” seemed to be echoing through a long, dark tunnel extending to the front of the room. I could feel a knife-like pain searing through my guts. I knew I was going to puke any minute. I hadn’t felt good this morning before I left for school but I said nothing. I had to go to school today because today was the day Martin Shaw, the all pro NFL linebacker was coming to our school to talk to us kids! No kid in his right mind would miss that.
As much as I tried I couldn’t fend off the mounting pain and nausea any longer. Suddenly, my stomach spasms pulsed forth a stream of vomit all over my desk and my head fell forward into its acrid pool.
I struggled to raise my head from the slimy mass and open my eyes. All was a blur except the bulletin board calendar with its brightly encircled number twenty-one which gleamed against the dull background.
I could faintly hear Miss Mosser calling my name through the distant haze.
“Johnny! Johnny Carter! Are you alright?
Someone call the nurse!” she shouted.
I couldn’t utter a single word of reply.
Within seconds all blackened.
My next memories were those of flashing lights and voices resonating from a deep, distant source. Again darkness swept over me.
It felt like only minutes later that I found myself lying motionless as a mask was slowly lowered over my face. Once again a deep haze encompassed me while flashes of colored lights sparkled and danced everywhere.
The next thing I would remember is awakening in a hospital bed with my mother and Ralph by my side. She reached down and picked him up to rub his well-worn, furry face next to mine.
“Ralph is so glad to see you. You had him really worried’ she explained as she continued to stroke my face with my favorite stuffed animal.
“What happened Ma? Did I miss Martin Shaw?” I asked with the most panicky tone I could muster.
“You did but I’ve been told that he may come to see you personally once you’re a little better” she replied.
“You mean come to see me by himself?” I said excitedly.
“That’s what Miss Mosser told me” she answered.
Wow! I could hardly believe it. Martin Shaw was coming here to see me; right here in this room. That would make all this worth it, I thought to myself.
But what really happened to me?
“Am I going to be alright?” I asked aloud.
“The doctor said for sure” my mother answered.
“You had appendicitis and the doctor fixed you.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“You had a problem with your insides and the doctor had to fix it and you’re going to be okay” she reassured me.
“When is Mr. Martin coming to see me?” I continued eagerly.
“Very soon if you keep getting better!” she answered.
She was right. It wasn’t more than a day later that a huge figure appeared in the doorway of my room, almost blocking it completely.
There he was, Martin Shaw, coming to see just me and he even brought me a football.
He stayed for several minutes telling me how glad he was to see me getting better and how he too had once had appendicitis.
A dream couldn’t have been better.
“Mr. Martin, I’m going to work really hard to become a great football player just like you. You’re my hero” I said enthusiastically.
“Teddy, I’m not your hero. Doctor Spiegel is you’re hero. He saved your life. Without him you wouldn’t be here now.
You know who my hero is?” he asked rhetorically,
“Doctor Sabine, he’s the doctor that saved my life when I had appendicitis.
Do me a favor kid, don’t be a football player, study hard and be a doctor.”
With that, he placed his hand on my forehead and said “Promise me!”
How could I not promise Martin Shaw anything?
I immediately stammered out “I promise!
I promise!
I will!”
From that moment forth I knew I was destine to become a doctor!
The thought never left me.
That’s how it all started.
When I returned to school the following week, I was greeted as a hero, not because I had survived appendicitis but because I had met with Martin Shaw one on one.
I was a kid with a new attitude. The hero’s welcome by the class was not what did it; it was that promise to Mr. Shaw that I had made.
Soon half the kids in the class were asking to copy my homework. When that happened I knew that I was no longer the classroom “daydreamer”, I had become the class “brain”.
As the school year wore on, I more and more became known as the “geek”. I didn’t mind it at all because I knew that I had a dream and a promise to keep. I spent so much time with the books that my mother began to worry. I don’t think it was because she didn’t want me to be smart. The best guess is that she had heard too many old wives’ tales about people who study too much, going crazy.
Whatever her concerns might have been she made several efforts to curtail the length of my study periods in favor of “normal boy” activities like stick ball and loitering.
At one point she and my father when out and bought me some video games. When I think about it, the whole thing was like Backwards Land. With most kids the fight is about getting the kids to study, not getting them to stop studying but that’s the way it was!
When I got to high school her and my father’s constant prodding finally worked. They worked, not because I actually believed her admonishments of my “going crazy from too much studying” but instead because I knew that extracurriculars would help me to get into a good college. And besides it would end the constant nagging.
So it was that, in spite of the fact that it took a lot of time away from my studies, I joined the high school football team. It was there that I met Richie Whiteman. Ironically, Richie Whiteman was very black.
He and I were assigned lockers right next to each other and we became fast friends. Whenever I told anyone that he and I were “fast friends” they always corrected me saying he was the “fast friend” and I was the “slower fast friend”. They were reminding me that Richie was certainly the better player. In spite of being the “slow fast friend” I was still good enough to make the team.
Of course, Richie with his superior speed and agility became an outstanding halfback while I, with lesser speed but good size, was assigned a lineman’s spot, right guard to be precise. I was adequate but not close to the high caliber of Richie’s play.
Despite of my initial resistance to my parent’s prodding; I found the football experience to be rewarding. I made a lot of friends that otherwise would surely have shunned me as one of the school’s nerds had I not participated and most importantly, Richie and I would have never become best friends.
He was not only a good halfback but also a pretty good student. I don’t think he studied like I did and he never really reached ‘nerd’ status but he did well in school and was in the top ten percent at least.
By the time we reached our senior year I was in a close race with Harry Swartzbard for class valedictorian. Only about two tenths of a point separated us. When it finally came down to the wire, Harry broke the tape one tenth of a point ahead. I had to settle for sloppy seconds.
Here’s how it all happened.
It all centered on AP Calculus. As the year progressed we both received As in each of the three preceding marking periods and now it came down to the last marking period and the final exam. Less than an A for either of us would surely result in a death blow to our valedictorian aspirations. Both of us aced the last marking period and then of course it was the final exam that would determine our final grade.
Harry scored a ninety eight and I scored ninety. It was over. Harry wore the crown. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I was crushed.
I kept telling myself I would not be discouraged and tried hard not to be bitter.
My mother always said “The only thing worse than a loser is to be a sore loser” and knew that she was right. I went on to congratulate Harry with a hearty handshake and no obvious indications of my overwhelming disappointment, although deep inside, my stomach rolled.
It was not until several weeks later that I found out that my inner most feelings were probably more than justified after all.
I had been accepted at the State University. Ironically Richie was also going to attend State and was entering the same program as me, Pre Med. I had already received my first semester’s schedule. When I looked at it the words “General College Chemistry I” glared out at me.
Although I did well in chemistry much of it seemed difficult to grasp. It certainly wasn’t one of the “Easy A” subjects for me. I had to spend hour upon hour with the chemistry book to fully comprehend its intricacies.
Upon seeing it on my first semester course list, I decided to go to the library and take out Zumdath’s – Introduction to General Chemistry. I knew that was the book used last year at State and was probably the same one that would be used in the upcoming semester. It would be good to do some reviewing before I began the course.
I entered the library and walked to the stacks at the back which I knew housed the science section.
Who did I meet there but Becky Goldman!
Becky had been in almost every one of my classes throughout my four years at Heckman High. She was never one of my best buds but I knew her fairly well. She was pretty smart and pretty too.
I greeted her with a causal ‘What’s new?
Becky always had the latest town and school gossip and was never reticent about spreading it far and wide.
“Well, did you hear about Mr. Ashberg?” she replied eagerly.
Mr. Ashberg was our AP Calculus teacher whose exam had cost me the high school valedictory.
“No, what?” I answered.
“He married Harry Swartzbard’s mother!
Evidently they had been going at it hot and heavy for some time.
That’s probably why she and Harry’s dad split in the first place.
I heard she got a ton of money when they split. Harry’s dad was a pretty rich guy.”
“Holy shit” I reflexively blurted.
Upon hearing her revelation, my mind drifted. Throughout the remaining conversation with Becky I could think of nothing else but her comment about Ashberg. I replied to her with robotic, detached responses as I continued to ponder over and over what she had just told me.
I had been part of study groups that prepared for Ashberg’s Calculus tests during my senior year. Harry was always part of them too. Several of us would regularly get together prior to exams. I remember always having been surprised by Harry’s exceptionally good grades on the exams despite his obvious lack of knowledge during our study sessions. I had passed it off as a unique ability on his part to rise to the occasion on the day of the exam.
I knew this kind of thing happens frequently in athletics. Some guys are great in practice and shitty in the game. We used to call them ‘gym stars’.
Meanwhile, other guys are poor in practice and really excel when the pressure is on during the game.
I used to think that maybe Harry was one of those kind of guys but after hearing Becky’s story, now I wasn’t so sure.
Ashberg dating Harry’s mother all the time. Harry’s getting those great grades in Calculus even though he appeared to know shit during our study sessions?
You don’t have to be Isaac Newton to figure out what was probably going on here I thought to myself.
Becky left the library and I went into the main lobby and seated myself so as to try and clear my head. After an hour or so of mental turmoil I realized I should just let it go. It was a bitter pill but what is done is done and there was nothing that I could do to change it.
First of all, how could I know if my suspicions were correct? All the evidence was purely circumstantial I told myself.
Then again, I thought to myself, “Men have been executed based on less circumstantial evidence than that”.
How could I just let it go?
Well, suppose it was true after all and I could prove it?
If Ashberg really was greasing up Harry’s grades because of his thing with Harry’s old lady, what could I do about it anyway?
Could I demand a GPA recalculation and a repeat of the graduation ceremony?
I’m sure that would never happen!
I suppose I’d just have to suck it down and be philosophical about the whole thing.
It was treachery against which I had no means of rectification or reprisal
As Omar Khayyám once wrote:

‘The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.’

“What is done is done! Gotta leave it behind and move on” I thought.
As hard as I tried, I couldn’t release my thoughts from the vengeful grasp which kept them constantly whirling through my mind. How could I just forget the whole thing and pretend to be immune from the overpowering vengeful urge inside me?
As much as I wanted to I just couldn’t. I knew that I had to satisfy the gnawing if for no other reason than to maintain my own self-respect. If I did nothing I would be haunted into eternity by my own indignity.
I shook my head trying to shake free all those tormenting thoughts. Then I placed “Zumdath’s – Introduction to General Chemistry” under my arm and began the long walk home.
I walked pondering, in a trance like state. Suddenly, I was distracted by the foulest of odors. I continued to walk searching for its source. It followed me. After several glances I finally looked down at my feet. There it was, dog shit all over my left shoe!
Those were the days before “Pooper Scoopers” were in fashion and the chance of a fateful encounter with dog shit was had on every sidewalk. I found a stick, picked it up, leaned against a nearby tree and began the loathsome task of cleaning my shoe with it.
As I continued to scrape the most sinister of ideas arose.
“Wicked but beautiful” I thought to myself as I finished the scraping and threw the excrement covered stick into the gutter.
Evidently, it was garbage night because as I walked I passed a myriad of trash cans. At the top of one of the garbage piles sat an empty, plastic, gallon milk container. It was exactly what I was looking for. As I continued along I found a second and then a third container. It was as if the hand of fate was guiding me in my scheme. I picked up all three and continued homeward.
When I got home I immediately picked up the phone and called Henry Glass. He had quit school in our senior year. It wasn’t because he was stupid or lazy. It was because his father, an alcoholic abuser, had kicked him out of the house. At the age of eighteen Henry found himself with no means of support and nowhere to stay. Reporting his father to the authorities meant he would live in terrifying fear of his father from that time on so he chose the alternative. Henry got a job with a local delivery service and moved into a shabby, one room apartment on the other side of town and began life on his own.
I started the conversation by asking him if he was still working for the delivery service. He said he did. I knew he was before I asked because I had seen him just two days before on one of his delivery routes.
Then, I continued by telling him that I had been invited to a costume party and thought that a cheap disguise for me would be the “Maytag Man”. At the time the “Maytag Man” was featured in a popular TV commercial that was constantly splashed all over the airwaves.
“Can I borrow one of your uniforms as my costume?” I asked.
Although it was a pretty weak premise it was all I could think of at the moment and it worked. I immediately went over to Henry’s and picked it up.
The next day I went out to search for ammunition. It was easy to find. Equipped with two plastic bags, one for my hand and one for collection, I walked down several street with head bowed looking for my quarry, dog droppings. It didn’t take long before the bag became half filled with the foul smelling mass. It was a distasteful task to say the least but it had to be done. The alternative was to continue on bearing the remorse of not having in some way avenged my despoilment.
When I got back home I took a funnel and one of the plastic containers to the backyard. Holding my breath as best I could I forced half of the excrement which I had collected into the funnel and washed it into the bottle with water from the garden hose. When it was almost filled, I capped it and shook it well. I repeated same process with a second bottle.
Now the only thing left to complete the preparation for my plan was to get an empty box from the local grocery store. I carefully taped brown wrapping paper on the sides of the box so as to make it appear as a delivery package while leaving the top open.
I put one of the filled jars in the box together with the funnel to which was attached a short length of garden hose. Everything was ready to go. I went to bed that night eager for the next day to begin.
I got up the next morning, donned the uniform that I had borrowed from Henry, took the package and the second filled, plastic bottle from the garage. I carefully placed it in the trunk and drove to Ashberg’s house. It was nine A.M. and no one was home of that I was sure. I had ridden by the place at the same time on several different occasions and had seen it deserted.
I pull the hat brim down over my eyes and opened the trunk. I carefully lifted the package from it and walked to the front door of the house with the best official looking stride that I could muster.
Once there, I took out the funnel and threaded the attached hose through the mail slot opening. I opened the cap of the plastic container. The foul smell of the concocted slurry that it contained instantaneously burst forth. I took a breath and held it as I poured the vile mixture into the funnel and through the mail slot.
Just as I felt I was about to lose consciousness from holding my breath the jug was emptied. I placed the funnel and empty container back into the box, straightened up and walked back to the car. I opened the trunk, put the box in a plastic bag and closed it with a wire tie.
Within minutes I arrived at Swartzbard’s house which was also unoccupied and using the second container of noxious solution carried out the same spiteful act. I drove to the dumpster behind the A&P and discarded all the remaining evidence there.
I felt as if I had been freed from the self-loathing that had plagued ever since my conversation with Becky at the library. I had avenged the wrongdoing and my feelings of having been played as fool evaporated. The constantly nagging thoughts of retribution disappeared. I could again walk with my head held high.
I parked the car on a side street, shut off the engine and sat silently. Images of Ashberg and Swartzbard discovering my sordid gifts swept through my mind and I smiled broadly with satisfaction at those lingering thoughts. I was tempted to repeatedly drive passed each of the houses hoping to witness them finding the depraved spectacles I had left. I had to use all the strength that I could summon to resist the temptation.
After several moments, I restarted the car and headed homeward.
All my urges had been satisfied. All my vengeful thoughts had been extinguished and I had not one iota of remorse.
I felt “Just fucking great!”

Chapter 2

Surprise

It was the first day at State and I am moving on, on to bigger and better things. My schedule looked great in spite of “General College Chemistry I”. My professors looked great, on paper anyway since I hadn’t attended any classes yet. Even better my roommate was my old high school bud, Richie.
He never got the Ivy school football scholarship he had hoped for and his disappointment was profound, I’d say sometimes bordering on suicidal. Soon after the rejection, he got a real good bite here at State and it turned his entire mentality of defeat to elation.
State wasn’t Ivy but it was a good school with big time football. I guess the prospect of playing in front of seventy thousand fans on a Saturday, made up for not getting that Ivy scholarship after all. He never again even mentioned the word “Ivy” during our entire four years.
All the courses at State were challenging to say the least.
By the time our college careers at State ended, Richie and I had become even closer than in high school.
Throughout the four years, he and I had spent many hours together preparing for exams and writing lab reports.
I was always ready to help him with the books and he in return greatly improved my social life. BMOC (big men on campus) always have lots of friends and lots of girls and BMOC’s buds do pretty well too!
His football career at State was outstanding. Outstanding was putting it mildly, he was selected as an All- American and his academics ranked well also. Considering the demands that big time football places on its athletes, he did exceptionally well with the books. I did considerably better but then of course, I didn’t have to bear the burdens of constant practice sessions and games.
The time finally came to take the MCATs. I signed up for the prep class that everyone told me was essential to do well on the test.
The first evening I walked into the class and my mouth dropped open. There seated in the front row was Richie motioning to me to take the seat adjacent to his.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“You don’t think I was going to let all that studying go to waste, do you?” he replied with a grin.
I knew that several pro teams had offered Richie a ton to play for them. He had told me many times that he couldn’t wait for the first big game and the first big pay day. So what was he doing here in an MCAT prep class beside me?
“Are you planning to go to med school and play pro ball in your spare time?” I asked facetiously.
“You got it backwards. I’m playing and going to med school in my spare time” he laughed.
“Of course not! Here’s what’s really going on.
After the third game this season I started gettin’ these awful headaches. Like killers, man. I was throwin’ up, got dizzy and couldn’t get outta bed.
Then it went away and the next day I felt fine again.
After the next game it happened all over again but this time it lasted for two days so I went to the doctor.
I got the MRI, the EEG and PET Scan treatment. The whole nine yards” he continued.
“And what did they say?” I interrupted.
“Well, here’s the bottom line. They said ‘If you want to wind up like Ali, keep on playing.
Then I asked them if I could finish the season at least” he answered.
“They must have said ‘yes’ because you did finish” I said.
“Well, not really. They said it’s not a good idea but me, being me, I didn’t listen, so I did finish.”
“Did you have any more of those headache and vomiting incidents?”
“Yes I did and that’s what finally convinced me. It was pretty hard to swallow but you gotta do what you gotta do if you know what I mean!
Everybody’s gotta have a job and since mine can’t be pro football I gotta settle for the next best and that’s why I’m here.
You know what, I was thinking about this a whole lot and in the end it’s probably better this way.
I can go back home and really help people out every day instead of just entertaining them on Sunday afternoons.”
He paused.
“Maybe I’m just rationalizing, trying to make myself feel better?” he concluded.
“No, I don’t think so. I think you’re right on” I replied sympathetically.
When the scores came in Richie did pretty damn good and so did I.
He got a 32 and I got a 35 both good enough for admission to good schools.
And so it happened, that in May of our senior year, we both left for med school but not the same one. He went west to Pitt and I stayed right here at NYU.

Chapter 3

The Patients
The Patients (Click here for video)

The most challenging of all was my first experience in anatomy lab. I can remember it as if it was yesterday.
The class consisted of twenty eight students. The first day we all arrived at the lab room entrance only to find the door closed and locked. A sheet of paper had been taped over the small window in the door.
We waited.
At the precise time the lab was scheduled to begin, the door swung open revealing a small, thin man wearing heavy spectacles and a soiled white lab coat. He closed the door behind him and spoke in a squeaky, high pitched voice.
“I am Doctor Demus, your anatomy professor for this term.
I will introduce you to my patients in a few moments.
Does everyone have his equipment, lab coat, goggles and dissection kit?”
Everyone nodded in unison.
“Okay then, take a deep breath and come on in” and he held the door open widely for all to enter.
Spread throughout the room before us were several metal tables bearing sheet covered corpses. The air in the room was brisk and bore a faint, acrid smell.
“Please assemble in groups of four around one of our patients” he announced as he pointed to the sheet shrouded tables behind him.
“Please note his number on the clip at the foot of the table and remember it. He will be yours for the rest of this course.”
My guy was WM1432.
“Treat them with care and respect.
I call all of these people are your patients because without them and those like them you would never have the opportunity to master the art of anatomy and all that is required for you to become a competent physician and treat living patients. They, then in a sense, are your very first patients. For this we owe them a great debt.
I am fully aware that some people choose to call these brethren, specimens. Please never let me hear that term used in this class. If I do ever hear that reference I will have to assume that the one using it has little respect the human life. I don’t believe that anyone with that level of disrespect could ever be a good physician, and thus I refuse to participate in preparing such an uncaring doctor. I will have to ask him to leave the course immediately.
We must repay the debt to our patients lying here with respect and much diligent study of the things they will show you during your time with them. Having given us this gift they and I will expect no less than your complete dedication to the study and full mastery of anatomy during this class.
Now, please remove the cover from the face of your patient, step back and repeat a silent prayer for him in repayment for the kindness of his gift to you” Demus instructed.
Everyone in my group hesitated. I finally reached out and pulled the shroud away revealing his face from beneath the sheet.
He was an older man, appearing to be in his sixties with a gaunt face and sunken eyes. He was partially bald, with thin lips and large ears. His wax-like skin bore several pock marks on his cheeks and he had “turkey neck” skin encircling his throat.
Then, as instructed everyone bowed his head for a brief moment in prayer.
Although we were told not to name our patients, one of the girls in our group insisted. She said it would make her feel more sensitive and respectful as we went about our morbid task. We all decided she was probably right. Secretly of course, we named him ‘Fred’ because he kind of looked like Fred Flintstone.
I believe that the speech given by Doctor Demus was designed to serve two purposes.
The first was, as he had said, to instill respect for the person who had donated himself so that we could learn in order to help others. The second was to mute the initial impact of our facing a room full of lifeless corpses which we were to dismember piece by piece during the upcoming term.
To be honest, I’m not sure if that was really his second objective but it worked for me. It made the task less grizzly and more a labor of dedication and one of seeking knowledge.
As the term went on, I began to revere Doctor Demus even more. His understanding, skill and willingness to help each and every student far exceeded that of any instructor which I had encountered thus far. He often allowed me and several others to stay long after the lab officially ended. His encouragement, enthusiasm and patience urged us far beyond the normal requirements of the course.
At long last, the end of the term arrived. My patient, Fred had been reduced to a mass of bone and sinew. He had given us all the knowledge he had to give.
Throughout the term, John Herms, a senior premed student had faithfully served as our lab assistant. He removed Fred and his companion patients from their chilly entombment before each lab session and then replaced them properly when we were finished. He also respectfully disposed of those remains which had been completely dissected were no longer needed for further study. Additionally, he kept everything clean and disinfected.
The very last day of class I approached John.
“I know that you are a senior and will be graduating next week. I remember you said that you have been admitted to an internship. I kind of assume that your job here will be open” I began.
“Pretty sure” he replied.
“How do I apply for it?” I asked.
“You gotta see Doc and ask him. If he says ‘yes’ then you go down to the administration building and fill out the paperwork and you’ve got the job. That’s how I did it” he answered.
“There are not a lot of people that want this job and you seem to be a pretty good student so I think he’ll probably take you” he continued.
The next day I walked into Demus’s office and asked him for the job as John had suggested.
I got the job!
I was to begin three days before to the opening of the fall semester.
I arrived early, eager to impress Demus.
My starting tasks were to clean the place thoroughly, set up each lab table and make sure that each “patient” was tagged and ready to be assigned to his group of students in the upcoming semester.
At the end of the day Demus motioned me over to speak with him. I was hoping for a complement on the quality of my work.
Instead he said “Tomorrow we have a special delivery coming in at seven o’clock in the morning and I want you to be here.”
“What do you mean by a special delivery?” I asked so as to prepare myself for the job ahead.
“We will be receiving three additional patients. They will be arriving in the usual way, by van.
One of them is a very good find, a young man who was not diseased. The two others are slender, middle aged females also said not to be diseased and in exceptional condition.
Patients today are hard to find, especially those who have not been the victims of disease or not mutilated in an accident. We must be here to be sure they are in the condition they are said to be and make sure they are stored properly. These bodies are very expensive and not easily replaced so we must take good care of them” he answered.
“Expensive?” I asked in surprise.
“I thought that all of them had donated their bodies?”
“Yes, that’s true, they have been kind enough to donate themselves to us but the costs charged to us for preparation, pick up, delivery and storage are quite high. They are often between two and six thousand dollars each.
So, considering that, we must be here for their arrival to make sure they are in the condition they are said to be. We will be here at seven sharp. Also, I think it is befitting that we be here to show them some deserved respect by greeting them. Wouldn’t you agree?” he answered.
“Yes certainly!” I stammered as convincingly as I could.
The next morning, I rode into the parking lot at a quarter to seven with a white van following behind me. It pulled over and backed up to the rear door of the lab.
“Mortuary Services, Inc, Green Tree, PA” was written in small, black lettering on the side door.
As I entered the lab, I could see through the open rear door, three body bags lying in the back of the van. Demus was talking with the van driver and his assistant and upon seeing me he enthusiastically waved me over.
“Which are the empty drawers?” he asked.
“Number twelve, fourteen and fifteen” I replied.
“Okay, put a table in front of each and these strong young men will put one of our new patients on each” he instructed as he looked at the driver and companion.
I dutifully did as he instructed and the men did also as they were told.
Demus took the clipboard from the driver and began to read.
“Number 1473CF – Caucasian female, age forty seven, five feet three, one hundred and forty two pounds, no visible wounds or puncturing, COD – barbiturate overdose.
Unzip the bag and let’s see” he instructed.
I reached over and did as he asked so as to reveal a blonde woman fitting the precise description he had read from the sheet.
Demus bent over the corpse and carefully examined it for several minutes.
“Looks okay, she looks good. Put her in twelve. The driver’s assistant and I lifted the body, placed it on the protruding slab, slid it into the open catacomb and closed the door.
Demus turned to the next page on the clip board.
“Number 5297BM – Black male, age twenty five, six feet three, two hundred and fifteen pounds, one wound in left carotid artery, COD – blood loss
These papers never tell the real legal cause of death. They never use the words ‘suicide’ or ‘murder’. They just cite the physiological cause of death like this one ‘blood loss’.
I would bet this is a homicide. A severed carotid, of this magnitude, is rarely an accident.
From my experience it’s always murder especially when a young person is involved.
Unzip the bag and let’s have a look see” he commanded.
I again reached over and unzipped the bag.
I spontaneously let out a loud gasp.
I recoiled at the sight of the face that confronted me.
I could feel the blood drain from my face, my knees weakened and I felt my stomach begin to cramp.
It was Richie!
“Holy shit!
Holy shit!”
The words rolled through my brain over and over and over again.
I was so startled that nothing else would come into mind. It was all that I could think.
I had been with him but a month ago, during the holidays.
He couldn’t stop talking about how satisfied he was with his choice to become a doctor instead of playing pro ball.
He continually talked of how a career of saving people from the misery of their illnesses would be far more rewarding than merely “entertaining them on a Sunday afternoon”.
Now, I was staring down at his cold, lifeless face, lying on an anatomy lab gurney. All the enthusiasm and vitality, all the hopes and dreams had been drained, leaving only a collection of tissue and bone to be dismembered by a group of fledgling med students.
The incredible injustice of it all filled me with a swirling mix of sadness and anger.
I could feel it consuming me as I gazed at Richie’s ashen corpse lying before me.
Then Demus’s words came thundering through the haze as he leaned over to examine the wound more carefully.
“Nice clean cut. Sure looks like a knife to me.”
Then he looked up.
“What’s the matter boy?
Are you okay?
This surely isn’t the first corpse you’ve ever seen.
What’s the matter?” he repeated.
I struggled to conjure up a reply.
“Well, I feel pretty sick” I stammered.
“Too much late night and I got you up too early today I guess” he quipped.
“Go into my office and sit down for a while and you’ll feel better. I’ll finish up here.”
I stumbled into the office and sat silently trying to comprehend what I have just seen.
After a moment or two, I began to question myself. Was that really Richie or was I hallucinating?
Maybe it was just somebody that looked like Richie and it was not really him after all.
But then again, the body did come from Green Tree, Pennsylvania. I knew that was right outside of Pittsburgh.
Richie had told me several times that he was glad he was accepted to med school out in Pitt because his aunt lived nearby in Green Tree, well Cannonsburgh which is another small town, right next to Green Tree.
He talked about how he was looking forward to be able to go there every once in a while for a good, home cooked meal at his aunt’s house.
Oh well, maybe it was all just coincidence I thought soberly, hoping to convince myself.
Immediately after that thought, “Hoping doesn’t make it so”, as my mother used to say, flashed through my mind.
I grasp the arms of the chair to steady myself and slowly arose. I walked into the lab and approached cabinet fourteen, opened the door and pulled out the tray.
Demus turned when he heard the noise.
“Are you okay now?” he asked.
I nodded and continued to pull the cloth shroud from the body exposing the right leg.
I could feel a knot in the pit of my stomach.
There it was!
A small, red and black tattoo of a hawk and the number eighty-eight, our college mascot and Richie’s football number stared back at me from the calf.
All the attempts at convincing myself had been in vain.
It was Richie!
I recovered the body and rolled the tray back into the cabinet.
I went back to the office and awaited Doctor Demus’s return.
When he did, I told him the entire story.
From that time on, I was plagued by thoughts of Richie and wonderings of how this could have happened to him.
He wasn’t a gang member or a drug dealer as far I knew. I had known him for many years, all through high school and college and I was sure I would have known about those kinds of things, had they existed.
He wasn’t even a smoker or a big drinker. He’d have a few now and then but very seldom. He was always about staying in shape for football. As a matter of fact he was almost always the designated driver whenever we partied.
Throughout the following days, I couldn’t shake the image of his cold, blood drained face staring up at me from that open body bag. I couldn’t shake the feeling of how unfair it all was. I couldn’t shake the wondering of why and how it happened.
Every aspect of my life suffered as these thoughts constantly taunted me.
I found it increasingly difficult to concentrate, to study and to sleep.
I became obsessively compelled to find the answers to those questions.
Demus knew I was feeling poorly and I was sure he knew why. I didn’t hide my sadness and confusion very well. I just couldn’t.
Every day when I came to the lab he asked me how I felt.
My immediate reply was a lie, “I’m okay Doc”.
He had been extremely kind and consoling and I didn’t want to burden him.
However after two weeks of unceasing anguish, I could keep up the pretense no longer.
I felt an overwhelming urge to confess the truth of my unceasing depression and hoping to relief the inner pain.
Upon entering the lab he greeted me with his usual compassionate inquiry.
“How are you feeling today”.
I hesitated.
“Well, to be honest, not that good” I answered half-heartedly.
He too, then hesitated as if instinctively fearing that which he was about to hear.
“Tell me more Boy” he then replied sympathetically.
Maybe Doc could help me to get some answers and so I confessed every morsel of torment that afflicted me in one long outburst.
At the conclusion of my explanation, he put his hand on my shoulder and spoke.
“I’ll call the funeral home which sent the body and see if we can get some answers for you.
Let me go and look up the number.”
“I think it was Mortuary Services in Green Tree Pennsylvania. That was the name on the van:” I volunteered.
“That’s not the funeral home. They are only the delivery service. They pick up the body from the funeral home and deliver it to us, for a hefty fee, of course.
I’ll have to contact them to find the name of the funeral home” he answered as he reached for the phone.
Several minutes later his phone conversation was ended. Doc hung up the phone and spoke.
“It’s the Henderson Funeral Home in Cannonsburgh. It’s just south of Pittsburgh.
Let me call the funeral home. I remember the guy who owns it. I remember talking to him a couple of years ago about a cadaver that was send to us out of his home that wasn’t embalmed correctly and he was very cooperative.
His name was Mort Highberg. Kinda funny and hard to forget, a mortician named Mort, don’t you think?
Let me call him and see what he knows” Doc volunteered.
He dialed the phone.
“Hello, this is John Demus at NYU med school. I would like speak with Mort Highberg.”
There was a silence.
“Hello, Mort, this is John Demus at NYU. We spoke with each other about a year or to ago.”
A pause and Demus then continued speaking.
“No, no problems this time.
I’m just calling about a cadaver that was sent to us out of your home a few days ago. We have no problem with it; I am just trying to get some information about the deceased. It seems that my lab assistant recognized him as an old friend and it also appeared that he might have been the victim of a homicide. Do you know if that’s true or not?”
Again, there was a pause.
“Well, I can give you the tag number” replied Demus as he shuffled through the papers on the clipboard.
“Here we go – 5297BM.”
There was another long pause.
“Oh, so I was right. It was a homicide. Can you give me some details?
Oh, I see. Well, okay then, I guess that’s what we’ll have to do.
Thanks” and he promptly hung up the phone.
“Well, I didn’t get much and I really don’t know if it’s because he didn’t have any information or he just wouldn’t give any to me. To be honest, the tone in his voice was very unconvincing when he said he knew nothing about the situation.
You know Cannonsburgh is a pretty small town. I grew up in a small town and news travels fast in those places, especially bad news.
Something like a murder happening in a small town like that, Christ, even people with dementia would know what happened” Demus explained.
“So, what did he say?” I asked eagerly.
“He said the only thing he could tell me is what appeared in the paper and that wasn’t much.
Your friend was found dead on a back street and the police said he might have been a murder victim but it wasn’t officially filed as a homicide and there wasn’t much of an investigation. He said he didn’t know anything more about it.”
“How could a twenty five year old or anybody for that matter, be found with a severed carotid artery and the police suspect it might be homicide but not thoroughly investigate?
Do you really think a body could be found like that and the local press not call for a detailed investigation in spite of the police not officially listing it as murder? Could they both really be that incompetent or is it something else?” I replied.
“Local police in a small town never want the public to know about a major crime happening in their town. They might feel it makes them look bad, like they’re not really doing their job of protecting the public.
Maybe that was the reason it wasn’t officially listed as murder and not thoroughly pursued?
But then again, it does seem strange that no one would discover that it was most surely a murder just though local gossip if nothing else.
Like I said before, I grew up in a small town and everybody knew everything about everybody, at all times.
If it actually was murder as I think, I would bet it would be the first in a hundred years in that town. I would think that the cops would do whatever they could to keep the record clean for another hundred years, too.” he answered.
“Here, see if you can find any crime statistics for Cannonsburgh or maybe even a police report” he said as he motioned towards the computer.
I immediately did as he suggested.
I typed in “Crime statistics for Cannonsburgh, PA” and to my surprise, up it came.
Murders per 100,000 stretching back to 2001. All zeros.
I called Doc over and pointed to the screen. He nodded.
“Find the website for the local paper” he suggested.
“Newspaper Cannonsburgh PA” and “Cannonsburgh Gazette” flashed onto the screen.
I moved to the site map. No archive pages were listed.
“Nothing here Doc” I replied.
There was silence as we both sat staring at the screen.
“What now?” I thought aloud.
“Find the Cannonsburgh website” said Doc.
“Okay, find the police department page.
Ah, there it is, phone 590-809-4500 – Chief Harold Hawkings” he said pointing to the screen.
“Let’s call and see if we can get the police report on your friend’s death” and he handed the phone to me.
I dialed.
“Cannonsburgh Police – Dispatcher Grapp.
“I would like to obtain the police report on a recent death in Cannonsburgh” I replied.
“One moment please” and the phone went silent and then finally “Chief’s Hawkings office” the voice on the phone announced.
“I would like to obtain the police report on a recent death in Cannonsburgh” I repeated.
“And what report is it that you are interested in obtaining?”
“The death of Richard Whiteman” I answered.
“One moment please” she replied.
Silence again.
Then – “And what is your name?”
I gave her my name and then – “And why are you inquiring about this report?”
“The person was a close friend of mine” I answered.
This time I could hear a muffled conversation in the background.
“This death is still under investigation. We are still trying to decide if a crime has been committed.
Chief Hawkings has decided to seal the report until the further investigation can be completed. Please call back at a later time when this information may become available.
Thank you for calling” and with that the phone went dead.
The disappointment of that terse, uninformative conversation served to compel me even more.
I called back each and every week during the following six weeks.
I remained undiscouraged, if anything, my obsession grew with each inquiry. Soon, the woman who answered the phone recognized my voice and responded immediately as soon as I began to speak. Each time the answer was the same but even more abrupt than the one before.