“Table for Dr. Young and party.”
Dr. Dalton Prescott sat with an expansive grin fracturing his angular face, content in the knowledge that his words were holding his acquaintances enraptured. “It’s a very delicate procedure, you realize. Takes nerves of steel, ice in the veins, hands as steady as an atomic clock. This isn’t something some fresh intern straight out of medical school tries. Years of practice are required before I’d even suggest an attempt at it. But trying telling that to Maxwell. You know him, he’s got to prove he’s the best there is at everything. So I stand back and watch him take his best shot, ready to jump in should anything critical happen. Which it did, as you can probably guess. He lost his balance and fell right into the water, kicking the ball right into that big sandtrap on seventeen in the bargain.”
Dr. Prescott lifted the Scotch on the rocks to his lips, relishing the burn of the mixture as it cauterized his throat on the way down. “Maxwell thought I didn’t know what I was talking about. And did you see what he wound up doing? Practically had Chet eating iron for lunch.”
Dr. Felix Montoya laughed out loud. “Maxwell has always hated taking penalty strokes. I once saw him try to pitch a ball from under the bridge on fourteen. But today sounds like one for the record books.”
Dr. Bernard Rosenberg finished off the last little nibble of cherry pie and leaned back in his chair to let the high afternoon sun bake his face as red as the recently swallowed fruit. Almost as an afterthought he spoke. “Did you hear that Kitty Douglas moved out last night? Or perhaps, I should say got kicked out. I guess that spells the end finally for she and Gary.”
Dr. Prescott blew a raspberry. “Bullsh. That little tart isn’t going to let him get away without grabbing his dough. And last time I checked, when a woman has two studs practically boffing her in front of everyone she doesn’t collect a dime on the divorce settlement. Not unless she gets one of those bitch judges who thinks all men are pigs.”
“I don’t know. Gary told Jackson that he was done with her. She won’t be coming back, I’ll wager.”
Dr. Edgar Lind lifted his visor and wiped the beads of sweat from his voluminous forehead before replacing it. “I don’t know that I would want a piece of that action, Bernie. Kitty has some strange sort of hold over him or he wouldn’t have taken her back before. I’d advise not raising any stakes until we see what sort of cards she’s been dealt.”
“There’s nothing strange about the hold she’s got over Gary. I know exactly what she’s got over him,” Dr. Prescott said. The other three looked toward him questioningly. Dr. Prescott shrugged and said in a low voice. “She’s as randy as a teenager who just found out what the little button between her legs can do. She can’t get enough of it. And as if that weren’t enough, she’s also very good at it.”
“This being from personal experience, I gather?” Dr. Lind asked.
“A few years ago. They weren’t even married then.” His glance bounced from one to the other. “Oh, sweet Jesus, you’re not going to sit there and tell me that if you were offered some of that, you’d have turned it down? Bullsh! Especially the way she looked back then before she did that thing with her hair.”
Dr. Montoya shrugged. “I’m not touching that one. All I’m saying is that she’d better get a great attorney if she expects to get any sort of settlement out of it. I heard Gary was talking about retaining Jared Ross for the divorce.”
Dr. Prescott laughed out loud. “Then she’d better pray for a bitch Judge.”
“Table for Mr. Stewart and party.”
“Hello, isn’t that Grady Stewart and his wife?” Dr. Montoya asked.
“Nah,” Dr. Prescott said without turning around to validate his swift answer. “Table’s for a Mister Stewart, not a Doctor Stewart. Besides, he and Babs are closer to splitsville than Gary and Kitty.”
Dr. Lind peered over Dr. Prescott’s head. “Better look for yourself, Dalton. Certainly does appear to be Grady. And judging from his acquaintance, perhaps there’s still hope for the Douglases, after all.”
Dr. Prescott turned his head to see a tall, well-built young man not quite staring the age of forty in the eyeballs following an equally statuesque blonde woman through the obstacle course of tables and chairs. “Well, I’ll be damned. What’s with the Mister all of sudden? Did he win the lottery or something?”
“Yeah, as a matter of fact, he did,” Dr. Montoya said. The other three looked toward him and he grinned. “Don’t tell anybody I told you this, but Grady told me that Albert Hastings just declared him his personal physician yesterday.”
“That goddam lucky son-of-a-bitch,” Dr. Prescott said.
“How much is he getting for that?” Dr. Rosenberg inquired.
“Who knows for sure? I’d be willing to bet that he just tripled his salary for the year, though.”
“So he’s certainly not giving up the glorious practice of medicine, then, huh?”
“What’s the big deal, Dalton?”
“Come on, Bernie, you know the deal. If one of us starts going around asking to be called Mister, it’s a like a domino effect. Once the public starts to feeling comfortable about calling one of us a Mister, they’ll be calling you Mister and me Mister and all of us Mister. Is that what you want? Mister Rosenberg?”
Dr. Lind mockingly shuddered. “It’s not what I want. Just hearing it from you sends me into paroxysms of shivers.”
“I’m going over to ask him what’s what. Knowing that crazy fool, he could be serious about it. I don’t get that guy sometimes. He’s loopy, you know?” Dr. Prescott animated this theory by twirling his extended index finger in circles around his ear.
“Oh, calm yourself, Dalton. It was probably just a slip-up by the Captain there.”
“Yeah, and if it was then Grady should have immediately corrected him. Did he? I wasn’t looking.”
Dr. Montoya and Dr. Lind shook their heads. “I didn’t see it,” Dr. Montoya said.
“Afraid not,” Dr. Lind concurred.
“See? He’s always pulling stunts like this. He’s a very strange man.” Dr. Prescott was out of his chair and crossing the length of the restaurant before anyone could advise another course of action.
Dr. Grady Stewart looked up at him as he arrived. “After-noon, Dalton. Did you hear the scuttlebutt on Maxwell’s adventure on seventeen today?”
“Hear it? I watched it. A thing of beauty. If you’re a surrealist. How you doing today, Barbara?”
“Can’t complain. And you?”
“All is right in the world with me.”
“So then what’s up?” Grady asked.
“Nothing much. Mind if I sit down for a second?”
“Whatever you’ve heard, I’ve got no comment right now,” Grady said.
“Okay, the grapevine is ripe and watered. But it won’t get past me. Congratulations, by the way,” he said, sticking his hand out and shaking it when Grady Stewart matched it with his always smaller than expected paw.
“All right. If it’s not about Hastings, then what’s up? You’ve got that crease in your forehead again,” Barbara said.
“Might as well be transparent, I guess. Actually, I was wondering what the deal is with this Mister Stewart stuff? Me and the guys were wondering if you’d decided to drop out of our ignominious little profession.”
Grady looked down at his wife. “No, nothing like that. Nothing serious at all. I’ve just been taking a second look at my life lately and, um, changing things that needed fixing.” He reached for his wife’s hand on the table and gave it a squeeze. “Actually, I was giving it a lot of thought. I just decided that I don’t want to go around advertising my profession. It’s a very dangerous thing we doctors do. Letting everyone get a thumbnail sketch of our financial situation every time someone introduces us.” Barbara Stewart leaned over and kissed her husband on his cheek. “And, well, to be perfectly honest about it, the whole thing sort of makes me feel arrogant sometimes. I mean it’s not like I’m the Prince of Wales, after all, right? Why not just be Mister so-and-so like everybody else?”
Dr. Prescott nodded his head, jutting his lower lip out. “You know, I had a feeling it was something like that. You’ve always been a little bit more, oh, self-actualized than the rest of us, I guess. Well, we were just wondering, that’s all. You two enjoy your lunch. I’d say put it on my tab, but what the hell, you can certainly afford it more than me now,” he said, getting up and bussing Barbara on the cheek before heading back from whence he had come.
He took his seat and conspiratorially leaned over the table. “He’s off the deep end again. It’s even crazier than I imagined. Says he doesn’t want to be arrogant any more by announcing his profession.”
“Good Lord, the man’s mad,” Dr. Lind said.
“You aren’t kidding, old buddy. This is some serious stuff.”
“So what did you say to him?” Dr. Montoya asked.
“I couldn’t very well get into a big argument with him right there in front of his wife. You know, telling him what a lunkheaded jerk he would be by doing what he’s threatening. I’ll have to wait. Get to him sometime later and straighten him out before he has a chance to let this idea sink in.”
“He’s got to go to the bathroom sometime.”
Dr. Prescott snapped his fingers. “That’s good thinking, Bernie. And when he does, we’ll all be waiting.”
“Why all of us?”
“Because, Mister Montoya, there is strength in numbers. In fact, I’m going to get Chet, Dean and Maxwell, too. They should be finished by the time we finish. We’ll ambush him in the men’s room. He’s got to see reason if we all confront him with the truth.”
“Well, he’s not a stupid man, that’s true,” observed Dr.
“Do you really think it’s that serious?” Dr. Montoya asked.
“Of course, it’s serious,” Dr. Lind said. “As serious as a, you should pardon the expression, heart attack. I’ve been addressed as Dr. Lind by everyone from children to a United States Senator for going on thirty years now. I have no intention of having that end because some wet behind the ears whippersnapper thinks it’s being arrogant. He’s not experienced enough yet to understand the value of that appellation. Methinks he doth take it too lightly.”
“Absolutely,” Dr. Prescott added. “He has to be shown the light. He has to be.”
Neither Grady Stewart nor Barbara Stewart noticed when the gang of four left their table. They took no notice when Dr. Prescott stopped at a nearby table and spoke to Dr. Rand, Dr. Lawrence and Dr. Samuels. They certainly paid no mind to the look of outright disgust thrown their way by the latter.
Twenty-five minutes after ordering their lunch, Mr. Grady Stewart leaned over to his wife, said something that wasn’t heard by the two doctors spying on them, and left his chair, seemingly headed for the general direction of the men’s restroom at the 19th Hole Restaurant on the grounds of the Marcus Bay Country Club.
When he opened the door, already reaching for his fly, he was shocked to find the restroom filled with his peers, competitors and friends. Someone slammed the door shut behind him and locked it. He recognized who it was when he turned around. “Dalton? What in God’s name is going on here?”
Dr. Prescott smiled that blazing grin that had charmed the panties off more candystripers than he could remember. “Never mind God, Grady, though as a matter of fact we do want to discuss names with you.”
“What? Now hold on a second. What exactly is all this about.”
“Come now, Mister Stewart, surely you’re not implying a lack of trust as regards our motivations. We’re all friends here, aren’t we?” Dr. Lind said.
Grady’s eyes flitted about the room. There was none of that toilet smell that so often disgusted him when visiting public restrooms. The restrooms at the Marcus Bay were almost as immaculate as those at the hospital. Still, there was a definite stink about the place. And he recognized it as the gaseous exhaust of brotherhood solidarity for a cause that wasn’t worth fighting for.
Though it was definitely worth fighting against.
“Listen. If I don’t want people to know I’m a doctor all over town, what business is it of yours?”
“I worked damn hard and damn long to achieve the title of Doctor, you inane little Johnny-Come-Lately, and I certainly don’t intend to stand by and watch you take it away from me.”
“Edgar, what the hell are you talking about? I’m not asking you to stop calling yourself Doctor. It’s got nothing to do with you.”
“It’s got everything to do with him. Me, too. Listen, Grady, you know what it takes to become a doctor. The long hours. The hard work. More school than anyone should ever have to endure. I mean we work hard to get where we are. You know. You did it too. Is it so much to ask that, well, we get something in return that makes us feel a sense of speciality for putting in all that work?” Dr. Prescott asked.
“I think you do get something, Dalton. Or were my eyes just playing tricks on me when I saw you driving that new Mercedes?”
“It’s not a question of money, Grady,” Dr. Samuels said. He raised his hands in front of his face and held them out for the rest to see. “We save lives. We’re the only truly God-like creatures on this green earth. We’re the closest things to Zeus, Poseidon and Odin that the world has left. We can hardly look to religion anymore because the men who’ve been running that have done such a lousy job these past five hundred years. Human beings need something they can worship. It’s an innate need they have no control over. And with all our expertise, why not us? We reach into their stale, stinking bodies and we create miracles undreamed of just decades ago. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we be separated from the masses by a measly little title before our names. Good grief, Grady, it would be arrogant to consider them our equal, not the other way around. You are sincerely mixed up in your priorities, young man.”
Grady shrugged. “Okay. Okay, you got me. I’m not doing it for any other reason than that I do consider it arrogant. I thought I could slip it past that I was just concerned about my well-being. I mean the wrong person hears you being referred to as a doctor in this day and age and who knows what might happen to you. But I give. That’s not my main consideration.”
“No kidding,” Dr. Rosenberg hissed.
“I just don’t feel right about it, guys. I used to feel like you. I treated that woman out there-the most special woman in the world-like garbage because I thought I was so much better than she just because I was physician-a healer of men!-and she was nothing but a little art dealer. Her life had no meaning. What was art? Who could say? One minute it’s Da Vinci and the next it’s Warhol, for Christ’s sake. Who could take that seriously? Ah, but saving a man’s life. You could point to that and say you changed the world.”
“But that doesn’t matter. That doesn’t make us better. We chose to practice medicine. We knew the long hours and the hard work that went with it. We also knew there was good money in it. Some of us even knew it was a golden opportunity to look at hundreds of naked women and that’s why we chose it.”
Several eyes danced about the room, dipping on Dr. Dean Lawrence before they tangoed back to Grady’s. “You’re forgetting something, Grady,” Dr. Lind told him.
“In addition to knowing beforehand of the long hours and high pay, we also knew we’d be referred to wherever we went as Doctor So-and-So. Stand here and tell me that you never sat alone in your room and practiced being introduced as Dr. Grady Stewart.”
Grady saw in the reflection of all the eyes that were trained on him similar visions of the past. Naturally, he had done that which Edgar had accused. As had they all, no question. But that was years ago, before maturity had grown like a tumor and spread slowly throughout his soul. With some, that tumor was benign, fated to remain smaller than a single cell buried so deep inside the body it didn’t stand a chance of being noticed. Apparently with the old man there stood a chance of it never being discovered.
In a low voice he replied, “I hope I haven’t done that in at least ten years, Edgar. But right now I can’t help but wonder if you still do it even now.”
“Change your mind, Grady. Before it is changed for you.”
“Is that a threat, Dalton?”
“You call it what you want. As long as you leave everyone in this room secure in the knowledge that from now on when your name is called here or anywhere else, it will be called as Dr. Grady Stewart.”
“Jesus, you people are really paranoid! You think that by my changing my ways that it’s actually going to impact you? Nobody’s going to care. Can’t any of you see that?”
“It only takes the removal of one small brick to make an entire bridge come crumbling down, Grady. And after all, what’s the point in bothering from your point of view? Whether you are addressed as Doctor or not really can’t mean as much to you as means to us. So why not indulge us? Huh? What do you say? Doctor Grady Stewart?”
Grady shook his head. “This is madness. I can’t believe I’m standing in a toilet being threatened by men who make well over a million dollars combined. Over a thing like this. Get the hell away me.”
A hand reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder. “Is that your last word, then? You won’t change your mind?”
Grady turned to stare into Dr. Chester Rand’s pinched face. “Get your hand off me, Chet, before I scream rape.”
Dr. Prescott nodded and Dr. Rosenberg quickly jumped to place his hand over Grady’s mouth. Dr. Rand was widely regarded as the surgeon with the steadiest and smoothest cutting hand in town.
In fact, months later, in low voices in quiet private rooms, many of the doctors were still discussing how Chet had managed to slice so cleanly through Grady’s aorta with a steak knife and how there had been such a small amount of blood left for them to wipe away.