Chapter 38 - Good Medicine

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Dr. Malcolm Whittier, head of the oncology practice at City Medical Center, was celebrating his latest triumph over cocktails with the LifeGen saleslady in the lobby of the Santa Ramona Marriott.

"Cheers. To another job well done," Julie said, with a smile that displayed her beautiful teeth. She wrapped her forearm around the doctor's in mid-toast as the two clinked their glasses together.

Whittier had just published another article chronicling Stella Valentine's stunning recovery during the Helixin clinical trial in Pharmacy Today, a major medical industry magazine read by physicians and pharmacists. Upon publishing, Whittier received a twenty-five-thousand-dollar "advisory" fee from the LifeGen Public Relations Department, which had coordinated the piece with the magazine's editorial board.

"You know what I love about this work the most?" The doctor was on his third drink and sounded a little woozy. "We are changing the world."

Their eyes locked in a shared passion.

"Where do you want to go tonight?"

"We have to try a new place." He grinned mischievously.

"Where else is there? We've been to your house. We've been to my house. We've been to your condo in Arrowhead and your yacht in Newport."

"I liked the boat," he said. "You know. The rocking motion of the water."

She laughed. "Forget about that. I am not sitting in rush-hour traffic to get to the ocean from here. It would take three hours to reach your pier."

Whittier drained a Grey Goose martini. "Wait a minute. How about my office?"

Her eyebrows arched in disbelief. "You are crazy."

"Think about it. The place is empty. The janitors don't get there until late. It's locked. It's quiet."

"But it's your office."

"It's something new. Where's your sense of adventure?"

Julie checked her watch. It was five in the afternoon.

"You're sure your staff won't be in there?"

"I told you. The nurses finish their last appointments at two. After that it's just calls to the insurers for claims and billings, and that winds down at four. The cleaning crew doesn't come in until eleven p.m. Afterward, we can grab a late bite at La Boheme."

***

Thirty minutes later, in Whittier's unlit office, the couple reclined on a sofa in the lobby.

"Let's go back to one of the rooms," Julie whispered.

"Not yet." The doctor held her firmly in his arms.

The two lovers were so enamored with each other that they never imagined they were not alone in the office. Only a few yards past the reception desk and beyond the lobby, in the hallway that led to the examination rooms, Stella and Johnny stood in the shadows waiting to make their move.

Johnny had his backpack slung over one shoulder. It was stuffed with all the Helixin vials, disposable needles, and syringes they could find in the free sample supply boxes, an amount that could last Stella several months. The boy and his grandmother remained frozen for a moment, wondering how to handle the intrusion.

Suddenly, Julie saw them from the couch and screamed.

Stella pulled the .357 Magnum from her purse and stepped into the mouth of the hallway by the reception desk. "Hands up!" she shouted.

"What the hell?" the doctor cried as he and Julie complied, rising up off the couch and standing stiffly with their arms raised. "Who's there? Mrs. Valentine?" he said with stunned recognition. "Is that you?"

Stella took another step into the lobby, with Johnny moving alongside her. "So, Doc, I see that you and the LifeGen lady got more going on than racquetball games and drug samples. I figured as much."

"Mrs. Valentine, what do you think you're doing?"

"I told you I needed my medicine, Doc. It's a matter of life or death. So I'm taking your supply of samples. I know LifeGen will send you some more."

"Mrs. Valentine, you can't be thinking of stealing from this office? Are you feeling OK? Your son told me that you were on antidepressants." His voice had a patronizing tone that expressed more condescension than fear. "That's not a real gun, is it?"

Stella squeezed the trigger and the gun made a loud popping sound as a slug sailed across the room and smashed a vase full of flowers. The doctor quickly dove to the floor and Julie followed.

"Does that answer your question?" Stella snapped. "You changed your stripes from when I first met you, Doc. I used to think you were a stand-up guy who cared about me. But ever since the fame and fortune of the Helixin trial, LifeGen has you on a leash like their pet poodle. You parade around with your sports car and mount your trophies here in the lobby. Meanwhile, you and the company know you got my life in your hands. The minute my insurance fell through, you acted like there wasn't a thing in the world you could do to help. Well, I don't need your help now, Doc. I'm taking what I need and there ain't a damn thing you can do to stop me."

Stella pointed with her open hand at the phones on the receptionist's desk. "Johnny, pull those cords out and bring them over here."

She and Johnny used them to tie up the doctor and his lady friend, binding their hands and feet. Then they seated them in back-to-back chairs in the center of the lobby.

"How does it feel to have your lives in someone else's hands, Mr. Fancypants?" Stella asked, keeping her gun aimed at them.

Julie wept quietly and her tears cut rivers through the mascara and makeup.

"You're not going to get away with this, Stella," Whittier said. "You think the police won't catch up with you, but they will, and when they do, they won't have any sympathy for your plight. Is this the example you want to set for your grandson, breaking the law with impunity?"

"A fine one you are to lecture me on breaking the law. The only drugs that I am taking today are the Helixin samples. Now, I know for a fact that you've been getting them free of charge from LifeGen and selling them to me and other patients, billing the insurance companies and pocketing the cash."

Whittier's jaw dropped.

"It's a federal offense for physicians to profit from the samples provided by drug companies," Stella continued, her revolver still cocked and ready. "I'll bet you didn't think I knew that, did you? I'll bet you didn't realize that anyone was onto you. And I'd bet a Denny's Grand Slam breakfast that your friend Julie here has been in on the scheme from the get-go. So you go ahead and tell the police all about what happened here today. Who knows, maybe they will catch me, and then we'll all get to talk in court about the scam you've been running, lining your pockets at the expense of cancer patients. I am sure that will work wonders for your career. That will be great publicity for LifeGen, too. Won't it, Julie?"

Now it was Dr. Whittier's turn to weep. He bowed his head in shame as the tears started flowing.

Stella sighed, lowered her pistol, and softened her tone. "Relax. I am not going to hurt you. I am not even going to expose your little scheme as long as you don't make any trouble for me. I am not a mean-spirited person. But I hope you two have learned something from this. Now you understand what it's like to have a bunch of thieves deciding whether you live or die. Now you know what it's like to be on the other side. Doc, you got corrupted, but I know you're still a good man deep down. I know you got into this business because you wanted to help people like me. But the money and the fame clouded your judgment. You saved my life, Doc, and gave me a second chance. Now it's your turn to start over. Someday you'll look back and thank me."

Whittier kept his face down and Julie continued sobbing quietly.

"Come on, Grandma," Johnny urged. "We've got to get out of here."

They took the stairs to the parking lot and drove away in the van she'd repainted the night before. Within minutes they were back on the freeway, merging into the car-pool lane to beat the commuter traffic.


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