Dr. Robert Hawke sank into his bath at the King Edward Hotel. Although briefly amused by the pulsating jets of water, he soon turned them off to concentrate on the problems at hand.
Mildly annoyed, he called out, “Ronnie!” His voice rebounded within the confines of the huge tub. Gently swirling the mountains of suds about, he waited. No answer. Where can that woman be?
“Mrs. Deal?” he called, in a more formal tone.
The door opened, and a dark-haired woman looked in.
“What took you so long?” the doctor asked peevishly. “I waited, and then I had to run the bath myself.”
“Surely you want privacy, Robert.” Veronica Deal said from around the half-open door. She was a mature and highly capable personal assistant who anticipated the needs and catered to the whims of her employer. However, running baths for the able-bodied hardly seemed appropriate. Entering the bathroom, she studied herself in the mirror.
Hawke sat up straighter in the tub. Veronica averted her eyes.
“I was waiting for your report. Have you got a lead on Norma Dinnick?”
Veronica tensed. Her employer could become enraged, like a caged panther at the smell blood. “Not too much, yet. But Garth is—”
“You’re leaving this important matter to your brother, Garth?”
“He was at her apartment building this morning. It’s vacant and there’s a “for sale” sign on the lawn.”
As Hawke sank further into the tub, his flaccid jowls bobbed above the soapsuds. She avoided his penetrating blue eyes. She knew her attraction, which, although definitely not sexual, was completely ridiculous. The man was physically repulsive, yet even naked in his bath, power radiated from him. Some force—it was not love or desire—drew her inexorably to his very core. His scientific work was supremely important. Hope for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease rested upon his clinical trials. Sometimes, she felt like a deer frozen in the headlights.
Hawke swirled the washcloth in the water above his chest and spoke mildly. “Perhaps Garth should start looking for her in nursing homes.”
“He already has, Robert.”
“Good! Then, while you’re at it, you might call the real estate office and find out if a lawyer is handling the sale.”
Hawke blew a handful of suds in the air. “Ah, very good, Mrs. Deal. And who might he be?”
“Harold Jenkins. He’s on the listing agreement as her legal guardian.”
“Aha! Excellent. Full marks!” He smiled up at her. “Hand me the soap, will you?”
Veronica grimaced. “Where is it?”
“Somewhere in the tub, near my foot.”
Pulling up her sleeve, she dove her hand into the water. “Actually, Garth is very good at tracking people down.”
Hawke smiled slyly. “Loyalty is a fine trait, my dear. Your brother needs all the encouragement he can get.” Paddling his fingers on the surface of the water, he continued, “By the way, Ronnie, was there any trouble at the Dinnick house?”
She handed him the soap. “Certainly not! I’ve discussed the job thoroughly with him.”
“Good, my dear.” His face darkened. “You know, Ronnie, I tolerate Garth’s limited abilities simply for your sake. I know what a burden he must be.”
“Thank you, Robert,” she said quietly.
Soaping his arms and chest, the doctor spoke irritably. “Norma Dinnick is the obstacle.” Then his bow like mouth pursed and tightened into a hard, straight line. “That wretched miscreant! She stands in the way of money desperately needed for medical research.” Angrily, he kicked at the soap, making the water slosh over the edge of the tub.
“I know, Robert.” Veronica spoke soothingly. “Stealing the money from Mr. Pappas proves she has no conscience or moral fiber whatsoever.”
In disgust, the doctor slapped the washcloth on the water. “Just think, Ronnie! If we’d had that money from the start, millions of minds would have been saved. At the very least, Alzheimer’s would be just another chronic, controllable condition.” He struggled to stand. Swiftly, Veronica turned away.
“Get me my robe!” he demanded.
She held the thick, white robe out to him. She glimpsed his albino skin, covered with masses of freckles and red hair. Unable to bear such exposure, she closed her eyes.
He fumed, “By God! We’ll track that Dinnick woman down. That fraud will regret she ever crossed my path.”
Veronica hurriedly turned her back as he tossed on the robe. Her employer’s moods pitched from frenzied summits of success onto jagged rocks of despair. She was weary of trying to steer him clear of the precipice.
Tying the robe around himself, he waved dismissively at her. “I shall dress now, Mrs. Deal.”
Veronica nodded. “I’ll prepare your notes for the meeting with Dr. Tasker.”
“When is he coming?” Hawke patted his face in the mirror.
“At two o’clock.” Veronica hurried from the room.
Robert entered the dressing room overlooking the portico of the hotel’s main entrance. Glancing out the window, he wrinkled his nose. Toronto! Godforsaken provincial backwater, he fussed. Engrossed in choosing his wardrobe, he decided upon his purple, velvet suit and cream shirt and tie. After viewing his attire from every angle in the triptych of mirrors, he went into the bedroom. Mrs. Deal was nowhere to be seen. That Norma Dinnick, he thought, is a truly wicked soul!
In the lobby of the King Edward, Dr. Brian Tasker straightened his tie and smoothed the strands of hair across his forehead. The gleaming brass doors of the elevator reflected his smiling face and the banks of flowers behind him on the hall tables. Years of hard work in administration at the Queen Mary Hospital had brought him to this meeting with Dr. Hawke. He, the chief administrator, was about to bring revolutionary research to the hospital. Rumors of a Nobel Prize for Hawke’s work had been whispered. With a cure for Alzheimer’s on the horizon, huge sums of money were at stake. Tasker wanted in.
The elevator took him to the penthouse suite. When he knocked, a handsome woman in her early forties answered the door.
“Dr. Tasker? I’m Veronica Deal, Dr. Hawke’s assistant. Please do come in.”
With her warm welcome, Tasker relaxed. Maybe some day, he could have his own personal assistant.
Mrs. Deal led him across the expanse of oak flooring and oriental rugs.
“Coffee, Dr. Tasker?” she asked, motioning him toward the chesterfield. Tasker nodded. “Dr. Hawke will be with us once he’s finished a few calls.” Pouring coffee from a silver carafe, she then handed him a cup, as he sat perched on the edge of the chesterfield. When she joined him, he could not prevent his eyes from lingering on her black-stockinged legs.
Mrs. Deal always set the stage for Dr. Hawke’s entrance. “Alzheimer’s is such a pernicious disease, isn’t it Dr. Tasker?”
“Pardon?” He recovered and sat up a little straighter. “Oh, yes indeed.”
“Considerable progress has been made at the Hawke Institute.” She leaned closer toward him. Eyes widening with excitement, she continued confidentially, “As we speak, new ground is being broken.”
“Really? There’s more than the initial reports?”
Mrs. Deal glanced over her shoulder. “Perhaps I’m letting the cat out of the bag, but….” She smiled conspiratorially. “They’ve had some very exciting results just in25
the last few days.”
“What sort of results?”
“I’m just in administration, Dr. Tasker, so I don’t really know.” She hesitated, and then continued. “Something to do with reversal of the effects of the disease. Even patients who have been afflicted for years...”
Tasker was breathless. “Regeneration?”
The door flew open. Dr. Robert Hawke entered and rushed to greet the chief of administration. He held out his hand. “How good of you to come, Dr. Tasker.”
Brian rose swiftly and shook the pudgy hand. “It’s a very special venture. The Queen Mary Hospital is delighted to be part of it. Are there new developments?”
Robert’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “My assistant has been filling you in?”
Veronica nodded sheepishly.
In hushed tones, Hawke said, “It’s all very new and confidential, Dr. Tasker. I trust I may rely upon your discretion?”
“Of course,” breathed Tasker.
“We are on the threshold of great things.” Hawke beamed.
“More test results?”
“Indeed! The two of us shall have lunch next week, and I will show you the latest reports.” Hawke relaxed into an armchair and smoothed his pant leg. “Well then, let’s get down to business.”
Tasker took out his notebook.
“I have a proposal for you, sir.”
“Yes?” Tasker took up his pen.
“The Hawke Institute wishes to conduct its clinical trials at your prestigious institution. For that privilege, we are prepared to fund a new wing for the hospital.” Hawke put his finger to his lips and stared at the ceiling. “I was thinking such a marvelous new facility might be called the Hawke-Tasker Geriatric Center for Research.”
Tasker was stunned. He had always dreamed of a permanent monument.
“What do you say?” He patted Tasker’s knee affectionately and then jumped up to pace. “Naturally, we have a few small requirements. The Hawke Institute must have complete control over the operation of the trials and the assessment and presentation of the results.”
Delighted, Tasker was still mulling over the proposed name. He smiled up at Dr. Hawke, poised above him. “Of course, several bodies must approve the conduct of the trials,” he said quietly.
Hawke stared down on him. His lips were rigidly pursed.
Tasker averted his eyes and continued with a short laugh. “Mostly bureaucratic details, which I’m sure, can be worked out.”
Robert Hawke relaxed. He clapped Tasker on the shoulder. “I have every confidence that a man of your leadership abilities will take care of them.” He resumed his seat. “Do you foresee any obstacles on the board?”
Brian fidgeted with his pen. The faces of Dr. Philip Glasser and his sidekick, Dr. Michael O’Hearn, rose before him. “Not that can’t be overcome,” he said at last.
Hawke stared at him for a moment. “Good!” he said.
Veronica Deal raised the silver carafe. “Some coffee, Dr. Tasker?”
Tasker shook his head. He was well aware that important medical research could be stalled. If the right people were not supportive, a worthy project might never see the light of day. A political battle lay ahead.
“If you encounter any problems with the board, please let me know.” Hawke stared out the window, and then said quietly, “My staff would want the opportunity to deal effectively with any objections.”
“Certainly, sir. I’m sure everything is open to discussion.”
“When is the next board meeting?”
“On Thursday at two.”
“Good. I’d like to invite the board, all the geriatric physicians, and any other staff you think appropriate to the St. Stephen’s Club for a drinks and a buffet on Thursday evening. Could you let Mrs. Deal know how many will come?”
“Certainly.” Tasker nodded at Veronica. “My secretary will be in touch no later than four tomorrow, if that suits?”
Veronica smiled in agreement.
Quiet settled over the room. The meeting was over. Tasker was ushered to the door. Not until he entered the downstairs lobby, did he give serious thought to handling the opposition that would undoubtedly form on the board.
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