Doctor Matthew Russell has always put his professional responsibilities ahead of all else. That is, until he one day realizes that he is losing his family. Russell takes an adventure-filled, impromptu vacation of indefinite duration, leaving all else behind and stopping at nothing to show how much he cares for his loved ones in an effort to win them back. But, will he succeed?
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Claude Bouchard Books
As Managing Director of the Montreal Hospital for the Criminally Insane, Doctor Matthew Russell has always put his professional responsibilities ahead of all else. That is, until he one day realizes that he is losing his wife, Cassidy, and his two children, Stuart and Jennifer.
With only his family in mind, Russell takes an adventure-filled, impromptu vacation of indefinite duration, leaving all else behind and stopping at nothing to show how much he cares for his loved ones in an effort to win them back. But, will he succeed… Or, will it prove to be all too late in the end?
Chapter 1 – Thursday, December 11, 2008
Dr. Matthew Russell turned into the driveway of his luxury Westmount home as the garage door rolled open.
“God damn it, Cassidy,” he swore as he stopped the car and glared at his wife’s silver-grey Lexus GX460 Ultra parked diagonally in the middle of the spacious double garage.
Slamming the gearshift in reverse, he backed up his Mercedes SL600 with a squeal of the tires before stomping on the brakes and throwing it into park.
Muttering, he stormed into the garage and flung himself into the driver’s seat of the SUV. As usual, Cassidy’s keys dangled from the ignition and he fired the engine to life then repositioned the vehicle to make room for his own. Taking a few deep breaths to calm himself, he returned to his car and pulled it into the garage before heading into what he was sure would be another stormy evening.
* * * *
“Where the hell were you tonight?” Cassidy demanded as Matt entered the dimly lit kitchen.
“It’s nice to see you as well, my dear. Nice parking job, by the way,” Matthew shot back as he dumped his briefcase and coat on a chair. “Having a nightcap again, I see.”
“You bastard,” Cassidy hissed. “You don’t even know why I’m angry, do you?”
“You’ll have to give me a minute to dwell on that,” her husband replied, “Considering the multitude of reasons you’ve come up with to attack me over time.”
“Do you remember Jennifer?” Cassidy asked. “The seven year old who lives here, your daughter? Does that ring any bells, Matthew?”
“What about Jennifer? Did something happen to her? Is she alright?”
“You completely forgot, didn’t you?” Cassidy shook her head as her eyes welled with tears. “Jennifer is fine, except for the fact that she’s crushed because her father, the great Doctor Russell, missed her opening performance in The Nutcracker this evening.”
“Aw, Jesus, Cassidy,” Matthew moaned as he dropped into a chair. “I’m sorry. Crawford was on my butt about some late reports and left me no choice about getting them done today. So, yes, I forgot.”
Cassidy emptied the remainder of the wine bottle into her glass as she spoke. “Don’t worry about it too much, Matt. Stuart, that’s your son, consoled her by reminding her you missed his hockey game last Saturday.”
Matthew stared at her blankly as she drained her glass and stood.
“I’m going to bed,” she announced. “And there’s no rush for you to join me. Really none at all. Why don’t you have a few nightcaps too? As I remember, you usually do as well.”
Chapter 2 – Friday, December 12, 2008
BethAnn Bennett glanced up at the clock again worriedly, 9:15, wondering when Dr. Russell would show up. In the past, her boss, the Managing Director of the Montreal Hospital for the Criminally Insane, had usually been in before her and had also been meticulous with keeping her informed of his comings and goings. In recent months however, he had become increasingly preoccupied and disorganized and, as a result, had missed appointments on several occasions and often, like this morning, his phone was off, leaving her unable to reach him.
“Morning, BethAnn,” mumbled Matthew as he strode passed her desk towards his office.
“Oh, there you are,” she exclaimed with relief as she rose and followed him into the other room. “Mr. Crawford called earlier.”
“What the hell does he want now?” Matt growled as he hung his coat in the closet and removed his overshoes.
“He’s on his way over,” BethAnn replied, lowering her tone. “He needs to meet with you.”
“Dammit, what for?” Matthew barked. “That man has no respect for anyone’s schedule. He kept me here until ten last night to complete last month’s assessment reports and I missed my daughter’s dance recital because of it. Now, he thinks he can just waltz in this morning because he feels like it?”
“He is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Doctor,” his administrative assistant reminded him, “And he didn’t sound too happy.”
“Did he say what he’s coming for?” asked Russell.
“Yes, to review the reports you emailed him last night,” BethAnn replied. “Is everything okay, Doctor? You don’t seem to be yourself lately.”
“I’m fine,” Matthew snorted as he began pacing around his office. “It’s the damned governmental bureaucracy that’s the problem. The Ministry of Health decides they need a more comprehensive statistical database on psychiatric patients and the onus is on us to supply the information. Then the Ministry of Justice wants to establish trends with criminals incarcerated in psychiatric wards and orders us to provide the data. More and more is expected from us while our budgets are squeezed with cutback after cutback.”
He stopped suddenly as he realized that his tone had risen in volume and he was flailing his arms in the air, leaving BethAnn staring at him in mixture of astonishment and apprehension.
“I-I’m sorry, BethAnn. I’ve been feeling a little frazzled lately.”
“You haven’t taken any vacation in a while,” she mentioned. “It would probably do you some good.”
“And I’d end up with just that much more work to do when I’d get back,” Russell countered, “Speaking of which, I should get to it before Crawford gets here. Could I trouble you for some coffee?”
“No problem, Doctor. Is there anything else?”
“No, that’s all for now,” he replied. “Let me know when his Highness gets here.”
* * * *
Kenn Crawford made his way down the corridor, stopping his tall, slim form at the occasional doorway to offer a friendly greeting before strolling into BethAnn Bennett’s open air work space.
“Good morning, my dear,” said the forty-two year old chairman with his usual boyish grin. “How’s my favourite administrative assistant today?”
“I’m fine, Kenn,” she replied as she glanced at Dr. Russell’s closed office door, “But I’m getting more and more concerned about him. When he got here this morning, he started ranting and raving about the increasing workload and he was really working himself into a state. I have no clue what work increase he was talking about but I didn’t dare question or challenge him. He was actually frightening me a bit. I don’t know what’s gotten into him lately but he’s not the man he was just a few months ago.”
“I know what you mean,” Crawford agreed. “That’s what I’m here to talk about this morning. His work has become shoddy, his reports are incomplete and consistently late. I have a great deal of respect for Matthew and it’s obvious something is wrong. I want to get to the bottom of this and find out what the problem is. Has he mentioned anything about how things are going at home?”
“Nothing,” BethAnn shook her head, “But I have noticed that Cassidy calls much less frequently than she used to.”
“Well, let’s get to it,” Kenn nodded. “Let the fine doctor know I’m here and we’ll start fixing the problem.”
* * * *
“Kenn, always a pleasure to see you,” said Matthew as he ushered his superior into the office, “Even if the visit is unexpected.”
“My apologies for barging in on you like this, Matt,” Crawford replied, “But I’m becoming concerned about you and felt we could deal with this better face to face rather than over the phone.”
“Concerned about what?” asked Matthew, looking perplexed. “What do we need to deal with?”
“Let’s sit down and talk about it,” suggested Kenn, gesturing towards the sitting area in one corner of the office.
“You’re the boss,” Matthew smiled as he dropped into one of the armchairs. “Now, what is this all about?”
“Matthew, I’ll get right to the point. Your performance over the last several months has been slipping. Your monthly reports are coming in later and later and when I do receive them, they’re incomplete. For example, you included no case notes for over half of your patients in the reports you sent me last night.”
“That may have been an oversight on my part,” Matthew replied. “I’ll look into it and send them to you today. Maybe if we didn’t have so much to look after, we’d have time to do our work properly.”
“I’m not sure what you mean by that, Matt,” said Crawford. “The workload hasn’t changed since you started in this position several years ago. In fact, a lot of the reporting has been computerized which you yourself have mentioned on several occasions has improved the efficiency of the process. All the other doctors here are keeping up with their paperwork and I haven’t heard any complaints.”
“All the other doctors are not also the Managing Director of this place,” Matt argued. “I am, so in addition to the paperwork we all have to look after, I also have to carry the administrative load.”
“I understand that your role is different from the others,” Crawford acknowledged. “However, you don’t have nearly as many patients under your care as the others do because of your management duties. Regardless, your job, and the related workload, is the same as it was before and you were handling it all very effectively until a few months ago. What changed, Matt? What is the problem? I’ll help in any way I can but I have to know what’s going on before I can give you that help.”
Matthew stared at the chairman for a moment before letting out a long, slow breath as he rubbed his face with his hands.
“It’s Cassidy,” he admitted. “She’s become distant over the last little while, she’s never happy with me and has been drinking more lately. She usually has a glass in her hand when I get home. That’s when she’s not already in bed.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Matt. Have you spoken to her about this?”
“I’ve tried several times but she’s always angry with me,” Matthew explained. “She just doesn’t seem to care about me or what I think anymore.”
“Do you think she’s seeing someone else?” Kenn enquired.
“I don’t know for sure,” Matt shrugged, “But I don’t think so.”
“So you have no idea why she’s acting like this?” insisted Kenn. “There must be something, Matthew.”
Matt sat for a moment in silence before replying. “She has mentioned in the past that she’d like it if I spent more time with her and the kids. We do work long hours, Kenn.”
“Yes, we do,” Crawford agreed, “But we also have to balance our work-life with our families. When’s the last time you took any vacation, Matt?”
“I’ve taken a day here or there. I don’t remember the exact dates offhand.”
“I mean real vacation time,” Crawford pushed, “And don’t talk to me about when we went to Vancouver for a week two years ago because that was work, not vacation. When’s the last time you took any kind of extended time off to spend with your family?”
“Jennifer was two so that would make it five years ago,” Matthew mumbled.
“You’re going to have to work on that if you want to save your marriage, buddy,” Crawford advised. “I wouldn’t say right now because we need to get some things caught up here. However, I do suggest you start making time for Cassidy and the kids and reopen the channels of communication, that is, if you do want to remain a family.”
“Of course I do,” Matt affirmed. “I couldn’t live without them.”
“Then, your first step is, talk to Cassidy,” Crawford reiterated as he stood. “Listen, I’ll speak with Balkind and Thomasma, tell them you’ve been having personal issues you want to keep quiet and ask them cover your patients until the New Year. That should give you enough slack to get back up to speed with your other stuff here and start building back a relationship with Cassidy and the kids. What do you think?”
“I’d appreciate that,” Matthew nodded, rising as well. “I really think that I can make this work. Thank you for listening and for your understanding and advice.”
“No problem, Doctor,” Crawford grinned as he extended his hand. “Now, go on and make all of us proud of you.”
Chapter 3 – Saturday, December 13, 2008
Matthew awoke in time to see Cassidy coming out of the en-suite bathroom, fully dressed and in an apparent hurry.
“Morning. Where are you off to?” he managed to ask between yawns.
“I’m off to drive Jennifer to her skating lessons and Stuart to hockey practice,” she stiffly replied as she transferred things from one handbag to another. “Then, I’m going to buy some groceries so I can feed this family for the next week.”
“Give me a couple of minutes to wake up and get ready and I’ll come with you,” Matt suggested as he sat up in bed.
“I don’t have a couple of minutes because I’m late,” his wife snapped on the way to the door, “And the reason I’m late is because you turned off the alarm I had set when I went to bed last night.”
“Damn, I’m sorry, Cass,” Matthew apologized. “I didn’t know about the skating and the hockey. I thought you’d set the alarm by mis-”
“You didn’t know about anything because you’re never here,” Cassidy cut him off. “For you, life is about work, your work and nothing else. I have to go. We’re late as it is. Have a nice day, Doctor.”
She turned on her heel and rushed out of the room, leaving Matthew alone to stare at the empty hallway beyond.
* * * *
“Hey, Matt,” said Dr. Michael Balkind as he poked his head through the doorway. “I wasn’t expecting you to be here today.”
“Morning, Mike,” Matthew replied, attempting a smile. “I wasn’t expecting to be here either but nobody was home so I figured I’d come in for a few hours and put a dent in some paperwork. I’ve fallen a bit behind lately.”
“Yeah, Kenn dropped in to see me yesterday,” Balkind nodded. “Eric and I have already worked out a schedule for your patients so, no worries, chief. We’re on it.”
Matt looked up at his assistant managing director and achieved a real smile. “I appreciate the help and apologize for any inconvenience.”
“Not necessary,” said Balkind. “If you’re going to apologize for anything, it should be for not coming to us if you needed a hand. We’re a team here, Matt, because that’s what you made us. We’re behind you one hundred percent so, if you run into any snags going forward, stop being so proud and ask for help.”
“I’ll do that, my friend,” Matthew replied as he rose to shake his colleague’s hand. “Thanks. And now, if you’ll get out of my hair, I’ll try and get some of that work done.”
* * * *
Dinner was a sombre affair at the Russell home that evening with even the usually bubbly Jennifer and Stuart, the jokester, remaining uncharacteristically quiet. Once the meal was over, the kids headed for the playroom downstairs, leaving Matthew and Cassidy to deal with the uncomfortable atmosphere on their own.
“Would you like a glass of port?” Matt offered, breaking the silence.
“Yes, thank you,” Cassidy replied, almost formally.
“Good. Let’s treat ourselves to something nice,” said Matthew, heading to the sideboard which served as a bar in the dining room. “We’ve had a forty year Cabral tawny in here for a while now which I think we’ll enjoy.”
He busied himself with uncorking and decanting the bottle before filling two sherry glasses and returning to the table.
“To you, Jennifer and Stuart,” Matthew toasted, raising his glass. “I’m sorry for all I’ve done to cause you three so much pain and suffering.”
“That’s sort of the point, Matt,” Cassidy replied. “It’s not as much what you’re doing that hurts us. It’s the fact that you do nothing. We are nothing in your life. We exist around you but you ignore us. This is the first dinner we’ve had together in months. The kids are usually in bed by the time you get home. For God’s sake, I’m usually in bed by the time you get home. Then, you’re gone before any of us are up.”
“I know, Cassidy,” Matthew admitted, “And I-”
“Let me finish,” Cassidy held up her hand. “If it was like that during the week but you reserved the weekends for us, it might work. However, you’re off to your damned hospital most weekends too, even if you have no patient appointments. When you do stay home, you’re in your study, devoting yourself to that stupid asylum. Okay, now I’m done.”
“What I was going to say,” Matthew started again, “Is that I know all of that but I’m going to make some changes.”
“What kind of changes, Matthew?” Cassidy challenged. “This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about this. I’ve given up saying anything because you never kept your promises in the past. You just kept on doing exactly as you always did and finally, I decided to shut up and stop wasting my energy.”
“This time I will do it,” Matt stated. “I had a meeting with Crawford yesterday morning and I think he’s finally understood there’s just too much work to be done. As a temporary measure, he’s agreed to assign my patients to Balkind and Thomasma until the end of the year. That should free up some of my time to plough through my backlog at work and spend more time with you and the kids.”
“Well, it’s a start,” Cassidy conceded, “But I’ll believe it when I see it, Matt. I’m sorry, but you’ve let me down too many times over the years for me to take your word for it.”
“I understand, Cass,” Matt replied, “But you’ll see. Things are going to be different this time.”