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Hearts of Gold
Frank P. Whyte
Portland, Oregon is known as the City of Roses. Of course thatís an odd name for a city whose mere mention conjures images of driving winds and torrential rains. But then, many persons and things are not as you might envision them to be.
Ike Paponis MD is one of Portlandís most prominent citizens. He made his reputation, if not his fortune, as an open-heart surgeon. But there is a much darker side to this man.
Coming from poverty, and fighting the dark streets of his youth, Ike Paponis is consumed with the quest for power and wealth. As is true with many, his heritage cannot easily be seen. The veneer is always shining, the ways are cultured, and the delivery is always calculated. But the street fighter is never very far away.
The Lake Oswego Country Club, a posh fraternity of the Pacific Northwest elite, serves as the launching pad for a far ranging and diabolical scheme that will span most of Ikeís adult life. It is here, with his two friends, Allan Spandell Sr., a probate attorney, and Marty Spencer, a forensic pathologist, that the Portland Fund is conceptualized and implemented. The fund is supposed to be a tool for the local wealthy to contribute some of their fortunes to the community in which they live. But Ike Paponis sees the money as being his own.
The three professionals begin a business of their own, a nationwide chain of private laboratories, and when they fall into financial difficulty due to rapid expansion, Ike convinces his friends to use money borrowed from the Portland Fund. Ethical boundaries are crossed initially, but neither Spandell or Spencer have any idea of what Paponis has planned for them.
It isnít long before Ike has deliberately caused one of his surgical procedures to fail, in order that he might engineer a rapid infusion of cash into the Portland Fund. Allan Spandell has prepared the will, Ike Paponis does the killing, and Marty Spencer is called upon to cover up the deed.
Both Spandell and Spencer are appalled by what has happened, but Ike has them so deeply involved in the scheme, that there is no way out for them. What the two men donít know is that their labs were not really in financial difficulty in the first place. Ike has secretly been embezzling funds to finance a gold mining operation in Central America.
Talmadge Hyle is the senior senator from the state of Oregon and he is a close personal friend of Ike Paponis. He sits on the Senate Appropriations committee and wields a great deal of influence. But Talmadge Hyle also has an alternative lifestyle that he seeks to conceal from the public eye. Jason Riley is the young reporter from the Post who wants to expose Hyle for what he really is.
The Central American gold mine serves as the site of origin for a drug smuggling scheme that Ike Paponis has engineered. Former Freedom Fighters in Nicaragua have confiscated a planeload of cocaine from a Columbian cartel, and they want to profit from it, but they have no real connections in the drug trade. Ike flies to and from his mine with a bush pilot who is a former CIA operative who had advised the Nicaraguan Contras. The connection is made between the two groups.
Ike has no idea of how to import cocaine, but he also sees it as a way to generate a good deal of fast cash, that will allow him to replace funds that he has used illegally. A plot is then contrived to arrange a foreign policy meeting between Senator Talmadge Hyle and President Carmalita Diaz de Santiago of Nicaragua, and after an assassination attempt on Hyle, the senatorís plane is used to fly the drugs back to the United States.
There is a return trip to Nicaragua following a huge and destructive earthquake. Senator Hyle, Ike, and the others, have previously assembled a medical response team for just such a disaster. It is on this trip that Spandell and Spencer become aware of the full extent of the deviant nature of their partner. Ike sees no alternative but to have the two men killed. In fact, he incorrectly surmises that this has occurred when his friends disappear.
The epilogue sees Talmadge Hyle as a candidate for the Presidency, and Ike Paponis is attempting to gain Hyleís former senate seat. Senator Hyle is assassinated on the steps of the Justice Center in Portland, and Ike is subsequently implicated in his murder and jailed. Ikeís wife, former partners, and several other victims, are on hand when the gold mine in Nicaragua hits the big strike.
Hearts of Gold
Frank P. Whyte
Portland, Oregon is known as the City of Roses. Once nestled, now sprawling, it occupies that portion of the Willamette River Valley that is closest to the Great Mother River - the Columbia. It arose from timber, fishing, and trade. It grew from industry. It is now another large city, but one with a face that is its own. It is a face of culture, of flavor, but it also is the face of urban decline that plagues every other metropolitan area in this country.
On a sunny day, there may not be any more beautiful city on Earth. But sunny days are few. More often, the clouds fly low, the winds blow cold, and the rain falls in sheets as the mighty Pacific conjures and sends its wrath inland. For no other reason than that of sustained torrent and darkness, a deviancy of the human spirit seeps into the souls of men. Depression is common and suicides are many. But eventually, the sun does come in all of its glory. The tall fir trees sway gently in the prevailing winds, the flowers bloom, the children play, and the people come to know why they have endured the many nights of cold, wind, and rain. Such is the City of Roses.
* * *
Ike Paponis stood with his hands resting slightly on the mahogany railing at the top of the curved staircase. This vantage point allowed him a full view of the huge and elaborate ballroom below, which was filled with the many guests who had accepted invitations to this party. Rarely had anyone declined an invitation to an affair hosted by the heart surgeon turned politician. Ike had power in Portland - probably more power than any other man.
He was beginning to enter the other side of middle age, but Ike still managed to remain young at heart. His vitality easily matched that of a man half his age. Intellect and experience allowed him to exercise that vitality with a keen discretion.
He was not becoming frail in middle age. He exercised regularly, although swimming laps in his indoor pool had replaced the wretched ten mile runs that had been the morning ritual for most of his adult life. In fact, the wisps of gray at the temples, contrasted with the tanned olive skin that spoke of his Grecian heritage, were the only indications that the man was aging at all.
From his vantage point, Ike Paponis could see his beautiful young wife. Sharon Paponis was a lithe blonde with a quick wit, charm, and a mental acuity that rivaled that of her husband. He had married her ten years earlier, when at the age of twenty-eight, she had fit his needs quite nicely. She now seemed to enjoy her position in life, for being the wife of Ike Paponis could certainly be classified as being a full-time job.
But the benefits of the job could not be replaced by other employment. She had virtually everything that she needed and nearly everything that she wanted. Sharonís wardrobe and jewelry collection were extensive. Their posh Lake Oswego estate, its furnishing, their automobiles, and private plane, all provided more that the typical comforts.
Sharon Paponis was the ambassador for the powerful cardio-thoracic surgeon who had managed to build an empire in Portland. The empire had one primary function which was to buy influence. Ike Paponis had managed to control local politicians, wealthy businessmen, and members of the United States Congress. His petitions were commonly heard in the Oval Office of the White House, and frequently deference was granted his wishes.
Ike had originally formed a consortium that had consisted of him and his two closest friends. But now, the three were no longer partners. It had been a fruitful venture for all three men. They had amassed what could only be described as a fortune, and they had used that money for whatever causes that they had deemed to be important. Impressive results were achieved, but as is true in most human endeavors, the ultimate objectives had been by no means altruistic.
As Paponis surveyed the well-dressed and socially-acceptable crowd below, be saw that Sharon was having a discreet conversation with Allan Spandell Jr., a young attorney. Although Ike had maintained his vitality, he knew that it was necessary for his wife to have youthful friends. He could offer her love, but he and his wife had come from different worlds. Ikeís childhood had been marked by street smarts and poverty. Sharon had been groomed by the socially elite.
Allan Spandell Jr. was the son of one of Ikeís partners. Spandell Sr. was a probate attorney and a key cog within the corporation when it had all started many years ago. The surgeon had considered forming an alliance with the younger Spandell, who was following in his fatherís footsteps, but in the end, he had decided that he would never be able to share some of the secrets involving the group.
Paponis also felt that the junior attorney lacked the shrewd business sense necessary for some of the more intricate aspects of the operation. His father had been tactfully ruthless. He had been able to cross the ethical boundaries when the situation had dictated it. Ike Paponis doubted if there were many men left like he and Allan Spandell Sr. Men were no longer made of the same fabric as he and his partner had been. The surgeon felt that men today lived with a sense of fear. They lived within the confines of political correctness. Ultimately, even Spandell Sr. had succumbed to this weakness. They lacked soul and were unable to make the tough decisions necessary to achieve the greater good.
Paponis and his friends had been products of a different world, a different America. Their parents had known what it was like to be poor, and they had been adept at being resourceful enough to provide for themselves and their families. These had been stern-willed men and women with strong value systems.
The conversation between Sharon Paponis and Allan Spandell appeared to be slightly more than cordial. Ike knew that Sharon was fond of the young attorney, and he also knew that if he were to lend himself to jealousy, he would certainly be jealous of the liaison. He didnít know if the two were sleeping together, and he didnít really care. He knew that his wife was intelligent enough to know that discretion was of the utmost importance. But such were the perils of relationships with passionate women.
The heart surgeon decided to leave the responsibility of entertaining his guests in the capable hands of his young wife. It was already eleven oíclock at night, and he needed to be out of bed by three for a four oíclock procedure.
* * *
There was a flurry of activity in the heart room. Ike Paponis M.D. walked through the door to the operating suite at exactly four a.m. Both his equipment and his patient were ready for surgery. The man on whom he would be operating this morning was a fifty-five year old white male who had complained of chest pain earlier in the week.
The man had come to the emergency room, and he had then been admitted to the cardiac care unit. A cardiologist had performed a cardiac catheterization, and found that two of the vessels supplying oxygenated blood to the heart were almost one hundred percent blocked. The cardiologist had attempted to open the vessels using a small balloon within the arteries, but the effort had been unsuccessful. The man was a walking time bomb, and without open heart surgery, he would certainly die within a matter of weeks.
Paponis was the only surgeon at the Health Sciences Medical Center to begin his operating schedule so early in the morning. It was just one of his personal habits. In reality, however, it was probably nothing more than a power play. The surgeon truly enjoyed disrupting everyoneís schedule. He liked the idea that the nurses and technicians were jumping through hoops in the middle of the night just because it was his personal whim to operate at these God-forsaken hours.
But those who prepared his patient and his instruments knew that the job had better be done properly and on time. Paponis had a propensity for the public humiliation of those who had failed to adhere to his meticulous requirements. A quiet word from his mouth had been sufficient to terminate the employment of more than a few nurses. His verbal tirades could be endless, and God help those who dared to challenge him.
Paponis was a great source of revenue for the Health Sciences Medical Center, and the hospital administration would never dare to cross him. He had national renown, and his connections went deeper than any of those who knew him would venture to guess. Nobody had the courage to confront him, for they were all familiar with the fates of those who had tried.
The lights were bright in the operating room. The patient had been intubated with a plastic tube that went down into his lungs. This was connected to a ventilator that breathed mechanically for the patient. The entire body had been covered with sterile blue drapes, with the exception of the chest, which was the color of the red-brown Betadine solution which had been used to cleanse and disinfect the skin. Infection was one of the biggest concerns during the recovery period, and every effort was made to avoid it.
Intravenous lines had been started, and another line had been inserted into an artery in the wrist to monitor arterial pressure. The anesthesiologist had already administered doses of Ativan and Arduan. The patient was paralyzed by the effects of the Arduan, and would have total amnesia regarding the procedure due to the effects of the Ativan.
The heart-lung bypass machine stood at the ready. It was this machine that made open heart surgery possible for the masses. A perfusionist waited for the order to go on bypass. At that time, the patientís heart and lungs would be bypassed, and the blood would be oxygenated by this large mechanical device. This whole procedure was necessary to provide life-giving oxygenated blood to the tissues of the body, while the heart was at standstill for the operation.
Without a word to his crew, the surgeon stepped up to his place next to the operating table. He was immediately handed the small electocautery pencil that had replaced the scalpel for most surgical incisions. The current that went through the device helped to create a near-perfect incision while stopping most of the associated bleeding at the same time.
He made the longitudinal slice downward from between the clavicles to the base of the sternum. He then took the electrical saw in hand and made a perfect cut through the bones of the sternum. Heavy metal spreaders were used to pull the bone apart, exposing the organs of the chest.
As the heart surgeon methodically performed his duties, the young surgical resident was busy retrieving a portion of the saphenous vein from the patientís leg. This segment of vessel would be used to bypass the blocked sections of the coronary arteries. The body was cooled to twenty-eight degrees centigrade, and only then was a dose of very cool, highly-concentrated potassium solution delivered directly into the heart. The potassium solution so disrupted the concentration of the ion within the heart that it effectively caused the organ to come to a complete halt.
The sight of the non-pulsatile heart within his patientís chest had never ceased to amaze Ike Paponis. This was ultimate power. This was the power over life and death. Without his skill and willingness, the man would surely die.
The flow of adrenaline caused by this realization encouraged the surgeonís hands to move rapidly. He found the sections of blocked artery, took the portion of the vein removed from the patientís leg, and sewed one end of it into the hole he had punched into the aorta just a fraction of an inch above the heart. He then sewed the other end into the coronary artery in the heart just beyond where it was blocked. This procedure would give the gift of life to this man.
He could still marvel at the modern advances that newly developed technology had provided for him. Paponis was second generation. Those who had come before him had been a breed apart. They had, for the most part, been driven men obsessed with the theory that lifesaving surgery could be performed on the human heart.
The first such procedure had been performed by Dr. John Gibbon in 1953, and he subsequently became known as the father of open heart surgery. The truly phenomenal development, however, had been credited to Dr. Michael De Bakey, who had conceptualized the heart-lung bypass machine. It was this device that had allowed the practice of open heart surgery to become a viable alternative to death from massive heart attack.
These men had been pioneers, cowboys, men of vision. Paponis, and many of his second generation, were politicians. He worked his rich network of professional associates in search of new referrals. He was a man of blatant opulence and already in possession of an unparalleled ego. He lived in a big house, drove a fast car, had a pretty wife, and never hesitated to step on whomever was in his way. For Ike Paponis, it had always been that way, and it was not likely to change now.