Clear and Convincing Proof (Barbara Holloway Series #7)by Kate Wilhelm
The Kelso/McIvey rehab center is a place of hope and healing for its patientsand for the dedicated staff who volunteer there. But David McIvey, a brilliant surgeon whose ego rivals his skill with a scalpel, wants to change all that. His plan to close the clinic and replace it with a massive new surgery centerwith himself at the helmmeans that the… See more details below
The Kelso/McIvey rehab center is a place of hope and healing for its patientsand for the dedicated staff who volunteer there. But David McIvey, a brilliant surgeon whose ego rivals his skill with a scalpel, wants to change all that. His plan to close the clinic and replace it with a massive new surgery centerwith himself at the helmmeans that the rehab center will be forced to close its doors.
Since he is poised to desecrate the dreams of so many, it's not surprising to anyone, especially Oregon lawyer Barbara Holloway, that somebody dares to stop him in cold blood. When David McIvey is murdered outside the clinic's doors early one morning, Barbara once again uses her razor-sharp instincts and take-no-prisoners attitude to create a defense for the two members of the clinic who stand accused. And in her most perplexing case yet, Barbara is forced to explore the darkest places where people can hidethe soul beneath the skin.
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The afternoon that Erica Castle drove into Eugene, Oregon, she was elated, excited at the thought that she would steep in her own house that night. Weeks earlier an attorney had called to inform her that she had inherited her grandmother's property; shehad become a home owner. She had never met her grandmother, had never before been farther west than Indiana, but her mother had talked about the fine old mansion many times in the distant past, and now it was hers, Erica's.
She drove with care, admiring the well-kept houses, the neat lawns and lovely landscaping with flowers everywhere. After grimy industrial Cleveland, everything here looked fresh and scrubbed, sparkling dean. It was an affluent neighborhood, not superrich, but comfortable. No more dingy apartments, inner-city filth, just her own house in a nice neighborhood where flowers bloomed.
Driving slower and slower, she watched the house numbers, then came to a stop, backed up, pulled into a driveway and braked hard, aghast the spectacle before her. The yard had gone to weeds, knee-high or higher, and a tangle of blackberry brambles was ten feet high. There was trash strewn in the driveway, beer bottles, an oil can, a broken chair. . . The two-story house had peeling paint and bare wood in places. There was a broken window held together with duct tape, a broken banister on the front porch.
She felt as if for weeks she had been floating, as buoyant as a dandelion seed in a breeze, only to have a giant hand reach out now and crush her back to earth. Moving with leaden legs she got out of her old station wagon and approached the front of the house, forced herself up the three steps to the porch, across it to the door.
It was worse on the inside. The smell was so bad that she gagged and took a step back, then hurried through a hallway to the rear of the house and opened a door. Trash was everywhere, more beer cans, wine bottles, liquor bottles, pizza boxes, junk furniture, piles of newspapers, a foam mat on the floor. . .
She didn't go up stairs and didn't linger inside the house longer than it took for a hurried glance. Junk. Nothing but junk. Then she stood on the back porch and regarded the rear of the property; more blackberries, more weeds, more trash. The brambles had nearly covered a small garage.
She fought tears and made her clenched fists relax. "All right," she said in a low voice. "So there's no free lunch."
The house could be cleaned up, painted, the yard cleaned and made neat. Then she would sell it. After cashing out her pension, she had eleven thousand dollars. If she had to use part of it to get the house ready for a sale, so be it.
The giant hand that had crushed her was rubbing her nose in the dirt, she thought grimly the following day, when the attorney informed her that there was also a property tax hen of eight thousand dollars. He put her in touch with a Realtor, Mrs. Maryhill, who walked through the house with Erica and pointed out what needed doing before putting the house on the market.
"See those water stains? Needs a roof. And probably the wiring needs an overhaul. . . Maybe there's dry rot in that bathroom. Hard to tell with so much mold. . . Three windows need replacing. . . That water heater's twenty-five years old, has to be replaced. . . All the oak flooring needs to be refinished. What a shame to let it go like that."
Then, on the rear porch, she said, "I'll tell you straight, Ms. Castle. You sell it as is, and maybe you can get fifty thousand, maybe not even that. And it might take months or even years. See, no Realtor is going to want to show it. Put in ten, twelve thousand, bring it up to par with the neighborhood and you can get $150 thousand to $185 for it. It's really a very nice old structure, solid, good wood, but gone to pot now. Depending on how it's finished, how it appears, maybe you'd get up to two hundred. But it's going to take a lot of work first."
Two weeks later Mrs. Maryhill dropped by again. "Just in the neighborhood, she said, looking all around. "My, my, you've been busy, haven't you? You're doing it all yourself?"
"So far. I thought I'd see how much I could manage before I yell for help."
The electricity was on; the kitchen and the downstairs bedroom were scrubbed and usable and just needed repainting; the odors in the house now were of Lysol and bleach, trisodium phosphate, ammonia and Pine Sol. Junk was high in the driveway, with more added daily. The heap looked like a rising volcano of obsidian; some of the trash bags even steamed in the sun.
To Erica's surprise the house she was unearthing was very nice, as Mrs. Maryhill had said earlier. The first floor had four spacious rooms and a small pantry; the upper apartment had four rooms; and the basement was dry with a good concrete floor.
"Eventually," the Realtor said "you'll have to hire help. If you decide to take out a mortgage, hold off as long as possible. Get the house in the best shape you can before anyone comes to inspect it. Do you plan to get a job?"
"I hadn't given it any thought yet," Erica said. She suspected that Mrs. Maryhill had assessed her financial position quite accurately. No one did the kind of cleaning Erica had been doing if they had a tidy fortune stashed away.
"Well, consider it," Mrs. Maryhill said. "Banks like to think their clients can repay a loan. They're funny that way." She smiled widely. "And something else you might consider," she said, "is doing some volunteer work for the time being. A few hours a week, at least. You'd meet local people who may be willing to give references, you see. You know the rehab chic over on Country Club Road? That would be a good place for you. Close enough to walk to, but more important, you'd meet a good clientele, some of the patients, doctors, therapists, the sort of people banks adore for references."
"The only thing I'm qualified to do is teach, Erica said. "Fifteen years of experience. But I suppose I could work in a kitchen, something like that."
Mrs. Maryhill shook her head. "No, no. You want to meet people. You have a lovely voice. Volunteer to read to the patients."
All afternoon and into the night Erica considered both suggestions. Regardless of her years of experience, she knew she would not be qualified to teach full-time here. For that she would need Oregon certification, which would take time, and possibly require some classes, and she had no intention of going that route. She was truly burned out, she admitted, but perhaps she could get a temporary certificate and sip up as a substitute. Most school districts had a number of substitutes who worked all hours, even full-time, but without the perks: no medical insurance, no pension, no paid holidays.
Besides, it would be temporary. As soon as she got a loan, and finished fixing up the house, she would sell it. She didn't want a house and a job; she wanted some money for the first time in her life. Sell it, take a long vacation, buy a new car. . . As she scrubbed away grime accumulated over many years, she came to appreciate the fine woodwork, the lovely cabinets, good cedar-lined closets, lead-glass-fronted bookcases in the living room. Two hundred thousand, she told herself. She could endure anything, even teaching fifth grade, for that kind of payback.
More to the point, she would need an income. First she had to spruce herself up, she decided, fingering her hair, lank and mousy brown. She was forty years old and felt fifty, and suspected she looked it. Start with the hair, she told herself; she could not volunteer for anything, much less apply for a teaching position looking like a charwoman.
The next week she put in her application with the school district and then drove to the Kelso-McIvey Rehabilitation Clinic, which turned out to be four blocks from her house. There was a large parking lot in front of the two-story building, a high hedge and a covered walk from a wide drive. A big van under the cover had a mechanism lowering a patient in a wheelchair.
Erica passed it and entered the building, which was not at all institutional. Baskets held potted plants and more plants in ceramic pots were on the reception desk. A teddy bear leaned against a pot with a basket of peppermints nearby. A pretty, blond young woman at the reception desk greeted her and, on hearing her name, said, "Mrs. Boardman will be free in a minute or two. She's expecting you. You want to sit over there and wait? I'll tell her you're here." She wore a name tag: Annie. She motioned toward a waiting room where a few other people were seated, and then smiled at the patient an attendant was wheeling in.
"Mrs. Daniels! How nice to see you. How's it going? You look wonderful!"
Erica was not kept waiting long. Annie beckoned her and led the way down a brightly lit corridor, chatting as she walked. "Boy, can they use volunteers here. Half the people you see working are volunteers, in fact."
"Well, I won't have a lot of free time," Erica said.
"Ten minutes makes a difference," Annie said. "Here we are."
She tapped on a door, opened it and moved aside for Erica to enter. A tall, lean woman rose from her desk as they entered. She looked to be sixty and was dressed in chinos and a T-shirt. Her hair was gray, straight and very short, almost too severe, but bright blue earrings and a matching necklace softened her appearance, and her snide was warm and friendly as she came around the desk to take Erica's hand.
"Ms. Castle, how do you do? I'm Naomi Boardman. Thanks, Annie. Will you be around for a bit?"
"Until four-thirty. I'll be at the front desk until Bernie gets back from the dentist. That should be any minute now." She smiled at Erica and left.
Then, seated in two visitors' chairs, Naomi Boardman and Erica talked. It was not a real interview, Erica came to realize very fast. Things had already been decided. Naomi made it clear that they wanted her.
"When I brought it up with Darren -- he's our head physical therapist -- we agreed that it's a marvelous idea, to have someone read to the patients. They work so hard, harder than any of the staff, and they are exhausted by the end of the day. This would be relaxing, and even comforting, we believe."
The patients varied in age, she said, from young children to octogenarians, suffering the effects of bicycle accidents, strokes, congenital birth defects, fire, brain tumors -- all kinds of trauma. Although most of them were outpatients, there was also a fifteen-bed hospital on the upper floor. Sometimes it was said, they had eleven patients up there.
Feeling a growing disquietude, Erica asked, "But who would I be reading to? What age group? How many?"
"Well, we won't know that until you begin. Maybe four, maybe ten. All ages. And anything you would find suitable for your fifth grade classes would work find." She smiled at Erica. "You'll have a lot of latitude It won't be so much what you read, you see, as the fact that you will be reading to them. And you have such a nice voice."
It was arranged. She would begin on Wednesday, starting at five in the evening. Naomi hesitated over the hour. It was best for the patients because some of them were so fretful by them, restless and exhausted, but it might be hard for Erica. Not at all, Erica assured her. Then Naomi called Annie back and asked her to show Erica the facility. "Welcome to the Kelso-McIvey Rehabilitation Center," Naomi said.
"I've never heard anyone call it that," Annie confided, as she started the tour. "It's just the rehab clinic. Down that way are the therapy rooms. We won't go in while they're being used. This way to the garden. Darren thinks it's a good idea to get people out in the open as much as possible."
Erica saw little of the clinic that day, but later she came to appreciate the many ways the curse of institution had been obliterated. One wall held children' art, colorful, fanciful, honest. Another displayed whimsical figures from Disney or Dr. Suess. Dorothy with her steadfast companions on the yellow brick road. Superheroes. Christopher Robin and Pooh. There was a ceiling-to-floor wall of greeting cards :Valentine's Day, Christmas cards, birthday cards, thank-you cards. There were plants throughout, in baskets, brass planters, hanging from baskets, on wall brackets. The visitors' waiting room had a game table, large-screen television, current magazines, a jigsaw puzzle in progress on a table. She laughed later when she followed arrows from the children's ward to the upper lounge. The arrows began to go this way and that, a drunkard's walk trail, and then climbed a wall, ending abruptly. A splotch on the floor was the start of the arrows from there, more or less steady to the lounge. She learned that Naomi had been the decorator, and it all worked delightfully.
The offices were like offices everywhere with the usual furnishings, but when she viewed the therapy rooms later, she caught in her breath. Medieval torture chambers, she thought, mortify the flesh and save the soul. But here the plan was to save the body. Tables with straps dangling, holding curiously shaped brackets, cups straps. A device that appeared to be designed to support body parts -- let's arms, torsos. Several treadmills, walkways with rails, one with a contraption that was like a rescue seat she had seen on television hauling a person from a sinking ship. A small swimming pool in a room so hot and humid it was like a steam bath. A mechanism there apparently could lift a patient and lower him or he into the water, then fish the patient out again.
On that first day, she caught glimpses only as she was escorted to the garden, screened in on three sides by shrubbery. It was laid out in such a way, Annie explained that each section of the path was a particular length, a quarter of a mile, a third of a mile, and eighth. The whole thing, if you covered every path, zigzagging around, would be two miles, with a waterfall at one end and steps going up to it on both sides. There was a koi pond up there, with a couple of benches, a nice place to relax and watch the fish. Apparently it was simply decorative, but that was deceptive, she said; Darren knew that one of the hardest tasks some patients encountered was going up and down steps, Everything had been laid out by Darren, she said, and a landscape company had planted and maintained it.
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