The Lady and Her Doctorby Evelyn Piper, Evelyn Piper
Dr. Milton Krop yearns to escape from his dull medical practice to a life of glamour and travel. So he marries Sloane Folsom, a wealthy blueblooded woman. He and she come from different universesand murder is in the air. Evelyn Piper is the author of "Bunny Lake is Missing" and "The Nanny."
Read an Excerpt
The Lady and Her Doctor
By Evelyn Piper
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1956 Harper & Brothers
All rights reserved.
Maureen said, "You gotta hear me, Mom!"
"Everyone will hear you!" Jenny hurriedly closed the kitchen door. "Pipe down, Maureen, you'll wake Uncle Miltie."
"But you gotta hear me my poem, Mom!"
Buddy said, "Hear ye, hear ye! Oyez, oyez!"
Jenny told Bud to shut up and stop teasing his sister. She told Maureen that she had plenty of time before school. "If you wake up poor Uncle Miltie, Maureen, I'll hear you in a way you won't like. I want Milt to get his sleep."
Milton didn't thoroughly awaken until Jenny said, "I want Milt to get his sleep," but that got him up, that woke him like a fire alarm woke a fire horse. What Jenny wanted, Milt didn't want.
Maureen said affectedly, "'A Psalm of Life,' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow."
Buddy said, "By Henry Wadsworth Shortfellow," imitating her recitative flourish.
"You shut up, Buddy Krop!
"Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
"Now that's a cheerful little number, isn't it, Mom? 'Still, like muffled drums, are beating funeral marches to the grave.'"
Milton sat up, threw off the covers and swung his feet off the Hide-a-Bed. His heart was pounding.
Jenny said, "I hear Milt. You woke him, Maureen, with your poem. I don't know what to do with you, Maureen, you'll be the death of me!"
"The death of me," Milton thought. "'Still, like muffled drums, are beating ...' Muffled drums nothing," he thought. "Tachycardia. I sat up too suddenly, that's all. Doesn't mean a thing. Awareness of the heartbeat, that's all. I get these palpipations all the time now, but they don't mean a thing." He stretched and rubbed his hands down his back where the crease in the Hide-a-Bed always made a crick. He heard Jenny coming down the hall from the kitchen and called out that he was up, hoping to keep her out of the room that way, although he should have known better. The only room she wouldn't just barge into was the john. Just because she used to be a nurse, she thought that gave her the right to barge in everywhere. The minute she barged in, as usual, she started telling him.
"Sleep good, Milt? Milt, Mrs. Antony called already. When you examine her, Milt —"
"Look, Jenny, are you the doctor here or am I? If I'm the doctor then let me decide how to run my practice."
"Now, Milt —"
"Now, Milt! Now, Milt!"
"I'm just trying to be helpful, Milt."
"You're just trying to run me."
"But Mrs. Antony will call another doctor if you pooh- pooh her again, Milt. I could tell from the way she talked on the phone."
"You could tell," he said. "You know everything, don't you?" He walked to the open window and reached under the pulled-down blinds to close it. This was an Apartment Suitable for Physician. On the ground floor, which, since he slept in the living room, meant he could never have the blinds up nights. It wasn't a case of people seeing in but of potential patients learning that "the doctor" didn't have a bedroom and slept on a bed which turned into a sofa. Where he was supposed to sleep was another matter but perhaps the patients figured that a doctor's five and a half rooms were different from other apartments in the building just as a doctor was different from other people.
Jenny took a step toward Milton. "Aw, Milt — Milt!"
"Aw, Milt — I'll be the death of you, won't I?"
The word "death" hung in the air between them until Jenny swooped over the Hide-a-Bed and yanked the cover off Milton's pillow and threw it onto a chair, then stripped the sheets and blankets, grunting, lifting, shoving, to fill the air with these noises, to fold the bed away, death away. She looked everywhere but at Milton. "I better wash the sills before office hours. Honestly, you'd think, way out in Jackson Heights like this —"
She would wash the sills with the blinds down because she must not be seen doing them. Jenny was supposed to be his "nurse." The window sill washing was supposed to be done by a maid, the patients were supposed to believe this maid also cleaned and cooked for him. An invisible maid.
"Breakfast is ready, Milt." Jenny straightened up, stretching. When she raised her arms, the coachman's robe pulled tight across her firm breasts. No patient would have recognized her in that fancy ruffled pink robe as the tailored "nurse." (Actually she was his receptionist-secretary. She let the patients in and answered the telephone and collected his fees. If death came today, Jenny would know to a penny what was owing him. Owing her was more like it.) Jenny had fixed Milton's breakfast but she had not thought it necessary to clear the table of Buddy's breakfast. Buddy had, as usual, eaten only the whites of his fried eggs. The two glazed yolks were like two glazed yellow eyes. Milton covered Buddy's plate with another and drank his orange juice. Jenny noticed the maneuver and smiled as if nothing was supposed to turn Milton's stomach.
"Take your polyvitamins, Milt."
He smiled at that.
"Go on, Milt, take your polyvitamins." She pushed the bottle of them toward him.
"Didn't Phil take his vitamins, Jenny? Is that why he died?" He waved the bottle of pills away. "Don't waste them on me. Save them for the kids."
"Aw, Milt, don't!" Jenny set the bottle back on the table. Her lips were trembling. Her brown eyes filled with tears.
The toast tasted like sawdust, cardboard — anyhow nothing like the bread his mother used to bake and which he and the boys used to eat in the old kitchen in Brookfield, Connecticut. For a minute, grinding the cardboard, sawdust, whatever it was, between his teeth, Milton could smell the bread and the kitchen and his three big brothers and he wanted — not to cry, but to pound his fist on the old scrubbed wooden table in the old kitchen and say, "Mom, hear me, Mom! Oyez, oyez, you got to hear me, Mom, it's like muffled drums beating!" He got the mouthful of sawdust down and put the rest of the slice on his plate, shoving his chair back. Jenny started to tell him he had to eat but he said he wasn't hungry. Jenny said, all right, he could eat after he made his calls. Halloran, Demitric, Cohen, Antony, and he said maybe he would. Business before eating — well, it was her business, too. She lived on it.
"Milt, drink your coffee, anyhow. You can't go out on an empty stomach that way."
She pushed his cup closer, leaning across the table so that he saw the shadows between her breasts. He lifted the cup more to keep from seeing Jenny than because he wanted coffee. She was so damned healthy, so bursting with health. Jenny started taking dishes off the table, picking up Buddy's covered plate. In a minute she would scrape the dried yellow eyes off the plate into the garbage can. The thought of them made his stomach heave and he set his cup down. "I better get dressed."
The bathroom was where he dressed, his private suite, his private castle. The suit he had worn yesterday hung from a hanger on the hook behind the door. His shoes with the socks he had worn stuffed into them were on the laundry hamper. His undershirt, drawers, and one of the white-on-white shirts Jenny believed were suitable for a doctor were on a lower hook, his underwear hidden from Maureen, who also used the bathroom and, from the look of the sink, had just used it. Milton turned on the cold water tap full force so that Jenny and Maureen wouldn't barge in and stripped off his pajamas before he recalled that he had forgotten to stop off at the linen closet on his way here. The linen closet was "his" closet and he should have stopped and picked out clean socks and B.V.D.s and, if the white-on-white shirt wouldn't do a second day, a white shirt. He shaved and washed naked, bending over the sink, and then, because when he dried his face he could see in the mirror over the medicine chest door his broad chest covered with strong curling black hair, so deceptively powerful, he could not wait to change his underwear, but to hide his heart, to forget it, to get out and see Cissie Parker for a few minutes and forget the whole damned business, he put the soiled undershirt on and over that yesterday's white shirt. By this action he had hidden his chest, but he could not help seeing his thick wrists, his big hands, the bulging farm-boy muscles of his calves.
"But the Doc looked strong as an ox," people would say. And so had his father who had died at forty-two, and Phil, and so had Don and so had Hut, although Hut didn't count since he had gone down in the South Pacific a year after graduation from medical school. All the Krop boys had looked strong as oxen! The feel of the soiled socks drawn on his feet was like the taste in his mouth at facing another day.
The mailboxes for all the tenants were set into the wall on the right-hand side of the foyer and as Dr. Krop passed on his way out of the apartment house he looked into his and made sure the mail hadn't come yet. Somebody upstairs pushed the button for the self-service elevator and it could have been Cissie Parker and Milt didn't want her to know that he timed his leaving so that he would meet her, so he hurried out of the building.
Milton's Studebaker was barely two years old but because it was always parked outside, the finish had suffered. (It reminded him of his mother's skin because she, too, had stayed outside in all kinds of weather, and Milton hastily visualized Cissie Parker's skin in order to forget his mother's, but Cissie reminded him of his mother's canary that all the boys had chipped in for and bought her. It wasn't the only present they had bought his mother, but it had been the only useless one. So it reminded him of Cissie Parker — useless, useless, too.) The Studebaker was pastel green, but it was pastel dust-colored this fine morning. Buddy had volunteered to polish it when the old Studie had been turned in, but his enthusiasm had died down when he found that he could never hope to be repaid by having the use of it for any date he might have when he reached his sixteenth birthday. Even Jenny, who would give her right arm for Buddy, had been horrified at the suggestion. Her Buddy should have known a doctor's car, like a doctor, must be available at any time.
Milton unlocked the door of the car and, as he got in, heard light steps behind him on the sidewalk. Cissie. It wasn't surprising that he had noticed Cissie. There were God knows how many females in this one apartment house and in the four others on the block, but most of them were either pregnant, post partum or too old. There were more females around than you could shake a stick at, but damned if the kid wasn't about the only pretty one he'd seen. But it wasn't that, it wasn't the prettiness — she wasn't that pretty — it was the way he had caught her looking at him that first time, because she had noticed him first. A pretty little kid like that had noticed him first! He had been climbing into the Studie one morning, and when he turned she was looking at him that way and when he slid behind the wheel, like now, and drove away, he couldn't forget how she had looked at him. He'd made his calls and he couldn't forget it; then he knew why not. In Brookfield, the farm next to theirs had been owned by the Brownings. Unlike the Krops, Mr. Browning was a "gentleman farmer"; that meant he put money into the land instead of taking money out. The Browning girl wasn't there all year; a lot of the time she was away at boarding school. Then, after graduating, she went off a lot to Europe, to the Riviera, but when she was there, boy, was she there! You could see the Brownings' tennis court from their north field. Once when he and Hut were getting in the hay, Hut had pointed to a haystack. "This is a haystack, kid," Hut said, "and that —" pointing to the Browning girl playing tennis — "that's stacked." The way Cissie Parker had looked at him was the way he used to look at the Browning girl when, high on her brown mare, she had passed him high in the old Ford pickup truck.
First Dr. Krop started the Studie, then, accidentally on purpose, turned and "saw" Cissie Parker standing there, looking at him again the way he used to look at the Browning girl. He waved, leaned over and opened the door. Since the Parkers had moved into the apartment house, he must have given her fifteen, sixteen rides to the subway, but today she hesitated, color flared in her blond skin and she touched the blond hair on the right side of her small head uncertainly, then turned back and glanced up at the apartment house, at her window, Milt saw, at her mother who was leaning out of the window. Her mother was shaking her head, then Cissie shook her head at him but he said, "Get in," and she did. She would do anything he told her to. If the Browning girl had condescended to notice him enough to tell him to lie down on the dirt road and let her mare ride over him, he would have done it, and that's how it was with Cissie. He knew this even though he had never said more than hello and good-by to the kid.
Cissie usually gave a performance getting in the Studie and he usually enjoyed every wriggle of it, the leg show with chorus of gasps and flutters — He was always being shown women's legs, having their swollen bulk, their varicose veins, their ulcers and burns and bruises thrust at him. Cissie's concern with any disarrangement during her scramble into the car, the way her thin hands with the red nails touched and patted and repaired before she turned to him and gave him the Browning-girl look, always moved him by its very silliness, but today Cissie just plain climbed in. He liked the smell of her, compounded of every cosmetic ad she fell for, the perfumes of her deodorant, her bath powder, the stuff she sprayed on her blond hair to keep it in place, her lipstick, her pancake make-up. Today all her perfumes seemed fainter, as if her mother's disapproval had blotted them. Today Cissie sat biting her lip and, as the car moved off, glanced back nervously toward the window of her apartment and forgot to do all her little settlings and flutterings. "So your momma didn't want you to take a lift," he said.
She seemed to think she had said enough, sitting quietly, denying him the sparrow act, the smell of her perfumes, all the things he would never have. "Why not, if you don't mind my being nosey?"
"Well, it's you're a married man," she said. "We didn't know you were a married man. We don't know the neighbors yet, so nobody told us. I don't know — I figured she was your nurse, because of course I saw her around. Mrs. Krop. I don't know, I thought she was your nurse. Mom said I shouldn't think so much, I should find out."
Jenny was Mrs. Krop and Buddy was Buddy Krop and there was also little Maureen Krop. If Jenny had told Cissie's mother that she was Mrs. Krop, it was the truth and there was no reason Mrs. Parker shouldn't think she was his wife, but Cissie shouldn't have thought so. That she should think so — How could she think so? Milton started the car. She had a nerve! Who gave her the right to think he would marry Jenny, a woman like Jenny! Leaving out the four years she had on him, not even counting that. He saw Jenny as he had left her in the pink frilly thing — in any of the frilly stuff she wore out of office hours because, as she said, she'd had her bellyful of uniforms. If this kid here really looked at him the Browning-girl way she couldn't think he would marry a woman like Jenny, so he turned nasty. He wanted to hurt her. "You mean a married man can't give a single girl a couple lifts to the subway, is that it? Have I ever done anything else? Have I in any way propositioned you?" he asked. He pulled over to the curb and stopped the car. "Get out," he said, "go on, get out." He remembered how his mother used to put a dark cloth over the canary's cage when she wanted the bird to shut up; that was the effect of his anger on the kid. So long, Cissie, he thought. Married to a woman like Jenny, he thought. Beloved Husband of Jenny, it said on Phil's tombstone. When the time came, Jenny might as well save herself the expense of another stone and just tell Phil to shove over and plant him there alongside. No one in the whole world would know the difference, he thought. (Not Cissie.) No one in the whole world would know the difference, and neither would he, he thought. The life and death of Milton Krop. Which was which?
He had been heading toward Eighty-fifth, the Cohens', but, reaching the corner and too close to it to do it right, he made a U turn. Not a U turn, he thought, a worm turn. Even a worm turns, he thought.
Excerpted from The Lady and Her Doctor by Evelyn Piper. Copyright © 1956 Harper & Brothers. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >