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Inside Dallas' Wellman General Hospital, James Williard sat in his spacious, well-equipped hospital administrator's office with his feet propped on the edge of his spacious, well-equipped desk, talking to his spacious, well-equipped secretary. "Miss Secretary," he asked, "how much longer do you think I'm going to last here?"
"About two days past the time I file a grievance against you for patting me on the fanny again," Darlene Taylor answered, trying not to smile.
Williard stared at the cowboy boots on his crossed feet. They were black, with the talons of an eagle showing on the sides. "You wouldn't do that to me, would you?"
"No, but there are others who would. And have."
A slow smile of amusement crept over Williard's face. "Don't tell me. Old lady Higgins. Right?"
"Right. Whatever made you do that? You know she doesn't like men."
"That's how come. I figured patting her on the ass would give her a thrill."
"Hey, this hospital has never been run better, despite the fucking government doing everything it can to get us to play grabass with them."
Darlene looked at her boss with an expression she thought passed him by. It said volumes about her desires, if only he would listen. She liked the way he looked, with his mustache and dark hair, but what she really liked was that he was an anomaly, a throwback to the time her mother always went on about, when women were harassed and talked down to a dozen times a day, at least according to her. Somehow, though, Williard's remarks and actions never offended her. He had an attitude all right, but she liked it in him. For one thing, she knewthat deep down, he really respected women, even without the modern touchy-feely nonsense so popular lately. And his remarks were always cadged with a little-boy grin which said he wasn't serious-most of the time.
"What's on your mind, sweet thing?" Williard asked, catching Darlene's expression. He pulled out a pack of Winstons and shook a cigarette halfway out of the pack and held it toward her.
"No. Oh hell, give me one. They're going to kill us both." Darlene glanced toward the closed office door as if the nicotine police might burst through the instant she lit up. Smoking was no longer allowed in their hospital, courtesy of the new board of directors. The new board had taken over shortly after old Don Falino's death. Falino was the retired Godfather of New York's most powerful, respected-and feared-crime families. While he was still alive, he had reached his tentacles all the way to Dallas and had Williard promoted from Laboratory Director to Hospital Administrator in return for the Williard brothers not feeding him to his own pet shark. That move had kept some noses out of joint in the Dallas medical community for over ten years now.
"That reminds me of the time that Mafia Underboss was going to kill me," Williard remarked, raising his gaze toward the ceiling.
"Really?" Since Darlene had come to work at Wellman Hospital the year before as administrative assistant to Williard, the hospital administrator, she had heard a few vague rumors that the hospital was Mafia controlled or Williard was, or both.
"Me and my brothers fed him to the Don's pet shark." Williard grinned infectiously, showing an even row of white teeth set in a face that still held its even-featured good looks, despite the graying hair and crow's feet at the corners of his eyes.
"You're always talking about your brothers. When am I going to see one of them?" Darlene figured if she couldn't corral Williard, one of his brothers might do.
"Look at me and you've seen us all. We look alike, right down to the mustache."
Darlene glanced at the door again and took a puff from her cigarette. "Really? Are you triplets?"
"Naw, but most folks can't tell the difference."
Copyright © 2005 Darrell Bain