A Trial of One
the Third in the Osgoode Trilogy
Mary E. Martin
The gathering of the ravens presages a disturbance of the natural order.
Officially, Harry Jenkins’ elderly client, Norma Dinnick, had committed no crime. While she embroidered tales of murderous revenge in a singsong voice, her doctors rubbed their jaws to hide their smirks. Such a sweetly smiling woman could not have committed the cruel and devious acts she so vividly described. Their diagnosis was psychotic dementia with a touch of Alzheimer’s thrown in. Court documents, stamped with a gold seal, declared her mentally incompetent. After all, psychiatrists were not so easily fooled.
Once appointed as her legal guardian, Harry found her accommodations in the most luxurious mental hospital possible. Their deal was unspoken—a nice, permanent home with refined residents, not a jail. For him, Norma remained a fascinating conundrum, and after all, lawyers only wanted to know so much.
His next task? Locate the missing shares in Elixicorp Enterprises hidden by her deceased husband, Arthur. Their value? Thirty million dollars or so. Only she, Norma insisted, had any right to them, but Harry knew that some had died trying to wrest them from her. He envisioned a line of brutal successors lurking in the shadows, waiting for him to falter. Those shares had to be somewhere. As he drove off to see her today, he determined to find out as much as he could.
In declaring Norma incompetent, the court, in its wisdom, required Harry to consult with her on decisions, if possible. But fortunately, he was not bound by her instructions. Today, he might jog her memory for clues to the missing shares, although her recollections ran from the unreliable to the fantastical.
Gravel crunched beneath his tires as the road to the Mercer Mental Hospital narrowed and mounted steeply between jagged rocks. A small green sign, with white lettering, marked the entrance. Getting out of the car, Harry took off his jacket. The sun bore down, and the heat hit hard. The breeze sang softly through the grasses and caressed his face. In the field below, a group of patients gazed skyward, while an attendant pointed at black ravens circling against the brilliant sky. A nature outing, Harry supposed, but Norma would not be among them. Unless she could command a group, she would have no part of it.
Suddenly, one bird broke from the military precision of the flock and swooped down upon a patient who, clutching his head, ran in circles. As the attendant warded off the attacker, the inmate cringed beneath a tree. Harry turned away and collected his briefcase.
He had heard many versions of Norma’s story of the Elixicorp shares. Some hung together— for the most part. Others were so absurdly confused that they strained the credulity of the most gullible soul. As best as Harry could determine, her husband, Arthur, had been part of a consortium to raise money in the nineteen sixties for the development of a wonder drug to forestall memory loss. Ironic that everyone seemed to have forgotten just where those shares might be! Now, all the partners— George Pappas with his underworld connections, Arthur, Archie Brinks, and David Parrish were dead. So, who was entitled to the money?
Walking up the path, lined with tall maples, he saw the white clapboard buildings with their green awnings and wide verandas. Norma sat near the screen door of the main entrance. She wore a pretty, floral dress, neatly cinched in at the waist, giving her a decidedly girlish appearance. Easy to spot her in the midst of all the hospital gowns. A piano rendition of My Blue Heaven floated out on the summer air. Only her foot tapped to the music. Harry had a vision of a single flower sprouting in a dry, stubbly field.
Bending awkwardly to kiss her cheek, he saw the glint in her eye, which said, This is a huge joke. We both know I don’t belong in this nuthouse.
“Have you found the missing shares yet, Harry?” Norma demanded.
“Not yet. I need more information.”
“I’ve told you everything I know. And you still haven’t found the bank accounts?”
“I need the bank transit numbers.”
She peered at him sternly. “Arthur would have dealt with only the most reputable financial institutions.”
“Even so, that narrows the field only slightly, to dozens of banks with innumerable branches.”
“You’re not afraid of a little work, are you? Do I have to hire a private detective?”
Harry shifted in his seat. Norma was not above bullying in order to mislead him for her own murky purposes. But if she had any more information, why send him on a pointless and costly venture? No doubt, it would be fun to scour Europe for the money, he thought, as visions of medieval towns flashed before him. But he would have to account for every penny on a court audit of his expenses.
Harry jumped when a birdlike hand pinched his knee. Glancing sideways, he saw the beady eyes of a tiny, wizened woman boring into him. Surrounded, he thought.
“Donald, what have you done with my money?” Her bright red nails dug into his kneecap. “You always were a deceitful child,” she gasped, and then spat out, “You’ve spent it on that hussy, haven’t you?”
Norma muttered in disgust, “Stupid woman! Doesn’t even know her own son. See what I mean, Harry? Lunatics everywhere!”
A nurse hurried down the veranda. “Mrs. Burke! That is not your son, Donald.” Swiftly, she removed the offending hand from Harry’s knee. “So sorry, sir.” She smiled apologetically. “I’m sure you understand.”
She held Mrs. Burke’s hand firmly until she lapsed into reverie. Harry rubbed his knee.
Norma was halfway down the steps. “Take me for a walk, please. We can talk privately in the garden.”
Carrying her cane, Harry rushed to catch up with her as she hobbled through the trellised gardens. In the glaring sun, the bees hummed among the blood red roses drooping in the heat. At last, he steered her toward a bench in the shade.
Norma pointed to the residents standing motionless in the field below. Old faces squinted upward in the sun, transfixed by the circling crows. “Look at those fools. They’re waiting.”
“Something to happen.” She shrugged. “They’re mad, you know.” She plunked herself down on the bench and continued, “I do not belong in this insane asylum.”
Harry raised his hand to quiet her. “You know, Norma, I can’t get you out of here.”
Despite her prior confessions of murder, Norma was fond of changing her tune.
“Harry, I would never harm Archie or David. I loved them dearly.” Glancing downward, she spoke in darker tones. “Granted, George was another matter.”
Patiently, Norma explained away all the suspicious deaths to which she had confessed. “I was caught up in a terrible nightmare!”
He shook his head solemnly. “No. You got out of a real corner last time. Besides, admitting the confessions were false lands you right back here.”
Norma sat in obstinate silence. At last, she said quietly, “If you can’t get me out, then you’d better find the money, Harry.”
She was right, of course. As her legal guardian, he was sworn to locate all her assets and prepare an inventory. Even suspected ill-gotten gains had to be listed. Although George Pappas and Archie Brinks were dead, Harry was chilled by the prospect of an endless chain of ruthless pretenders.
As if reading his mind, Norma shifted the brim of her hat against the sun and said, “Really, Harry!” Her glance was withering. “You know everyone is dead. They never had any right to that money. It was Arthur’s and mine.”
“They didn’t think so!”
Norma, her jaw rigid, jerked away.
A fine time for her to become difficult, he thought. “Any more information will make my job a lot easier and less expensive,” he said.
Norma’s lower lip trembled. After a few sniffles, she spoke angrily. “I know you, Harry Jenkins! You think Arthur bilked a bunch of rich old biddies with some crazy scheme for a wonder drug.”
“I never said that. But George and Archie certainly had a fraudulent scheme. Who’s behind them?”
“You’re right!” she said primly. “Those two jailbirds were at the very center of the whole scheme. We knew nothing of it.”
“So where did all this money come from?”
“There was only a tiny bit to begin with, and it was just our share,” she insisted. “Arthur was a genius at investing!”
“All right, Norma. I’ll try to find the accounts with what I’ve got. You said I should start with the banks in London. But when I find the money, we have to establish your right to ownership in court.”
“I told you it belonged to Arthur and me.”
“That’s not good enough. We need a court declaration stating you’re the lawful owner.”
Norma was aghast. “That’s useless! Those people laugh at court orders. Just scraps of paper.”
“What people?” he demanded. “Just a minute ago you said they were all dead!”
Her eyes glassed over. “So I did. Well then…” She began to fidget.
“What aren’t you telling me? Who’s behind Pappas and Archie Brinks?”
Norma gazed at him. In the beating sun, Harry loosened his tie.
“All I know is they’re a very dangerous, rapacious bunch, who won’t give a damn about any court orders!”
Norma’s expression chilled him. “Like who?” he asked more quietly.
She touched his hand. “Be very careful, Harry! They’re always watching and working together!”
“Where are they?” Harry pushed back his matted hair and swallowed hard.
“Mrs. Dinnick? There you are!” The nurse who had rescued him earlier was now marching around the rose bushes. “You’re due for your medication.”
Immediately, the intelligence in Norma’s eyes faded.
The nurse held out her hand. “Come with me, dear. It’s time for your injection.”
Harry knew Norma’s mad act was coming. “Don’t, Norma!” His desperation mounted swiftly. “Who are these people?”
But the transformation was swift. Her face slackened, and her body slumped against his. The nurse helped her up, and Norma limped and swayed up the path after her. There was nothing he could do. Norma had raised the curtain just an inch, only enough for him to glimpse her shadowy world, where no one else could enter.
He stared at the huge roses looming grotesquely over him. In the lengthening shadows, the patients at the foot of the garden had grown to sinister proportions. And the damned crows were still circling! It seemed unnatural.
Alone, Harry climbed up the pathway. Norma would be lying down in a cool, dark room to receive her injection. Smiling docility would soon erase her shrewd intelligence along with any chance for further information. He knew he was on his own.
Dr. Robert Hawke sank into his bath at the King Edward Hotel. Although briefly amused by the pulsating jets of water, he soon turned them off to concentrate on the problems at hand.
Mildly annoyed, he called out, “Ronnie!” His voice rebounded within the confines of the huge tub. Gently swirling the mountains of suds about, he waited. No answer.Where can that woman be?
“Mrs. Deal?” he called, in a more formal tone.
The door opened, and a dark-haired woman looked in.
“What took you so long?” the doctor asked peevishly. “I waited, and then I had to run the bath myself.”
“Surely you want privacy, Robert.” Veronica Deal said from around the half-open door. She was a mature and highly capable personal assistant who anticipated the needs and catered to the whims of her employer. However, running baths for the able-bodied hardly seemed appropriate. Entering the bathroom, she studied herself in the mirror.
Hawke sat up straighter in the tub. Veronica averted her eyes.
“I was waiting for your report. Have you got a lead on Norma Dinnick?”
Veronica tensed. Her employer could become enraged, like a caged panther at the smell blood. “Not too much, yet. But Garth is—”
“You’re leaving this important matter to your brother, Garth?”
“He was at her apartment building this morning. It’s vacant and there’s a “for sale” sign on the lawn.”
As Hawke sank further into the tub, his flaccid jowls bobbed above the soapsuds. She avoided his penetrating blue eyes. She knew her attraction, which, although definitely not sexual, was completely ridiculous. The man was physically repulsive, yet even naked in his bath, power radiated from him. Some force—it was not love or desire—drew her inexorably to his very core. His scientific work was supremely important. Hope for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease rested upon his clinical trials. Sometimes, she felt like a deer frozen in the headlights.
Hawke swirled the washcloth in the water above his chest and spoke mildly. “Perhaps Garth should start looking for her in nursing homes.”
“He already has, Robert.”
“Good! Then, while you’re at it, you might call the real estate office and find out if a lawyer is handling the sale.”
Hawke blew a handful of suds in the air. “Ah, very good, Mrs. Deal. And who might he be?”
“Harold Jenkins. He’s on the listing agreement as her legal guardian.”
“Aha! Excellent. Full marks!” He smiled up at her. “Hand me the soap, will you?”
Veronica grimaced. “Where is it?”
“Somewhere in the tub, near my foot.”
Pulling up her sleeve, she dove her hand into the water. “Actually, Garth is very good at tracking people down.”
Hawke smiled slyly. “Loyalty is a fine trait, my dear. Your brother needs all the encouragement he can get.” Paddling his fingers on the surface of the water, he continued, “By the way, Ronnie, was there any trouble at the Dinnick house?”
She handed him the soap. “Certainly not! I’ve discussed the job thoroughly with him.”
“Good, my dear.” His face darkened. “You know, Ronnie, I tolerate Garth’s limited abilities simply for your sake. I know what a burden he must be.”
“Thank you, Robert,” she said quietly.
Soaping his arms and chest, the doctor spoke irritably. “Norma Dinnick is the obstacle.” Then his bow like mouth pursed and tightened into a hard, straight line. “That wretched miscreant! She stands in the way of money desperately needed for medical research.” Angrily, he kicked at the soap, making the water slosh over the edge of the tub.
“I know, Robert.” Veronica spoke soothingly. “Stealing the money from Mr. Pappas proves she has no conscience or moral fiber whatsoever.”
In disgust, the doctor slapped the washcloth on the water. “Just think, Ronnie! If we’d had that money from the start, millions of minds would have been saved. At the very least, Alzheimer’s would be just another chronic, controllable condition.” He struggled to stand. Swiftly, Veronica turned away.
“Get me my robe!” he demanded.
She held the thick, white robe out to him. She glimpsed his albino skin, covered with masses of freckles and red hair. Unable to bear such exposure, she closed her eyes.
He fumed, “By God! We’ll track that Dinnick woman down. That fraud will regret she ever crossed my path.”
Veronica hurriedly turned her back as he tossed on the robe. Her employer’s moods pitched from frenzied summits of success onto jagged rocks of despair. She was weary of trying to steer him clear of the precipice.
Tying the robe around himself, he waved dismissively at her. “I shall dress now, Mrs. Deal.”
Veronica nodded. “I’ll prepare your notes for the meeting with Dr. Tasker.”
“When is he coming?” Hawke patted his face in the mirror.
“At two o’clock.” Veronica hurried from the room.
Robert entered the dressing room overlooking the portico of the hotel’s main entrance. Glancing out the window, he wrinkled his nose. Toronto! Godforsaken provincial backwater, he fussed. Engrossed in choosing his wardrobe, he decided upon his purple, velvet suit and cream shirt and tie. After viewing his attire from every angle in the triptych of mirrors, he went into the bedroom. Mrs. Deal was nowhere to be seen. That Norma Dinnick, he thought, is a truly wicked soul!
In the lobby of the King Edward, Dr. Brian Tasker straightened his tie and smoothed the strands of hair across his forehead. The gleaming brass doors of the elevator reflected his smiling face and the banks of flowers behind him on the hall tables. Years of hard work in administration at the Queen Mary Hospital had brought him to this meeting with Dr. Hawke. He, the chief administrator, was about to bring revolutionary research to the hospital. Rumors of a Nobel Prize for Hawke’s work had been whispered. With a cure for Alzheimer’s on the horizon, huge sums of money were at stake. Tasker wanted in.
The elevator took him to the penthouse suite. When he knocked, a handsome woman in her early forties answered the door.
“Dr. Tasker? I’m Veronica Deal, Dr. Hawke’s assistant. Please do come in.”
With her warm welcome, Tasker relaxed. Maybe someday, he could have his own personal assistant.
Mrs. Deal led him across the expanse of oak flooring and oriental rugs.
“Coffee, Dr. Tasker?” she asked, motioning him toward the chesterfield. Tasker nodded. “Dr. Hawke will be with us once he’s finished a few calls.” Pouring coffee from a silver carafe, she then handed him a cup, as he sat perched on the edge of the chesterfield. When she joined him, he could not prevent his eyes from lingering on her black-stockinged legs.
Mrs. Deal always set the stage for Dr. Hawke’s entrance. “Alzheimer’s is such a pernicious disease, isn’t it Dr. Tasker?”
“Pardon?” He recovered and sat up a little straighter. “Oh, yes indeed.”
“Considerable progress has been made at the Hawke Institute.” She leaned closer toward him. Eyes widening with excitement, she continued confidentially, “As we speak, new ground is being broken.”
“Really? There’s more than the initial reports?”
Mrs. Deal glanced over her shoulder. “Perhaps I’m letting the cat out of the bag, but….” She smiled conspiratorially. “They’ve had some very exciting results just in25
the last few days.”
“What sort of results?”
“I’m just in administration, Dr. Tasker, so I don’t really know.” She hesitated, and then continued. “Something to do with reversal of the effects of the disease. Even patients who have been afflicted for years…”
Tasker was breathless. “Regeneration?”
The door flew open. Dr. Robert Hawke entered and rushed to greet the chief of administration. He held out his hand. “How good of you to come, Dr. Tasker.”
Brian rose swiftly and shook the pudgy hand. “It’s a very special venture. The Queen Mary Hospital is delighted to be part of it. Are there new developments?”
Robert’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “My assistant has been filling you in?”
Veronica nodded sheepishly.
In hushed tones, Hawke said, “It’s all very new and confidential, Dr. Tasker. I trust I may rely upon your discretion?”
“Of course,” breathed Tasker.
“We are on the threshold of great things.” Hawke beamed.
“More test results?”
“Indeed! The two of us shall have lunch next week, and I will show you the latest reports.” Hawke relaxed into an armchair and smoothed his pant leg. “Well then, let’s get down to business.”
Tasker took out his notebook.
“I have a proposal for you, sir.”
“Yes?” Tasker took up his pen.
“The Hawke Institute wishes to conduct its clinical trials at your prestigious institution. For that privilege, we are prepared to fund a new wing for the hospital.” Hawke put his finger to his lips and stared at the ceiling. “I was thinking such a marvelous new facility might be called the Hawke-Tasker Geriatric Center for Research.”
Tasker was stunned. He had always dreamed of a permanent monument.
“What do you say?” He patted Tasker’s knee affectionately and then jumped up to pace. “Naturally, we have a few small requirements. The Hawke Institute must have complete control over the operation of the trials and the assessment and presentation of the results.”
Delighted, Tasker was still mulling over the proposed name. He smiled up at Dr. Hawke, poised above him. “Of course, several bodies must approve the conduct of the trials,” he said quietly.
Hawke stared down on him. His lips were rigidly pursed.
Tasker averted his eyes and continued with a short laugh. “Mostly bureaucratic details, which I’m sure, can be worked out.”
Robert Hawke relaxed. He clapped Tasker on the shoulder. “I have every confidence that a man of your leadership abilities will take care of them.” He resumed his seat. “Do you foresee any obstacles on the board?”
Brian fidgeted with his pen. The faces of Dr. Philip Glasser and his sidekick, Dr. Michael O’Hearn, rose before him. “Not that can’t be overcome,” he said at last.
Hawke stared at him for a moment. “Good!” he said.
Veronica Deal raised the silver carafe. “Some coffee, Dr. Tasker?”
Tasker shook his head. He was well aware that important medical research could be stalled. If the right people were not supportive, a worthy project might never see the light of day. A political battle lay ahead.
“If you encounter any problems with the board, please let me know.” Hawke stared out the window, and then said quietly, “My staff would want the opportunity to deal effectively with any objections.”
“Certainly, sir. I’m sure everything is open to discussion.”
“When is the next board meeting?”
“On Thursday at two.”
“Good. I’d like to invite the board, all the geriatric physicians, and any other staff you think appropriate to the St. Stephen’s Club for a drinks and a buffet on Thursday evening. Could you let Mrs. Deal know how many will come?”
“Certainly.” Tasker nodded at Veronica. “My secretary will be in touch no later than four tomorrow, if that suits?”
Veronica smiled in agreement.
Quiet settled over the room. The meeting was over. Tasker was ushered to the door. Not until he entered the downstairs lobby, did he give serious thought to handling the opposition that would undoubtedly form on the board.
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