LAST CHANCE

By 3tate4lace All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Other

Chapter 6

In the general sense Cardinal Marin was an easygoing man, not given to fits of road rage, deadline-inducing stress, or even bothered much by waiters who would rather chat with kitchen staff than refill his coffee cup. So he was surprised that he found himself tapping his fingers on his knee and checking his wristwatch as he sat in Dr. Eli Burnette’s waiting room. His appointment had been scheduled for two forty five, and the clock on the office wall was now approaching three forty.

The three patients who had been in the waiting room when he arrived had already come and gone, and since the receptionist behind her protective shield of double bulletproof glass was so busy reading the current issue of People magazine hadn’t looked out into the room for the last thirty minutes, chances were that she’d most likely forgotten him. Letting out a huff that rivaled the Big Bad Wolf, he rose, went to the window, and rapped sharply on the glass.

Cardinal Marin was pleased that the receptionist’s startle reflex was in working order, as she literally shrieked and dropped her magazine. “Jesus Ch… Oh, excuse me, I didn’t mean…I mean, I’m sorry. Can I help you?”

Trying hard to keep a straight face, he said, “Yes, I’m Cardinal Marin. I’ve an appointment with Dr. Burnette. It was for two forty five.”

She looked down at the appointment book and up at the clock, then down at the book again and up at the cardinal. “Just a moment please.” Then she jumped out of her chair and sped down the hall.

After a minute or two, she returned, and when she did she came through the door to the waiting room. “Cardinal Marin, if you’ll come this way, please. The doctor is waiting for you.” She led him down a short hallway to the last door on the right and indicated that he should step inside.

As he did, she retreated, and a tall, sunburned man with graying, dark hair stood up from behind the desk and held out his hand. “Sorry to keep you waiting. I’m Eli Burnette. How do you do? Please, have a seat.”

“No trouble at all. I’m Cardinal Paul Marin, of the Office of the Holy See in the Vatican. I’m here on official business, which I believe my secretary mentioned when she made the appointment. I’d like to ask you some questions about your patient, Mr. Alex Khirshon.”

“Red or Dead?”

“Pardon?”

“Office of the Holy Sea. Red Sea or Dead Sea? Get it?”

“Ah, yes, actually. It’s pretty funny the first twenty or thirty times. I guess I missed it this time because I’m so jetlagged; been up for, let’s see now” he looked at his watch and did some mental calculations “going on about thirty-six hours now.”

“I see. Well, you have my sympathy. I haven’t kept those kinds of hours since I did my residency. I barely remember those years. So, what can I tell you about Alex? By the way, he came in and signed a release. Told me I could tell you or anybody else anything they wanted to know. I thought that was kind of odd.”

“Dr. Burnette, I’m investigating claims of miraculous healings - miracles. Mr. Khirshon claims that after he prayed with Father Cass Radnaezewski, his Parkinson’s disease was cured. So, what can you tell me about that? Did he have Parkinson’s? Does he have Parkinson’s now? If not, how and why not? That’s pretty much the whole thing.”

“Those are pretty straightforward questions. Okay, Alex came to me about eight months ago complaining of tremors in his left arm, particularly while at rest. In addition he experienced rigidity and aching muscles and a reduced arm swing on the left side while walking. These were pretty classic Parkinson’s symptoms, and I treated him with the usual early stage treatment, which is Ropinirole. Levodopa is usually recommended, but since Alex is under the age of sixty, Ropinirole should be the first choice. “

“Levodopa…that would be a dopamine derivative?”

“Yes. I’m impressed, Cardinal. You do your homework, don’t you?”

“Not really. One of the reasons I was placed in the Office of the Holy See is because before I went to seminary, I received my masters degree in chemistry from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. We are encouraged to use the gifts that God gave us, Doctor.”

“A scientist who is a priest, or a priest who is a scientist?”

“Does it really matter?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Please, go on about Mr. Khirshon.”

“Well the medication helped some, but his symptoms, though initially improved, after a short time became worse and included bradykinesia. I’m sorry, that means very slow, limited movement, particularly when moving from a still position such as sitting or lying down. He also developed problems with balance. His wife told me that he used to walk to his church - apparently the church is only three blocks from their home - but now he just couldn’t even manage that short walk anymore.

So, I added Levodopa, along with the Ropinirole, which should definitely cause some symptomatic improvement.”

“And did it?”

“Definitely. In fact, I think I should have started with the Levodopa, because he responded much better. In fact the results were remarkable.”

“I see. And how is he now?”

“You mean, is he cured, does he have Parkinson’s disease?”

“I suppose I do. What do you think?”

“If you ask Mr. Khirshon, he will tell you that he’s fine now. He’s able to walk to church; he no longer has tremors in his left arm. He’s able to get up and down easily now. If he were examined by another neurologist, he would probably get a clean bill of health.”

“But does he have Parkinson’s disease?”

“That’s an interesting question.”

“Why is that an interesting question, Dr. Burnette?”

“It’s an interesting question for a number of reasons. First of all, I’ve never seen a patient respond to any medication so successfully. He is completely symptom-free. Secondly, I’ve never seen Parkinson’s disease cured, ever, because there is no cure. Thirdly, Alex Khirshon is still filling his script for Levodopa, though not for the Ropinirole, even though he claims that he’s been cured; and fourth, well never mind fourth.”

“What’s fourth?”

“I don’t believe in God, so I don’t believe in miracles. Maybe I made a mistake, and he never had Parkinson’s. Maybe it was something else, something I’d never seen before. I just don’t know, and that bothers me.”

“Then, we have something in common.” Cardinal Marin shook his head. “Thanks a lot for all your time. I’m most appreciative.”

“No trouble at all. If you ever find an answer, let me know.” He shook the cardinal’s hand and showed him out.

Back on the elevator the cardinal reached in his pocket and pulled out a business card in order to double check the suite number for Dr. Ethan Jantz, then pushed the button for the ninth floor. He had just enough time to make his appointment, scheduled for four fifteen. Off the elevator, he followed the wall signs down an enormously long hall that finally led to another wing of the building, eventually leading him, breathless and panting, to suite 9311 and the office of Dr. Jantz, Mrs. Emily Scanlon’s oncologist.

Unlike Dr. Burnette’s office, the experience in Dr. Jantz’ office was completely different. As he opened the door, he was met by a stunning red-haired woman dressed simply in a black suit trimmed in charcoal grey that had the effect of making her appear as if she just stepped off the catwalk. “Cardinal Marin? Hi, my name is Sue Campbell, I’m Dr. Jantz’ personal assistant. I’ve been instructed to bring you in to him as soon as you arrived. You seem out of breath. Are you all right? Can I get you anything, a glass of water, a coffee?”

“Uh, no, I’m fine. The walk was longer than I expected and I was rushing.”

“Very well. Then follow me and I’ll take you to the doctor. Right this way.”

The cardinal followed Ms. Campbell down a long carpeted hallway, then left down another long hallway, then right and into the first door on the left into a large corner office. She showed him to a comfortable chair in front of a large oak desk and looked confused as her eyes scanned the room in obvious search of Dr. Jantz. “He was here just a minute ago. I’m sure he’ll be right back. I’ll find him and let him know that you’re here.” She turned and left, closing the door on her way out.

The few minutes of solitude gave the cardinal a chance to look around the office without supervision, and what he saw surprised him. The room’s walls were covered with photographs of people, probably patients, he thought, of all ages. From children to perhaps middle age, and what they all had in common was that they were all smiling. Were these pictures of successes? He wondered. He hoped so. If these pictures were a testament to how well cancer treatment was working, what an encouraging story they told. He had thought that a visit to an oncologist would, just because of the subject, be somewhat inherently depressing. Perhaps not.

On the tail end of this thought the door opened and a small man, possibly five feet five, one hundred fifty pounds entered. He had a full head of black hair and eyes so brown they were nearly black. But as diminutive in size as he was, his voice removed the perception of a small man as soon as he spoke. He had the voice of an operatic baritone, that boomed and bounced around the room. “Ahh, Cardinal Marin, I presume. I’m Ethan Jantz. Good to meet you, good to meet you. Can I offer you anything? Coffee, tea, a soda, perhaps?”

“No, that won’t be necessary, Doctor. If we could just talk a bit, that would be all that I need.”

“Of course. Yes. Let me see, Sue has pulled a file for me. It’s here somewhere among this bit of chaos I call a desk. I’ll put my finger on the darn thing in just a moment. Let me see now, ahh…here it is. Yes I’ve got it now. Yes, Emily Scanlon.” He sat, opened the file, and paged through, stopping when he came to the last couple of pages, reading carefully through those. When he finished, he looked up at the cardinal. “Yes, I can see why you’re here.”

“Can you? And why would that be?”

“Well, there’s no way to mince words here. Emily Scanlon came to me with fourth-stage ovarian cancer. There is no mistake about that. We ran the tests three times, used two labs, which the patient requested. The results were the same each time. And now, she is completely cancer-free. Gone. No cancer. Clean. She’s absolutely fine.”

“Did you treat her at all?”

“Yes, we did. Mrs. Scanlon is only sixty-one years old. Although I explained to her that with the advanced stage of her cancer, surgery probably wouldn’t help, she opted to have a radical hysterectomy. But even after the surgery, the cancer had clearly metastasized to her liver and was spreading.”

“So what was your next course of action?”

“My personal choice would have been to make her comfortable. But she chose a full and painfully difficult course of chemotherapy. That was in June. The results were exactly what I thought they would be. The chemotherapy slowed the cancer down slightly, but that was all.”

“Then what happened?”

“Well, that’s where things got a bit strange. She came to see me in September. She said she wanted me to test her to see how bad the cancer was, to ‘just see,’ she said. I didn’t see any sense, but I went ahead and did as she asked. The results were amazing. She had improved.”

“Did you tell her that?”

“I didn’t want her to get her hopes up, so I told her to come in again, that I wanted to retest her. We scheduled the tests for the first week in October. When she came in, she looked wonderful, better than I’d ever seen her. We ran the tests, and when I read the results, I nearly fell out of my chair. She was in total remission. There wasn’t any cancer anywhere.”

“I see.”

“But I don’t. Remission doesn’t happen like this, and certainly never with fourth-stage ovarian cancer. But then again, that’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“Not a miracle?”

“A miracle? I don’t want to offend you, Cardinal Marin, and I’m the first one to believe that positive thinking, prayer, visualization, and all of those things can be part of helping the patient to get well. But I think each of those things in concert with modern medicine creates a positive outcome, not just one or the other. No, I think what must have happened is Emily Scanlon’s body got lucky. The chemo - which if you want to get technical we know works but not absolutely exactly how - along with prayer and positive thinking, and maybe even her believing in miracles, maybe all of these things together put her into remission.”

“So you can’t say, without prejudice, that Emily Scanlon was healed of her cancer by a miracle?”

“I’m a doctor, a scientist, and incidentally a Catholic, Cardinal Marin. But I can’t honestly say that I believe that Emily Scanlon was healed by a miracle. I’m sorry, I just can’t.”

“I see. Well, you’re definitely making my job a lot easier, Doctor Jantz. May I ask you one more question?”

“Certainly.”

“These pictures on your walls, are they all patients? Are they all success stories?”

Dr. Jantz looked around the room at all the pictures, but a smile didn’t appear on his face. “No, cardinal not the successes. These are pictures of my patients who didn’t survive. Pictures that were taken early on in treatment, when there was still hope. These are the pictures that keep me going, the faces that make me keep trying to help the ones that will come after them. These are the ones I will never forget.”

“You know, Doctor, we frail humans forget something important. Asking God for forgiveness is easy, but it is much more difficult when we are asking forgiveness of ourselves. Perhaps that is something you should consider. This is a weight you should not have to carry.”

“You may be right, but have I the right to forgive myself, when I couldn’t save them?”

“It is not up to you when life begins or ends, that is ultimately left to God. Do not get caught up in confusing what you do with who you are. Life and death are not yours to give or take.”

“In the business I’m in, that is sometimes difficult to remember. We pull so many back from death and grant so many extra time…”

“Perhaps, or perhaps not. So much of life is an illusion. Perhaps you would be better off to try to determine what is and isn’t real. Particularly where life and death are concerned.”

“You’ve certainly given me some things to ponder Cardinal. I’ve enjoyed your visit. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“No, I think you’ve been most forthcoming. If I think of anything else, may I call you?”

“Certainly. Anytime. You have my number. If there are any records you need, Mrs. Scanlon signed a release, so there’s no problem there. And Sue will be happy to get you anything you need.”

“Alright, thank you.”

They both stood and shook hands before Cardinal Marin exited the office and found his way back out to the waiting room. Once there he asked the receptionist if she would mind calling a taxi for him, and once done he made his way down to the elevator and outside to the street to wait for his ride. After a ten minute wait the cab arrived. He got in and told the driver to take him to his hotel. “The Omni in Dearborn please, 600 Town Center Drive.”

The ride to the hotel took about thirty-five minutes, with what was left of Detroit’s rush-hour traffic. But even with the distraction of the continuous jostling and bouncing of the cab, the driver doing his best to deal with I-94’s notorious potholes and generally bad roads, the cardinal was surprised when they pulled up in front of his hotel. His mind had been so busy going over the previous few hours the ride seemed to take only minutes. He paid the driver, tipping him judiciously, and got out.

Earlier that morning when the cab finally arrived at St. Florian’s rectory, he’d been deep in conversation with Mrs. Cleary. So instead of leaving then, he’d asked the driver to take his luggage to the hotel for him and have them hold it until he checked in later. He was irked to have to pay the driver ten dollars to seal the deal in addition to paying the fare, but he had wanted to hear absolutely everything that Mrs. Cleary had to say. So he bit the bullet and forked over the cash. His instincts had been right. Mrs. Cleary had given him an earful and more.

As he walked into the hotel, the muscles in his face relaxed and the juices in his stomach jumped to attention. To say that the lobby was dramatic was a bit of an understatement. Soaring, rectangular pillars circled the room and pulled one’s eyes up to a subtly lit atrium. The lobby itself seemed to go on forever, with plenty of small conversation areas furnished with comfortable brown velvet armchairs and beige leather sofas. In the center of the room banking a square pillar that reached more than two stories was a stainless steel planter that held four full-sized live palm trees. The cardinal estimated that they each stood at least twenty-feet, from planter to top.

Even more amazing was the savory and tantalizing scents that were assaulting his nose and salivary glands with every step he took. Someplace nearby was food, good food, and his stomach would soon be staging a major coup if he didn’t find that food and quickly. Reception was straight ahead, and Cardinal Marin headed straight for the auburn-haired woman in the smartly tailored blue jacket, to which a not discreet pin, exclaiming ‘OMNI – RESERVATIONS’ was attached to her lapel.

“Excuse me? Madam, if you please. I’d like to check in.”

“Yes, sir do you have a reservation?”

“I’m Cardinal Marin from the Vatican. I believe you have a suite for me. My luggage was delivered this morning.”

“Yes, sir. Let me just check…Ah it’s right here. Now if you would just sign here, and here. This is your key. You’ll be in Suite 1412, and Michael can take you up. We’ll have your luggage brought up shortly.”

“Thank you. However, if you could tell me where your restaurant is, I am in dire need of dinner.”

“Of course, Cardinal. The restaurant is just that way and up the escalator, but we’re hosting a convention at the hotel right now. So if you’ll give me just a moment, I’ll call the restaurant and see if they have a table available.” She picked up the phone, pressed a couple of numbers, spoke for a minute, and then put her hand over the phone. “They have a table available at seven thirty, would that be all right?”

Cardinal Marin’s stomach rumbled as the numbers on his watch read six oh one. “I don’t think I can wait until seven thirty. Are there any other places in the hotel to eat?”

“Thanks anyway, Henry, but no.” She hung up the phone. “Well, there’s Perks Coffee Shop, which is at the other end of the lobby. They’re open until eleven, and they have a pretty large menu for a coffee shop and you don’t need a reservation.”

“Perfect. Thank you, my dear, you’ve been very helpful.” For a portly man, the cardinal spun around with a grace worthy of a prima ballerina and headed for the coffee shop.

By eight thirty the man had consumed a cup of broccoli soup, two chocolate éclairs, one blueberry muffin, a slice of coconut crème cake, and three egg, bacon, and cheese croissant sandwiches, which they usually stopped making at noon. He also knew the entire personal history of Tiffany Fennell, the young lady who worked the afternoon shift at Perks. She had two brothers, one sister, was attending Henry Ford Community College part time, still lived at home, and was a lapsed Catholic. The cardinal had learned a long time ago that listening and getting to know people was a great way to get more out of them, like information - and breakfast sandwiches.

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