Right To Die - Jeremiah Healy (7 page)

BOOK: Right To Die - Jeremiah Healy
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"I meant, could Manolo be involved in this?"

"Manolo?" A laugh. "Manolo is like the
sun and the moon, John. He was devoted to Enrique, never left his
side."

"Manolo watched you inject your husband'?"

"Watched me with the needle, yes. Not with the
bottle."

"Manolo ever figure out that you killed your
husband?"

"John, Manolo is loyal, in the medieval sense of
the word. I'm sure that at some point Enrique signed to him that he
was always to serve me. After Enrique died, I packed to come back to
the States. So did Manolo. In his mind there was no question that
where I went, he went. A simple man, but not stupid. For example, if
you talk to him, you have to say the words out loud, not just mouth
them. Otherwise, Manolo can tell from the way your throat looks that
you're not really speaking, and he's hurt."

"How did you ever get him into the country'?"

"I was able to work things out with immigration
before the dam broke in Spain. Manolo has stayed on with me ever
since. I even got him a driver's license, but please don't ask how.
He has no place else to go and nothing else to do."

"How does your present husband feel about that?"

"Tuck?" Andrus seemed amused and affected a
southern accent. "Tucker Hebert rolls with the punches, John."
Resuming her voice, she said, "Nothing bothers him, which is a
refreshing attitude to share once in a while. Tuck gets along fine
with Manolo. Besides, Manolo was already a part of my household when
Tuck met me."

"At a tennis tournament?"

"At . . . ? Oh, no. Well, yes. I guess so. It
was at Longwood Cricket Club, where they hold the pro championships
out in Brookline? But he wasn't playing actively anymore."

"How does Tucker feel about your position on the
right to die?"

Andrus tented her fingers, rested her chin lightly on
the fingertips and rocked her head back and forth. "lf you'll be
working for me, you can ask him."

"You realize that I can't both bodyguard and
investigate at the same time."

"Manolo's presence is all the 'bodyguarding' I
can tolerate, John. Understand this, please. I didn't like the idea
of Inés and Alec going to the police precisely because of my
position on the right to die. It cannot look as though I can be
bullied by crank notes into playing turtle. I will not dilute one
aspect of my approach to the cause, including tonight's debate."

"Debate?"

"At the Boston Public Library. Three of us
extremists will go hand to hand in front of a slavering crowd."

"I'd like to see it."

"Fine." She softened a little. "Because
of what happened to me with Enrique's death, I will not be stopped
until what should happen morally is what can happen legally. However,
I think that having you investigate is not inconsistent with that
goal. I believe we understand each other, even if we don't agree."

"As long as you understand that if I do my job
right, the sender of these notes is going to realize you've hired me
to go after him."

"That's fine. Let him think about being the
target for a while. And, if you catch him, so much the better."

"I'll want a retainer of twelve hundred against
four hundred a day fee, plus expenses."

"Only three days worth up front? You think
you're that good?"

"No, but I think you're that rich you're good
for it."

"Inés has the checkbook."

"I'd also like to see some of your other hate
mail."

"Inés keeps an alphabetized file. Steel
yourself."

As I opened the door back into the anteroom, Manolo
was already on his feet, but this time facing a man about five feet
ten in a three-piece suit with lapels an inch out of fashion.
Fortyish, he had brown hair with a very narrow widow's peak and a
brown mustache, both hair and sideburns a little too long.

The man held a fat manila folder near Inés Roja's
nose as he dripped sarcasm. "With all the world's problems
preying on her mind, no doubt Professor Andrus merely forgot that
she's a member of the Long-Range Planning Committee."

"As I said, sir, I left a message for you that
the professor could not attend the meeting because of an emergency."

The man acknowledged me with a scowl. "A
pressing issue no doubt. 'Should we pull the plug on Grandmama now or
wait till after she's stood treat for lunch?' "

Roja said, "I will ask the professor to call you
as soon as possible."

"Yes, yes, you do that, Inés. I'll no doubt be
in the dean's office, discussing nonteaching faculty responsibilities
and how to assure them."

He turned and walked away, his toes splayed outward
like a duck's.

Manolo sat down.

Roja turned to me and said, "I am sorry."

"Who was that?"

"Professor Walter Strock."

"He usually come on that way?"

"He and the professor do not get along well."
More seriously, Roja said, "Is there anything I can do?"

"Write me a check for twelve hundred dollars so
I can start looking into the notes."

Her eyes lit up. "I will do it."

"I'd also like to see the other hate mail the
professor's gotten. You have a file?"

Roja nodded and moved to a tall metal cabinet. Taking
a key from the pocket of her suit jacket, she unlocked the top before
sliding out a drawer. "All these, alphabetic by the name of the
person or organization writing. Except the last folder, for the
unsigned ones."

I whistled through my bottom teeth. "You have a
box I could carry those in?"

"I can get a carton from the Xerox room."

"One other thing. This debate tonight?"

"You will attend?"

"What time is it?"

"Eight o'clock. At the Rabb Lecture Hall of the
Boston Public Library."

Time for dinner first with Nancy. "I can make
it."

"Good. Alec will be there too." She smiled
and blushed. "I am really glad now that we asked you to help."

"Don't be too sure, Inés. Your boss seems to
put her faith in the law."

"I would rather put my faith in people, John.
Meaning no disrespect to the professor?

As Roja said it, I realized that I couldn't seem to
call Andrus by her first name either.
 

=6=

"YES, WELL, NINA, I'M SURE YOU UNDERSTAND.”

"No, Professor Strock, frankly I don't."

I had told Inés Roja I'd be back for the files.
Searching for Walter Strock, I'd found him outside his office,
confronted by a pudgy, determined woman with a lumpy knapsack on her
back.

"Nina, there were many students interested in
being my research assistant, and well, there was only one slot open."

"But you announced in class that you'd be
weighing our exam grades heavily, and I got the highest grade on the
final."

"I certainly did weigh that factor, Nina, but I
weighed others as well." He gave her a funeral director's smile.
"I'm sorry."

"Yeah. Right. Thanks."

Nina seemed disgusted as she stomped by me, the
knapsack bonking the top of her rump.

Strock was entering his office when I said,
"Professor?"

He turned. "Yes?"

"I wonder if I could have a word with you?"

"I'm rather busy. Do I know you?"

"It's about Professor Andrus."

' "Ah, yes. The man she favored over her
institutional obligations."

"That's part of what I'd like to talk with you
about."

Strock looked me up and down,. tugging on an earlobe.
"For that, I always have time. Come in, come in."

His office stood in marked contrast to Andrus's
bombsite. A polished wooden desk was the centerpiece of the room,
several folders and books on it but not a paper out of place. One
wall was covered by plaques and framed documents, a couch like the
people eater in my landlord's condo nestling underneath them. The
other walls sported lowboy oak filing cabinets, Currier and Ives
hunting prints, and bookshelves. On the shelves stood trophies for
riflery and a statue of Star Wars' C3PO holding a sign saying MAY
DIVORCE BE WITH YOU. Two captain's chairs emblazoned with the
school's logo were arranged in front of the desk. I took one of them
as Strock sank into a judge's large swivel chair, swaying arrogantly.

"And you are?"

"John Cuddy, Professor." I nodded back
toward the door. "I sure hope I'm not catching you at a bad
time?"

"Bad . . . ? Ah, Nina. No, no, just one of many
disappointments she will suffer. In a mediocre career stretching long
and lonely in front of her."

A sweetheart, old Walter. "Professor, let me get
right to it. My lawyer is thinking of involving Professor Andrus on
this case I have, and . . ." I did my best to wring my hands.
"We1l, I have to keep this confidential."

"As you wish, but . . ."

"I wonder, I couldn't help but overhear you with
the professor's secretary — "

"Ah, the lovely Inés. Pity she's a bit frigid.
A Marielito, something to do with an incident on the boat coming over
from Castroland. Tried to help her talk it out once upon a time, but
she just won't open up."

I swallowed hard. "I've always believed, you
want to know about a person, first talk to somebody who doesn't like
them."

"Then you've come to the right place regarding
Dame Andrus, sir." Tilting his chair back, Strock entreated the
gods. "But where to begin, where to begin?"

"I thought you said something about her missing
committee assignments?"

"The tip of the iceberg. Maisy fancies herself a
latter-day Joan of Arc, you see. Believes that a faculty appointment
here is merely the springboard for her cause, her great crusade."

"Which is?"

"To turn the sick of this planet into creatures
with no more rights than an incontinent household pet."

"The right to die, you mean?"

"No, but that's how she'd phrase it for you."

"Aren't there 'living wills' or something now?"

"Yes, yes. The Supreme Court in the Cruzan case
validated the concept. About forty states have statutes on that,
allowing hospitals to withhold or withdraw heroic measures, even food
and water. Our own compassionate Commonwealth has no such statute
yet, but it doesn't matter much."

"Why not?"

"Because Massachusetts has a lot of case law on
termination of treatment, and even in the living-will states, only
ten percent of the citizens ever reach the stage of executing one."

"Sounds like you've made quite a study of it
yourself."

Strock preened the hair at his temples. "Only to
make the point, Mr .... ah, sorry?"

"Cuddy."

"Cuddy, yes, Cuddy. You see, Maisy doesn't teach
here to improve the hearts and minds of our students. She doesn't
give the proverbial rat's ass about whether they're minimally
competent to pass the bar examination and actually enter practice.
No, our Maisy cares only about her crusade."

"Then why does she bother to teach at all?"

"Not for the money, I assure you. Maisy's in
fine shape that way."

Strock pitched forward in his chair. "Do you
know how she came to have that money?"

I short-circuited a little. "My lawyer said her
husband died and left it to her."

Strock laughed meanly. "Ah, very good. I'd have
been proud to teach your lawyer, sir. He makes accurate statements
without telling the truth. A valued skill in an advocate. Her husband
died, all right, but she gave him about ten cc's of propulsion along
the way."

"She killed him?"

"The word I've heard her use is 'help.' She
helped him find the peace that comes with sleep a tad sooner than his
system otherwise dictated. Understand now. We're not talking about
pulling the plug on a machine that's maintaining some veggie. We're
talking murder."

"Like that Michigan doctor and the 'suicide
machine'?"

"Not exactly. The doctor merely designed a
machine for that unfortunate Alzheimer's patient to use. Aiding and
abetting a suicide, so to speak. Maisy went way beyond that. She gave
her husband a fatal dose, and still gets to inherit from him.
Outrageous, no?

"Yes. And that's not the half of it. There was
some incredible scandal in Spain — that's where all this happened.
Some prosecutor got bribed, poor bastard blew his head off, I think.
But Maisy enjoys the dead don's money, and thanks to our revered
dean, she gets to teach the courses she wants at the times she wants
to, curriculum and schedule and the rest of us be damned."

"Why is that?"

"Not for the reason you'd think. No, our Maisy
is oh-so-happily married to some tennis has — been she wouldn't
think of spreading them for anything so crass as professional
advancement. You see, the dean is sitting in his chair around the
corner because she turned it down."

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