Chapter One, from The Doctor and the Dead Man's Chest:
Dr. Fenimore had set this day aside to clean out his office files, and he was making good progress. Mrs. Doyle, his nurse-secretary-office manager, had been after him for years to clean out his father's file drawers, but he had always come up with some excuse. Immediately after his father's death, he had pleaded that it was too depressing. But, as the years rolled on, he had to admit, it was sheer laziness. Today, however, he was proud of himself. It was barely ten a.m. and he had already reached the letter "F." While perusing a folder labeled "Favorite Quotations," (He would have filed it under "Q," as--"Quotations, Favorite."), he had come across a quote that especially appealed to him. It appealed to him so much, in fact, that he planned to ask Mrs. Doyle to type it up and he would frame it and hang it over his desk. The author of the quote was Thomas Jefferson, no less. And the part Fenimore liked was:
The physician is happy in the attachment of the families in which he practices. All think he has saved some one of them, and he finds himself everywhere a welcome guest, a home in every house.
(A bit out of date in an age of "managed care," he mourned. But the next phrase still applied.)
If, to the consciousness of having saved some lives, he [the physician] can add that of having at no time, from want of caution, destroyed the boon he was called on to save, he will enjoy, in age, the happy reflection of not having lived in vain.
bit awkward from the creator of the Declaration of Independence. Nevertheless,
it summed up nicely Fenimore's modest ambitions--to have done some good,
little harm, and not have lived in vain. Fenimore slipped the quote out
of the folder and laid it on his desk for Mrs. Doyle to type later.
Speak of the devil.
"There's a man to see you. A Mr. Detweiler."
"No. He said he was a lawyer."
Fenimore felt a small shock of alarm. In these days of excess litigation, even doctors with a clear conscience feared a representative of the law. He hoped no one was suing him. If they were, it would be a first. "Well, send him in," Fenimore said.
Mrs. Doyle ushered in a tall, lean man in a rumpled suit. With his shock of black hair, scrawny neck and prominent Adam's apple (which was working overtime), he reminded Fenimore strongly of Abraham Lincoln. He wondered if the lawyer deliberately cultivated the likeness or just fell into it naturally. After the initial handshake and settling into chairs, Fenimore asked, "What can I do for you, Mr. Detweiler?"
"This visit is more about what we can do for you," the lawyer said, pleasantly. "I represent a former patient of yours. A Miss Smith."
Fenimore raised an eyebrow. Surely the man saw the humor in this. "I've had a number of patients named Smith."
"A Miss Reebesther Smith?"
Fenimore smiled. "I've had only one Reebesther Smith." He remembered Reebesther Smith fondly. Her unfortunate name was the result of two well-meaning parents trying to please both sides of the family by naming their only child after both grandmothers--Rebecca and Esther. "Reebesther" was the unfortunate result. But Reebesther had borne her name well, made no
effort to change it, not even adopting a nickname.
"Miss Smith..." The lawyer rummaged, at length, through a shabby portfolio and drew out a legal document. "Miss Smith," he repeated, "has bequeathed to you a gift of real estate. But you may only claim it if you agree to certain conditions."
Fenimore was beginning to feel as if he had stepped into a Victorian novel, or, at least, a very early detective story. "I must say, I'm surprised," he said. "Miss Smith was a fine patient and a good friend, but I never expected..."
Abraham Lincoln raised a raw, bony hand. "Nevertheless, Miss Smith thought very highly of you and decided that you were the only person capable of carrying out her wishes."
Fenimore waited expectantly.
The lawyer cleared his throat, causing the Adam's apple to bob anew, and began:
"I, Reebesther Banks Smith, hereby bequeath to Andrew B. Fenimore, M.D., fifty acres of the finest New Jersey..."
Fenimore leaned forward.
Fenimore slumped back.
"...with the proviso that he will preserve said acres in their natural state for as long as he shall live, and when he dies, bequeath said acres to a person or persons whom he trusts to preserve them in the same manner into perpetuity..."
Mr. Detweiler glanced up to see how the doctor was taking the news.
Fenimore returned his gaze as calmly as possible.
"In return for his conscientious stewardship," the lawyer continued,"Dr Fenimore will be provided with monies for yearly maintenance and taxes for said land..."
Fenimore was stayed by the bony hand.
"And, in addition, he will receive a treasure map..."
"...bequeathed to me by my husband, Horace Matlack Smith, on which is marked the location of a considerable cache believed to have been buried by pirates, during the early 1800s. Being well provided for, myself, I had no occasion to pursue this venture. But, if Dr. Fenimore decides to, I believe his efforts will not go unrewarded. He has my blessing.
Reebesther Banks Smith, May 20, 1999
Again, Fenimore started to speak.
Again, the lawyer stopped him. "There is a postscript." He read: "I am only
sorry I cannot join the hunt.'"
Mr. Detweiler handed over the document. Fenimore examined it briefly. It looked authentic enough. And it seemed in character with the patient Fenimore remembered. She was a woman of great dignity who also had a fondness for the
absurd. He thought Reebesther was probably having a grand time observing his discomfiture from above, right now.
"Well?" said the lawyer.
"Well what?" asked the doctor.
"Will you agree to her conditions?"
Fenimore scanned his little office, crowded with files, papers, journals and medical books. "I've been wishing for more space," he said," but I never imagined it would take the form of marshlands."
Apparently Mr. Detweiler did not share Lincoln's sense of humor. With no change of expression, he rose and put out his hand. "I will send you another document tomorrow in which my client lists her instructions for the care and
preservation of the property."
"And the map?" Fenimore prompted.
" Of course--and the map."
Fenimore rose and accompanied the Mr. Detweiler to the door. On his way out the lawyer nodded to the nurse.
The nurse nodded back.
The door had barely closed behind him before Mrs. Doyle was out of her chair. "What was that all about?"
Fenimore surveyed her cooley. "You are now looking at the proud owner of fifty acres..."
Mrs. Doyle gasped.
"... of New Jersey marshlands."
Her face fell.
"Now, now, I haven't finished. On which there is buried a pirate's treasure."
"Worth many millions..."
Her eyes narrowed. "But you have to find it."
"Don't be a spoilsport, Mrs. Doyle. The hunt is half the fun. And I have a map. Or I will have in a day or two."
"And exactly what is the meaning of that unpleasant noise?"
She shook her head. "Sounds like a fairy tale to me."
"Well, as we all know, fairy tales have happy endings." He smiled complacently.
"Some of those German ones were pretty Grimm!" she cackled.
"You're a great wit, Mrs. Doyle. " He retreated to the seclusion of his inner office where he could contemplate his new found fortunes in peace.
[ check out the Doctor Jo Banks Mystery Series ]
©2003 Robin Hathaway