by Joe Zabel
It was a fashionable restaurant in downtown Wausau. At 10 AM, it was almost empty. Kathy sat in the lobby, reading the newspaper and waiting.
When Dr. Hollister stepped through the door, Kathy got up and shook hands with him.
'I'm awfully sorry I'm late,' he said. 'We've been doing a live feed from New Orleans, and they had trouble getting the signal.'
'That's alright, Doctor,' said Kathy. She held up the newspaper. 'I brought my work with me.'
The receptionist seated them and they ordered coffee. 'This is a nice out-of-the-way place,' said Hollister pleasantly.
'I picked it because I wanted to avoid being seen with you-- before the announcement, that is.'
Hollister smiled ironically. 'I leave it in your hands to manage any negative feedback.'
'Good. Now I wanted to start by addressing your background. You received your degree from the Abbott College of Medical Practices?'
'That's right,' said Hollister, somewhat tight-lipped.
'Do they have a nice campus there?'
'I've never visited their campus. I took all the courses by correspondence.'
'Any favorite teacher you kept in touch with after graduation?'
Hollister steepled his fingers and explained patiently. 'I had no individual teachers; the lessons were graded by a pool of qualified personnel. And to get to the point of your questions, I am not the product of a traditional education. When I obtained my degree, I was already knee-deep in helping people with my techniques and my ministry. Having an 'M.D.' on the back of my name may have opened some doors for me, but I'd already acquired more knowledge in the real world than any college can teach in a lifetime!'
Kathy nodded. 'Yes... Doctor, what medical institutes have you previously been affiliated with?'
'I've been with the Center for Active Realization for twelve years.'
'But that's an organization you founded. I'm talking about...'
'We've employed a number of licensed practitioners there,' said Hollister.
'But the Center itself was never certified as a medical institution.'
'Because it doesn't need to be!'
Kathy explained, 'I guess the issue is VISR's certification. Because that's the most substantive concern of the staff. They're certain the State Board of Review will have a very negative reaction to the hiring.'
Hollister chuckled. 'You don't understand. Let me lay it out for you.
'The Board of Review will conduct a hearing for VISR in January. But the profile they'll be using is based on data collected in October. So VISR's precious certification is safe up to that point. With the publicity we're going to be generating, they'll probably call for a second review; but won't reconsider the matter until July.
'If they don't like the new profile, they can issue a warning and outline areas we have to correct. That gives us an additional six months before they'll consider decertifying.'
Hollister gestured to Kathy. 'Of course, it's your job to hold them off as long as possible, and to soften the blow to our reputation if decertification eventually occurs.'
Kathy was wholly taken aback by Hollister's radical assumptions. 'Doctor, in my polling, I found that from sixty to eighty percent of the staff would resign if certification ever came into question. Those who know your work would resign immediately and would be pretty vocal about out. We'd be down to a skeleton crew, and wouldn't be able to meet any of our commitments! I can hardly imagine HOW we're going to put a good face on it the Institute virtually ceases to exist!'
Hollister smiled confidently. 'VISR will maintain full staffing levels. Someone like your Dr. Yang, what is his annual salary? A hundred K or more? There are scores of qualified researchers who'd work for a tenth of that, just for the privilege of working with me!'
'I don't know if I can go along with that, Doctor.'
'Suit yourself,' said Hollister. 'Eventually, your office function can be replaced by a website and a 1-800 number with a recorded message, telling supporters where to send donations. The only problem will be making sure we have enough lines to handle the traffic!' Hollister shrugged his shoulders self-confidently.
At a quarter to 12, two secretaries entered Kathy's office.
'Hi Carol, Estelle,' said Sally. 'Kathy's not in right now.'
'That's ok-- we came to talk to you!' said Estelle.
'Yeah,' said Carol. 'How's it going, anyway?'
'It's going great. I think I'm getting the hang of it, and Kathy's really nice to work for!'
'It must keep you busy, correcting all her mistakes,' said Estelle. 'Have you found a place yet?'
'I've been looking,' said Sally. 'Kathy and I are going to stop by an apartment house tonight, over in the West district.'
'Oh, you don't want to live down there!' said Carol. 'We can help you steer clear of the bad neighborhoods.'
'Yeah, well, I'd appreciate it,' said Sally uncertainly.
'Anyway,' Estelle announced, 'we stopped by to invite you to lunch. There's a Chinese place we've been dying to try, and we thought you'd like to join us.'
'I, well, I was going to lunch with Kathy and Margo today-- could I take a rain check?'
Estelle looked at Carol, who smiled. 'Sure,' said Estelle to Sally, 'Maybe next week some time.'
'See ya!' said Carol.
The two secretaries left the office. Out of earshot of Sally, Estelle said, 'Lucky Kathy. It must be nice to have a pet!'
Both women laughed.
It was a quarter after twelve when Sally glanced at the clock. She kept busy filing clippings while she was waiting for Kathy or Margo to show up. The wait was making her edgy.
An attractive middle-aged woman walked into the office. 'Good morning,' said Sally. 'May I help you?'
'I don't have an appointment... the guards were kind enough to let me in...' The woman seemed embarrassed and confused.
'Yes?' inquired Sally, gently.
'Is this were Jen Marriott used to work?' asked the woman.
'Yes, it is,' said Sally, taken aback.
'The police got in touch with me and explained what happened... They filled me in on Jen's LIFE here in Wisconsin... We'd been out of contact, you see. Estranged...'
'I don't understand,' said Sally.
'I'm her mother,' said the woman.
'Oh,' said Sally.
The woman looked around the office, as if at a loss for what else to say.
'I'm sorry,' added Sally.
'Thank you,' said the woman. 'I'm just trying to find out what I can.'
'I'm... I never met her. My boss, Kathy Swanson, worked with her. She should be back soon, I was expecting her.'
'I don't want to disrupt her busy day,' said the woman. 'If I could just have her card, to call her later.'
'I'm sure she'd want to speak to you,' said Sally, giving the woman a business card.
'We kept a box,' said Sally. 'It has a few of her personal things. I'm sure you can have them.'
'I can?' asked the woman.
Sally went to the supply cabinet and pulled a small box from the top shelf. The woman opened it and went through the contents.
'Thank you,' she said.
A thought occurred to Sally. 'There were lots of pens and things left in the desk,' she said. 'I don't think anybody stopped to think about them.' She dug into her desk drawer and brought out a fistful of pens and laid them out on the desk.
The woman picked up one of the pens, a silver metal one with a golden flower and stem engraved in the barrel. She placed it in the box.
'Thank you,' she said again.
She turned to leave. Sally lifted her hand. She tentatively reached out, as if intending to touch the woman's shoulder.
Then Sally let her arm drop again to her side. She looked after as the woman left the office.