Copyright 2014 by Stephen W. Hines
With the song “Tonight, Tonight” from West Side Story running through her head, Sarah rang Dr. Chutney’s doorbell. She had never seen his place before. Not a bad looking pad, she thought, as she stepped back to admire the Greco-Roman terracotta frieze that bordered the driveway, hydrangeas drooping over the esplanade.
The butler opened the door. “Please come in, Miss Samuels. Dr. Chutney is expecting you, as you may have realized. You will find the party on the patio, drinking. My name is Mackintosh. Could I get you a scotch? I think I’ll have one myself.”
Sarah hesitated. How could she let him know she didn’t drink? “Why no, thank you, I don’t drink while I’m off duty.”
She found the guests all cozily ensconced on the patio. There was an air of festivity about the gathering, but there was a note of uneasiness too. She wondered if the others sensed the nature of Dr. Chutney’s troubles. Were there other sensitive souls like herself at the gathering? Was he going to confide in them also? She decided to mingle with the gaily-strewn Chinese lanterns and the gaily strewn guests to find out more about this sense of unease she sensed.
She had not mingled more than a moment when she realized there was something strange, all right. Where was Dr. Chutney himself? He was not on the patio nor in the pool nor in the Jacaranda overhead. She sidled over to the patio doors and looked into the house itself.
At first, she couldn’t see anything. Then, as her eyes became adjusted to the light, she noticed the solitary figure of the Chief of Surgery standing by the fireplace. She went in and stood beside him in a moment of silent vitality. Their hands trembled electrically. Their eyes met, and for several sacred seconds they stared at one another–until their eyes watered. Finally, they averted their gaze and stared at the fireplace, which was unlit but interesting.
Sarah agonized in Dr. Chutney’s presence. He seemed so near, yet so far away. What she could do to break the spell she didn’t know. Then the phone rang.
Mackintosh answered it, and as he did so, his countenance changed from what it had been to something darker. He hurried to his master’s side, and as he whispered in the doctor’s ear, she saw Ransom’s face go white. As she glanced down to be sure she wasn’t standing on his foot, she heard him croak in a whisper, “Yes, tell him to come over. It can’t be avoided any longer. His condition has reached a crisis. Tell him–midnight.”
As the butler returned the phone to its cradle, Sarah saw Dr. Chutney pass both hands over his face. He was dripping wet and trembling. She could stand it no longer. Deciding that the direct approach was best, she took both of his hands in her own and in her tenderest voice said, “Dr. Chutney, dear, sweet, Dr. Chutney, won’t you tell me what is the matter? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”
Dr. Chutney allowed himself to be drawn away from the view of the patio doors and they sat down together on a love seat. After a moment’s struggle, during which Dr. Chutney seemed to throw caution to the wind, he said, “I have seen a ghost, Sarah. It’s my own! It is the ghost of a dreadful mistake I made that has haunted me relentlessly for some time now. I have committed a blunder, a surgical blunder, Miss Samuels. Yes, and now it has come back to haunt me! But before I go further with my confession, dear little one–for it is a confession I’m making–you must promise to help me.”
His voice rose. “You must promise to redeem me and my career from utter ruin!”