Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

February 10, 2011

They’re Just Like Us

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 7:28 am

He was assigned by an out-of-town agency to work with us just one day a week, but the big, balding Teddy Bear who came to the office every Tuesday had quickly charmed the ladies. He didn’t try to disguise his half bald head with a comb-over. He took time to chat and laugh with the secretaries, nurses, and managers of other Public Health programs.

And on the summer day they replaced the carpeting in our office, I returned from a meeting to find all the staff, evicted temporarily from their desks, sitting outside on folding chairs. Naomi and Cindy worked on papers they held in their laps; Francine and Mickie helped callers with their usual efficient cheerfulness. Their phone lines cascaded from an open window and coiled on the sidewalk beneath their chairs. Electric fans, connected to extension cords, swept the group.

“It’s so hot out here,” Cindy said to me, “that my papers are sticking to my forearm.”

“Sorry,” I offered, feeling a little guilty about the weather, “I’ll check on them and see if we can get back in within the hour.”

“Oh, we’re O K,” chirped Naomi. “He’s brought us a pan of brownies he baked all by himself.”

They turned to smile at the Teddy Bear, some of them still munching. He sat with the rest of them, on a folding chair too, his knees almost up to his chest, scribbling on a notepad. He looked like a parent squeezed onto a  kid’s chair at the pre-school.

“I had to do something to help us get thru this day,” he shrugged at me.

It was only a couple of weeks later that I stumbled upon a small article in the nearby big city’s newspaper:

“Paramedic accused of trying to poison wife with heart drug.”

Why did I take time to read that page thirteen filler? Was I temporarily bored? Or was it the ironic headline juxtaposing “wife” and “heart drug?”

A nurse had accused her paramedic husband of slipping doses of digoxin into her food or coffee or something. This Agatha Christie-esque plot line would have been a mere curiosity except that the husband – whose marital relationship was clearly in the I C U – had a name identical to our Teddy Bear’s. Our Paramedic Teddy Bear’s.

I called the agency for which the Teddy Bear worked. They promised to talk with the local Sheriff and get back to me.

“Marital problems,” they reported back. “Messy divorce. Apparently no evidence to confirm her complaint.”

So the next Tuesday that he came to work, I spoke with him.

“Aw, it’s embarrassing,” he hung his head a little. “We’re going thru an ugly divorce. She’s jealous of my girlfriend. She’d say anything.”

Then, a couple of weeks later, the newspaper disclosed that her family had reported her missing.

I asked the agency to remove him from my office, temporarily, until issues were resolved.

“We’re in touch with the Sheriff’s office,” they told me. “He’s under surveillance. Innocent until proven guilty.”

“But I have an office full of people to protect,” I lobbied.

“Can’t. Unfair labor practice,” they retorted. “We’d be sued. Have your lawyer discuss it with our lawyer.”

So, while the lawyers talked and the Wheels of Justice (whatever those are) ground away at their usual pace, I planned to be at the office an hour early on Tuesdays, stay there all day, and remain until everyone was gone.

Then, one Tuesday, he didn’t show up for work.

“They took him in for questioning,” the agency head replied to my call. “He told me, when I asked him, that she was hiding out in Mexico with a friend, trying to frame him.”

So I gathered my staff together and went thru the information I had. None of it condemning, all of it circumstantial.

I think I saw Naomi shiver for a second.

“But, he’s SUCH a NICE guy,” Cindy wondered aloud.

“Must be a mistake, “ Francine shook her head.

Naomi remained uncharacteristically quiet. Until, as if mumbling to herself:  “I ate the brownies.”

She shivered again.

I anticipated that everyone’s mood would change for a while after I spoke to them. People gathered in clumps in each other’s offices several times each day. The usual office bustle was replaced with slowly shuffling feet and murmured voices. But I hadn’t thought that they’d remain spooked for as long as they did. For over two months, no one would go into his office space. People continued to bring baked goodies to the office to share, but it was over six months before I saw brownies again.

After he was convicted, Naomi’s eyes peeked into my office.

“You have a minute?”

“Sure. Come in.”

“But he was so nice. Not like what we expect a murderer to be like.”

“What did you expect a murderer to be like?”

“Oh, we don’t know, but – – -”

“ ‘But” what?” I encouraged her.

“I mean, how could he have done it? He’s, basically, just like us.”



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