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by Auditrix

If you want to catch up on who these guys are, the most important posts are
codes, coffees, crayons
a favor for Dr Ball
while I looked around...

______________________________


Dr Doyle leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. How was it possible to receive so much email in five days? He sat back up and forced his eyes to focus on the screen again. He'd been slogging through his inbox, triaging the messages, deleting as many as he could, replying to none, flagging only the most important. And yet still he was facing a long string of little red flag icons. One more and I'll have all eighteen holes, he thought.

A knock sounded at the door frame. Doyle looked up, both dreading and welcoming the interruption. His dread fell away when he saw his visitor. "Hey! Come on in."

Dr Ball stepped in. "Good morning, Al. Welcome back."  He looked around the office at the piles of paper and files. "Is now a bad time?"

"No, now is a very good time." Doyle pulled a chair over. "Oh, God, do you have a folder for me too? Tell me there's nothing in there that requires a decision."

Dr Ball sat down and regarded his manila folder. "This? Nothing at all. It's not even urgent. How was the conference?"

"Oh, it was fine. Some good papers; I'll hit the highlights at the department meeting."

"You had excellent weather. Did you get to look around at all?"

"A little. Saw the 'Rocky' stairs," he teased. "No, we didn't get to see much, not even the Liberty Bell. I brought you a present, though." He reached into his briefcase and brought out a thin, heavy book. He handed it to Dr Ball.

Dr Ball looked at the book and back at Doyle in amazement. Doyle shrugged. "Everyone else was carrying on about cheesesteaks, but there you were talking about the art museum and what a great opportunity this retrospective was and how if you were going to Philadelphia you would make sure to see it....  The exhibition actually closed in July, but I thought you might like this."

"Thank you, very much." Dr Ball opened the catalog and flipped through a few of the heavy, glossy pages before he gently closed the book again. "How very kind. I'm afraid I don't have anything nearly as splendid for you."

"Any news?"

Dr Ball shook his head. "It's been very quiet. I did see one of your patients, Miss Martin. She was still symptomatic so I switched her to esomeprazole and instructed her to come back to see us in a couple of weeks."

"And...?"

"And?"

"And what else did you tell her?"

"Nothing you hadn't already. I did strongly urge her to heed your advice about reducing stress, and I did suggest that she start by just being honest with her parents and telling them now she wants to switch majors, instead of spending the whole semester worrying about the LSATs."

Doyle chuckled. "I won't even ask."

"Some people were born to be lawyers. Perhaps Miss Martin just isn't one of them."

"I'll be curious to see what she says at her follow up."

"So will I. I also told her to spend ten minutes every day in the greenhouse at Coursen Hall, with no books, no laptop and, above all, no iPod. I'll be interested to see if she took the cure."

"Did you also suggest a new major for her?" Dr Ball smiled, and Doyle shook his head. "Well, I'll let you know what Miss Martin says. Speaking of lawyers, what happened with Stan? That was on Thursday, wasn't it?"

Dr Ball's jovial expression vanished. "It was. His entire sentence was reinstated: seven years, with no credit for time served."

"Good riddance," grunted Doyle. Dr Ball looked down at his hands.

"So what else? What did I delegate to you, anyway?"

"The journal club." Dr Ball held up his folder again. "Notes here, when you're ready for them. You have a very good group of residents this month, I must say. Some of their presentations looked as if they were prepared as early as last night, instead of scribbled during stoplights on their drive in this morning. Your R-1, Gettachew, did particularly well.

"There was one article of particular interest that I wanted to tell you about. Dr Reade decided to go for the exotic this week and presented a case study: acute liver failure brought on by hemolytic anemia. Teenaged boy, post-MVA, gravely ill. No drugs, no cancer; the patient ruled out for all the usual suspects, and all the unusual ones as well. However, it turned out that his cat had died at around the same time as the onset of illness. So the team did a necropsy on the cat."

"On the cat. You have got to be kidding me."

"Bizarre, isn't it? And yet it paid off. They discovered that the cat also had died of liver failure, which indicated some kind of toxin in the home. And it turned out -- " Dr Ball leaned forward -- "to be napthalene poisoning! Did you know that termites can generate napthalene gas to protect their nests? They discovered an enormous termites' nest behind the wallboard of the boy's room. So the boy was chronically exposed to this napthalene gas, and to make it worse, the chemical was also building up in his body fat. So when he lost weight after his MVA, that dumped even more of the poison into his system. They started parenteral nutrition and he turned right around."

"I'm still stuck on this cat business. What, did they dig Puff up out of the backyard?"

"They did indeed, they exhumed the cat. It was winter, so it was well preserved."

"Amazing. Like CSI: Animal Planet. So who wrote this?"

"Well, that's yet another remarkable thing: it's by someone we know or did know, an alumnus of our residency program. Do you remember Gregory House?"

"Tall guy, arrogant? Our Mayo reject?"

"The very same." Dr Ball considered for a moment. "Tell me... I'm not trying to disparage your powers of recall, for they are very good. But it's been twenty years already since Gregory House was here, and therefore probably twenty years since the last time his name crossed your lips. Yet you brought him to mind with a speed astonishing even for you."

Doyle smiled. "If I untangle that sentence, is there a compliment in there somewhere for me? I know you never forget a face, but I could still ask you the same question."

"That would hardly be fair. I've had all weekend to sift my memory and play where-have-I-heard-that-name-before. And... I didn't have to think that far back; I have followed Dr House's career on and off over the years, in a casual way."

"Oh really?"

"As I said, only in a casual way. I did actually hear from him once; he was... seeking my help with a referral. Now that was a bolt from the blue. We never actually spoke to each other; it was all voice mail, all very to the point. That must have been ten years ago.

"No, I just kept an eye out for his name in the journals. He was publishing very consistently for a while, but then... his name just disappeared. This is the first article from him I've seen in some time."

"It was very nearly the last," said Doyle. He reached in his briefcase again and pulled out a folded newspaper. "I came across House's name when I was in Philly." He turned the newspaper around and handed it to Dr Ball. "The second one down, left-hand column."

The curiosity on Dr Ball's face turned to concern as he started to read. " 'Princeton Doctor Expected To Make Full Recovery,'" he murmured. " 'Gunman's Motive, Identity Still Mystery'.... "

The concern became shock. "Jesus have mercy," he whispered. He finished the article and handed it back to Doyle.

Doyle folded the paper and put it back in his briefcase. "So you see," he said, "why his name was on my mind this weekend."

"This shooting... nobody knows why? That makes no sense! Just this weekend, a doctor down in Washington was murdered -- beaten to death. But tragic as it was, it made sense. He was a psychiatrist, he specialized in treating difficult cases. He was seeing a patient who was having an acute episode and they were alone in an office on a Sunday afternoon. His patient became violent and....

"But this man, this... mysterious assailant went to the trouble of obtaining a gun and, presumably, concealing it, and just walked into a hospital in broad daylight and shot Gregory House. And nobody knows why."

"Right in front of his fellows," said Doyle. "No, I don't get it either. I'm surprised that the hospital doesn't have metal detectors. No knife 'n' gun club in that area, I suppose; must be nice.

"The sad thing is that I asked one of the local guys about it, and do you know what he said? He said he was only surprised it hadn't happened before. "

"But a gun?  Why didn't he just sue?"

"Maybe he just didn't feel like waiting till his turn came up on the docket. Apparently Dr House is no stranger to the settlement table. Or to the courtroom, or the review board, for that matter." Doyle watched Dr Ball's face closely, surprised at how pained it looked. "I'm sorry to bring you this bad news, but I thought it would be better if you found out from me instead of from Google--"

"I don't Google. Too much temptation." Dr Ball's voice was flat.

"-- Or from the ether, or however you find out about things."

Dr Ball lifted the folder. "And yet still he pulled this off."

"Yes, apparently he also has quite a reputation for spectacular saves."

Dr Ball leaned back in his chair. He seemed to be absorbed in the painting reproduced on the cover of his book. It was of a man walking across a lawn or a field. It was a detail, so only the hem of the man's coat and his tall, old-fashioned boots were visible. The grass was a mixture of yellow and green; whether it was supposed to be spring or fall Doyle couldn't tell. There was a twig in the grass near the man's feet.

"You were right about him, you know," Doyle finally said. "Even before he came here, when it came out about the Mayo. I remember. You said with a start like that he would have a career of nothing but trouble."

Dr Ball did not look up. "That was hardly a feat of prophecy."

"You also correctly predicted that he wouldn't take the fellowship offer --"

"-- again, that wasn't hard to predict; he'd never shown the slightest interest in our specialty -- "

"--and that he'd ruin his life, and with it, his career."

"Not quite. I was a bit more portentous that that, wasn't I? Some gas about destroying his own happiness even as he reached for it?" He looked to the window. "I would be so happy to be proved wrong.

"It may happen yet. Maybe something good will come out of this, some kind of... opportunity. A chance to correct the course. It would be such a waste to see him...." His voice trailed off.

"To see him end up like Stan?" Doyle finally asked.

"Yes. It's not the literal prison I'm worried about, of course. It's the prison that's locked from the inside. Stanley imprisoned himself years ago."

Doyle frowned. His informant in Philadelphia had also mentioned rumors that House was addicted to painkillers. He opened his mouth, thought better of it, and closed his mouth again.

Dr Ball turned back from the window. "Thank you for showing this to me. I wouldn't have heard it from Google, but I probably would have heard it from someone else, and you're right. I'd much prefer to hear it from you." He looked down at his folder and held it up again as if he'd just noticed it was there. "Do you want this now or shall I bring it back later?"

"I can take it now." Doyle reached out, took the folder, and stowed it in a file sorter. "I know it's early, but are you up for lunch?"  Early was an understatement; it was barely ten-thirty. 

"Even if I were, I doubt that the cafeteria would be," Dr Ball said mildly. "And then, semi-retirement does afford me the luxury of having a leisurely breakfast as late as seven or even eight...."

"Yes, thank you for rubbing that in."

"...But if you really want to try your luck at the steam table, I'd be happy to tag along for a cup of tea."

"All right then. Let me just shut this off...." Doyle turned to the computer and started closing windows. Lunch at ten-thirty was pathetically transparent, but he was relieved that Dr Ball was playing along.  He was beginning to regret having brought out the article just then; he was even beginning to think he shouldn't have said anything at all... but that would have been stupid. The news would have reached him somehow.

Doyle was still surprised at how hard he'd seemed to take the news -- so hard that that he'd seemed to hesitate before accepting the invitation to the caf. That was so unlike him. But then, he'd seemed surprisingly upset by all the business with Stan.

The monitor went black. Doyle stood up and reached for his jacket.

Maybe it was a generational thing. Stan was around his own age, and House was even younger, while Dr Ball would be seventy soon. Doyle knew Dr Ball was fully aware of the fallibility of doctors, and was hardly a fossil despite his persona, but perhaps he was still used to more  "commonplace vices", as he would probably put it.  Arrogance, greed, inflexibility, general grumpiness, even malpractice, but still, nothing like the public spectacle that Stan had made of himself (and of the hospital, too, Doyle reflected bitterly.) And what had House done to provoke someone into hunting him down and shooting him?

He locked his desk and turned around. Dr Ball had crossed the office and was gazing out the window -- at a bird, probably.  He looked old.

Doyle pocketed his key.  "Now I'm ready," he said.   He waited for Dr Ball, turned out the lights, and locked the door behind them.

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