Bryson City Tales — The “Expert” (Part 1)

This is from the tenth chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Tales. I hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week, and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends to join us.

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THE “EXPERT” (PART 1)

A few weeks passed. I was starting to feel like I just might fit in here, alongside townspeople and patients and doctors whose ways were clearly different from where I’d cut my medical teeth. Then I received a call from Marcellus “Buck” Buchanan. Mr. Buchanan had been the Superior Court solicitor (the district attorney) over the seven counties of western North Carolina since 1967—after serving three terms as a state repre- sentative in the North Carolina legislature in the 1950s. His offices were in Sylva.

“Sorry to have to call you, son. I’d love to come over there and meet you in person. But duty calls.”

For some reason I can’t explain, I just didn’t like his tone. So I kept our exchange professional. “How can I help you, sir?”

“Well, son, I just got your coroner’s report.”

Time seemed to stop. My mind raced back to the night just a few weeks before when I had been called to my first murder case. The scene of the house flooded with police car lights and the memory of the headless body and the brain-covered walls washed over me from head to toe. Moreover, the feelings of inadequacy on the evening of the murder and the uncertainty of whether mov- ing to Bryson City had been wise or not—coupled with Mitch’s subsequent and frequent questioning of my competence (“Are you stupid?”)—left me suddenly feeling shaken and unsure.

The DA continued, “Son, your report looks good—real good—and it sure enough agrees with the autopsy.”

I felt a bit of pride rising in my chest—after all, I had been well trained in both England and in a world-class medical center in the latest science and techniques. But even though I had been well trained in the science of medicine, I was feeling less prepared for the practice of medicine—at least in Bryson City. Yet when it came to the murder investigation, I thought, It really isn’t brain surgery. I mean, after all, the man had his head blown off. What else could the cause of death be? I relaxed and decided to stay cool. “Thank you, sir.”

He then asked several questions about the crime scene investigation report. Finally he concluded again, “You did a terrific job, son. Just terrific.”

I wasn’t sure where this was going. I had pronounced a man dead and determined that his head was missing and splattered all across the wall of a small bedroom. This was not a major foren- sic coup.

He went on, “You just did a superlative job, son, exceptional.” The syrup was getting a bit too sweet and was being poured on a little too thickly. “In fact,” he said, lowering his voice to a near whisper, “your report is a whole lot better than most. I’m used to receiving documents with far less quality and completeness from your neck of the woods—if you know what I mean.”

Again I felt proud. I should have known better. Only a moment later he smashed my good feelings with his next pronouncement. “Son, we’re going for murder one for this insect. I would like to see him fry—to a crisp. Squishing an insect like this is too quick, too painless. I want him to fry.” To me this was a most unpleasant thought. The Wild West philosophy and practice of inflicting torment on the already condemned seemed to be alive and well—at least in Sylva.

“Here’s what I’m planning,” the DA continued. “I want to call you as my first witness in the trial. I suspect it will be one of the bigger trials in our area this year. I’m expecting plenty of media coverage and interviews. I’m expecting that young attorneys from all over the western part of the state will come to see this trial. And, son, I don’t want to let them down—and I don’t want you to let me down.”

Oh, great! A puffed-up, egotistical, self-centered media hog. Just what I need. I couldn’t believe it. All I could say was, “Yes, sir.” He kept on talking, in his slow southern drawl. “But don’t worry, son. Don’t worry. My boys will come over there and work with you a bit. We’ll get you shaped up in no time at all. There’s one thing I can promise you: I’ll make you look really good, son.” He paused. Must have been for drama. Maybe he was just practicing. “Any questions?”

Yeah, where can I go throw up? I thought. But I continued to keep my cool, “No, sir, none at all.”

“Well then, you have a good day, you hear?” He hung up and I felt hung out. Testify in court? I had never been in court. What would I do? What would I be asked? How would I prepare? I was in a bit of a panic—until I thought of Fred Moody, the good-natured attorney and chairman of the hospital board, whom I’d met during my interview over Eloise Newman’s delicious and welcoming lunch. I picked up the phone to call Fred.

He had heard about the case. “In fact, Walt, I’ll be representing the accused. Judge Leatherwood wanted the best!” he said as he chuckled. I enjoyed Fred’s humor—dry and to the point, disarming and endearing. Fred always enjoyed working to help the underdog—a fact that attracted business from the entire region to his small downtown office next to Bennett’s Drug Store. “Why don’t you drop by the office today after work, and we’ll chat.”

(TO BE CONTINUED NEXT FRIDAY)

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© Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 2016. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.