Carson Winfield felt his throat tighten. He swallowed hard and tried to breathe naturally. His heart pounded in his chest. He was certain the microphone attached to his tie was going to pick up the loud thumping of his heart. Staring down at his shoes, he noticed a slight scuff on his Italian loafers. Why hadn’t he polished them properly? He told himself he was being foolish: no one would see the shoes; the interview would be a close up.
How many interviews had he been in? Why was he still nervous? He was an old pro at interviews back in his real estate days. But this was different—this was personal.
The interviewer smiled at him as she adjusted herself in her chair. She was young and beautiful with perfect teeth. Her hand reached up making one last pass at her hair, pushing one small strand back into place. Her eyes focused on the camera technicians. They gave her the sign in a finger count of five to one . . . then they were live.
“This is Amanda Sparks of Orange County Today. I’m here this morning with Mr. Carson Winfield.” She smiled brightly into the camera as she made the intro. Turning to Carson, she turned off the smile. In a serious tone she said, “Now . . . Mr. Winfield . . .”
“You can call me Carson,” he said, barely getting the words past his constricted vocal chords.
“Yes . . . Carson . . . thank you . . . you’ve agreed to this interview to tell our viewers your story of how you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. I understand it’s terminal . . . is that correct?” Amanda said as she reached her right hand between the two chairs. She placed her hand on the chair arm, making a show of intimate contact but not an invasion of his space.
Carson cleared his throat. “Yes . . . the diagnosis is stage four inoperable cancer.”
Amanda moved her hand on the chair to almost touching Carson’s arm.
“But you’ve decided to give your money away to charity, rather than use your money to fight for your life—is that correct?”
Carson shifted in his chair. He coughed lightly into his hand. “I’m not sure if I’d put it into those words. Yes, I’ve decided to give my money to charity, rather than spending my money on chasing a myriad of new treatments to fight my cancer.”
“And you’re fine to wait for death without fighting it? Your wife had the same diagnosis, didn’t she? She lived for another six months—”
“But it wasn’t a good six months,” Carson interrupted. He’d finally found his voice. It was now clear and strong. He didn’t like where this interview was going. He sat upright in his chair. “Her quality of life was terrible. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t call it a life. I have no wish to follow in her footsteps.” He threw the last statement out like a challenge.
Amanda’s eyes widened only a fraction as she said, “But she fought nonetheless. Some people might call you a quitter, Carson . . . not that I am . . . but perhaps some of our viewers might.”
Carson sighed. He looked away from the camera. If he told the truth about the real reason for his decision, it would ruin everything. He needed to keep up this façade for two more months; that was the plan. “Yes, I accept that. People can call me a quitter if they like. I’m fine with that . . . perhaps my small gift to charity before I pass will help someone else . . .”
“I wouldn’t call five million dollars a small gift, Carson. And to give it all to Saint Michael’s Hospital does leave a legacy.”
“Yes, well . . . they were very helpful to my Barbara in her last days.” Carson said looking into the camera. “The doctors and nurses at Saint Michael’s were wonderful. I thank them for everything they did.” A tear formed in his eye. He wiped it away. He hoped he was convincing.
Amanda reached forward, resting her hand on Carson’s knee. “I’m sure this is hard for you, but thank you for joining us on our show and sharing with us.” She knew she’d pushed too far. Carson’s look in the camera with the tear killed her interview. Any more now and she’d come off as unkind. She’d be killed in the ratings. She made a slight motion with her head toward the cameras. The lights went down as soft music played.
The television crew got busy resetting the stage for another show. A young black girl tightly encased in yoga gear unhooked Carson’s microphone. She gave him a sad smile, touching his shoulder briefly.
Amanda got busy with her cell phone, watching how well she was trending on social media. She said, “Good luck,” to Carson as she marched to her producer’s office to see if the ratings had gone up in the past few minutes. Her show was on the borderline for being cancelled. This little interview, although brief, was what she needed to stay employed.
Carson was free of the interview. He decided this would be his last one. He’d done several in the past few weeks. There were invitations for several more, but he’d had enough. As a successful real estate salesman, and owner of a large real estate company, he’d been used to the limelight, the television commercials, even hosting events for the media. Barbara had always been by his side. They’d both strived to be in the media as much as possible. All news coverage was good coverage back then.
But now, this was . . . what had his doctor said to him? “Carson, you’re circling the drain.” Those fatal words came just one month before Barbara’s death.
One month later, as he put Barbara’s ashes in an expensive crypt, he couldn’t help but think of those words.
Carson walked out into the bright California morning. The weather still warm in late October, the scorching heat of one of the hottest summers on record in Orange County was over. The evenings were cooler with daytime highs reaching the comfortable mid to high 70s. He walked to his red Mercedes convertible with the WIN license plates; the car gave a chirp as he pressed the key’s remote.
He undid his tie, throwing it into the back seat; he was taking his jacket off when his phone rang. The call display showed Saint Michael’s hospital. It wasn’t from his doctor, or a number he recognized.
“Ah, Mr. Winfield, this is Doctor Chen.”
“Yes, Doctor Chen. I believe I met you with Doctor Albright.”
“That is correct, Mr. Winfield, I’ve worked with Doctor Albright for a few years; however, I’m in the Oncology Department. Mr. Winfield . . . I need to see you as soon as possible . . . I have some very troubling news. I’d like to see you right away.”
Carson frowned and then smiled. “You mean more troubling than I’m going to die?” He put on his sunglasses and slipped into his car. “How about if you tell me over the phone—as you know, I don’t have that much time.”
“That’s just it, Mr. Winfield—you do have time.”
“I don’t understand. If you’re saying I have more than two months left—because you’ve found some way of extending my life while pumping me full of toxic chemicals while my hair falls out and I live on strained vegetables—I’m not interested,” Carson said, brushing his hand through his full head of black hair. He was tall and athletic with boyish good looks even in his mid-forties. He wasn’t about to see himself turned into a bald skeleton to satisfy science.
“But I’ve reviewed your file, Mr. Winfield. There is no evidence of cancer anywhere in your tests.”
Carson stared at his phone as if the words were coming from another planet . . . the planet of second chances. He wasn’t sure how to respond. “How is that possible?”
“Your results were mixed up with a Mr. Carson Winslow. We are very sorry for the inconvenience.”
Carson shook his head in disbelief. He wiped tears from his eyes. “Inconvenience. Holy shit, this is more than inconvenience. I’ve wrapped up my life . . . I’m broke . . . I’ve given all my money to your hospital for my palliative care . . .”
“Yes,” Doctor Chen broke in. “We are looking into the claim of your donation to our hospital.”
“Claim? What the hell do you mean by claim? I gave a check for five million dollars to Doctor Albright that he said would be put into trust to Saint Michael’s. There was supposed to be a dedication ceremony next week. Albright said you were going to name a special wing in your hospital after me.”
“Mr. Winfield . . . unfortunately, Saint Michael’s has no record of receiving your check from Doctor Albright. Believe me, we would welcome such a large donation, but sadly nothing from you has reached our offices. I know nothing of any ceremony that you say is planned for next week.”
“Dammit—get me Doctor Albright on the phone,” Carson yelled into the phone. He was holding the steering wheel with one hand. His fingers turned white as he gripped harder.
“We’ve been unable to locate Doctor Albright. He’s been absent from his office for the past several days . . . perhaps you could locate him? I understand you were good friends.”
“We were more business associates,” Carson said. A good friend was a strange term to describe his relationship with Albright. The truth was, Albright had been one of his deceased wife’s many lovers, whom they’d also been in business with. Albright had agreed to keep his affair with Barbara a secret in exchange for a quick and easy death for Carson. He’d also agreed to keep Carson’s many affairs quiet as well.
He should have seen this coming. He threw the phone into the passenger’s seat. He let out a choked groan. He wasn’t going to fall down into a sobbing mess, no, he was going to find Albright; he was going to find his money.
He picked up his phone. There was only one person to call. She was another lover of Albright’s. She’d been a part time lover of Carson’s as well. He hoped he’d been the better lover—and she’d give up Albright. He dialed the number.
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