Not for Profit (The Dr. Scott James Thriller Series – Book #1) by Glenn Shepard, MD
Renowned plastic surgeon Dr. Scott James is charged with murder after two bodies are found at his surgery center. Just weeks before the start of his capital murder trial, Dr. James is approached by a beautiful woman claiming she can help him gain information that would prove his innocence.
As James hunts down the evidence that might free him, he faces a barrage of threats to his life and liberty—and makes one chilling discovery after another: Corporate corruption. A conspiracy to frame him for murder and for terrorist acts. A secret drone-control operation that takes out targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The true identity and intent of his beautiful ally. And a plot to blow up the local hospital and surrounding community.
Read the First Two Chapters
Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, 6 a.m., Three Months Earlier
“Alpha Charlie, Alpha Charlie, get ready for action! The target’s on the move!”
The words vibrated in Charlie’s earpiece as he sat bolt upright, and flexed his 220 pound, 6 foot 2-inch frame. He had spent the last four days glued to the monitors, never leaving the control center, even as the other eight members of the Air Force forensics team took brief meal and sleep breaks. Alpha Charlie was a CIA-hired civilian contractor whose mission in Afghanistan was to control pilotless aircraft and destroy enemy targets. Ninety six hours ago, he was scheduled to return to his civilian job in America, when forensics identified the Al-Qaeda leader, Muhamed Bin Garza, only 230 miles away in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. He cancelled his flight home.
It had been two years since they had a positive ID on Bin Garza. And Charlie wanted blood.
The notorious Al-Qaeda leader was responsible for the suicide bombing in Mumbai, Amman, London, and Somalia, and had connections to the World Trade Center attack in New York. Now he was a sitting duck. He had been spotted while entering a complex of tents and adobe houses adjacent to the mountains and caves. He would be leaving any moment now. This was the one and only chance Alpha Charlie would ever have to eliminate Bin Garza. Bin Garza’s death would be the ultimate notch in his gun barrel. His job back home could wait. He had taken out terrorists before, but Bin Garza was the trophy he had been training and waiting his whole life for.
Alpha Charlie was stationed in one of two identical Quonset huts on the base, both sitting within 50 meters of each other. In the first hut, the US Air Force forensics team was housed. Their function was to make the drones airborne, to locate and identify targets, and to land the vehicles when their missions were completed. Alpha Charlie sat in a single chair in the second hut.
But this was no ordinary chair. It was a one-of-a-kind control chair loaded with hundreds of computer systems that required delicate manipulations. At the end of each armrest were two joysticks, one for each hand. Both were equipped with a dozen buttons, some black and others red, all with separate and distinct functionalities. Ever since he was 12 years old, Charlie played video arcade games. He had mastered the games almost immediately, having innately good reflexes and hand-eye coordination. He also lacked moral qualms… about anything. After winning several gaming competitions in his late 20s, he was contacted by the CIA and accepted their offer to move from murdering virtual foes to slaughtering real ones.
The CIA granted him access to a new program which involved piloting drones. Very quickly, Charlie had learned to operate them as well as the Air Force’s best pilots. His penchant for video games made his skills acute, and these gaming skills readily transferred to drone operation. His immediate mastery of the pilotless aircraft meant an underlying talent that many of the professional pilots lacked. They were readily trainable, but not one had the innate ability to pick up the controls of an aircraft with which they had no experience and so quickly be able to operate it with such a sharp degree of precision. Charlie had even proven himself to be brilliant under pressure and once he tasted actual combat, he gained a voracious appetite for it. The thrill of killing a virtual terrorist couldn’t compare to the rush of killing one made of flesh and blood.
Air Force Colonel Ben Edwards, the director of the operation, ran into Charlie’s hut. He glanced at Alpha Charlie’s hands as they moved the joysticks. Edwards marveled at how Charlie’s fingers glided over the controls and easily performed maneuvers that his other “pilots” struggled with.
Suddenly Edwards saw it – the blinking red light on the fuel gauge. One hundred pounds of fuel left. Seventy two miles of “life” left in the fuel tank, not enough to get the aircraft halfway back to Kandahar. He screamed, “Charlie! You’re running out of fuel!”
Alpha Charlie pretended not to hear. He had already extended the flight time five hours using the updrafts of the mountains to conserve fuel and lowering the speed to 320 MPH, but he was concerned. An hour ago, he ordered his Global Hawk fuel carrier, yet it was not on his radar screen. Well, that’s a problem he didn’t have time for.
His focus remained locked on the three monitors in front of him. Screen A showed a scurry of activity in the small, peaceful Haqqui tribal village. Bin Garza was going for a ride. That was it! Charlie’s waiting was over. He leaned forward and watched carefully.
In the center of the village, a 1960s Mercedes sedan and a 1980s Chrysler New Yorker were parked in front of an adobe house. Alongside the two cars, a small entourage surrounded three men who had just left the house and were walking to the vehicles. A dozen cheering villagers reached to touch the men as guards pushed them aside. On Screen B, the forensics experts focused on the faces of the men and enlarged them. Screen C showed a broad view of the 5 square mile area surrounding the target.
Screen A showed the men getting into the two cars, while screen B flipped through stills of the faces. Then the camera fine-tuned portrait quality images. Charlie heard excitement build from the other hut, “That’s definitely Bin Garza!”
“And that’s his number two, Shakel, with him! We can get two for the price of one, if we hit ’em now!” The third man on the screen kept his shumag pulled over his face and was not able to be identified.
Colonel Edwards shouted across the room, “Alpha Charlie, we have Al-Qaeda’s two top men together. Targets confirmed! It’s now or never. Get ’em!”
Alpha Charlie turned to Screen A, the target monitor showing live pictures from the MQ-4A Global Hawk drone he controlled. This model was the largest and best equipped drone in his fleet, but it was brand new and untested. It had been airborne for nearly 48 hours and circled the area at 50,000 feet, filming the area where Pakistani intelligence had said these men were staying. Sweat dripped down Charlie’s brow as he saw the plummeting fuel gauge now reading empty.
Time was running out. Charlie focused the camera, centering it on the now moving car.
A pissed off Edwards looked at Screen C. “Fuck! There’s a hill! They’ll disappear behind it in 20 seconds! Charlie, you gotta strike NOW!”
Alpha Charlie did not respond, but he heard Edwards. He had one shot and didn’t want to fuck it up. His mental clock ticked down – 20, 19, 18; he remained calm and showed no signs of tension. His left hand guided a blinking red target square over the car. With the image of the square fixed to the target, Charlie centered the X.
CLICK! The Hellfire missile locked on the Mercedes. Twelve, 11, 10…
Charlie quickly touched the red trigger button with his thumb and fired the 5 foot long missile which carried over 30 pounds of explosives. At a speed of 950 MPH, the missile would be paying the Mercedes a surprise visit within 3 seconds.
But would it get there in time?
The Mir Ali Village, 6:04 a.m.
A high-pitched WHIRRR, like that of a model airplane, filled the sky above the village. The driver of the Mercedes looked up and saw the silvery flash of reflected sunlight emerging from the obscurity of the mountain behind.
As the driver accelerated, he saw the 5 foot long Hellfire missile speeding towards them. Bin Garza screamed in terror as he gripped the seat of the car and braced himself. The explosion was tremendous, ripping the men and car to pieces.
A hundred feet away, the unidentified man in the shumag, Omar Farok, felt his Chrysler bounce around like a toy ball. The concussion of the impact nearly deafened him. He watched from the Chrysler as a fireball swallowed up the Mercedes; then, there was only a blinding cloud of smoke and dirt.
Fortunately for Farok, his driver was familiar with the terrain of this village and the Chrysler instantly turned left onto a mountain path dodging around three trees. As the Chrysler slammed to a halt, a petrified Farok dove out of the car and ran into a mountain cave. He sat trembling in the cave as he watched another Hellfire missile devour the Chrysler in a ball of red flames, engulfing his driver as he tried to escape.
Farok’s voice echoed inside the cave, “American pigs, I swear on Allah’s blessed name, you will pay for this!”
The Kandahar Drone Control Center, 6:05 a.m.
Col. Edwards and his forensics team cheered!
But Alpha Charlie did not celebrate, even as the refueling aircraft in the sky above saved his drone from sputtering to the earth on its last pound of fuel. Sure, Charlie was pleased about the millions that he had made from this kill. This extra money would allow him to shift his drone control station and missiles back home and continue his missions from there, but still, he wasn’t about to jump up and down and cheer. He’d done his job.
He stood as bottles of Dom Perignon were uncorked. Without fanfare, Charlie grabbed a drink and downed it. Then, he poured himself another.
As he swallowed, he thought to himself, ‘All in a day’s work’.
The Surgery Center, Jackson City, N.C., 7 p.m., Three Months Later
If you were to walk into my cosmetic surgery office, you’d see that I designed a space that is healing, orderly and serene. There are no crystals or there is no new age music playing, but there’s a little waterfall and many of the walls and open spaces feature my favorite flower – the orchid.
My orchids are always resplendent with gorgeous colored blooms – hot pink, deep magenta, white with mauve spots. I care for all the plants myself by watering them, limiting the amount of sunlight, and constantly measuring and altering the composition of the soil. In my office, you’ll always find a colorful Doritaenopsis.
My favorite is the pure white Phalaenopsis to the left of the waterfall. When I first opened my office, a patient sent that to me, but it was solid blue — an unnatural color for an orchid. I sensed that someone blue-inked the roots, like the blue roses in Kipling’s poems. Saturating a flower in ink always seemed wrong and angered me in the same way that a bad facelift did. In my mind, there were absolute rights and wrongs in this world. A person’s face shouldn’t be stretched so tight that their eyes and lips get distorted, and a white orchid should remain pure white.
I became obsessed with that Phalaenopsis, nurturing it (in a back room, of course) until it bloomed again and this time, it was the purest white of any orchid I ever had. I look at the broken pieces of Orchis sitting in my waiting room every day and I try my best to put her back together. And most of the time, I succeed. Except today. Today was not going so well…
“Why’s it taking her so long to recover from the anesthetic?” I asked as I removed my surgical gown and gloves. I arched my back, stiff from bending over so much. After 12 hours of surgery, I was exhausted. I’d just hit 40 and I was really starting to feel it.
I smiled at my anesthesiologist, Dr. Boyd Carey. “Two face lifts, two liposuctions and three augmentation mammoplasties is enough for one day.”
Dr. Carey did not return the smile. He looked over his half-frame glasses and shrugged. “If you hadn’t bowed to Keyes’ ridiculous demand to keep her privacy by sending your two nurses home early, her “auggie” would have only taken 45 minutes.” Carey was a thin vegan who would’ve probably been happier if he ate a burger once and awhile. Fine wrinkles in his 45-year-old dark skin made him look 60.
I took off my surgical cap and finger-combed my hair. “Come on now, Boyd. Relax. Hey, at least we aren’t working in the tobacco fields.”
“Oh God, you’re not going to start in again on your childhood stories of slaving away in the fields to pay for college—”
“I could if—”
“Please, spare me.”
Carey turned to the patient for a minute and then tilted his head back and faced me again. “No. She’s still sound asleep. And that’s another thing, Scott. We should have given her Propaphol, like we do on all our patients. She’d be awake by now. But no! You always grant all your patient’s every wish and kiss their surgically-raised asses.”
Ethel Keyes had been my office manager for the past two months. She was a hard worker with a sweet personality; everyone who came in contact with her liked her. I had never before employed anyone who so quickly endeared herself to everyone. And it probably didn’t hurt that she was a 32-year-old blonde who looked like a high fashion model.
Just a few days ago, Keyes had confided to me that she always felt uncomfortable with her body as she thought her breasts were too small. She had done such a great job in the office, revamping my billing system, changing the office health insurance to a less expensive and more comprehensive plan, and computerized all my office records, that I offered to do a breast auggie surgery for her – pro bono.
However, it was a mistake. Beyond the ethical issues involved in operating on employees, she proved to be a difficult patient from the beginning: refusing Propaphol as her anesthetic because it killed Michael Jackson; forbidding the use of the second best medication, intravenous Versed, because she didn’t like its amnesic properties, and insisting on an older style of anesthesia, Valium and Demerol, but in reduced doses.
She argued that she was sensitive to all sedatives. Sure enough, it took only 2 mg of Valium and 50 mg of Demerol to knock her completely out. Most people required 10 mg of Valium and 100 mg of Demerol with touch-up medications given as the patients got “light”. No additional drugs were needed today as she slept soundly. And kept on sleeping even after the procedure ended and Dr. Carey and I waited … and waited for her to wake up.
I leaned over the OR table and tapped her cheeks lightly. “Ms. Keyes, Ms. Keyes, can you hear me?”
Her response was a snore.
I clasped my hands behind my back, pressing on my tired paraspinal muscles. My perpetual smile turned to a frown.
Dr. Carey growled, “She hasn’t had enough sedation to hurt a fly. You should just go home. I’ll watch her until she wakes up. At least one of us should be able to enjoy this evening.”
“No. I’m not leaving until she’s awake.”
“Fine. Go into your office.” Carey reached out, cupped her left breast and with a smirk uttered, “I’ll keep you abreast of everything here.”
“Jesus, Boyd, get your hands off of her. She’s under for Christ’s sake!”
“Alright, Sir Galahad, guardian of fair maidens. Go get some coffee and I’ll call you when she’s awake enough for discharge. It shouldn’t be long.”
I hesitated before leaving the room. “I’ll be in the waiting room. Call me and I’ll be back in a second it there’s a problem.”
As I left the OR, I pulled out my IPhone and called my wife, Alicia. I told her of the situation with Keyes.
She answered, “Alright, do what you have to. But there’s always something to keep you there late. The boys wanted to see you and— I’ll put the boys to sleep and keep your tuna casserole hot in the oven,” she sighed as she continued, “Again!”
I walked to my waiting room to talk to Anna Duke, the friend that was to pick up Keyes after surgery. But when I got there, she wasn’t there so I sat down on the sofa and relaxed.
This room is my favorite part of the office. It’s got a huge skylight, custom stereo, a waterfall with a 4 foot drop, and a dozen blooming orchids. I turned on a Miles Davis CD and flicked on the multi-colored lights that glowed behind the flowing water. When my architect had told me that it was impossible to put everything I wanted in this room without knocking down all the walls, I paid him his fee and let him go.
Then I went online, did my research, and installed it all myself. I’m sure I could have hired someone else to do it faster, but I found that I really enjoyed learning about plumbing and wiring. In fact, I’d had so much fun doing it, next on my agenda is to buy and fix up an old Victorian house in the low country of the Carolinas one day. The operative word being “one day” since these days I really couldn’t imagine doing much of anything else with my 80-hour work schedule.
I sat back, smelled the sweet fragrance of his cymbidium and zygopetalum orchids, closed my eyes, and dictated the seven operations I performed that day.
* * * * *
Meanwhile in the operating room only 30 feet away, a shadow caught Dr. Boyd Carey’s eye. Carey quickly turned and saw a light reflect off of something in the air, something swinging at him.
It hit him hard in the neck, almost knocking him over. Immediately, he reached towards his neck and felt a painful jab and a burning sensation.
He tried to turn to face his attacker, but his body wouldn’t move. Again, the hand slammed him with the sharp object. Carey wanted to lift his arms to protect himself, but they dropped limply at his side. His legs grew weak. His muscles quivered uncontrollably.
His mouth opened to scream, but he couldn’t make a sound. Both knees buckled and his body dropped to the floor.
* * * * *
I heard a THUMP! I ran to the OR, opened the door and saw Dr. Carey lying there!
I looked over at the OR table. Keyes was still sleeping with the monitors showing a normal blood pressure, pulse, and EKG.
I dropped to my knees beside Carey. There was no pulse. Jerking the stethoscope from his white lab coat, I listened to his chest. There was only a faint bump…bump…bump. I pounded my fist on Carey’s chest and listened again. Placing the heel of my hand on his lower sternum, I compressed the chest six times before blowing into Carey’s mouth. His heart sounds were slow and distant.
For the first time in my surgical career, I felt panic-stricken. What had happened? I’d only been gone a few minutes.
Quickly, I dialed 911. “A man’s been stabbed. He’s dying! I need help. Please send an ambulance STAT!”
About the Author
Dr. Glenn Shepard was raised on a farm in eastern Virginia. He attended the University of Virginia on an academic scholarship and majored in psychology. As an undergraduate, he lettered in wrestling for three years in a row. Then, he went on to become the only person in UVA history to letter in wrestling again in his sophomore year in medical school.
After completion of med school at UVA, he went to Vanderbilt where he completed his residency in general and cardiovascular surgery. He spent two years in the Army at the Ft. Gordon Army Hospital in Augusta, Georgia and The Second Surgical Hospital in An Khe, Vietnam.
While in Vietnam, he wrote his first work of fiction, Surge, which is on his back burner of works to dig out of the attic and publish, with major revisions, in the future.
He trained in plastic surgery at Duke University, becoming board certified in General Surgery and Plastic surgery. He opened his own Surgery Center in Eastern Virginia, where he worked for 23 years, mostly in a solo practice, before joining a large plastic surgery group.
For 28 years, he founded and directed The Peninsula Cranio-Facial deformities clinic that was staffed by volunteer medical, dental, social services, psychology, and speech pathology experts. The group treated over five hundred patients with cleft lips and palates, as well as a variety of deformities of the face and hand.
Shepard founded, funded, and directed the Riverside Microvascular Research Lab, in which he studied the basic science of wound healing, the development of cleft palates, new techniques in palatal repair, and the regeneration of injured fingernails. He published numerous scientific publications on his work in the lab and clinic.
After the massive Earthquake in Haiti in January, 2010, Dr. Shepard emerged from retirement and joined the Notre Dame Hospital unit in Leogane, Haiti for a 10 day rotation. His empathy for the people and their problems as well as his admiration for the contributions of time and talent from medical personnel from all over the world greatly inspired his second novel, Relief Aid, Haiti.
All his adult life, he has studied and collected American Art of the Hudson River genre. Also, he collects paintings of the prominent Virginia artist, Barclay Sheaks. Currently, he’s writing the authorized biography of the artist.
For six years, he worked with two high school wrestling programs, one that was a perpetual state champion, and the other, a perpetual runner-up in the state meet. He wisely quit after a heavy weight wrestler broke three of his ribs.
Apart from gaining pleasure from writing as his primary hobby for the past twelve years, he is an avid fly fisherman, spending much of his free time fishing on the Chesapeake Bay and at his farm near Williamsburg. There he enjoys nature hikes, observing and photographing the abundant deer population, and always searching for new bird species that might wander off their migratory paths into his view.
Dr. Shepard has also become involved in aquaculture and raises hybrid rock fish, rainbow trout, and fresh water shrimp. While this is not yet a profitable enterprise, it provides a delicious seafood addition to his annual Bluegrass and Barbecue Party. While he has been known to play a mean banjo, he prefers to provide himself as an audience for the many and more talented singers and pickers in his area.
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