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“Why are you out in this?” she asked without greeting.

“It’s about work.”

“That’s what it’s always about.” She looked away. “He’s in the solarium.”

She didn’t move as he walked from the kitchen through the old portion of the house – the foyer, the dining room with seating for twelve, a hall – all restored and filled with museum-quality, antique Louisiana and European furniture – and then he stepped down through the double doors of the two-story solarium, a lush jungle of hanging and potted plants, vines, trees, and blooms. Clayton’s bottomless-well family money had allowed Catherine – obviously an exceptional horticulturist – to create a showcase of beautiful specimens. She was the pride of her garden group, Mike was sure.

In the solarium, Clayton sat on a sofa with his feet up on an ottoman. He had on a fluffy cotton robe with only his undershorts below, but still wore his white shirt and rep tie from the day. He gathered the front of his robe together.

“Michael!”

“Yes, sir,” Mike said. He regretted the “sir” under the circumstances. It was habit. He couldn’t shake the tradition of respect for the guys above you who had decades of experience, although technically, as chief of service, he was now Clayton’s boss.

Clayton picked up a remote and fumbled for the button to cut off the giant-screen TV. He paused. The fourth hurricane of the year was in the Gulf. Red circles next to dotted and solid lines covered the full-screen map. A commercial came on. Clayton clicked and the picture faded.

“You’re looking bushed, Mike. You’re working too hard.” He waved a hand. “Sit down.”

Mike moved past Clayton, who studied a hanging spider plant dangling on a long chain from a ceiling hook thirty feet above, and sat on the edge of a white wicker sofa.

“It’s about today,” Mike said. “Paul’s filed an incident report.”

“Bury it, Mike.”

Catherine came in with a coffeepot and slices of lemon pound cake on a silver serving tray. Her hair was down and brushed now, shining with highlights. Her lips glinted with fresh lipstick.

“Leave us for a few minutes, baby,” Clayton said.

Catherine poured coffee for each of them and left, her silent steps almost ghostly in the damp shadows of the plants. She didn’t react to her dismissal. Being excluded didn’t seem to bother her.

Clayton leaned forward and sipped from a cup.

“I’ve been around for a long time, Mike. I don’t deserve this shit. Make that report disappear.”

Mike shook his head. “It’s not internal, Clayton. It’s gone up the ladder. I can’t stop it.”

“If it goes to the OR committee, we’ll be out of control,” Clayton said.

“It’s out of my control now. It comes from anesthesia.”

“Jesus, man. I know Paul likes you. Talk to him. Make him see the light.”

“He’s concerned, Clayton.” Mostly for the patients. But he also didn’t like the way Clayton’s practice had shifted to the obese. Paul felt the surgery had high risks and questionable benefits.