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Like so many of Dr. Fenimore's adventures, trouble starts with a harmless idea.
From his train window, the good doctor sees a single shell gliding on the surface of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, an image that stirs up fond memories of his rowing days. Rowing had been the perfect antidote to the hectic rush of medical school, and he wonders why he ever gave it up. He could also use some exercise, as Jennifer, his significant other, broadly hints. So with renewed dedication, he goes knocking on the office door at Boathouse Row to reenroll as a member of the Windsor Club.
Charlie Ashburn, whom Dr. Fenimore knows from medical school, is running the club, and they catch up on lost time. Charlie's son, Chuck, is a great rower and is currently training for the big regatta. Talking about Chuck makes Charlie swell with pride, but it makes Fenimore a little uneasy. Charlie was an incredibly talented rower himself but had to give it up because of a serious heart condition.
Dr. Fenimore doesn't enjoy his membership for very long before he finds himself drawn into an Ashburn family problem. Charlie's wife comes to his office in secret and begs him to talk to Charlie about getting their son checked out by a doctor. To Dr. Fenimore's surprise, Charlie has been refusing to face the possibility that Chuck might have inherited the same heart defect he has. The doctor agrees to help, and his well-intentioned efforts put his own life at risk.
In this fifth Fenimore episode, Robin Hathaway captures Philadelphia's exciting rowing scene and proves once again that when this doctor is in, it's great fun for all.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Robin Hathaway won the SMP/Malice Domestic Contest for Best First Traditional Mystery in 1997 and the 1998 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. She lives in New York City.
In the early morning light, the Schuylkill River glowed with the luminosity of a pearl.
As Fenimore gazed from his train window, a dark speck glided onto the still surface. Was it an enterprising oarsman risen early to get in a few practice strokes before a big race? Or an ordinary citizen out for a recreational row? Fenimore had rowed for fun and relaxation when he was an intern, whenever he could fit it in, which wasn't very often. And his father had done so before him. It was the perfect antidote to the hectic rush of medical school. He remembered the bliss of rowing in a singles shell for all he was worth, then resting, raising his oars and listening to the solitary blip . . . blip . . . blip of the water dripping off his oars into the river---as if they were the only sounds on earth. Was there anything more peaceful than that? After a row, he would return to the chaos of the hospital feeling refreshed and ready to go.
Why had he stopped rowing? Why had he given up something he had enjoyed so much? Had life become that busy? Or was this just an excuse for pure, unadulterated sloth? Was life really worth living if you couldn't spend a few hours a week doing something you really loved? Nonsense. It was just a matter of discipline. He would stop by the Windsor Boat Club and renew his membership next week. As soon as he got back from this cardiology conference. He'd be damned if he'd lead a life of quiet desperation like Thoreau described, with no joy in it. With the air of someone who has made an important decision, Fenimore shook open his Inquirer and began to read what evils the world had concocted while he was asleep.
On Monday, true to his word, Fenimore left the office earlier than usual and took a cab to Kelly Drive. The city was especially beautiful that spring afternoon. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom. And a haze of new green leaves, the color of pistachio ice cream, softened the trees along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
"Beautiful day," Fenimore ventured to the driver.
"Uh-huh" was his enthusiastic reply.
As the cab approached Boathouse Row, Fenimore's blood quickened. The sight of all those scantily clad young people jogging, biking, and Rollerblading along the river reminded him of his youth. Hell, Fenimore, you aren't that old! "Stop here, please," he told the cabbie.
The driver pulled over and stopped next to the Lincoln statue, which had been moved recently, Fenimore noted. It used to be in the center of Kelly Drive, now it was on the grass, over to one side. Where had he been when all this was going on? Shut up in your stuffy office on Spruce Street, he answered himself. He paid the cabbie and leapt out. "Keep the change!" he yelled and slammed the door with the vigor of a twenty-year-old.
While Fenimore waited for the traffic light to change---That's new too, he realized---he admired the row of elegant boathouses that lined the drive. They had always reminded him of a bunch of cheerful Victorian aunts. The one he was headed for had a peaked roof, brown shingles, a red door, and red trim. The Windsor Club had housed rowers and shells for more than 150 years. The Schuylkill Navy had been founded around 1860, he remembered, and except for a brief break during World War II, had been going strong ever since. His father had rowed at the Vesper Club before him. Not in competition, just for recreation. But when it came time for Fenimore to row, there was no place vacant at the Vesper Club, so he had joined the Windsor. The story of how his father began to row had become a family legend.
When Dr. Fenimore Sr. had been a resident at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, or HUP, as it is more commonly called, he had lived in a stuffy rented room on a top floor. One sultry summer day, in search of a breeze, he had walked over to the river---and watched the rowers with envy. They had looked so cool and serene, despite the heat of the day, slicing calmly through the water.
On an impulse his father had knocked on the door of the first boathouse he came to. The Vesper Club. A handsome young man in shorts and nothing else threw open the door and said with an engaging grin, "Can I help you?"
Fenimore's father stared speechless for a moment as he recognized his greeter---the famous rower Jack Kelly Jr. "Uh . . . I was just wondering if . . . er . . . you ever rented shells to ordinary people?" he stuttered.
"Sure. What did you have in mind?" Kelly's blue eyes were so friendly and his manner so welcoming, Fenimore's father blurted his request: "I'm a resident over at HUP and things get pretty hectic. I just thought it would be nice to go out on the river---away from all the turmoil---maybe once or twice a week."
"Terrific idea." Again, that big grin. "When would you like to start?"
"Well, you better tell me what it costs first," his father said. "You see, residents don't get paid much and---"
His father's face fell. Ten dollars a row, in the 1950s, was much more than a resident could afford.
Seeing his expression, Kelly said quickly, "That's the fee for a year's membership. You can row as often as you like. Unless there's a race going on, of course," he added half-apologetically.
His father was so stunned he could think of nothing to say.
"Come on in, I'll show you around." And the winner of the Diamond Sculls treated Fenimore's father to a tour of the boathouse---in all its sweaty glory. He was showed the gleaming wooden shells, stored in their racks. They were all wood in those days. Carbo-fiber shells had yet to make their appearance. And the oars, standing in rows, like soldiers along the wall. He let down a singles shell and demonstrated to Dr. Fenimore Sr. how to launch it, and even assigned him a locker for his own use. As a result of that one impulse, his father rowed for more than twenty years, and introduced his son to the same pleasure when he was in medical school. There was one pleasure he couldn't share with his son, however. One day when his father had finished a row, there was a beautiful young woman, wearing a dress the color of apricots, lounging on the dock. She was surrounded by young male admirers. When his father stepped onto the dock in a pair of skimpy shorts and nothing else, she turned. He stopped dead and stared. In those days, women were a rare sight at the boathouses.
Grace Kelly sent him a dazzling smile.
Copyright © 2006 by Robin Hathaway
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