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“So remember now, colleagues. Miracles do happen. They are just inches away, inside the calf skin of your wallet, the silk lining of your Gucci bag. Roll out those platinum American Express cards. Open your hearts. One dollar, ladies and gentlemen, for Dolores.
“One dollar to believe again.
“Best deal in town.”
On the screen behind him the logo of the global health organization appeared, with a website and 800 number followed by an entreaty to “GIVE NOW” in bright, bold letters. Here and there a doctor’s wife gasped, startled by the doctor’s blatant fundraising.
“One dollar, Doctors, the power is all yours. Thank you.”
He looked out over the banquet room where his fellow physicians greeted his final remarks with polite applause. Whispers about broken protocol wafted about the room. A handful of young volunteers began weaving through the crowd encouraging donations.
Dr. Lanford took a final swig of the Evian water before him and stepped away from the podium and off the stage.
“Christ,” he muttered, “I need a cigarette.” He grabbed a tall-neck Corona from a passing waiter and headed to the emergency exit in back.
The hot, humid air in the alley outside hit him like a shot of Haldol. He felt heavy and dull and he closed his eyes and slumped against the brick wall.
“That thing you said, about the dollar...” It was a woman’s voice, it startled him.
A dark-haired woman, 35, maybe 40, stood a few feet away, her arms crossed over her crisp white employee blouse, her cigarette poised before her. A slight woman with the barest of smile lines, she stood quite still slowly flicking the thumb and little finger of the hand holding her cigarette.
“Oh,” Lanford said, reaching into his jacket pocket for his hidden cigarettes — the last of the smokers among the physician class. “You heard that did you?”
“Yeah, I was working the bar in the back.” She dropped her cigarette to the pavement and snuffed it out with her toe. The cuff on her pressed black trousers swayed once, then fell back into place.
“Well, this crowd must have kept you damn busy.”
“Ha! That’s true. You doctors can really put it away.”
Lanford tipped his Corona to her. “Salud,” he said. “Thanks for keeping us lubricated.”
“So that business with the dollar,” she asked, straightening her pressed collar, “is it true?”
“You mean can a dollar really buy all that? Yeah, it can. Not that those fuckers really give a shit. Not anymore. They just want to be seen looking all humanitarian.”
He took out one of the dollars he’d stuffed in his pocket.
“This little baby can change a life.” He waved it weakly in the dank alley air.
The woman reached out and slowly slid the dollar bill out of his hand.
“So where can I send my dollar?” She asked, twirling the dollar bill around her bare ring finger and fluttering it before her like a diamond ring.
“Really?” he asked.
“Let me give you my card.” He reached into his inside pocket and handed the woman one of his business cards. “That’s my private number at the bottom,” he said.
“Oh,” she said. “Thanks. Good to know.”
“Another?” Dr. Lanford tapped two cigarettes out of his pack and offered the woman another smoke.
“Sure, what the hell,” she said and took the two cigarettes, offering one back to the doctor. “You?” she asked.
“Of course,” he said and smiled.
He pulled out the steel lighter that had gone with him from field hospital to field hospital, and flipped it open.
The woman leaned forward, her left hand cupped over both cigarettes between her lips, the folded dollar bill jutting out on her right hand.
Dr. Lanford suddenly plucked the bill from between her fingers, lit one end of it with the lighter, flicked the lighter closed, and leaned forward to light the two cigarettes in the woman’s lips with the burning dollar bill.
The woman laughed a light, lilting laugh that defied the swelter around them. She brushed back the greying hairs on the side of Dr. Peter Lanford’s face.
“So do you wear a toupee also?” she asked and then leaned and drew deeply on the flame and the tips of both cigarettes glowed red and ashen.
“Oh, you’ve heard that story too, have you?” He let the burning dollar flutter to the wet concrete pavement.
“Everyone’s heard that story,” she said, “Doctor Lanford.”
“So you know my name,” he said as the woman handed him his smoke. He took a deep drag and exhaled high into the night air. “But I don’t know yours.”
“Oh,” she said, and smiled, tapping the ash off her cigarette. “It’s Dolores.”