The Footpath by BF Oswald

 Now in print and available from SynergEbooks, Amazon, and the author.

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Readers' Reviews:

It was nice to read a story in which the protagonist, Avrial, is so ordinary, some one to whom I could relate. Got to love Alexis too. A thoroughly enjoyable book.
—Tom Krukenheimer, Bay Village, OH

A great read.
—Violet Swift, Front Royal, VA

I learned some things about human behavior that I didn't know. Once started, hard to lay down.
—Dick Morrison, Denver, CO

A little 'teachy' in places. I enjoyed The Rental more. Maybe three stars.
—Pamela Stutts, Avon Park, FL

Synopsis:

Dr. Avrial Woodsen, a prominent New York psychiatrist, suffers an almost-fatal heart attack as the result of the stress caused when a psychopathic patient murders his wife. To rebuild his shattered life and repair his damaged heart he moves to a small Arizona town that has a park with a footpath. During his daily walks to strengthen his heart, he meets several of the town’s residents, some of whom stop to talk with him and to share their problems. On one walk, he meets Alexis, a widow newly arrived in town and is immediately attracted to her, which leads to a growing romance. Suddenly their lives are disrupted when Avrial’s wife’s murderer comes to Arizona and begins stalking Avrial bent on revenge. The escaped convict strikes, kidnapping Avrial, Alexis and her daughter Margaret, and locking them in an abandoned mine. Although Alexis shows calm fortitude and ingenuity, she is unable to engineer their escape. The trio appears doomed, but there is a surprising twist to their fate.

From the book:


Chapter One
THE END AND THE BEGINNING

The best laid plans of mice and men
often go astray,
And leave us grief and pain
instead of promised joy.
- Robert Burns (Paraphrased)

My third heart attack was the worse by far than the previous two. I spent ten days in intensive care, three weeks in step down, and a month recovering at home doing nothing. My cardiologist and long-time friend Phil Woods told me in no uncertain terms that either I had to radically change my lifestyle or quickly make my final arrangements. I chose the former. My first two infarcts were the result of too much rich food and good wine plus too much work and too little exercise; I have no doubt that this last attack was brought on by stress. It hit at the end of the most stressful twelve-month period of my sixty-one years on this earth.

The cascade of events started routinely enough. I had been treating Ron Etterman for Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) for about six months. Instead of making the progress I had hoped for, the episodes were becoming more frequent and more violent. Increasingly the focus of his rage was his wife who, as far as I could tell, did nothing to incur his wrath. None of the medications I prescribed had any noticeable effect.

As a result of a conference with his wife and two grown sons, Ron was unwillingly admitted to an acute psychiatric hospital. He immediately demanded a hearing that he got ten days later, and against my earnest protests and those of his treatment team, he was released.
He went home and promptly tried to strangle his wife. Had his two sons not pulled him away from her he would have succeeded. He fled, and disappeared into the backstreets and alleys of New York City. A week later he walked into my office and demanded to see me. My secretary informed him that I was with a patient and asked him to wait. He became infuriated, and she called building security. He left immediately avoiding apprehension.

During my thirty years in private practice I followed the unwritten rule of most physicians I know, I shared neither the address of my residence or my home phone number with my patients. If there were an emergency, my service could contact me. I don't know how Etterman got our Long Island address; he refused to tell me. But he did, and late in the afternoon two weeks after he stormed out of my office he rang our doorbell. When my wife opened the door, he grabbed her and pulled her onto our porch where he strangled the life out of her. Then he calmly walked away unnoticed.

The same day that my wife was buried Etterman was arrested for assaulting a patron in a neighborhood bar. During his booking, he began raving about how he had avenged himself against Satan's mistress. Over and over again he claimed she was disguised as my wife whose name and address he repeated several times. It took more than a week but the link was finally made, Etterman was charged with my wife's murder and bound over for trial.

I did what I always discouraged my patients from doing, I buried myself in work to avoid grieving. During the nine months before Etterman's trial, I increased my patient load, and therefore my office hours, by a third, and worked late into the night and long hours on weekends on a textbook for psychiatric residents I had been contracted to write. I also lived on black coffee, fast foods, and started smoking again after a ten-year hiatus. Almost immediately I was smoking as much as I had been when I quit -- two packs a day.
Although the forensic evidence left little doubt about Etterman's guilt, the expensive defense team hired by Ron's parents plead him not guilty by reason of insanity and demanded a jury trial. I testified for six hours, most of that time being cross-examined by the defense team that scrutinized both my private and professional life in an effort to find something that would discredit my testimony. The hardest part of the whole ordeal for me, however, was to have to look at my wife's murderer as he sat calmly, and apparently very rationally, in front of me at the defense table with his lawyers.

Then there were the agonizing four days during which the jury determined Etterman's fate. He was found guilty, but not by reason of insanity. His competence to stand trial had never been challenged. When the verdict was announced, Etterman began raving incoherently and rushed at the jury foreman, a petite, middle-aged woman whom he tried to strangle.

I had to face him again at his sentencing hearing during which both the court psychiatrist and I urged that he be committed to the state hospital for the criminally insane. The judge ignored our suggestion and sentenced Etterman to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

With that part of the nightmare over I resumed my hectic and self-destructive lifestyle. My well-earned heart attack occurred in the early hours of the morning shortly after I had dragged my overworked self into bed. It awakened me, and I immediately knew what was happening. I called 911 from my bedside phone, and then with agonizing difficulty made my way down stairs and unlocked the front door. The EMTs found me on the floor of the foyer unconscious and barely breathing.

During my month of medical house arrest, I did a lot of thinking, as well as finished writing the textbook. As a result of my illness, some of my patients had been shifted to one of my colleagues, but the majority were being seen by my daughter, a competent psychiatrist in her own right, and her husband who is a licensed clinical psychologist. The easiest part of creating my new life was turning my practice over to them. The hardest was dismantling my thirty-five years of marriage.

We had lived a comfortable life, one of mutual love, mutual wants, needs, desires, and dreams. Sunday was our day together, and we often spent those mornings in bed drinking tea together and planning the week ahead; more recently our retirement. We read brochures, figured costs, set our destinations. Our future seemed even better than our present. Etterman robbed us of that, and I harbored a hatred directed both at him and life in general. I became increasingly morose and reclusive.

Physician heal thyself. That doesn't work.

Grudgingly, and only after much nagging by my daughter and son-in-law, I joined a grief therapy group. That helped! I began to see the possibility of a future life instead of an endless void of despair. I'm sure the strict diet that excluded coffee and cigarettes, and the exercise regimen — mostly walking — Phil forced me to adopt helped also. I felt better emotionally and physically, but I also began to feel restless. I wanted to do something with my remaining life.

My daughter suggested I take up painting, but I can't even draw a straight line with the aid of a ruler. Besides, that pursuit didn't interest me at all.

"Why not write," she asked one Sunday morning when she dropped by the house for brunch; she did that frequently during the long months of my convalescence. I had several professional journal articles to my credit, but because I was no longer seeing patients, I didn't feel I had anything new to write about.

"Do you remember when we all used to go camping?" my daughter asked one Sunday morning. "You used to tell mother and me stories, stories you made up when we would sit around the campfire together. They were great stories. I've often wished you had written them down so that I could read them to my children."

Some threads of those stories began to wander into the forefront of my memory. "I think I may try that," I said with some conviction. Anything for my grandchildren! I did and found telling stories for the benefit of children a very rewarding endeavor. A patient of my son-in-law was an editor for one of the larger publishing houses. She read one of my stories, passed it on to an editor in their children's department, and shortly after that my first book of stories for children was published.

I rented an apartment in the city to be closer to my editor. As I spent more and more time there, our house on Long Island became a nagging concern. I didn't need it. In fact, there was too much of my wife still there for me to feel comfortable—too many memories. I gave my children those of our possessions they wanted, auctioned off the rest, and put the house on the market. It sold quickly, and I settled into my apartment with few regrets.

During a routine physical, Phil found danger signs. Was I being faithful to my diet? Mostly. Some fast food when I was in a hurry, but not much. Was I walking regularly? He had me there. The only walking I did anymore was around my apartment and to and from elevators. Walking on those crowded city streets carried a high element of risk, besides it was currently the midst of winter and walking in the damp, dreary cold held no allure for me.
"You need another change, and you need it NOW!" Phil's concern was very apparent in his voice. "You need to live someplace where you can walk EVERY day! You need to live someplace where it is quiet, and you are surrounded by tranquility. You need to find your Garden of Eden where you can breathe clean air, drink pure water, and that is entirely devoid of fast food. A place where you can write your stories in comfort and good health."

OK, where? Money was not an issue. Our house was paid for and sold for a considerable profit. We had invested wisely, and I had a monthly income from that. Two of my books were modestly well received, and the royalties were additional security. I could afford to live almost anywhere. But I did not want to leave my life in the City. Nor did I want to be far removed from my family. A place where I could walk every day was a criterion that was further limiting.

My wife and I had looked into places where we could winter in relative comfort after I retired. I had filed away all that information after her death; I got it out again. To possibly relocate to a place that we had tentatively chosen felt fitting, felt right. I found that I had several options; I kept coming back to one.

Years ago we had taken a trip west during which we visited a college roommate of mine who had set up his family medical practice in Tomque (pronounced TUM-KEE.), a small town in Arizona. One of the many things that he liked about the location was the weather. It seldom rained, snow was an infrequent visitor, and between sunrise and sunset the temperature ranged from the low fifties to the high seventies almost every day; perfect weather for walking. And it was only two hours by car to Phoenix International Airport, my gateway to family and old friends.

As soon as I could arrange it, I was on my way to Tomque. I was warmly received by my old roommate, invited to stay as long as I wanted in his sprawling Spanish-style house, and given lots of assistance in my search for my Garden of Eden, which I found near the end of my second week in town.

It was a small house, the rooms all on one floor, no wearing stairs to climb. It was located at the north edge of town adjacent to a small park. The park was the beginning and the end of a gravel path that meandered for five miles through the surrounding desert. At intervals, the path hosted benches located in shady spots. If I had designed it, it could not have been more to my liking or benefit.

 

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