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Doctor Alexander Pennington 111
Finally, following one frustrating delay after another, the shiny new automobile accelerated down the on-ramp to the eastbound Interstate. It was leaving California to bear its owner to his family and associates in New england. (He thought of them as his associates because he wasn’t sure they could really be called his friends.)
Thirty-year-old Doctor Alexander Penning- ton III sat behind the steering wheel of his new status symbol, relieved to be on his way at last. He was looking forward to two full weeks of freedom from the pressures of study, work, and political shenanigans he’d endured for the past several years—efforts that were finally making it possible for him to pay for this marvelous piece of machinery.
Both Doctors Alexander Pennington I and II had expected this of him since his birth, and he knew that each one waited anxiously for a full report. Neither was happy about his choice to work in the West, and even less excited that his primary involvement was research. How can one have a prestigious practice bulging with wealthy patients if all he does is research? To the exclusive New england family of Pennington, Alexander Pennington III knew that temporal success was everything. Wealth and influence must transcend even love for family. He realized that this philosophy may sound cold to the bulk of humanity, but in the Pennington world, where respect was centered on possession and control, it was simply the practical way of doing business.
oh, Alexander III had been trained well, but he loved his involvement in medical science. He had fought hard to win a position on the research staff of the University that was a renowned leader in the work. It put him in what he considered to be an enviable situation where he could control his time, for the most part, and he wouldn’t have to spend his life mollycoddling hypochondriacs and eccentric weirdos.
Doctor Alexander Pennington III was pleased with himself, and now that his salary was beginning to match his ability, Doctors Alexander I and II would, by their own standards, have to be pleased with him too.
The digital clock on the space-age dashboard indicated 6:00 a.m., December 23. He was going home for the holidays. Because of unexpected delays, he was a day late getting away. He probably should have flown, but then he wouldn’t have this all- important status symbol along. He was used to functioning on minimal sleep, and if he really pushed it, Alex figured he could still be there for the latter part of Christmas day. But that would still give him two full weeks to display his Pennington stuff.
His sleek machine was eager to run. Alex was tempted to let it all out, but reason ruled and he set the cruise control to an easy seventy-four miles per hour—a fraction of its potential.
The Interstate curved from south to east to go up and over the low rolling mountains. He was, both literally and figuratively, on his way, and there was nothing in view to stop him.
He’d been too pressed for time to do much serious Christmas shopping, but Alex thought it was probably just as well, since he couldn’t possibly cram anything else into his car.
The gifts he had picked up were not anything anyone needed. His selections were mainly chosen to impress: an expensive canned ham, a selection of imported breads, cheeses, and chocolate drink mixes, a basket of assorted fresh fruits, and a three-gallon can of Western Clover Honey for his mother. She loved showy foods and could serve these for the entire next year at her countless teas and gatherings.
There were two gifts that tickled him, though. one was the gold-plated folding hunting knife that he’d picked up for his grandfather. Dr. Alexander I was too old to hunt anymore, but it would bring back memories of the safaris of his youth. And even if it didn’t, anything with gold on it would impress him.
The other gift was a huge stuffed bear for his twenty-year-old sister, Keri. Alex knew it was absolutely useless, but she was always accusing him of treating her like a child, so in playful ways, he never missed an opportunity to do just that. He knew she didn’t particularly like stuffed animals, so when he saw the huge bear, he had to get it for her. But then, as he was paying for the bear, he saw a wristwatch that he knew she’d think was really cool. His conscience kicked in, and he bought it for her too, to offset the teasing effect of the bear.
Alex grumped inwardly that after what she’d done to him, she didn’t even deserve a gift from him this year. He was still fuming that she had dumped all her stuff on him to bring home for her. She was a student at the same university that employed him, but she only came to see him when she needed something. It seemed to him that she was majoring in what he called “socialite science,” the same degree he often accused his mother of earning when she went to the same school.
Keri was flying home for Christmas, and when she learned that he was driving, she called and asked if he could take a few things with him that she couldn’t squeeze into her bags to get on the airplane. Alex would have surely refused if he had realized what she meant by “a few things.”
So she showed up with this big box that just barely fit into the trunk of his car. She said it contained the new ski outfit she’d purchased at Saks the last time she was home. She loved it, of course, but when she got back to school, her roommate’s friend had one the exact same color, so of course she couldn’t keep it. The box also held several new sweaters she had never worn, but she was sure they would be essential during the holidays. Her bulky blow-dryer was in there too.
Alex had grumped that she was only going to be home for two weeks! But it was clear that she had her agenda, and she pointed out that he was, after all, her big brother who was supposed to be looking after her.
Well, the upshot of this mostly one-sided sibling bantering was that when Keri got all of her things crammed into the car with what he already had packed, the only place for the huge bear was in the passenger seat beside him. No way would his Pennington ego permit him to drive his new status symbol all the way across the country seated beside an oversized stuffed bear—so he covered it with a bed sheet.
To Alex, this long drive home was not just a Christmas holiday with family. It was far more an ideal opportunity to show off his worldly attainments. He felt no real sentiment or understanding of the true meaning of the holiday, nor did he know very much about the one whose birth it celebrated. He was a Pennington. He was young, healthy, and successful, and he was beginning to earn his own substantial income. He was unattached and free, and he liked it that way.
He had no use for marriage. He had everything he wanted, and none of what he didn’t want . . . namely, children. He felt uncomfortable when they were around, and they seemed happy to respond in kind. He was well aware that there were some well- placed women who, eligible as he was, had serious designs on him. But they were all so self-centered and possessive. Although he suspected that one of them would eventually wear down his resistance, he was in no hurry. His life was under control and just the way he wanted it, and anyone else who wanted to possess even a little piece of him was out of luck.
For all of his life, Alex brooded, the tenets of The Pennington Creed had been hammered into him. That Creed was the family guide to temporal success, a sort of rephrased version of the law of survival of the fittest. To his knowledge, the five main tenets of the Creed had never been written, but nonetheless, they were vivid in his mind:
giving to Charity: Do so only when it can be regarded as an investment that promises great returns. People are poor only because of their own indolence, and giving to them only fuels the fire of their debilitating fever. If they get hungry enough they will work, and work is what they need, not handouts.
Church Attendance: okay for social reasons and if it will improve your status in the community and credibility in the marketplace, but never grovel in worship. That is a misplacement of priorities.
Faith in god: It’s all right as long as it isn’t overdone, but never let it replace faith in self. It is a sign of weakness and subservience that can be used to great advantage by your adversary.
emotion: Keep your heart above your work. Never let it drag through the mire of empathy or pity. Thus exposed, it could only get bruised or broken. And no man with a broken heart can keep the pace.
eating Habits: Never eat natural foods like whole wheat, or drink milk still warm from a cow. Though it may be nourishing to the body, it sends subtle signals to the soul that you are ready to be humble and willing to rely on others for part of your existence. And worse, that you might have a need to be taught some things you don’t know about humility. In short, the very naturalness of such foods would invalidate every other tenet of the Creed!
The Creed was not too romantic, but it was practical and sound. Alex lived by it devotedly. It was the nearest thing he knew to a religion, and it had been very carefully taught.
Obedience to the Creed had given Alex what he felt was the best of all possible worlds, and all around him he saw examples of what happens when people live otherwise. There were the welfare patients that he and all the other doctors in the state were required to treat without remuneration. They seemed to be the patients who needed the most help, and yet they could never pay. How could people let their lives get so messed up? He called them “the cracked wheat eaters” because that is what they invariably ate.
He freely admitted that he was egotistical and selfish, but he saw these traits as signs of strength, not weakness. He had never given anything that hadn’t been a carefully calculated investment with the promise of a healthy return. He hated the greed of society and preferred to practice his in private. He was impatient with slothfulness and imperfection. He wondered why everyone could not be more like him. Though he was very pleased with himself, he couldn’t remember ever feeling that way about anyone else. He knew that he was hypercritical and cynical, but he was practical and realistic. He had worked hard to get where he was, and he regarded other people as challenges to be met and conquered.
oh, he had been carefully trained, and now he was anxious to get on with this next exciting phase of his life. He was on his way! His old mentors in the east would have to be pleased.