He paused, then continued, "Professional people like us who are by nature middle-of-the-roaders, have dallied too long on issues of human rights. Among ourselves we do not discriminate - at least most of the time - and in the past we have considered that to be enough. Generally, we've ignored events and pressures outside our own ranks. Our reasoning has been that we are professional, medical men with time for little else.
Well, maybe that's true, even if convenient. But here and now - like it or not - we are involved up to our wisdom teeth."
The little doctor paused, his eyes searching the faces of his audience.
"You have already heard of the unpardonable insult by this hotel to our distinguished colleague, Dr. Nicholas - an insult in direct defiance of civil rights law. In retaliation, as your president, I have recommended drastic action. It is that we should cancel our convention and walk from this hotel en masse."
There was a gasp of surprise from several sections of the room. Dr. Ingram continued, "Most of you have already learned of this proposal. To others, who arrived this morning, it is new. Let me say to both groups that the step I have proposed involves inconvenience, disappointment to me, no less than to you - and a professional as well as a public loss. But there are occasions, involving matters of great conscience, when nothing less than the most forceful action will suffice. I believe this to be one. It is also the only way in which the strength of our feelings will be demonstrated and by which we shall prove, unmistakably, that in matters of human rights this profession is not to be trifled with again."
From the floor came several cries of "hear, hear!" but, as well, a rumble of dissent.
Near the center of the room a burly figure lumbered to his feet.
Quaratone, leaning forward from his vantage point, had an impression of jowls, a thick-lipped smile and heavy-rimmed glasses. The burly man announced, "I'm from Kansas City." There was a good-natured cheer which was acknowledged with the wave of a pudgy hand. "I've just one question for the doctor. Will he be the one who'll explain to my little woman - who's been counting on this trip like a lot of other wives, I reckon - why it is that having just got here we're to turn tail and go home?"
An outraged voice protested, "That isn't the point!" It was drowned out by ironic cheers and laughter from others in the hall.
"Yessir," the burly man said, "I'd like him to be the one to tell my wife." Looking pleased with himself, he sat down.
Dr. Ingram was on his feet, red faced, indignant. "Gentlemen, this is an urgent, serious matter. We have already delayed action for twenty-four hours which in my opinion is at least half a day too long."
There was applause, but brief and scattered. A number of other voices spoke at once. Beside Dr. Ingram, the meeting's chairman pounded with a gavel.
Several speakers followed, deploring the expulsion of Dr. Nicholas, but leaving unanswered the question of reprisal. Then, as if by assent, attention focused on a slim, dapper figure standing with a suggestion of authority near the front of the hall. Quaratone missed the name which the chairman announced, but caught ". . . second vice-president and member of our executive board."
The new speaker began in a dry crisp voice, "It was at my urging, supported by several fellow executive members, that this meeting is being held in camera. As a result, we may speak freely, knowing that whatever we say will not be recorded, and perhaps misrepresented, outside this room. This arrangement, I may add, was strongly opposed by our esteemed president, Dr. Ingram."
From the platform, Dr. Ingram growled, "What are you afraid of - involvement?"
Ignoring the question, the dapper man continued, "I yield to no one in my personal distaste for discrimination. Some of my best . . ." - he hesitated -". . . my best-liked associates are those of other creeds and races. Furthermore, I deplore with Dr. Ingram the incident of yesterday.
It is merely on the question of procedure at this moment that we disagree. Dr. Ingram - if I may emulate his choice of metaphor - favors extraction. My own view is to treat more mildly for an unpleasant but localized infection." There was a ripple of laughter at which the speaker smiled.
"I cannot believe that our unfortunately absent colleague, Dr. Nicholas, would gain in the least from cancellation of our convention. Certainly, as a profession, we would lose. Furthermore - and since we are in private session I say this frankly - I do not believe that as an organization the broad issue of race relations is any of our concern."
A single voice near the rear protested, "Of course it's our concern!
Isn't it everybody's?" But through most of the room there was merely attentive silence.
The speaker shook his head. "Whatever stands we take or fail to, should be as individuals. Naturally we must support our own people where necessary, and in a moment I shall suggest certain steps in the case of Dr. Nicholas. But otherwise I agree with Dr. Ingram that we are professional medical men with time for little else."
Dr. Ingram sprang to his feet. "I did not say that! I pointed out that it's a view which has been held in the past. I happen to disagree strongly."
The dapper man shrugged. "Nevertheless the statement was made."
"But not with that kind of implication. I will not have my words twisted!" The little doctor's eyes flashed angrily. "Mr. Chairman, we're talking here glibly, using words like 'unfortunate,' 'regrettable.'
Can't all of you see that this is more than just that; that we are considering a question of human rights and decency? If you had been here yesterday and witnessed, as I witnessed, the indignity to a colleague, a friend, a good man . . ."
There were cries of "Order! order!" As the chairman pounded with his gavel, reluctantly, his face flushed, Dr. Ingram subsided.
The dapper man inquired politely, "May I continue?" The chairman nodded.
"Thank you. Gentlemen, I will make my suggestions briefly. First, I propose that our future conventions shall be held in locales where Dr. Nicholas and others of his race will be accepted without question or embarrassment. There are plenty of places which the remainder of us, I am sure, will find acceptable. Secondly, I propose that we pass a resolution disapproving the action of this hotel in rejecting Dr. Nicholas, after which we should continue with our convention as planned."
On the platform, Dr. Ingram shook his head in disbelief.
The speaker consulted a single sheet of paper in his hand. "In conjunction with several other members of your executive board, I have drafted a resolution . . ."
In his eyrie Quaratone had ceased to listen. The resolution itself was unimportant. Its substance was predictable; if necessary he could obtain a text later. He was watching, instead, the faces of the listeners below.
They were average faces, he decided, of reasonably educated men. They mirrored relief. Relief, Quaratone thought, from the need for the kind of action - uncomfortable, unaccustomed which Dr. Ingram had proposed. The salve of words, paraded primly in democratic style, offered a way out. Conscience would be relieved, convenience intact. There had been some mild protest - a single speaker supporting Dr. Ingram - but it was short-lived. Already the meeting had settled down to what looked like becoming a prolix discussion of the resolution's wording.
The Time man shivered - a reminder that as well as other discomforts, he had been close to an hour in a cold air duct. But the effort had been worth while. He had a live story which the stylists in New York could rewrite searingly. He also had a notion that this week his work would not be squeezed out.
Peter McDermott heard of the Dentistry Congress decision to continue with its convention almost as soon as the in-camera meeting ended. Because of the obvious importance of the meeting to the hotel, he had stationed a convention department clerk outside the Dauphine Salon with instructions to report promptly whatever could be learned. A moment or two ago the clerk telephoned to say that from the conversation of emerging delegates it was obvious that the proposal to cancel the convention had been overruled.
Peter supposed that for the hotel's sake he should be pleased. Instead, he had a feeling of depression. He wondered about the effect on Dr. Ingram whose strong motivation and forthrightness had clearly been repudiated.
Peter reflected wryly that Warren Trent's cynical assessment of the situation yesterday had proven accurate after all. He supposed he should let the hotel proprietor know.
As Peter entered the managing director's section of the executive suite, Christine looked up from her desk. She smiled warmly, reminding him how much he had wanted to talk with her last evening.
She inquired, "Was it a nice party?" When he hesitated, Christine seemed amused. "You haven't forgotten already?"
He shook his head. "Everything was fine. I missed you, though - and still feel badly about getting the arrangements mixed."
"We're twenty-four hours older. You can stop now."
"If you're free, perhaps I could make up for it tonight."
"It's snowing invitations!" Christine said. "Tonight I'm having dinner with Mr. Wells."
Peter's eyebrows went up. "He has recovered."
"Not enough to leave the hotel, which is why we're dining here. If you work late, why not join us afterward?"
"If I can, I will." He indicated the closed double doors of the hotel proprietor's office. "Is W.T. available?"
"You can go in. I hope it isn't problems, though. He seems depressed this morning."
"I've some news may cheer him. The dentists just voted against canceling out." He said more soberly, "I suppose you saw the New York papers."
"Yes, I did. I'd say we got what we deserved."
He nodded agreement.
"I also saw the local papers," Christine said. "There's nothing new on that awful hit-and-run. I keep thinking about it."
Peter said sympathetically, "I have too." Once more the scene of three nights earlier - the roped-off, floodlighted road, with police searching grimly for clues - came sharply back into focus. He wondered if the police investigation would uncover the offending car and driver. Perhaps by now both were safely clear and past detection, though he hoped not. The thought of one crime was a reminder of another. He must remember to ask Ogilvie if there had been any developments overnight in the hotel robbery investigation. He was surprised, come to think of it, that he had not heard from the chief house officer before now.
With a final smile for Christine, he knocked at the door of Warren Trent's office and went in.
The news which Peter brought seemed to make little impression. The hotel proprietor nodded absently, as if reluctant to switch his thoughts from whatever private reverie he had been immersed in. He seemed about to speak - on another subject, Peter sensed - then, as abruptly, changed his mind. After only the briefest of conversation, Peter left.
Albert Wells had been right, Christine thought, in predicting Peter McDermott's invitation for tonight. She had a momentary regret at having arranged - deliberately - to be unavailable.
The exchange reminded her of the stratagem she had thought of yesterday to make the evening inexpensive for Albert Wells. She telephoned Max, head waiter of the main dining room.