The Contingency Factor
In December 1990, a popular TV host interviewed five women who developed severe debilitating diseases after breast surgery with silicone implants. Two medical experts on the panel said they had proof that silicone leaking and spreading throughout their bodies was responsible for their diseases.
Shortly after the program aired the lawsuits began…and then the brutal murders. All the victims had breast enlargement surgery with silicone implants, performed by the same plastic surgeon, and all were represented by attorneys who belonged to an elite organization of trial lawyers…The Centurion Counsel. And then the murders of the lawyers began.
The killer left no evidence and detectives throughout the country were baffled, until a Tucson Detective, Gary Ronstadt, discovered the association behind the killings, only it may have been too late to prevent the next series of murders.
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March 9, 1936.
THE KILLING OF three Jews during the Przytyk pogrom on March 9, 1936, barely registered on the pogrom meter when compared to the tens of thousands of Jews that were massacred by the Cossacks in the Ukraine during the Kymelnytsky Uprising of 1648-1657, and thousands more during the Koliyivschnya uprising in 1768-1769. However, for ten-year-old Itzhak Minkowski and his four-year-old brother Naoch it was the most significant event of their young lives.
On the morning of March 9, 1936, Josek Minkowski awakens before the first rays of dawn sneak through the window of his humble cobbler’s shop. His wife Chaja is still asleep, her snores sound like the back and forth of an accordion being pushed and pulled by an accordion monkey. Josek slips on his robe and makes his way down the stairs, which groan in protest over being assaulted by his two hundred pound frame. He hears the shuffling of feet outside the front of the house, followed by a violent maniacal banging on the door. It flies open, and he is confronted by a bearded glassy-eyed peasant from the village, his breath reeking of alcohol, and his mouth frothing like a rabid Rasputin.
“Pieprzony Żyd zabójca Chrystus––fucking Jew Christ killer.” He raises his axe and buries it deep in Josek’s chest…again…and…again. Josek crumples to the floor grasping his breached chest in a futile attempt to contain the flow of blood and the bubbling of air as it hisses through his crushed lungs.
The peasant charges up the stairs and enters the bedroom where Chaja, now fully awake, pulls her eiderdown comforter up to her neck––as if it will protect her from the peasant’s rage. Her fear is palpable. With a satanic grin the peasant drops his axe and pulls the comforter from her hands; he rips off her nightgown, exposing her sagging breasts and abdomen, scarred from the birth of her two sons by Caesarian section. A single blow to her face renders her unconscious. He unbuckles his belt and lowers his pants, freeing an erect uncircumcised penis throbbing with desire. He spreads her legs, mounts her, and violates her unconscious body.
“Kurwa suka Żyd. To jest jak człowiek pieprzy––Jew bitch. This is how a man fucks.” He climaxes; his body dances as if in a grand mal seizure. Satisfied, he raises his pants and leaves the bed; he picks up his axe, and with one vicious swing her head is almost separated from her body. Blood erupts like an angry volcano. He unsheathes a knife from his belt and cuts off her breasts and throws them in a corner. He laughs. “Nie więcej Żydzi nigdy ssać te piersi”––“No more Jews will ever suckle these breasts.”
Standing in the doorway are Itzhak and Naoch. They bear silent witness to the carnage. The peasant turns, raises the bloody axe, and then lowers it. He picks up the frail Naoch and hurls him against the wall. He throws Itzhak through the open bedroom window.
The riot lasts but forty-five minutes. The peasants leave the village, and the Jews begin to clear the rubble and start the process of rebuilding, as they have done since the first recorded pogrom in 1096, the Rhineland massacres.
A neighbor, who is the village doctor, hears the moans of a child in the yard of the cobbler’s shop. He follows the sounds and discovers young Itzhak Minkowski lying in a bed of mulch that cushioned his fall from the window. After satisfying himself that Itzhak has sustained no serious injuries, the doctor carries him to his office and has his wife tend him while he returns to the cobbler’s shop.
The door is open. He sees the body of Josek lying in his own blood. Blowflies have started their pilgrimage and are congregating in his sightless eyes and nasal cavities. Another procession of blowflies makes its way to and from his gaping chest wound. The buzzing sound of their vibrating wings crescendos as more and more join the procession. Upstairs he hears the plaintive wailing of a child. He ascends the stairs and finds Naoch sobbing in spurts with his eyes squeezed shut: he lies curled, as if in a cocoon, by the wall indented where his head struck when thrown by the peasant.
The blowflies are having a second convention in Chaja’s chest cavity. The doctor approaches the bed, lifts the comforter, now a shroud, and covers her body.
New York Harbor, December 18, 1936.
Itzhak and Naoch stand on the deck of the RMS Aquitania, each embraced by an arm of their uncle Chaim, their father’s older brother, as the ship steams into New York Harbor on their way to a new life in America.
“What’s that?” asks Itzhak as they approach the Statue of Liberty.
“That,” replies his uncle, “is the symbol of freedom that says you can be and do anything you want without ever having to be afraid again.”
Naoch asks, “But why do we have to change our names and learn to speak English?”
His uncle smiles, “Ponieważ będzie Amerykan––because you will be Americans. You will have American names and you will speak only English. You are no longer Polish. From now on you will be ‘Neal Mink.’ Neal means champion.”
“What will Itzhak’s name be?”
“His name will be ‘Ingram,’ which means hero.”
“Always remember that a mink is an animal that will fight and defend its territory to the death. That will be the destiny of the Mink brothers––to be heroes and champions and to fight injustice to the death.”
December 12, 1990.
INGRAM MINK SAT in a soft leather swivel chair surrounded by a chrome and glass desk in his ultramodern office on the top floor of the Williams Center Tower. In the palm of his right hand lay a soft, gelatinous, amorphous mass that shimmied like a mold of Jell-O. He juggled it from one hand to the other, and each time it assumed a pancake like shape as it plopped into his palm. He grasped it between his thumb and index finger and watched it morph into the shape of a teardrop. Smiling, he laid it on his desk blotter, got up, and walked to the window, which had an unobstructed panoramic view of the Santa Catalina Mountains to the north and the Tucson Mountains to the west.
He was a slight man, no more than five feet eight inches in height. His dark hair was peppered with just enough grey to give him a look of distinction. He had deep-set obsidian eyes that burned with intensity, and a slightly hooked nose that his detractors referred to as a Jew nose. He stood straight up, in contrast to the slightly stooped posture he assumed in the courtroom, which was an affectation purposely created to gain a measure of sympathy from jurors. His English was flawless, despite the fact he did not learn English until he was eleven years of age. However, in the courtroom he spoke with a trace of an accent, which Hispanic jurors immediately identified with. All jurors viewed him as a simple, humble man, wearing off-the-rack clothes, unlike the high-priced defense lawyers in their Brooks Brothers’ suits whom he regularly decimated in court. A defense attorney saw a pit-bull, but a plaintiff saw a savior.
As he watched the setting sun play peek-a-boo with the clouds, changing colors like a kaleidoscope from a blazing red to a regal purple, he knew what he was going to do. He returned to his desk, pressed a button on the intercom and said, “Neal I need to see you in my office.”
Neal Mink was the antithesis of his older brother. He was tall and fair-haired, with glacier blue eyes that twinkled constantly. Michelangelo could have sculpted his Roman nose. His casual demeanor was reflected in the way he dressed, unpretentious, but always with taste. The two brothers were polar opposites in all aspects of their lives. Ingram, a widower, was the somber, studious, serious one, and Neal was the unmarried, light-hearted, playful satyr, who at the age of fifty-eight appeared much younger, and who still attracted women like moths to a flame. But, when they worked together on a personal injury case the brothers fit like a glove on a hand.
Ingram was the litigator and Neal the researcher. Neal provided the paints for the pallet, and Ingram painted the landscape. Neal’s memory was eidetic, and the database stored in his brain rivaled that of the Library of Congress. Ingram would take the facts that Neal provided him and weave a case that was unassailable. Like a chess grand master, which in fact he was, he could anticipate his opponents’ moves long before they did. And in the courtroom it was always check…mate…game…match. He had never lost a case. Opposing attorneys knew that if Mink took a case to court the result wasn’t if, but rather how much. When Mink took on a personal injury case the knee jerk reaction was to settle the case before it ever reached the courtroom. He was receptive to settling cases, but only if the offer started with six zeroes. The only pictures on his walls were blowups made from checks of jury awards. Encouraging to clients. Intimidating to defense attorneys. Those attorneys who balked at an offer to settle made a huge mistake.
Neal sauntered into the office and said, “Well big brother it’s almost quitting time, and I’ve got a date tonight.” He glanced at his Mickey Mouse watch and said, “…In exactly three hours. What’s up?”
“Not to worry, you’ll be there in plenty of time to sow your seed. Take a look at this.” He threw him the gelatinous pancake.
Neal caught it and watched it mold into the spaces between his fingers. He raised his eyebrows and looked up. “Goop? Play-Doh?”
“No, my learned brother, that is the veta madre—the mother lode. Take a look at this.” He turned to the entertainment center behind his desk, opened the flipper doors and inserted a cassette in the VCR and waited for the image to appear.
“Good evening. Welcome to Face to Face with Connie Chung. Tonight we will be talking about something that may pose a serious health hazard to millions of women. Most of us know little about breast implants. We’ve seen the ads; we’ve heard the rumors about which celebrities have them and which don’t. But we don’t know anything about the dangers. Since the early 1960s, some two million women have had breast implants. It’s a simple device; the most common ones look like this: it has an outer shell made of silicone, with silicone gel on the inside. The operation takes a few hours, and if all goes well, the implants should last a lifetime, at least that’s what most women believe, but not the women we interviewed. In fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
“For almost thirty years, American women have been getting breast implants. An astonishing average of three hundred and fifty implant operations a day. But what’s shocking is that the federal government has never approved these devices. Only now is the government looking at the dangers. For some women, it may be too late.”
He played the tape until the end, and then turned off the VCR and said, “Well, what do you think?”
Neal steepled his fingers and replied, “I think we should stake a claim. Do you want me to get the mules, picks, and pans?’’
“You better believe it. I want you check out everything she talked about in that interview. Find out all you can about Chung’s experts and the women she interviewed. When we have assembled all the pieces we are going to know more about these implants than the manufacturers who made them. Chung said there were two million women who have had implants. I want to know if that number is just in the U.S., or worldwide. I suspect she’s talking about the U.S. If only one percent have had a problem with them, it means there are at least twenty thousand potential plaintiffs who will require our services. And I guarantee that once we get started there will be a lot more women who will be convinced they have a problem.
“Once the legal community realizes the potential, they’ll be lining up like runners for the Boston Marathon. We’re going to have bib numbers 1 and 2.”
Neal rubbed his chin and said, “Hmm, I wonder where Chung got her numbers. At first she said two million, and then she said three hundred and fifty implants a day for almost thirty years. Let’s see what that is…” As if he were a savant, he calculated the numbers in his head. “Those numbers convert to three million eight hundred and thirty-two thousand five hundred. So, which one is it? In either case there’s an orchard of cherry trees out there just begging to be picked.
“Miss Chung I believe you have just opened the floodgates like your colleague Ed Bradley did four years ago on 60 Minutes, when the snowball he threw started the avalanche that almost destroyed Audi.”
On November 23, 1986, 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley hosted the segment, Out of Control, which presented visual evidence that showed the Audi 5000 could lurch forward even when the driver had his foot on the brake. He claimed 1,200 accidents, five deaths, and 400 injuries resulted from the defective Audis. Millions of people watched the segment. Audi sales plummeted, and the lawsuits began. Even though the visual evidence that Bradley presented had later proven to be rigged, it did not stop the feeding frenzy created by plaintiffs’ attorneys. It’s hard to convince a shark that the dining room is closed.
Neal smiled as he rose from his chair and said, “I think I’ll send Miss Chung a dozen roses.”
“Phil Fleishman has once again written a page-turner murder mystery novel. As with “The Gemini Factor” the story centers on Sgt. Gary Ronstadt, a very talented Tucson detective. It is an intricate story told in the fast paced style we have come to expect from his novels. Great characters and an interesting story with – I don’t want to reveal any details- lots of surprises. The fact that Phil Fleishman is a retired physician gives credibility to what he says about the medical profession. And, he seems to get a lot right about law enforcement and the legal system.
“I enjoyed the book very much, can heartily recommend it and am anxious to see if there is a third Phil Fleishman mystery.”
~Stuart B. (Amazon 5-Star Review)
“I read Dr. Fleishman’s new thriller The Contingency Factor because I truly enjoyed his first book, The Gemini Factor and I wanted to see what his fertile imagination and extensive life experience would produce under this new cover.
“The Contingency Factor is a quick, easy, exciting, informative and thoroughly enjoyable read. I highly recommend it to all who enjoy a well written medical-legal thriller and exciting page turner that entertains while it informs.”
~Larry (Amazon 5-Star Review)
“I loved this book. Dr. Fleishman has, again, written a page-turner. Good guys, bad guys, doctors, lawyers and patients. Tucson, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and more. Get it! You won’t be able to put it down!! Guaranteed!!”
~jpm (Amazon 5-Star Review)
From the Back Cover:
“Only God and lawyers can create new diseases.”
“If you tell a big enough lie, and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”
~Adolf Hitler Mein Kampf
“See what it is to play unfair! Where mischief is, there’s cheating there.”