He was surprised to have a call from the Surgery to say that his Doctor wanted a word: surprised, because they had been incommunicado since lockdown began, doubly so now, since she had invited him to a consultation, suggesting an evening, when his aversion to masks would be less problematic. He was also, after putting it in his diary, perplexed – something about her voice or manner?
What had impressed him when he’d first registered as a ‘new patient’, was her obvious ‘patient-first’ outlook, prepared to let appointment-times slide rather than stint the patient of time. She was also very attractive…
The onset of the ‘second wave’ in November, had meant street lights being on proximity-sensors (to save energy), there being so few people out after seven o’clock, you walked into a sudden pool of light, and, exactly as you began to step to its edge, the next one lit as the one behind extinguished; it was like negotiating stepping-stones. Often there was little or no light from houses, because of ‘smart meters’, and power was frequently turned off to whole towns (except for the street lights) as well as street-by-street. He usually waved towards the CCTV’s tiny blue LED’s, smiling genially.
He’d been told to come to the Surgery’s back door, and that the way would be lit. It was and, she’d opened the door to him with a smile.
‘Let’s shut the door’, she said, with a slight shiver. ‘Dr. Armitage is here – you saw him months ago with what might well have been Covid, had we known about it then. He spoke to you about the ‘flu-jab’. You declined saying you’d sooner be a guinea-pig for the Oxford vaccine. Dr. Armitage has a colleague with him who’s closely involved with the vaccine…’
Dr. Armitage entered on cue, slightly stooped, but still looming at well over six feet.
‘Mr. Olsen, thank you for coming along at short notice. The opportunity seemed too good to waste: you wanted the vaccine, and my colleague was able to come here, being in the area – so meet Professor…
On cue again, the colleague emerged. Shorter and stockier than Dr. Armitage, the Professor adopted a briefly smiling visage, and extended a hand, which he at first thought was offering a rare hand-shake, before seeing that the hand was dismissing this friendliness with quite peremptory gestures to sit down. Taken aback, he felt reassured by the Professor’s O.U. tie.
‘Mr. Olsen! If you are to take part in this endeavour – and Oxford salutes your willingness – we’ll need to take a couple of blood-samples: one immediately, and then another, once you’ve had the shot, for comparison.’ His face made it a question.
‘Fine. Good. So, if you don’t mind, let’s get your jacket off, and a sleeve rolled up. Dr. Armitage will do the initial one, and we’ll see about the second one – perhaps Dr. Edmundson? At any rate, I need to be free to deliver the shot. All right? Good.’
Dr. Armitage took the blood sample, less deftly than the Phlebotomist did, pressing a piece of cotton-wool to the puncture for him to hold down, while he dealt with the vial of blood, labelling it, putting the needle in the ‘Sharps’ bin and sticking a bit of micropore over the cotton-wool.
‘Now, the other arm, if you please.’ The Professor was virtually commanding, so he rolled up the other sleeve for the ‘shot’. Seeing the surprise on his face, the Professor said, ‘Yes: intravenous not intramuscular. Quicker and less prone to contamination. Dr. Armitage will keep a note of the time, and you’ll need to sit there for several minutes, just in case of an adverse reaction: after all, the last thing we’d want would be a body on our hands!’.
Dr. Armitage stepped forward, taking his pulse with one hand, watch in the other. After some minutes, asking, ‘How are you feeling?’
‘Weary-tired, or sleepy-tired?’
‘…Both… I thi…’
The head dropped to the chest, and doctor and professor, looked at one another.
‘Not bad! Let’s get Dr. Edmundson in for the next bit.’
She came in, biting an index finger, checking for signs of life, shaking her head, plainly upset, unable to speak.
‘We’ll get the Dismantlers in, then.’ The Professor was nonchalant, blithe almost.
There was a clattering as four men came in from the front entrance, all wearing aprons, gloves and masks. In silence, they picked up the body, and took it through a door marked ‘Private’. They were followed by a smaller number of men, carrying steel buckets, frosted with condensation, and, for less than an hour, but for the occasional sound of slicing, sluicing, or sawing, nothing much was to be heard.
The Professor left with them and their cold-boxes, after saying, ‘We’ll probably not get much out of this lot – retinas, perhaps, liver? By the way, we’re soon going to need uteruses, for all the trans-research. Your Doctor is young: children?’
Dr. Armitage seemed taken aback: ‘You want her?’
‘Not what I want: what the Master wants.’
‘You did well, Susan.’ he’d put a comforting arm around her shoulder, which she’d thrust away, furious and tearful. ‘If I’d been your patient, I think I’d have been convinced. We’ll go over any finer points tomorrow. The first one’s always the worst. The Prof. wanted you to be in on the dismantling, would you believe! No sensitivity, some people.’
‘I was fond of him, vexing though he could be…’
‘Always a mistake. Barely hidden contempt is best.’
‘By the way, here’s a rather good watch – a memento, perhaps? No? Oh well. There’ll be an enhancement in your next salary, don’t worry.’
In anguished silence, she fled.
He went into the office, and looked again at the CCTV. Yes, the late Mr. Olsen was thumbing his nose at the camera.
‘Won’t be doing that again.’ he murmured to himself.
© Jethro 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file