"Oh, my GOD!!!" Dr. Jeremy Leadbottom was sitting at the practice computer.
His exclamation startled Charles, who was looking for Mrs. Garçon's file in the filing cabinet.
An overexcited reaction by Jeremy, to whatever it was that he had seen or done, should not have come as any surprise. He had always been of a far more volatile temperament than Charles. He was far less able – and therefore more likely to become flustered – in such things as using computers, dealing with chemicals and medicines, handling patients, playing golf, driving a car, standing still, and walking whilst chewing gum – and probably in the demesnes of sex, breathing, and farting, too, for all Charles knew.
"Is there something wrong?" Charles asked, glancing idly over at his partner.
"I've..." Jeremy suddenly thrust himself to his feet, and dashed frantically over to the hat-stand. "...I've got to get out of here! Sorry, Charles, but they're on to me! You'll have to continue alone!"
He grabbed his coat and scarf, knocking over the hat-stand in the process; and, colliding with every possible obstacle on the way, he ran in ungainly and undignified manner from the building.
Charles heard a car start in the parking area outside, and then a screech of tyres, as Jeremy quit their partnership – never to be seen again.
"Hmph!" Charles muttered, watching through the window as the car bounced from tree to tree, speeding away down the empty road.
He strolled over to the computer, to see what had so upset his former classmate, partner and (until that point) lifelong friend.
A message-box sat in the centre of the screen:
"Oh, dear," sighed Charles. "Dorothy! The 'Your Practice' program has crashed again!"
Their His medical receptionist's voice returned from the back room.
Charles located Mrs. Garçon's file and trolled off to tend to her suppurating piles, leaving Dorothy to discipline the errant electronic employee.
Were the truth to be told, his partner's departure had very little effect on Charles' workload. Jeremy had been somewhat less than efficient, even on the best of days, and had rarely managed to see more than a handful of patients during surgery hours – not that there were ever more than a handful of patients to see, in such a small, rural town. It came as no surprise, then, that Charles finished work only ten minutes later than usual.
He politely said goodnight to Dorothy, his medical secretary, and strolled out into the grounds.
It was a pleasant night; clear, crisp air, and only a few wisps of cloud highlighting the blue; so he decided to walk, rather than drive the one-hundred-and-sixty-two feet to his home at the other side of the building.
His wife had arrived home before him, having taken a shortcut through from the surgery. He kissed her hello, then hung up her medical secretary's coverall jacket for her, in the cupboard under the stairs, whilst she flustered off to the kitchen to prepare their evening meal.
"It's a godsend, really, Jeremy leaving like that," Dorothy told him, as Charles crunched his way through his under-cooked boiled potatoes. "There really aren't enough sick people to maintain a two doctor practice."
"Yes, dear." Charles wrestled with a sausage, which had somehow achieved the texture of seasoned pine.
"After all, there quite simply isn't enough money to go around," she maintained.
"Do be careful, Charles. You'll get gravy on the tablecloth."
"Yes, dear." Propelled by the force he had had to apply to his sausage, a pea rocketed across the room from his plate. It struck the wall with a dull, splattering sound, and hung there, held in place by some magical adhesive quality that his wife's culinary talents had bestowed upon it.
"I mean, where is the money going to come from? It doesn't grow on trees, you know."
"I suppose we'll just have to hope that more people get sick, is all."
Charles was, as always, far ahead of his wife's reasoning.
He had had to be. Her high-living life-style was cutting deeply into his pockets. Only last month she had spent almost forty pounds on clothes! Granted, she had spent it on a new shirt and several pairs of socks for Charles, himself – but the principle remained!
If she wanted to maintain such a jet-set quality of life, then Charles would quite simply have to stand by her, and find the money to pay for it!
After dinner, Dorothy went through to the lounge, dressed as usual in a baggy housecoat and fluffy slippers, to watch her soap operas; whilst Charles retired to his laboratory (nine feet by seven feet, with a sloping ceiling – his wife insisted on calling it 'the attic room', much to Charles' chagrin) to see how his newest cultures were coming along.
The tuberculosis was flourishing. It was only the bovine form of the bacterium, which he had obtained from one of the local farms, but it would hopefully bring in a few patients who would require long-term treatment.
Just so long as it was more successful than had been his early endeavour with common cold viruses. He had managed to disseminate the annoying but near-harmless microbes throughout the town by the simple means of pouring cultures of them onto the roof of his car, and driving around in ever decreasing circles until he was sure that the entire population had been infected.
Then he had waited for patients to start streaming into the surgery, streaming from various orifices....
...And he had waited....
...And not a single person had contracted the illness!
The entire town must have been extremely resistant – except Dorothy, of course, who had suffered the longest-running common cold in medical history. It was quite depressing, really.
His excursion into the realm of influenza had been even more eye-opening.
He had used one of the milder forms of the virus; he certainly did not want any of his patients dying (unless of course he could come to some arrangement with Evans the Undertaker); but he had been much more careful in his delivery methods – going to great lengths to come into direct physical contact with as many townspeople as possible, surreptitiously spraying them with a small pump-up aerosol that he had found on his wife's dressing-table.
The only person who had actually contracted the disease had been Dorothy, herself! She had found the aerosol in his jacket pocket, when sending it to the cleaners, and had apparently taken a liking to the scent that the nasty little bugs gave off when they warmed to her skin.
Not only had none of the villagers or farmers come down with the 'Flu, but later in the year, when the Canadian 'Flu virus had filled hospitals all across the country to bursting point, the locals had remained steadfastly healthy! Not one case of influenza of any variety!
He had obviously opened his practice in the worst of all possible places.
He realised that there must be something in the water, or perhaps some airborne element, which gave incredible fortitude to the people who should have been his patients.
He had almost given up at that realisation; but he took courage in the fact that there was a whole world of bacilli with which he could experiment, until the desired results were achieved – after all, if Dorothy went ahead with her plans to extravagantly throw money around on such playboy pleasures as food processors and microwave ovens, he had no choice but to continue!
He would start to spread the tuberculosis bacilli at the weekend. There would have to be some success with that!
He peered closely at the other sealed petri dishes on the bench.
"Don't worry," he said to them, addressing them as if they were his children, "you might yet get your chance to thrive in the community, if your brother over there fails."
He idly wondered if Dorothy had any resistance to flesh-eating microbes....