“Unfaithful unto Death”

My latest novel is a black comedy called Unfaithful unto Death. Here is a short extract:

Chapter 1: A Doctor’s Lot

Somewhere in southern England around 1980

Evening surgery was running late, and Dr Cyril Peabody wanted his dinner. He tried to ignore the rumblings of his empty stomach and concentrate on his work.

His tenth patient, the village postmistress, waddled into his consulting room with maddening slowness. “Evening, doctor.”

“Yes, Mrs Bream, what’s the trouble?”

“Just a touch of indigestion, I shouldn’t wonder,” she replied complacently.

Cyril did not consider this an adequate reason for taking up his time on a fine Friday evening. He said “You’re grossly overweight, you know.” Mrs Bream looked so indignant that he tried to make a joke of the matter by rubbing his hands together and adding “Don’t worry, my dear madam, we’ll soon have you looking as sylph-like as a schoolgirl once again.” She gave him a hostile stare.

“Now. What exactly do you mean by indigestion?” asked Cyril.

Mrs Bream looked at him as if he was a backward child. “Dr Greatorex used to give me some white medicine,” she informed him.

Cyril murmured “Curse these country bumpkins” to himself as he wondered how far to investigate her case. He wrote in Mrs Bream’s file “?Indigestion?” enclosed by prominent quotation marks, and added “Low IQ.” He recalled with nostalgia his time as a hospital doctor, when there would have been a student nurse to undress this old biddy ready for him to carry out a physical examination, and to write out the cards for the relevant tests: chest X-ray, barium meal, cholecystogram, full blood count, urea and electrolytes, liver function, ECG. As it was, doing it all himself did not seem worth the effort.

He reached for the prescription pad, saying in a bracing tone “Jolly good. I’ll give you some more white medicine. Come back and see me if by any chance it doesn’t do the trick. And we need to get rid of a stone or two.”

“Evening, doctor,” said Mrs Bream, and before she was out of the room, Cyril firmly pressed the bell for his last patient: Sebastian de Winter, age forty-four, of Easton Green Manor.

Sebastian de Winter was a giant of a man with a thatch of black hair, a jutting forehead and a worried expression. He glanced suspiciously at the notes on the desk. Cyril asked briskly “Well, Mr de Winter, what’s the trouble?”

“I had another bout of chest pain after lunch today. Scared the hell out of me. My blood pressure’s way out of control – you know that I suppose? Garth Greatorex has been handling the problem but he’s off duty this evening. Well, you know that too of course.” The patient leaned forward and continued earnestly “Frankly, Dr Peabody, I want a second opinion. They tell me all this is due to stress. It’s a month since I had a full physical checkup, and I’d like you to give me another ECG.”

Cyril’s interest was aroused by talk of chest pain, blood pressure and ECGs. He decided to ignore the mention of “stress”, for it would be too bad if this case turned out to involve one or both of his two pet hates, “social problems” and “psychiatry”. Cyril was interested in human bodies; he enjoyed finding out what was wrong with them, and gained satisfaction from putting them right. He was not at all interested in the human mind. He replied “By all means, Mr de Winter, delighted to oblige. As you may know, I had a great interest in cardiology in my most recent hospital post. We’ll give the problem a thorough review.” Fatigue forgotten, he rose to the challenge of demonstrating his medical expertise and, with any luck, outshining his senior partner Garth Greatorex in diagnostic skill.

Sebastian de Winter gave a history of chest pain occurring after meals and accompanied by a sensation of dread. He also complained of headaches and disturbed sleep. Cyril did not ask about his personal circumstances but the patient volunteered an account. The symptoms had started soon after his father’s sudden death from a heart attack. Sebastian had inherited the Easton Green estate with two hundred acres of farmland, and a vineyard just starting production. The burden of managing these assets was a heavy one, and his wife did not give much support. He was drinking up to half a bottle of Scotch every night in an attempt to relax and get a few hours’ sleep. He worried about his high blood pressure; Dr Greatorex’s various prescriptions had either failed to bring it down, or caused unacceptable side effects.

Physical examination revealed no abnormality except a raised blood pressure reading of 175/95. Cyril fetched the portable ECG from the clinical room. He took pride in this machine, which had been out of order when he arrived at the practice. He had got it working properly and used it on many of his patients, though none of the other doctors showed any interest in the tracings he obtained.

Sebastian de Winter’s ECG showed mild left ventricular hypertrophy, but Cyril felt able to give an honest reassurance that it was “essentially within normal limits”. The patient replied “Thank God.” Cyril wondered what to do about the raised blood pressure. The man had already been tried on many of the standard drugs: frusemide, propranolol, bethanidine, methyldopa. In the drawer of Cyril’s desk there were some free samples of a new drug called Amaz. It was claimed to reduce blood pressure by some novel mechanism that Cyril could not remember. Recalling the excellent lunch at the Angel’s Arms which Millford Pharmaceuticals had given to celebrate the launch of this new product a week or so before, Cyril announced “I’m not too happy about the blood pressure, but I’ve got some splendid new tablets here which should bring it under control. Come back next week and we’ll see how they’re suiting you.”

“The stuff Greatorex gave me made me feel sick as a dog all day,” said Sebastian de Winter mournfully. “I suppose I’ve got to expect the same with these.”

“Nausea is a common side effect from medication of any kind,” Cyril told him. He added an opinion of his own “Mainly psychological in origin – don’t think about it and you won’t get it, in other words.”

The patient made no move to leave. He asked “Couldn’t you give me something to help me sleep?”

“Never prescribe sleeping pills. Deplorable things,” said Cyril, who never suffered from insomnia himself. He had had enough of the consultation, and was determined not to be drawn into anything that smacked of psychiatry or social problems. Defeated, Sebastian de Winter put the bottle of Amaz into his pocket and shambled out of the consulting room.

Eight o’clock. Cyril put his stethoscope into his medical bag, snapped it shut, and was striding out of the Health Centre when Linda, the young receptionist with the fluffy blonde hair and curvy figure, waylaid him. “Dr Peabody! There’s two late visits come in!”

He cursed his bad luck under his breath. “Not your day, is it?” remarked Linda brightly.

“I sometimes think a doctor’s lot is not a happy one, Linda. Are these visits really that urgent?”

“Well, I should think the first one is. Poor Mr Harland, he only lives up the lane there, he’s got lung cancer and he’s very bad. His wife’s a nurse at Harphamstead Hospital – she wouldn’t ask for a visit over nothing, I’m sure.”

“Suppose not,” said Cyril. “And what’s the other?”

“Old Miss Gray from Cottage 2 by the duck pond. Says she wants to see one of the male doctors urgently. She’s a little bit eccentric, you know,” said Linda. “Actually, between you and me, she’s plain batty. Don’t tell anyone, but she came round here one day and told the whole waiting room Dr Greatorex was a brazen libertine – whatever that may mean. He was awfully cross.”

Cyril smirked with relish over the anecdote. He asked “And what’s wrong with this Miss Gray?”

“She wouldn’t say. She wants to speak to you in confidence.”

“And where is this duck pond?”

“In the dip past Graves Farm. At least it’s on your way home.”

Cyril did not appreciate the tranquil summer evening scene as he drove away. He was beginning to suspect that his recent career change had been a big mistake. His only previous experience of family medicine had been as a single-handed locum in a quiet West Country practice during his summer holiday. He had rather enjoyed that, and considered he had achieved several significant diagnostic triumphs. But working as a dogsbody at Market Beeching Health Centre, with the senior partner breathing down his neck, was what his mother would call quite a different kettle of fish.

***

Unfaithful unto Death is available for Kindle or in print from Amazon.com or your local Amazon site, and as an ebook from Smashwords and other online retailers. Please share this with any of your contacts who might enjoy it.

UUD Smashwords cover

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