“Well, Harry, the results of the biopsy are surprising. In fact, I’ve never seen anything like this before. The pathologist is very curious about it too.” His doctor, a youngish man who called himself Pearson like it was his first name even though it wasn’t, waited for Harry to respond.
“Well, what is it?” Harry’s voice betrayed his anxiety. Ever since he found the lump just under his belly button, he’d thought the worst.
Pearson smiled at the worry in Harry’s voice. Harry wanted to belt him one. “Well, Harry, there is definitely nothing to be concerned about. But we did find something. Do you want to see what it is?”
“Of course I do. What the hell sort of question is that?” Harry was fast losing his patience. Delores sighed and put her hand on his arm to calm him down.
“Harry, darling, Doctor is only trying to help you. Please don’t get yourself upset.”
He shook her hand off and gave her his patented ‘don’t mess with me, Delores’ look. Pearson, wanting to diffuse the situation, handed Harry a piece of paper. On it was a scanned copy of a tiny ticket.
“What is this?”
“We’re hoping you can tell us. When I did the biopsy, I extracted a hard lump. I took this to be a floating cyst of some sort. The pathologist found this inside. If you look closely, you can just make out what it says.”
Harry squinted at the piece of paper, holding it right up to his nose. “I can’t make this out.” Delores leant over and tried to make it out but shook her head as well.
The doctor opened up a drawer, pulled out a large magnifying glass and handed it over to Harry. When he held the glass up to the paper, the words on the tiny ticket exploded into view. It read:
Checked by 24736
“So you’re telling me this was in the lump, right?” Pearson nodded. “Are you sure you didn’t make a mistake or something.”
Pearson sighed. “The cyst went straight into a sample bottle and to pathology. It would have been opened in lab conditions so I can honestly say I’m almost positive it was the cause of the lump. The big question is how it came to be there.”
Harry snorted. “Almost. Yeah right!” Delores tutted behind him but he ignored her. “Almost positive doesn’t really cut it.”
Pearson looked flustered. “Harry, it would be virtually impossible…”
Harry cut him short. “Virtually means the same as ‘almost’, doesn’t it?”
Delores had enough and hissed at him. “Harry, please, don’t give Doctor a hard time. I’m sure there is a reasonable explanation.” She looked at Pearson hopefully.
“Well, actually, there isn’t,” he responded. “As I said, this is something neither I nor the pathologist have seen before.”
Harry had heard enough. “Can I keep this,” he asked, waving the piece of paper at Pearson, who nodded curtly. He put it in his shirt pocket and stood. “Right then, if I’m not bloody dying, I’ve got things to do.” He glared at Delores and made for the door. She smiled apologetically at the doctor before following him.
Once they were in the car, Delores couldn’t hold back. “You know, you were really rude to Doctor then. He doesn’t deserve to be ridiculed.” She glared at him while he tried to think of a response.
“But you know I’ve been worried, Del. He was bloody well dragging the whole thing out, like he was enjoying watching me squirm.”
Delores harrumphed. “Don’t be ridiculous. He was only doing his job. You should have more respect for him. After all, he is a professional.”
It was Harry’s turn to harrumph. “Now who’s being ridiculous? You know, it wouldn’t kill you to support me one time, Del, instead of always taking everyone else’s side.”
Harry could feel her seething. Delores was a world champion seether. “So you think just because you’re worried, you have an excuse to be rude. The Doctor was only doing his job, Harry. How would you like it if someone got angry at you for doing your job?” From then on, the argument became circular, with each of them swiping back and forth and ending only when Harry pulled into their driveway.
Delores stormed into the house ahead of him, slamming kitchen doors and drawers. She never raised her voice at him, but the fixtures and fittings in the houses they shared over the years copped a heck of beating.
Harry retreated to his den, as Delores liked to call it. It was once a tiny bedroom but Harry laid claim to it soon after they had moved in to the place. He sat in the high backed chair behind his desk and glared out the window for a few minutes. He swore at the day under his breath then remembered the little bit of paper.
He retrieved the paper from his pocket. He tried to make out the writing but still couldn’t. He held it under his desk lamp then pulled an old magnifying glass from one of the desk drawers. It occurred to him that the numbers could be a phone number of some sort.
He punched the numbers, held the phone to his ear and listened. At first, all he could hear was a dead-air hiss. After a more seconds, a mechanical voice informed him the number was either incorrect or no longer connected. He hung up and tried again.
At first, he heard the same dead air but then a sharp series of clicks sounded. He waited for a bit then heard a ringing. After a few more seconds, there was another sharp click before someone picked up.
“Hullo.” The voice had an accent Harry couldn’t place. He grunted rudely. He couldn’t stand people who answered the phone like this.
Accordingly, his response was gruff. “Yes, is this a business?”
“A business? There was confusion in the voice. Harry couldn’t stand people who answered a question with a question.
He responded even more haughtily. “Look, just let me speak to your manager.”
“Yes, you know, the person in charge; the director or whatever the hell you call them.”
“Ah, well, this isn’t hell, so I guess you probably mean the Big Man, right?”
“If he is your boss, then yes, I do mean him.”
“Okay, well this is unusual. We don’t get many calls, which is why I was a little confused. Can I ask where you’re calling from?”
Harry let out yet another grunt, signed deeply and then said, “I’m calling from a private residence, if it is any of your business.”
“A private residence? Well this is very unusual. Are you calling from down there?”
“I don’t know if you’re referring to Australia as ‘down there’, but you’re right. I’m calling from my home, which is in Sydney, Australia.” Harry felt himself getting angrier by the second.
“Oh my, this has never happened before. I will have to pass you to somebody, er, higher up. Would you please hold?”
“Finally! Yes, you imbecile, I’ll hold.”
The line went silent except for a hissing Harry could swear sounded almost like lots of voices singing in the distance.”
After a few minutes, the line clicked loudly and a booming voice came on the line. “Hello, I believe you’re calling from down there. If you don’t mind me asking, how did you get this number?”
“It was on a tiny piece of paper in a cyst on my stomach. And I would like an explanation as to how I ended up with it.”
“A cyst, you say, on your stomach. Well this is highly unusual. Was there anything else on the paper?”
“Yes.” Harry read out what was on the paper.
“Oh, ahm, well, this is very unusual. I don’t think this has ever happened, in fact. Can you hold and I’ll do something about it right away.” Again, the hold noise sounded like thousands of voices singing in the distance, like at a football match. Harry drummed his fingers on the desk and glared at the wall.
He was just about at the end of his tether. Delores must have heard him on the phone because he looked up and she was standing in the doorway, arms folded tight across her chest, glaring at him.
She mouthed, “You be nice,” but Harry ignored her, waving her away with an impatient flick of a hand. Just as he did, the door bell rang and Delores went off to answer it.
“Are you there, Harry? I mean, I take it this is Harry Mellon, yes?”
Harry’s anger broke. “How the hell do you know my name? I haven’t told you what it is. Who the hell is speaking?”
“Now, Harry, there is no need to upset yourself. But to answer your question, simply, I have an awful lot of knowledge and a very, very good memory.”
“Alright, clown; I’ve had enough of this smart-arsery. You either give me a straight answer or I’ll be reporting you to the authorities.” Harry waited for a response but received none. “Hello, are you still there? You better not have bloody well hung up on me.”
The voice boomed down the line. “Yes, Harry, I’m still here. I will always be here, you can count on it. However, your anger is unnecessary, misplaced and not going to help your situation one little bit. Now, are my people with you yet?”
As he asked the question, Delores appeared in the door way. Behind her were two very tall pale men, dressed in identical, very expensive suits. To Harry, they looked like posh funeral directors. One of the men smiled slightly at him but there was absolutely no good-natured humour in the smile. It scared the crap out of him.
Both men pushed past Delores and into the small room. Harry jumped to his feet. “What the hell do you want?” The voice on the phone boomed out of the speaker.
“Ah, those would be my men, Harry. Now, please, don’t concern yourself. They are only here to do a job.” Both men smiled the same scary smile again and nodded in agreement with their boss. They moved around each side of the desk.
Before Harry could make a move, one of the men grabbed him. His grip felt like what he imagined a gorilla’s grip would be like. He gave a small wiggle of token resistance but knew he’d never escape. The second man drew one of those self-inking stamps from inside his coat pocket. He pulled Harry’s head back and stamped him in the middle of his forehead.
Delores, too shocked to do anything, leant closer to read the stamp. She started to giggle then laugh heartily. The two strange men helped him to his feet then led him to the front door but not before he caught his reflection in the hallstand mirror.
The letters, backwards, were large red capitals that clearly said ‘EXPIRED’. Harry struggled hard and managed to pull an arm free. He swung his elbow back and caught one of the men right in the groin. The big man grimaced slightly then grabbed the offending limb. He twisted it just enough for Harry to know he could break it easily.
Then he gave a wide, open-mouthed smile. Harry nearly screamed out loud. The strange man’s teeth were wickedly pointed and his mouth was a blood-red maw. He leant close to Harry and whispered “Do that again and you will suffer for a very long time.”
His partner produced a clipboard from thin air and handed it to Delores. He pointed at a few lines and had her initial each point. She did so dutifully, all the while appearing as though she were in a thick daze. Then he wiggled his fingers in Delore’s face, quickly reaching out to catch as she collapsed. He then carefully set her down on a chair next to the hallstand.
Harry tried to say something, to protest at this treatment of Delores but couldn’t quite find the words. It was as though his brain had simply decided it’d had enough. The two men led Harry out the door and down the garden path.
Not long after, Delores woke up, surprised to be sitting where she was but feeling like she’d had the best sleep of her life. She also felt surprisingly light and cheerful, as though something really good had happened. The only problem was, she couldn’t think what. But she knew life was only going to get better from that moment on.