by Michael Botur
from Hell of a Thing (The Sager Group, 2020)
The tale of the drug dealer and the depressed doctor who needs an unorthodox prescription of popping pills and partying.
DOC BE DOWN
“How often have you been bothered by feeling down, depressed, irritable, or hopeless over the last two weeks?’
Doc’s mouth smiles but his face still looks sad. He didn’t spend his whole life healing people to end up reading some boffin’s bullshit questions off a list prompted by his computer, fiddling with cup of tongue depressors all distracted.
‘I felt down, shiiit, I guess the day after I snorted all that molly. Can’t sell it if I can’t vouch for it. Comedown was epic, Doc, epic.’
‘I’d sure love to meet Molly some day.’
‘Doc, I know you’re a Straighto, but Molly is… it’s not a girl’s name, know what I’m sayin? It’s street. You ain’t heard of the streets, have you, Doc.’
Doctor Downes is nodding, but his mind’s not registering me. He’s reading off his computer screen like a robot. Just like those slaves at Probation. Totally hypnotized. Totally corporate, hoping to get to the next miserable poor person needing a flu jab before the computer system records some fuckin’ penalty.
‘Have you experienced diminished pleasure in doing things you ordinarily love over the last two weeks?’
‘I had minimal pleasure coming here, Doc. Hell, I popped in to get a fuckin’ haemorrhoid cut out, not to get my head shrunk.’
‘I’m required to… Please bear with me till the end of the questions, it’s a requirement of our funding. Have you had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?’
‘The gear my Mex connex get me? Damn, nobody sleepin’ on that. Score me a ten outta ten. I’m in the clubs all night every night. No time for sleep, know what I’m sayin?’
‘Working men’s clubs, presumably?’
‘Doc, you a wack mother… Listen: club-clubs. Like itty bitty titties jigglin all about-clubs. Security, earpieces, champagne, DJs rippin’ beats… I guess you more of a tennis club cat.’
‘Badminton, actually.’ Doc has a file on his desk with a lawyer’s logo on it. He winces as he lifts the stack of legal papers away from his keyboard so he can peer at the screen closer. He’s wearing a yellow boat shirt with short sleeves, except he ain’t on no boat. No tan, no muscle, and the doc’s about as stylish as a bean with glasses glued on it. He’s in an office where everyone’s pissy and grumpy and bitches kick in his door to tell him off for taking too long with patients.
‘Now, have you experienced poor appetite, weight loss, or overeating in the last two weeks?’
‘Me, I eat garbage. That’s how come I got the haemorrhoid, like we were discussin before you started getting all Siegfried and Roy on me. I live offa bar snacks, know what I’m sayin? I eat at work.’
‘Sigmund Freud I believe is the name you’re… regardless: We’ll talk about your diet momentarily, plus your other… consumptions. Now: how often have you been bothered by feeling tired, or having little energy, let’s see here… Feeling like a failure… Christ. Really one ought to turn the questions one’s self… never mind.’
I give him a hard look, like What up? A look he knows he oughta respond to. ‘You got the blues, Doctor Downes?’
‘You can go now. You’re not depressed. We’re cutting your haemorrhoid out this Tuesday, 11:30 I believe is our appointment. Can you endure the pain for two days?’
He pulls a paper bill from the printer. I rip it out of his skinny chopstick fingers. Thirty bucks for him to look up my ass at a throbbing purple grape? Pfft. I got Special K that’ll make me forget the ’roid pain. Shouldn’t’ve even come here. It’s not like I can’t find meds.
‘Y’know you oughta take a look at yourself sometime, you hypocritical-ass motherfucker. You depressed as shit. You need a potplant, B. A fuckin’ fern. Somethin’ to nurture.’
I have the Exit door to reception halfway open when I hear the sound of, well… just background chatter. The sound of nothing. The doc’s holding his door frame like he’s watching his son leave to go off to college or some shit. Silent, defeated.
I pause, turn around and wink.
‘You know I’m playin, doc. It’s just… we need to cheer you up, is all.’
‘You’d be depressed too if you had the Medical Council bullying you. They’re saying I’ve had a complaint lodged against… never mind.’
‘Bro: fuck that highfalutin bullshit. Yo: hit the clubs with me any time. Those stuck-ups can’t get you on the dancefloor.’
Doc snorts like I’ve just mispronounced the huberus bone or something. ‘A kind offer, but not for an old fuddy duddy like me. I’d stick out like a sore thumb.’
I’m this close to walkin off, except I know it’d crush him. I’ve been seeing the Doc for years and his depression’s not, like a choice or nothin. I’ve seen my own life go up and up while Doctor Robert Downes has gone the other way.
I pinch the bridge of my nose and make a little growling frustrated noise.
‘Listen, if I swing by here bout 9 o’clock, ten, you gon’ be here?’
Doc looks like a raccoon caught raiding some garbage. The light reflects in his eyes.
‘I don’t – I don’t know if I should – ’
‘I’ma swing by. It’s a sin to waste a Friday. We hitting the club. I’ma cheer you the fuck up, old man.’
The air tonight is warm as a blow dryer so we’re down to our singlets and shirts and we have the windows open and it’s tickling our ears. The stereo’s thumpin, we have a cold beer each in the cup holders and I have a mean-as joint burning in my roach clip. We’re feelin’ lucky – well, I’M feelin lucky at least. Doc Downes, he’s brought his nervousness with him tonight. Doc’s gripping the grab handle as I shave corners and drift across roundabouts.
Hell, Doc, I try to tell him – I’m drivin a Mustang here. It’s practically illegal NOT to blaze the fuck out of it.
He tells me he couldn’t possibly do this in his Kia and I spit laughs like an AK-47 and that’s us: conversation killed for two solid minutes. To shake the awkwardness out I crank the bass on my Beats by Dre speakers. I swear I can see Doc’s thin silver hair flap with nervousness. Jittery motherfucker, this guy.
‘So your kids ever take you out for Father’s Day and shit?’
‘No, oh no no. No, my son, he… .’ He begins a sentence, drops it, stares out the window.
‘Me, I lost my dad when I was like eight. If he was around, shit, I’d never let him go.’
The doc’s doing that far away nod again.
First part of the night is about getting a decent chilli dog down us. There are 30 clubs on The Strip for me to hit tonight. Any customer that’s serious about buying a decent portion of product off me will want to take his time and enjoy a beer, cause if your dealer is itching to get away from the transac, you’re almost certainly being sold something which is only 10-20% effective, which is how come I need to work on a full stomach. You let yourself get intoxicated, you’re gonna end up saying Yes when niggas try to haggle and that’s gonna depreciate your bargaining power.
I’m only telling all this to Doc Downes because I’ve finished my chilli dog way before him and I’m trying to hurry him along. First deal’s scheduled for 9:30. Second one is 9:45, then they’re every fifteen minutes until 5 am when people are needing their uppers so bad I get to – how do I say this – UP my fee.
Across the laminated table of the café, Doc’s giving me some speech about how he can tell from the color of the chilli that it’s swimming with saturated fats and apparently every ounce of satch-fat takes ten minutes off your life expectancy. I’ve been watching the street behind him, there’s certain gangstas I have to avoid, and I’m getting edgy then I’m up and yanking him by the collar of his weak-ass Hawaiian shirt and throwing Doc up the line and bumpin’ the bouncers and we plunge into Loco Parentis. Loco has an island in the middle with a channel of water and everyone’s got their shoes off and the DJ’s up top of a tower shaped like a palm tree. As the Doc strokes the rope and fingers the sand and kicks the water, hypnotized, I take a backpack from my flashy British bro and as soon as I’ve hit the Transfer Bitcoin button on my screen, he’s gone, melted into the crowd, and I’m left to babysit twenty grand of chemical compounds plus a depressed doctor.
After forcing a Malibu and Coke down the doc, next place along is Vida Loca.
‘Single people,’ the Doc says, as if he’s spotted a rare mammal on the Serengeti. ‘Happy people.’
‘Ain’t nobody lovin you, Doc?’
‘Love isn’t the only way to achieve… ’ he begins, and trails off.
The Doc’s silver hair is ruffled and the top couple buttons of that gay-ass Hawaiian shirt are down.
‘Y’know you oughta take that thing off,’ I tell Doc as I yank him into the cool night, along a few queues of people, then into the tiny black stairs of Tango, ‘The shirt’s taking points off you,’ I’m yelling. ‘You ain’t fat or nothin. Get crazy, I reckrnrnrnn…. .’
My words are evaporated in the steam of a club so loud and hot and greasy that when a fat woman stands on my toes, I scream ten swear words at her and all she does is flash a white smile. Nobody can hear anything at the bar. Our ears are numb with a hellish pounding of noise. I have to reach over the counter and grab the bottle of Jose Cuervo then slide a twenty at the bartender. Jesus Christ. Luckily these big country bumpkin triplets spot me before I have to search for them and we go to a corner to talk – that is to say, their bellies squeeze me into a corner. These fuckers are so fat their clothes are tryina get away from them. The Bumpkin Brothers are three huge farm boys in flannel shirts, jeans and boots. The biggest, Darrell, is six feet five; his two brothers are only a little less. They have chubby red cheeks and hair as blonde as hay. I try to introduce Dr. Downes who’s limping behind me like a lost lamb but the music is jet engines in my ears so all I do is elbow Doc in the ribs and he gives a Wassup chin to the Bumpkins and they Sup him back so we cool. I sling my laptop backpack onto the circle table in our booth, unzip a pocket, pull out a little something. I watch their blubber crease as they press the drugs to their noses and sniff. These porkers have arms as thick as my thighs. They hold entire jugs of beer like pints.
I make two grand off the sale. It’s 40 mollies I have to cough up – and I could get $2300 for ‘em if I seriously shopped around – but I want to get on with my night and get the hell away from the Dukes of Hazzard. These country boys grew up protecting one another, bullying women into sleeping with them, intimidating bartenders into giving them discounts and freebies. They’re shameless and stupid and fat and fearless. They have eyes like starving sharks. The mollies have a hell of a lot of powdered sugar in the mix, the purity’s down around the 50 percent mark and they’re only worth a couple of bucks each, but I’ll make it up to the next customer. We just have to keep moving.
We conclude business and beeline for the bouncers. It feels safer on the street. Those bumpkin boys scare me. I lax a little bit at Calendar Girls. There’s this one stripper, Sofia, who’s tiny and skinny and she gets pushed to the edge of the stage like a sick puppy. I like her skinniness cause it makes her purple hair looks longer, more luscious. I like the sharpness of her ribs. The dancers point their nipples into the pink light and stare up at some kind of heaven above the crowd of black silhouettes holding beer bottles. Doc’s caught in the deadlights, seriously hypnotized, and I can see a boner struggling to escape the cheap outdated 1993 white cotton pants he’s wearing.
I drag him into Pzazz and move a few cheeky joints, 18 of then at $20 each. Speedballs, Adderall, Coke, Xanax. Quick, cheap, disposable cash. Next club is called Mermaidz and the girls swim around in tanks then dance on towels with their titties all dripping. I know this dancer called Brittany and I slip her forty bucks to grab Doc by the ears and plant a kiss on him and we’re all laughing while I slap palms with this sky-high Samoan soldier named Tevita and within a few synchronized bumps and shakes and pats on the shoulder I’ve negotiated a hundred Viagra at $30 each. He has the cash straight up – no tick book, no bullshit. Seamless business. The pills are in a milkshake sippy cup this Persian gangsta slides along the bar at me and I’m handing it to Tevita and he’s pretending to take a jokey sip and we’re all laughing and the only thing about to burst my buzz is the Doc muttering, ‘I could just walk off a bridge tonight and nobody would care’ and I’m rattling Doc Downes’s shoulders and going, ‘Yo! Shake it off, doc! We here to party!’
We’re buried in a pool of elbows and hips and women are running their fingers up and down Doc’s midriff. Then there’s a couple of guidos whose fight spills into our group, and I look across the room and make eye contact with Tevita and just as one of the guidos’ fists scrapes the Doc’s cheek, Tevita is grabbing each of the fighters’ round heads and cracking them together like rocks and a cheer goes up. I make a couple of time-wasting fifty dollar sales at El Greco and Hunters, then my appointment doesn’t show up at FoundingFather, then I move some excellent meth at GangBang as bluey-orange dawn is starting to finger the clubs and I’m shutting down the night, clicking the tiny padlocks on my laptop bag and burying the keys in my pocket.
We end the night with bacon and eggs at Jonathan’s Café with two honeys who are telling Doc allll about their pre-med classes in biology and Doc’s so engrossed it’s ridiculous.
‘I’m stealing your bacon, Doc,’ I tell the old fart to get his attention.
‘Bacon has a 93 percent chance of causing bowel cancer,’ he mutters, not even looking at me, just floating in a pussy-induced hypnosis.
I bite into the chewy ribbon of pink and brown fat.
‘You’ll be the one going up my ass to fix it if I do get bowel cancer. Actually, I almost forgot: we’re a day closer to our date.’
‘Oh,’ say the college honeys, ‘You’re dating someone?’
‘Doc’s opening up my ass and putting a scalpel in there on Tuesday,’ I go.
The girls bray laughter, spitting chewed-up eggs into the air. The doc’s looking shellshocked.
‘I’m just joshing. Had yourself a good time, didja?’
Doc bursts into tears and I stand up and chuck some cash on the table, ready to gap, when he reaches across and seizes my knuckles.
‘I’m repaying this. Every expense you’ve entailed, Karl, all of this – the petrol, the beverages – it won’t be forgotten.’
‘I don’t need your money, Doc –
‘Supper – 59 Kinnaird Place, Hillmorton. Sunday, 5 o’clock. You WILL come, won’t you?’
The girls are eyeballing me. The doc looks like a little boy who’s been told Christmas might be cancelled.
‘Fine, okay. Whatever.’
Soon as I pull into the street a dog starts barking at me, like as if to say ‘You don’t belong here, bro.’ I can’t tell which house it’s in because it’s buried behind a tall fence of great wood. There are redwood and cherry trees, berms with no garbage on ‘em, and none of the fences is made of that chainlink hurricane wire shit.
The doc’s house at number 59 has a flag on a pole. I guess he’s grateful the country treated him good. Him and every other upper class white motherfucker.
I open the little hip-high gate (the fuck’s the point of having such a little-ass gate?) and shake out a cigarette then pause. There’s a fountain chuckling, fairy lights glowing on the trellis, and God damn the roses are immaculate here. Red, orange, pink… I make a mental note to steal some and give ’em to Sofia. Or maybe Brittany. Hmm. Not wise to invest too much in a single woman.
I wander around on Doc’s lawn for a minute smoking my cig until I step in the wrong part of the lawn and the security light hits me.
The front door opens. Inside is a woman in a dress and cardigan. She’s so fat, she fills the doorway, edge to edge. Her hair is above her ears in some frilly arrangement I ain’t seen in decades.
Behind her, peeping through a little gap between her fat, is Doc.
‘This is him?’ the wife asks.
Jesus fuck. Off to a bad start.
They beckon me in and I put my gift on the Downes family breakfast bar and shrug my windbreaker off. I’ve got my finest Adidas tracksuit on, the red and white striped one, Manchester United colors, plus my red Ferrari cap to match. My trainers are designed by Tesla. They cost 600 bucks.
‘My wife’s telling me I ought to offer you a drink,’ Doc says, rolling his eyes. He’s got black dress pants on and shiny black shoes. On top, a Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon t-shirt with a hole in it.
‘You always do what your wife tells you?’
‘Don’t joke about that,’ he whispers. ‘Simply wearing this shirt is a privilege I don’t want to lose.’
My gift thunks as I plonk it on the counter.
Doc cradles the wine bag with two hands like a newborn baby. ‘I’m touched.’
‘What did you say your name was again?’
I flinch. Filling up the doorway behind me the wife, Kath, has spooked the shit out of me. Since I done a stretch in jail it’s been a rule of mine to never let people creep up behind, but god damn.
I tell her my name.
A young man puts his fingers on Kath-the-wife’s shouders. Dude looks about my age, similar height, same fat-skinny body from living off fried food.
‘And what do you do for a living?’ Kath-the-wife goes.
‘I’m in sales. You must be – ’
‘Richard Downes. Rich.’ Doc’s son steps forward. His arms are folded. His button-up shirt is tucked into his pants and there’s a scarf around his neck even though we’re indoors.
‘We look about the same age. What school’d you go to? You look like a Hillmorton type. Something low decile, anyway.’
‘Damn, dawg. Good guess. Yeah, Hellmortz.’ Three Downes is more than I can take. The room is burning me. ‘Ummm, so I brought you guys a bottle of kombucha infused with THC and hops. It’s some seriously handcrafted shit. I get my mushrooms off these Swedish hippies and, you know… barter system and all that.’
They’re all looking at each other. Finally the Doc comes round from behind the breakfast bar. Now it’s us two against the rest of his family.
Doc puts a hand on my shoulder. ‘Why don’t we eat.’
First to come out is home baked bread, with butter, and drinks. Doc slaves over platters of lamb and potatoes. Kath-the-wife licks her lips and rubs her fingers watching her man work.
I take a bite and tell ’em it’s fuckin divine. ‘Y’all got sauce?’
‘What for?’ asks Good Boy Rich, who’s cut his lamb into perfect cubes exactly one inch on all dimensions.
‘Tomato sauce. For the meat.’
‘This is top quality lamb. Grass-fed; 9 months old. Tomato sauce’ll ruin it. Hey! Is he allowed to do that?’
I’m up out of my seat with my hands on the door of the fridge. I’m looking into Doc’s eyes to see if he’s got his balls in today. He does a single soft shake of his head and I leave the fridge and the sauce alone.
We crawl through the most awkward dinner in history. They all talk about Doc’s failure and shortcomings and I can see the doctor has drowning eyes. Rich is a manager at the city council. He’s in charge of 30 people and a budget of $100 million. He tells me all this shit, dropping in two, then three references to the Engineering Society before he finally goes, ‘You weren’t in EnSoc, I take it?’
‘Bro, I skipped university. Got my education on the streets.’
Rich Downes looks at his dad – except I’m already looking at Doc, and so is Kath-the-fat-wife. Everybody wants a piece of him.
‘Y’know medicine’s a waste?’ Rich says after Doc’s cleared all our plates and started boiling some coffee that can’t come fast enough. ‘It used to be a prestigious thing, sure. Today though, you’re a sucker if you’re in healthcare. Slave hours, corporate bullying, governmental whims out to destroy doctors for political advantage, all sorts of immigrants chewing up healthcare services when real genuine citizens need it. If you ask me, doctors need more respect for themselves.’
‘Well I got plenty of respect for doctors,’ I say, shrugging, ‘Specially this one.’
‘He lacks confidence,’ Kath-the-wife goes. ‘Pass the gravy, would you, Robert. Come on. While we’re young.’
‘Nah, he confident as fuck. The Doc be down,’ I tell the haters.
Everyone goes silent.
‘What? You down, Doc.’
Dr. Downes looks miserable. He probably thinks I’ve outed him for being depressed.
‘Like, y’know. You’re down for partying. You cool. It’s a compliment.’
Rich the son’s squinting at his dad cause he knows I’ll crack his jaw if he claps back at me. ‘Why’d you even bring this guy around, dad?’
Doc Downes swallows and says, ‘Well, it’s…
Kath-the-whale takes a coffee out of Doc’s hands. ‘I assume you’re working on having better relationships with patients and this’ll be a weekly thing until this whole… investigation… is through.’
‘Better relationships? Fuck happened, Doc?’
They’re all pale and speechless.
‘He has a disciplinary hearing next week,’ the fat wife says, filling another plate with roast food.
‘Does that sound like he’s doing the right things, Karl, hmmmm? Frankly, I think his chances are slim.’
‘After you, ma’am, the doc might enjoy somethin slim for a change.’
The words have fallen out of my mouth and onto the table.
They’re all speechless as I get up, say cheers for dinner, and let myself out.
It’s a Friday night and I’m walking up and down the Strip while the sidewalk shakes. Cars are for people who WANT to sit back and let the cops jump them. Me, I walk up to my clients then I walk away. I got a little jail and some probation for some dirty deeds last year but I haven’t had a straight-up drug bust.
The night goes fairly routine. Good vibes. Hardly any cops. I’m up four thousand bucks within an hour. Chilli dog, Jose Cuervo, Calendar Girls. Pills at Pzazz; speedballs at Soda Lounge. Bath salts at Bathory, the dizzying club built into a cathedral. I bump into sky-high Samoan soldier Tevita outside Oasis and he’s shambling away in a hurry, limping on the right side.
‘TEVITA! Slow ya roll, cuz! What up?’
Tevita’s jumpy and flinchy. The collar wings on both sides of his neck are torn. He’s missing a shoelace and there’s a foot sticking out that looks like it’s got gout. Even in our blacky-orange half light, I can tell it’s sprained or broken.
‘The fuck happened to you… I was gonna see if you wanted to catch up.’
Tevita gulps, looks flustered, casts his giant head side to side. He’s about to hobble away without talking to me when he goes, ‘Look, I don’t want trouble. You’re a troublemaker; not for me, thanks. G’night, bro. Don’t follow me.’
‘Troublemay – but Tevita, bro – ’
‘I’M NOT YOUR BRO.’ He stabs my chest with a fingertip. ‘Those fuckin Deliverance motherfuckers are lookin for you. Hayseed and Dixie. You ripped ‘em off; they’re lookin for a scrap. Guess they’ll swing on all your friends. Busted my fuckin’ ankle, those cunts. Three on one.’
As he jerks his head back, I notice he’s had his bottom teeth smashed out. I’m about to apologize when he shakes his head like my dad disappointed in me and strides away.
The doc falls out of a queue of people outside Fortitude and drapes his tentacles all over me.
‘D’you know I love you, Karl? D’you actually realize that? It’s oxytocin, that’s what my thyroid’s secreting right now but hey, listen – listen – shssshhh: I love you, Karl.’
‘CALM THE FUCK DOWN, DOC, JESUS!’ I peel him off me. ‘I’m working a half shift tonight. It’s not safe out. Fuck you doing in town, anyway? Is that… .’ I pull apart the flaps of his shirt, which is black silk, tonight. On his knobbly chest he’s had somebody etch in ink a snake circling that pole that shepherds use.
‘Don’t tell me you got a tattoo, Doc.’
‘It’s the staff of Asclepius. Got my nipples pierced, too. See?’ Doc pulls his shirt off his head. A trio of girls wearing sashes reading Bride 2 B whoop as the Doc flings his shirt at them. They sniff it then the bride shoves the shirt down her top and everyone laughs till their faces glow.
We have another night of indulgence, though I do what I can to get Doc to go his own way. The night’s chequered black and white – Doc’ll blacken our night with some inappropriate shit, like talking about how he can’t make love to his wife and how the disciplinary tribunal is hauling him over the coals to set an example, and how his son called him a failure and forgot his birthday and how he’s in trouble for trying to force a mum to vaccinate her kids. Between his whiny, open-handed pleading and laments about how his father always told him he wasn’t competent to practice medicine, we have a laugh dancing with a pair of gay models, sink tequila shots and pash some seriously young girls who don’t look 18.
We dip into the Asian spa pit and get a rub down and the dirty Thai girls finish me off while the Doc seals thighs and clutches his knees and begs the girl to stop trying to masturbate him. I whip out my phone and grab a video just as Doc rolls off the massage table and lands on the floor. The old man insists he’s fine but he’s given me a heart attack, the prick.
We still have some horniness in us so we hit Loco Parentis. The dancefloor is so thick we have to turn side-on and slide our way through the crowd, sucking in our bellies, pointing our slicing hands towards an empty square metre where we can dance. Doc has this little Filipino looking chick grinding against him and he’s showing her his tattoo when another guy grabs her hips and tries to waddle away with her while grinding her ass. I grab the prick by his sticky gelled hair and I’m about to ram his face down into my knee when the interloper whirls around and it’s a student overachiever, a preppy guido painted tan same size as me.
Rich Downes. Manager by day of 30 corporate clones.
He’s stunned to see his father in the club, and me? I’m stunned the bouncers are wrapping their arms around me and yanking the backpack off my shoulders while I shriek no and claw towards my baby and beg them not to take her.
A bouncer tears off the tiny padlock (stupid, STUPID) and begins reaching inside my backpack, pulling out a fistful of cash.
‘Stop, stop, it’s mine!’ Doc shrieks. Valiant, sure, cheers Doc, but stupid. The bouncer grabs us both by the wrist and pulls us towards the door where four more security pin us against the wall. The police are waiting outside. I’m thrown into a van and driven to the police station.
Before I can even tell him in a holding cell that I’m sorry, they drag Doc around a corner and I’m reaching out towards him and he’s cooing ‘Well now, this is something different’ – giggly, giddy, excited.
I’m put in a cell, alone for the first ten minutes before the door is opened. Three massive white boys with beards and bellies and bloody knuckles saunter in, too large for the cops to shove them.
They have purple splotches on their blue jeans. The splotches were red just 30 minutes ago, I’ll bet. Red from holding the bouncers in headlocks and kneeing them in the mouth.
The door closes behind them. They crick their knuckles, slap me off the steel bench with a backhand and begin stomping.
At the end of a black corridor there’s a square of yellow in a door. This is meeting room 5. A sad little room buried under a twenty storey high hospital tower. Basement level 1. No daylight reaches down here.
I rock up to the door and put my hand on the 1950s style painted wood (fuck this place is old fashioned) and I have my hand pushing but I only get it open a crack before I freeze. I can see a sliver of the hearing. There’s a panel of three doctors with their backs against the window and a pull-up banner with that, fuckin’, what do you call it – the snake curling round the popsicle. Exodus or Asclepius or whatever. Doc Downes is on the far side of their big curvy desk. He has to stand with his hands and notes on a little lectern.
I take a gulp, nudge the door open just enough to slide my body in the crack.
The Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal is fronted by an unimpressed-looking Chinese man with a black beard and droopy jowls. He wears a blue suit with a pink tie and has a name triangle saying Sir Selby Chan, MD. On one side of him is an Indian woman with a stick up her ass. On the other is a young white goody-good who looks like he probably doesn’t make it to the other side of the street unless there’s a zebra crossing. There is a projector screen in the corner. The humming projector fastened to the ceiling beams a picture of six other cunts in a meeting room. All judging the fate of my friend.
A sexy, mousy little secretary comes over. I get a decent look at her tits as she crouches and adjusts her white shirt and short grey skirt.
‘Hi! You’re here for the disciplinary tribunal yeah? You’ll need one of these. He’s almost done.’
‘Done?’ I whisper, ‘What do you mean he’s done?’
‘His time’s almost up.’
She hands me some paper listing the charge against the doc. It says the location of this place, and the day is today and the time now. The charge is listed as, ‘One charge of negligence resulting in professional misconduct and likely to bring discredit to the profession for prescribing paracetamol to a patient found by a review committee to be in need of dihydrocodeine.’
‘Doctor Downes,’ interrupts the Tribunal chair while Doc is turning over pages and muttering some lame defence.
‘As we’ve heard this morning, the complaint alleged you refused to engage with the patient when he requested a prescription of painkillers. The complainant has told us he asked for what he called DHC and you snorted and responded, “What you need is Weight Watchers, my friend.” The patient was deeply upset by this and endured a week of pain and discomfort. You’ve told us this morning you’re not sorry for your actions and that you would do it again in a heartbeat, to quote.’
‘Those are my words, yes.’
‘And you are aware that without a valid reason to refer the patient to secondary care or another primary care physician, you don’t have a choice but to treat the patient,’ Sir Selby Chan goes. ‘Every citizen has the right to be seen by a public health professional. It’s Article Two of the Code of Rights for Health and Disability Services Consumers. Do I need to read the code out to you or can you repeat it back – knowledge of the Code being condition 4.1 of your licence to practice medicine.’
‘You’ll tell me articles four to six of the Code of Rights or I’ll have your registration cancelled by lunchtime, Dr. Downes.’
Doc’s about to crumble. He looks over at the two meagre rows of spectators. There’s Kath The Fat Wife wiping her eyes with tissues, and his son Rich texting someone and jiggling one Hush Puppy as it dangles off his toes.
‘Very well,’ the Doc begins. ‘Article Four: You must be treated with reasonable care and skill and receive well-coordinated services. Five: Service providers must listen to you and give you clear information that you can understand. If you don’t understand, you must feel comfortable about asking questions. Six: Your treatment must be fully explained to you, including the benefits, risks, alternatives, and costs, and your questions must be answered honestly. Seven: You must be able to make your own decisions about your treatment, and be free to change your mind. There. I give up. I’m broken, now. I’m a broken man.’
The Indian grump goes, ‘Any other submissions we’ve over looked?’
Doc’s looking over at his lawyer, who’s busy typing something on a tiny laptop the size of a novel.
‘Doctor Downes,’ Sir Selby Chan says, rising from his chair and cricking his joints as he stretches. ‘You DO want to continue practicing medicine, do you not?”
The doc looks to me for an answer.
‘You’re receiving a written warning. Next time a patient asks you for a prescription and you’re tempted to decline, do get a second opinion. Case concluded.’
‘This is bullshit,’ says the complainant, over in the corner… the complainant Darrell – nooooo.
Darrell the Barrel. A whole chorus of bumpkins mutters the same complaints. Fuuuuckin’ Bumpkin Brothers. I should’ve seen it coming. The big barrel-bellied buttheads are mad because the doc wouldn’t prescribe them heavy drugs.
They get up and shove the pews aside so they can squeeze their fat asses out of the room.
Wincing, hobbling, I pray they don’t spot my crippled ass.
The Board of Review asks me if I’m a patient come to see the doctor punished, or a friend.
I’m speechless, I don’t want to embarrass the doc, before the doc blurts ‘He’s my friend.’
I can’t help stroking the furry leaves of his plant, nodding at the walls, muttering, ‘Okay, okay.’ On the yellow-painted walls of the room inside this villa are posters for Asia and Rush and Pink Floyd and Genesis. There are a couple of barbells on the floor, and empty boxes of KFC and soft drinks and lollies, plus some fruit flies. This is a chilled-out doctor who set up in this sweet-as villa a couple weeks ago as a private medical practitioner and doesn’t have to be force-fed shitty patients by the government. Nah, this doctor ankled all that. A chilled-out doctor in sandals. Not like that bundle of live wires I used to have.
‘So I’ve just enrolled to study counselling and social work,’ I tell today’s doctor. ‘You probably didn’t know I’m all about that shit. But I care about people. It’s true.’
‘Show me your ankle.’
The doctor today is full of energy. The doctor takes my ankle, bends it right, then left, then stands up and puts pressure top-down on the tendon. The doctor is watching my eyes. I’ve had guns pointed at me in the past. Not much makes me flinch, especially not this marginal pain.
‘It’s healing well. You must be looking after yourself.’
I peel my lips back to let a grin out. My right front tooth is a jagged shard. The bottom four are completely gone and I tongue it when I’m nervous – when there’s an exam or an appraisal.
‘Kind-of, I guess. I walk places. I took the bus here today. Sold my Mustang. It was costing me like two thousand a month anyway.’
‘I can check your ribs. Stand up. Take your shirt off, if you wouldn’t mind. Put your hands on the wall.’
I do the whole lineup turnaround pat-down thing, hands on the wall, butt out.
The doctor’s fingers probe between the white zebra stripes of my ribs.
The doctor checks the effects of my beating one by one. Yes, I do have a sprained rib that was bent so badly it nearly snapped, but the pain’s not acute anymore. It’s a dull tickle, and only when a doctor puts their fingers on it. The doc prints out a prescription for penicillin for the scrapes on my knuckles which ooze mint green pus.
My teeth won’t grow back. That’s something I have to get used to.
‘Anything else?’ the doc asks, printing out a receipt with the bill.
I don’t want to get out of the chair. I make a big show of stretching and pretending to wince about my fucked-up ankle and ribs. Truth is, when the Bumpkin Boys were stomping me, I rolled across the concrete right then left, north then south, so only one in four hits connected properly. The boys got tired dishing out the beating and sat down on the bench panting, the unfit fucks. Me, I hugged my knees in the corner, waiting for bail.
‘You have your antibiotic; the teeth we’ve talked out. And I have Quitline organized to ring you once a day while you’re weaning off the cigarettes. I have a cure to keep you in perfect health, if you’ll hear me out.’
I’ve got time. I put one hand on the door handle and tell the doc to go ahead.
‘You want to be in perfect health, you need to get out of your line of work entirely.’
‘I am out, Doc. I’m studying. I told you that.’
‘Then what’s that on your back?’
Damn it. Cringe. I unsling the backpack, dangle it over the seat.
‘I got a student loan to pay off, bro. Come on. Lighten up.’
‘It’s not good for you. Is it. That lifestyle. You could die on the job. You almost did.’
‘So can you, man. Don’t old white people get, like, heart attacks and shit, from stress. Hypertension. Bro, I saw on the fuckin’ breakfast news: Loneliness is now the number one leading cause of death.’
‘Well I changed all that. I got out. I healed myself.’
‘Bro, listen, the point is I need start-up cash so I don’t get crushed by a student loan. You wanna pay my student loan, huh?’ I shake my sack of valuables. ‘I can’t afford not to move this product.’
This doctor in front of me is completely different to the doctor I had a month ago. Relaxed, confident, unafraid to say what needs to be said.
‘And you need a little cash for it all to pay your student loan.’
‘What’s in the bag, anyway?’
‘A good time. A party. And plenty profit if you know how to deal.’
I have the door open now and I’m just about to slink out. There isn’t even a reception here, just an unattended TV and some bean bags.
The doc’s question stops me in the hall. He’s interested.
‘What price might we be talking?’