“You’ve been groping patients, haven’t you!”
(I’d worked up a hell of a head of steam, you see.)
“What! No I haven’t. Have you seen my patients?”
“Oh so you mean you would have groped them had they been young and pretty?”
Dr Lorenz appeared genuinely caught out.
“No, I don’t mean that at all,” he gasped. “What makes you think I did that?”
“Because I went to look for you at the hospital and they told me you were suspended and that there was some kind of investigation.”
There. It was out. Laurence now knew that I knew and this moment was a very low one for both of us. There was a heavy silence for a half minute and then he said:
“I should have told you. I’m sorry. I was too ashamed. I couldn’t speak to you.”
“I’m about to cry, Laurence, I really am. I thought I was getting to know you. I thought you’d be a ….well, a good friend.”
“Shall I tell you why I’ve been suspended?”
“Your behaviour sickens me. Do you hear me? It sickens me.”
“Can you stop for a minute? I’m not a pervert. Don’t you want to hear my side?”
“I don’t know that I want to talk to you at all.”
“Well that’s fine.”
And so we both waited for the deadened air around us to revive again. It was a long time coming and I found my facial muscles were so rigid with indignation that I couldn’t speak. So he did.
“I was suspended because I went to a newspaper. I’d been looking into things and realised that Dr Henge’s malpractice had cost the NHS somewhere around ninety thousand pounds of pointless treatment. Most of it to your mother, while we’re on the subject. And I stupidly used my own name and was quoted in The Telegraph. And even more stupidly I accused our manager of trying to cover the whole thing up and being on the verge of paying out a fortune in compensation. I love the NHS, you know. I really do. There’s nothing like it in the world. I thought I was just protecting it.”
Can a heart sink so fast? I felt quite helpless with stupidity all of a sudden.
“They can’t sack you for that, can they?”
“They can suspend me and in the meantime they can ruin my reputation. But I didn’t think they’d sunk that low, to accuse me of groping patients.”
“Ah,” I said ruefully. No one had actually accused him of groping, come to think of it. In fact, I may well have put the idea into Mrs Harkness’ head.
Oh Dr Lorenz. What had I done?
“You never tried to grope me,” I complained.
“I’d love to grope you!”
“Well why didn’t you?”
“Cos you always want to meet in the bloody cemetery with your dog as some chaperone.”
“I’m too embarrassed to take you home. It’s full of my family.”
And he gave a tragic little laugh. “Well we’ve got that much in common.”
“What do you mean?”
“My mother lives with me.”
“Oh how funny. Just like mine. Is it an ordeal?”
“It’s hell. And my sister, too. She’s been a waster all her life and now seems to think my house is a kind of family home and that she belongs in it. She’s into alternative health.”
“Oh I’m so sorry,” I commiserated and then, in case it made him feel any better: “My brother’s into Cybermen. My daughter is also semi-permanent, as is her young ward, John, who is a darling but could do with a proper family home. No chance of that.”
“Shall we run away?” he asked.
“I’m not the running away type,” I told him with even greater sorrow. “I’ve tried. They catch up with you somehow or other. But it’s a nice idea, isn’t it.”
You could almost hear the smile.
“It is. It’s a very nice idea.”
And so, as ever, I picked myself up. That’s me all over.
“You know what we’re going to do?”
“What?” he asked.
“We’re going to clear your name, Laurence. We’re going to fight fire with fire.”