by Rick Wright
He could tell right away that
the patient was one of their awkward customers. The man was sitting up in bed, the words exploding out of his mouth.
‘Nurse! Nurse! Where
Benjamin approached him with
a friendly smile. ‘Can’t get the staff these days,’ he joked.
The other man gave a suspicious
stare. ‘It’s OK,’ Benjamin soothed him. ‘I’m here to investigate any complaints you might have
about your stay here.’
The patient laughed in derision.
‘I hope you’ve got the next two or three hours free then,’ he said. Benjamin understood what Sister Jones
had meant - the man’s voice could have been used to crack walnuts. The neighbouring beds were vacant. Their occupants
had probably died just to get away from him.
Benjamin introduced himself.
‘I’m Tony,’ the man forced out of himself. ‘Now what’s this about complaints?’
‘Anything you care to
tell me, Tony,’ Benjamin said in a cheerful voice. He glanced across to where Sister Jones was conferring with one of
her underlings and lowered his voice. ‘I can tell you’re not happy with the way you’re being treated.’
A detonating grenade would
have made less noise. ‘Not happy!’ He jabbed viciously at the button provided to alert the medical staff
that their assistance was required. Sister Jones carried on talking; no-one else paid any attention. ‘See what I mean?’
he hissed, sounding like an angry King Cobra.
Benjamin gave an understanding
nod. ‘I certainly do,’ he commiserated.
Mistrust had returned to the
other’s face. ‘Who exactly are you?’ he asked. Now he even looked like a snake, staring spitefully at Benjamin
from under hooded eyelids. He pointed to where a pretty nurse was taking blood from an elderly man. ‘I’ll bet
you’re just another of them. Trying to catch me out.’
Benjamin made his voice frosty.
Tony softened. His voice dropped
to a level where it wasn’t causing patients on the far side of the hospital to wake with a start. ‘Well, what
are you then?’
‘Think of me as a hospital
visitor, but with official powers.’
Tony looked sceptical again.
‘I’ve been in lots of places like this – how come I’ve never come across anyone like you before?’
‘It’s a local
initiative,’ Benjamin assured him.
He consulted some notes on
the clipboard he was carrying. ‘As you said, you’ve been in a number of different hospitals. The trouble is no-one’s
ever been able to find anything wrong with you.’
Tony again gestured towards
the pretty nurse, who by this time had moved to a different patient. The man was yelling blue murder as red liquid rushed
into her syringe. ‘You tell her, old son,’ Tony encouraged the complainant. ‘It’s about the only thing
they’re good at,’ he said, turning back to Benjamin. ‘Sucking the blood out of us. Leeches!’
Sister Jones finally glanced
in their direction, swapping quick looks with Benjamin. He felt sure they were thinking the same thing. The good sister’s
ward was a dumping ground, where the hospital deposited its quarrelsome and cantankerous patients, the ones they didn’t
know what else to do with. He was a periodic visitor here, helping to ease her burden.
As if it refute the implication
that he was perfectly healthy, Tony’s voice descended into a wheeze. ‘No, I’m definitely not well. It’s
just that none of your lot have the brains to tie up their own shoelaces.’ The reprise was only temporary, his next
words at glass-shattering volume.
In response, Benjamin studied
his clipboard again. ‘It also says here that you don’t get any visitors.’
‘The bitch left me years
ago,’ Tony whined. ‘And the kids don’t want to know.’ Benjamin clucked in sympathy. He was thinking,
you do surprise me.
When the other man twisted
around to help himself to water with a self-pitying sigh, Benjamin nodded across to Sister Jones. A relieved look came over
Tony turned back with a mirthless
grin, his teeth glowing yellow in the harsh hospital light. ‘Want to know something?’ His voice was sly. ‘You
know how schools attract child molesters to work in them? Well, it’s a similar thing with these places.’
He drew Benjamin’s attention
to where the pretty nurse was dealing with another loudly reluctant patient. ‘See how she’s smiling because that
bloke is in pain? Tell me, what normal person would do that?’
‘What’s your point?’
Benjamin asked, eager to get on with things now he had made up his mind.
‘The point, my friend,
is what you lot keep sticking in us. It’s blood test this, blood test that. Now what happens to it all, gallons of the
stuff?’ He answered his own question in a smug voice, Einstein lecturing someone who thought gravity went over a roast
dinner. ‘Vampires. This place is full of them.’ For the first time, Benjamin saw the madness in his eyes.
‘No, we’re not
vampires, Tony,’ he said, signalling to the pretty nurse, who came forward with a syringe.
‘You’re not sucking
out any more of my blood ...’ the man started to protest.
‘It’s OK, Tony,
we’re not after your blood,’ Benjamin soothed him. He held the other down with surprisingly strong arms while
the nurse plunged the needle home. Tony was already dead to the world when Benjamin’s colleague Justin joined them.
A hush fell over the ward, the querulous voices dying out, as they wheeled the trolley away.
It was impossible,
of course, but just for a second it seemed as if everyone knew. Sister Jones certainly did, smiling happily, her eyes
glinting through the milky luminescence ...