Dr Timothy West liked his role as the only GP for several miles around. He liked sitting behind his big old desk in the surgery and listening to the gossip that his patients brought in with them along with their complaints about various aches and ailments. Quite often there was nothing really wrong with them. They came as much for the chance to act and interact with other people as they did for the pills and potions he prescribed. He liked it even more when outpatient visits gave him the chance to drive the Jaguar which was parked outside, near his surgery window so that he could look out at it from time to time. Still sporting its original finish in British Racing Green it was old and comfortable. Much like himself really. It would soon be time to bring in a junior partner to take over from him as he lessened his workload and eventually gave it up entirely. Not yet though. He had a good two or three years left in him before he would be ready to let go.
The only thing he lacked was the company of a good woman. He had had flings when he was younger and when he had first come to the practice more than 20 years ago. That had all stopped when he met Hazel. It was, as the saying goes, ‘love at first sight’. He had first met her at the party thrown to celebrate her engagement to James at the Manor. He had not been with the practice very long and was sharing responsibility for looking after the Allenbys with the senior partner at the time Dr Harrison. His predecessor had long since died, having succumbed to the copious amounts of whisky he drank, both after he had retired and before. Timothy had warned him against it frequently, though he thought the old boy would actually be killed off by the cigarettes he smoked at every opportunity. When Dr Harrison had retired from the practice, Timothy had taken sole responsibility for looking after the family. Generally the health of all of the members was good, but James’s and Julian’s many allergies were a source of bafflement and he could do very little to help other than to tell them what they needed to stay clear of. Both of the brothers’ reactions were so bad that even a small amount of the wrong thing could be fatal.
Timothy had felt a tingle run through his whole body as he lightly shook Hazel’s hand. She had looked beautiful in a long dark blue evening gown which was low-cut to reveal her slender neck adorned with a diamond necklace that James had given to her. Not only had she been slim and beautiful but her eyes sparkled when she looked at him and her smile carried something about it which made him think of mischief already done and shared or yet to come. He hardly paid any attention to the partner he had come with that night, having only eyes for Hazel, and being in her company at every opportunity. Now, he couldn’t even remember the name of the lady he had taken there. It was obvious that Hazel was deeply in love with James from how she acted around him, and from the way she kept talking about him when he wasn’t around to protest, but this didn’t dampen Timothy’s feelings towards her.
Since their first meeting Timothy had developed a close bond with Hazel. He didn’t much care for James, who he found arrogant and over full of pride but he tolerated his company for Hazel’s sake and to be near her. He dined once a week at the Manor, or more often if James was away from home so that Hazel would have company. He called in two or three afternoons each week unannounced and was often rewarded with time alone with Hazel.
When Hazel first suspected James was having affairs, she confided it to Timothy. He had been shocked and horrified at this news and more than a little disappointed when Hazel had declared that she had no intention of divorcing her husband, no matter what the justification. Even now, when she was sure that her husband was involved in a relationship much more serious than the casual affairs and liaisons he had had before, it was a position that she maintained adamantly. Timothy despaired of ever getting her to leave her husband for him, though he was sure that if James wasn’t in the picture, his would be the natural shoulder to cry on, and from that romance would flourish.
He glanced at his watch. He had seen his last patient at the surgery that morning and had just finished writing down the reason for her visit on the card that he maintained for all of the patients. He could use a computer well enough but preferred the more old-fashioned method of writing things down by hand. It was time for lunch, then he was due to drive out to Margaret Routledge and see how she was doing. There was nothing that could be done for her in hospital that couldn’t be done at home, so he had no problem with agreeing to her wish to stay there. Nurses called in on her every day and she had several other visitors to keep her company. They probably couldn’t afford the time or the cost of visiting her if he insisted that she be in a hospital, the nearest one being several miles away, so keeping her at home seemed the best solution for all concerned. It was just a matter of time now, and probably sooner rather than later, judging by the amount of painkillers she was getting through. He had lost track of the number of prescriptions he had written for her, though it would be carefully noted on her card if he really had to check. After that he would be free until evening surgery, so he could call on Hazel.
He left as soon as he had finished eating the microwave meal he had cooked for himself. It was passable but nowhere near as good as preparing something fresh for yourself. He liked to cook and although he usually dined alone when at home, would experiment frequently with recipes from the magazines that patients brought into his surgery. It served as a miniature library with patients bringing in the ones they had read and often leaving with the one they were reading when called in for their appointment. They would return them on the next appointment or sometimes simply drop in to return them as they passed. They would return them in much the same condition as they had found them, though sometimes with an advert or a coupon cut out. To Timothy it was all a part of the service he offered. No one had, as far as he knew, come in simply to browse through the magazines and take away any that caught their eye, though they would have been perfectly at liberty to do so, if they had wanted.
Timothy drove the circuitous route to Margaret’s house. He was somewhat early for his appointment and enjoyed sedately steering his jag around the country roads that led there. There were few straight sections where he could really open up, which was a shame. He liked to take her on ‘A’ roads and motorways and if alone would really accelerate, easily reaching the 100 mph+ that she was still capable of when allowed. He passed very little traffic on his route, though he did pass a taxi carrying a passenger that looked a much like Polly Jenkins shortly before he arrived at Margaret’s house.
He let himself in with the front door key that was under the flowerpot next to the door, returning it there after he had done so. He rang the front door bell anyway, as a courtesy to Margaret to let her know he was coming, and made his way up to her bedroom. His examination of her didn’t take long, and didn’t tell him anything he didn’t already know. While she filled him in on the latest gossip she had learned from her visitors, some of which had been passed on in strictest confidence, he rattled the pill bottle and on hearing that it appeared nearly empty opened it to check, then lifted up the pad she used to record each pill. He put in half a dozen more pills from the small supply he kept in his medical bag.
“You’re nearly out of these again,” he said to her, drawing a pad from his suit jacket pocket. “I’ll leave you another prescription for the nurse to fill when she visits this evening.”
Margaret explained that her pains were getting very bad, and that she asked nearly all of her visitors now to give her another one. Timothy could see from the pad that this was the case.
“I think it’s time to put you on something a little stronger,” he said, crossing out the scrawled line he had written on the pad and writing new instructions beneath it. He initialled the change before signing at the bottom and tearing off the prescription.
“I’ll leave it under the bottle for nurse to find, just in case you forget to tell her,” he said.
He was in no great hurry to leave, so sat on the bed and listened to one or two more pieces of gossip. When she digressed to regale him with one of the stories from her life history, which he had heard at least twice before, he let her finish before rising to leave.
“I won’t give you another pill now,” he said. “The one that Polly gave you should last you through till nurse arrives,” he glanced at his watch, “in about two and a half hours time, I think. I’ll call again in a week’s time to check how you’re doing.”
As he walked back down the cottage’s narrow staircase he thought to himself that he would be very surprised if the next visit proved necessary.
The drive across to the Manor was a very short one but made interesting by finding that his brakes had become very springy. He liked to drive but had no idea how things worked under the bonnet. He would have to take it into the local garage to have it checked out and fixed if needs be.
When he pulled up in a space at the end of the Manor’s driveway he did so next to James’s own jag. It was far newer than Timothy’s of course, and the chrome work gleamed and sparkled. It wasn’t the latest model, though you wouldn’t know it if you weren’t a car connoisseur. It had a personal plate — LJA 12 — which James transferred from vehicle to vehicle when he decided to replace one. James himself appeared on the other side of the car as Timothy pulled up. Evidently he had been crouched down before so that Timothy couldn’t see him. They waved in greeting before Timothy climbed out of his own vehicle.
“Trouble?” asked Timothy cordially.
“No, just checking the tyres,” explained James.
“Mine was playing up just now … something wrong with the brakes I think.”
“Really?” said James, “I’ll take a look for you. You know how I like to tinker with things. Leave me the keys, would you?”
It was an unusual offer. James’s study was full of gadgets in various states of dismantling or rebuilding and with several models made from a Meccano set he was constantly fussing over, but Timothy had never seen him working on a car before, either his own or someone else’s. He readily agreed though, and handed over the bunch of keys that was still in his hand. If James was out looking at his car Timothy would have more time alone with Hazel.
He thanked James and marched up the steps to the open front door. He didn’t stop to ring the bell. He was a frequent visitor to the house and didn’t want to create extra work for the butler if he could avoid it.
It was nearly half an hour later that James joined them in the drawing room. The pot of tea that they had made for themselves – it was one of Polly’s afternoons off, and they hadn’t wanted to take Jeeves away from the bookwork he was doing in the small office off of the kitchen – was cold now, so Hazel offered to make some fresh.
“No that’s okay thanks, I’ll have something cold.” He rang the bell for Jeeves as he spoke. “Couldn’t find anything wrong with it, Tim. Took it for a spin and all that. Seemed perfectly fine to me.”
James was the only person who called him ‘Tim’, much to his annoyance. He sometimes thought that James called him that deliberately just to annoy him, but on the other hand he was probably reading into it intentions that he wished to ascribe to James, rather than those which were real.
Timothy spent most of the next hour in Hazel’s company alone. When Jeeves had brought the tall tumbler of lemonade which James had asked for, and a fresh pot of tea for Hazel and Timothy, James had taken the drink through to his study to enjoy there. He had explained that he needed to finalise arrangements for the shooting trip he was taking his brother on for his birthday and for a visit immediately afterwards to India. He said that he was going to a factory in Mumbai who claimed they could easily produce enough of his device to satisfy the Asian market, and at a price even cheaper than the one at Cebu could. They had offered to share the savings with him if he transferred manufacture to them. James wanted to see their operation for himself before making a final decision.
“You wouldn’t like it there, Hazel dear,” he told her, “it’s far too hot and crowded, and I’ll be spending most of my time in the factory or in meetings, so you would be alone for pretty much the whole trip.”
By the time Timothy left to return to prepare for that evening’s surgery, he had forgotten all about his earlier car troubles. The crash happened only two miles from the Manor, at a bend in the road that he failed to get around.
The brakes didn’t just become spongy this time but failed completely. He didn’t have time to stop the car completely but did manage to slow it down by throwing it into first gear, and nearly got all the way round the bend before its speed took it into the tree that finally brought it to a halt.
He had been lucky to survive the accident with only one broken leg and the other severely cut and bruised. The jag had been solidly built and its bodywork had protected him from the worst of the impact. It was more than could be said for the car itself. His pride and joy had been written off by the crash, its front end and engine too badly crushed to be economical to repair.
He had had to bring in a locum to care for his patients. He could get around well enough in the wheelchair the hospital had provided him, one leg in a caste sticking out straight before him and held in place by the metal support attached to the chair. The other had recovered sufficiently for the bandages which had first been wrapped around the worst of the cuts to have been removed. It was still painful but only when he used it. He did not much like taking the pills he so readily prescribed for other people, preferring wherever possible to let things recover naturally. He could get around well enough on the set of crutches that the hospital had also provided but it did hurt quite a bit and he rather liked being in the chair, as a temporary thing of course. He would not have found the situation anywhere near as much fun if it had been permanent.
He couldn’t get around well enough to yet return to his duties as GP for the local community, so had to keep the locum on to attend to these. He rather thought that this was a foretaste of his forthcoming retirement, being able to relax and enjoy a slower pace of life what someone else did all the work his practice required.
And now the break-in at the surgery. It had occurred in the afternoon while the locum had been out on rounds and he had been visiting Hazel, collected and taken back by James himself, though he didn’t stay with them as he had several errands to run in the nearby town.
He didn’t mind so much that the medical supply cabinet had been broken open and most of its contents stolen, and the thief had not even done much damage to get into the room itself. The supplies were replaceable and the small amount of damage to the glazed door into the surgery easily repairable and the cost covered by an insurance policy. But along with this the burglar had wreaked havoc on the records of his patients that he had so carefully maintained. Most of the cards were pulled out and scattered around his office and some had been defaced still further by dirt from the flowerpot that had graced the room and by ink from the jar that he kept in his desk to refill his pen. Some of them now were quite unreadable. He chanced upon Hazel’s card in the pile of legible ones that he was working through, returning each to its folder and the folder to the filing cabinet drawer it had been taken from. It was still the original card he had made out for her when she had first transferred to his practice. She had had very little cause to visit him professionally until latterly. James’s trips, and her suspicion that they were more than just for business as he claimed, had disturbed her sleeping pattern so that now he prescribed pills to help her. She didn’t use them all the time, mainly just when James was away from home and the card showed that he had given her only a small amount each of the four times he had prescribed them.
He found her file and slid the card back into it before returning it to the filing cabinet. It had been lucky to survive pretty much unscathed. Most of the ‘A’s and ‘B’s had been the ones to suffer the worst damage, no doubt when the thief had first started his mischief and before he got bored by his act of wanton vandalism. Both James’s and Julian’s cards were amongst the pile of mostly illegible ones. He would have to recreate them as best he could from his recollections and from the two brothers’ own memories.
He decided not to visit Hazel that afternoon. He had taken a taxi there and back the previous day and had spent all of the afternoon in her company. Having a locum to perform his duties for him had meant that he had not had to get back for evening surgery, so even his accident had some good points as well as bad. He would spend a couple more hours sorting through the cards, by which time he should be nearly finished. Then he was keen to try out the meal he had found in one of the magazines, if his present encumbrances allowed him to work adequately in his kitchen.
The following morning he spent between the small vegetable patch he kept in his garden and the kitchen. He wanted to keep out of the way of the surgery to leave things clear for the locum. He wanted to avoid seeing any of his patients in case his own treatment of their ailments would have differed from the locum’s. No point in adding that concern to the patients’ other worries. He could not reach the higher runner beans from his chair without rising from it. Doing so was painful so he soon contented himself with just collecting the lower ones which he could grab hold of comfortably. He dropped each one into the carrier bag which hung from one of the chair’s arms as he pulled it from the vine. It didn’t take long to fill the bag, and he wheeled himself back to the kitchen to prepare them for freezing. There were far too many to enjoy them all fresh.
In the afternoon he took a taxi over to see Hazel at the Manor. Julian had been due to return home the previous day. Timothy could start him thinking about important things to record on the new card which needed to be made out. The steps to the front door were far too steep for him to manage without assistance so he got the taxi to stop at the rear of the house near to the kitchen door. He could enter that way, and if Polly was about spend a few minutes with her to check that she was feeling herself and not too depressed after the death of her friend Margaret.
Polly hadn’t been in the kitchen so he had let himself in, managing to do so without having to leave the chair. The door had been unlocked but closed. Polly liked to keep it that way, even in the height of summer, in case she had something cooking in the Aga. She didn’t like to vary the room’s temperature in case it interfered with the process.
He came across Polly in the hallway, as he was making his way to the drawing-room. She said that she was keeping herself busy with preparations for the party, which was only a couple of days away now, in addition to her normal duties and that as a consequence she didn’t really have time to dwell on losing Margaret. She held the drawing-room door open for him to enter, from where she had just come after delivering a tray of tea for Lady Hazel and Mr Julian. She promised to return shortly with another cup and saucer for him, and thanked him for being so concerned about her well-being.
Over tea, Julian and Timothy swapped stories about what had befallen each of them since they had last met. Neither dwelt too long on these as Hazel had heard their tales before and they didn’t want to bore her with too much repetition. Timothy took the opportunity to explain that he needed to recreate Julian’s and James’s record cards.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Julian, “I’m sure between James and myself we can recall all of the important stuff.” As well as being so physically alike, they had even shared many of the same childhood illnesses, usually getting them from each other so that they suffered and recovered together.
When they had finished tea, Julian left Hazel and Timothy alone to take a stroll around the garden. At first their conversation had been light, concerning the party on the Friday and who was coming and who had declined, and about Julian’s arrangements for his own much smaller affair the following day. Soon though they turned to what Hazel had found in James’s room. It didn’t confirm her suspicions that James was having an affair but did add substance to them. It had to be serious too, if James was flying to the States to meet her, or worse taking her out there with him.
Timothy felt torn between indignation that Hazel was being treated so and, he couldn’t help thinking, a certain amount of hope that this discovery might lead to his forming an even closer, more intimate, relationship with her. He took her hand in his and patted it gently as she poured out her feelings. He was at a loss to know what to say to her, being sure that if he agreed and sympathised too much his own feelings would eventually come out. He contented himself, and hopefully Hazel, with simple platitudes and expressions, saying that he was sure there was a perfectly reasonable and innocent explanation for what she had found.
He remained with her all the rest of the afternoon and stayed to dinner when invited. He visited again on the Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, and tried whenever they were alone together to keep her thoughts occupied with other matters rather than dwell on what James may have been doing on his trip to the States or what he might be up to at this very moment.
He didn’t go over on the Friday afternoon, knowing that James was due to return that day, and that no doubt everyone would be busy with last-minute preparations for the party that evening.
As he wheeled himself about his house, doing nothing in particular, he wondered if Hazel had brought up the subject of what she had found as she had said she might, and if James could explain it innocently. He thought that he probably could, but that it wouldn’t be the truth. He knew James a little too well to believe him, and Julian had hinted in the past that James had secrets. The problem was that Hazel always wanted to believe the best of James, and would no doubt accept whatever explanation he came up with to account for the chit. When it was time to leave for the party he booked a cab and got ready while he was waited for it to arrive. He got it to drop him near the kitchen door, which had become his preferred method of entering the house now that being in the wheelchair made using the front door virtually impossible.
He was a little early and would probably be one of the first to arrive. The kitchen was empty when he entered. On the table, the individual cakes that would be brought out to the guests at the appropriate time were sitting on wire trays. A separate plate contained just two cakes. He didn’t need the number ’60’ on one of them to know that these would be for Julian and James. Next to them were two trays of savoury snacks. He guessed that these too would be for the boys to eat, cooked specially to avoid the foods they couldn’t eat. He wheeled himself through the kitchen and headed for the ballroom.