What the fishermen had not known was that far more than bullets had invaded the man's body. And mind.
The doctor pushed his gaunt frame out of the chair and walked unsteadily to the window overlooking the harbour. He lowered the blind, closing his eyes to block out the sun, then squinted between the slats to observe the activity in the street below, specifically the reason for the clatter. It was a horsedrawn cart, a fisherman's family out for a Sunday drive. Where the hell else could one see such a sight? And then he remembered the carriages and the finely groomed geldings that carried tourists through London's Regent's Park during the summer months; he laughed out loud at the comparison. But his laughter was short-lived, replaced by something unthinkable three weeks ago. He had given up all hope of seeing England again. It was possible that might be change'd now. The stranger could change it.
Unless his prognosis was wrong, it would happen any day, any hour or minute. The wounds to the legs, stomach and chest were deep and severe, quite possibly fatal were it not for the fact the bullets had remained where they had lodged, self-cauterized and continuously cleansed by the sea. Extracting them was nowhere near as dangerous as it might have been, the tissue primed, softened, sterilized, ready for an immediate knife. The cranial wound was the real problem, the penetration was subcutaneous, but it appeared to have bruised the thalamus and hippocampus fibrous regions. Had the bullet entered millimetres on either side the vital functions would have ceased; they had not been impeded, and Washburn had made a decision. He went dry for thirty-six hours, eating as much starch and drinking as much water as was humanly possible. Then he performed the most delicate piece of work he had attempted since his dismissal from Macleans Hospital in London. Millimetre by agonizing millimetre he had brush-washed the fibrous areas, then stretched and sutured the skin over the cranial wound, knowing that the slightest error with brush, needle or clamp would cause the patient's death.
He had not wanted this unknown patient to die for any number of reasons. But especially one.
When it was over and the vital signs remained constant, Dr Geoffrey Washburn went back to his chemical and physiological appendage. His bottle. He had got drunk and he had remained drunk, but he had not gone over the edge. He knew exactly where he was and what he was doing at all times. Definitely an improvement
Any day now, any hour perhaps. The stranger would focus his eyes and intelligible words would emerge from his lips.
Even any moment.
The words came first. They floated in the air as the early morning breeze off the sea cooled the room.
'Who's there? Who's in this room?'
Wash burn sat up in the cot, moved his legs quietly over the side, and rose slowly to his feet. It was important to make no jarring note, no sudden noise or physical movement that might frighten 'the patient into a psychological regression. The next few minutes would be as delicate as the surgical procedures he had performed; the doctor in him was prepared for the moment.
'A friend,' he said softly.
'You speak English. I thought you would. American or Canadian is what I suspected. Your dental work didn't come from the U.K. or Paris. How do you feel?'
'I'm not sure.'
'It will take a while. Do you need to relieve your bowels?' 'What?'
Take a crapper, old man. That's what the pan's for beside you The white one on your left. When we make it in time, of course.'
'Don't be. Perfectly normal function. I'm a doctor, your doctor. My name is Geoffrey Washburn. What's yours?'
'I asked you what your name was.'
The stranger moved his head and stared at the white wall streaked with shafts of morning light. Then he turned back, his blue eyes levelled at the doctor. 'I don't know.'
'Oh, my God.'
'I've told you over and over again. It will take time. The more you fight it. the more you crucify yourself, the worse it will be.' 'You're drunk.'
'Generally. It's not pertinent. But I can give you clues, if you'll listen.'
'No you don't; you turn away. You lie in your cocoon and pull the cover over your mind. Hear me again.'
'In your coma - your prolonged coma - you spoke in three different languages. English, French and some goddamned twangy thing I presume is Oriental. That means you're multi-, lingual; you're at home in various parts of the world. Think geographically. What's most comfortable for you?'
'We've agreed to that. So what's most uncomfortable?'
'I don't know.'
'Your eyes are round, not sloped. I'd say obviously not Oriental.'
'Then why do you speak it? Now, think in terms of association. I've written down words; listen to them. I'll say them phonetically. Ma - kwa. Tarn - Kwan. Kee - sah. Say the first thing that comes to mind.'
'What the hell do you want?'
'We've agreed to that. Consistently. I also saved your bloody life. Drunk or not, I am a doctor. I was once a very good one.'
'The patient questions the doctor?'
Washburn paused, looking out of the window at the waterfront. 'I was drunk,' he said. 'They said I killed two patients on the operating table because I was drunk. I could have got away with one. Not two. They see a pattern very quickly, God bless them. Don't ever give a man like me a knife and cloak it in respectability.'
'Was it necessary?'
'Was what necessary?'
'Yes, damn you,' said Washburn softly, turning from the window. 'It was and it is. And the patient is not permitted to make judgments where the physician is concerned.'
'You also have an annoying habit of apologizing. It's an overworked protestation and not at all natural. I don't for a minute believe you're an apologetic person.'
Then yon know something I don't know,'
About you, yes. A great deal. And very little of it makes sense.'
The man sat forward in the chair. His open shirt fell away from his taut frame, exposing the bandages on his chest and stomach. He folded his hands in front of him, the veins in his slender, muscular arms pronounced. 'Other than the things we've talked about?' 'Yes.'
'Things I said while in coma?"
'No, not really. We've discussed most of that gibberish. The languages, your knowledge of geography - cities I've never or barely heard of - your obsession for avoiding the use of names, names you want to say but won't; your propensity for confrontation - attack, recoil, hide, run - all rather violent, I might add. I frequently strapped your arms down, to protect the wounds. But we've covered all that. There are other things.'
'What do you mean? What are they? Why haven't you told me?'
'Because they're physical. The outer shell, as it were. I wasn't sure you were ready to hear. I'm not sure now.'
The man leaned back in the chair, dark eyebrows below the dark brown hair joined in irritation. 'Now it's the physician's judgment that isn't called for. I'm ready. What are you talking about?'