The man sat at the table his steady gaze never leaving the door. To his right, flickering moronically, atop a metallic stand, was the television set which seemed to be watching him rather than the other way around. He switched it on in an attempt to mollify the growing unease that had crept into him from the time Nurse Nancy stormed into his office (which was not more than ten minutes ago) and told him in a panicky tone:-Dr. Malone, you have to rush to the emergency room. Dr. Kruger has just fainted in the middle of the heart surgery he was performing. We tried reviving him but he seems to have just blacked out. You have to rush in and proceed with the operation.
He, being the Head Administrator of the Hunn Teamer Hospital, of course, had to tell her that he would be there “in a jiffy” and that she and the others should, meanwhile, try their best to “bring back Dr. Kruger”.
“In a jiffy”, by now, had become ten solid minutes. And since that ominous office door hadn’t yet been shouldered in a second time by that mountainous Nurse Nancy he felt tempted to believe that Dr. Kruger had been ‘brought back’ or at least some other doctor had been ‘brought in’.
He thought angrily to himself:
Passing out during a heart surgery?? What kind of a lily-livered dweeb is that Dr. Kruger anyway?
And besides, the inexplicable blackout was supposed to be his secret weapon in the event of any unprecedented uncompromising situations, much like the present one. He turned away from the door and fixed his eyes vacantly on the television, still dreading the ‘second coming’ of Nurse Nancy.
He had known being “Dr. Malone” would not be as untroubled as being, perhaps, “Pierre the Real Estate Broker” or “Larry the Painfully Rich Tycoon Who Just Happened to Be Looking for a Partner” or even “Terry the Talent Agent”. To pass off as a doctor it wasn’t just enough that you had a wily tongue and a magnetic disposition; you had to possess what the cons alluded to as “the E factor” which basically stood for elusiveness. He had been very strong on “the E factor” for the last four months now; but the current reading on the ‘E-Factor-o-Meter’ was very close to hitting empty.
Getting into the coat of Dr. Malone was facile; he and his “colleagues” had made sure that he would be going into the post of Head Administrator with an impeccable doctoral history-authentic certificates with exemplary accolades, authentic recommendations made by the most renowned surgeons from all over the world, authentic photographs of Dr. Malone receiving honors from the highest of dignitaries, and even a bottled appendix that he had removed from Richard Nixon during his presidential years which he kept as a souvenir. All in all, the birth of Dr. Malone had been practically foolproof.
Survival during the last four months, meanwhile, had been a matter of hard work. Whatever potential hazard that came his way Dr. Malone dealt with vagueness and ambiguity. Like the time when a few doctors approached him with a medical query that he resolved with a “My mom’s on the phone”, or the time when a few nurses accosted him with a harassment complaint against one of the senior doctors which Dr. Malone settled with a “My mom’s still on the phone”.
Excluding such occasional impediments, life as Dr. Malone, was quite enviable. All the dirty work- like curing patients, performing surgeries, making sure they don’t kick the bucket et al-was done by others while Dr. Malone spent his time enjoying the various social benefits his status came with and, of course, by intermittently engaging in furtive acts of embezzlement.
But the present predicament disconcerted him. It wasn’t a harassment complaint that he was dealing with here; it was a man’s life. And that was a terrifying thought. However, he tried to calm himself down by forcibly convincing his mind that everything was going to turn out well, because he had, after all, chosen to don the coat of Dr. Malone only after his lucky coin had given him the go-ahead. And in all his years of being a part of the conning industry his lucky coin had never let him down.
On the television screen, a bearded man dressed in white was sitting in a thronelike chair surrounded by a huge assemblage of blank looking people who appeared to be his disciples. Dr. Malone heard the man’s words flying out through the television:
Believe in me and you shall earn your deliverance. Don’t worry, be happy.
Dr. Malone stared at the “swami” and thought bitterly to himself: Easy for you to say! I’m freaking out here!
He then reached into the inner pocket of his coat and took out his lucky coin. He looked at both sides of the coin pleadingly:
I need to know right now if this situation is going to go away or not. ‘Heads’ it’ll go away,‘tails’ it won’t.
He tossed the coin into the air. And almost simultaneous to the moment his hands clapped close, tucking the coin between them, the door to his office burst open. An impatient disoriented Nurse Nancy said:
Dr. Malone, why are you still here? Please hurry to the emergency room. We are losing the patient.
He thought his tongue had jumped back down his throat because neither could he utter a word nor could he swallow a single breath. Staring at Nurse Nancy, he said feebly:
I just wanted to gather myself and…my favorite pair of surgical gloves.
Nurse Nancy gave Dr. Malone the same look which butchers probably give really stubborn chickens-that just refuse to die-before they break their neck for good. However, Nurse Nancy’s purpose being quite the opposite and time being of essence she retained her position near the door and said coldly:
Doctor, there is no time for you to find your favorite pair of gloves or your lucky scalpel. We have all the surgical equipments necessary in the emergency room. All we lack is a surgeon. So, please, come with me right now.
Even as he got off his chair and timidly followed Nurse Nancy he knew that this was the moment that he had dreaded all his adult life-the instant when his game would finally be up. But it was going to be far more torturous than he had ever imagined-he was going to have the blood of another man on his hands to haunt him till he died, and probably after that too. He opened his folded hand and examined his lucky coin to see how the previous toss had turned out. It showed ‘tails’.
The walk to the emergency room felt more like the walk to a death chamber. The lump in his throat seemed to be getting bigger and bigger. And there it was-the ghastly door with the letters ER written across it. Nurse Nancy pushed the door open and slid past it; he followed.
The first sight which received him in that frighteningly lit room made him feel like he was being held up. There was a band of masked figures wielding tiny weapons meant to bring slow death. Suddenly, one of them which he recognized as Nurse Nancy (from the double chin hanging below the blue mask) handed him a mask along with a pair of gloves. He noticed the surreal motionless body that lay helplessly on the surface of the operating table surrounded by these strange masked beings. He warily inched closer towards the body.
What he saw made him actually want to call up his mother and be told by her that this was just a bad dream that he was having. Inside the cut up chest of the motionless body was a throbbing ticking red bomb which was the man’s heart. As he stared into the crimson chest cavity, mesmerized and appalled by what he saw, he heard a voice ask:
Doctor, we have detected a totally unexplainable internal bleeding. We doubt if Dr. Kruger accidentally grazed against the chest tissues when he fainted. What are we to do now?
Dr. Malone wanted to scream out:
I don’t know a damn thing. I’m a fraud, a big fat fraud. My name isn’t even Dr. Malone. I don’t even have a real name. Go get a real doctor and save this man’s life before you lose all chances of saving him.
But he said:
Make the bleeding stop somehow.
Another voice said:
If we could, Doctor, we would have already. Dr. Malone gulped:
Don’t you have those blood absorbing sponges?
Yet another new voice entered the scene:
Yes. It has been used but we cannot attain any sort of permanent effect. His pulse is going weak, Doctor. He’s slipping away. We have to do something.
Dr. Malone said, his lips quivering:
Try it again! Fast!
The masked figures promptly obeyed and procured the sponge. Nurse Nancy then began to dab the spreading redness inside the horizontal man’s chest. Dr. Malone saw the bleeding reduce momentarily but then again commence. The man’s heart was bleeding with a vengeance. There was absolutely nothing he could do. He knew he had to confess-before all possibilities of saving the patient faded away. However, he had to be sure that confessing was the right move. He turned to the rest and said:
I want you all to leave the room for a minute. I need to be alone.
One of the voices, clearly shocked, asked:
You are joking, aren’t you, Doctor? Why on earth do you want us to leave the room?
The others just looked on in consternation.
Dr. Malone repeated:
Look, I don’t have time to argue with you. I can’t save this man’s life unless all of you depart for a minute.
Shaking his head in disbelief the masked figure left the room followed by the rest of them, including Nurse Nancy.
Dr. Malone reached into his pants pocket and came out with the only decision maker he trusted:
‘Heads’ I don’t tell them and let fate take over; ‘tails’ I tell them and go to prison.
And he flipped. The coin rose into the air, ceaselessly turning, and was about to make its return journey downwards when suddenly, with a clink, it hit the big lamp overhead and ricocheted right into the scarlet cavity below with a dull plop. Dr. Malone’s instinctive impulse was to reach into the man’s body and retrieve his coin but the others made their way back in completely eliminating that idea. Dr. Malone stood there speechless; the end had finally arrived. The others dabbed the blood and checked the man’s pulse. Dr. Malone decided to do the inevitable.
He began in a weak voice:
I am not…
An astonished voice suddenly interrupted:
Doctor Malone, what did you do? The bleeding seems to have stopped!! His pulse is strengthening. Oh my god! You just brought this man back from the dead.
It took him a few moments to comprehend what must have happened. His lucky coin-it had sacrificed itself to save his life and the patient’s life. Dr. Malone felt stunned and bewildered by the drama of life. He teetered backwards, but quickly found his balance, and saw the masked figures busily nursing the man back to life. Without exchanging a word with any of them he made his way out of the ER and headed straight to his office, in an unreal haze.
He looked around and said softly:
His life had been changed. Reformation was in order. The shameless existence he led conning people was over. He was going to divorce deception; evict fraud; befriend honesty. He knew what he was going to do with his life. Something true; something real; something rewarding.
He decided he was going to become a spiritual guru.