“Do you have somewhere else you’d rather be, Charlie?” Ewart asked exasperatedly as he watched the nurse glance down at his watch for the fifth time in the last ten minutes.
Charlie snapped to attention, “No Ewart. Sorry”.
“Look, I don’t want to be here anymore than you do…” Charlie raised an eyebrow questioningly but said nothing, “but this stock taking has to be done if we’re to find the culprit”.
“I know,” Charlie sighed, rubbing the back of his head, “It’s just been a hell of a day, and I don’t fancy spending all night here too”.
“What you mean is the others have arranged to go to some disco and you’d rather be with them”.
“Do you blame me?”
“No” Ewart admitted, “Although in my case I’d rather be at a decent concert. The Holby Philharmonic are playing all this week. We’re nearly finished though”.
“Yeah” Charlie replied gloomily.
“I thought you wanted to get out of here?”
“I do. Believe me, but apart from finding out that we’ve lost another couple of tablets what have we achieved? We still don’t know who’s taking them, do we?”
It was Ewart’s turn to sigh. “OK. Point taken, but I don’t have any other ideas. At least this way we can give a detailed list to the police”.
“Who aren’t interested…” Charlie pointed out.
The two men fell into a silence that was all the more eerie for them being the only two souls in the otherwise deserted department.
“Who has access to this cupboard?” Ewart eventually asked.
“Well, I have keys, so does Clive King. Judith Brigstocke covers when one of us isn’t here. But all the nurses have access in reality, they borrow the keys and bring them back”.
“And the cupboard is always kept locked?”
“Yes!” Charlie exclaimed.
“Just checking Charlie, I’m not making any accusations…”
“But it is someone here. It has to be”. Charlie conceded, albeit reluctantly.
“We’ll just have to be extra vigilant. I’ll finish up here if you want to get on with your disco dancing…?”
“No, it’s OK. I’ll stay, see it through.” He said, though he couldn’t hide the unenthusiastic tone.
“No point in us both missing out. Go on”.
Charlie smiled, “Thanks. I owe you”.
“And I’ll remember that”. Ewart replied mysteriously.
“Should I be worried?”
“No. There’s just a little something I have in the pipeline and the support of the senior A&E nurse could be important”.
“Oh yeah?” Charlie queried, hoping for more information, but knowing that it wouldn’t be forthcoming.
“Yes. Nothing to concern yourself with at the moment though, we have bigger problems”. He indicated the contents of the drug’s cupboard spread out on the counter in front of them.
Charlie groaned and nodded, “See you tomorrow then Ewart. Night”.
Charlie strolled into the staff room to collect his jacket and then back across the reception area to the door; thinking as he did so how strange the place felt when it was empty, and what a waste it was for all the equipment to lie abandoned at night.
Even though he was already late in going to the club Charlie still swung by his flat to get changed and have a quick shower. It had been a long and difficult day and as the needles of hot water pummeled him he seriously considered going straight to bed with a glass of whiskey and having a well earned rest.
Still, he thought as he dried himself off and rummaged through his chest of drawers for something that didn’t fall into the category of work wear or just plain scruffy, it could be fun. He’d also promised Martin that he’d show up, and if he recalled correctly Duffy had visibly brightened at the mention of a night on the town after the shaky start she’d had to the day. If she could manage to enjoy herself after all of that then surely he could put in a brief appearance and show some solidarity.
Martin arrived at the small table occupied by Susie and Duffy and deposited the drinks he’d just bought in front of their owners.
“There you go girls. Someone else can buy the next round though”.
Susie glanced over at Duffy, “Hey, don’t look at me, I’m broke, as usual!”
“Oh well,” Susie said, laughing, “We’ll just have to make sure we don’t finish these before Charlie gets here!”
“Where is he anyway?” Duffy asked, straining to see across the dimly lit room. There was no sign of Charlie although the club was filling up nicely. Not that that surprised Duffy in the least; Holby might have many fine attributes but it wasn’t exactly known for its nightlife, so any reasonable club would get pretty packed. She drummed her fingers on the table to the sound of The Pet Shop Boys as she continued to scan the crowd.
“He’ll show up sooner or later…” Martin observed looking around the club himself.
“Yeah” Susie agreed, “Never mind him Duffy, there might be some real talent in this place!”
Duffy smiled and nodded, unwilling to admit to her new friend that she thought Charlie was actually rather attractive.
“Right, I’ve just spotted a couple of old friends so I’m going to go over there. You girls will be all right won’t you?”
“A-ha” Duffy nodded again.
“We don’t need you to protect us Martin” Added Susie.
“No, you just need me to buy you drinks!” He rose from his chair, “Back in a minute…”
Charlie wandered into the club and took in his surroundings. A bar in front of a mirror clad wall stood at one end of the room, a small mezzanine level with tables and chairs at the other, with a few more tables around the edge. The middle of the room was the dance floor, and it was already crowded. From somewhere emanated a pathetic wisp of dry ice.
It took a second for his eyes to adjust to lighting, but when they did he tried to search for his friends. It wasn’t an easy occupation. He caught the eye of a young brunette barmaid who delivered a broad smile and a flirtatious wave. He smiled back, impressed by his own pulling power, and was about to go to talk to her when he caught sight of Susie and Duffy sitting at one of the tables and decided he should really go and say hello to them first.
“Evening ladies” He said, settling himself in the empty seat, “Where’s Martin?”
“Somewhere over there…” Susie pointed in the general direction he’d wandered off in dismissively.
Charlie looked at where she pointed but couldn’t see him, “Fair enough.”
“We were wondering when you’d turn up.” Duffy said, feeling that the lack of conversation was getting awkward.
“I was just at work like I said” Charlie replied. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Duffy, but he’d been told to keep the departments problem a secret so couldn’t really elaborate.
“I see.” She took another sip of her drink and started to drum her fingers on the table again.
“I hope you weren’t waiting for me…” Duffy prayed that the room was dark enough to hide her blush as she shook her head.“… I didn’t think I’d be this late but you know how it is sometimes”.
“My last boyfriend had one of them mobile phones,” Susie interrupted, indicating with her hands something about the size of a brick, “he worked in the city you see, anyway he could call me from his car and tell me if he was stuck in traffic”.
Duffy looked suitably impressed by this; Charlie rolled his eyes.
“They say by the year 2000 we’ll all have mobile phones, and computers and compact disc players, you know.” Duffy said, as she sipped her drink.
“Oh yeah?” scoffed Charlie, “On a nurse’s salary? I’ve got a mate with one of those CD player things, cost an arm and a leg and it means you have to buy your record collection over again. If you ask me only the super rich or the super gullible would bother”.
“You’re just jealous because you can’t afford all this new technology!” Susie chipped in from across the table.
“And you can? Anyway I’ve got better things to spend my money on than pointless gadgets.” Charlie replied. “That flash gear is all very well for the Yuppies of this world but it’ll never catch on with the likes of you and I”.
“I bet that’s what people said about the light bulb Charlie. You’ve got no vision!” Susie said shaking her head disapprovingly.
Duffy listened nervously to the debate she’d accidentally started; worried that it might turn into a full-blown war.
“I was only saying, like…” she started, but her voice was lost in the sound of Madonna’s ‘Into the groove’.
“I’m not saying that they’ll never catch on, just that it’ll take a lot longer than the next fifteen years and then it’ll only be people with a bob or two put by who could afford them! And since I’m not going to hold by breath about having a windfall on the Premium bonds you won’t find me with my ear to a mobile phone any time soon!”
Not waiting to hear Susie’s retort, Duffy mumbled her excuses and staggered tipsily to the ladies, shutting her self in the first available cubicle. The hot, smoky atmosphere of the club was getting to her and the toilets held little respite; the air was thick with hairspray. She put the lid down and slumped onto the seat exhausted.
After a traumatic day she’d really been looking forward to good night out and a much-needed chance to let her hair down. Nights out with Robyn and her other friends had become so formulaic that they verged on boring. It would always be the same, the whole gang would get ready together with a couple of bottles of cheap wine and much arguing about who wanted to borrow which lipstick and whether any given outfit flattered its owner.
When they eventually left for the club it was already late, they could never find anywhere to sit and all the half-decent blokes were already taken. Then one of the group, usually Jayne though sometimes Duffy, would have too much to drink and either start throwing up or simply pass out, so they’d leave early and split on a taxi to take them back to the nurse’s home. It was always the same.
So when she’d been asked to come along with the A&E gang she’d had high hopes for the night, not least because she’d get to see what Charlie was like away from the hospital. The problem was that Charlie seemed to all intents and purposes to be happier in the hospital than out of it. What other excuse could there be for someone who turned up hours late because they’d been working? Even now he was here he clearly had no intention of dancing, he’d rather argue about nothing much with Susie.
Duffy pulled a mirror and her mascara from her handbag and tried to touch up her make up. Any ideas she might have had about getting to dance with Charlie were fast dissolving. It was pretty clear that he wasn’t interested. He hadn’t even complimented her on her choice of outfit, which Robyn had once told her would ‘knock any man dead’. Ever since he’d turned up she’d seen him periodically glance over to a striking brunette behind the bar, paying her infinitely more attention in those fleeting looks than he had done to Duffy all night.
Well, she thought to herself, there are plenty more fish in the sea if Charlie doesn’t know a good thing when he sees one. His disinterest was no reason to ruin what was potentially the best night out she’d had in ages. She held the tiny mirror at arm’s length in a vain attempt to reflect her whole body at once. Then with a frown she tried to backcomb her hair with her fingers to fluff it up a bit. When she was satisfied with the result she stood up and left the ladies with a renewed determination to enjoy her self.
She returned to the main room to the sound of Wham! proclaiming that one or other of them was her man, and noticed that at their little table Susie was now entertaining a couple of men that Duffy didn’t recognise and Charlie had finally wandered over to the bar to actually talk the brunette. She hovered at the edge of the dance floor wondering where she should go and intermittently being shoulder barged by various groups of people.
It was only after a particularly large man sent her spinning that she noticed Martin talking to a young man and woman, who were obviously a couple, in the corner of the club. Not quite feeling malicious enough to screw up Susie’s chances with either of her random men or Charlie’s with the brunette, she instead headed in Martin’s direction.
“We’ve been wondering where you got to!” She called as she neared his position. The man and woman glanced sideways at each other and disappeared into the crowd. Martin appeared to hurriedly shove something in his pocket.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” He shouted back angrily.
“Sorry…” Duffy replied quietly, taken aback by his reaction. “I just came to say ‘hi’”
“What!? Couldn’t you see I was… busy? Talking?” He floundered, “Do you always barge in on private conversations?”
“I said I’m sorry, what more do you want?”
“I want you to keep your nose out of my business! Got it?” He bellowed before storming off.
Duffy remained rooted to the spot, staring after him as he stormed through the mass of dancing bodies and out of sight, wondering what the hell had just happened. From her point of view she couldn’t see what she’d done to provoke that outburst. She rubbed the heel of her hand against her forehead and tried to stop her skull from reverberating to the beat of the music. Today, it seemed, was just one of those days when things were going to go wrong. Probably something to do with the motion of Mercury.
Fishing her cloakroom ticket from her handbag, she made her way to the exit.
Go to Part Eight