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Houseman & Sounderajah | Wedding

January 23, 2014

A short story about two junior doctor/private detectives, Houseman & Sounderajah. I wrote this awhile ago but for some reason didn’t share it. Better late than never. All characters and situations are fictional; they are the product of my fevered imagination.

A church.

Any church but in this instance, the Church. It is in the same city as the Hospital but a little further out, in a leafy suburb. Bunting streams from the eaves across the graveyard to some nearby trees. It is a bright Friday morning and people are gradually filing into the hall, in ones and twos.

Viknesh Sounderajah, dressed in his second-best suit, pushes open the old oaken gate and strolls up the path.

“Vik!” a man in the smartest of suits greeted him at the door, “Glad you could make it.”

“Well, I had to, David.” Viknesh replied, “It’s your wedding day. What kind of PBL partner would I be if I missed this? Congratulations, by the way.”

“Thank you,” David blushed. He stuck his hands in his pockets and grinned broadly, “Ever since I met Lizzie, I knew she was the one for me. And now the day’s finally here.”

“I seem to recall that you met when you snogged her face off in the Epstein Bar in Year 2” Sounderajah smirked.

“Yeah.” David muttered, deflated.

“After she held your hair back when you vomited in the toilet.”

“Thanks, Viknesh.”

“And then she slapped you in the face.”

“So do you know if Jack Houseman is coming?” David piped up, desperate to change the flow of conversation.

As if in answer, there was a sudden cacophony as something vaguely car-shaped exploded and spluttered down the road. Creaking with the effort, it pulled up in front of the church. It gave a final sigh of exhaust before collapsing in a heap. After some trouble with the door, Houseman sprang out of the car. He slammed the door behind him, which caused the exhaust pipe to fall off. Ignoring it, he vaulted over the gate and jogged up the path to where his two friends and colleagues were waiting.

“Hey, David, Vik.” He breathed, nodding at them, “Not late, am I?”

For a time, no one spoke. Both friends looked up and down at his attire. The striped shirt with the rolled-up sleeves, the creased cords with a wristwatch threaded through a belt loop, the well-worn trainers. And, incongruously, a top hat.

“Just come off on-call, Jack?” David asked gingerly.

“No.” Houseman replied, “Why?”

To save an explanation, the bride chose this moment to arrive. The pomp Rolls Royce with ribbons down to the hood ornament had some trouble parking, as Houseman’s what-passed-for-a-car took up two spaces and was three feet away from the curb. As the driver tried to navigate what space was left, David headed inside the church to get ready.

“You could have at least tried to make an effort.” Sounderajah chided, now that he was alone with his partner. He took Houseman by the shoulder and steered him inside.

“What are you talking about? I’m wearing a hat,” Houseman exclaimed, “And besides, I have to go back to work after this, unlike the rest of you slackers.”

They had entered the hall by this point and over the murmuring hush, Houseman’s last comment had been loud enough to be heard by all. A hundred pairs of eyes turned and glared at them.

Viknesh tried to smile weakly and, seeing the quickest solution to defuse the situation, slid into a pew at the back of the church and pulled Houseman down with him.

A short while later, after their driver had found a parking spot round the corner, the bride and her procession appeared, an organ, somewhere, began to play and the service began.

It was a pleasant service but quite within the ordinary. When the couple had exchanged their vows, they made their way out through a sea of congratulations. Row by row, the guests followed. Houseman and Sounderajah were among the last to leave. By the time they made it outside, Lizzie was getting ready to throw the bouquet.

“Do you think it’s my turn to be a blushing bride?” Viknesh asked, strangely giddy with excitement.

“Maybe. You’re got some stiff competition here though. You’ll have to beat some of these girls with a stick.” Houseman answered, casting his eyes over the army of floral dresses, in wide spectrum of sizes. “A very big stick.” Some of the women present had surreptitiously swapped their stilettos for running shoes.

By the gate, Elizabeth gave a big heave and the bouquet flew into the air. The crowd in front of the F1s surged forward as one as the race began. As the spray of flowers began to descend, various women rose up to meet it. Some jumped too early, some in the complete wrong direction. Some, however, were on the mark. Ultimately, the bouquet was caught by a squat, heavy woman who gained surprising altitude for her height. She came back to earth with a victorious thump.

But the air quickly turned from gay frivolity to fear. Sensing something was wrong, Houseman and Sounderajah rushed forward. The woman who had caught the bouquet was kneeling on the floor amidst a circle of guests. In front of her was her unfortunate landing pad, a tall and thin chap lying on the ground.

“Young man, no external injury, difficulty in breathing.” Houseman began his inspection, kneeling at the man’s side.

“Tachycardic with poor volume.” Sounderajah added, crouching on his other side with a hand on his pulse, “Somebody call an ambulance!”

“Help…me.” The young man groaned, between great gasps for air.

“Trust me, I’m a doctor.” Houseman grasped his hand in an attempt to reassure him. Inwardly, he smiled; he had always wanted to say that. “What’s your name?”

“Matthew…” he breathed.

“Jack, look at this.” Viknesh started gravely, pointing to the veins in Matthew’s neck, which were horribly distended. He tore open the man’s shirt and exposed his chest. He placed an ear against his frame, first on the left, then on the right. He looked up sharply, “Absent breath sounds on the right.”

“Tension pneumothorax.” Houseman stated.

“I’ve rung for the ambulance. They’ll be here in five minutes.” David appeared, phone still in hand, “What’s wrong?”

“Matthew here has got a tension pneumothorax.” Houseman explained curtly. His lung had collapsed, which put a crimp on breathing, and living for any meaningful time. And the pressures which crushed his lung were threatening to do the same to his other lung, and his heart. Worse still, the pressure was increasing.

“Oh Christ!” the groom’s face fell into his hands. He looked up briefly, “Oh God, his lips are turning blue.”

“Jack, gimme that.” Sounderajah asked, pointing to one of the many pens in Houseman’s breast pocket. Houseman wordlessly complied. The other doctor methodically worked the cap off and slipped the ink stem out. With the hollow barrel poised in one hand, he felt along Matthew’s chest. He pressed a finger in the fleshy hollow under his collarbone and raised the pen. With one decisive movement, he brought it down and stabbed Matthew.

The effect was instantaneous as pressures equalised. Matthew took a deep gulp of breath as the onlookers watched his veins settle down, suddenly, he seemed much better. Not well, but better. Everyone involved breathed a sigh of relief.

Matthew had recovered sufficiently to ask, “Did you just stab me…with a biro?”

“You’ll thank me later,” Viknesh smiled. He was still holding the pen in place with his hand. He looked around, “Is there anything we can tie this in place with?”

“Hold on,” Houseman said, removing his hat. He dug a hand in and began to root around in a surprising amount of medical equipment. Amongst gauzes, syringes, needles, vials, balls of cotton wool, his stethoscope, a suture kit and a small apothecary of tablets, he produced a few squares of adhesive dressings.

Viknesh looked at the dressing, and the hat from which it had come from, and back to the dressing, wordlessly before finally accepting it and simply saying, “I won’t ask.”

The next few minutes passed uneventfully and once the paramedics arrived to take care of Matthew, the wedding continued with relative normalcy. Houseman and Sounderajah were among the guests as they waved the happy couple goodbye – Once Houseman had packed his hat away.

“That was,” Sounderajah paused, searching for the right word, “Interesting.”

Houseman smirked and adjusted his top hat.

“Just wait until the reception.”

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