To save a loved one, nothing is out of bounds
It was three years since that fateful day in theatre. The loathsome Burns hadn’t been in contact with Hart. He was glad to be rid of the trafficker. Unable to use his medical talents; he felt unfulfilled.
‘Just a small price to pay for a clear conscience,’ Hart thought.
Although, his intuition suggested Burns would return one day. Hart had remained on guard and was obsessed. He paid attention to everything and everyone around. He recorded every car registration and had installed security cameras around the home.
‘Dad, you’re going to get known as a sodding nosy neighbour,’ Marcia told him.
He finished typing down the registrations and scowled.
‘I don’t care, trust no one…’
‘I know, when at university don’t talk to strangers nor give my number or address to strange boys offering me sweets. I’ll also beware of the big, bad wolf too, Dad.’
‘Don’t be so bloody facetious, Marcia. Just for once listen to what I’m saying!’
‘He’s even more paranoid than usual,’ she thought.
‘Okay, stroppy… don’t know how I’m meant to meet a decent guy with all your rules,’ she muttered.
‘What was that?’
‘Okay Dad. Bye!’
‘Don’t forget to let me know when you arrive at Uni, Marcia…’
But she had already closed the door. He felt particularly on edge. Obsessed, he paced the floor. He checked the time every few minutes. After a couple of hours, he was growing nervous.
‘Taking Marcia long enough to get there,’ he thought.
Finally, he received a call:
‘Finally, darling have you arrived okay?’
‘Darling? I didn’t know you cared…’ said a male voice.
Hart double checked the name of the caller; it was Marcia’s device.
‘Who is this?’
‘Your worst f***ing nightmare, Doctor. Really didn’t think you would forget me so easily.’
‘The very same, Harty boy!’
‘Where’s Marcia and how have you got her device?’
‘What, you don’t know where she is?’
‘If you’ve done anything to harm her…’
There was a long silence at the other end.
‘Are you alright doctor? It doesn’t look as though you’ve been sleeping too well . All this watching out the window… it can’t be good for your health.’
Hart froze, he glanced around, baffled how Burns knew so much.
‘It’s funny, paranoia of the outside world when it’s the eyes inside the home are watching you,’ Burns laughed.
‘The CCTV, he’s been watching us. How could I be so stupid?’ Hart thought.
‘Right now, Marcia can you say something to daddy for me?’
‘It’s okay, I’m alright…’ she trailed off.
‘Marcia! She’d better be alright, or I swear…’
‘Calm down, course she is. She’s just on the sauce again,’ Burns chuckled.
‘Do you realise what that stuff does to her?’
‘Oh yes, right now I could do anything to her. And for another hit, she’d let me,’ he sneered. ‘So, here’s the deal… I’m gonna need a little flavour and your particular level of expertise.’
Hart’s halo began to slip. He imagined all the terrible things he would do to Burns.
‘Right you horrible b*****d. If you let her go and I’ll do it. Just one job though!’ he exclaimed.
‘Excuse me, but who say’s your making the rules?’
He paused to build the drama.
‘Okay, I’ll return her on completion…’
Burns ended the call. Then a picture of Marcia arrived gagged, bound and half-naked.
‘Oh God, please let her be alright,’ Hart thought.
It was followed by a message:
He knew Marcia was in real danger and remembered what Burns had once said:
‘Has it ever occurred to you, doctor high and bloody mighty, we were given the wrong bleeding daughters? Your Marcia, the scummy, dirty, thieving little smack rat. And then there’s my Angie, a perfect angel. Funny that, I reckon…’
Hart shuddered at the thoughts and felt sick to the stomach. He could recall Burns’ laugher.
‘If Burns harms Marcia… it doesn’t bare thinking about. No, she’s got to be alright; she’s got to be,’ he thought.
His mind raced away. Suddenly, there was a loud bang on the door. A dark figure entered the house, Hart was frozen to the spot. The burly man grabbed and dragged him to the car outside.
‘Get a move on, he’s waiting for you!’ the figure grunted.
Hart was thrust into the back seat. Burns’ henchman pulled a gun.
‘My orders are to deliver you. But if you give me any trouble…’
‘You’ll get no trouble from me.’
Hart’s face was forced into the seat as the car sped away. No matter how much he struggled he remained pinned down. After half an hour, they arrived at their destination off the beaten track.
‘Right, you get out now. Hurry up!’
He was man-handled out of the car.
‘Okay, take it easy!’
He was thrust into the middle of the room. Burns remained in the shadows, his head was down, his arms crossed. He wore a black hooded jumper.
‘He looks like the bloody grim reaper,’ Hart thought.
The henchman grabbed Hart tightly by the wrist. Then pulled him towards the table. Burns looked across and shook his head disapprovingly.
Burns’ eyes picked out by the limited light appeared to glow.
‘For f*** sake, you stupid prick. The doctor has an operation to perform. He’ll be no use to us with a broken wrist.’
Next, he turned towards Hart.
‘Welcome back, doctor…’ he said rather subdued.
Hart looked around the theatre. There were two tables prepared for surgery, with two patients of equal proportions. They were covered ready to operate.
‘Mister Hart, we’re almost ready. If you could scrub in…’ a theatre nurse asked.
‘Like I’ve never been away. Another abandoned theatre God-knows where,’ he thought.
He checked the apparatus and examined the shiny, glinting surgical instruments.
‘This place is state-of-the-art. Bloody hell, the donor must have rewarded Burns handsomely,’ he thought.
‘We meet again, Jenny,’ he smiled.
She nodded respectfully. Burns scowled across as Hart picked up the scalpel. His hand trembled.
‘So, I’m guessing just because I would no longer operate you didn’t leave this game completely. True?’
But the mean trafficker just glared through him.
‘Tell me, why here? Why now? And where the hell is Marcia?’
‘You’re the best man for the job. Don’t worry, she’s in safe hands.’
Then he nodded towards the table.
‘You want me to perform a heart transplant?’
‘Oh, an intelligent guy, no wonder they made you a doctor.’
Hart frowned back at him.
‘Anyway Hart, its show time…’ he whispered.
‘Bloody moron! Just because operations were performed in theatres, didn’t make them a stage production,’ he thought.
He prepared his first incision; his hand continued to tremble. It had been three years since he’d operated. While his daughter’s life now rested on this outcome.
‘Do it for her’, he told himself.
He took a slow, deep breath.
‘Can both patients remain on bypass, please?’ he told everyone.
‘No one needs to die today, not if I can possibly help it,’ he thought.
Burns didn’t understand medical terms. He approached the table (in full scrubs). He’d never suffered from a weak stomach.
‘I don’t like you watching,’ Hart said glancing up.
Burns sneered with contempt.
‘Tough nuts. Well, get on with it then!’
‘I really detest that man,’ Hart thought.
He opened the chest. Burns winced as the ribs cracked.
‘Got a good enough view?’
‘Imagine if I was to do this without anaesthesia…’
Jenny’s eyes widened as Hart grinned.
‘The pain and agony would build. Unlike the good sort of pain which merely tingles,’ he emphasized. ‘Instead, this would cause you to black out. You know Burns, there is only so much the mind can take in one go… it isn’t long before the pain barrier hits a crescendo.’
‘Really? I only learn this now,’ Burns tutted.
They stared at one another.
‘Bollocks, I should have made you my debt collector,’ he sniggered.
‘Well, you see what I’ve just described is the breaking point of a person’s pain threshold.’
Burns shrugged his shoulders.
‘After that, they’ll be lucky to be the same again after trauma of that kind. You can trust me when I say that…’
Burns crossed his arms and listened. He wasn’t going to bite.
‘Just concentrate, Mr Hart. Jenny keep a close eye on them.’
‘Of course. It goes without saying…’ she smiled.
Hart stared Burns in the eye. He glanced towards the scalpel in Hart’s hand.
‘Just continue… Marcia is in safe hands.’
‘I’ll keep a distance away from that blade,’ Burns thought.
Burns retreated to a safe distance. He was out of the reach of blood. More importantly, he was out of Hart’s reach and sharp blade.
‘There is something up with Burns, I’ve never known him so subdued,’ Hart thought.
Finally, he prepared the donor heart. The heart was ready to be transplanted. He paused, he glanced at Jenny. Slowly, she looked towards Burns and gently she shook her head. Briefly, Hart turned his back on Burns.
‘What is it, Mr Hart?’
‘I don’t know how, but I’m going to save both these patients. Will you help me?’
‘Of course, I will.’
He sighed as he picked from the instrument tray.
‘What’s going on over there?’ Burns boomed.
‘Why don’t you come closer to see?’ Jenny challenged.
‘Just hurry the f*** up!’
‘The man is performing a heart transplant, not waiting your table in a restaurant. So, get off his back, okay!’
‘It’s alright, Jenny.’
Burns sneered, he had Hart over a barrel.
‘Christ, I’ve been out of this too long. Every cut, every trickle of blood, every twitch reminds me it’s a human being on the table. I don’t understand, all those years as a surgeon, it never bothered me before…’ Hart thought.
He was clammy and second-guessing every move.
‘The time to walk away, is when a theatre no longer feels your natural habitat,’ Hart remembered his tutor’s words.
He also knew what his tutor would tell him at that moment.
‘Step away from the table man, you’re not fit to operate.’
He had no emotional armour left. Compared to the once glittering surgeon he’d been, he was a nervous wreck. Burns looked at the clock, then checked his watch. His nails were bitten to the quick. Between incisions Hart was muttering to himself.
‘Where’s the brilliant swagger gone?’ Burns thought.
‘Do you mind if I talk?’ Burns asked.
Hart looked up; his bloodshot eyes glared at him. Burns stopped in his tracks.
‘S***, that’s a man on the edge… if looks could kill,’ Burns thought.
He scrapped a seat across the floor towards the table. Jenny didn’t look amused by the noise.
‘Sorry. Well, at least I’ll save you talkin’ to yourself.’
There was silence, so Burns scrapped the seat closer to the table.
‘I know you always thought you were a cut above the likes of me. You know why?’
Hart scowled up at him.
‘Of course, why wouldn’t I? I try to save lives, while you destroy them for profit…’ Hart thought.
‘The reason is you don’t see the world as it really is. But there’s more guys like me; than men like you,’ Burns grinned.
‘You make that sound like a good thing,’ Jenny scorned.
Burns chuckled to himself. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a can. Everything went quiet again in the room. Burns opened his can with a loud – PSHHH!
‘Burns, OMG!’ she frowned.
‘What? Oh, did you want one too?’
‘No, you’re alright. Had one yesterday,’ Hart replied.
‘That’s alright then. Where was I?’ he sighed, taking a drink.
He strummed his fingers against the can. Jenny and Hart looked at one another.
‘Well, in harsh times like this so-called modern era. The world needs guys like me.’
‘How do you work that out?’
‘My world is a place where poverty, slavery and rogues and thieves are very much still alive and well. So, don’t be bloody naïve, Harty boy. None of what blighted the old British Empire all those bleeding years ago, ever truly went away. No matter what you’re told. Good old, Charlie Dickens would have plenty to write about.’
Hart glanced up and clenched the scalp tightly. He seethed across the operating table.
‘But traffickers… like you, wouldn’t be his source material either?’ Hart asked.
It was rhetorical; they both knew the answer.
‘So, I take it you think I’m ignorant… I’ve seen suffering, more than you could ever imagine. Those vices may well have moved further afield. But I know they’re still there, I’ve seen their results closer than you ever will. Their victims expunged from memory in a heartbeat. While their murders; parasites like you, continue to gnaw away a little more at the fabric, dreams and best intentions of society.’
Burns was livid, he sucked his teeth loudly.
‘Stuck-up prick, now I’m really going to enjoy ripping the arse out of your world,’ he thought.
‘Don’t you want to know anything about these patients then?’
Hart was busy as he struggled with one of the sutures.
‘Bloody thing… that was never part of the deal. That’s Jenny’s job, remember? And she advises if there is anything I should know, otherwise no…’
‘What is he trying to pull?’ Hart wondered.
The eagle-eyed surgeon subtly scanned both tables. With only hands and feet visible beneath the operating draping. He could tell, both patients were female, in the mid to late twenties. The donor appeared in rude health while the recipient had a probable long-term heart condition. Burns picked up Jenny’s notes.
‘Burns, could you please put those back?’
‘Is that a request, Jenny?’ he asked in a gruff tone.
‘Leave her out of this Burns… it is me you are p***ed off with. Would you like to know what I can tell without looking at the notes?’
‘Oh, please… I’m all ears.’
Burns took a seat to listen and waited wide-eyed.
‘The recipient is very slim and below average height. In her case that suggests a congenital defect. Her hands and feet are cool to the touch. Her fingernails and toenails are a near pastel blue pallor. There are also undoubted signs of clubbing. There is scar tissue from previous operations, should I continue?’
‘No, that’s quite enough for one day from Doctor Smart Arse…’ Burns sneered.
Burns was so close it made Hart’s flesh crawl.
‘It doesn’t bare thinking about what Burns did when I walked away. He’s nothing but a blood-soaked butcher,’ he thought.
The surgeon worked for another hour. Then tentatively, he stepped away from the recipient. He moved back to a quiet corner. His gloves were covered in blood. As the blood ran to the floor it made a horrid dripping sound.
‘Is that it? Are you bloody well finished then?’ arrived Burns’ impatient tone.
Hart didn’t retaliate.
‘Get ready to try her off bypass, Jenny.’
It was years since he’d performed a heart transplant. He’d operated from memory, clouded by self-doubt. Hart held his breath as theatre awaited the recipient to take her own – unabated.
‘I’ve got this…’
Jenny took the reins as Hart took a breather.
‘Did I cover every avenue? Oh, God, did I do everything?’ he thought.
‘Here goes, the apprehensive moment…’
She was taken off bypass. They waited; Burns was especially on tenterhooks. As Hart looked at the clock, its ticking seemed to echo. Suddenly, the heart slowly began to pump. But still they waited Jenny checked the vital signs.
‘Her blood pressure appears fine, thankfully, no sign of bleeds. She looks to be in perfect sinus rhythm,’ Jenny confirmed.
She smiled and nodded towards Burns. He had a huge grin on his face. A weight appeared to lift off his shoulders. He clapped his hands once which reverberated round the theatre and approached the table.
‘Good job, especially you, Harty boy,’ Burns smiled.
Then he attempted to shake Hart’s bloodied mitts. Hart pulled away.
‘Fine, be like that…’
‘Right, now where’s my daughter?’ Hart demanded.
The fiendish trafficker continued to goad his former partner.
‘What? Have you misplaced her?’ he sneered. ‘How very carless of you, Hart.’
He was pushing the surgeon. Clearly, he didn’t care if Hart broke in the meantime. He swiped the cover away from the recipient of the heart. It was Angie on the table.
‘Well here’s mine!’ Burns declared.
Her modesty was just say covered. Hart came over in a cold sweat. Burns leaned across, in full-blown theatrics of a stricken father.
‘She was always the delicate rose. But in this world of infection, she caught something which buggered her heart completely. So, thank you, Mr Hart. I say that from the bottom of my own. You know what she means to me, so if there’s anything I can do for you… just say,’ he chuckled.
He clenched his fist and pumped the chest.
‘Mr Hart? That’s the first time he has ever addressed me correctly. He’s never grasped that surgeons are indeed called Mister while all other physicians are Doctor. Why now, suddenly?’ Hart wondered.
‘You can thank me by telling me where Marcia is. Now!’ he bellowed.
His voice echoed around the abandoned theatre.
‘Alright, alright… bloody hell. I said she was in good hands, it’s okay. She’s just over there,’ Burns replied, pointing to the other table.
Hart suddenly felt hollowed out inside. He could feel and hear his own heart beating in the cavernous void.
‘Burns is having a cruel joke at my expense, nothing more, right?’ he thought.
Slowly, tentatively, he approached the other operating table. She was still on bypass as he’d ordered. But he was afraid to touch the cover over her, his hand trembled.
‘No, it can’t be. Burns said it far too casually,’ Hart told himself.
His hand hovered in over the table. He paused while he plucked up courage. Slowly, Hart revealed the face and to his horror, it was Marcia.
‘My beautiful girl…’ his voice trembled.
She was ashen like a corpse. Without her heart that’s all she would be.
‘Christ, how did I not know it was her under those covers?’ he thought.
Burns approached the table and looked over Hart’s shoulder. Hart could feel Burns’ breath in his ear.
‘Oh no, look at that. Always said that little bitch was heartless,’ Burns joked.
Tears filled Hart’s eyes, staring down in disbelief.
‘What have I done? She’s on bypass, but without a heart she had merely moments to live,’ he thought.
He had kept her from death on so many occasions. She had run away so many times, he’d lost count. Sleepless nights, where he had brought her back from the brink to recover from her addiction. Burns walked away.
‘Unbelievable, she’s hanging by a thread and it’s at my hand…’ he thought.
He looked towards Burns; his mind raced away. All he felt was rage.
‘What would you do to save the life of the one you love most?’ he remembered what Burns once said.
He looked around, no one paid him any attention. He picked up the bloodied scalpel in hand. The blood ran off the blade and formed a pool on the floor. He clenched the scalpel tight and cried out in a primal tone.
Two Years Later
Hart had never recovered from that final surgery. His days were as depressed as the nights. His night-terrors were part of the course.
‘No, leave her alone… please, leave her…’ he called out in his sleep.
He tossed and turned; his sheets were drenched. As always, he woke with an almighty jolt.
‘S***! Oh, God another bad dream,’ he gasped.
He hoped the dream scenarios weren’t too close to reality. He looked at the alarm clock – 5am. He felt the sodden sheets. He got up and stripped the bed. Although still exhausted, he made his way downstairs. In the kitchen was a slim silhouette in the dim light.
‘Oh, sorry darling. I woke you again!’
‘No, don’t worry I wasn’t able to sleep,’ she responded.
Hart smiled warmly and patted her shoulder.
‘Is that coffee hot Marcia?’
‘Freshly made, help yourself…’
He dropped his sheets by the washing machine. She looked and sighed, then looked back at her handheld device. He swirled the coffee pot, took a deep breath and poured a cup.
‘I wish dad would tell me what his nightmares were about. I nearly die from heart failure, then I come around and he’s a nervous wreck,’ she thought.
Hart stood at the window in a daze.
‘It’s still dark, you’ll not be able to see anything… dad… dad!’
‘Never mind,’ she muttered.
She focused back on her screen.
‘Dad come and see this.’
‘Just a minute.’
‘Look dad, it's your old partner, Burns.'
Hart's blood ran cold. She’d found a newsfeed; it was Burns’ wife and daughter.
‘We’re appealing for anyone with information on the whereabouts of Liam Burns. Next week will be the second anniversary since his disappearance. Please, we’re desperate to know what has happened to this kind and gentle man,’ Angie sobbed.
‘Kind and gentle? Hardly the qualities I’d ever associate with that despicable b*****d,’ he thought.
‘Poor women, that’s terrible, isn’t it? His daughter’s beautiful isn’t she,' Marcia said.
‘Yes, she was the apple of his eye. She’s looking the picture of health,’ he grinned.
Marcia stared at her father.
‘There’s something strange about him today. I’ve barely seen him smile in years,’ she thought.
Hart turned away and sighed. The tension from two years of worry was released. His memory of that day in theatre had returned.
‘Angie is alright, thank the lord for that,’ he thought.
He glanced to the ceiling and mouthed, thank you.
‘Look at me, I know you didn’t see eye to eye with Burns, but the Mr William Hart I know wouldn’t seem so pleased by someone’s disappearance. After all, you told me when my heart went into failure that Burns helped save me. Well… didn’t he?’
‘Oh yes,’ Hart mused.
Calmly, he gazed out of the window once more.
‘My darling Marcia, he was more help than you'll ever know...' he sighed.
He could see his reflection in the window. Behind that he could see Marcia. He winked at her and silently toasted her health with his coffee.