Monday. The doctors’ surgery on Bennett Street. The place is heaving with the ill and the frail, the skiving and the mad. The loud-mouthed receptionists keep order, spitting bile at anyone with the temerity to question their authority.
Coming out of one of the doctor’s rooms, inching his way towards the receptionist’s desk, Mr Henderson Flint, leaning on a zimmer. Henderson Flint. Five foot two of crumbling humanity. Henderson bloody Flint.
One of the whip-handed receptionists. Weary. Exasperated.
‘Can I help you, Mr Flint?’
This one, worse than the rest. The Dragon Lady.
‘Busy today?’ Henderson says, cheerily.
‘Yes, Mr Flint. Now what is it you want?’
A disdainful glare cuts him off at the knees. Henderson feels the tension in the air around him rise. He leans into it, resting on the front bar of his zimmer. Holds the glare of the Dragon Lady with one of his own.
‘I need you to phone me a ride home,’ he says.
Henderson. Firm. Dignified.
A collective intake of breath from round. Sniggers from behind battered comics and out of date Country Life magazines.
‘A ride home? Mr Flint, this is not a taxi service. This is a doctors surgery. Goodbye.’
Drenched in flames. Like so many before him.
But this is Henderson, Henderson Flint, and he will not be subdued. He produces a card and hands it to the Dragon Lady.
‘My card,’ he says.
She looks at him like he’s turned into a pile of steaming shit before her eyes.
One of the doctors’ buzzers sounds.
‘Mr Bentley? Mr Bentley?’ the Dragon Lady commands. ‘Dr Wilson to see you. First door on the right.’
And the Fifth Circle of Hell empties itself of one more.
The attention of the Dragon Lady focuses once more on Henderson Flint, standing before her. Challenging her might. She takes his card without breaking her glare. It is a taxi card, allowing Henderson, and those of his ilk, free trips to and from home for medical purposes.
‘Dr Wilson and I go way back,’ Henderson says, staring into her eyes. ‘We were the first Western doctors in Belsen.’
The Dragon Lady scrutinises the card.
‘I’m an ex-medical man myself, you see. A bit of an expert, you might say.’
The Dragon Lady extends the card back to Henderson.
‘There is a payphone over there, by the door,’ she says. ‘NEXT!’
A young girl, holding the hand of a sickening child. Mumbles.
‘Speak up,’ the Dragon Lady says. ‘I can’t hear you if you mumble and this is a very busy surgery.’
Henderson inches up to the desk, right into the face of the Dragon Lady.
Hush all around.
‘You, madam,’ Henderson says, nose to nose with the old bitch, ‘are a very rude woman, Churchill would never have stood for this sort of behaviour. I was an aide to Churchill after the war, do you know. A fine man. Upstanding.’
Henderson leans back to an upright position, his chin held high.
‘I will be reporting this to my superiors upon my return, madam,’ Henderson continues. ‘Now, please apologise to this young lady for your abject rudeness, and phone me a cab. Thank you.’
The place erupts. The whole place. Cheering. Clapping. Celebrating. Old people sobbing, waiting for this day thirty years and more.
The Dragon Lady. Slain.
Ten minutes after the Dragon Lady has made the call to the cab company servicing Mr Henderson Flint, a burley man, black leather jacket, and an unconvincing swagger comes through the side entrance and approaches the desk.
Henderson sees him right away.
‘Mickey, my man! Good to see you, sir. I was hoping they’d send you.’
He claps the man on the shoulders.
‘Won’t be a minute, Mickey,’ he says. ‘Just off to the little boy’s room.’
Mickey nods his head. And Henderson shuffles his way to the bathroom, to tumultuous applause.
‘Been here long, has he?’ says Mickey to the Dragon Lady.
‘Long enough,’ she responds.
Mickey nods. Slow.
‘I suppose he’s given you all the spiel about Churchill and Belsen and his time on the boards with Laurence Olivier?’
‘He never got to Laurence Olivier,’ she says.
The Dragon Lady, burnt to a cinder.
‘An impressive man, though,’ pipes in one of the other receptionists. ‘Shows you never can tell, doesn’t it?’
The toilet door opens.
And the entire doctors surgery turns as one, as out shuffles Mr Henderson Flint, wearing a gold lamé dress, clacking high heels, and a swinging powdered bouffant.
‘Go right up my arse, these bloomers, Mickey,’ Henderson yells out. ‘Right up my fucking arse.’
A smile stretches across MIckey’s face. A smile of warmth and compassion. Understanding, even.
‘Come on, mate,’ he says, taking the old man gently by the arm. ‘Let’s get you home.’