Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.
This morning, a man walked into the doctor’s office where I work who looked like he'd lost his best friend. What do I know? Maybe he had. My job was to have him fill out forms and answer any questions.
“Hello, may I have your name and birthdate?”
“Jonathan McCormick. January 12, 1957.”
“Thank you, Mr. McCormick.” I enter his name into my computer. “I see you have an appointment this morning.” I hand the man a clipboard with some forms. “Fill these out and bring them back to me when you’re finished.”
Several minutes later, Mr. McCormick returned the forms to me and said he had a question.
“The forms ask a lot about my personal finances. I’ve never been to a medical facility that required such detailed information.
“Mr. McCormick, as you know, Dr. Leary does not accept medical insurance. The doctor needs to know in advance that you have the means to pay.” The patient was satisfied with my answer, and I let him through the door to the treatment room.
I have followed this basic routine daily for six months. Dr. Leary advertises that his treatment can eliminate a person’s worst pain. My curiosity has gotten the best of me. After the patient enters the treatment area, I never see them again. I inquired about this, and the doctor told me that the patient always leaves by the back door. That seemed to be an odd practice, but I didn’t question it further.
Today, I hope to discover the secret of Dr. Leary’s treatments. If all these people are receiving relief from unbearable pain, why isn’t it front-page news? I am the first person to arrive at the office every day. I get the coffee started, vacuum the waiting area, straighten the magazines and organize myself for the day.
I showed up fifteen minutes early and went directly to the treatment room. A hanging plant with a tag that identified it as a rare blue satin devil’s ivy seemed to provide the best hiding place for the miniature video camera I bought online. I positioned it carefully in the foliage and made sure my phone app was connected.
Mr. McCormick passed through the door into the treatment room, and I went back to my desk. I watched and listened to the treatment session live on my phone.
Mr. McCormick admired the hanging plant, viewed the credentials of Dr. Leary on the wall, and finally sat down to wait. Dr. Leary joined him after a few minutes.
“Mr. McCormick, I am Dr. Leary, it is nice to meet you.” The two men shook hands. “Tell me what brings you here today.”
“Dr. Leary, I saw your ad that said you could eliminate any kind of pain. My pain is of the emotional sort. My wife died of cancer, and I feel that I failed her at the end.”
“How long ago did your wife die?”
“It has been five years. I just can’t let it go. For several years of cancer treatments, I buried myself in my work. Each time cancer returned, I just worked harder. She did it alone, Dr. Leary. And I did nothing.”
“I understand, Mr. McCormick. I believe I can help you.”
“Oh, that is good news, Doctor. I was afraid you specialized only in physical pain.”
“My treatment will alleviate any kind of pain, Mr. McCormick. We can proceed now if you're ready?”
“Yes Doctor, that would be fantastic.”
Dr. Leary pulled an instrument out of the corner of the room. It had an arm that could be extended to different lengths. At the end of the arm was something that resembled the nozzle of a garden hose. The kind you twist clockwise to make it spray. He had Mr. McCormick lie on his back on the examination table and turn his head so he was looking at the opposite wall. Dr. Leary palpated the man’s neck just behind and below his ear.
“This is the location of your hippocampus. I am going to use this instrument to treat that area of your brain that deals with emotional pain. It will only take a minute and will cause you little discomfort.”
The instrument hummed while Dr. Leary aimed the gun at the patient’s neck.
“It’s getting hot,” said Mr. McCormick.
“We’re almost finished,” said Dr. Leary.
As promised, the doctor shut the instrument down within a few more seconds. Mr. McCormick lay quietly on his back, staring at the ceiling. A door in the back of the room opened and Dr. Leary’s assistant entered.
“Okay, Marcus, this one is ready for transport to the city park after you change him into something more appropriate for a homeless person. I’ll meet you at his house.” He held up the chart and showed Marcus the address.
“Yes, sir. Does his chart indicate a lot of wealth?”
“This guy is a jackpot for us. One of the top one percent if you know what I mean. We should find bank accounts, investment portfolios, and cash.”
“Sounds good. I’m amazed every time Dr. Leary. Their memories never come back, do they?”
“It’s permanent, Marcus. The hippocampus is where personal memories originate. He will never remember who he is, what he lost, or how he lost it. Come on. Let’s get him out the back door to your car.”
I was still sitting at the reception desk. What I had just witnessed left me dumbfounded and alarmed. How could one human being be so calloused toward another? I worked for a doctor who wiped out the memories of his patients and stole all their financial assets.
That evening I pondered my options. The man clearly needed to go to jail. I had the ability to make that happen. But I would be out of a job. I needed a solution that ensured justice was done, and my own financial needs were met. I worked on this plan most of the night.
The next morning I went to work as normal. Dr. Leary arrived, and I gave him the patient schedule for the day. He didn’t have any appointments until 1:00 PM. While he was out of the office for lunch, I set my plan into motion.
First of all, I canceled all of his appointments for the day. Of course, I didn’t tell him that. He waited in the treatment room for his first patient. That is when my friends, Arnold and Sylvester walked in. I know these two guys from the gym where I work out. Arnold is six feet six inches tall and is built like a Mack truck. Sylvester is about 6 feet tall and is built like a bulldozer. They had two assignments. One was to put Dr. Leary on the examination table and strap him down. I waited at my desk and listened to the struggle. It was over in a few seconds. Marcus, the doctor’s assistant, stepped into the treatment room to see what all the commotion was about. The two goons strapped him down in one of the chairs.
Arnold and Sylvester returned to the waiting room, and I handed each of them a hundred dollars. They asked no questions and left immediately. I walked into the treatment room and took a seat on the doctor’s stool.
I wish I could say I’m an honorable man who is above taking advantage of such a situation, but at least these two men are no longer preying on innocent, hurting people.
All evidence that I ever worked for Dr. Leary, I deleted. I sent the video file of the McCormick appointment to the police through an office email account informing them that Dr. Leary and his assistant were tied up in the treatment room. The office files will help them solve a number of missing person cases.
When the police arrived, they found two men strapped down who had no memory of who they were or what they were doing in that office. A strange instrument was sitting in the middle of the room, still humming.
Meanwhile, I´m busy learning how to transfer money around until it becomes untraceable. Thank you, Dr. Leary, for the crib notes file on your home computer.
© 2019 Chris Mills