The only thing Russell could hear was the drone of the ventilator. It was the first time he’d ever found the waiting room empty. And it would be the last.
Russell cast his mind back to a year ago when he had answered a job posting on the Internet. Dr. Jameson had interviewed him in a pub on a hot summer evening, and they had taken their pints outside. It was still light outside, and a breeze carried the voices of children playing nearby. Somewhere in the distance they could see a man playing ‘Fetch’ with his dog.
‘Let me tell you what I’m looking for Russell,’ said Dr. Jameson once they both had taken a sip of their beer.
'Sure,' said Russel gesturing for him to go ahead.
‘I have recently opened a private medical practice, and I need to show I have many patients. Do you like eating out Russell?' Continued the doctor.
‘When I can afford it, yes, of course,' said Russell, who was fazed by the question.
‘If you had the choice between an almost empty restaurant and an almost full one, which would you choose?’ Said Dr. Jameson.
‘The almost full one,’ said Russell without hesitation.
‘Why?’ Asked the doctor.
‘Well, just because it’s bound to be good if everybody eats there,’ said Russell.
‘Exactly! It’s the same with my profession. Restaurants need to fill tables while I need to fill my waiting room. I need you to pretend you are a patient of mine. I'll give you a timetable showing you when you have to come in. Oh, and I’ll throw in a free medical checkup once a week. What do you think?' Said the doctor.
‘How much would I get paid?’ Asked Russell, thinking that it all sounded too good to be true.
‘You will work a couple of hours a day, it shouldn’t be much more than that, and I will give you four times the minimum hourly wage cash in hand. How does that sound?’ Said the doctor.
‘Ok, but once I’m in your office what should I do?’ Said Russell, taking another sip of his beer.
‘If I’m busy, I will catch up with my emails while you can do whatever you want. Otherwise, we can have a chat. The rest we can play by ear. What do you think?’ Said Dr. Jameson.
‘It’s a deal,’ said Russell shaking the doctor’s hand.
The door to Dr. Jameson’s office creaked open taking Russell back to the waiting room and the droning ventilator. The woman that emerged from the doctor’s office smiled and winked at Russell as she walked past him on her way out.
‘Next Please!’ Said Dr. Jameson from inside his room.
Russell paused for a second and then rose from his seat. As he entered the doctor’s office, closing the door behind him, his conscience began to bother him. But only a little.
‘Name?’ Said the doctor without looking up.
‘It’s me, doctor,’ said Russell.
Dr. Jameson lifted his head smiling and took off his glasses.
‘Oh, it’s you, Russell, yes, of course,’ said Dr. Jameson, ‘please take a seat.’
“How long have you been working for me now?’ said the doctor.
‘Almost a year, I think, why?’ Asked Russell. He was going to play along. Till the end.
‘In all this time that you’ve been coming here have you noticed something strange or in any way peculiar?’ Asked the doctor.
‘Why? What do you mean?’ Said Russell. He was enjoying playing dumb.
‘Well, I mean, in all these months, have you spoken to the other patients sitting in the waiting room?’ Said the doctor.
‘Yes, of course, I speak to anyone who speaks to me,’ said Russell. I’ll show you he thought. I’ll show you.
‘And isn’t it true that practically all of them are in the habit of speaking to you,’ said the doctor.
‘Yes, now that I think about it, they do, but why is this important. I don’t understand?’ Said Russell. Payback time, Russell thought.
‘Russell, listen to me. I’m going to tell you something that you may not like, but I’m also going to offer you a chance to be part of something much bigger than you or I,’ said Dr. Jameson.
‘Well, what is it?’ Said Russell.
‘In the past year, there has only ever been one patient in this practice. And that patient is you, Russell. The other patients you met and spoke to are all doctors, specialists mostly. Over the last year, they and I have been monitoring your physical and psychological health. Ours is a radically new experiment aimed at improving a person’s mind and body without his knowledge. And I want you to know it wouldn’t have been possible without you.’ Said the doctor, his face breaking into a huge smile.
‘I’m afraid that’s not exactly true Dr. Jameson,’ said Russell.
‘What do you mean?’ Said the doctor.
‘Well, you see, after my first week working for you, I was having a pint one evening when your ‘patients’ approached me. I recognised them from the waiting room. They saw I was terrified, but they told me not to worry, they explained that the real experiment was to be carried out on you. They would evaluate your mental and physical health, not mine. But they needed me to play along. And from then on, every day, they would tell me what to do and say,’ said Russell.
Dr. Jameson’s jaw dropped. He stood speechless at his desk. For a moment, it looked as if his legs would give way. Russell rose to his feet, took the doctor’s hand, shook it, and as he exited the room, he shouted, ‘Next Please!’