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Chapter Twelve

Arise and Walk

After the demented festival atmosphere in the steamy waiting room, left alone and to her own devices in a sanitary examining room, Bess felt like any ordinary clinic patient abandoned, nearly undressed, to the untender mercies of excessive air conditioning. She had declined to jump up upon the pommel-horse-height examining table, but had insisted on sitting in the room's only decent chair. The physician must shift for her or himself, she told herself as she awaited the tardy healer's arrival. In order to stifle her impatient and skeptical thoughts she picked up the room's only magazine, Field & Stream, dog-eared and fresh from August 1977.

          Deep in the lore of bass fishing, it struck the Nobel laureate that she ought to improve the time by doing a little subtle investigative work. Therefore, she tossed aside what she had to admit was the best illustrated treatise on fishing she had ever read-as the breadth of her education had been neglected, she had never perused Izaak Walton-and assumed a somewhat bored air. After a few moments idly gazing at every crack in the wall and ceiling and, not so idly, searching out any minute aperature that might be serviceable to a concealed videocamera, she struggled over to the counter, hoping to begin a little ransacking of drawers.

          Just as Bess bent over, preparatory to her illicit exercise, the door opened behind her.

          "Physician, heal thyself," came a jolly feminine voice. Bess wheeled around, trying to assume the demeanor of an innocent.

          The doctor looked like a miniature high school cheerleader who had, after falling into a swimming pool, borrowed her boyfriend's chemistry lab coat. She had no stethoscope, either around her neck or dangling from a pocket, as a sign of her office.

          "Doctor . . ." Bess ventured.

          "Doctor Merrie Belle." Dr. Belle extended her tiny hand. Bess engulfed it in her own. She felt gargantuan, and resolved never to eat a bite of food again as long as she lived. If this wee thing were a proper woman, then, she concluded, she herself must be some kind of whale.

          "I'm Bess Marvin," explained Bess as she limped over towards the chair, lusting to be seated before Dr. Belle should try to perch there.

          "Ah, yes, Dr. Marvin. Were you going to check out our supplies over there, just to make sure that we are real doctors? Skepticism, or a little professional jealousy, eh?"

          There was something just a little bit odd about this slip of a girl, thought Bess. Maybe it was in the way she pronounced her words. They were just a little bit off. Some of the vowels seemed a bit broad, others seemed clipped. And there was something definitely weird in the way she emphasized her r's.

          "I am not a physician," explained Bess, "but a doctor of a different kind. I am a scientist and a mathematician."

          "What were you looking for then in my drawers?"

          "Amusement," admitted Bess, who had decided that nothing less than almost complete candour would alleviate the situation. "Having done with that magazine, and having amused myself by imagining that all the cracks in your plaster were the various river systems draining the steppes of central Asia, I was looking anywhere for amusement. Then it struck me, even as a non-physician, that you had an great many drawers in your supply cabinet. Too many for doctors that were supposed to heal solely by faith. So I was consumed by curiosity. Do you not think that normal? Has not one of your patients ever tested the drawers before?"

          "None," declared the liliputian doctor, who now seemed just a little less than amused.

          "Well," said Bess, making a desperate attempt to change-or smother-the subject, "did you know that the cabinet has seventeen drawers? Seventeen is a prime number. It is amazing how many times that seventeen shows up in number theory proofs just when you don't expect it. Seventeen was voted the most popular number by the combined faculty and mathematics student body at Emerson University last year. And it of course is the name of a highly-circulated magazine. But of course seventeen is not prime on the complex plane, because it is the sum of two squares, which means that it can be factored into 4 plus i and 4 minus i. Odd isn't it, that what seems just about the most singular of prime numbers, the prime of primes, the echt-prime, the ur-prime almost, is only after all a half-baked prime . . ."

          "I can now tell what kind of doctor you are, Dr. Marvin," interrupted the half-pint physician impatiently. "You had best leave my equipment alone and, in future, wait for me quietly and in repose of mind, so that you can be best prepared for our treatment."

          "Yes, boss," replied Bess with a mock subservience not quite pleasing to the self-serious mind of her healing angel. The angel nevertheless composed herself and squatted before the insolent and facetious patient.

          "Please lift your injured foot and extend it towards me."

          Bess, to her horror an unconscious pupil of Oscar Wilde, did not resist the impulse to extend her wounded limb suddenly and with a forceful kicking motion. She caught the unfortunate tiny doctor square on the chin and knocked her sprawling and unconscious on the linoleum. As the injured foot hit the hippocratic mandible, Bess felt a sharp jolt emanate from her toes and spread throughout her whole system. She could see sparks coming out of her manicured fingertips. The hot pink polish turned to an ashen white powder, lost its adhesive quality, and sprinkled the floor. Bess looked first at the prostrate girl in dismay, and then at her outspread nails in shock. The edges now looked ragged and torn. She felt that she had to file then right away, or she might break a nail when attempting to assist the stunned physician. But her purse was resting on the counter across the room.

          Bess nearly had the purse in her hand before she realized that she had crossed the room, nimbly avoiding treading on the doctors outstretched body, without any trace of a hobble or any pain whatsoever. She was cured! After making sure that Dr. Belle was breathing normally, she sat down, unwrapped the bandages from around her foot, and tested the naked arch and ankle with a gentle palpation. It felt entirely sound!

          Bess got up again and walked around the room. Then she reached into her copious purse, withdrew and slipped on a pair of stunning three-inch pumps. She found that she could walk as well, or better, in them than before the fateful Carson Drew party. The healing process at Spring Rock really worked! She granted, however, that their methods seemed, to her untrained eyes, entirely unorthodox and hard to explain. And it seemed precious hard on the doctors.

          Balancing herself on the edge of the examining table, Bess redid her nails and awaited events. She decided to give the clinic five minutes to discover that their doctor was out cold on the floor. If they came in excited before that she would have some real information about their spying methods. At the end of that period, Bess opened the door to look for a nurse. One was right there, not fifteen feet away, and looking in her direction. She had her answer: the examining rooms were being monitored. And, she deduced, these were real cool customers. They would leave their fallen comrade to an unknown fate long before they would blow the cover of their peeping operation!

          "Please nurse, come here," cried Bess with as much frightened innocence as she could muster. "I think my doctor has hit her head!"

          When the nurse had rushed in, Bess started quickly for the Pump Room. She didn't relish any additional hostile interrogation, nor did she fancy facing the wrath of the mini-Hippocrates when she woke up. It would only complicate the poor girl's recovery. And, besides, Bess's freshly-painted nails had not yet fully dried. No more personal interaction until I am myself again! she told herself as she navigated the corridors. Except of course, with George. She always understands entirely.

          "Bess," exclaimed George as she instinctively awoke to her cousin's presence. "And you are well again! I can tell by the familiar sound of your stride. And those shoes! How cunning of you to have brought pumps to the pump room!"

          "A Girl Scout is always prepared," retorted the now very tall cousin, snapping her patent leather heels together while giving an imitation of a brisk Mussolini salute.

          "Well, now that you are here I will stay awake until my number is called."

          "No, Ellie, I need to get out of here toute suite!" implored Bess.

          "Pourquoi?" la jeune femme enciente a dit. "A-tu volé quelque chose?"

          "No, but I may not be welcome here much longer nevertheless. I kayoed my doctor."

          "You what?"

          "She's down for the count and hors de combat. I kicked her in the chops."

          "As a sort of pourboire for curing you? I say, Bessie, that's gratitude."

          "Upsy-daisy, mama-san," encouraged Bess as she lifted her rotund chum to her unsteady feet. "Madame El-Shabat will reveal all, but only outside. Let's take a walk."

          "Put me in a bath chair and I'll precede you anywhere, dearie," qualified George, laying down the ground rules for their escape.

          Fortunately the cousins spotted their maid in the hall amusing some of the patients' young children by spinning them around in a transport chair. Bess immediately appropriated the invalid vehicle for George's use, but compensated the children and their minder with a green nerf ball from her purse.

          "You can stay here with the kids," instructed Bess. "Mrs. Watson and I would like a little fresh air and a moment of peace. If anyone comes asking for us, tell them we are sequestered in our room."

          "Yes, miss." Nancy knew immediately what was required of her. She wondered if some other obnoxious pest had latched onto them, and was not put off by their ingenious Bobbie Watson chemistry routine. She would do her best to put any nosy pursuers on a false trail. She knew that fat tips were generally the fruit of such discreet services. A few such gratuities, and a stylish new, unpurloined frock might be in her future. She would feel much more at ease going out on the town in legitimate finery. But tonight, to go out with Ashley she needed to look her best. So in the present emergency she would wear Miss Drew's dress, and let her conscience flutter. She just had to make an impression on that dapper young man! And, if she could, she would extract the secret that she had glimpsed hidden in the depth of his eyes. For, then, perhaps, she would have a companion and peer with whom to share her own secret agony.

          In the meantime there were about a dozen young children tugging at her arms and skirt. She instinctively loved these toddlers. They were so young that they had largely forgotten most of the events of their lives prior to that moment. That gave Nancy a fellow feeling for them. There was no past; life was all in the present. So, she told herself, we might as well all just have fun. We have a ball, so, indeed, let us "have a ball"!

          "Who wants to play hockey?" Nancy asked the children enticingly. "We can use that pile of crutches over there for sticks!"