Field Study

Free Field Study by Peter Philips

Book: Field Study by Peter Philips Read Free Book Online
Authors: Peter Philips
Tags: Science-Fiction
Field Study by Peter Philips [ss]
     
    "WHAT'S it today?" asked the neurotic Mrs. Francis Pake. "Overtime or that night out?"
    "I can't tell you for certain, sweet. I'll phone you. I'm nearly sure, but — "
    "This is it," said Betty Pake. She got up from the breakfast table. "Change your job or change your wife. Quite simple, Frank. I thought I'd married a man, not an accounting machine."
    She said a lot more before Pake finished his breakfast. He sighed, missed when he pecked for her cheek, and left.
    The Mitchell embezzlement which had kept him in the office all hours for the past three months had been finally straightened out yesterday, and full material for the indictment handed over. Tonight, dine, dance and drink with Betty — unless something new turned up.
    She rated the break, of course, apart from the fact that her nerves, unsettled by a quiet life, played, hell with his digestion. Maybe she should have married a younger man, with time and money to spare for her idea of living.
    He realized uncomfortably that he was half hoping something would prevent the date.
    The assignment this morning, for instance. It was out of the ordinary. No books to examine or reluctant employees to quiz politely but inexorably. He got straight onto it before going to the office.
    Early as it was, the waiting room in which he found himself was full. Forty patients at least. An obvious Parkinsonism stumbled to a bench. Every disease seemed to be represented there, from cancer to cretinism.
    He recalled the chief's instructions: make no fuss, get in line with the others, take what he hands out and — bring it back.
    "You have an appointment?" asked the dull-eyed, dull-voiced receptionist.
    "No, but if this is an open session, I'll hang around on the off-chance. My time's my own."
    "Name?"
    "Shando. James."
    Did those dull eyes light up? No reason to. So far as he knew, the quack had no reason to suspect a Federal investigation.
    "Sit down, please."
    What was it, Pake asked himself as she went into an inside office — faith healing? That wouldn't fix peritonitis. But that was only a report. He'd have to wait and ask careful questions. Careful, because patients don't usually question Doctors on their training and background.
    He looked casually at the man next to him. A young Eurasian, drawn-in, huddled, gloved hands clasped together, as if in silent, fierce prayer.
    "What ails, feller?"
    The Eurasian seemed to shrink even further into himself, shook his head almost imperceptibly.
    Please don't notice me . It was as plain as words.
    Then Pake saw the patch of silvery skin beneath the ear. He muttered, "Hell," and jerked away.
    "Sorry, sorry." The faintest of whispers. "Not contagious."
    "Maybe not, but you shouldn't be here. You should be — " Pake stopped, uneasy. There was a world of misery in the man's eyes.
    If the fake beyond that door was giving false hope to poor devils like this . . . But that didn't make it a government matter. It was up to the state, or the local branch of the F.M.A. He didn't call himself a Doctor, of course, nor did he advertise. But did that put him in the clear?
    Pake cursed the brevity of his instructions. "If you question him," the chief had said, "make it simple. You can be normally curious, but that's all. And if he gets cagy, cut it out. You're not going as an agent. You're just an errand boy, Frankie, and you know as much as I do."
    The receptionist came back, walked over to him.
    "It seems you did have an appointment," she lied calmly. "This way."
    A DOOR closed behind him. Pake, off-guard, found himself talking before he had taken in the scene. "This is good of you, Doctor, but I had no appointment. I don't like jumping the line."
    "I am entitled to use my discretion. You are an interesting case. Sit down. And please don't call me Doctor. In the healing profession, that title is reserved for those who have taken the Hippocratic oath. My name is Trancore."
    Pake shut his mind to a thousand questions

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