“Can I close up the wound now, Doctor?”
“Yup nurse. Brilliant work. You’ve done a good job.”
She preened and smiled, delighted at my compliment.
It always gives me an incredible thrill when I’m called ‘Doctor’. And it’s fantastic to be able to do life-saving operations and procedures in the busy A & E department of this fine modern Scottish hospital.
I’m a fraud! I’m not a doctor.
I’ve never even been to medical school!
My incredible journey into this new life started a few months ago when I took a mountain-climbing holiday in France, that I heard about through the hospital where I work as a nurse. Medical people who enjoy climbing from all around the UK were supposed to be taking part in the climb, but when I arrived at the base camp to meet the others, it turned out that of the ten people who were coming, only myself and one other man were here, because apparently the others had arrived the precious evening, stayed at the local hotel, and succumbed to food poisoning.
And so only myself and the somewhat arrogant Dr Adam Sunderland were actually going to do the climb. We were given all the maps and instructions, and it turned out that since we were both experienced mountaineers, we were judged competent to do the climb without anyone accompanying us.
In that first day I got to know Dr Sunderland pretty well. We were both in our mid twenties and look fairly similar, but our personalities were poles apart.
Because Alex, you see, was an obnoxious, odious bastard.
“I’ve got a wonderful life,” he boasted to me on that first day as we strained to climb the rock face, and I wondered if I could stand his company for much longer. “I have no ties at all, I meet lovely girls all the time and I love them and leave them. When you’re a newly qualified hospital doctor they like you to move around, take a job for a year, two years, then move somewhere else. It’s considered a great way to build all-round experience. Most people hate it, but it’s tailor made for my lifestyle. I’m a loner, you see. I only like to make superficial relationships, friends, lovers, colleagues, you name it, I never get close to anyone. When I leave a place I never stay in touch with a soul, I always start afresh.”
Alex went on to brag about how rich he was, how delighted he was that his parents had been killed in an air crash three years ago, and left him a considerable fortune. “So now I can just do whatever I like, when I like,” he went on. “When I applied to medical school, I conned all the old farts that I wanted to help people, do some good in the world, but that’s all bollocks. I like the work, I like hospitals, and I like the science of it. Most of all I like the power of people suffering and looking for me to help them. I really don’t give a damn if the patients live or die.” Then he gave a rather unpleasant grin. “I get a lot of girlfriends and I really treat them rough. That’s the way to do it, mate, let them know who’s boss. Too many men are pussies, let their women have the upper hand.”
“The upper hand?”
“Treat them rough, mate, that’s the way to do it. And they like it too, believe me.”
“Really?” I asked him in disgust.
“Absolutely, mate, I know what I’m talking about. You’re tied down in a marriage aren’t you? I bet your wife gives you hell.”
“I’m getting divorced,” I snapped back, sick of his attitude. “Your life might be hunky dory, but, frankly, mine is shit. The truth is I’m an overworked nurse in a busy A and E department, I’m trapped in an unhappy marriage and I live in a squalid rented flat in a seedy part of Middlesbrough. What’s more I’m drowning in debt.”
“You poor bugger!” And Alex actually laughed. “Blimey! I’ve got everything I could possibly wish for, and you’re at rock bottom. Life’s a bitch isn’t it? For you anyway!” He laughed again, and I thought about pushing him off the rock face to his death, but luckily I resisted.
Of course he didn’t know how hurtful his words were. You see, hateful as he was, Alex was what I had always wanted to be. All my life I’ve longed to be a doctor. I remember my mum saying to me once, “Andrew, I’m sorry. You’re a good man, you’d make an ideal doctor, you like people and you really care about helping them. But you’ve got to face facts. You haven’t got the brains.”
It was true. The one offer to study medicine I got required A-level passes I just could not attain no matter how hard I tried. So I faced the fact that my life’s ambition would never be. It was a miracle I’d managed to scrape through my nursing degree after failing twice first. Even my surname was against me. Even I couldn’t take the idea of ‘Dr Andrew Crudgebucket’ seriously.
On the third night of my climbing holiday I woke up in the early hours, to find that Alex wasn’t in the sleeping bag beside me, as usual. When it was daylight I went out into the snow to look for him, but he was nowhere in sight. That’s when I saw his footsteps in the snow, and the hole where he had obviously fallen to his death. I gingerly went to look into the crevasse, but there was nothing to be seen. Alex had clearly got up in the night to answer a call of nature, and simply fallen to his death in the darkness.
Shaken and upset, I got back to the tent, finding my mobile to call Mountain Rescue.
And that’s when I had my incredible idea.
Alex had told me that straight after the holiday, he was starting a new job in a hospital in Aberdeen. He’d been interviewed by a panel from the health authority, and so far had never met any of his future colleagues.
Could I possibly get away with it?
I’d observed scores of junior doctors on the wards, and knew that, by and large, the things they had to do were routine.
I looked through his rucksack and found all the details of the flat he’d been telling me that he had bought in Aberdeen, along with the keys. Plus the details of his new job, and his driving licence and passport and credit cards. I knew a criminal in Birmingham who, for the right price, could copy the documents as they were, but with my photo on them. I even found a notebook with all Alex’s computer passwords and pin numbers, and with its help I was able to open his phone and look at all his bank details, emails, and everything else in his life. His bank balance had more noughts in the column than I had ever seen!
Could I possibly travel back to the UK using his passport? The picture showed him with a heavy beard, and I was clean shaven, so if no one looked to closely maybe I could get away with it. After all, we were more or less the same height and build.
“This is Dr Alex Sunderland,” I told the Mountain Rescue people when I got through on the phone. “The guy I’ve been climbing with, Andrew Crudgebucket, has disappeared. I think he’s had a fall.”
Excitement was building in my chest. This mountain’s crevasses were known to be so deep that bodies were never able to be recovered.
And, incredibly, after that everything slipped into place better than I could have possibly hoped.
I couldn’t believe my luck when, after handing over my own rucksack and few possessions to the police, after the Mountain Rescue people had helped me down to base camp, I was sitting in Alex’s Porsche car, gingerly starting the engine, and trying to persuade myself that it was all mine! At the border I had the incredible luck for the officer to just take a cursory glance at me and the passport photo before nodding me through.
A month later I realised that I needn’t have worried, everything had worked out better than I could have hoped. As soon as the authorities issued a death certificate for myself, I knew that my wife could claim my life insurance, which would cover our debts, and she could start life afresh. And since, as Alex had painstakingly pointed out, he had no one, no friends, no lovers, no ties of any kind, no one was going to miss him, and I was free to step into the blank page that had been his life. Now, courtesy of Alex, I owned my own lovely flat in a upmarket area of Aberdeen, I was more wealthy than I’d ever been in my life and, miracle of miracles, I was a fully qualified doctor!
While I was feeling my way into my new job, there’d been a few narrow escapes, such as when I’d been asked to do a procedure I’d never seen before. But after nipping into the loo, I’d looked it up on YouTube, and sure enough, there was always a nice little video that told me exactly what to do.
I was making friends, had started seeing one girl in particular, and all in all, my life was everything I dreamed it could be.
Most of all, I had achieved my life’s ambition of being a doctor. I was learning more all the time, and who knows, in a few years I would probably have as much knowledge as a doctor who’d undergone all the conventional training.
One morning I was called away from the ward, and found myself in a room with a couple of grim-faced men, who were eyeing me up seriously.
“Good morning, Dr Sunderland,” said the older one of the pair, who’d introduced himself as Detective Sergeant Murray.
Oh God, I thought to myself. It’s all over. They’ve found his body, there’s been identification on it, and now I’m in real trouble.
“Can I help you?” I answered, trying to keep calm, with my heartbeat going like the clappers.
All along I had known this was too good to be true, that something would happen to spoil things.
“Dr Alex Sunderland? You’ve been moving around quite a bit over the last few years, haven’t you?”
“We’ve been watching you for a long time, Doctor,” the second police officer joined in, staring into my eyes, unable to quell his hatred. “At last we have enough evidence to arrest you on suspicion of the rape and murder of a number of young women. You do not have to say anything, but anything you do say will be. . .”